Sunday, 18 December 2011

Doing without the cleric class: Blessings & pacts

[Players in my Labyrinth Lord campaign, don't worry, I won't be changing anything, as we've already agreed you can use the cleric class as written. This is just musings, but actually is more in line with how I would see such things working in this setting.]

The cleric class is one which I've never been that keen on. I think in the right setting -- one in which militant and hierarchical religious organisations are very influential -- they can be great, but somehow none of the settings I tend to be attracted to have much emphasis on such institutions, making clerical adventurers an odd fit. Actually, in general I tend to baulk against all classes which come with some kind of built-in moral imperative or social background (clerics, druids, assassins, rangers, paladins... even sometimes the humble thief!), preferring to stick with a more neutral tone where adventurers can simply be adventurers, without having some exterior agenda. Given this, I sometimes find myself musing about how some of the important abilities of the cleric class, such as healing and turning undead, could be maintained in a setting without clerics as a class of adventurer. My latest musing have led me to something like the following.

Cosmic Blessings
Any character can visit the myriad temples devoted to weird cosmic powers which exist throughout the world. Many of these temples have priests who can perform various rituals, channelling the power of their patron to bring about miraculous effects in the physical world. It is also possible for individuals to make offerings to the patron of a temple or shrine in the hope of receiving a blessing.

Blessings take the form of imbued clerical spells. Any PC can be imbued with a single 1st level clerical spell, and those with higher WIS can receive additional blessings according to the normal chart for extra clerical spells. (Characters with low WIS may also have a percentage chance of not receiving a blessing when making an offering.) Once a blessing has been received from a cosmic power, it is imbued in the character until used / cast.

Naturally, all blessings come at a cost. I imagine something like 50gp for a 1st level spell, then 100gp per spell level for 2nd and higher level spells.

Also note that each blessing must be attained from an appropriate temple -- for example, cure light wounds from a healing power, spiritual weapon from a deity of battle, and so on. This could lead to interesting campaign possibilities, where a journey to a shrine in an attempt to receive a specific blessing could become an adventure in itself.

Cosmic powers are fine with general promiscuity of worship -- they are quite happy to bless someone who has already been blessed by several other powers.

Cosmic Pacts
Another option, again open to all characters, is to make a pact with a specific cosmic power who patronises an appropriate area of influence. Such a pact is regarded as lifelong, and monogamous -- a marriage, so to speak, of a mortal soul with a cosmic power.

This is the point at which my musings get a bit fuzzy... what exactly would be the benefit of a lifelong pact? Possibly one or more (appropriate) clerical spells "for free" per day, and possibly even using some kind of spell progression based on character level or something else.

There would, however, also have to be some kind of downside -- the cosmic power is going to want something in return. The only thing I've specifically thought of so far would be the mortal's soul, to be claimed immediately upon death (making PC resurrection difficult or impossible). This would be a fairly severe option, but would lend an appropriate weight to such pacts, and would make it an interesting and somewhat risky choice for PCs to make. The choice of which power to make a pact with would also be an interesting roleplaying opportunity, as each power would, presumably, grant completely different abilities to its followers, perhaps domain-specific abilities like I've discussed before here and here.

If anyone has any further thoughts or ideas for such a system please feel free to comment!


  1. obviously adventurers with a patron deity must tithe d6*10% of their wealth and earnings to him/her.

  2. Yeah true that would be a simple option, though really I was thinking of something that's a bit different to "paying for cleric spells", as this is already available in the proposed system by making offerings at temples to gain blessings. I thought it'd be nice if pacts had some different kind of trade-off.

  3. Perhaps tithing a percentage of experience would work. "Rent" on your borrowed soul, if you will.

    Other proscriptions could also be used, depending on the specific cosmic power. No bladed weapons is an obvious example, but i'm sure we could come up with others...

  4. My Lab Lord game features a reputation system. You can increase your reputation for each patron by doing stuff that pleases them, but the greatness of the deed limits how far it can rise. Returning objects has a max reputation of 1, saving lives has a max reputation of 2, saving villages has a max reputation of 4, performing quests for your patron (usually involving angels and devils showing up) has a max reputation of 8. I use this reputation in various ways. It's the percentage chance for divine intervention when you call upon your patron. It's the maximum spell level granted to you by your patron. And – to turn to a possible solution for your problem – I use it for paladins.

    There is no paladin class per se, but every body can be a paladin of a particular patron. In order to do that, you must perform a ritual, swear a binding oath, be blessed by a priest, perform an appropriate feat or something along these lines. The paladins then get to pick special abilities appropriate to the patron, but the ablities available to them depend on their reputation. This is what I'm using for paladins of Mitra: light a fire requires a reputation of 1, a halo at will requires a reputation of 2, the detecting the presence of liars requires a reputation of 3, to prevent lies from being uttered requires a reputation of 3, to take binding oaths requires a reputation of 4.

  5. Both of these systems sound like the way Divine Magic works in Mongoose's RuneQuest II/Legend. Assuming that wasn't your initial inspiration, you may want to look at it.

  6. @brink & Alex: Excellent ideas guys! I think either would work well with this kind of system. Neither ideas sound quite right for what I have in my for my own setting though, and I can't quite put my finger on why... Like I said, my thoughts on this are a bit fuzzy at the moment.

    @semiprometheus: That's interesting! I've never looked at RuneQuest, so maybe I should check it out for inspiration, thanks.