Friday, April 27, 2018

Giving Clerics Their Due

In the DCC RPG ruleset, many have noted that Wizards are given an extraordinary level of awesome, whereas Clerics sort of get shafted.  A huge amount of space is dedicated to Wizard corruptions, spells, how they find spells, and Wizard patrons.

Clerics have fewer official spells, all the deities get a single line in a table with just their name and alignment, and all Clerics for all deities are given a single Disapproval table that they always roll on.  This contrasted with pages and pages of example patrons with complete flavor text descriptions, invoke patron results, patron taints, and patron spells.

In a recent episode of Spellburn, one of the hosts went so far as to say Clerics are useless, suggesting that they should just be combined with Wizards.

All of this is massively unfair to the Cleric class.

I think it's possible to make Clerics just as cool and flavor-filled as their arcane comrades.  In fact, the rulebook already contains  everything you need to build on, but I never see them built on explicitly.

A deity should be just as complicated, or moreso, than a patron.  A patron is a lone supernatural eccentric with twisted plans and motives who works through mortal tools, but is otherwise largely hidden.  A deity is an established super-supernatural entity made known to mortals in the world and worshipped by some sort of established organized religion.

You need to customize your deities, similar to how you make patrons.

When making write-ups for deities, here are some things to figure out:
  • deity's holy symbol
  • deity's mark of disapproval, given to fallen priests
  • sacred texts of this religion
  • moral requirements and membership requirements
  • particular lists of unholy creatures and allowed weapons
  • a custom Disapproval table based on this deity's religion
  • the spells that this deity grants to a Cleric
  • the particular deity spells that only this deity will grant
  • name of religious order(s) devoted to this deity, and its hierarchy
All of these things are going to have actual impact on the gameplay.

I'm going to flesh these points out with some examples, but TL;DR, the most critical things are moral requirements, custom Disapproval tables, and custom deity spells.  (And much of this isn't limited to DCC, but also applies to D&D and other RPGs)

Firstly, basics for flavor: each deity should have a number of alternate titles, a holy book or oral tradition of prayers and stories giving guidance to the faithful, a holy symbol relevant to the deity, and also a mark of infamy that is given to heretics and ruined priests.

These basics are mostly for flavor, but also factor into the mechanics.  Pondering over the sacred texts will be a common Disapproval result, and may even be required to regain spells per day.  The mark of infamy will be a serious Disapproval result, and may spark a quest to have it removed.  Knowing that the holy symbol of Justicia is a circle inscribed in a triangle keeps you from having to refer to an abstract “holy symbol of Justicia” repeatedly, and can allow you to slip it in as a decorative motif in temples or shrines, perhaps as a clue to the players.

Secondly, you need to describe the moral restrictions of this deity.  Some examples of things a deity may take stances on:
  • how much wealth the Cleric is allowed to own
  • how much of his income the Cleric is required to give to his deity
  • what the Cleric is allowed to eat
  • what ceremonial rituals the cleric is required to observe
  • when the Cleric is allowed to participate in violence
  • when the Cleric is allowed to refuse to help others
  • what days or hours the Cleric must set apart for worship or devotion
  • what family and residential life is like for the Cleric
This is important in game terms, because it helps you qualify what counts as a "Sin" and motivates role played actions.

If your Cleric is carrying 20,000gp but is required to swear a vow of poverty, then his deity will be very displeased with this, and will require penitent actions to atone for his greed.

Some deities may require vows of sacrifice, forcing the cleric to request separate shares of the treasure for his deity (for the top third of the deity list), or particular enemies captured alive to be ritually sacrificed (for the bottom third of the deity list).

If your Cleric's deity is a god of charity or kindness, and your Cleric passes by a helpless person in need without offering him food or healing, that might also be a sin.  If your Cleric's deity is a god of cruelty and your Cleric passes by a helpless person without robbing him blind, that may also count as a Sin.

Some Clerics will be required to take vows of chastity or celibacy.  Others may be expected to serve as temple prostitutes.  A Cleric may be permitted to marry, required to marry, or forbidden to marry.  Some Clerics may be required to live in abbeys or cloisters when not traveling, where they share a bedroom with several others and eat at a common dining table.

When it comes to combat, the god of peace or healing might require strict pacifism; the god of chivalry or justice might require non-aggression but allow self-defense or protective violence; the god of war might expect violence as a response to dishonor; the god of carrion might require violence against all weaker foes when you can get away with it.

This leads to allowed weapons.  More pacifistic deities will allow no weapons at all; benign but not peaceful deities may allow blunt weapons to subdue but not kill; and warlike deities may require edged weapons in order to draw more blood.  Some deities may even be more concerned with how the weapons are used than with which weapons they are.

The moral rules of the deity are also where you explain what creatures are considered “unholy”.  What is unholy should come from the antithesis of what your deity considers good.  The god of chivalry will find brutish and barbaric monsters unholy; the god of death and disease will find clean creatures that regularly bathe unholy.

Thirdly, figure out what spells your deity grants the Cleric.  The spells a Cleric can cast are the spells his god gives him to cast.  The Cleric does not get to pick his spells, nor does have a list of "known spells"; a Cleric's spells are limited to the intentions and nature of his god.  In fact, a Cleric's list of spells changes from day to day if the deity has a reason to give the Cleric one spell or another.

Pick spells that work with the deity on a thematic level and make those the spells the deity grants its Clerics, unless some good reason presents itself otherwise.  The goddess of light, for instance, will never grant one of its priests the spell Darkness, while the god of healing will always grant Cure Paralysis and Neutralize Poison.  The rule should be that Deity X gives spells Y and Z, with variations to this only when necessary for a quest.

Fourthly, the  deities will have their own particular spells that they will share only with their Clerics.  As an example, Ithaar the god of healing has a Circle of Radiance spell that heals all allies within 10' for 1d6 HD (or more or less for different rolls); and only Ithaar the god of healing has Circle of Radiance.  But then Lumineras the goddess of light has a Blinding Flash spell that blinds or stuns targets and incinerates undead.

This is analogous to the Patron spells that Wizards get, except these spells will not be tied to successful Patron Bond results, and will not have limited uses/day.  They will be additional spells that the Cleric can use, thanks to his deity.

Fifthly, make custom Disapproval tables for each deity.

The Disapproval table in the book works well for a lawful good, paladin-type deity.  But each deity has its own moral codes and its own requirements of its followers, and therefore should have its own Disapproval actions.

The god of peace and the god of carrion aren't going to castigate their priests in the same way.

The goddess of light might require its Clerics to place candles in dark catacombs, or to meditate on a burning candle for two hours, or to spend the day constructing lanterns to give to poor households.  But the god of war is not going to care about his clerics meditating or chanting or lighting candles -- he wants his Clerics to prove themselves by training in battle, or defeating a worthy foe in a sparring match.

If the deity has a holy book, some of the Disapproval results should require the Cleric to read and meditate on it to seek greater understanding.  War gods or chaotic deities may have war sagas and poetic edda about conquering warriors that their Clerics are required to recite.

Use the given example Disapproval table in the book as a baseline, but alter results to fit the theme of the deity.  They don’t just meditate, the search the scriptures for answers; they don’t just chant, they recite a particularly holy prayer or creed.

Lastly the worship of these deities should be in the context of religious orders and organized religion.

Clerics aren't just weird kooks wandering around at their leisure and worshipping weird beings -- that's what Wizards are!  Clerics are priests of deities who are well-known and active in the world, with civilization-spanning recognition and religious devotion, acting in accordance with the doctrine and principles of their church.

The religious orders will have chapels, temples, hospitals, missions, seminaries, and monasteries throughout the game world, and your Clerics will have to interact with these.  These orders have formal theology about their deity, and they require Clerics to understand the faith in order to teach it.  Before your Cleric really reaches level 1 (or just after reaching level 1, as soon as he can) he went to one of these seminaries to learn the proper doctrine.  He joined one of these orders, and took vows to submit to the order's principles.

These religious orders will have rules and community guidelines based on the morality of the deity.  They will enforce these rules on their clerics and their faithful, either through shaming, shunning, excommunications, or inquisitions.  Refusing to obey a superior in the hierarchy will be a Sin and may result in Disapproval.

Your Cleric should be meeting with officiants from this religious order semi-regularly, reporting in to them on the quests and the service to the deity.  This can be a constant source of quests.

The Cleric cannot be the only person in the gameworld to worship his deity.  The Cleric isn't a religious believer but a religious leader.  Everyone in the same geographic region knows who these deities are.  The Warrior and Hobbit and Dwarf, and even the Elf and Thief and Wizard, will worship and revere the Cleric’s deity, rather than acting blithely agnostic about it. The party has a demonstrably real god aiding and assisting them on their quest; indifference or ingratitude will definitely cause offense and Disapproval or loss of Luck, and certainly an end to miraculous signs.

Not all priests can necessarily use magic — your Cleric may be the only one!  Miracles are rare — that’s why they’re called “miracles.”  When you travel, people in towns will recognize the Cleric as a wonderworker in the deity's service,  and flock around him for healing from every ailment and miraculous food from heaven.

In fact, it would be useful to cease referring to Cleric spells as "spells" and "magic" altogether, and instead to call them prayers and miracles.  Your Cleric doesn't cast a spell and magic happens; your Cleric prays to their god and receives a miraculous sign or vision.

All of these considerations will help give Clerics their own place in the game, on a similar level to Wizards.

This all sounds great, but what does it mean?  I've started making a deity writeup for Justicia, one of the deities form the rulebook, that I will put in an eventual follow-up post.  I hope it will illustrate how much depth a deity write-up can bring to the game.

PS: I was going to do this, but a recent episode of Spellburn referred to a blog by a guy named Marc, where he has already done something similar for his custom campaign deities.  Check out his deity entries here, which have custom Disapproval tables and spells.

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