Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Articles of Dragon: "Special Skills, Special Thrills"

Of all the iconic classes of D&D, the cleric is the one that sticks out like a sore thumb. Whereas the fighting man, the magic-user, and even the thief are all pretty broad archetypes easily -- and non-mechanically -- re-imagined in a variety of different ways, the cleric is a very specific type of character. With his heavy armor, non-edged weapons, Biblical magic, and power over the undead, the cleric is not a generic class, recalling a crusading knight by way of Van Helsing. There's thus a distinctly Christian air to the cleric class, an air that increasingly seemed at odds with the game itself, which, as time went on, distanced itself from its earlier implicit Christianity and embraced an ahistorical form of polytheism instead.

For that reason, there were growing cries among some gamers to "fix" the cleric. In this context "fix" means change to make it less tied to a particular religion, in this case a particular religion the game itself had eschewed. The first time I recall seeing an "official" answer to these cries was in Deities & Demigods, where it's noted that the clerics of certain deities had different armor and/or weapon restrictions than "standard" clerics. A few even got special abilities reflective of their divine patron. This idea was later expanded upon by Gary Gygax himself in his "Deities & Demigods of The World of Greyhawk" series of articles, which I credit with giving widespread attention to this idea. I know that, after those articles appeared, lots of my fellow gamers wanted to follow Gary's lead and tailor their cleric characters to the deities they served, an idea that AD&D more formally adopted with 2e in 1989.

In issue #85 (May 1984) of Dragon, Roger E. Moore wrote an article entitled "Special Skills, Special Thrills" that also addressed this topic. Moore specifically cites Gary's articles as his inspiration and sets about providing unique abilities for clerics of several major pantheons. These pantheons are Egyptian, Elven, Norse, Ogrish, and Orcish -- a rather strange mix! Of course, Moore intends these to be used only as examples to inspire individual referees. Likewise, he leaves open the question of just how to balance these additional abilities with a cleric's default ones. He notes that Gygax assessed a 5-15% XP penalty to such clerics, but does not wholeheartedly endorse that method himself, suggesting that other more roleplaying-oriented solutions (ritual demands, quests, etc.) might work just as well.

Like a lot of gamers at the time, I was very enamored of the idea of granting unique abilities to clerics based on their patron deity. Nowadays, I'm not so keen on the idea, in part because I think the desire for such only underlines the "odd man out" quality of the cleric class. Moreover, nearly every example of a "specialty cleric" (or priest, as D&D II called them) still retains too much of the baseline cleric to be coherent. Why, for example, would a god of war be able to turn the undead? Why should almost any cleric wear heavy armor and be the second-best combatant of all the classes? The cleric class, even with tweaks, is so tied to a medieval Christian society and worldview that it seems bizarre to me to use it as the basis for a "generic" priest class. Far better, I think, would be to have individual classes for priests of each religion or, in keeping with swords-and-sorcery, jettison the class entirely.

40 comments:

  1. I've always been of the opinion that the second edition had the best approach to specialist clerics in The Complete Priest's Handbook. The sample priest of war in that book doesn't get the turn undead ability and has a very restricted spell selection, but does get to wear any armour and can specialise in one weapon - so he or she can fight nearly as well as a fighter. On the other hand, a priest of love gets d4s rather than d8s for hit points, can use no armour or shield, has a very limited weapon selection, but has a wider selection of spells and special powers (including turn undead, which I'm not certain I'd do myself).

    The problem with this approach is that a lot of these specialist priests aren't really very suitable for filling the role of the traditional cleric within the party, so the half-dozen or so gods who have healing magic and can turn the undead tend to be the ones chosen by players. As an old RuneQuest fan, I suppose I'm generally okay with that (after all, I did run an entire 2e campaign with no clerics at all, just specialist priests), but it does mean that you can't just write down "Evil High Priest" in your notes and wing it.

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    1. i agree with this 100%. 2E gets slagged a lot but they really fleshed out a lot of things and its fairly well done. that said, this is fantasy. magic, pantheons of gods, grotesque monstrosity, etc... is part of the fun. if people want to create non-theist fantasy in their D&D/whatever games, go for it. it would be an interesting take on fantasy. or you could rearrange the deities so theyre not overmining supernatural forces. whatever.

      once you you attempt to virtually eliminate anything from the game for "not making sense" (arcane magic is just as ridiculous as theist powers... sorry. and 'monsters'? or "evil")... its fantasy. have fun with it and realize it's plastic and pliable. try whatever you want.

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    2. I will agree with this. The variety of spells and powers available to different priests (and paladins) in D&D II made for very different characters. When D&D III came along, they left me feeling flat-- they were all generic again, now with a really huge spell list!

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    3. Indeed. Poor old AD&D2 gets a lot of stick, but kits did a good job of differentiating clerics while keeping them recognisable as clerics.

      I like this new Blogger comment format, by the way!

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  2. The obvious answer to 'Whither Christianity in D&D?' is chuck it and let's start with Julian Jaynes instead. No gods, just aural hallucinations misapprehended as divine voices, offering something like unfiltered perception and wisdom but subject to crazy (i.e. human) misinterpretation. Then you've got a built-in rationale for 'polytheistic atheism' -- loose clusters of people with similar wacky private beliefs, but no actual gods -- yet there's plenty of primitive-world-MAGIC! room left in.

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    1. Works quite well. Theoretically my main church was a miracle-inspired monotheism but even with magic like Commune nobody was actually sure whether any deity actually existed, or whether such episodes were simple Jaynesian hallucinations. Lots of fun, because it meant that faith had to be, well, taken on faith. Left plenty of room for various heterodoxies top spring up, much like the early Christian churches, and which eventually led to a massive schism.

      This, coupled with the effect that "The Church" was never actually defined (especially as regard to it's doctrines and beliefs, aside from the fact it was firmly aligned with Law*) meant that it was the players that built up the mythology, and it was a mythology.

      Allowed the church to be dynamic and to change over the course of the campaign (including starting out as comparatively inconsequential and eventually becoming an Imperial institution).

      [* Although my interpretation of Law wasn't the later Moorcockian, Andersonian, or Brunnerist views where Law/Chaos were actual philospohical and moral precepts, but rather that Law represented civilisation and Chaos the wilderness.
      Adventurers, in their normal matter of cleaning out the wilderness (dungeons and the like being generally bastions of Chaos in this regard) were almost by default agents of Law. It wasn't a good/bad divide (although the civilised/Law people tended to be scared of the barbarian/Chaos threat, whilst the barbarian/Chaos people were upset at being driven out of their homes by the much stronger rule of civilisation/Law side.]

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  3. Julian Jaynes has inspired a lot of features of my RPG campaigns. One of the alien races in Thousand Suns has Jaynes-ian perceptions of the world, which they interpret as divine oracles. It's wacky as neuroscience but pure gold for gaming.

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    1. I'm fond of the idea of a totally atheistic D&D world, stripping the godly nonsense out and leaving churches in, but with Jaynesian madness underpinning it all. I can imagine a 'psionic' rationale for groups of people (in physical or emotional or intellectual proximity) having clustered hallucinations -- and it'd open up space for rituals as tools for literally shaping divine intervention. i.e. If 'magic' is 'the voice of god through you' then magic rituals really do work. (This is the one sense in which prayer 'works' -- submission to an alternate state of consciousness, ideally humble but listening hard. Meditation with an imaginary coach/object.)

      If Jaynesian god-consciousness works in-game, then you can imagine a detailed system, analogous to say Ars Magica or something, for sculpting rituals that would alter characters' consciousness -- modeling 'magic' with some flexibility but not abandoning the handwavey cog-sci underpinnings that might link it to, say, SF.

      I hear there's an SF novel that takes Jaynes as literally correct. Bruce Sterling? Neal Stephenson? One of those cats I think.

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    2. You might be thinking of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

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  4. I get your point, but I'm inclined to think the reason a cleric of Ares can turn undead is the same reason magic users can't wear armor: It's either a fact of the game or it's not, and the "why" of it is setting.

    "Gods vary in power, but they share two characteristics: An immortality in the face of age, and a fierce jealousy of mortal pretenders. Thus, the chosen of all gods are granted the ability to intimidate, or even destroy, the pale reflection of divine immortality that is undeath." Done!

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    1. Example elaboration of your first paragraph: I would say that perhaps the undead are an affront to all gods, and they see the creation of undead as usurping the proper place of the gods. Sort of a fantasy analogue to how some religions talk about science.

      Your second paragraph is pure gold and I'm totally stealing it.

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  5. "This idea was later expanded upon by Gary Gygax himself in his "Deities & Demigods of The World of Greyhawk" series of articles, which I credit with giving widespread attention to this idea."

    I loved this series. Any chance you might cover it sometime?

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  6. I've always found the problem with all the D&D takes on religions that I've read in the source books and in Dragon is this: the writers have absolutely no idea what the religion is really about. What you end up with is some kind of diluted (perhaps even atheistic) view of what a practitioner of that religion, expressed within the game, should be like. Inevitably, this is extremely jarring and removes much of the role-playing opportunities. For example any worshipper of Thor who receives divine powers is going to be some sort of fanatic who carries a hammer, believes in ultimate strength and consequently works towards becoming extremely strong and will protect mankind - and the world - against preceived threats. He's probably going to rage against giants also. Why? These are the qualities of Thor, strongest of the gods, the giant slayer. If I was designing a Thor cleric, you'd need Strength 16 as a minimum requirement and the healing and turning undead would be out of the window for something like electrical resistance and fighter exceptional strength.

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    1. I've always found the problem with all the D&D takes on religions that I've read in the source books and in Dragon is this: the writers have absolutely no idea what the religion is really about.

      This.

      D&D religion just sucks. It's not that it needs more detail, it's that it needs actual religion, which is to say '(abnormal) psychology.' Since D&D has always been really thin on psychology, it's no wonder there's so little good material on how humans relate to the idea of the divine in D&D worlds.

      I'll say it again: once you stipulate that gods are real and they practically have hotline numbers (for e.g. clerics), you've made coherent worldbuilding almost impossible. This is why Christianity is such a lossy belief scheme -- as long as you insist the worship-leader is doing divine ritual magic in the name of a heavenly avatar who came to earth to do necromancy and cast walk on water and resurrection on himself, you're daring your worshippers to laugh in your face.

      One of the best treatments of gods I've ever seen in a game is in S. John Ross's Uresia, which has just four gods left after a cataclysm -- each a brilliant little story-theme-seed, each immediately suggesting interesting ways to roleplay human/god relationships. (Of course that brilliant gameworld is in no small part about living in a world in which the gods are largely gone.)

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    2. Yeah that could be fun for a bit but if all your divinations are mere hallucinations and all your magic is but a trick, that's a large portion of the game removed there and then. Of course, you'd be free to mix it up a bit by having a character enter scene left who's powers aren't merely parlour tricks and then you'd be able to start to introduce some genuine wonder back into the campaign... mystery and wonder are great ingredients for a campaign.

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    3. Absolutely. Gygax and co. always approached deities and monsters from a far more 'sci-fi' approach instead of a true magico-religious approach.

      Hence, deities who physically live on different dimensional 'planes' of existence, ecology of monster 'species' etc.

      Gods then become more like 'Q' from Star Trek and monsters more like the various Aliens from the Cantina scene of Star Wars.

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    4. The same applies to the magic of Wizards, nyet? Why not rather assume that the supernatural power of clerics leads to the same diversity of uses, sources, and interpretations as the natural power of clerics?

      That is to say, why not assume that Odo of Bayeux, Augustus Caesar, and (particularly apt to your example) Ingólfr Arnarson are reasonable inspirations for what a cleric can be like?

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    5. "It's not that it needs more detail, it's that it needs actual religion, which is to say '(abnormal) psychology.'"
      -Wally
      I agree with the first have of the sentence, but not necessarily the second. Why presume that religious people are crazy? They may be *wrong*, but with a generally high wisdom score it is somewhat difficult to justify the notion that a cleric's religious belief (in the context of DnD) is the result of abnormal psychology. Especially since it is wisdom that (in some versions) plays a vital role in resisting insanity causing effects.

      Obviously, it can be an assumption in your campaign world, but I suggest that since the game is fantasy the assumption need not. I rather like the idea of the mysterious divine, that God(s) have yet to be proven or disproven (even if there exist arguments for it). This then allows the game to focus on the psychology of belief in the context of uncertainty.

      One idea I have toyed with is that each form of magic (used by MUs, Clerics, Druids, etc.) represents a mystical tradition whose beliefs are, in their totality, mutually exclusive with the beliefs of other mystical traditions. Instead, each tradition has its own way for explaining the power of others (although not all explanations are complete).

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    6. I meant "first half of the sentence" not "first have".

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  7. I dunno, clerics as written never bugged me. They're one of the few things in D&D that's not obviously ripped off from Tolkein or Howard or someone similar, so I always felt they added something distinctive to the game. Plus they're very useful - maybe the best all around of the original classes.

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    1. I feel the same way, and I don't really know about this "stick out like a sore thumb" stuff. I think that is more about people overthinking them. Or maybe getting kind of fed up with classic D&D in general and need to take a break and plays something else for a bit (helps keep it all fresh for me). They are an iconic part of D&D as-is. To flavor them up a bit, the DM should wing-it with a little bit of player input at character creation and come up with some interesting yet minor thing that reflects the god they chose. It should only take little things to flavor-up stuff in classic D&D/AD&D.

      BTW just started a classic Runequest campaign, and it dawned on me that characters in the game tend to be fighters who have dreams of becoming great clerics! It's interesting in itself, but you can get a lot of great ideas from the gods and cult systems in RQ to use in D&D.

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    2. I think by "stick out" James meant that the cleric is less abstract. Fighters, thieves, and magic-users can all be easily reskinned to fit almost any setting or culture. Clerics often need fundamental changes, as shown by what was done with specialty priests in 2E. In fact, this is one of the reasons that most of the various subclasses (barbarian, paladin, ranger, bard) have always seemed mostly superfluous to me: they are easy enough to play using the base classes.

      Fighters, thieves, and magic-users are really archetypes, but the cleric is not. And I say this as a great appreciator of the classic D&D cleric; I like the pseudo-christian vampire hunting holy knight.

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  8. I enjoyed the expansion of the cleric beyond the medieval Christian format, partly because it made little sense to me that a polytheistic setting would have cookie-cutter priests and partly just because I like giving players options. (Similarly, I tailored the Paladin into a generic "Holy Warrior" class, with abilities appropriate to each cult that had Holy Warriors. Paladins became a subset.) It was this that eventually drew me to Chaosium-style games, because of the wonderful work done in RQ to tailor priests to their religions.

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  9. WotC did a good job fixing this issue with the warlord. When it comes right down to it, when you strip the "fluff" from the class, the cleric is really just a slightly weaker fighter who is good at raising the morale of his comrades (bless, prayer, even cure light wounds in the abstract idea of hit points, is just a morale boost) and forcing morale checks on his foes--which is what turn undead really is, a morale check for a class of monsters who normally do not suffer morale.

    If someone wants to jettison the cleric, there is no need--outside of clearly biblical spells like sticks to snakes, to abandon the cleric, just re-skin it to be secular/military in nature.

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    1. I sincerely hope that this wasn't the rationale because to strip the 'fluff' from the class is to strip the heart of it away and be left with a husk. Actually, worse. To be left with just the numbers. This 'fluff' is the life in the game; the hook for the player's to hang off and riff with. No wonder 4E is struggling!

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  10. I think AD&D 2e did as good a job as can be done with the cleric. In the PHB, the standard cleric is given and also the druid as an example of a "priest of a specific mythoi". Also given are guidelines for making your own religious adherents. The ability to turn undead is listed as a special power that may or may not be given to priests of a particular god. The druid does not have it. The druid also does not have access to the same spells as the stock cleric, cannot wear any armor made from non-flora or non-fauna. His weapons are also restricted, but includes edged weapons such as the scimitar, sickle, and dagger.

    I don't think TSR did the best job of explaining that you could make your own priests, but the guidelines are in there. That said, I don't think my gaming group ever used them.

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  11. To contradict myself here a bit, the christian mythos of the warrior priest goes beyond knight hospitalliers and templars, but is deeply rooted in eastern orthodox mythology where many russian saints who performed miracles were also military heroes. A pagan/christian mish-mash adopted by the church to turn mythological heroes into saints of the catholic pantheon.

    In this light, the d&d cleric is firmly rooted in the purpose if not the writings of tolkien inso far as he wished to revive the mythology of peoples that were almost covered over by greeko/roman mythology.

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  12. To the main blog: Well put! I'd say that's an excellent overview of the "proud nail" status of the D&D cleric class.

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  13. I have no compunctions putting real world religion into my campaign. I have three competing branches of Christianity and the Cleric (a Christian player) will have to make tough choices about his loyalties as he advances in levels. As part of the setting Paladins are viewed as spies and enforcers for one branch and are viewed with suspicion and are persecuted by the clergy of the other Christian denominations.

    I have several Priestly profeciencies such as Theology, Canon Law, Liturgical Literacy, Proselytyzing and Priest's Prayer Skill,Whiich affect the quelity and type of Miracles (not Clerical spells) that each Cleric can perform. Knowledge is guarded by different denominations, which ordain Priests and effectively bind the pc to their Church. I broke with the Vancian approach to magic and made it flexible, with each spell casting charater class having its own game mechanic for spell casting, appropriate to it. A Cleric does not cast the Heal spell, he prays for a miracle! And based on the circumstances, player skill at role play, character's skill as a Cleric, and the roll of the dice, the Cleric may only administer first aid, or actually heal hit points, or once in a while perform a real miracle - and totally heal the charater or mircualously heal the whole party or resurrect a dead character. Makes for some dramatic role-play in the middle of a battle!

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  14. I think in the typical Swords & Sorcery fantasy world, Clerics look silly.

    I'm running EGG's Yggsburgh with a monotheist quasi-Christian Great Church using 1e AD&D though, and there they look great.

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  15. I always found it interesting how most D&D worlds are polytheistic, but all the religions are almost aggressively monotheistic. I don't know whether that is because of the constraints of the alignment system (your alignment is Lawful Good so you can only worship this god), or the residual expectations of the players who had little experience to judge religions by except in terms of monotheistic practices.

    A pantheistic system on the other hand would acknowledge all the divinities of the pantheon/universe. If you wanted to go on a sea journey you'd get the priests of the Sea God to bless your journey. If you wanted to heal a sick child you might go to the priests of your local Healing Goddess, or you might actually turn to the priests of the God(dess) of the Dead to propiate the deity and turn her hand from the child. Even the "evil" gods would often be venerated by a good society in the hopes that this would placate them. And given the separation of spheres of influence in most standard D&D universes (and the fact that the pantheons of GD&H and D&D are loosely based on real world pantheons), there is a good argument that all post AD&D religions are pantheistic.

    Although my favourite group of gods in recent times has been the gods of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment. Truly inspired. Although I do have a soft spot for how Elizabeth Moon took the standard paradigms of the D&D game and made them make sense.

    As for clerics, my original clerics were members of a pseudo-Christian monastic fighting order that had been granted miraculous powers by their unknown and unknowable deity. They used bronze maces, not because on any interpretation of biblical scripture, but because they were bronze headed maces in the shape of the fist of their patron "saint." Worked well. When paladins entered the game they became a second (and far smaller) monastic fighting order, which trained their recruits as knights. Your typical village priest, or even your local archbishop, had no spells (although they could perform the rituals appropriate to their ecclesiastical rank (such as marriage, ordination, excommunication, etc). Simply because they weren't expected to go out and battle evil. If they ever did develop such powers they would probably be steered towards the membership of one of the fighting or magical orders (such as the Order of Healers). Actual clerics were as really as rare as mages.

    [PS; Druids were actually considered mages, not clerics, in my game, since that was closer to my understanding of actual druidic philosophy. They just happened to be mages in charge of a religion. Similiarly there was one cult of fire-worshippers whose priests were all pryromancers.]

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    1. D&D worlds are polytheistic, but all the religions are almost aggressively monotheistic

      Indeed. There are many, many ways polytheism could work and has worked, and the 1e/2e writers don't seem to have used any of them. I see the religious landscape laid out in Deities and Demigods as something like a Westphalian system of neighbouring nation states: the gods exist side-by-side, equal and separate, and if you belong to one you don't belong to any others. Plus there was an intimation with a bunch of the pantheons that they were geographically separated - Egyptian having little commerce with Norse, for instance.

      I really must write my "alternatives to monotheism and nationalism in RPGs" essay.

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  16. It seems the Pathfinder writers agree with your line of thinking. The PF cleric does not (natively) use heavy armor or have the ability to turn undead. Players can add these abilities if they so choose or if the particular deity the cleric serves requires it.

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  17. When thinking about OD&D and simplifying things into a different 3 class set up I've recently been thinking about using: Fighter, Adept, and Caster. Fighters are just normal rules for the class. Caster can be either Divine (Priest) or Arcane (Wizard) and use the Magic-User to hit, armor, etc. restrictions. The Adept uses the Cleric to hit and armor restrictions, but can use 1 sphere or school of magic.

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  18. I should add that in my new campaign I've gotten rid of the cleric entirely as being effectively superfluous. This is because I've reduced class to a 5-step continuum between Warrior (Fighting Man) and Sorceror (Magic User).

    Of course the various religions are, by their very nature, bastions of magical knowledge and employ "Temple Sorcerors," who get access to the temple libraries and teachings, although at the cost of learning stuff by rote (to use naval parlance, "rule of thumb" rather than "rule of inch").

    Actually a big source of trouble is the fact that the world is undergoing much of a sorcerous enlightenment and schools of sorcery are beginning to be established that are not affiliated with any temple and are actually examining how sorcery actually works.

    The religious attributes of the class are taken over by ordination (if you want to be an official priest (each "level" of ordination increases your ecclesiastical rank), or if you don't want any rank you can simply declare that you are a member of whatever church or temple you wish.

    As for miracles, one of the contentious theories floated by the unaligned sorcerous schools were that they were applications of "wizardry" (a corruption of "wish-hard-ry"), rather than the act of divine providence.

    And nobody can really be sure that summoned beings from other plains are real or just very good illusions.

    Should be fun.

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  19. @Reverance

    I would be interested in reading the rules behind your 5-step continuum. Are they posted anywhere?

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    1. Not at the moment, I'm afraid. The basic conceit is that on gaining a level you choose a Ability (either martial, Militant, Mundane, Mystical, or Magical), add a hit die appropriate to that Ability (d12 to d4) to your hit die pool, you gain a magic die that is the inverse of your hit die (d4 to d12), and the appropriate bonuses to combat ability etc. [Consider Abilities to be kind of like 3e feats and class abilities.] Roll the pools, if you get a beter result than your existing pool, that becomes your new hit point and magic point pool.

      The trick to making it work nicely is the Sorcery ability (available only at every odd level). You multiply your magic die by your Sorcery level to get your magic die pool. These are your magic points (which refresh at an appropriate event (no more than once a day). Spells effectively cost (level+1)^2 magic points to cast which gives a good correspondence to D&D up to about character level 7, at which point the versatility of a manna system makes up for the increased higher level spell costs. Non-sorcerors may use their magic dice as a luck pool to alter rolls in their favour. Dice are discarded, but refreshed when the character gets to take a decent break (good food, good bed, and not having to worry). This works well as dedicated martial artists don't rely on luck, sorcerors have traded their luck in for something else, and "mystics" (those at the sorcery end of things without Sorcery) are more attuned to the flow of cosmic forces defined as luck. Of course, as soon as you take Sorcery all your luck disappears (manifesting as the magical ability to force change) but you'll be way behind the curve of someone beginning as a sorceror since you won't get the multiplier. So sorcerors tend to be born, not made.

      That's the basic gist anyway. There are lots of details, such as regularising spells (for example there is only one "0-level spell" and that is Cantrip which simply allows you to do some sort of minor incidental magic for a single magic point. Skills are innate in professional abilities and resolved with simple characteristic rolls. And lots of stuff specific to my campaign, such as power wells, wizardry, schools of sorcery, ordination, etc.

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  20. This is kind of a distressing thread. Back in the day, most D&D players had a childhood interest in world mythology, and an adolescent interest in world religion. This thread suggests that a lot of people are not just totally uninterested, but totally ignorant of what religions or worshippers are like. It's right up there with today's gamers' distressing lack of general knowledge of how to take care of animals that aren't common suburban pets, and their bizarre kinder-phobia.

    Sigh. If you're going with pre-modern pagan religion that might be wrong, why the heck would "hallucinations" be your go-to mode of dubiously god-used communication? "Meaningful dreams" are a lot more common, followed by "going to sleep with the purpose of having an oracular dream." Only way after that do you get things like "taking drugs to have oracular dreams" or so on.

    But why do something that real people actually do, all over the world, when you can just mock at people who don't live in suburbs and believe the things you do?

    It's crappy neurology, sure, but that was no surprise to anyone paying attention. Disdainful theories heavily based on "I am the pinnacle of Creation and the wisest guy ever" usually turn out to be full of plenty of other crap.

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  21. "Whereas the fighting man, the magic-user, and even the thief are all pretty broad archetypes easily -- and non-mechanically -- re-imagined in a variety of different ways, the cleric is a very specific type of character."

    So, you don't like clerics? Neither I do! No big deal... let's call them "white mages" instead!

    The "White Mage" class uses the same mechanics than the old "Cleric" (spellcasting, turning undead, blunt weapons and the such), without any of the priestly fluff: no religion, no gods, no worshipping, no temples... It's a barebones "pretty broad archetipe" that can be easily fleshed in to fit into your campaign.

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    1. In my D&D campaign, WMs are neither priests nor actual mages, but humans magically atuned to the Essence of Life -- not just wildlife (that would be a druid), but any sort of life. This is a birth-time gift that shows at the coming of age. They have the power to turn the undead and to protect and restore life. This gift is granted for free: it's up to every WM's choice how to use it. WMs tend to be aligned with order, but this is not mandatory at any rate.

      WMs can kill living things (they are not positronic robots!), as far as they don't split blood by their hand. If a WM willingly breaks the "blood taboo", this WM's spells will work at the wrong (i.e. be inverted) for a day / a game session. This often can become handy! But if somebody plays this stunt too often his power will be permanently tainted and the WM will become a "Death Mage" (say farewell to healing spells!).

      As a whole, WMs doesn't belong to any formal organization. They don't share a common worldview. The only thing all WMs have in common is that they need to focus in an ankh (symbol of Endless Live, as per the "The Sandman" comic) in order to use their powers.

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