Here’s the GENERAL question:
What is the reason for XP being awarded in the way it is?
Here’s the SPECIFIC question (asked as a follow-up to the general question):
What the heck is a cleric doing in a dungeon?
The specific question should be ask-able (and answerable) for any of the character classes, of course, but cleric seems to be the hardest for most folks to wrap their head around.
And it isn’t helped by asking the specific question FIRST. Sure, that’s easier (kind of) to do, but doing so doesn’t resolve the disconnect. Let me give you some examples of what I mean when I say “asking the 2nd question first:”
- “My cleric is in the dungeon because it is a place of vast (or rumored) EVIL and it is my holy obligation to smite it.” The ‘I’m in the business of hunting evil’ theory.
- “My cleric is in the dungeon because there are innocent captives that need to be rescued (or a holy relic that needs to be found or an ancient demon that needs to be slain, etc.). The ‘I’m on a quest with a specific objective’ theory.
- “My cleric is in the dungeon because these are my companions and I’m here to lend my services as a healer and undead specialist.” The ‘I’ve got a bankable skill set’ theory.
But NONE of these answers work in conjunction with the MAIN question. Sure, they provide a reason your cleric character is present, but NOT in terms of the game as written and designed. Because D&D, at least in the "old school," pre-1985 versions does not reward these things:
- Hunting evil isn’t rewarded.
- Accomplishing a specific objective isn’t rewarded.
- Being a “role-player” (i.e. playing a role in the group) isn’t rewarded.
Primary Reward: Treasure Acquisition. 1gp value = 1xp
Secondary Reward: Defeating Opponents. XP varies based on edition, but generally XP is much less than for treasure found.
The characters that gain the most XP (thereby advancing the fastest, thereby showing themselves to be the most successful) will be those that recover the most monetary treasure. Sure, your fighter can kill 400 orcs (at 5xp a pop) to get to 2nd level, but it’s generally easier to fill a couple large sacks with gold…and certainly easier to recover a jeweled tiara worth a couple grand. Old school D&D is about working smarter, not harder.
So knowing this…knowing that the game (the unadulterated game, the Rules As Written game) rewards characters for acquiring treasure…that O So Base and Material reward that seems a superfluous after-thought to the lofty, high-minded ideals of the heroic personal…knowing THIS, and accepting it, THEN we can set about asking the specific question: what the heck is the cleric doing in the dungeon looking for treasure?
Because that’s what he (or she) is doing. Forget anything you think you learned from Mentzer about clerics in his version of the basic (Red) book. That girlie Bargle fried was naïve and ridiculous at best…or self-deluding at worst. Clerics of Old School D&D earn XP (and thus advance and become more accomplished, effective, powerful) through the acquisition of CASH-MONEY. And that’s why they’re in the dungeon, same as their buddies.
But WHY are they doing it?
Well, first you have to put yourself in a medieval frame of mind. I think “medieval” is most helpful (even if your clerics are worshipping Asgardians or Olympians Great Old Ones) because the game was written with a particular medieval sensibility. I mean, it was based off the “Chainmail” rules, right? And back during medieval times in Europe and the Near East, religion was kind of a Big Player on the world stage. Western students of history spend a lot of time learning about the impact of the One Universal Holy Church on the civilized world because, well, for the most part it was the main driving force of everything. And after the fall of Rome to the barbarians, it was pretty much the ONLY thing going on that provided any beacon of sanity and civilization (even as it did tremendously terrible things to solidify its own secular power).
To do that…to maintain itself, to build its power, to bring light to the masses, and to preserve its foothold in the world…required money. Lots and lots of money.
Consider that when it comes to your cleric class; regardless of whether you’re running Tolkien-esque high fantasy, or ancient Bronze Age adventures, or Vancian weirdness. If you include the cleric class as one of your adventuring archetypes, it’s easy to see reasons for adventuring:
- Building temples, shrines, and churches.
- Building strongholds to defend those churches and their followers.
- Hiring troops to supplement the faithful.
- Funding wars to bring the Good News or defend against Infidels.
- Supporting and maintaining non-adventuring clergy members and institutions (including monasteries and convents).
- Acting as patrons of divinely inspired artwork (sculpture, painting, architecture, etc….the European Renaissance was kicked off by religious artwork funded by the Church).
- Precious treasures found can become part of the ritual implements for religious services (or be sold for money to commission creation of the same).
If it feels “un-Christian” for your Lawful cleric to rob a tomb or ancient temple, you’re not thinking with the proper mindset. While the Romans were “all inclusive” when it came to allowing other cultures to retain their own religions as part of their beneficent Empire, those other religions were still second class citizens (and outlawed entirely after the adoption of Christianity). And consider this: today’s widely held idea that “we are all children of the same God, just using different names and practices” is a recent belief and was NOT the historic norm. Another culture’s holy places/shrines/temples were considered fair-game, totally lootable at best, and outright delusional or evil at worse. The Christians burned many a pagan and the Muslims stomped out a lot of other religions in their conquest of the Middle East and North Africa. Sometimes this was done for political reason (less chance of facing an organized rebellion when the spiritual heart of a city-state has been cut out), but often the folks doing the conquest were actual, devout “True Believers” in their faith. And, as said, for most of our history people have believed its “my way or the highway,” with regard to religion (and to some folks that way of thinking is still alive and well as seen in our dehumanization of those who don’t share our own cultural beliefs).
Does this mean your character (lawful cleric or paladin that she is) can’t be a “hero?” No.
Look, being motivated by money (which adventuring PCs are) does NOT mean there’s no room for heroic action. DCC might have the line about your characters being scurrilous rogues, but that doesn’t mean heroic behavior is proscribed. It just means you might have to reconsider what heroic behavior is within the context of the game.
You can perform feats of courage and nobility and self-sacrifice during the course of your adventure…that is the essence of being a hero. Heck, even setting foot into a dungeon (and plumbing its mysterious depths) is a bold and extraordinary action and can be considered heroic. And there’s plenty of room for cleverness and social interaction (rather than turning every encounter into a slaughter-fest) which are traits of many heroes of myth and legend…it’s not all punching someone in the nose and stealing their goodies.
But remember the context. Stealing that jade statue worshipped by the foul denizens of the Underworld is doing a SERVICE to your own theology…and if you can convert it into cash for the building of a synagogue, all the better. Robbing some ancient tomb isn’t sacrilege…only bizarre pagan idol-worshippers bury their wealth along with the dead (their souls are resting with their gods, there’s no need to leave jewels rotting in the earth, and their baubles can be used for the betterment of one’s own Church). In your character’s mind he or she is doing “the right thing” by pulling off a big haul.
D&D is, of course, a game. Most of us wouldn’t stab someone with a sword in real life, but we don’t have a second thought about doing so in the game. Why? Because it fits the CONTEXT (sometimes justice is “rough” in those days that followed the oceans drinking Atlantis…). So, too, with your cleric’s religion. Remember that the cleric character class is not just some church-going dude with a holy-symbol around his neck. You are a divine agent of your faith. Your god speaks through you, granting you the ability to perform miracles. You are a righteous, holy roller…if you dig up an ancient Indian burial ground to put in a mini-mall that will directly fund your local Cathedral you will be REWARDED…in THIS life as well as the next.
[and who’s to say your politically incorrect actions won’t be for the best in the long run? The Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica was both damnable and outrageous. But would the alternative be to allow human sacrifice to continue to this day? Another sticky philosophical question]
Anyhoo, that’s the attitude I choose when I take up the mantle of the cleric class. It’s why I don’t “hang back” and wait for my chance to heal the wounded or turn undead or whatever. No way, man…I am leading the way (and the charge, when it comes to that) in the party’s quest to find treasure. It’s all for the Greater Glory of my character’s god, you see? And my character believes his righteousness will be rewarded… he’ll make his saving throws or his turning checks or his attack rolls…by doing the will of his divine patron. And if he should fall in battle, well, it was probably in his god’s plan and all things serve that higher purpose, right?
Not that there’s a “wrong way” to play a cleric (far be it from me to suggest such a thing, *ahem*) but I personally find the proactive choice to be the right one for me. I mean, I am wearing the heavy armor, right? Most of a cleric's allowable weapons are one handed (allowing the use of a shield). And don’t you need to stand in front of the group to reveal your holy symbol to the undead? How else are they going to see it (and thus fear it?) if you’re hiding behind the dudes with the pole arms? It seems to me that a character “strong in his/her faith” isn’t afraid to lead from the front; providing a holy light in the darkness, as it were (the better to shine off gold and jewels in the dungeon).
Huh… I should probably institute some house rule about how faithless skulkers (i.e. “weak-sauce clerics”) lose some of their spell-casting ability or take a penalty to turning checks. Boy, that would sure piss some people off! But dammit how else are you going to justify the cleric class’s swift rate of advancement and fantastic saving throws?
Oh, right…I suppose some people don’t think about that kind of thing.