Damn it DM I’m a Cleric not a First Aid Kit (or spicing up your priests)
Player 1: “I’m going to be a fighter.”
Player 2: “Me too”
Player 3: “Well, I’ll be the mage”
Everyone looks at Player 4
All: “You need to be the cleric”
Player 4: “No way, I hate clerics”
Ever seen this happen? Or better yet been one of the players involved?
It has been my experience that many players try to avoid two classes, the cleric and the thief. In this article I want to examine why the cleric class is avoided by many, and different ways to play it. I want to note I am specifically talking about a single class cleric here and not any of its multi-class versions.
Other players often look to the group cleric as just the guy that heals. It is all too common for the cleric in a group to spend most of their spell memorization slots on cure spells. A 2nd level cleric with a good wisdom can memorize 4 1st level spells, there have been a number of occasions where I have seen those slots dispersed as 1 random spell such as light or bless and 3 slots devoted to cure light wounds just in initial adventure preparation.
This forces the cleric into the all healer all the time role, and makes the player feel their character is more generic than other party members. In fact I have seen the party cleric turn into little more than a living potion of healing, and it takes a strong player to pull away from that cookie cutter character type once it starts to form. This is most common among newer inexperienced players, but sometimes even those who have been around the game for years have avoided the class all together for fear of this type of pigeon holing.
While it is true that the group will rely on the cleric for some healing, it should not necessarily be his only priority; his priority should really be determined by his god’s ethos.
I will list several cleric personality types, a brief paragraph of what they are, and a list of common types of spells the personality would use.
Obviously no player should be forced to any of these personalities, remember this article is to try and help those players who feel shoved into the role of nothing but healer. Many experienced players already have the ability to shed that role and do not need such help.
The War Priest
Outline: These clerics tend to be followers of Odin, Ares, Thor and other warlike or tactical combat gods and would not be content with being a medic. While it would not be out of the norm for such a priest to obtain a healing spell or two, their main focus would be towards battle and spreading their deities word through action. These types of priests tend to lead from the front, and even though out of the norm for clerics, could be in a leadership type role within a party. They tend to be heavily armored and well armed, and backing down from a fight could be seen as cowardly and a stain on their deities honor. These priests are as close to a fighter as a cleric can get.
Common Spells: These clerics tend to gravitate towards tactical support spells. While they may fill a spell slot with a cure light wounds, their other slots would be devoted to spells such as command, bless, chant, or spiritual hammer. Their main concern will not be on keeping the parties wounds closed, but more how the can assist, or lead, in defeating any combat the party faces.
The Scholar Priest
Outline: These clerics tend to be followers of Oghma, Thoth, Athena, and other gods dealing with knowledge, learning, magic, wisdom, logic, and so forth. These priests concentrate on learning and other scholarly pursuits over a life of excitement. They are not fond of danger and adventure, but will quickly set aside their comfortable life and take the hard road if they believe it will lead to new frontiers of knowledge. They make great advisors but rarely take on a leadership role. They tend to dress simply and avoid heavier armor whenever possible. They are most comfortable wielding light and simple weapons such as a staff or club, and will avoid combat if they can.
Common Spells: These priests are not likely to take a cure spells as a default. Their selections tend to be devoted to spells that will aid them in other ways particularly in deduction, learning, and personal safety. Common examples of spells memorized are sanctuary, protection from evil, detect evil, detect magic, find traps, and speak with animals.
The Helper Priest
Outline: These clerics tend to be followers of Freya, Rongo, Isis and other gods dealing with healing, fertility, the harvest, the hearth, and anything else related to the life of everyday people. These are the clerics that tend to focus on the everyday needs of individuals and the common man. They win over converts by helping heal the sick, feed the hungry, etc. These clerics tend to spend most of the time at their temple addressing visitors and raising awareness (and money) for their deity. When the players need a raise dead or restoration, these are the priests they find (and pay). They have no particular use for heavy armor or weapons, however they don’t shy away from them when needed.
Common Spells: These clerics do tend to memorize the curing type spells such as cure light wounds, purify food and drink, create water, slow poison, or remove fear.
The Wilderness Priest
Outline: These are the clerics of Cernunnos, Silvanus, Mielikki, Artemis, and other gods of the forest, the hunt, and nature. While you could put druids in place of this type of personality rather than the base cleric class, I see no reason why clerics can’t fit in as well. These priests tend to remain lightly armored, but are not afraid of adventure. They will normally be great foes of the evil humanoid races who make their home in the natural places the cleric cares for.
Common Spells: While they may pray for a heal spell of two they are sure to devote other slots to spells that have a natural affect or affect on nature such as create water, light, snake charm, speak with animals, or dispel magic.
The Zealot Priest
Outline: These clerics tend to worship the more powerful gods that rule patheons or great spheres of influence such as Zeus, Anu, Posiden and the like, or evil gods that demand their clerics dominate the weak and force others in servitude. These are the fire and brim stone, do as I say or else priests. They tend to ignore the followers of other gods and will only deal with there own believers. They will go to any length to do whatever they believe will further their own gods reach often favoring war, restrictive laws, torture, whatever they think can force others to their way of thinking.
Common Spells: This personality has little or no care for the individual person, their focus is entirely on their deity and how to spread his word and their own personal fulfillment. They tend to pray for spells that will help them in such a task, or give them some kind of personal knowledge they may use. Such as command, detect magic, augury, know alignment, and detect evil/good.
While these personality outlines can help give a player an idea of how to stay out of the “medic” box, ultimately it comes down to the DM. A party can not go without healing capability, and it is up to the DM to make sure that options other than just the cleric are available to the party. I tend not to make magic items available for sale in my campaigns. I don’t want the party running out and buying magical swords and shields and cloaks. However, the exceptions I make to this rule are healing potions and spell scrolls. While I don’t allow an unlimited amount of potions, or just any spells, I do make sure there are some available.
This takes some of the pressure off the cleric when the party has an additional option. I also make sure that the party can “tith” (pay) to a local temple and receive cure spells while in town, with the combination of being able to heal up quickly in town and being able to purchase potions and heal scrolls the party cleric should not have to devote more than a few spell slots to healing spells.
Also in an attempt to spice up the cleric class I have a few house rules I use to draw interest from players. I have never believed that the cleric should be generic across the board, and that the priest of one deity should be the same as the priest of another deity (even if the same alignment). So I have added a bit of flavor by implementing some special rules based on each deity.
The primary change I make is in the allowed weapon list. I go through my list of deities and for many of them I allow the cleric to use a specific weapon that may not be on the list of allowed weapons in the PHB. I determine this by the deities sphere of influence and whether or not he is associated with a specific kind of weapon. For example, a cleric of Poseidon may use a trident, the clerics of deities oriented towards war and combat (such as Areas or Odin) may use a spear, the clerics of a god of the forest or hunt (such as Mielikki or Cernunnos) I allow to use a sling. I have not found this to be game breaking in any way, in fact if you use the weapon versus AC rules the typical cleric blunt weapons can actually be better. Even though it isn’t a major change I have found it gives players (in particular new ones) more of a sense of individualism with their cleric.
A few other additional rules I implement revolve around reaction to the player by NPC’s.
If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards combat I give an additional +5% to reaction adjustment for fighter henchmen.
If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards knowledge, wisdom, logic, or other scholarly pursuits I give a 5% discount on the cost of hiring a sage or alchemist.
If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards the things everyday people rely on such as crops, healing, the hearth, or the sun I give an additional +10% reaction adjustment to commoner NPC’s (NPC’s who are not classed or specialized in an area) such as bar keeps, farmers, general workers, cooks, tailors, etc.
If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards the forest, the hunt, or other wilderness influence I give them an additional +5% reaction adjustment towards trappers, hunters, foresters, and rangers.
Hopefully this article has got you thinking as either a player or DM on what you can do to spice up the cleric class in your game and keep them from becoming more than a first aid kit.
The Looking Glass
This week I am listing a new magic item I am including in the module I am currently working on. It is what I am calling a Fire and Forget Staff. These are one shot magical staffs tied to an element or para-element. Each staff contains a single spell that once released cannot be recharged.
Fire and Forget Staff (Ice) XP: 1000 GP Value: 5,000
This is a magical cherry wood staff that has been enchanted to hold a single Ice Storm spell. When the command word is spoken, the spell is cast at the 12th level of ability. After the spell is cast the staff becomes a normal quarter staff and cannot be recharged. These staves are usable by any spell casting class including rangers and paladins who have reached the appropriate level to memorize and cast spells.