Monday, November 5, 2012

Clerical Chicanery

Clerics are a weird fucking class. I am very much of the Forgotten Realms school of thought that there are lots of gods of varying power that rely on their followers to pray and sustain that power. More followers means a god is more powerful so gods of stuff like death or magic tend to be more powerful than gods of fish. I am also of the school of thought that gods can steal portfolios from one another (Cyric stole something from someone and Finder stole rot and ruin from Moander). I am also of the school of thought, once again based on Forgotten Realms, that Clerics have a direct line of communication to their gods, so Cure Light Wounds goes a little something like this, "Hey Kelemvor, got a buddy bleeding out here, mind of I snag a little bit of your juice to keep him from leaving this world prematurely?" This implies that Clerics can't willy nilly do whatever the fuck they want with whatever spell they want.

So to continue, Clerics are a weird class. Most of the stuff I'll yammer about in this post also applies to my thoughts on classes like Paladin as well.

One of the oddities is that a Cleric is granted a greater amount of, and more powerful, spells without necessarily furthering the cause of their deity in any way. For instance, a Cleric of a deity of healing or health or life or something along those lines could kill thousands of not necessarily monstrous creatures to gain experience points and still end up as a 10th level Cleric without healing or promoting good health in anyone but his buddies, who might be of opposed alignment or pay homage to another deity. You can be the worst, most laziest Cleric of your deity and never give sermons or attempt to convert more to their cause or enact their will in the world, and still end up as the most powerful Cleric in your particular sect. This is a case of the abstract nature of the game, Clerics have to be balanced with other classes so they need to be able to level and grow in power without having a whole subsystem of advancement separate from every other class in the game. It still doesn't make any fucking sense. Granted, this flaw in the system can be fixed by good role-playing on the part of the player. Wait, scratch that, this flaw can be remedied by the most basic, lackluster, minimal amount of role-playing by the player. Some of this could be remedied by the GM taking a stronger hand in things as well such as the deity ordering the Cleric to undertake a quest or a superior in the church ordering the Cleric to undertake some sermons or conversions.

Clerical spell scrolls make no sense whatsoever. Clerics gain their spells and divine abilities due to their connection to their deity, a deep personal relationship that grants them the ability to wield a portion of that deity's power. But apparently you can just write that on a piece of paper for anyone with a few ranks Use Magic Device to use, or any other Cleric that is able to cast the spell. So you have Cyric and Kelemvor from Faerun. Two gods that despise each other, even when they were mortals and helping Midnight manage the fragments of the goddess of magic that eventually made her Mystra. As the god of lies Cyric used subterfuge to destroy the love Kelemvor and Mystra had for each other from their days as mortals. It made them better gods in the long run, but it destroyed their love for one another. So Kelemvor and Cyric pretty much hate each other. Ye Olde Priest of Cyric writes down bless so he can use it later when he does something evil. Well, the good guys beat him down and Kelemvor's Cleric picks up that scroll with bless on it and just goes ahead and uses it. Nevermind that it is a piece of Cyric's divine might and that he is crazypants Chaotic Evil and most Clerics of Kelemvor are Lawful Good or Neutral. The fact that it is written down as a blasphemous prayer of nastiness to Cyric and not Kelemvor obviously isn't an issue either. A scroll is a scroll, right? Look, perhaps you can write down a prayer that calls on your personal relationship with your divine patron so you can save that power for later. That isn't such a big deal in a world where gods exist as more than imaginary sky daddies and can actually have an impact on the world they exist in. Even if I buy that these prayers can be written down, I don't buy that anyone but a follower of that deity could use them, as they are prayers to that deity and a individual with an alignment opposed to the deity or that follows a different deity should under no circumstances be able to use them. These scrolls are prayers beseeching the deity for a piece of their power, not formulas for unlocking an unthinking external force like arcane magic. 

I also don't buy that you can gain divine power by praying to an abstract concept. If you want magic and don't want to be part of a church, be a Wizard and put on some mithril armor or pick a Chaotic deity that isn't a fan of organization.

In the same vein as above, items like weapons and armor created using divine magic shouldn't be usable by followers of other deities and should have the same alignment requirements of the Clerics devoted to the deity. If you make a magic weapon using spells granted to you by your prayers to a good deity, that weapon should register as good and evil dudes can't get it to work right. Going back to Kelmevor and Cyric, would Kelemvor really let a sneaky little bastard of a Cleric serving Cyric pick up a sword made using his (Kelemvor's) divine power slip the blade into a Cleric of Kelemvor's back? By the rules of the game, it is totally feasible. One of the defining features of the gods in the core mythologies of systems like 3.5 and Pathfinder is that they have an interest in the physical world outside of their godly realms, so followers slaughtering other followers of other gods is something that would interest them. Now if you have a fairly harsh and unforgiving deity like Vaprak or Bane or something, chances are he'd snicker at your weakness for letting an enemy get your weapon from you and kill you with it, but that really depends on the mentality of your deity. When Elminster got dragged down into The Nine Hells, Mystra dived right on in after him until Asmodeus kindly reminded her that the 9th, and all of the Hells, was his shithole and he was the biggest deity here. To be fair, Elminster was just a Chosen, not a Cleric and he had a romantic relationship with the previous goddess of magic. I just don't buy that an evil character could pick up a divinely created object of a good deity and wield it to do evil deeds. If a god can pick out their followers across the plane, couldn't they do the same with objects created with their power?

One final thing is mind control. With dominate person, you can command a target to do anything that is within its abilities to do if you have a common language. If you manage to dominate a Cleric, that means you can force them to beseech their deity for spells. You can command them to use cure spells on you, or harm spells on your behalf or pretty much anything. You can even have them tell you exactly what spells they have prayed for that day and what they do. So Clerics pray to their deity for power, they communicate on some level with a divine power to gain spells, so on some level the deity and the Cleric are connected to each other at the head. Wouldn't a deity just be like, nope, you can't do that? Or at the very least, not allow a Cleric with a suborned will to cast spells? Especially considering that the controller might be a Cleric of an enemy faith or of an alignment opposed to the deity, or just be controlling the Cleric to malign the name of the Cleric's deity. 

I dunno, I hate Clerics and divine classes and I think they're stupid and these are some weird aspects of the class. 


  1. There is an alternative to your interpretation though. It comes from the concept that Divine energy is its own unique form of magic that spontaneously creates a sentient force of nature with enough will to intervene in the mortal world. This energy exists outside of deities and is able to be channeled in similar ways.

    It could be described as the essence of creation. Arcane magic may be able to perform similar and unique feats, but it is touching only a portion of the power that exists. Arcane manipulates reality. Divine IS reality. By tapping into that power source you are tapping into creation itself.

    There are far more divine spellcasters out there that are able to tap into this energy without the influence of a deity. Classes like the Shugenja come from a culture where they attune themselves with the five elements of nature in order to cast their spells. Their power does not come from any deity and yet they still wield Divine power.

    In the Complete Divine book you also have the introduction of prestige classes like the Entropomancer, a divine caster who channels the power of Entropy, or the Ur-Priest who is basically a parasitic athiest of divine magic. Or you can look at the Void Desciple, the space between worlds, places and people is their realm of expertise.

    In Heroes of Horror the Archivist is introduced. One of my favorite divine classes. They're a Divine Wizard mechanically speaking. The idea is that they are experts in obscure lore and knowledge with the ability to learn any divine spell via scrolls and study. They study what the nature of the divine is as well as that which is older than the gods. They aren't necessarily worshipers, although they can be. Their power source though is the Divine, not a deity.

    To only think of Divine as the realm of Gods and them granting power to mortals is to ignore the non-absolute nature of what is the nature of reality. Is the material realm a manifestation of the Gods' will? Is it a perfect harmonization of the various planes of existence each contributing a piece of themselves as part of the natural process of the planes?

    Not every fantasy society believes in or has gods, does that cut them off from the power of the divine? Sometimes yes, other times no. It's belief, and it is a powerful thing. Do the gods spontaneously appear? Does the belief or need of the people create one?

  2. Also, magic sucks. Make 'em all grow tentacles and explode...