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, June 06, 2020

REPLACING the cleric... for a LEADER?

Here are my original thoughts on the matter of OSR clerics.

In that post, I picture the cleric as an "anti-thief" without saying it clearly - and mentioned a "leader" character in the last paragraph.

Let's develop this further.

So, the thief has strong offense (many weapons, back-stab) but weak defense (light armor, low HP). The cleric is the opposite: fewer weapons, better armor, and (usually) more HP.

But that is not the only correspondence. Thieves are chaotic; clerics are lawful. The meaning of alignment changes a lot from edition to edition (see this post), so I will not dwell on that. suffice to say thieves are often depicted and more egotistical, with their own motives, while clerics are often more altruistic.

There is another important dichotomy here: thieves are lone wolves, clerics are team players.

Fighters and mages? Well, the best combination is having both of them: the fighter in the front-lines, the wizards as artillery.

But the thief-cleric dichotomy is different: thieves' abilities are GEARED TOWARDS GOING SOLO. For example,sneaking and hiding makes more sense when you're alone. Picking pockets is something you do on your own (in some games, the thief will even rob their own allies). If you fail, you fail on your own. Same for some (maybe most) small traps. And climbing.

Conversely, the cleric has abilities that HELP THE ENTIRE GROUP, and are often less useful for a single adventurer. Sure, the cleric could heal himself - if he is conscious - but cannot resurrect himself. Even turning undead is more useful when you have an ally with a bow (since the cleric cannot use one) that can shoot them from afar...

As always, this isn't clear-cut as it sounds, but it is relevant enough to mention.

So, in short, the cleric DOES have a specific role to play in the "classic four classes".

But again, as Delta says herethe 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. 

There IS a type, however, of "team-player" character we can find in the roots of the genre. I'm thinking of Aragorn and King Arthur; the type whose greatest strength isn't prowess in arms, but inspiring and helping others to achieve common goals.

Notice that these "leaders" often have powers usually attributed to the cleric - healing, inspiration, end even undead-controlling stuff.

But that is not all. The "leader" position is infinitely more versatile and useful than the cleric position. Yes, priests can be leaders - but also aristocrats, warlords, politicians, teachers, etc. Maybe the class should have some "inspire masses" power, letting the rogue keep some mountebank-like qualities? Or have rogue schemers (like Wormtongue or Littlefinger) that can influence you one-on-one, but end up exposed in front of crowds? Makes sense to me.

Of course, these "leaders" would work well in low magic settings, sword and sorcery, settings without deities or miracles, etc.

In addition, the four basic classes are a great way to classify most monsters.

The leader, especially, is an interesting type of adversary: not that dangerous by itself, but able to inspire, strengthen, organize and control weaker allies.

By the way - this is one of the things 4e got right. But that's another story.

Further reading:
My original post.
Delta's post about clerics.
Interesting "anti-thief" post from JB.


  1. Gandalf was a leader type with a seemingly supernatural ability to inspire others. Indeed, this was his primary power...

    1. Hadn't considered Gandalf, but you're right, he DOES have a few "leader" features.

  2. Leader is no joke as a marvel villain opposed to iron man and the hulk!

  3. Reading through this, I wonder if you make the Cleric use Unarmoured Defense of either Wisdom or Charisma instead of being heavily armoured, and you can do the more "protected by Faith" style character. Perhaps as Temporary HP/DR per round. If you base this off of their casting stat, it still ties into their Divine Wisdom bolstering their protection (but they can be overwhelmed).

    Granted, my reasoning for this is to make something that allows the "newer" classes to emerge over time. That may not be your goal with this project though.

    1. Well, although my goal wasn't to create new classes, I do think a "divine" Unarmoured Defense is a good idea.

    2. I agree that "new classes" isn't a design goal, I do think it would be interesting to try and boil things down to a small amount of rules that allow one to switch into something that grows into something more quite easily. While that's not your design goal here, I think designing the 4 core classes with overlaps on the subsystems of the game with distinct roles/styles is a way to make a system that can fill in on it's own design space efficiently without too much bloat.

    3. Yeah, I like this. I am currently reading Shadow of the Demon Lord again and it accomplishes something similar. Might write a review soon.

    4. I look forward to the review!

      On the subject of the cleric, the concept space is really as the Visionary/Prophet. Their domain can focus on support and insight (Wisdom based spell casting) and supporting allies (Paladin aura of charisma).

      Thinking more generally, the full 4 classes would have the Thief be replaced with an Expert Class more akin to the Artificer, and a mirror to the Magic user in a way as they can do nigh supernatural effects (high skill rolls) nearly at will, but they need time to do so. The Expert is still a mirror to the cleric in that they are self contained and reliant, while the cleric has few abilities that work alone. The Thief arises as an Expert that takes a focus in back stabbing.

      Really what this shows in my opinion, is that something that allows the Thief to apply skills to set up a 1 hit kill would be great.