Saturday, October 16, 2010

Anti-Clerics

One of the easily overlooked aspects of OD&D is that all clerics are Lawful in alignment. At level 6 or below, Neutral clerics are possible, but those "of 7th level and greater are either 'Law' or 'Chaos'." Somewhat contradictorily, a later section of Men & Magic states that "there are Anti-Clerics ... who have similar powers to Clerics." As I read this passage, it means that "anti-clerics" are a distinct class of their own. They even have a different spell list from Lawful clerics (that includes no healing spells), as well as a unique spell -- finger of death. Likewise, they have no power over the undead as ordinary clerics do.

If one looks at OD&D from the perspective of AD&D or post-LBB editions of Dungeons & Dragons, anti-clerics are just another one of those oddities that doesn't seem to make any sense. But, as I've argued before, OD&D implicitly accepts a "fairytale Christianity," which it equates with Law and opposed by an equally storybook conception of Satanism/demon worship, which it equates with Chaos (often called "evil" in various parts of the LBBs). In such a context, anti-clerics are perfectly reasonable.

In my Dwimmermount campaign, there are anti-clerics, though I don't call them that, since, like the word "superhero" that OD&D also uses (and Chainmail before it), it somehow doesn't feel "right" to me. Actually, there's no single name for them, since these demon worshipers lack a unified organization, operating as part of dozens of different secret cults, each one dedicated to a different lord (or lords) of the Abyss. All, though, are wholly opposed to Law and devoted to the destruction of the present cosmic order, believing it to be a self-delusion and not at all representative of the great truth that only their masters know, namely that there are no gods and nothing awaits Man after death. Interestingly, elves believe the same thing, which is why many pity Man's brief pointless existence.

To date, I haven't done a great deal with anti-clerics in the campaign, mostly because the areas of the world the players have explored haven't really given me much opportunity to do so. The cult of Turms Termax remains the primary antagonist, although the Eld of Areon are shaping up to be important secondary opponents. This is fine by me. My feeling is that any campaign worth its salt should be larger than whatever the player characters are doing at any given time. The demon cults are out there, lurking in the shadows, and one day the party may cross swords with them. Or not -- that's for my players to decide.

29 comments:

  1. Superhero also gets used in the Dungeon! Boardgame, for what it's worth.

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  2. This is why I've never liked the move toward a polytheistic view of the cleric class. It works very well as a class that represents the jedi-knight/paladin of one faith. If you don't want to be an adherent of that faith, you have to settle for another class (i.e. the "anti-cleric"). I also find it very interesting that the only level title for anti-clerics that doesn't have the prefix "evil" is "shaman." This suggests that the anti-cleric is pagan and reinforces James' contention that the cleric is a "fairy tale Christian" class.

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  3. Bonus points for using the pic from The Devil Rides Out. :)

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  4. Christ, anti-Christ; cleric, anti-cleric. I like the term and use it sometimes in my work. I figure somewhere out there is an anti-pope that every red-blooded cleric would love to discover and destroy.

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  5. Well, from everything I've read and heard about the Early Years of the Game, when the Game Fathers were writing lengthy epistles in Patristic Greek...er, sorry...wrong religion.

    Ahem...from everything I've read and heard, the metaphysics at work at Gary's table in the very early years was a "fairy tale Manicheanism".

    I find the term "anti-cleric" clumsy but amusing. However, I'll concede that it is less inflammatory (and problematic for DMs who don't care about such things) than terming them "heretics" or, for the leaders, "heresiarchs".

    That said, even today IRL there are several anti-popes running around. So, sure, if your campaign world has a Generic Monotheistic Prosyletizing Religion, there should be a leader of some sort...and he should have opponents in the form of leaders of competing or splinter factions.

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  6. Re: the picture - That man has no ****ing neck!

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  7. Another thing to remember is that the early printings of the 1974 D&D rules did not provide for neutral clerics at all. Every single cleric was Lawful, and every single anti-cleric was Chaotic. This underscores your point even more strongly, James.

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  8. My campaign, the Majestic Wilderlands, was influenced by my religious upbringing and Tolkien. While I liked the nuances of different religions with their philosophies, I don't believe in that all things are relative. That there are universal moral standards. That evil isn't a balanced opposing force but a rejection of good and ultimately self-destructive.

    So the way I got around this is that like Christianity God exists and is the creator. He is known as the One. However like Tolkien he sent his angels/agents, the Lords, as intermediaries to teach the two races of Elves and Man.

    But this era was shattered when a group rejected the One's plan and fought for dominion of the Wilderlands. They became known as the Demons.

    After the Demons were imprisoned in the Abyss. The shattered remnants of the Lords decided to withdraw and teach the races through faith and religion. But because the Lords are lesser being than the One they were impacted by the Uttermost War and some didn't come out of it as well as the others.

    So I have a nuanced polytheistic religion setup but underlying a true evil that all the religion hate and will fight regardless how twisted their philosophies are. The Demon Cultists are my setting version of OD&D's anti clerics.

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  9. I think we in the old school side of things have tended to over-emphasize--likely for good reasons as a lost thread--the intellectual influence of pulp fantasy in the game's early years and under-emphasize the influence of historical European medieval society. There simply are no clerics as written in the rules in Vance, Howard, Leiber, etc and the case for the fairy-tale Christian one seems so strong in the early game: the spell list that reads like a walk through the Old and New Testament; the blunt weapons proscription; an English saint in Hommlet; the Latin-speaking clerics of Holmes; etc.

    I guess what I find compelling about the original post and comments here is not so much how we throw out clerics and this history-based side of the game to make a purer swords and sorcery one, but the interesting grappling with how we can build off that seemingly dissonant stew of ideas at the beginning of the game.

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  10. Rob C. Your settings mythology sounds awesome.

    Despite the "mechanic" of turning undead obviously coming from van helsing and 60's horror movies, clerics and anti-clerics are obviously the first paladins and the pulp shadow/death knights.

    Evil clerics unfortunately get saddled with the role of demon worshiping cult leader that is probably best served by magic users.

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  11. I am not sure it is quite wise to draw a distinction between a cleric and anti-cleric quite so literally. After all, the "anti-hero" also exists in Chain Mail, but it does not really mean that you have fighters and anti-fighters.

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  12. I wanted to get away from the monotheist subtext of D&D and the Christian model for the clerisy (a priest/minister tending to a "flock" and proselytizing for his faith) and went with a more Roman/pre-Christian model: one worshipped a god because a) it was your duty, in the case of the state god (if there was one) and b) you prayed to a particular god because it governed the area of life you were concerned with at the moment -- childbirth, agriculture, business, etc. In Latin, they called it "do ut des," meaning "I give (worship) so that you may give (blessings)."

    In my fantasy games, priests didn't care about gaining worshippers (unless the deity promoted prosetlyzation) , just that their master's rulership of its particular portfolio was respected. It might even be that the god in question didn't have a "flock" per se, as the god's bargain was with the priest himself and worshippers might only be needed for particular rituals or rites - or to feed the priest's ego. :)

    Nowadays, were I to run a D&D-style game again, I might make all spellcasters "priests," in that magical powers are derived from bargains with supernatural beings, some much more powerful than others. The cleric and MU spell lists would be combined, and priests would have access to those spells appropriate to their patron. Which, now that I think of it, is more BRP-ish in flavor. :/

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  13. By the way, what movie does that picture come from? The actor attacking the woman looks like Charles Gray, who played Mycroft Holmes in the Granada TV production of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

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  14. I am not sure it is quite wise to draw a distinction between a cleric and anti-cleric quite so literally. After all, the "anti-hero" also exists in Chain Mail, but it does not really mean that you have fighters and anti-fighters.

    Anti-Heroes have no existence outside of a separate nomenclature to describe Hero figures who are evil, do they? Do they have any abilities or characteristics that distinguish them from Heroes the way that anti-clerics are distinguished from clerics? Anti-clerics enjoy a strong mechanical distinction from clerics as I read the text, which is why I don't I'm at all mistaken in viewing them as I do.

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  15. Anthony,

    That is Charles Gray, from the Hammer film The Devil Rides Out, where he plays the leader of a cult of demon worshipers.

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  16. Anti-Heroes have no existence outside of a separate nomenclature to describe Hero figures who are evil, do they? Do they have any abilities or characteristics that distinguish them from Heroes the way that anti-clerics are distinguished from clerics? Anti-clerics enjoy a strong mechanical distinction from clerics as I read the text, which is why I don't I'm at all mistaken in viewing them as I do.

    I am not saying it is a mistake, but I am saying that I would be wary of the division you are creating (as I think you are creating it more strongly than the books do). The fact is "anti-cleric" is not a separate class in OD&D as far as I can see, but just nomenclature for describing an evil or chaotic aligned cleric. Their inability to turn undead and reversed cleric spell ability (though note that lawful clerics can use reversed spells, such as finger of death, even if at their peril) is an effct of alignment on the class, not evidence of a separate class in my estimation.

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  17. The fact is "anti-cleric" is not a separate class in OD&D as far as I can see, but just nomenclature for describing an evil or chaotic aligned cleric.

    Then why the phrase "There are Anti-Clerics (listed below) who have similar powers to Clerics?" If they're just evil clerics, why use that phrasing?

    (though note that lawful clerics can use reversed spells, such as finger of death, even if at their peril)

    So far as I recall, Lawful clerics can only use one reversed spell, finger of death, and only in life-or-death situations, as "misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric." That phrasing suggests that there's more to being an anti-cleric than simply being a Chaotically-aligned cleric.

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  18. Then why the phrase "There are Anti-Clerics (listed below) who have similar powers to Clerics?" If they're just evil clerics, why use that phrasing?

    Because it is an organically developed game system and not everything systematically accords with everything else. Notably, "anti-cleric" only occurs in that passage as a phrase at all, with other references to "evil clerics" or "chaotic clerics" clearly thinking of them as clerics.

    So far as I recall, Lawful clerics can only use one reversed spell, finger of death, and only in life-or-death situations, as "misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric." That phrasing suggests that there's more to being an anti-cleric than simply being a Chaotically-aligned cleric.

    Honestly, I think that is reading into it more than is there. It could be that the germ of the idea of two separate classes was present in the mind of the author as he wrote that passage, but it is not evident in the rest of the text.

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  19. Honestly, I think that is reading into it more than is there. It could be that the germ of the idea of two separate classes was present in the mind of the author as he wrote that passage, but it is not evident in the rest of the text.

    Anti-clerics get a separate list of level titles, including one -- shaman -- that's truly unique. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe anti-clerics as a separate class is more than a germ of an idea. I'll grant it's not evident, but, really, in OD&D, what is?

    I don't think there's anything implausible in my interpretation of the text. I think it can be supported at least as well as almost any interpretation of the way, say, elves work in the LBBs, another area where it's not evident what the author intended. I guess I don't see what's unwise about reading the text to make anti-clerics into a separate class.

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  20. Well, I am not having a go at the plausibility; my concern is the wisdom in thinking of it as "the" reading that is evident from the text, rather than simply one possible (but in my opinion not likely) interpretation. Yes, evil clerics get a fair bit of extra commentary, but do we really think all the other references to clerics throughout the texts refer only to those of the lawful sort? Some obviously do, others obviously do not, such as

    "Skeletons and Zombies act only under the instructions of their motivator, be it a Magic-User or Cleric (Chaos)."

    Why use "cleric (chaos)" and not "anti-cleric", if the latter is truly a distinct class? Much like the dervish reference to "medium foot" there is nomenclature in the text that is not repeated elsewhere.

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  21. my concern is the wisdom in thinking of it as "the" reading that is evident from the text

    Except that I never claimed it was the reading only the one that seems most evident to me, as I state in my first paragraph. I'm not sure there are many definitive readings to many aspects of OD&D, which is why I prefer it to later versions of the game.

    Ah well. This past week convinces me ever more that conveying meaning over the Internet is nearly impossible. Almost anything one says is going to be misunderstood or misconstrued by someone.

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  22. Well, maybe that is because you start this post with:

    "One of the easily overlooked aspects of OD&D is that all clerics are Lawful in alignment."

    I do not think that is actually easily overlooked, so much as one possible interpretation. Yes, the internet is troublesome for communication, and I doubted you really mean what that first sentence implies, but there you go.

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  23. James said...

    Bonus points for using the pic from The Devil Rides Out. :)


    Or as it's known in the USA, The Devil's Bride. The studio was worried American audiences might mistake it for a western. The movie was on TCM last Friday night and I missed it -DAMN!

    There simply are no clerics as written in the rules in Vance, Howard, Leiber, etc and the case for the fairy-tale Christian one seems so strong in the early game: the spell list that reads like a walk through the Old and New Testament; the blunt weapons proscription; an English saint in Hommlet; the Latin-speaking clerics of Holmes; etc.

    The idea of clergy being forbidden the use of edged/pointed weapons is a fantasy Brain Bug* created by Gygax to justify restricting the "coolest" weapons to fighters. Like many of the rules in (A)D&D, it's a ham-handed and ill-considered solution to something that really wasn't a problem.


    * A Brain Bug is a term coined by Mike Wong to describe an idea in sci-fi that takes root, then takes on a life of its own -usually becoming something entirely different. For example, the way Klingons were transformed from obvious analogues for the Soviets (out to expand into neighboring territories by force and/or subversion) into Space Vikings (who want to die gloriously in battle to go to Valhalla).

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  24. @Kiltedyaksman, an ESP medallion to you sir for mentioning my favorite board game!

    FWIW, I picked up some minis for when we play to use instead of the plain ol' pawns. I made sure the superhero had wings on his helm. :)

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  25. The picture for this blog post seem to have garnered as much attention as the text. He's getting a bit fresh with his right hand - don't get any bad ideas or inspiration there.

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  26. Actually, the idea that clerics weren't permitted pointed/edged weapons is pretty simple in its genesis.

    In medieval Europe, and indeed today, priests are pretty much forbidden by canon law to kill people, unless you have a really really good reason. I believe that the exact turn of phrase used to be "to shed blood". This of course led, in legend if not in fact, to clerics like Charlemagne's bishop Turpin running around with a mace instead of a sword, or Friar Tuck using a quarterstaff instead of a bow. (Though honestly, a mace sheds plenty blood if you smash hard enough.) It's also the reason why the civil and religious rules for military chaplains are fairly strict about them not using weaponry.

    Partly, this was to keep sacred hands clean of blood. (And an awful lot of religions all over the world agree with this, even when it's for ceremonial or magical reasons instead of moral ones.) Partly this was fair play, since striking or using physical force against a priest or higher cleric was and is an instant excommunication offense, and often a civil offense as well. Medieval Irish law broadened this to make both women and monks totally off-limits for war and other fighting, though with legal provisions for self-defense and legal incentives for laymen to defend them.

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  27. Suburbanbanshee, do you post on other blogs under this handle? I think we may know each other from a few other places on teh Intarwebz. ;)

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  28. This site does a good job of debunking the idea that clergy didn't use edged weapons:

    The legends surrounding Turpin (Tilpin), Archbishop of Rheims present many troubles to modern scholars since it is not unlikely that some or all the military exploits ascribed to him were actually the deeds of Milo, one of his predecessors in the archiepiscopal seat. But let us forget the historical Turpin for a while; the person that matters to us is the legendary and literary Turpin, one of the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne. It is true that this Turpin occasionally uses a club or a mace in battle, but on the one hand some of the legends also describe the other (non-clerical) knights fighting with the mace as well, and on the other practically every one of them has Turpin driving his enemies before him with a lance or a sword (especially in tales about the battle at Roncesvalles/Roncevaux Pass, where Turpin is usually described with a lance). There are even several tales that contain no mentions of him wielding a mace or club at all, putting a lance or sword in his hand every time he appears in a martial capacity. So, the legendary Turpin does not make a very good case for the restriction of militant clergy to blunt weapons; if anything, the literary treatments of him tend to weaken rather than support the idea.

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  29. James, if your defition of "conveying meaning" is "communicating in such a way that it is impossible for any individual to misunderstand", than no one has ever conveyed meaning in the history of humanity.

    You made a clear, unambiguous assertion about the rules of OD&D which is contradicted by other parts of the text. There's no need to throw up your hands; relax. You communicate a whole darn lot of meaning to me. You regularly produce a lot of clear and meaningful and interesting text. I'm upset too when I make a mistake in front of other people. But we all make mistakes and it's not a big deal.

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