Friday, April 29, 2022


So, yeah...after very little deliberation, I've decided to re-write DL2: Dragons of Flame for use in my home campaign. As has been detailed ad nauseum (here and elsewhere) the thing has problems, most due to DragonLance in general (duh) some for stuff I just find a little nonsensical; for example, there are not one but TWO chambers containing a huge, ancient red dragon, but no easy means of egress/ingress for either (no treasure hoard in their lairs either).  


However, I rather like the Big Bad Leader, "Verminaard" (well, except for his name). I'll admit I'm a fan of "dragon highlords" as a concept anyway, but an evil 8th level patriarch battle commander is right in my wheelhouse. 

[remember I'm also a fan of Jagreen Lern]

But the "battle commander" is the important bit. Waaaaaay back when I was a kid, before I even knew there was such a thing as "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" I don't remember ever having a cleric in our games...not until I got my hands on the Mentzer/Cook Expert set. Remember that my understanding of "D&D" as a concept was mostly informed by playground gossip/play (which featured fighters, magic-users, and assassins), the Dungeon! board game (elves, heroes, superheroes, and wizards), and the occasional comic strip advertisement (which, to that point, had yet to feature "Serena the Cleric" or whatever her name was). 

[films like The Hobbit, Clash of the Titans, and various Sinbad films also played a role in my understanding of "fantasy," of course]

But the cleric class? Um...huh? Doesn't really seem like Friar Tuck does it? Certainly didn't seem like my parish encounters with "the undead" at a young age were mainly limited to the occasional Dracula re-make on parents did NOT expose me to a lot of horror stuff.

And so, since I didn't have a good grasp on the concept...well, it didn't see action in my games either. 

However, this changed when I got the Expert set. All Moldvay wrote as a description was:
Clerics are humans who have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess. They are trained in fighting and casting spells. As a cleric advances in level, he or she is granted the use of more and more spells. However, clerics do not receive any spells until they reach 2nd level (and have proven their devotion to their god or goddess).
Yeah, why would I want to play THAT instead of an elf?

The Expert text, on the other hand, gets things fired up:
At the first 3 levels of experience, the power of a cleric is extremely limited. As characters advance to higher levels...[they obtain more spells of greater power, having proven their faith to their god or goddess. Because of this, it is very important for clerics to be faithful to the beliefs of their religion and alignment. Should a cleric behave in a manner that is not pleasing to his or her deity, the deity may become angered and punish the offender. This punishment could take many forms...[examples]. The DM may decide what punishment might be in such a case. To regain the favor of the deity, a cleric might find it wise to donate money and magic items to the religion, build a church or temple, gain large numbers of converts, or defeat some great foe of the religion...
All that is heady, world-building stuff. This isn't just some dude with a list of healing spells and a weapon restriction...dude's got responsibilities to a god (or goddess). Failure indicates consequences! Compliances yields great rewards (like fanatically loyal FREE troops, and half-price strongholds!)! DMs are given major leeway to punish and persecute such characters, sending them on quests, whatever-whatever.

The first new character rolled up using the Expert rules (for my buddy Matt) was a cleric. I made sure of that. And because I was 10 years old and had no patience for waiting for someone to reach "name level," he was created as a 9th level character with a troop of devoted fanatics and a small stronghold. His first adventure: he and his men were ordered by his god to enter the desert and confront a blue dragon in its lair. Now, forty years later, I can't remember how the mission turned out (I suspect there was a lot of death by electricity), but I'm sure it was glorious. I know this: for the rest of the time my original group hung together (about five years, mostly AD&D), Matt nearly always played a cleric of some sort.

Fast forward to today.

I have some pretty solid opinions on the cleric class, basic assumptions on what it is, how it works/functions, and the justifications for various systems. These "solid opinions" have definitely changed/evolved over time, and I would happily enumerate their current standings if I thought anyone would really care terribly (I don't). However, I previously mentioned that one of my Lenten activities involved curating the PHB spell lists, and since the clerical list was the FIRST one I culled (and because it somewhat applies to Verminaard), I thought I'd detail a little of that particular bit.

In brief: I'm not using alignment these days. Lots of reasons for that. Nor am I using Deities & Demigods in my game, except for its rules on ability scores outside the normal range (and I'm thinking of cutting those as well). What then are clerics, and how do they function? Are they just a different type of spell-caster (i.e. another magic-user with a different list of spells and a different set of weapon/armor restrictions)?


They are still clerics...priestly types, in other words. But there is no pantheon of deities/alignments to choose from. There are acknowledged "lords of light:" life-giving, creator gods (or God, depending on the particulars of one's religion). Clerics have access to a standard list of spells based on healing and protection and generally all the (non-reversed) usual spells available in the PHB. They don't get to animate dead or cause wounds or slay living creatures...none of those powers are granted by the lords of light. They are tasked with spreading light, fighting darkness, making a better world for all. 

Pretty simple, pretty straight-forward, pretty easy. It's more-or-less "acting in aid of The Good" which doesn't necessarily mean killing orcs and building fact, sometimes it means saving orcs and destroying civilizations. But well-fed, harmonious communities growing in wisdom and acting with simple kindness to each other is...generally...the desired end result.

Then there are the anti-clerics.

Some folks just don't want to get along with others. They'd rather subjugate and destroy, dominate and command others and aggrandize themselves. Rather than follow the lords of light, they pray to diabolic or demonic powers, who can grant them many of the same powers. Many, but not all. 

Anti-clerics in my campaign world are clerics with a different spell list. They still have some of the lower level healing spells, but for the most part they use ONLY the reversed spells found in the PHB. The dark gods aren't big on creating light and life; anti-clerics cannot raise the dead for example (although they can animate corpses in a gross parody of life). In simple terms, anti-clerics are bad apples who, for whatever reason, have decided they'd rather have the power to inflict fear and death on others, though losing their soul in the process.

The whip is not an
edged weapon.
This then is Verminaard (or rather Hanse Werner...that's his name in my game world). Being an 8th level patriarch he has his own band of loyal followers (who will take the place of various draconian and hobgoblin denizens of Pax Tharkas). Seeking to carve out his own small kingdom, harboring ambitions of grand conquest, he works to rebuild an ancient elven fortress, from which he can launch attacks (especially raids for slaves and supplies) on the local communities. Control and conquest is his aim.

An adventure for 1st level characters.


  1. I largely treat clerics and anticlerics in the same fashion as you. Clerics serve Law (usually leaning good), and anticlerics serve Chaos (usually leaning evil). Akin to what Men & Magic states ("Clerics of 7th level and greater are either of 'Law' or 'Chaos', and there is a sharp distinction between them"), I require clerics to make an ultimate decision between Lawful clericalism, Netural druidry, or Chaotic anticlericalism before they reach a certain level (6th in the case of my own rules, as that happens to be both the level at which my version of the cleric class is first able to either destroy or dominate skeletons, and also the level at which priests gain access to 3rd level spells — the ones that have to be granted by an intermediary of the priest's deity rather than just coming from the power of the priest's own faith and proper application of ritual).

    But until very recently, I had only been using alignment as an indicator of a priest or paladin's stance on Law/Chaos and devotion to their mythos/ethos. For anyone who wasn't a cleric, druid, anticleric, paladin, bard, or avenger, the character was assumed to be default Unaligned (which is different from the way druids and bards are actively Neutral and supposed to fight for a Balance between Law and Chaos). I had gone this route because I never actually saw a use for alignment before (as I fervently despise the "alignment as morals/personality" interpretation; and I had never fully thought through all the implications of the "alignment as faction" interpretation, obscured as it usually is behind talk of NPC organizations and Cosmic forces and what-not, wholly divorced from a simple and grounded concept like opposed teams of PCs competing within the same campaign milieu). The point is, now that I think I understand alignment, I really love everything that it implies about large-scale campaign play, and I'm driven by an absolute need to bring it back. Just some food for thought.

    1. Regardless of alignment's original purpose in the game, I think that it can serve a couple purposes in the game:

      1) defining cosmic factions (as you say), which trickle down into the mundane realm, and

      2) helping manage certain game aspects including alignment-specific enchantments (i.e. magic items and some magical effects).

      Both of these can help "shape" a campaign, giving it an overall tone and direction.

      However, the system AS WRITTEN is both too simplistic AND too nuanced for my purposes. For my taste, there are too many alignments...and they are not descriptive enough. Faction play...the best reason (perhaps) for including so many different best done with actual factions, not abstract nonsense.

      For example: druidism is its own culture, allegiance, faction, etc. It isn't "neutrality" (and AD&D ends up jumping through many hoops trying to define the different forms of True Neutral that exist within its parameters). Likewise, I don't mind there being different churches, temples, etc. each with their own ethos, tenets, followers...but it grinds my gears to lump gods of different pantheons together under a single "alignment" (or divide a pantheon against itself based on gods' alignment inclinations). That's just not how religions work, whether you're talking monotheism or polytheism.

      However, with regard to clerics I *do* need to distinguish between the two sides of "helpful deities" and "diabolic powers." And other than the occasional smiting or cleansing flame (spiritual hammer, flamestrike) I don't want my light followers raising zombie hordes and using "finger of death" spells. Not even for "extenuating circumstances" (always defined by humans, i.e. the players). Nope. The spell list is the spell list, and it's based on what kind of god you're praying to.

  2. I don't like mechanical effects for alignment and remove all of those,, but it makes a good short hand for NPCs.

    A LE Greedy Merchant is different than a NE Greedy Merchant and with a two letter code I can distinguish broad personalities.

  3. Fine. I'll forego dissecting the use of one character in a bad module as the basis for the imposition of a rigid template that's as designed to take complete freedom of action away from players by imposing a system that makes them A or B, but never AB.

    My question is, why do you care? Why does it matter to you that a "good" cleric uses finger of death. How is this your role as a DM? Do you exist to set out guidelines for how players are to behave, once they consented to the dichotomy you've forced on them?

    Explain it to me how this makes the game better. Explain how this isn't your prejudices being imposed on players who maybe don't care about your prejudices. Explain why the gods care, in a way that doesn't sound like the gods agree with you because they're your gods.

    Because frankly, I don't get it. I want to play a cleric in your game. I don't want to talk about what kind of cleric I want to be by your standards. I want to follow the "rules," but is this with rules that aren't based on functional aspects of the game, but ETHICAL aspects?

    Sounds like alignment to me.

    1. The cleric in the module isn't the basis for my "anti-cleric." Just to be clear. He happens to be an evil cleric in an adventure I'm repurposing so...yeah. Good opportunity to try out the paradigm.

      Leaving aside any question of cosmology for the moment, I see your point. Why not have the patriarch warlord being a standard Catholic priest type (or fantasy equivalent) enslaving the locals, building his temple, mining his gold...I mean, that's not far off the mark for certain historic places/times, and would still make for a fine and interesting scenario (and perhaps better than yet another Disney-esque villain). Sure...the adventure could be run in that fashion, too.

      But regardless, I want the spells of clerics (and anti-clerics) to come from divine sources. I *do* want them following tenets of their religion...they are not just "another type of caster." Because it's part of the world I'm building.

      Building a world players want to engage with IS my responsibility as a DM. Sensible world building is IS how the game becomes better.

      Curating the spell list to be more sensible makes for a better game, facilitating engagement. Spells like snake charm, wither and finger of death don't make the cut because those aren't spells provided by my 'Lords of Light' (the Creator God in any of Its myriad forms). There is no alignment in the game, so there's no "I heal the good guys (with magic) and slay the bad guys (with magic)" depending on 'alignment.' get one or the other.

      Players who want destructive magic have the choice to become a wizard or druid or worship infernal/diabolic forces (the 'anti-cleric'). Then they get a different spell list. Such a player could still choose to be a "good guy," helping the downtrodden and whatnot...they just won't be able to access the greater healing magics (restoration, resurrection, heal, etc.) that come with being a cleric of the light. They won't have the option of "turning undead" either, but they can still do the control thing (as per the DMG).

      SO: players get another option (for how to play), my world becomes more coherent/sensible (facilitating engagement), and I rid myself of "reversible spells." All three of these things help to make my game better and is exactly why I care. Additionally, my world gets a little deeper by (slightly) defining its cosmology, allowing me to better run my campaign and craft scenarios that take this cosmology into account.

  4. You want, you want. It makes no sense whatsoever to insist that once a character has consensually decided to be "the good guys" or "the bad guys," that they can't, as players, change their minds.

    It's your role to build the world. It's not your role to tell players how to play on it. Any rule that tells a player what to do with his or her spells, or what spells he or she is allowed to have based on an earlier choice which may now not be their choice, is a bad rule.

    You've be harping, harping, harping on AD&D as "the" system ... and right out of the gate, you're ready to gut the cleric class, split it in two, then impose rules on the cleric that apply to no other class, for the nebulous argument that "it's sensible," that the world is then "coherent" and that these things, without proof of any kind, make your game "better."

    Doesn't seem sensible to me. I find it in no ways coherent, because humans are not "good" or "bad," they are demonstrably combinations of both. In fact, exhibiting BOTH good and bad is how we build our personalities. And as far as making your game better ... blow that into a bagpipe.

    1. Hmm. I really don't see this as a problem, Alexis.

      To me, this isn't "gutting" the cleric class. Your character is trained in a certain fashion, presented an option of "paths" to follow, and then set loose into the world.

      Are fighters in your world allowed to change their weapon proficiencies at a later date because the player decides their earlier choice was a "bad" one? Are wizards allowed to change the spells they selected based on a later understanding of a particular enchantment's utility?

      For that matter, can a player who chose to play an assassin later choose to play a thief because she finds she dislikes the level restriction of the former?

      I really don't see how choosing to play an anti-cleric over a cleric is different from choosing to play, say, an illusionist over a wizard. And I honestly don't see why I'm hamstringing the cleric class to say, 'no you can't cast cause light wounds or cause disease...those magics aren't granted by your gods.'

      As I said, a cleric can act "bad," or an anti-cleric can act "good" and EITHER is free to act in BOTH ways, should they so choose. But their spell abilities come from a Higher (or Lower) Power, and their spell lists reflect this.

      The alternative (if your point is "don't worry about fixing stuff till it breaks") would be to have clerics present their lists of morning meditated spells and saying, "okay this is granted, this isn't, etc." I mean, THAT would be playing 1E by the book.