Saturday, 10 June 2017

1 Magic and Religion

1.1 Background

1.1.1 Ye Wizards

D&D is, essentially, Vancian magic and level-based classes. I know WotC think otherwise but they only have the name because they paid for it and that doesn’t give them any rights to decide what it is, just what gets marketed under the name.

Anyway, without both of these things, you’re just playing a fantasy role-playing game. It might be a very good one, but it’s not Dungeons and Dragons.

Generally this isn’t a problem as the level-based system is pretty good at simulating how heroic or action fiction of all sorts works in terms of abilities and resistance to death - there’s normal people who die in droves against something that a small group of heroes defeat.

Vancian casting is a little less universal, although not so much in the practical sense of actually casting the spells so much as the preparing them.

Obviously, Vance’s work has examples of the process of basically jamming the energy of a spell into one’s head and releasing it later, losing in the process all that stored energy and so requiring the whole ritual to be repeated before the spell can be cast.

Vance’s ideas evolved, possibly riffing off Saberhagen, but the core idea had a little bit of an impact outside of his works, notably on Terry Pratchett although that was almost certainly by way of D&D.

The system allowed for the sort of tactical decision making and resource-management which is a hallmark of early exploration games.

But there was a problem which was created by that very exploration-heavy assumed motivation - a magic-user who went exploring more than a day’s journey from home was basically stuck with having to drag their precious spell-books with them and risk their total destruction, at which point they’re in real difficulties.

Now, dragging spell-books around on an adventure is definitely not something that occurs in source material of any kind that I can think of, including all the stuff in Appendix N. It’s a major issue for AD&D magic-users and a huge disadvantage beside their fellow spellcasters, the clerics and druids.

1.1.2 Ye Clerics

Now, clerics in D&D are not priests. They’re actually holy warriors who are given miraculous powers by their “deity”. I say “deity” because this is somewhere the deep roots of D&D in mediaeval wargaming rise to just below the surface. Far from being the modern, or ancient, fantasy vision of a world full of gods and spirits, the core books of both OD&D and AD&D are very much a Christian view. Clerics are followers of Christ without the game saying so. In OD&D, the cleric’s “holy symbol” was specifically a cross. AD&D moved away from that slightly but the broad vision of the class is the Christian vampire hunter.

The practical effect of this is that God is literally everywhere - and feels like he’s everywhere - and that is one thing that makes playing a non-Christian cleric unsatisfactory.

Clerics use the same “theory of spells” as magic-users - the energy of the spell is implanted in the character’s mind and is released when needed. The difference is that instead of spell-books, the cleric’s deity gifts the energy requested, either indirectly or directly and in person.

The rules apply no restrictions on where this gifting takes place. They specify that the cleric gains them by “supplication” but, in keeping with the assumption of an omni-present god, the 15 minutes-per-level of praying or whatever form this supplication takes can be done anywhere and at any time.

This is clearly a major advantage to the adventuring cleric as compared to the adventuring magic-user struggling to find ever more secure (and un-heroic) ways of transporting their most valuable possessions across open wilderness or even into deep oceans or planes of living fire. That would perhaps be acceptable as just something that magic-users have to live with in return for their much wider range of spells and, indeed, two entire extra levels of spells. I’m not sure where that argument leaves illusionists, though. But there is a knock-on effect of this al-fresco worship which is more subtle but also much more deadly to the role-playing experience.

Because there is no requirements about place of worship, the cleric character need never enter such a place. A “high priest” can happily reach that position without the player ever having had to deal with their religious organisation, enter a temple or perform any overt act of religious ritual. The cleric trains under another cleric and, similarly, there’s no need for that training to take place in anywhere more religious than an Inn.

Similarly, there are no real rules about ritual cleansing or purification, since there is nowhere the cleric has to worry about entering while “polluted”.

All in all, this aspect of the cleric’s spell-gaining mechanic is one of the main reasons that AD&D and OD&D have a fairly notorious lack of colour. There’s pretty well no depth to the relation between a cleric and their deity, with the possible exception that many players dream of one day taking on their god, or some god at least, in combat.

For many DMs it can be hard to find experienced players even interested in playing a cleric as there’s little difference between them, and their spell mechanics means that they all cast the same sorts of spells. Once you’ve played one cleric, you’ve played them all. The odd magic-user here and there will fail to “know” fireball or even magic missile and regardless of that their spell lists will be dominated by what spells they have found while exploring. Clerics are heal-bots not just because the cure spells are fantastically useful, but because there’s no cleric anywhere who can’t cast them.

I’m going to skip over the various attempts to make a cleric’s choice of deity useful in AD&D as they were all pretty feeble. Instead I am going to discuss a cure for both this ill and the question of magic-users’ books.

1.2 A Modest Proposal

The solution to both problems is, I think, this small change to Vancian casting:

  • Instead of being lost completely, a spell’s energy is drained until the caster has time to rest and meditate on it again, using the same time as is currently needed to learn the spells from the normal source (book or god).
  • However, only the spells currently assigned to the “spell slots” can be recovered this way, changing the memorised spell list is impossible.

For example, Jim the magician has a rest for 6 hours and gets his spell books out. He then spends another 2 hours memorising burning hands, magic missile x2, sleep; mirror image, invisibility; dispel magic, and lightning bolt. He then heads off on an adventure with some mates, leaving his spell books at home. During the next day or two he uses both magic missile spells and the invisibility.

Jim settles down in a nice warm cave and has 4 hours kip. On awakinging, he can spend 45 minutes bringing the components of the thaumaturgical circuits back together in his mind and he’s ready to go with a full complement of his initial spell list.

Only if he found another magic-user’s spell book would he have the chance to swap out one of his memorised spells for something new (or if he returned to his base of operations).

This obviously allows magic-users to work “in the field” at the cost of what flexibility they had. What about clerics?

Well, the same change applies to clerics. Instead of being able to change their spell-lists anywhere they like, they can now only change the memorised list by spending the normal 15 minutes per spell level on hallowed ground. Put simply, they need to visit a shrine, temple, glade, grotto, or other sacred ground in order to commune properly with their deity.

A cleric of Neptune can still pray for spells while 1000 miles inland and 10,000 feet up a mountain in a desert, she’s probably going to have to make her own holy site up there first. Otherwise, she has whatever Neptune granted her at the quay-side shrine in Pompeii as she set off for the high Atlas Mountains.

1.3 Colouring in the Cleric

The change proposed above is minor for magic-users and illusionists. It gives them less flexibility in spell-casting if they take the option of leaving the spell books behind. For clerics and druids, the change is much more profound.

By requiring some specific and sanctified area in which to commune with the power which grants them their spells, this change gives clerics, PC and NPC a motivation to protect such areas, to expand them, and to bring things (living or otherwise) to them for sacrifice or dedication to their god. Plot hooks! Hurrah!

1.4 The Effects of (Un)Holy Space

1.4.1 Physical

Let’s look at the holy space idea in a bit more detail. Firstly, it has to be a physical thing. It may be as little as an altar in a defined space; some deities will not demand one or the other but the baseline is that the holy space will have at least one of these two.

Druids will have groves, some of them will be created or sanctified by the druids, but some will be the “natural” homes of dryads or similar beings. A bank by a river inhabited by a naiad, or a mountain where sylphs dwell might also do. But even druids may have altars too.

Some sort of ritual, perhaps using the ceremony spells in UA, must be carried out to gift it to the deity, and this may have various restrictions on it, such as time of year, or specific sacrifices peculiar to the thing being worshipped.

1.4.2 Metaphysical

The holy space belongs to the deity; it is literally its house (one of many). The things brought there and dedicated to it belong to the deity and removing them is the same as stealing from the deity.

The same applies to spirits and souls. Regardless of alignment, the soul of a human sacrificed at a demonic altar is going to the Abyss. An Orc sacrificed at a heavenly altar is going to heaven.

The assumption is that objects have some sort of spirit and sacrificing an item by breaking it and leaving the pieces in the space for some period in some way sends a copy of the item “to the gods” as a token of esteem.

This aspect of ownership places a burden on the priesthood that is proportional to the size of the space. A simple altar overlooking a sea cliff is easy to maintain; there would be no need for a full time priest at all. But a complex like the acropolis in Athens would need guards and the guards would need monitoring, and the number of shrines, altars, and temples implies more or less full time staffing of some sort.

Notice that this is mostly about keeping the gods’ property safe. The role of the cleric is very much about serving the deity, less so the laity and even less so non-believers (or non-worshippers).

  1. Wipe Your Feet

    Coming into the deity’s house may mean abiding by various rules. For the Greeks, as an example, entering holy ground after killing someone was forbidden, similarly people who have had sex were “polluted”. These things could be fixed in many cases by simple washing (basins were provided outside all but the smallest shrines), but other acts would require more strenuous efforts. There’s no particular reason why intent or knowledge should be involved in these rules. A person who reverses their chariot over a small boy without noticing might find themselves judged as unfit in the same way as a soldier who has just returned from the battlefield.

    Obviously, a cleric who is unclean will not be given new spells until they have done something about it.

    This gives scope for active and intelligent use of both atonement and geas spells (as well as plain old having a bath now and then).

  2. Tidy Up In Here

    Related to this idea it also becomes necessary to look after the god’s house while s/he is off doing godly things. The area needs to be representational of the deity’s desires and goals as formed by their alignment, sphere of interest, and personality. This might mean polished marble, heaps of rotting corpses, the arms and armour of defeated foes, or garlands of flowers and a spring of fresh water.

    This, in turn, provides a means of attacking the deity’s interests (and the status of their local clergy) which may need to be defended against. Holy/unholy water is one simple way of attacking an area, but various rituals might be possible too. Once an area is desecrated in this way, it becomes unavailable for spell renewal until cleared up. More plot hooks!

1.4.3 Very Metaphysical

As a generic motivation, looking after the deity’s house will only get you so far. More specific motivations for the different deities will need to be, well, specified. Alignment is a reasonable start.

Broadly, Good deities want to protect the world from Evil deities who want to eat it. Evil deities share an enjoyment of causing suffering and loss. Morally neutral ones don’t want that, and Good ones want there to be active elimination of it.

Within those categories the gods’ personalities and areas of interest should inform what they expect to see in their material dwelling spaces and also what actions they are expecting their clergy to carry out on their behalf in return for their blessings (i.e., their hit points, saving throws, and above all their spells).

On the ethical side of things, Lawful deities will be looking to increase the degree to which societies are organised and stable, while Chaos wants to free the individual, or just go mental.

  1. Metagaming Metaphysics

    From various clues in the books, we can posit some metaphysical rules. We know, for example, that demons and devils can not enter the PMP at will but that devas and so forth can. There’s even rules about how long a demon or devil can stay if they do get invited or summoned.

    I suggest this: The Deities of Law and Good (top-left quadrant of the alignment graph) agreed that there should be restrictions placed to protect the PMP. Basically, the PMP is off-limits unless the rules are broken, in which case the powers of Law or Good can intervene to restore them and then return to their home plane as soon as possible.

    Lawful Evil (the devils) agreed to go along for the sake of stymieing Chaos; Chaotic Good for the sake of thwarting Evil. CN, CE, and NE go along with them (most of the time) because the Solars are the biggest boys on the block; they have no real choice. However, they did manage to at least get the various clauses in that do allow them to be called to the PMP.

    The main loophole is the sacred area which allows them to communicate directly to their clergy without breaking any access rules, since the space is by definition their property and not, in a sense, actually the Material Plane. Through this, they can maintain a clergy and have that clergy pursue their agendas by proxy (which has the additional advantage of not being personally dangerous; no arch-duke of hell wants to wake up to find Thor knocking on the door).

    So, although most deities have no great interest in 0-level worshippers (who they regard as nice pets/food, depending on alignment), they do take an active interest in classed characters because of their ability to Get Things Done™.

    Everyone knows this is a technicality but it actually suits all sides in one way or another.

1.4.4 Temporal Spaces

There’s no reason that holy spaces should be 24/7. They may only operate at certain times: when the moon is full, the spring tide is at its peak, or the stars are right and so forth.

In any case, there should be a specific necessity for clerics to make sacrifices at a holy site at least once per year. This can be handwaved as part of their monthly upkeep costs, at least in terms of what is sacrificed, but the DM should require actual physical attendance at a site. Failure will result in the blocking of any new spells until atonement has taken place.

Some deities may require more frequent attendance, but annual is a recommended minimum.

The same goes for non-clerical worshippers, but there’s no direct game mechanical effect.

1.5 Rough Ideas

1.5.1 Levels of Holiness

What’s D&D without levels?

There’s a natural instinct to think of a hierarchy of holy sites. Perhaps:

  • Personal or household Shrine
  • Public shrine
  • Village church
  • Parish church
  • Cathedral
  • The Vatican


  • Personal or household shrine
  • Public or shared family shrine
  • Village temple
  • City temple
  • Cult centre temple

That sort of thing. At the same time there’s a couple of “natural” ways of applying the idea of levels to AD&D clerical assumptions:

  • Shrine (cleric can gain 1st or 2nd level spells)
  • Temple (cleric can gain 3rd to 5th level spells from intermediary spirit)
  • Cult centre (cleric can gain any spell from deity)

Or, holy spaces might come in 7 levels, with each designating a corresponding spell level.

I quite like the idea of this second version as it means that lesser gods and demi-gods automatically have less impressive cult centres.

However, both of these divisions leave something to be desired when we look at the very low end and, in particular, at religions that worshipped gods and goddesses with aspects as well as hero-cults. I’d like these to be sources of small numbers of, or even single, spells specific to the aspect.

I don’t want to go “full Greek”, as it were and have cleric PCs have to do a tour of the land to stock up on the general spells from PHB. But I quite like the idea that if a party is going to go to sea, then a trip to a specific temple of Poseidon might grant the cleric a particular spell like ’calm sea’ or ’charm sea-monster’ etc. I’d also quite like to move many of the UA spells into this sort of frame-work so that players can simply play with PHB and discover new spells by asking around or exploring.

It also makes pantheons more relevant as a character has access to multiple allied deities for specific things without getting bogged down in questions of who is their “actual” patron god.

Without getting too setting-specific, here’s my idea for classifying holy precincts by “level”:

  1. Simple - spells of any level but limited to 1, 2, 3, or 4 spell levels (see below).

    Requires attendance from a lay-priest.

  2. Minor site - 1st and 2nd level spells

    Requires attendance by a cleric or druid of 1st level

  3. Important site - 3rd, 4th, and 5th level spells

    Requires a cleric of 5th level or druid of 3rd level

  4. Great site - 6th level spells

    Requires cleric/druid of 9th level

  5. Holy of Holies - 7th level spells

    Requires a cleric of 16th level or druid of 14th level.

If a priest, shaman, or cleric of the appropriate type is not available to perform the main holy day rituals of a year then the site is automatically downgraded one level, with an additional level loss per each subsequent festival day which is missed. Once a site reaches level zero it has been abandoned but up to that point it can be restored simply by performing the next major ritual in the god’s calendar.

  1. Simple site restrictions

    A simple site will have a number of spell levels available is based on the deity - 1 for cults based on spirits (ancestors, minor demons, ki-rin etc.), 2 for demi-gods, 3 for lesser gods, and 4 for greater gods.

    So a small barn shrine dedicated to a local grass spirit will offer only one 1st level spell (bless cow or some such). A small altar in the woods dedicated to Enlil will offer some mixture of spells adding up to 4: perhaps 4 first level spells, or a single 4th level spell, two 2nd level spells or whatever.

    These spells can be a mixture of general PHB spells or unique spells specific to the locale. The greater the object of worship the more likely it is that there will be general spells available.

  2. Unique spells

    Sacrifice must me made to the value of 100gp times the level of specific spells prayed for at a site. Unique spells might be available at any site, but simple sites will always have at least one and it will related in some way to the nature of that site.

    In addition to the on-the-spot sacrifice, the character is required to return and sacrifice 10% of whatever is gained through the use of the unique spell granted. This applies to the entire party and covers anything returned to safety on an adventure where the spell is actually cast.

  3. Lay priests

    Lay priests are 0-level NPCs who are pious enough to be allowed to perform rituals at a site. If their wisdom is high enough then they will be able to pray for and use the spells available at their site using their wisdom bonus alone.

    Since these are NPCs, their base wisdom is limited to 15, but age may increase that. So, for example, a lay priest with 14 wisdom can cast two 1st level spells; one with a wisdom of 17 can additionally cast two 2nd level spells and a 3rd level spell.

    There is no requirement that a lay priest be able to cast any spells at all, but their wisdom must be at least 9 in order to properly perform the required rites.

  4. Holy of Holies

    The top level of sacred space is the Holy of Holies. Each deity will only have one of these on any continent or similar sized area. There will be some representation of the deity there which forms the focus for the god. These will not necessarily be anthropomorphic or representative of the appearance of the god at all, although they will usually be emblematic in some way.

1.5.2 Mobile Altars, Fetishes, and Shamen

Mobile sites are available in several forms such as the famous Temple of the Wooden Sword, or a shaman’s fetish stick or similar items.

Such basic equipment acts as a simple site but with the additional restriction that the generic spells available (i.e., the PHB ones) are as listed for tribal casters in DMG.

1.5.3 Guardians

Aside from the material creatures which protect a site, it is possible for guardian spirits to be assigned to one.

Such guardians will be picked from an appropriate plane and could be modrons, oliphants, devils, demons, or any creature which can be encountered on the astral plane (for druids the guardian must be able to traverse the ethereal plane instead) of a compatible alignment.

A guardian’s challenge rating is limited to the square of the site it is attached to. If the site degrades, the guardian will remain until the site is completely abandoned.

Guardians will be empowered to engage in combat, possibly from the astral or ethereal planes and possibly psionically, any trespasser who touches any of the god’s belongings without permission or good reason. The guardian will use whatever faculties it has to determine this, and potentially can be fooled.

The deity itself will act as guard for its holy of holies.

  1. Making Friends

    Whatever ritual is used to summon a guardian, the creature must serve willingly and so the summoning (which may have similar restrictions and requirements as originally dedicating the site did) must end with a successful reaction roll from the guardian towards the summoner.

    The reaction roll is modified by charisma and the target score is based on the guardian’s alignment:

    Alignment Target
    LG 35
    NG 50
    CG 55
    CN 60
    CE 70
    NE 65
    LE 45
    LN 40
    N 80

    These are based on the loyalty mods with the exception of the modifier for neutral (i.e., elemental) guardians which assumes, based partly on contact other plane, that they prefer not to get involved with, or are just not interested in, events on the material plane. If you don’t view it that way, or you have neutral deities involved, then 50 would seem the logical score. I would say that for druids in particular, woodland and fey creatures would be a common type of guardian.

    These are minimums; further modifiers should be applied upwards if the character is not in good standing. Penalties should be applied if the holy precincts to be guarded are not worthy of the guardian - too small for a powerful one, in disrepair, or in an inappropriate place.

1.5.4 Hierarchy

There is no hierarchy of temples or sites by default. An individual religion may have such but since all the higher level clerics are in communication with the deity or its servants directly, there is no need for councils or synods or similar to decide what is or is not canon law nor any reason why a priest from one site should be able to order a priest from another around, other than personal respect or strength. There may be organisational issues which need oversight, of course, but even that is not a given.

1.6 Notes

1.6.1 Logic be damned

Logically, clerics under this system should really not get any spell recovery at all unless at a sanctuary but from a game perspective that’s just too harsh and we’d be back at the point where magic-users on campaign are crippled except it would be cleric PCs getting the crappy end of the stick.

1.6.2 Jesus!

Personally, as is probably apparent from the length of this post, I’m very excited about this, really rather simple, idea. It does have a minor issue in that it is actually a poor fit with pure monotheism of the modern sort where the single deity is literally the only one. Older forms of monotheism, as found in the Old Testament for example, allowed for the existence of multiple gods but simply insisted that a particular tribe exclude all but one from their worship. That sort of monotheism is a lot less omnipresent than the later versions which started to gain ground around 400 B.C.

So if, in fact, you really do want to run a mediaeval setting, much of this idea will have to be modified, possibly to use saints instead of other deities or aspects of the single one.

1.6.3 Transgressions

One area where this system is easier on players than the book system is that clerics who transgress will still potentially have access to spells - perhaps very powerful spells - which they can continue to use. I would suggest a two-pronged attack on this possible abuse.

Firstly, if the cleric changes alignment or begins worshipping a different deity, the shock of this re-alignment of their self- and world-views simply clears their minds of all previous spells.

If this does not apply then some form of divine retribution will be forthcoming. Just as servants of a deity grant the higher level spells, so they can be sent to destroy those that abuse the power given. Deities will not personally intervene in this way. Faithful clerics may be sent in the first instance, and if a rebellious cleric is recalcitrant for any length of time then they may be anathematised so that clerics and servants of the deity will sense immediately that they are under (edict).

Entering a sacred precinct while in such a state will possibly incur the immediate attack of any guardian spirit.

1.6.4 Our World and the World of Myth

One problem with adding rules for religion (or any aspect of a fantasy world, really) is that one has to decide what it is that one is trying to simulate. Does one simulate how religion was actually performed in real life or instead simulate what people believed was going on?

This carries through into almost everything about holy spaces. People believed that the gods liked sacrifices. Yet, with the exception of killing things, it was obvious that sacrifices didn’t really do anything except lie on the altar getting rusty/rotten/tarnished/stolen.

Primitive people had to rationalise some other form of sacrifice and common examples were breaking items, burying them, or throwing them somewhere inaccessible so that the owner would never be able to use them again, making them a sacrifice in the sense of losing something. The pretence being that the owner’s loss was somehow the gods’ gain.

But in a game, what happens? Does the gold given to the temple actually vanish? If so, what the hell are the gods doing with gold coins, torcs, and jewellery?

Items are an easier fit with the idea that the sacred space is in some sense the god’s house and so can be regarded as decoration. A cthonic deity might well be happy to have things buried in the ground.

I think a playable solution is to distinguish between sacrifices and dedications.

A sacrifice is materially consumed by the deity. That means that it is transported from the site of sacrifice to wherever the deity’s home is in the inner or outer planes, where that being can decide what to do with it. What is an acceptable sacrifice depends on the deity.

A dedication is something which is given to the god but which remains in its material home where it was placed, and is available for use by those sent on specific missions from that site.

Both of these conceptions are supported by the ceremony spells in UA. They are analogous to the keeping or selling of magic items. A sacrifice is more immediately rewarding; a dedication is a long-term investment.

Historically, and indeed currently, most temples and churches have been happy to accept cash for the simple reason that the priesthood could use it (similarly with food offerings, although Akhenaten was a notable exception, insisting that food be left to rot rather than eaten).

Again, in a fantasy world the question is what to do about cash sacrifices - do they vanish or remain. I’m inclined to go with the latter for the majority of gods.

Cash can be used to expand the holy areas and maybe pay for guards and so forth. For some deities a reasonable use might be to hire mercenaries or spread corruption and gambling. So long as the earthly representatives remember that, once sacrificed, the money is their god’s and not their own then they should be okay.

  1. Stop Waffling

    All of the above is a way of saying that sacrifices and dedications should affect the “standing” of a cleric (or any worshipper, in fact) in some way that I can not quite define.

    Characters not in good standing will not be able to renew spells until they have atoned, and if they go a long way beyond the pale, such as borrowing dedicated arms and not returning with them when they are needed for someone or something else, they may become anathamatised as mentioned above.

  2. The Free Market in Worship

    An important word in the study of religions, particularly polytheistic ones, is “reciprocity”. This the idea that humans do something for their deity in return for the deity doing something in return.

    The problem is that no deity ever actually does anything in return since they don’t exist. That means that there is nothing which fixes any sort of ratio between what is sacrificed or dedicated to the god and what the worshipper gets in return. The Aztecs got nothing more for their conveyor-belt approach to human sacrifice than the English Christians of 1316’s harvest festivals did to prevent the Great Famine

    From a game point of view, there’s nothing to hang off this back-and-forth as it simply didn’t actually exist.

    However, in a fantasy game we have living gods taking an interest in the world “below”. What each wants from that interaction should be defined, as mentioned above, by their alignment, sphere of interest, and personality. Essentially, I’m saying that each deity (and each aspect of each deity) should have it’s own requirements for being in good standing there and that the “exchange rate” will vary, possibly wildly.

    For example, a simple site devoted to a CE god of disease may offer cure disease in return for a human sacrifice while a NG god of healing might do the same thing in return for donating funds towards building a hospice within a holy site. Or in return for dedicating the head of a mummy or other disease-spreading monster.

    There’s no way to draw up a generic system for this sort of thing. In particular, I reject Gygax’s suggestion in Dragon #97 of a universal system of power-brokerage. I think that’s just the temptation to systematise every detail that many of us are vulnerable to.

  3. The Negative Effect of Gods

    In the real world, religion develops and changes according to the needs of the worshippers. This isn’t unexpected since it was they who invented the deities, chose the sacrifices, and set the rules. Socially, this allows the religious leaders to adapt instead of condemning new ideas (an option they don’t always take).

    As M.A.R. Barker noted in his own fantasy world of Tekumel (Empire of the Petal Throne), if the gods are actually real then this flexibility goes away. Or, at least, the option resides with the deity rather than its followers. Priests and clerics are the enforcers of their gods’ views of how the world should work and if that god says that electricity is an abomination, then it is their job to hunt down anyone working on generating it and stop them. Potentially at least, progress itself becomes blasphemous.

    While this may grant the DM an in-built excuse for why their world, or some region or other therein, has never developed beyond the point at which the DM wants it to had reached, it may also give players something to fight against. Perhaps another set of plot hooks, or just a pain in the neck for the DM, depending on how they handle this.

1.6.5 What is a cleric?

In this vision of the religious character, an AD&D or D&D cleric is an active agent. To make an analogy with a temporal baron, the normal “priest” takes the place of a steward to the god while the cleric is the champion sent out int the world to take care of some business or to win some prize.

This model is a much happier and clearer fit, especially if we eliminate the whole concept of Concordant Opposition that was introduced in D&DG. Doing so leaves all clerics as having a non-neutral alignment and that means they all have a diametrically opposed alignment. Even more plot hooks!

Now, any adventure for a cleric has a purpose of some sort - at the very least to bring back great prizes or wonders to give to their god, and beyond that the chance to root out the actions of the opposing alignment(s).

The cleric is no longer a strange anomaly, a priest with no church, but an active agent in the world much more in keeping with the class description in PHB but with no mysterious questions about why they never have any religious duties. Adventuring is their religious duty. Not necessarily proselytising but certainly carrying on work which pleases their god. And back at base there’s a whole body of priests looking after the god and with whom the cleric has a reason to interact.

There are several other types of holy agent in the game, however:

  1. Paladins

    Paladins must likewise visit holy sites in order to change their clerical spells and to dedicate or sacrifice their tithe.

  2. Bards and Rangers

    Similarly, bards and rangers must spend time with druids in order to adjust their druidical spell lists.

  3. The Demi-humans

    Just as human deities are interested in things on the material plane, so other races’ deities may have other spheres more relevant to them. Thus, perhaps, we have an explanation for the lack of dwarven, gnomish, and elven PC clerics - these races worship gods with no specific interest in the realms in which most adventurers travel. Thus they are unavailable for normal play.


  1. I think you're writing a great sourcebook for a cleric-centered campaign.

    1. Yeah, I think that too. But it needs sharpened up a bit. Playtested!