Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Clerics, Alignment, and things like that

There are these people in France, you see. And they've decided to build a castle.

Sure, I hear you say. Them and William Randolph Hearst (or was that Charles Foster Kane?). Seems like everybody with a couple of million dollars to rub together wants to build a castle.

I've been in the SCA; the topic of discussion whenever anybody discussed the Lottery was what sort of castle they'd build if they won. (Not whether; only what sort.)

And that always seemed a bit off to me.

Okay, so these people in France are using actual Medieval construction methods and no new technology. Great for a research project, but still a bit off.

Y'see, the main, major, life-changing, everybody-and-their-brother-gets-involved construction project of the Middle Ages was NOT the construction of castles. They were a dime a dozen; anybody with a pair of spurs to his name built one of those.

No, the real big deal in construction back then was a cathedral.

(See how I got Clerics in there? Pretty sneaky, huh?)

Now, a lot of people in the old school renaissance (okay, on the Original D&D Discussion Forum, and really not all that many, but go with me here) want to do away with the poor Cleric. "He's just not Swords & Sorcery," they say, "he's just not pulp."

Well, no, he's not. But he's very Middle Ages.

The one constant in the Middle Ages was the church. Kings would come and go, local lords, populations, etc. Even your parish priest, or his boss the Bishop (dun duh duh DUH dun! Sorry.) They might come and go. But the old mother church? Always there. Omnipresent. Churches were more than a place to kill an hour on Sunday. You went there for village meetings, christenings, weddings, funerals -- everything! It was THE social center of the Middle Ages (and the reason they didn't invent Facebook back then.)

So, why is the Cleric not shown more love? It's because they are invariably treated as a combat medic, the guy with the band-aids, nothing more. And I think that's just sad. (Not that I haven't done it, mind you. But as often I'd be the guy playing the Cleric.)

So, how do we reconcile this? The Fighting-Man is a blast to play at low levels, because he can always do stuff. The Magic-User is a blast (literally...) at high levels, because he can lay waste to everything at a whim. And what can the Cleric do?

Well, for one thing, he can turn undead. That's nothing to sneeze at. (BTW: For those of you playing with the Moldvay/Cook or later rules, you seriously need to look at the earlier rule sets. When you turn, you don't roll 2d6 for the number of hit dice of undead you turn; you roll 2d6 for the number of undead you turn. Otherwise, you'd only ever be able to turn a grand total of one (1) vampire, since they have 9 hit dice. Do the math for yourself; you'll see.) Those level drains (if you'll pardon the expression) suck!

But there's more than that. Clerics can perform masses (such as the last rights, which you'll need if you aren't on your toes). They can hear confessions (which you'll need; see previous point). And they provide a great amount of conflict to a game.

What's that you say? That it's up to the monsters to provide the conflict? Why, gentle reader, who on earth do you think I'm talking about?

Y'see, there are these guys called Anti-Clerics. It's right there in Men & Magic, page 34:

Note: There are Anti-Clerics (listed below) who have similar powers to Clerics. Those Clerical spells underlined on the table for Cleric Spells have a reverse effect, all others functioning as noted. The chief exception is the Raise Dead spell which becomes:

The Finger of Death: Instead of raising the dead, this spell creates a "death ray" which will kill any creature unless a saving throw is made (where applicable). Range: 12". (A Cleric-type may use this spell in a life-or-death situation, but misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric.)

Anti-Clerics: Evil Acolyte, Evil Adept, Shaman, Evil Priest, Evil Curate, Evil Bishop, Evil Lama, Evil High Priest.

Where do these guys hang out? In dungeons only? I don't think so!

When I was starting out in adventure gaming, in the 80's (yeah, I'm old; get over it. I have.) I would play pretty much any game which looked interesting. So I got Steve Jackson's Illuminati! because it looked cool. And later on, I picked up the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson (and immediately understood more about The Fantasy Trip, but that's another story...)

Anyway, there's a point in there with a Satanic ceremony, and one of the characters says that a lot of Satanists get positions in Catholic churches so they can steal consecrated items to desecrate in their rituals.

That's what an Anti-Cleric would do. (Remember, in OD&D, there's no Know Alignment spell...)

So: Law is the good guys and Chaos is the bad guys (see, you knew I'd bring Alignment into this...) Well, the Christian Church is based on the Bible. Why couldn't the D&D Church be based on, I dunno, "The Book of the Law?" This would be a Bible-equivalent for a D&D world. Anti-Clerics (chaotic) would profess piety, but secretly work toward the downfall of the church. (Check out the Bishop dude in the movie Ladyhawke. An EHP if I ever saw one. And don't even get me started on Cardinal Richelieu...) And of course the Lawful (i.e.; good guy) Clerics would be on the watch against ALL THE EVIL IN THE WORLD. Including, of course, the Anti-Clerics.

(I'm not advocating McCarthyism, but wouldn't that be a fun scenario for you push-the-envelope type DMs? "The Inqui-SI-tion, what a show!")

Anyway, that's how I'd run D&D if I ever run D&D. (I've been toying with the notion of running a game on the aforementioned OD&D Discussion Forum. If I did, would any of you reading this now be interested in playing? I'm just curious.)

And that's what I have to say on that. Not especially earth-shaking, I know, but hey, I'm just one blogger.

And now, I think I'll have another beer.


Jayson said...

I like your conceptualization of anti-clerics.

Mike D. said...

Very cool way to look at it. I like your ideas here - gives me food for thought.

Ragnorakk said...

good post! I'd like to play, but I've got too many irons in too many fires right now...ugh.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Yes, someone needs to spruce up the cleric.

Check out the new "free" Ordo Draconis, ezine for Dragon Warriors RPG, it has a nic write up for clerical types, that gives them some intersting powers

Anonymous said...

In order to make the ritual and religious role of a Cleric important, you need to either make those things mechanically important or the NPCs need to care about them.

For example, henchmen may be unwilling to travel with a group that has no Cleric, because if the worst should occur there would be no Cleric to perform the burial ceremonies.

The Cleric as a holy man may be able to defuse many situations where enemies are of the same religion. Are the bandits afraid of putting their hands to a holy man? They should be.

When the adventurers walk in to town, the people will approach the Cleric begging for help because they know where they stand with him. For all they know, the Fighting-Man and Magic-User are just dangerous and terrible mercenaries. But the Cleric is a representative of the church.

Will Douglas said...

1d30: Yes, exactly. Got it in one.

See, what I'm looking at is the idea of just one church (well, one in the area where the players begin; there may be an Islamic analog out there somewhere, and "barbarians" may cling to the "old gods". But the basic church is an analog of the medieval christian church -- before the protestant reformation and pretty much without the various schisms that have occurred historically. This isn't a history lesson; it's a game. But it's my game and I'll do it my way.

All of the points you've raised go right along with that idea, and I'll be swiping them, thank you.

Anonymous said...

If you're going to tie the Cleric to an organization, though, you might want to give the other classes the opportunity as well. Not just the church, which would of course be an option for anyone, but think of one group for each class.

Maybe a Robin Hood type of thing for the Thieves, or else an antiquities / archaeology type group that isnt just out to steal but to preserve and educate.

For Magic-Users maybe a loose coalition that tries to police magic use and discourage dangerous or unethical magic (mind reading, mind control, necromancy, etc). But their members gain various social and commercial benefits too.

Fighters are tougher. Maybe a Federal Marshall or Sherriff kind of thing, where they're independent lawmen trusted with some authority, but not more than the local official (like a mayor or head judge, but equal to a local sherriff). That way they can get roped into all kinds of good and/or lawful deeds - or they could abuse their authority for personal benefit!

*Begins writing all this down in his notes*

Will Douglas said...

1d30, I'm glad this is giving you ideas!

My first thought about your suggestion was that it might be superfluous; the whole point of my post was that the Church includes everybody. That's all classes, not just the adventuring Cleric (and Anti-Cleric).

There would also be non-Cleric clergymen, i.e.; unclassed npcs.

But now I'm thinking. There's always been a place for the Magic-User, such as the Wizard's Guild. (Or Wizards', depending...). Thieves have their Thieves Guild, and Fighting-Men are always welcome down at the Mercenaries' Guildhall, an idea which goes all the way back to The Fantasy Trip, back in the early 80's (at least, that's when I read it...)

It's this free interchange of ideas that keeps me blogging! Thanks!