I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, August 11, 2018

D&D, OSR and "anticlericarism"

Although I understand the reasons to have a certain "anti-cleric" feel (i.e., the intent of removing the cleric class from the game or making it less important somehow - as seen on Delta-s blog, as mentioned below, or Seven Voyages of Zylarthen) in D&D, I feel that some of the criticism is unwarranted.

At a first glance, the cleric can look like an "odd duck"* in D&D. You have fighters/mages/thieves that can use combat/spell/skills to defeat their enemies. Thieves are somewhere between fighters and magic-users, with access to some combat capabilities and some spell-casting.

(*BTW, we will disregard the fact that fighters/mages/clerics were the original classes, that the elf is the original fighter/mage, or that the thief class is as old as the paladin - we are looking at this from a mechanical, not historical, perspective, which is also why we're calling the magi-users "mages" etc)

However, the cleric fits perfectly among the other three. Let's see:

- The fighter has the BEST access to weapon, armor, BAB, and HP, and the WORST access to spells.
- The mage has the WORST access to weapon, armor, BAB, and HP, and the BEST access to spells.

These two classes, by themselves, would be enough to play the game. People who like the fighter/mage/thief combination often see the thieves as middle ground... But see, they have VERY LIMITED access to armor, spells. and HP. Of course, they thieves have their own abilities, which make them good attackers (sneak, back-stab) and explorers (climb, find traps, etc).

The cleric, then, fulfills a different role: with more access to armor and HP, and also lots of spells, but mostly focused on DEFENSE rather than offense.

Then you'd have:

- The fighter has the BEST access to combat offense AND defense, and the WORST access to spells.
- The mage has the WORST  access to combat offense AND defense, and the BEST access to spells.
- The thief has BAD access to combat defense and spells, but GOOD access to combat offense.
- The cleric has GOOD access to combat defense and spells, but BAD access to combat offense.

Of course, you can also say that the mage is more focused on offense than the fighter (great firepower, less protection), then you have something like this:

Quite elegant IMO!

This is why my retroclone, Dark Fantasy Basic, uses the four "classic" classes rather than OD&D's original three, or fighter/mage/thief.

You can also turn the dials to create infinite combinations - good offense and magic for the elf, great defense and magic resistance for dwarves, etc. Or you can mess with range (clerics have fewer ranged options since they cannot use bows, for example), alignment (clerics tend towards Lawful), XP, etc. In all instances, there seems to be a place for the cleric.

Of course, there are DIFFERENT reasons to dislike the cleric. Delta's D&D Hotspot makes a great case against the class... This is a particular strong point:

As I've said on numerous occasions, it is the cleric class which makes the least overall sense in the context of pulp fantasy, and is the most fundamentally troubling class to be included in Original D&D. Among other multifarious reasons, the armored, adventuring, miraculous man-of-Catholic-faith is simply not a type you see very much in the roots of the genre, if at all. The inclusion really sticks out like a sore thumb in OD&D.

I agree - thematically, the cleric makes little sense.

However, there seems to be a mechanical space for the "defender" type, maybe some type of knight, paladin or war leader, focused on protection/support and strong defenses. Someone like King Arthur, Aragorn, etc. Not exactly "pulp" but within what I expects D&D to be nowadays.


  1. Its been argued that the original pulpy place for the cleric was that of the vampire hunter. That the turning ability, specifically, was for players who wanted to be Van Helsing holding a vampire at bay with a crucifix. In that regard, the older cleric could have become like a Solomon Kane style individual, tougher then a mage, good in a fight, reasonably knowledgeable about magic but who uses only miracles to fight with. Not quite the ready sword arm of the fighter.

    Course, we also got stuck with the medievalist clerics for 1st and 2nd edition of D&D, who were limited to blunt weapons because their Christian analogues supposedly were, which resulted in early edition silliness like the CE blood cultist having to use a mace because clerics didn't spill blood in combat.

    1. The D&D cleric is, indeed, very idiosyncratic.

  2. Another aspect of the Cleric's place in the world could bd the idea of Good or Benign magics that the people could rally behind. Most places shun and fear the Magi, but all welcome a Cleric.

    1. Yes! A lawful counterpart to the chaos of magic, I'd say.

    2. If one really wanted to extend that idea, perhaps all Arcane magic is Wild to a point. You have a higher Int score to decrease the chances of a surge, with the chance of a surge incressinv with spell level. I realise this isn't unique, but it works well to emphasise the divide. If one uses Druids, they would stand in between with a Wild Magic surge also being possible.

      This also brings an interesting idea of 5e rituals and speed factor initiative. A caster can take mord time to decrease the Wild magic surge, with rituals being a 100% reduction, and speed factor allowing one to drop a few percentiles off the roll, with the risk of dropping into the next round if you reduce your score below 0.

      So you can take your chances at reducing the risk of a surge, but you leav yourself open to a lot of attacks.

    3. Sounds cool - reminds of DCC RPG. Messing with speed is a bit fiddly tough. Something I've been trying to fix for a while, without much success.

    4. Fair enough. I find with a lot of this sort of thing I do better at the high concept idea than the actual mechanical excecution. It's why I admire this blog so much as you have a solider grasp on mechanic excecution than I.

      Perhaps I just need to get more TTRPGs under my belt.

    5. Thanks for the kind words! The mechanics of this are challenging to anyone IMO, but getting more TTRPGs under one's belt is often a fun exercise!


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