On the Religious Fanboy

Like this, only with a HUGE sword
Should you get rid of clerics in your game?

This question is a unique intersection of crucial information in the campaign.

Are they known gods? New gods? Should they have a selection of Judeo-christian inspired cleric spells? Does their existence explain away literally any mystery in the campaign? Are they not gods, but just powerful humans? Do they dictate right and wrong?

Are you going to have an alignment conversation?!?

On Gods and Superheroes

In the upper right is a picture of Yahweh, the israelite god of weather (or possibly divine winds) and war. He is a holy warrior, riding a chariot, wielding a honking huge sword and slaying the enemies of the country. His army is a host of stars and planets that smash his enemies. At various times he was associated as married to Anat or Asherah. Eventually, as we all know, he took the place of El, becoming a single god, shedding his pantheon containing thousands.

This guy, you see to your left, it the avatar of America. He is a patriotic warrior, wielding a shield and riding a steel horse. He leaps into battle against the enemies of America, smashing them with the stars and stripes of his shield, torn from the woman he loves, a man out of time, he struggles to find how the values of america fit into a hostile future—

Clerics were (and always have been!) the comic fanboys of their nations.

They gather in comic book shop temples, gather at huge comic-cons to worship, and war endlessly online with members of other faiths. Can Superman beat Batman? Is the new DC line awesome or terrible? Will the new new DC line be terrible or awesome? (Protip: Don't get hopes up.)

People have always been talking and telling stories about characters that are greater then men are. Is a god popular? Then his legend changes, with a heel/face turn, or perhaps the opposite when they fall out of fashion.

Time passes, and these stories get co-opted by societies, changing as the societies themselves change. Superman goes from being an alien in a human costume to an alien who is a man that puts on an alien costume. Iron man becomes alcoholic in the 70's. Someone important dies. And then they come back to life.

What's popular is what resonates. What resonates is what hero, what myth, represents the struggle of the people.

That's what the cleric is doing. He's reading the latest issue and arguing over it with the other members of the clergy. The higher ups are crafting new stories and tales and altering the old ones for new people in changing times.

The interaction with the pantheon is much the same. A fan of Captain America doesn't disbelieve in Thor. Thor and Cap hang out together all the time. Sometimes they are on the same side, and sometimes they fight. What's important is that you're a fan of Marvel and not those crappy DC heroes.

Clerics in the Game

The above is a perspective that makes the idea of cleric more palatable. And really, that's what we are talking about every time this comes up. Gods, clerics, and holy spells cause logistical problems. If you can heal, cure disease, and resurrect, then do leaders die? Are their epidemics? Does each god have a portfolio? Is that a lot of extra work? Are gods, gods or just beings on a power-level beyond characters? Does Healing magic just waste everyone's time, devaluing hit points as a resource and shoehorning in a character "because we need a healer"? Are armored spellcasters really a good idea?

These are a lot of annoying work-heavy questions for elf-games.

In the games I create, I've eliminated clerics entirely. I also tend to design spellcasters as needing to be much more focused, leading to a "Healing caster" niche for some. Having an unarmored healing caster class as one of over a dozen different specialties means that someone only takes it when they are actually interested in taking the healing role. Other games contain no healing class.

It's possible I'm understating the problems with the cleric. How do the common people react when every god can perform miracles on the street? Open access to an entire spell list? Turn undead neutralizing a whole class of monsters which become overwhelming otherwise? How about their paucity in fantasy literature?

If anyone is already formulating an argument for why clerics should be in the game; you know, stop. Clearly a lot of these problems have been surmounted. Someone wants to play a cleric in 5e, I just hand them the deity list, along with the convenient "additional deity specific" spells. It works. That plus spending hit dice during a rest plus being in the Forgotten Realms addresses most of the points against clerics made above. But the fact that changes were made, shows that it was a fairly common issue for groups to come up against.

Really, the problem isn't surprising, considering the entire class is a reaction to a single player, running around an ancient castle playing as a vampire, causing everyone grief. Nearly half a century later and we're still dealing with the fallout from that.

Get rid of clerics or change them if you want. It can only do the game good.

Hack & Slash 


  1. I like the solution that was presented in Anima: Beyond fantasy. The game has a trait called Elan that you could buy into, which represented your level of affiliation to a god. Each god had a list of powers Elan granted at certain levels of Elan granted, as well a a list of actions performed that either increased or decreased Elan. In general, if you acted as your god wished you gained Elan and power, but lost it if you perform actions that you god would never wish. But the best part is Elan was class-independent, available to all characters regardless of capability. Thus, a group dedicated to the service of Thor or some shit could consist of a warrior, a thief, a mage and an alchemist and all would still have some Thor powers.

  2. Stripped to the core, the only classes needed are wizards and warriors.

  3. Stripped to the core the only classes needed are people.

  4. After playing 5e for almost a year, I actually hate the wizard spell list. The cleric spells are straight up honest buffs that the player can always rely on. The wizard on the other hand has a negative space built into the description of most of their abilities - a puzzle for the DM to take apart and render the player's character useless.

    I found playing a wizard and DMing another game to be a miserable experience. I knew how to outwit all of my spells, thus I had no confidence in them.

    The cleric I played was much more fun. I never bothered with heal spells (false economy at low level) and enjoyed helping out the rest of the party whilst trying to punch the odd goblin.

  5. I've always had issues with clerics as well. It makes the divine and supernatural this quantized system for players to mechanically interact with. If you want to make a campaign world, you need to plan out this entire pantheon just so a particular class can pick a sponsor.

    It also places assumptions on the campaign as it necessitates there be gods that care about mankind. What if I want all my gods to be Lovecraftian in nature? The class then makes little sense at that point as presented.

  6. This might not work for every campaign, but what if you eliminate NPC clerics from the game world? PC clerics represent those very rare miracle workers or prophets that are sent by a god(s) every few generations. Not only would this solve the faith problem without eliminating a class, but it sets up wonderful situations. For example, Jesus was highly distrusted by Jewish priests during the time because he represented the coming of a social upheaval. A cleric with real god(s) given power can represent a grave threat to a religious establishment, whether said establishment worships good or evil gods.

  7. Yes this works! I came to the same conclusion after a 3 year 4th ed campaign 5 years ago. We went onto a B/X D&D stripped down campaign with three classes warrior, caster and a specialist class (skills based thief) which covered everything else. Each caster had their own focused spell "book" with about 10-15 spells in it. One of them was a healer type buff class, if the party wanted healing then someone could choose a Seer and play that role. I think it was chosen 3 times in the 49 characters that experienced that campaign. Currently running a Stone Age campaign with just two classes, the Shaman is the casting class and again one Shaman option has healing as a minor part of its power lineup. I don't miss clerics at all and the players don't so all good.

  8. You should try role playing. Having characters with very specific beliefs can make a very interesting curve for the other characters.

  9. Ive always seen them as templar saints, I like customized cults and I gave option sto worship whole pantheon and select a favoured god. Id rather clerics than paladins. The standard ones are meant to be good ones and the opposite evil ones make great villains - remember when EHP was a standard FRPG term? D&D is a bout classes - too many are silly too few and I will play runequest instead. I enjoy messing with cleric class and I like having a moral/alignment nag in a party is also fun. When I run INtro games at cons seeing mum be clerics for the family with ad a wizard or fighter and the kids are horrible thieves it is awesome - thieves to me took more work to save and harder for DM to accomadate - i had no one play a theif in decades till a few years back i revised them for my game


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