Monday, October 24, 2011

The Clerics of Dwimmermount

Reading the comments to my earlier post about XP requirements, I was fascinated by the discussion of the proposed reasons why clerics might not be very attractive to many players. My fascination is in part based on the fact that I consider clerics to be one of the most potent of all character classes in any edition of Dungeons & Dragons with which I'm familiar. In OD&D, it occupies a kind of middle place between the fighting man and the magic-user, being a tough and skilled melee combatant who's also gifted with (albeit limited) spellcasting ability, not to mention unique power against the undead. Why that wouldn't be more appealing I'm not sure, but then I frequently play clerics.

Some commenters have suggested that the lack of appeal has to do with the perception that clerics are nothing more than "heal-bots," a term borrowed from video games, particularly MMOs. If that's the way clerics are viewed, then I suppose I understand their lack of appeal. In my Dwimmermount campaign, one of the things I tried to stress is that clerics are extraordinary agents of their faiths. They're not priests in the traditional sense and they operate largely outside the hierarchies of their temples. It's a distinction that D&D was very bad at making from the beginning, especially when you look at the level titles used in OD&D and AD&D.

For my campaign, priests (who are a separate, non-adventuring class -- an idea inspired by both Jeff Rients and Rob Conley) handle the day-to-day operation of temples and staff the bureaucracy that support it. Clerics, on the other hand, are special and, for reasons both both obvious and subtle, are sent off into the wider world to act quasi-independently on behalf of their faith. Their level titles (which were inspired in part by Fr Dave's post here) are listed in the Dwimmermount Codex as follows:
I'll grant that this is a small, largely cosmetic change, but it's done wonders in helping to establish the cleric as something other than the guy who stands in the back and heals.

19 comments:

  1. If someone is leaning on an OD&D style cleric as a heal-bot they are seriously screwed. A couple cure light wounds spells are not going to save a party that plays poorly or is unlucky with the dice.

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  2. If someone is leaning on an OD&D style cleric as a heal-bot they are seriously screwed. A couple cure light wounds spells are not going to save a party that plays poorly or is unlucky with the dice.

    This is very true.

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  3. Totally agree with the difference between priests and clerics. I've always run it just that way.

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  4. I will say when I started back in 2002, I had Cleric described to me as "Holy Healer Dude". It was by my own experience that I realized they were far more than this, and that healbitch clerics are one of the crappier, not to mention more boring ways of playing. In my D&D career, I think I've done more healing as a Paladin than I have a Cleric.

    One homebrew game I was in the GM decided that Necromancy was the domain of healing (she had removed the "necromancy being objectively evil" aspect as well as the positive/negative energy planes). It made sense in my mind- the necromancer has to have some understanding of anatomy to use their magic, and living subjects are probably easier to patch up.

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  5. D&D clerics are boring. Real-world clerics are some of the most fun character types. What's up with that? I think it's the lax literacy rules in D&D.

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  6. Thinking aloud here a bit: there's an argument to be made that healing in D&D is so important that it should not be in the portfolio of any one PC (instead, it should be some resource spread across the party as a whole). Alternatives could be:

    (1) Give it to every PC class (as in 4E)
    (2) Isolate it a tagalong healer NPC class (noncombatant)
    (3) Given only by magic items (healing potions)

    Personally, I loathe #1 and actually use #3 (in conjunction with barring clerics for additional reasons, but I see it could also be a separate issue for some people).

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  7. My idea of what a D&D cleric was also shaped by the Tragic Figure of Aleena in the Mentzer Red Box set. (Was the only one who cried when she died?) I forget exactly what she said when you first meet her, but it was something to the effect of, "I can kinda fight, and I can heal you, too!"

    Add to that, that the cleric on the "Cleric" page was a similarly-hot chick who looked a lot like Aleena. (Larry Elmore, though a wonderful artist, did have his tropes :) ) Didn't show me the greater possibilities that were possible with this class.

    When I introduce the cleric to new players I like to say that "God is on your side" or talk about being a holy agent and being able to command the awe of the superstitious, kinda sorta of what you're talking about here, James. There's so much potential badassery that goes untapped with the cleric -- 'tis a shame.

    Don't know if it's a bad word around here, but I play Pathfinder, and their advanced player's guide has the "Inquisitor" class, which takes all the coolness and badassery of being a cleric and multiplies it by n. Nothing like "passing judgment" or casting a "stern gaze" while interrogating a heretic. :)

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  8. My non-adventuring priests are 1st - 2nd level clerics that spend their life at temple NOT delving into dungeons. Heck, I even have some higher level clerics, even powerful ones, never have gone on an adventure. They level up through their life's work.

    What do you call a follower of a god who never gets spells? Not a priest. They're one of the masses outside the temple on holy day on their knees with thier face in the dirt.

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  9. Some commenters have suggested that the lack of appeal has to do with the perception that clerics are nothing more than "heal-bots," a term borrowed from video games, particularly MMOs.

    "This Cleric is a bad ass Judge Dread type and his God only heals the Cleric so that he can keep on being bad ass. His healing spells don't work on other people..."

    :)

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  10. @Wingy: That's how AD&D classifies healing, too. Cure Light Wounds, Slow Poison, Feign Death and others are all listed as necromantic spells.

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  11. And yet I love playing clerics...

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  12. @John- I sadly have never had a chance to play any pre-3rd editions of D&D (Pathfinder is the name of the game in my area unfortunately). That in my mind makes more sense.

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  13. The only cleric I think I ever played was dual-classed from fighter, he styled himself a marauder of Talos. He was a magnificent bastard, I miss him.

    In my campaigns, clerics differ from priests in much the way that James describes. Clerics belong to special orders that test their faith through action. They are often a militant branch of their parent religion.

    I often describe clerics to new players as being akin to Jedi. The way Jedi are portrayed in the original Star Wars trilogy is a nearly perfect match for the cleric.

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  14. For some reason, this is the guy I think of when I think of D&D clerics: http://www.theblackninja.com/images/movie/grail/holy_grail_knight_and_witch.jpg

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  15. I find the adventuring/stationary split of clergy to be decidedly meh. Imperator Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus was Pontifex Maximus, not "Special Numerary of Zeus for Conquest". Odo, Earl of Kent was Bishop of Bayeux, not "Envoy to the Conqueror". Ingólfr Arnarson was Allsherjargoði, not a goði-without-portfolio boated off to Iceland. They were priests and over-priests in their own right, with conventional sacral duties, while they were conquering and ruling. They're extra-ordinary figures, but that's just to say they are adventurers.

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  16. This is only a minor variation on what everyone else has said, but for me, it's not just cure light wounds, but that at every spell level, there's one and only one spell that is bound to be useful in any particular adventure.

    Really? In the Dwimmermount campaign, Brother Candor never that I can recall prepared hold person for his 2nd-level spell, but frequently prepared find traps, speak with animals, and silence. I don't see a cleric's spell choices as any less broad than a magic-user's. Nor do I agree with the idea that there's one and only spell that's useful in any given adventure. That's completely contrary to our recent experience.

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  17. Because in OD&D the Druid has a much greater selection of direct offensive spells and they are the ones that tend to be taken. I've found that in general players have much more fun inflicting damage on others than they do in preventing damage to themselves. Defensive magics in any class are usually a secondary consideration; actually using spells on another is a tertiary consideration at best (but that is where many of the clerics spells lie).

    That could be it, but the druid pays for this by being a much less useful front-line fighter than the cleric (a reasonable trade-off in my opinion).

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  18. In my game, Clerics don't choose their god; their god chooses *them*, which is why they have supernatural powers. I stress that by having NPC 'clerics' (I call them the Devout) who act like farmers or merchants; they may not even know yet, themselves, of their chosen status. Players think they're just thieves or fighters until they cry out, in the midst of danger, "[Deity] help us!" and BOOM--[Deity] helps them, with a spell.

    (At this moment, none of my PCs play clerics, but I think one or two of them might in the future now they see how much color you can get out of playing one.)

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  19. "Really? In the Dwimmermount campaign, Brother Candor never that I can recall prepared hold person for his 2nd-level spell, but frequently prepared find traps, speak with animals, and silence. I don't see a cleric's spell choices as any less broad than a magic-user's. Nor do I agree with the idea that there's one and only spell that's useful in any given adventure. That's completely contrary to our recent experience. "

    I don't think he means that there's only one spell that will *ever* be useful, but that there's only one spell that will *always* be useful.

    Which may not be quite right, either, but it often *appears* so.

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