Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rise And Be Healed!

Here I was going to write about my Tomb of Horror experiences, but I guess I should throw in another two cents on D&D spirituality by continuing my discussion of the power of the Normal Man.  In this instance, the Divine power of the Normal Man.

Anyone ever play Bard's Tale?

Bard's Tale is pretty obviously based on Dungeons & Dragons.  You put together a party of adventurers, each one being a different race-class combo with a set of familiar stats, levels, experience points, hit points, etc.  All very recognizable to the average old school D&D player.

However, there are a couple major differences.  One is the lack of any kind of "alignment" characteristic. Another is the complete absence of any kind of cleric/priest class. Oh, there's a paladin, and at least a couple of the magic-user classes (there are four: conjurer, magician, sorcerer, and wizard) have spells that "heal" or duplicate traditional clerical spells.  But otherwise, there's no "representative of the gods;" at least not one that joins your adventuring party.

That doesn't mean the game is atheistic or even monotheistic...there are temples and shrines all over the game, each dedicated to a particular patron god.  Mechanically speaking, they are all the same: they serve the purpose of providing healing services (to any who can afford it). Turning stone to flesh, removing poison, exorcising possession, raising from the dead...all can be had at any temple for a price.

Who the heck are these guys?  They're not adventurers or you'd certainly hire one to tag along. They seem fairly long as you have the gold, they aren't asking where you got your wounds, and if you don't have the money, they'll turn you away at the door, nevermind the "good" quest your on. Alignment be damned!  What kind of alignment do you think the "Thief Temple" has?

Earlier, I wrote how I believe the whole idea as clerics as church leaders is kind of a big steaming pile.  Clerics (the class, not the clerk) are the crusading templars, the holy (and unholy) zealot warriors, the champions of their patron deity.  This isn't St. Augustine...this is Joan of Arc, people. A little crazy, and powered by faith.

In my last post, I expounded a bit on the place of the Normal Man in relation to the PC adventurer.  Basically, the adventuring character (PC or NPC) is an exceptional person that learns from experience, growing in power, while the Normal Man does not.  He may be a peasant or a blacksmith, a soldier or a king, a (B/X) bard or a beggar...with the appropriate skills for his profession. But he does not have the extra combat abilities that are gained from surviving perilous adventures.

What's to say that the high priests and ministers of the temples aren't Normal Men as well? I mean, the bishop that ministers to his diocese is no different from the stay-at-home duke; that is, he is too concerned with the day-to-day administrations of running a church to run around slaying dragons.

I think the problem most people have with accepting this paradigm shift (and it requires one...ever since 2nd edition AD&D started calling clerics "priests," or ever since performingthe Marriage sacrament became a clerical spell in the Unearthed Arcana) is in fact the way spell acquisition is handled.

Clerics gain spells by going up in level, therefore priests (who, in a fantasy world, provide magical healing through spells) must also rise in level.  Otherwise, whose performing all those raise dead miracles at the local shrine? about the deity of the shrine worshippers?

How about THIS for an idea.  Temples are staffed by Normal Men...from the lowliest acolyte on the totem pole to the Pontiff himself (or Reverend Mother...whatever).  All are Normal Men, who know only the duties and doctrines of their god(s).  However, by following the doctrines of their deity, they can ask for intercessions on behalf of the faithful (either the truly devout or those willing to pay for the service).  The deity grants the healing power (removes a curse, cures the lycanthropy, heals the disease), and the adventurers are free to go their merry way.

Doesn't that make more sense?

It does to me.  Clerics are the crusading knights; it's difficult for them to learn powerful healing spells (they have to be "high level" to raise the dead), because they spend so much of their time in weapons and combat training.  Yet once they do prove their faith to their god, they have the miraculous ability to perform healing magic "in the field."  The Normal Men (priests) of the temple need to perform long-winded rituals, light incense, sacrifice animals...all that stuff that takes time and money.  The cleric (paladin-templar) simply "lays on hands" and the miracle is granted!

Now onto the subject of alignment.  I already said that the idea of evil in a D&D world is kind of absurd: there are player character actions which can be compassionate or reprehensible, and there are opponents of player characters that may or may not be intending harm (see detect evil in the B/X game).  There is a third piece to be considered when it comes to deities, one I think Raggi gets pretty close to in his last couple posts even if he doesn't make it quite this succinct:

Deities don't care about alignment. Deities care about people following the tenets of their (the deities) doctrine.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions after all. Look at all the discussions around the blogs about how following Good sometimes means killing a lot of people (normally considered Bad, right?). Good, bad, that's not what the deity cares about.  At least not in D&D which draws so much from old swords and sorcery literature.  And those use Old Time religion of the pre-Vatican II variety.  If you don't show up for Church, you're going to hell (unless you atone).  If you sleep with the wrong person, there's going to be a stoning (with rocks, friends).  And that sacrifice to Ares or Zeus better be the right type and at the right time or you can count on a plague or drought smiting your land.

Wow, hopefully I got my point across.  This post is getting long, so I better sign off and let it stew a bit.


  1. Bard's Tale rocks! Back in the day I lost a couple letter grades 'B' to 'C' or 'D' cause of Bard's Tale.

    Crusaders/Templars is how I saw clerics until the paladin hit the scene. I like calling the walking healing kits priests, or holy man. "Cleric" has too much baggage attached to it.

    98% of priests are regular folk with no job skills and so naturally fall into the profession of telling other people what to think. But a very few people are chosen by the gods and blessed with ability to perform miracles (aka cleric spells). Although anyone pious/praying enough can get a miracle here and there, chosen whip them out on a regular basis.

    These chosen do their own thing (sorry orcs, god told me to take your treasure), are not in the church hierarchy (if any) and kind of piss the regular priests off cause it's hard to tell people what to think when they're off watching your character doing miracles. So, the chosen tend to be encouraged/pushed/kicked to the fringes of society and civilization. Just where they can have a big impact shaping the world for their gods. And coincidentally exactly were my sandbox campaign is located.

  2. "...until the paladin hit the scene..."

    See I think the cleric is the TRUE paladin of D&D. Certainly there are no paladins in OD&D (pre-Greyhawk), B/X, or their associated retro-clones.

    Give the cleric a "summon divine steed" spell at 5th level, allow him to use swords like Roland and his fellows, and voila! No need for a paladin class.
    : )

  3. It's a perfect way to handle priests. I use a Priest class in my games seperate from the Cleric class - and weaker. It is meant to represent non-adventuring priests and clergy - but just dumping their spell lists into the temple or altar instead of themselves works perfectly.

  4. And yeah, B/X Clerics are DEFINITELY the Paladins. No spells at level 1, same armor as fighters...

  5. Nice take. I like this quite a bit.

    On the Paladin vs. Cleric: I see Paladins as being the "Joan of Arc" types, the truly divinely-inspired nutjobs. Clerics are the Templars, Hospitalers, and Teutonic knights, much more numerous by comparison but still much, much less common than the Normal Priests.