November 13, 2008

The New Cleric is the Old Cleric (Part 3)

The 2nd Edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons changed many many things about the game as a whole (too many to list here), but in this third installment of this series we will take a close look at clerics in 2E AD&D and how they changed from the previous two editions. This is the third post in a multipart series that focuses on the evolution of the cleric class through each of the major editions of the Dungeons & Dragons game. It is intended to be part of a larger RPG Blog Carnival focusing on Religion. The first part of this series focused on clerics in Original D&D as the first multiclass character type. The second post in this series focused on clerics in 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and how for the first time the rules-as-written required players to roleplay their cleric PCs a certain way in order to maintain a number of class benefits (i.e. spells).

Thumbing through the 2E AD&D Players Handbook, you will notice a number of immediate differences in the way the game designers (Zeb Cook and associates) constructed the cleric class. First off, clerics are now part of a class group called "priests" that also includes druids (as opposed to being a "sub-class" of clerics, as was the case in 1E AD&D) and "other" classes that could be included by the DM. Zeb Cook also immediately reinforces the trend that clerics are not simply 'warrior priests', but are integral members of their community.
"The cleric is a generic priest (of any mythos) who tends to the needs of a community. He is both protector and healer. He is not purely defensive, however. When evil threatens, the cleric is well-suited to seek it out on its own ground and destroy it." -- 2E AD&D Players Handbook (1995, I can't find my copy of the older 1989 version)
To me, the assumption that clerics are part of community implies that the character in question, and by extension the whole party, has a home base of operations and a place to belong. Emphasis is also placed on a cleric's duty to seek out and destroy evil (or any aberration to their faith). The 2E AD&D cleric is somewhat more of a head-cracker, a cudgel wielding fanatic, than in the previous edition of the game. This is further supported later in the Player's Handbook by the following:
"The cleric class is similar to certain religious orders of knighthood of the Middle Agethe Teutonic Knights, the Knights Templars, and Hospitalers. These orders combined military and religious training with a code of protection and service. Members were trained as knights and devoted themselves to the service of the church. The frequently found on the outer edges of the Christian world, either on the fringe of the wilderness or in war-torn lands." -- 2E AD&D PHB.
These 2E AD&D clerics call people on their mistakes, but dole out 'forgiveness' to paladins and others of their own faith. They convert the weak of heart, care for the needy, but crush the skulls of the dammed when the need arises.
"Clerics are sturdy soldiers ... being reluctant to shed blood or spread violence, are allowed to use only blunt, bludgeoning weapons. They can use ... magical versions of any weapons allowed by their order."
So they are still essentially men and women of peace (unless, I suppose, they ascribe to a god of War or Murder). All of the text quoted above no doubt seeded the minds of many RPG gamers with notions of how to roleplay their clerics. Gone, however, are the requirements for 'face time' with their gods to acquire their most powerful spells. Gone too are the details of the penalties Gygax suggested for players who do not roleplay their cleric characters accordingly (at least in the PHB, see below).
"The cleric receives his spells as insight directly from his deity (the deity does not need to make a personal appearance to grant the spells the cleric prays for), as a sign of and reward for his faith, so he must take care not to abuse his power lest it be taken away as punishment." -- 2E AD&D PHB
OK, they can still loose their spells - but the assertion is somewhat vague as to how this can happen. In my opinion, the evolution of roleplaying as a core component of D&D is clearly evident, but now the designers are also beginning to reach back to some of the values of OD&D. I'm thinking of Timothy Kask's paradigm of "wing it as best you can". The 1E AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide outlined some fairly harsh penalties for roleplaying your cleric badly, which included forced alignment changes and even character death in extreme cases. The heavy-handed rules of 1E AD&D Gygax may have begun to give way a bit to the more open mindset of Cook's 2E AD&D, but this is later corrected when The Complete Priest's Handbook is released in 1990.

The biggest change from playing 1E AD&D clerics to playing 2E AD&D clerics came in 1990 with the release of The Complete Priest's Handbook. All of a sudden, players and DMs alike had hundreds of pages of detailed information about clerics and druids (and other variations) that included guidelines and tips for roleplaying them, new spells, new 'kits', and new gear. The book even features an entire chapter titled "Role-Playing" that goes into incredible detail about the different ways a player might enjoy roleplaying this venerable class of D&D.
"In this supplement, we're going to elaborate on what the priest (including the cleric) is to the campaign, to the setting's civilization, and to the adventuring party. We'll be providing guidelines for the DM to work up the cleric's faith: The god or philosophy he serves, the rules and mores he follows, the duties he practices, the restrictions he suffers, the powers he possesses, and the relations he and the others of his faith have with the followers of other faiths ... We'll talk about role-playing the priest character. Certainly, priest characters don't have to have the same sort of identical personality (the kindly father-confessor with the bloody mace in his hand) which many players imagine them all to have." -- The Complete Priest's Handbook (1990).
With regards to role-playing clerics in your campaign - for the first time novice players could get inspiration from eight different priest personality archetypes presented in this book. In turn, by working with their DM, they could establish a set of ethics and codes of conduct for their cleric to adhere to during the course of the campaign. Roleplaying the priest character "correctly" was still the rule of the day, but the DM and the player were given the flexibility (options galore!) to decide what 'correctly' meant beforehand.

The supplement also provides a very lengthy discussion of how to punished players (in game!) who are roleplaying their clerics poorly. As a continuation of the heavy-handed 1E AD&D ruleset, the CPHB has a number of entries like this one:
"If the priest deliberately violates the goals of the god, then he's in real trouble ... The third time this happens, the god will immediately reduce the character to 1 hit point and change his character class. The priest will become an ordinary fighter at an experience level two lower than the priest's level (minimum first level); his normal hit point total and possessions will be unaffected. Until the character undergoes a severe ritual of atonement, the god will despise the character and plague him with little ills, diseases, and enemies. Once the character atones for the deed, the god forgives him . . . but the character will still be a fighter." -- -- The Complete Priest's Handbook (1990).
Ouch! I'm sure that would go over real-well with any of my players. I'm not sure as to the effectiveness of the 'punishments' such as the one above, but the fact that the designers spent so many words (nearly a whole chapter) describing them in detail does tell me one thing: roleplaying your cleric 'correctly' and with conviction is damn important. Fail to do that and "every episode for the rest of the character's life introduces some new, horrible calamity until the character is mercifully killed or kills himself. In any case, the character is no longer a viable one to play and the player should dispose of him as quickly as possible". Ouch again!

So, in summary, the 2E AD&D cleric is really only slightly more "evolved" than its predecessor. The emphasis on correctly roleplaying your cleric is made time and time again in 2E AD&D, but the player and DM are also provided with a wide range of options that can be used to define the boundaries before the start of play. The goal was to have flexibility in character creation and cleric ethos, but with consequences if the player drifts too far afield over the course of the campaign. I would also argue that, for the "standard" cleric, there is a grounding of the character in the campaign world to a home-base or settlement; something that is not evident in the RAW of 1E AD&D. I for one had at least one campaign in the early 90's where this was the reason the party never left town - the cleric in the group was under the thumb of his church.

In the next installment of this series we will look at the cleric of 3rd edition D&D. Until then... game on! (and now I need to get some sleep... hopefully I didn't write anything that stupid... )

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  1. Good read, Jonathon. In particular I like the way you are tracing the moral and ethical code path of the various incarnations of the Cleric and the evolution thereof. It might be worth noting that it has somewhat followed the changes in the rules for Alignment and the proliferation of Deities and Pantheons, as well.

    In original D&D, the Cleric had smatterings and hints of morals and ethics (and good vs. evil), but there was no defined Deity (the only holy symbol was in fact a Cross), and Alignment was just a vague Law-Neutral-Chaos guide.

    Good brain food!

  2. I agree this was a most excellent read. I look forward to your comments on 3rd ed.


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