Previously, I wrote that a cleric’s ability to wear armor wasn’t “worth mentioning” by which I meant “isn’t pertinent to the subject at hand,” said subject being what the cleric brings to the game that isn’t there otherwise.
Red commented that the cleric’s ability to use spells and wear armor is a special ability…that what the cleric brings is a hybrid of the magic-user/fighter class for humans that isn’t already present (said hybrid being present with elves) and that prior to the thief class, clerics were the jack-of-all-trades class (for humans) in the game.
Okay, I guess it does bear discussing. Let’s discuss.
First off, I disagree that the cleric is a “hybrid” anything. Elves, with their ability to fight as fighters and magic as magic-users are the only hybrid in the game. Clerics are spellcasters (that discussion is in the next post…which has been put off because I need to write this, thanks a lot!), but they do NOT cast magic-user spells…they have their own suite of spells, different in nature and effect from wizards.
Personally, I dislike calling a thief a “jack-of-all-trades” but I guess it really is the closest thing prior to the bard class of AD&D. They have the full use of weapons, the ability to read magic scrolls, attack ability equivalent to a cleric (if none of the cleric’s other abilities) at the cost of wearing heavy armor. The latter, while probably a game balancing effect, at least has an in-game justification that a big noisy human can’t perform their thiefly skills while bedecked in clinking mail. I don’t see any reason to rule that a thief can't wear armor (when not performing their thief skills)…I mean, it’s not like it burns their skin or something to put it on.
[likewise, you can justify making any thief that wears armor fight as the equivalent of a 1st level fighter, regardless of actual level; his better attack rolls at high level are in part due to his “thiefly fighting style” and being constricted by armor hamstrings his ability to duck and weave and feint and throw sand and fight dirty, etc.]
But the baseline human in OD&D has the ability to wear armor. Any of the NPC men found in the monster section could be kitted out in full armor and suffer no worse for it (they’re not the equal of an adventurer in fighting ability anyway, but they are unhindered by a little plate and mail). A cleric’s ability to wear armor isn’t unusual…the magic-user’s lack of ability to wear armor IS. The real question isn’t why the cleric can wear armor and cast spells; the real question is why CAN’T the magic-user? After all, the elf can wear armor and cast spells, the cleric can wear armor and cast spells, what’s the bug up the wizard’s ass that prevents him (or her) from doing the same?
Under the elves’ description (in LBB #1) it states they “may wear magic armor and still act as magic-users.” The implication here is that magic-users can wear armor (like any other human) but their magical ability dries up (at least for the duration of wearing armor). Why?
The short, pithy answer is, of course, “game balance.”
In CHAINMAIL originally, wizards were of variable ability but all fought the same: as two armored foot, or as two medium horse (when mounted). For recognition of scale, an “armored foot” is the equivalent of a dismounted knight on foot (presumably with all the armor, weapons, and know-how to use them). A medium horse is the equivalent of pre-plate armored cavalry (the examples cited as "medium horse" are mail-wearing equivalents, like “Norman knights” and “Saracens” while “heavy horse” are simply “knights”). That wizards fight as two men gives them double the effectiveness…quite a bit more effectiveness than a single fighter, in other words.
Now whether this advantage is due to the actual wearing of armor or some magic that protects the wizard and strengthens his sword arm is not said (Chainmail is an abstract war game, not an individual-scale skirmish game), but either interpretation could be valid with the same end effectiveness. Certainly nothing indicates the wizard in Chainmail does NOT wear armor. In the list of spells presented for wizards none of them are of a “shield” or “armor” variety (the spell “protection from evil” IS present and simply keeps all “evil” opponents outside of a 12” diameter circle). If the wizard’s “armored” value is based on magic, then it is inherent magic that does not need to be cast to be effective.
So really, the only reason I can see for taking away a magic-user’s ability to wear armor (at least presuming OD&D is based on the standards of the Chainmail war game…and there is ample evidence that this appears to be the case) is one of “game balance.” If all magic-users can wear armor AND cast spells, it provides too much of a “leg up” over all the other character classes…despite the fact that elves are already doing this. The only reason not to play an elf is the level restrictions on the character for being a non-human…but to exceed an elf in magical prowess means achieving 9th level (“sorcerer”) with 100,000XP…a long, hard road indeed!
[especially considering the elf maxes out at both fighter (4th) and magic-user (8th) with a paltry 83,000XP]
Now an elfish warlock never achieves the ability to cast 5th and 6th level spells, so certainly missed out on some crucial ones (like teleport, animate dead, disintegrate, and weather control)…but everyone misses out on these high level spells unless your campaign lasts up into the 9th and higher levels of experience. It took roughly four solid months of weekly gaming, with a LOT of treasure to get guys up to the 3rd to 5th level range in B/X (about 8000-9000XP apiece), and even if I kept the same rate (scaling treasure) it would take close to a solid year of gaming to hit 9th level…maybe longer. My recent experience (the last couple-three years) indicates gaming groups get bored a lot faster than that.
But whatever…that’s really straying from the point which is that there is no in-game justification for magic-users to not wear armor. It’s a stylistic (or silly) game balance choice. I mean, at low levels, wizards could simply don their plate armor after their spells had been exhausted, right? Even if it wrecked their “fighting ability” to do so (it’s a lot poorer in OD&D than Chainmail anyway), at least armor could give them the breathing room they need to make it out of the dungeon alive.
Now, why am I wasting all this time discussing the magic-user (and elves) when this post is supposed to be about clerics? Because a comparison was drawn between clerics and magic-users stating that clerics had the ability to be human AND cast spells while wearing armor (bonus!) while both elves and magic-users miss out on some part of this (magic-users lose the armor, elves lose the “human-ness”). As a "hybrid," clerics gain the ability to attack with both magic AND weapons, and are not limited in level like elves.
Okay, they’re not limited in level.
However, the cleric’s spells are NOT attack or combat oriented. For the most part (and I’ll write about this more in the next post), all the cleric’s spells are of the curing, detection, or protection variety. The clerics spells are designed to AID the party members (whether this be with a light spell, locate object, or raising the dead)…whereas the magic-user spell list provides more variety of both type and effect, including a lot of offensive spells along with the miscellaneous/helper offerings.
This, to me, doesn’t suggest a hybrid. If the character is still dealing damage with one’s weapons then there’s nothing “hybrid” about it: armor is necessary to get “stuck in” and fight. Magic-users don’t get stuck in, and they don’t need to due to the types of spells they know.
Does this make sense? Maybe I’m not being clear here. Let’s try this:
It’s not a class feature to wear armor (combat/defensive mechanic) and cast spells (aid/utility mechanic) when the two features are used at different times under different circumstance.
OD&D clerics aren’t casting flame strike and spiritual hammer, and blade barrier while simultaneously soaking up damage with their +3 plate mail. They are fighting like a fighter (armor and weapon), and then casting spells after the fight for other reasons (like healing buddies or detecting traps). There’s no double use one’s getting out of the two attributes of the cleric class. It’s one or the other.
On the other hand, contrast that with the elf. The elf does wade into battle with sword and armor…and then can switch to spell use (Fireball! Lightning bolt!) before switching back to sword and board. Afterwards, the elf might use detect magic or remove curse or wizard eye or whatever, but it’s in the midst of battle that you see the true "hybrid character."
No such hybrid is viewed with the cleric. The magic-user, too, can put on armor (after her spells are exhausted)…so what? I don’t consider it a class feature that the cleric spends less time changing in and out of their clothes.
Hopefully that all makes sense. Now, let’s talk about the cleric spells, since those ARE something “new” being brought to the table by the class.