What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Castles & Crusades Players Handbook - 7th Print Edition

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Problem With The Typical Cleric Class

I have a problem with the cleric as typically presented in D&D and other similar games.  I know I'm not the only one.  Years ago, I thought about completely revamping the class and now, with some of the work I have been doing for Ballista, it has served to remind me of some of the issues with the class.  That problem is magic.

The cleric is a class is quite formidable -- especially when you look at what the class evolved into as far as mechanics when with Third Edition.  We're talking about a class who is second to a Fighter in many regards.  They two can typically wear any type of armor and weapon restrictions (classically being able to wield anything considered blunt) with exceptions of a preferred weapon appropriate to the deity he served was a joke.  Beyond that, he can cast a boat load of spells!  Sure, he may not be able to fight as well as a warrior (but still better than other classes) but he is almost as resilient!

A few years back (before I stumbled upon C&C), I somehow got involved in a third edition game.  In the spirit of third edition ... the game was about power and builds to ensure survivability.  The DM running the game needed the cleric and I obliged after being suitably bribed.  The bribe in question?  Being able to play a 'non-standard' race in the setting and, in this case, it was a 'High-Minotaur'.  The closest equivalent would be the minotaurs you could play in the Dragonlance setting.  Slightly smaller in stature that a typical minotaur one would find in the Monster Manual, he was Medium sized for the purposes of combat.  Bonuses were given to Strength and penalties to Charisma and Intelligence if I remember correctly.  I remember getting a couple of awesome rolls for the character's ability scores which were placed (we allocated the rolls to the stats) in Strength and Wisdom.  Due to the racial bonus, his Strength was the highest stat.  As we campaigned, he quickly ascended levels along with the rest of the party and as he rose in level, the 'power' output of the character proved to be exponential.  The campaign was pretty brutal and, part of the reason of the brutality was in the manner that the characters put down any challenges.  The cleric, a devotee to some sort of god of war, had a tendency to skew game balance and with similarly thought out character builds in the party, it clearly demonstrated some of Third Edition's flaws.  I think the cleric, as designed, is one of the problems though I'm sure the minotaur bit didn't help.

That is probably an extreme example and I'm certain the manner the game was run and the way I chose to play the character didn't help -- he was a very offensive character and just as formidable as any of the warrior classes in the party if not more so.  If you cut out his spells completely, he would still have been powerful but he would have been held in check a lot more.

When you consider the evolution of the Cleric in the game, it is important to remember that the class wasn't always this way.  There was a time that a Cleric couldn't cast any spells at first level and at second level, the abilities were such that he could cast a single spell once per day.  At much higher levels they could do a bit more but even the spell selection was not all that stellar.  There were of course some favorites like Hold Person but really, a cleric's duty was to aid and heal.  That was back in the B/X sets (Moldvay/Cook) for D&D and you'll see similar material in the Holmes D&D set as well.  However with AD&D, spell casting accessibility was lowered to first level and the nature of the spells began to broaden somewhat.  Just consider Spiritual Hammer / Spiritual Weapon and then the addition of Sound Burst later on.  As a class, I feel that the cleric has 'lost its way'.  I feel that it might have been the need to turn him into more than a magical medic in the eyes of fans that resulted in this power creep.

The solution?

For starters, strip him of the majority of his 'magic'; no more spells in the traditional sense in D&D.

Any spiritual 'gift' or 'blessing' he needs to impart should need some sort of ability roll or check.  The cleric wants to impart a blessing (like the 1st level spell), then he needs to roll to see if he succeeds or not.  For that matter, toss out the ability to Cure / Heal wounds on demand spells.  If hit points are an abstraction, then maybe they should be dealt in a better fashion -- see my Death's Door rule for a suggestion.  The spells you wish to keep, well, they are rituals now and something to be performed out of combat.  Maybe limiting 1 per day per level would be sufficient and an appropriate difficulty for each one appropriate to the power scale.  These should be viewed as miracles and NONE should be an automatic success.  Allow for minor things such as Blessings as a minor boost as some sort of character ability and a more powerful Raise Dead or Healing / Disease Removal to be more along the lines of a ritual / miracle.

Obviously it's a work in progress but a shift from a cleric begin considered a spell caster to something a bit more mundane could be a great shift away from a tired (and broken) paradigm.

Perhaps I will throw up an actual proposed class replacement later this weekend.