Monday, June 4, 2018

Holy Rolling (B/X Cleric Spells)

Ugh. Clerics? Again? This is literally my 40th post that will have the tagline "cleric" in it...and I'll probably have 50+ before I'm done with this blog.

Sorry, I don't why the subject keeps coming up, I've just been thinking about them since last night (probably has something to do with going to evening Mass yesterday...hey, at least I'm not regaling y'all with "the many layers of the Eucharist," even though I think that's pretty interesting...).

[of course, I'm sure that some of my readers would prefer that to reading about how Post Malone makes ol' JB feel like a middle age grump...*ahem*]

And WHAT I've been thinking about is this: I've written about the cleric class a lot over the years, most of it, pretty positive. Especially for B/X, I dig the class and how it scales over time (save for the XP needed to advance...that's too low and should have been increased to 150K after "name" level in much the same was as thieves had theirs increased to 120K). Heck, I can even get by with the slight idiosyncratic spell acquisition (carried over from what I'm pretty sure was a typographic error in the OD&D volume Men & Magic). About the only change I've ever made to the class, in actual play, is to allow the character to choose their spells at the moment of casting, rather than forcing them to "memorize spells" during their morning meditations...after all, what is a clerical spell but a prayer, a fervent supplication for divine aid?

But that's all old ground, culled from various old posts (39 of them...and a lot of the writing is, frankly, quite awful). No, what I haven't written about, and what I want to discuss is the actual B/X spell list available to clerics.

I kind of hate it.

Really. There's a lot of dross in there...certainly a lack of unified theme. Yes, the various "Get-Out-O-Jail-Free" cards, but then stuff like snake charm, growth of animal, and...well, we'll go through it all in a moment. Point is, I don't dig the way it's set up. It's no wonder that, played RAW, B/X clerics tend to sport cure light wounds x3 and hold person x2.

Mind you, it's not just B/X. I spent a lot o time last night (too much, really...past midnight with the rest of my family snoozing) going through various editions and checking out the clerical spell lists. 3E, bless its heart, actually does a bit of a nice job with domains, though it's still too clunky and prone to "gaming the system" for my taste. AD&D has a giant selection (natch), greatly in need of editing, but par for the course with its "kitchen sink" approach to advanced gaming. OD&D is decent, being somewhat unified as a Christian-Jewish (Old and New Testament) thing...but far, far too limited with only 26 spells total. Considering I like the scaling of B/X spell acquisition (up to 25 spells per day at level 14), that's just too few.

[oh, and FYI: we're not even going to talk about MY additional cleric spells in the B/X Companion. We've got enough to worry about with just fourteen levels]

In all honesty, my favorite edition for clerical spells isn't even D&D at all, but rather my own Five Ancient Kingdoms. Reading over it, I was struck by my own elegance (yes, yes...feel free to take me to task for my ginormous ego) and design work in crafting a tightly unified, slickly executed system of divine supplication. It is unfortunate that 5AK is not a system I'm terribly interested in running...I want something a bit more gonzo S&S (like Elric, Lankhmar, etc.) and less "fantasy monotheism with shamans on the side." Plus, I'm terribly UN-satisfied with a lot of the magic rules in 5AK; it's functional for it's specific setting and system, but not terribly portable.

Here's what I like (in B/X): clerics receiving a spell a single spell upon reaching 2nd level and a scale that goes to 25 at level fourteen. I even like the 6-5-5-5-4 breakdown, and I like that clerical spells don't top a magnitude of 5th level. I like that raise dead is a spell. that it's 5th level, and still fairly accessible (also that it has some side effects...I actually feel it should have more, like reducing constitution and/or a random ability or prime requisite).

[Ha! That would be a kicker! The magic-user that comes back from the dead a little forgetful (a la Gandalf in LotR), or the fighter who's a little weaker...and thus advance at a lesser rate with lower XP bonuses from their PR. Something to think about...]

Here's what I don't like (in B/X): classic Judeo-Christian miracles outside a monotheistic world setting. Some of the spells that have been added since OD&D (snake charm and growth of animals specifically). Spells that duplicate magic-user spells (detect magic, light/darkness, protection from evil, hold person, continual light/darkness, locate object, remove curse/curse, protection from evil 10' radius). Reversible spells. "Snake" spells absent some sort of snake cult campaign setting. Overall lack of variety/options...even without my house rules, B/X magic-users have 3-4 times as many spell options as they have available spell slots! I'd like to see clerics have at least 10 or so (different) spells per spell level.

When I've played a cleric using the B/X system, when I've had players who were clerics, these complaints never came up. That's because the clerics who were high enough level to cast spells simply stuffed their quiver with cure light wounds and hold persons, knowing they could always pray for a remove curse or continual light (great for lighting lanterns), during their "down time" between expeditions. There should be more utility here...more reasons to take (or use or pray for) different spells while out on safari. The high (5th level) spells are all good and useful but most of the mid-range are close to worthless. Striking? Clerics of 6th level (and higher) are usually carrying some sort of magic weapon, making this a non-starter. Know alignment? I suppose it might be more useful in an OD&D world where ALL magic swords had alignment (quick! what alignment is the bugbear? how about the troll?) and fighters were in danger of being wounded every time they tried to wield one. Protection from evil 10' radius? Come on...that just gets in the way of a cure serious wounds!

Ideally, a fantasy setting that featured a polytheistic cosmology (of the type found in ancient societies and sword & sorcery books) would have separate spell lists for each pantheon...either because each cult possesses its own lore and mystery teachings OR because each deity has its own suite of miracles to bestow on its followers. That's not a terrible amount of work for a DM (i.e. "me") to do, assuming I'm "world building" a campaign anyway. But I think it's a necessary step to take to have the right type of...I don't know, call it "depth" one's setting.

Plus I'm just tired of seeing silence 15' radius on spell lists. That spell was only invented so that "evil high priests" could fuck with PC magic-users.

Anyhoo, that's what's been on my mind. Perhaps I'll write up some specific examples concepts in a future post. Later, gators.


  1. I actually like that there are overlaps between MU and Cleric spells, because MUs have less control over the spells they have access to.

    I have a post I made long ago where I analyzed cleric spells and find a lot of useful spells beyond CLW. And 2nd level has a lot of useful utility (and no heals).

    But generally, Clerics load up with CLW and HP, while MUs load up with Sleep and Fireball.

    1. @ Dennis:

      I agree there are useful utility spells (even at 1st level), just none that outshine the typical to the point that a cleric would take anything else.

  2. Remove healing spells and half your problems are gone. Merge MUs and Clerics and the other half of your problems are gone.

  3. Folks: it's whack-a-mole. You knock one problem out only to have another (or two more) rear their ugly heads.

    One thing I've considered (in multiple ways), is making clerical spells operate under the same rules as magic-users. But then, why are they two classes?

    [because they ARE (of course) and I want more diversity, of class option, not less. Merging them or doing "white magic" vs. "black magic" isn't something I'm interested in for my B/X game]

  4. I have had a lot of success with randomized bonus spells that don't go away until cast (with intent). It has resulted in some pretty spectacular creativity on the part of my players and has resulted in more cool uses of Purify Food & Water than you would ever think possible.

  5. Before 3rd edition came with spell domains, AD&D2 had spheres; pretty good to tighten the overprolific clerical list of AD&D (especially post-UA).

    1. @ Porph:

      Yeah, ya' know, I'm not all that familiar with clerics in 2E (never played much 2E, never played a cleric, and can't even remember running it as a DM!). I vaguely remember spheres...maybe?

      [I guess I should have said in my post that when I was "combing through editions" I was mainly looking at 1E, OD&D, B/X, and 3E]

      I happen to have a 2E PHB in my possession at the moment, so it might be a good idea to go back and look at how clerical spells were handled in that edition. Maybe. I'm kind of working on something at the moment.
      ; )

    2. Same here for me: I own the rulebooks, but I never played nor DMed 2nd ├ędition.