A recent post by Ryan has got me thinking that I have hardly written anything about clerics. This coupled with the party in the online campaign suffering somewhat from a lack of healing, having lost their cleric to the winds of change, plus the complete disinterest in anyone from the blogosphere coming forward to play a cleric, impels me to write.
Ryan asks the question, “Though many versions of many players handbooks throughout the years have mentioned time and again about a cleric advancing his temple/deity/cause's interests, how often does your average DM or player actually do anything of the sort?” To which the answer is, naturally, virtually no one.
There’s no doubt that the cleric is the least liked character. There are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which is the general dislike that RPG players have for traditional Western organized religion. One might say that religion is the antithesis of D&D, as virtually everything about the game flies in the face of what the church deems moral behaviour: the embracing of evil, the butchery of random creatures, greed, the depiction of devils and demons, etc. There may be Christian groups out there playing D&D, but they’re not particularly vocal. It has been my experience that players who come to the table have generally chosen to leave their religion elsewhere.
So the cleric seems like the player must put on a straight-jacket of behaviour, to obey both God and Church, and in the process become the thorn in the side for every party member who wants to rape and pillage. (Well, pillage. D&D has surprisingly little rape).
The game has done little to remove this stigma.
Take the most useless book ever produced: the Deities and Demigods. In the paltry section at the front of the book, which should have been a beacon to clerics, do we start with, ‘How to run a cleric?’ No, what we start with is ‘Dungeon Mastering Divine Beings.’ Because what is really important is teaching the DM how to use gods as monsters or as a means of railroading the party into adventures; quote: “... the characters themselves may be asked to (or given no choice but to) take part in the maneuverings of the gods’ forces upon earth.”
This is followed by the section, ‘Clerics and Deities’, which goes on to describe other means of railroading, as well as blatant threats to take spells away from clerics who do not accept said railroading. This is followed by two completely useless pages about omens and immortality. And that’s all. The fuckwits at TSR really earned their money that day.
Given that, why would anyone want to be a cleric? Well, the spells are fairly decent and clerics go up levels considerable faster than mages (at the beginning), so that is at least something. Give me the healing, let me turn a few undead and let’s just agree not to make a big deal out of the god thing, all right? To which most DMs will agree. I’m not that much of a stickler myself. I’ve never removed spells from a cleric – never felt that was necessary. I’ve occasionally made a cleric walk over fire for a god, invariably because after five levels of the cleric barely acknowledging that gods exist, they suddenly want something.
(I have this problem in particular with druids).
Ryan brings up a few points: 1) that the cleric is usually the only one in the party who actually worships at all; 2) what is the cleric doing with this party of grubby bastards; and 3) who watches the temple if there is one? These are all salient. I’d answer that the cleric is the only one who worships because he’s the only one who has to; that the cleric is usually no less grubby that his companions; and that most assets owned by parties (castles, gatehouses, various entrepreneurial ventures such as inns or blacksmithies) all have a magic protective field that automatically stops them from being destroyed or fucked with when the party is out of town. Not that it should be that way – it just usually IS.
I don’t particularly have problem with clerics being with ruffians – Friar Tuck is the traditional example, a swordsman comparable with Robin and a dwarvish appetite. There’s nothing about clerics that insists they must be upstanding members of the community. That is a trope invented with the Victorian Age; if you haven’t read The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio in the 14th century, then you know jack shit about medieval clerics. To note another source from the period, Dante’s Inferno was full of clerics.
A cleric is perfectly in his right to do nothing for a party who will not pay lip service to the religion. In fact, there are several spells which I impose a strict limitation on with regards to players who are not invested in the cleric’s religion – protection from evil, bless, chant, prayer, combine, to name a few. If you’re not of the cleric’s religion, you don’t get the benefit. It is the cleric, tolerating the party’s heathen behaviour, that enables indifference and apathy. Admittedly, most parties would rather do without a cleric than mumble a few gracious words to a god in exchange for a cure light wounds. That is only pride, however. Watch how a party will scrape and bow when it comes to getting raised.
That is the DMs fault, usually. Unless the party isn’t being made to perform a quest, the raise dead spell is generally as available to a party as a suit of armor. “We’ll get him raised,” the party says casually, never thinking that perhaps the local 9th level cleric might have a better use for that spell on a daily basis than bestowing it on nere-do-wells who blow into town with a dead body. Got money? Oh sure, here’s your spell. How often does an NPC cleric stop to consider whether this adventurer covered in blood deserves to be raised?
I won’t argue that a cleric who withholds his spells is going to quickly find himself isolated come the next encounter. A player’s antipathy towards ANY pretence of religion would incline you to think that the very act of saying “Thank you God” will spontaneously invoke vomiting from every participant at the table. So naturally, even a gung ho cleric quickly washes himself squeaky clean from any hint of piety, rapidly becoming a mage with poor spells who quickly goes up levels.
I want to explain why that is poor thinking, on both the player’s and the DM’s part, but not today. I’ll pick this up in the next post.