Monday, April 16, 2012

More Cleric bashing from Yours Truly

I made it clear from the title what this post is about, so if you're a fan of clerics, you might want to find something else to do for a little while.

My second-favorite class house rules (before now) was always trying to do something about clerics. I just don't like them. I've played them and they always strike me as lost in the middle. I can respect the fact that it should be a player's decision how he feels about a certain class. If Tim really digs on clerics, he should be able to play one. My only issue with that is it means that I can't do certain things I feel are necessary to my campaign. Specifically, if I do allow a cleric class, then I can't fold the cleric spells into the magic-user lists, which means, in turn, that I have to make use of NPC clerics, rather than magic-users with "cleric" spells.

Something that I especially dislike about the cleric class is the half-ass nature of it, as written. There are more religions, philosophies, pantheons, and/or systems of belief than you can shake a stick at. There is no acceptable way to abstract that down to a single representative class. So, in order to "fix" this it is needful to create a detailed pantheon, complete with how its clergy functions. That's the kind of thing I like to leave vague. It's another one of those "avoid restrictive choices" things.

No sir, clerics need to be gone like the thief, and ironically enough, for a lot of the same reasons. When I am in this hyper-LBB mood, I firmly believe that any character can be built from the two archetypes of Fighting-Man and Magic-User. Add in the absence of a restrictive skill system and the two classes become a starting point, a foundation, for the type of character you want to play.

All the cleric's spells can be folded into the M-U lists without any problems (I think). I do not believe classifying the spells in any way, thus restricting their selection, is necessary. Want to play a druid? Use mostly nature-based spells, there are quite a few. No need to make it anything official because that leads to things like "Druids can't do (whatever)". There should only ever be two broad-brush restrictions:
  1. Fighting-Men can't use anything that is the purview of the Magic-User.
  2. Magic-Users can't use anything that is the purview of the Fighting-Man.
Any sort of religion-based power/authority should be setting and role play based. There are numerous examples in books and movies of priests and other so-called holy men who trucked with the powers of darkness. The Bishop of Aquila in Ladyhawk cursed two lovers using dark powers. So, a church figure could be based on the M-U class and described through role play as belonging to the church. Likewise, a Fighting-Man can belong to a religious fighting order.

One thing I may do, though, is add some sort of undead-combating spells. I'm not real sure on just what, but they would go deeper than just turning undead. Enough quantity and variety to allow an M-U to model himself as some sort of Theurgist or Witchhunter.


  1. I am actually a big fan of the cleric, though my regard came late. I didn't used to like them very much. I started with 2E, which had priest as a class group and cleric as a particular kind of priest. The other options were druid and "priest of a specific mythos." If you try to fit the round cleric into the square hole of general powerful being servant, I agree it doesn't work very well.

    The cleric became much more interesting to me after I was exposed to the OSR conversation and started to think of clerics less as clergy and more as demon hunters, crusaders, and holy warriors, not as just someone to whom some powerful being grants powers. The cleric really is very specific; it's not meant to represent as broad an archetype as the fighter, magic-user, or thief.

    I also like the "colors of magic" approach to magic-users which can access cleric spells as well, though I think that can be used alongside the cleric.

  2. I love the colors of magic idea, along with schools of wizardry a la Dragonlance, the Convocations of the Shek P'var from Harn, and pretty much anything else that differentiates magic-users. However, if I'm going LBB, I prefer those to be role playing rather than strict class things. I'm ok with a player saying he wants to play a "Fire Wizard" and get some small bonus on spells that involve fire, I just don't want a body of rules behind it. I want it to be ad hoc, and I will just as quickly deprive him of it should he stray from his characterization. Another advantage to this approach, for me, is it relieves me of the obligations to detail a lot of this stuff during campaign development. I don't need to come up with detailed pantheons and the unique abilities of their clerics, or wizardly colleges and the benefits that accrue to their students, or whatever. Players can approach me with ideas for their characters and we can one-time it or maybe make it part of the canon for the world.