Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Clerics: First Aid Kit or Second Line Fighter

Clerics: The old school bane of any party of players.

We've all experienced it in our younger days. It's the first night of the adventure and it's time for everyone to make characters. Everyone shouts out what they will be playing so everyone else knows what's been chosen. Suddenly, the door bell rings and Steve walks in, late as usual. Everyone in the room, including Steve knows what's just happened. Last man in gets stuck playing the cleric.
Nowadays, of course, things have changed with the inclusion of rules that allow a cleric to substitute any of his memorized spells for a healing spell of an equal level, but it didn't always used to be like this. In the golden days of Dungeons & Dragons, a cleric got what he memorized and had to live with it and woe to he who didn't memorize enough healing spells.

Looking through the clerics choice of spells, he has a pretty diverse variety of spells he could choose from but never seemed to get choose those. He was always expected to be the parties first aid kit. "Steve, just stand behind me and keep healing me while I fight these orcs." We've all heard it, and in most cases, have said something very similar. That doesn't make it right and that's exactly why no one liked playing the cleric. Your job, nay, your very existence was to stand in the corner and come running when called for by the fighters. No one wanted that job. No one wanted to be in the "Break Glass in Case of Emergency" box. It was boring and no one respected you even though yours was one of the most vital roles in any adventuring party.

If we examine the cleric a little further however, we see that he could be far more that a band-aid with legs. His armor could rival that of any fighter which allows him to stand toe to toe with most monsters. While his weapon selection was limited, it was by no means weak. He could use hammers and maces and flails oh my! Anything that didn't draw blood basically. Which was probably a self imposed rule out of respect for enemy clerics knowing that they too were seen as magical medics and played to the "treat others as you would like to be treated" philosophy. Shields were no problem for a cleric. And the beauty of all that metal plating, they could still cast spells while wearing it, unlike our squishy companion the wizard.

All of this combined could make them a formidable secondary fighter. He doesn't his as well as a fighter in combat, but he advances just behind his sword-wielding buddies. This all adds up to a very qualified warrior-in-waiting.

On top of all this, Clerics are the bane of undead. Sure, your fighters can hack them and your wizard and zap them, but why go to all that trouble when your friendly neighborhood cleric can way a holy symbol at them and make them quake in their undead boots?

With new rules involving spell substitution, domain powers and expanded weapon selection, the Cleric is even more powerful and more versatile than ever before. In fact, I've seen clerics played that never cast healing spells. They increase the parties abilities and make them more powerful so that don't take nearly as much damage as they normally would. This to me is more of a challenge and more fun that simply putting band-aid on the parties owies when the fight is over.

So how do you see Clerics past and present? Party physician or second line fighter?


  1. My favorite character, oh those many years ago, was a cleric. I'm the one who voted cleric in your poll. The cleric was just so versatile. Fighting, magic, undead. He could do it all. And did.

  2. I like clerics. In Merrie England, there is a traditional view of priests that they are rather harmless, ineffectual and too-damn-nice; we English tend to regard those who are too earnest about religion as just odd. So, with the cleric there is the chance to get one's teeth into an expression of religion that is a good deal more assertive, if not aggressive than we might usually encounter.

    The fun with clerics starts when there are two in a party and they worship different deities. The battle between them for the souls of the party becomes as interesting as the battle between the party and its enemies. That's if the religious aspect of the cleric is played out correctly; if, as you have observed, the cleric is regarded as 'heal me, hit them, turn the mouldy ones' then I can see how it might be less than fulfilling.

    In my Training Dungeon, the first party that tried it had two clerics and then a Cl/MU arrived to join the party. As such, they were well-provided for when it came to cure lights and turning ability. My good buddy Old 4 Eyes is now running it and when he outlined the party of six that was taking it on, there was only one cleric in it. I pointed out that he should really up the clerical provision and he increased it to two. Subsequent experiences have proved that this was a wise move.

    I tend to stick to 1e original rules for clerics and their spells, so you have to live with what you memorise that morning. Yeah, cure lights are good, but protection from evil is damn handy when you've got eight ghouls coming at you.

    So the playability of the cleric depends very much on the campaign setting in which they are playing. And if you really want a combination of strength and power, play a Fighter/Cleric.

  3. With 2 clerics in the party that definitely opens up possibilities for both players. You have a good overlap of powers so each can take some more obscure/ specialized spells and abilities.

    Plus I always watch that scene in Conan the Barbarian when Conan and Subotai are discussing which gods they each pray to.

    "Ha! Crom laughs at your four winds"
    "My god is greater. He is the everlasting sky. Your god, lives underneath him"

  4. "Last man in gets stuck playing the cleric."

    Yep...though in my original gaming group, such wasn't the case. One guy played the cleric and everyone else...well, they let him have his limelight. Out of respect, you understand. Of course, clerics in our games got stuck in just as fast as the fighters.

    It was all the LATER games of D&D...the in-between ones like BECMI and 2nd edition...where clerics became the medics and the "last guy in" rule showed up. In Ye Good Old Days, the AD&D cleric was neither a medic nor a "saver of souls." He didn't bother trying to convert other adventurers...he looked down on them for failing to follow the true path of power. Blade barrier? That was usual spell being carried by the lawful clerics, not "heal." One guy showed up as a guest in our game with his cleric and immediately took on a co-leadership role...I'm sure the hammer of thunderbolts spoke for itself. And damn straight you wanted an undead ass-kicker in your group back in the days when there was no saving throw for level drain!

    Healing was something done BETWEEN adventures, not during. Being a cleric (prior to 2nd edition) was not about converting heathens. It was about a dude with a direct link to his deity...blessed, if you will...an avatar of his patron on Earth!
    ; )

  5. It's all a matter of perspective. JB and his group had a good perspective on clerics. My group however, always saw the cleric as the support guy, the band-aid dispenser, the guy that everyone told to just stay back and keep those heal spells coming.

    Needless to say, they were a little surprised when I chose to play a cleric in a 3rd Ed game but I picked Death and Earth as my domains and carried a scythe for a weapon. No one says you have to be evil to worship the cycle of life and death. Not a lot of heal spells were flying around that group I can tell you.

  6. What are these header images you're using from? I presume an old module that I've never seen the interior of.

    The cleric header looks like you're gonna be receuperating at Castle Anthrax.

  7. Actually I got them from the game manuals for Ultima 3,4,5 & 6. I loved the artwork they included and I found a site that has scans of hundreds of old manuals and cluebooks.


  8. Sweet. Thanks. I'll check it out.


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