Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Clerics of Holmes and their Ilk

Over years of writing this blog, I've written a LOT about clerics. I know it's a lot because I just went back and reread every post marked "cleric" just to look at my thoughts and, boy, that took a while!

I did this review, of course, for a specific purpose: in examining and defining the druid, a subclass of cleric, it's important to understand just what exactly is a cleric. In my early days (years ago) I was mainly examining the class from a B/X perspective, and it was B/X in a vacuum...outside the historic perspective of OD&D supplements and Holmes and various Arneson writings, for instance (I hadn't access to those books at the time). And a lot of my conclusions, musings, and analysis is (I think) still fairly accurate, especially viewed through the lens of B/X. But maybe not from where I'm standing at the moment, knee-deep in Holmes.

Consider, for a moment, my idea of clerics being the (conceptual) equivalent of paladins. If one buys this line of reasoning (and there's really little presented in later books that would refute this assertion), then you really have no reason to create a "paladin" subclass. Of course, the paladin concept is semi-silly anyway, seeing as how it ain't really based on anything. Not saying it's not a neat idea to HAVE a holy warrior type character, but here's one already with the cleric. You just need to give 'em swords. My own B/X Companion did a lot to rectify this (with rules for clerical sword-use and spells to summon celestial mounts, etc.).

But, okay, step away from the B/X for a moment, sir (and keep your hands where I can see 'em). We're talking about Holmes at the moment, and he's got some specific things to say about clerics, and what they are. Specifically:
Clerics -- are humans who who have dedicated themselves to one or more of the gods. Depending on the god, the cleric may be good or evil, lawful or chaotic. Clerics have their own special spells and unlike magic-users they begin with none. They may, however, wear armor, including magic armor, and carry non-edged weapons such as the mace or the quarter staff. No swords or bows or arrows can be employed, for the cleric is forbidden by his religion from the drawing of blood. Good clerics can often dispel undead -- skeletons, zombies, and their ilk as explained later. As they advance in experience levels they gain the use of additional spells. Spells for evil clerics differ slightly from those of good clerics.
Earlier in the description of the wisdom ability score he also notes:
Clerics can perform miraculous spells even though they do not have special intelligence...
Which I personally find amusing as well as flavorful.

Compare his description to the rather limited text of Men and Magic (OD&D), which simply states "Clerics gain some of the advantages from both of the other two classes (Fighting-Men and Magic-Users)..." or especially Gygax's description in the 1E PHB: "This class of character bears a certain resemblance to religious orders of knighthood of medieval times."

Only if you really stretch the definition of "a certain resemblance."

Moldvay's own description is rather closer (being influenced and based on Holmes's book) but is slightly different in wording stating, "Clerics are humans who have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess. They are trained in fighting and casting spells." Can you see the difference there? Moldvay's cleric is very much the "holy warrior," or religious knight. He (or she) has been trained in fighting, as well as clerical magic, and one might infer that the character has taken some sort of oath or vows of service to the god or its representatives on Earth (i.e. the church or temple of organized religion).

This is very different from (in my opinion) the much more priestly version of the cleric that Holmes presents. This isn't a person dedicated to the service of a deity, but to the deity itself (and possibly multiple deities): go build your own temple as commanded by your patron. This isn't a person necessarily trained to fight, but one who is allowed to wear armor and use certain weapons. It's a subtle distinction but (I think) an important one...especially as it applies to other subclasses, like the paladin.

You see, back in "the olden days" (D&D is supposed to be a game with a pseudo-ancient setting, yeah?) folks were a lot more limited from an occupational standing. One didn't simply choose a career after college, nor even "enlist in the army" on their 18th birthday. You didn't, upon reaching adulthood, suddenly decide what you were going to do with your life...by the time you were an adult, that decision had already been made years before. Hell, your career training had been going on for years already. You would have been bundled off to the church as soon as it was found you were useless for anything else on the farm or around the manor (in your early teens, if not younger). Professional soldiers, of course, were trained with weapons and armor and horses from the earliest age possible.

[and if you were going to be a thief, you probably started stealing long before you hit puberty]

The idea of the paladin as a subclass of fighters is one that works with this medieval paradigm. You were probably trained to be a warrior first but, then, having a religious epiphany of some sort, decided to chuck the normal bandit-knight route and dedicate yourself to a more spiritual and chivalrous path. The paladin is a fighting-man (or woman) first, not a person who's spent their life learning the hardcore philosophy of their faith, nor (presumably) communicating directly with some deity.

Meanwhile, the cleric has been doing just that...this is, in fact a far better reason to limit the character's selection of weapons: because it's a lot harder to learn how to use a sword or bow or axe correctly (and in a combat situation) than it is to club someone with a mace. You can have a strong right arm and a stout swing with or without a lot of fancy footwork. Becoming a decent archer or sword-slinger takes practice...practice that steals time from the philosophical studies and life of prayer that is, presumably, the Holmesian cleric's life-path.

Other stuff I've written about the cleric (like why clerics are out looting tombs) still applies, even (or especially) to the Holmes version of the class.

NOW...about those druids.

Considering that druids (per Holmes) are a subclass of clerics (remember, this whole thought experiment is one of looking at Holmes as if it was the final stage of the game's evolution), we need to use the cleric as the starting point and then pick a way for the subclass to diverge from the "standard track." Let's see:

A cleric is a human who is devoted to one or more gods. They've been raised to their religion, gaining magical powers because of their devotion (not because of any "special intelligence").

It would seem to me that, for both subclasses (including the monk), the easiest change here is to change the cleric's devotion to something other than "one or more gods." I realize that this means going down the same road I did with witches and illusionists, but at least we'll be starting with a priestly (clerical) base. SO...something like:

  • Druids have chosen to dedicate themselves to the gods' greatest creation...the natural world...instead of to a specific deity or pantheon, and
  • Monks have chosen to dedicate themselves to the gods' greatest creation...the human mind-body temple...instead of to a specific deity or pantheon.

OKAY, that works without too much cosmology needing to be set in stone. I'm not sure, but I suspect that my druid subclass is going to look a bit different from the dude in leather armor with scimitar and a tiger buddy. But we'll see.

By the way, I'm going to just go ahead and keep the Celtic "druid" title because, A) is it really cultural appropriation if part of my ancestry is Celtic?, and B) it reminds me of Druid's Glen Golf Course back home. No, I don't golf...but if I did, I'd want to golf someplace called "Druid's Glen."

[my friend's brother was married by a druid a few years back. No animals were involved in the ceremony]

All right...that's enough for now.

Ugh...I miss the Pacific Northwest!


  1. "No swords or bows or arrows can be employed, for the cleric is forbidden by his religion from the drawing of blood."

    I always kind of rolled my eyes at this. I can't imagine hitting someone with a mace and not drawing blood.

    ...and even so, you can beat someone to death as long as you don't draw any blood?

    Anyway, I'm sure I'm preaching to the converted (if you'll pardon the cleric-related pun) I'm enjoying reading your article. You've already sold me on booting the paladin/merging them with the cleric.

  2. so becoming a cleric is not based on wisdom, but rather an individuals faith and belief in their religion? if that is the case how high/strong would that belief need to be for your deity to "aight, here's some spells, enjoy", would you need to be a complete fanatic or could any random farmer (someone who believes, but only commits the usual pray for good stuff and yearly celebrations/rituals stuff, with the majority of their time and attention being their day-to-day life) with anywhere between 9-12 wisdom become a cleric if they gain experience?

    1. @ Motley:

      My take (based on Holmes) goes something like this:

      A cleric is trained in the ways of the particular sect/priesthood that they've chosen. The magic that they learn are (more-or-less) prayers accompanied by a deep-seated devotion (i.e. if you don't believe in your god or goddess, the magic doesn't work). A higher wisdom gives a greater ability to understand "the mysteries" of their faith, thus allowing them to progress faster (i.e. learn more rituals, deepen their relationship with their deity), while a lower wisdom means a much slower progression (hence the penalty to earned XP).

      In Holmes, there's no stipulation that a normal human on an adventure gains some XP and then chooses a class (that's pretty much the B/X procedure). You are either of a class...which I would say is based on years of prior training...or you're not. The B/X cleric is more of a zealot and less part of a priestly caste system (which is my Holmesian interpretation).

      Um...did I answer your question?

    2. Please note that there is no "base wisdom score" needed for clerics in OD&D, Holmes, B/X, or BECMI.

    3. you answered my question good [A+], and on a side note the more i learn about the fluff for each class [whether directly from the books or theoretically with your deconstructions] the more i start to understand why out of the four basic classes the fighter is considered the "everyman", in between godlike wizards, invisible thieves and rampaging crusaders, all the fighter has is his armaments

    4. @ Motley:

      And yet, incredibly effective. Certainly the "lowly" fighter has the highest survival rate in the game of any of the classes...the one that finishes more fights than any of the others (in a game where fighting is so essential)...the class most every party carries at least one of (and usually more).

      Everyone has their favorite class. The fighter is mine. ; )

    5. yeah, fighters are great. im a polearm person m'self. not to retread old ground, but what would you define as "deep-seated devotion"? sorry for asking all these questions, i just get really pedantic with semantics and definitions sometimes, sorry.

    6. @ Motley:

      No worries. I tend to be pretty loose with my terminology, so I can understand the frustration.
      ; )

      By "deep seated devotion," I mean something other than passing lip service, respect/fear/awe, and half-assed worship of a particular religion. Plenty of characters may swear oaths by Thor, or celebrate the Mass, or act respectful in a temple. But not everyone makes their worship their life's work, learning the tenets and history of their faith, following its teachings, applying it to every aspect of their daily life even as they work in the service of their god, doing their gods will on Earth as they can.

      Something like that.

    7. Thank you, and i promise not to ask any more questions at least until Friday.

    8. @ Motley:

      Hey, it's nice to be able to think about something other than the day-to-day reality.
      ; )