Friday, September 5, 2008

"There Must be Some Way Out of Here." Said the Cleric to the Thief

For our short discussion today, I wish to consider the case of the cleric and the thief in D&D.

The esteemed and respected cleric is, by all objective standards, a powerhouse. Having access to all types of armour, many weapons (none perhaps so mighty and prone to enchantment as the fighter's noble friend the long sword, but still fairly potent), good hit dice, spells (and a dizzying array of them to boot, considering the potential for bonus spells due to a high wisdom score and the fact that a cleric may prepare any of the spells on the cleric list, provided the character can cast that level of spell), a decent attack strength, and the ability to turn undead. (And, in some campaigns, specially granted divine powers above and beyond these enumerated.)

The skulking and furtive thief is rather less so. Having access to some, mostly weak, armour, a decent panopoly of weaponry (including that champion of blades, the resilient long sword), fair hit dice (sliding to poor if one uses the B/X or BECMI thief), and some special abilities. Said special abilities, however, require a fair amount of luck to use successfully at the low levels.

So, one can plainly see that the cleric is the more powerful, less 'balanced' (to slip into neo-jargon for a brief moment) of the two classes.

Yet, it has been this author's experience that many players will pick a thief but only a few will willingly play a cleric.

Something about being presured into being the party's medic, I am given to understand...

With the prologue now out of the way, I present some of my meandering thoughts regarding the re-working of the cleric and thief classes.

The cleric, it would seem, started it's fictional life as a vampire hunter and slowly transmogrified into the all-around holy man (woman, elf, insect, horrible eldritch monstorsity, etc.) that it is today. It can not be doubted that the typical party will need some, and often a bit more, healing, but should one player be "forced" into serving such a role? Should the DM be "forced" to weaken encounters because the party lacks healing? I, in my near infinite wisdom, say, "No". In my next game, the cleric is not the standard sort of priest, neither is the ecclesiast - a cleric subclass more oriented to spell-casting than armed combat, the standard priest is just that, a priest. A normal man (0 level) who can conduct the appropriate rituals, knows the history and stuggles of the faith he/she serves, and can possibly invoke a blessing if pressed. In short, members of the varied clerical subclasses are special because they can invoke miracles.

Wandering back on point for a moment, in the Cassandrian Campaign, clerics are the chosen warrior-prophets of their dieties. Primarily focused on destroying the damned who still haunt the earth (or, in the case of evil clerics, known as anti-clerics, commanding such wretched abominations into malignant service...) and warring against the enemies of their faith. As such, they have fewer spell casting powers than the "by the book" cleric.

First of all, they do not possess spell casting powers at first level, a cleric's spell progression starts at second level (I simply and easily "move the chart down", i.e.: read the first line as pertaining to second levl clerics and so on), these miracle-workers must prove themselves to their gods. Secondly, a high wisdom score does not grant any bonus spells. Such powers must be earned, and as a result of this decision, I no longer need to worry about the players of magic-users complaining that they should get bonus spells for a high intelligence score... Thirdly, a cleric (including the ecclesiast and the shaman, but excluding the druid) must retain a prayer book detailing the varied miracles that they are able to invoke. Analogous to a magic-user's spell book, this prayer book (in the case of the shaman, this is usually a collection of fetishes, inscribed bracelets, or the like) allows the cleric to prepare their spells. This limits the cleric to a select number of spells, allowing the customisation of different faiths but avoiding the creation of thousands of different spell lists. These three things limit the spell-casting power of the cleric, but also free them from the burden of having to be the healer as the DM may not alot any healing spells to them.

The thief is a rather different problem. One that I am, as yet, unsure of the correct course of action. I do not want to strengthen their combat abilities as they strike me as less of a direct combatant than any other class. I am tempted to improve the chances of success at thieving abilities at lower levels, but what then? What is there for high level thieves? And yet, I like the class and want it to thrive in its odd little niche...

More thoughts later.


The Jade Mask said...

When you first mentioned this article to me, specifically mentioning the reluctance of players to roll up a Cleric, my knee-jerk reaction was the aforementioned peer pressure involved in being the party's bandaid. While I think this is likely the most common reason for the reluctance, I wonder if there might not be other concerns.
In most editions prior to 3e, the Cleric's spell list was often a little...lackluster. Not horribly, but I confess to feeling a greater satisfaction at the idea of having Fireball and Magic Missile in my casting repetoire than I do with, for instance, Locate Object and Bless. But I'll cheerily admit that Blade Barrier and Flamestrike are fun.
Another thought revolves around independence. The Cleric is, ultimately, a servant, plugged directly into a religious hierarchy. Even if he answers directly to his deity he is still, at the end of the day, someone else's dog. This can rankle with gamers who are by and large an independently-minded bunch.
Continuing in that vein is the possibility of simple discomfort with playing a religiously themed character, of course. But I'll delve no more deeply into that.
....none of this is inherently useful I suspect, but still, I wanted to add my two bits.
No idea what to do about the poor Thief though.

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