Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Return of the Clerics

On my recent return to D&D in the form of Labyrinth Lord, I've found the place of the cleric in an adventuring party somewhat questionable. So much so that in the first session I declared the class off limit -- instead allowing the PCs to purchase healing potions and scrolls of undead turning to replace the cleric's traditional abilities. The issue that led me to that decision was one of a perceived philosophical difference between the cleric and the other classes. The cleric, as described in the rules, is a holy warrior and crusader against the undead -- a highly moral character. On the other hand, at least as far as my games are concerned, the other classes have no moral imperative whatsoever. Their only unifying feature is that they are 'adventurers' out for gold (= XP). So I saw this disparity, couldn't think of a way to resolve it, and concluded that the cleric could be replaced.

However, after our first session I spotted a rather large flaw in my plan. The PCs had all stocked up with healing potions, as many as they could afford with their 3d8 x 10gp starting money, and they'd got through quite a few of them in the course of the adventure. Those who made it out of the dungeon were now hauling a significant sum of treasure, and, of course, their reaction was: first stop more healing potions! This isn't something I'd anticipated at all, and is probably something that takes a player's point of view. The trouble is though, with healing potions costing 50gp (they have to be cheap otherwise 1st level characters, who are the ones who really need them, can't afford them), and with most characters needing to amass 2,000 or more gp to reach 2nd level (give or take a few hundred for creatures defeated) they'll be rolling in healing potions before the second session is out! This equates to basically infinite hit points, which isn't quite the vibe I was going for... Especially not at 1st level.

So I concluded that the cleric had to return, somehow. But how to make a holy man fit in with the bunch of chaotic rogues the PCs had rolled up for characters? I considered several possibilities, from a complete re-skinning of the class as a new race (perhaps some kind of faun) naturally blessed with healing magic, to giving magic-users access to healing spells. Neither of those options felt quite right however. The healing race would become essential in any party, and I want to keep it so that no demi-humans are essential, however beneficial their presence may be. And the healing wizards option would most likely relegate the magic-user to the most boring class -- a walking healing machine with no other abilities (what 1st level fighter would let his wizard companion memorize any spells except cure light wounds?).

At last I came up with another option, which is what I'm going to go with now in subsequent games (and let the days of 50gp healing potions be quietly forgotten). I thought about things the other way around -- what kind of cleric would fit in with a bunch of rogues? Of course, followers of roguish deities who support thieving and slaying and treachery. Not that they'd all have to be on the totally chaotic / evil end of the spectrum -- a god of underworld delvers, for example, presumably a fairly neutral deity, would be perfectly willing to support a party embarking on an expedition into a dungeon. I'm thinking petty gods here in scope. Here's a few ideas of the kind of deities I'm thinking about allowing clerics to follow:
  • The god of tomb robbers
  • The god of scavengers
  • The goddess of insane danger
  • The god of underworld delvers
  • The goddess of impending doom
That sort of thing. Such gods both solve the moral issue, and sound like they'd be a lot of fun!


  1. In the campaign I play in Healing Potions are 100gp each but the limiting factor is that they are difficult to come by. It's rare to find a vendor that even has healing potions available. And if they are available there may only be one or two for sale.

    You could even use supply & demand to drive up prices as the PCs consume more.

  2. Perfect solution! I faced similar issue translating my Ara campaign setting from a cleric-less system that used healing potions to standard (cleric-ful) Labyrinth Lord, but now that I have clerics onboard, I enjoy them a lot. The key, as you state here, is to find appropriate / fun / morally nebulous / petty-type gods for said clerics to serve. I even allow my campaign's clerics to worship demons, devils, and elemental princes if they choose!

  3. Tyson, that's another good system, I'd not thought of limiting the supply. Obvious really!

    Carter, excellent idea about allowing clerics to worship arch-devils and so on as well! I'd allow a cleric to follow any "advanced supernatural entity" (for want of a better word encompassing petty gods, arch-devils, demon & elemental princes, etc!) as long as the worship didn't entail some strict code of conduct or morals which would get in the way of good old-fashioned adventuring! I guess in the case of the more evil entities like arch-devils perhaps the cleric has simply made a pact for his soul in exchange for his spells -- no code of conduct required. Good stuff. :)

  4. Hey Gavin, cool idea. This is an issue that I was struggling with myself. I thought I'd offer the conclusion I came to for your consideration. As you say:

    "The cleric, as described in the rules, is a holy warrior and crusader against the undead -- a highly moral character."

    I completely agree with your statement but I have expanded it as well to include all manner of other creatures and forces which make their home in the dungeon, and not just the undead. Perhaps the cleric is especially well suited to fighting the undead but he is just as motivated to battle chaotic goblins and other blasphemous creatures. The cleric may not like the motivations of his companions but as long as they still serve the greater good by clearing dungeons, he sees them as the lesser and necessary evil.

    Hope this useful to you in some way. Cheers.

  5. Hey Pierce, yeah I guess that's the traditional argument as to how a Lawful Good cleric (for example) might adventure with Neutral / Chaotic / Evil characters -- that their actions in killing monsters in dungeons are for the greater good, regardless of their (potentially very selfish) motivations for doing so.

    I'm sure that can work just fine, but I guess it's when it comes to choosing which adventures hooks to follow that the moral differences get really tricky. The LG cleric is gonna be all about saving wretched villagers, returning the lost relics of St. Crispin, and that sort of thing, while the rest of the party might be more interested in stealing jewels from righteous noblemen or just looting dungeons. I just don't want the moral issue to get involved at all, not in this campaign at least... :)


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