Wickedmurph requested last week that I convey my "... thoughts on the role of church/clerics in a society where magical healing is a common/effective tool. My thought is that it would significantly change the sociological structure of a medieval society."
And Maroon added that he was interested in how I handled magic healing in my game. "If 6 points of damage is just a scratch to one but a deep wound to another, what does 6 points of healing do? How does hit point recovery in general play out?"
So we'll tackle both in this post, and a little more besides.
Maroon first, as it's the easier question. I realize that some of my comments on this post does create a sort of double-standard where it comes to healing spells, vis-a-vis their being more 'effective' on a lower level ... effective in this case being that they are able to heal a greater percentage of the individual's total hit points. That's Maroon's quoted question, above.
I would say that I'm not that niggling in my concerns about the game. My previous arguments were about zero-levels having enough hit points to be a challenge, not a forensic discussion on what sorts of wounds exactly were experienced by lower levels vs. higher levels. My exact words were, "I don't see severe damage occurring until getting down to the last few hit points that a character has." I was being deliberately vague about what was meant by 'severe.' Specifically, you could say, a blow that would have an actual chance of knocking an individual unconscious, or debilitating their combat effectiveness. This would certainly happen much more easily to a rookie than an experienced veteran. A few arrows landing around a rookie, and one glancing off his forehead and causing a light flesh wound, would be enough to cause them to faint or crawl away in terror, or even panic stupidly when they're not hurt that badly. At the same time, someone who's been hit before, and often, will snap off the arrow in his chest and go on fighting.
But you know, that's all just apologetic crap. Truth is, I don't think about it much. Hit points are a convenient battle abstract, and I like it recognized that even the lowest level characters have enough of the abstract to at least get hit a few times (on average) before caving like fluff. Sure, two sword blows should be enough to put a peasant down (average 9 damage), but there ought to be a better than 1 in 64 chance that they won't.
And I hate to disappoint, but the application of a healing spell in my world is grossly unrealistic - but eminently playable. A cleric casts the spell, whacks a player with the healing, and that player can jump up the next round and get back to swinging. That sort of thing wouldn't fly in a novel and it wouldn't play well in a movie - and I wouldn't have it that way in either - but it kicks ass in a combat game.
As I said once before, I'm not opposed to D&D being a game ... for me, that means as complicated as possible, with the rules being clear-cut. Here are my rules regarding casting a cure light wounds spell, if you're interested. I only have somatic components for spells, so the cleric doesn't need to pull things out, they can just start casting during their combat move. They can't move more than five feet while casting. If they are nudged, knocked, hit or otherwise thrown off-kilter, the spell is ruined (why? who knows, force lines maybe). If the party to be healed is more than 5 feet away, the cleric can move 5' per round and cast the spell the next round or the round after that, provided they don't get knocked. Cure light wounds heals 5-8 damage, not 1-8. They can distribute the healing to more than one person, but they can bestow healing to only one person per round. The cleric needs to apply only the lightest touch, and any part of the body will do. Therefore, players in combat can be healed while fighting.
My players are used to it and they like it. I don't think it reduces the challenge of the game, so its fine the way it is.
ickedmurph's question about churches and clerics is more ticklish. It should be noted (and so rarely is) that the power of a magical cleric to weild power in a medieval setting should be at least fifty times greater than in actual reality ... which was itself extensive. Consider a village where every accident, every childhood illness, every momentary lapse in judgement regarding the loss of a finger or appendage can be instantly fixed and cured. Consider that the loss of a finger, if the finger is retained, can be easily made better if the finger is held up to the rest of the body and an ordinary cure spell is used (restoration wouldn't be necessary).
And now consider how the people of that village would feel about the cleric (or druid, it applies to them, also) in question ... about the safety of their children, about the certainty of their immortal souls (now existing with observable proof), and about the possibility of extended or even immortal life (reincarnation). Those people will be violently loyal to the cleric who has promised, and proved, his or her community investment. They will not couch persons of other faith, they will not hesitate to kill a threat to the cleric or temple, and they will certainly not listen to the liberal or otherwise blasphemous babblings of strangers blowing through towns.
Proof positive that religious beliefs are real would substantially increase the power of the church - which is hard to imagine, since the church wielded immense power in our history without that proof.
I tend to play my world out to be more liberal than that, since it makes for a highly repressed culture and therefore a world that players are afraid to move in. But I can play certain regions/kingdoms as harsh as I want, as adventure fodder.
As an aside, about my decision, two decades ago, to stop playing with material components for spells. Mostly, I hated them, and the players hated them. They felt like a punishment for getting to be higher level, being just another cheap way to strain money out of the player's pocket. It was particularly resented since the cleric, for instance, struggled to get up to 55,000 or 220,000 X.P. only to have those great spells stigmatized by extra costs. After all, it would take literally years of campaigning to reach 7th or 9th level in my world - upwards of 50-60 runnings. So I threw out the extra restraints on using those spells in favor of a more friendly perspective.
Having added spells to my trade tables, however, I find myself in a quandry. It is much rarer to find a 9th level cleric than a 1st level cleric, so it is only natural that 5th level spells be much less available than 1st level spells. So naturally, it a party wants to have a dead character raised, they should expect to pay through the nose ... say, 5,000 g.p., at least. Anything less would hardly be a penalty for dying.
However ... what happens when the cleric character reaches 9th level, and now possesses raise dead? And can cast that spell every day? I run a world that is rather thickly populated, such that there are typically 200,000 people or more living within a 60 mile radius. That's enough that if someone's just died (and we're talking 77+ people dying per week), the cleric can easily be sent for and be expected to arrive within the 9-day max. And while most individuals wouldn't have 5,000 in cash, there are a lot of fixed houses around that are worth thousands each - and what individual wouldn't give up their house if they could have their husband or wife back?
It seems all well and good to say that this is fair, but since the spell can be cast daily, do you really want to give your cleric character 260,000 g.p. per year for doing nothing but sit on their ass? (that's assuming they cast the spell only once a week - everyday would be 1.825 million g.p.).
In the wider view, there's just no way that the cost of raise dead can be as much as 5,000 g.p. Given the steady condition of dying people, everything would be owned by the church in short order ... and there would be no more money to give over to the church to raise one's loved ones. (Note that this problem wouldn't be improved by reinstating material components ... it would just put all the money in the hands of the apothecaries, who sell the components - which they could conjure from off-plane, further distorting the system until it was broken).
Giving the gentle reader three options:
A) The cost of raise dead is fairly trivial, and therefore not a punishment at all for the party. This is fine for play, but sociologically it would make people much more willing to take risks, wouldn't it? How would that affect ordinary community behavior? Entertainments? Are we talking naked jousting? Widespread masochism? Could you burn a witch and still keep her from killing your cows next week? If it gets so even the common people can afford to pay the cleric, where goes the fear with which the upper crusts rule? If everyone in the household from the cook to the dressmaker did not fear death at the master's hands, is there anyone a cleric couldn't have assassinated?
But of course, whatever you charge down at the church, a cleric can always give the spell away for free, right?
B) Introduce a non-fiscal penalty, such as draining the strength of the cleric for some period upon casting the spell. But which spells would you choose for this penalty? And aren't we again talking about punishing a player for success?
C) Create a disinterest in raising the dead. "Yes, mom's dead, but we'd rather keep the house." What are the sociological implications of a world where people would casually choose to leave people in the grave? Would love die in favor of materialism? I mean, more than it does right now?
The phrase, "I'll love you forever," would have to be changed to, "I'd raise you" ... since it just wasn't done. Followed by the ever popular, "I wouldn't give two cents to raise my father." I see a rather cold, insidious world there, where familial ties were conveniently dispensed with as everyone hardened themselves against considering any kindness to be a weakness. How long is it before the five grand you won't give for raising dead becomes the two hundred you wouldn't pay for removing paralysis?
D) Create a refusal to offer aid. The clerics can, but they won't. Nevermind that it would remove a huge opportunity for them to influence the social fabric, they're just stubbornly opposed to helping anyone.
Overall, I see problems. Mostly because I don't want to hand over heaps of money to the players for no effort. Sitting on their laurels is one thing ... funnelling the coin of the world into their pockets is something else.
Of course, there's always the possibility of creating clerical wars, between clerics working their 'territory' in a gangland fashion, rubbing out the competition and so on - not for beliefs, but to cultivate the dying to make coin. That undoubtedly sounds interesting to some, but I myself have no interest in running a campaign based on the Roaring Twenties.
Whatever the case, it all seems contrary to the usual perception of D&D. I'm not sure what I'll do about it ... make rules about who can, or cannot, be paid for their spells (and who's allowed to pay), based on social hierarchy and such. Best thing I can think of to retain the status quo.