November 13, 2008

The New Cleric is the Old Cleric (Part 2)

This is the second part of a multi-part series and is intended to be a contributing article to the RPG Blog Carnival #4: Religion. The first part in the series can be found here.

Clerics in 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
In a previous post I looked at Clerics in Original Dungeons & Dragons (i.e. OD&D) and made the comment that they were essentially the first multi-class character type. They bridged the divide between "Fighting-Men" and "Magic-Users" by offering up a bit of both. The description for the Cleric class was all game mechanics and the rules-as-written (i.e. RAW) of the day lacked any suggestion or guidelines as to how a player might actually roleplay a Cleric. As D&D evolved, however, so did the concept of a "roleplaying game". By the time 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was codified, the printed rules began to drift noticeably towards a more cerebral immersive game - this was no doubt the result of years of articles published by fans and the early game designers in a little known fanzine called The Dragon. For the first time, the RAW included a clear set of guidelines to help players and judges (i.e. Dungeon Masters) develop a fully fleshed out, imaginary world. This change in direction can be seen clearly by a close look at the role of Clerics in 1E AD&D, and how players were expected to play them.

Clerics in 1E AD&D benefited from a huge array of changes as compared to the Cleric first described in the original Dungeons & Dragons game. In general, their spells were more powerful and offered more flexibility than simply being a healing-fighter type (unlike the 'new' paladin class, added late in the OD&D cycle). Half-elf and half-orc player characters could could now choose the Cleric class; and their spell-lists were greatly expanded. Despite the changes and additions made to the game mechanics of 1E AD&D Clerics (vs. those of OD&D), what stands out in my mind is how the printed rules offered up clear guidelines on how to roleplay your cleric.
"This class of character bears a certain resemblance to religious orders of knighthood of medieval times... The cleric is dedicated to a deity, or deities, and at the same time a skilled combatant at arms... All clerics have their own spells, bestowed upon them by their deity for correct and diligent prayers and deeds." -- 1E AD&D Players Handbook (1978).
Now the reader is thinking The Knights Templar! Perhaps unimportant, but this is the first time that the printed rules specify that Clerics have their spells bestowed onto them (as opposed to memorizing them from a book, as was done in OD&D). The daily acquisition of spells, and the need to adhere to your diety's ethos lest you be striped of them, is laid out below.
"Clerical spells, including the druidic, are bestowed by the gods, so that the cleric need but pray for a few hours and the desired verbal and somatic spell components will be placed properly in his or her mind. First, second, third, and even fourth level spells are granted to the cleric through meditation and devout prayer. This spell giving is accomplished by the lesser servants of the cleric's deity. Fifth, sixth, and seventh level spells can be given to the cleric ONLY by the cleric's deity directly, not through some intermediary source. Note that the cleric might well be judged by his or her deity at such time, as the clerk must supplicate the deity for the granting of these spells. While the deity may grant such spells full willingly, a deed, or sacrifice, atonement or abasement may be required. The deity might also ignore a specific spell request and give the cleric some other spell (or none at all). Your Dungeon Master will handle this considering a cleric's alignment and faithfulness to it and his or her deity." -- 1E AD&D Players Handbook (1978).
Thus, not only are clerics now required to pray or meditate, but at higher levels they must work tirelessly to appease their diety's will. This is an obvious requirement, of course, but the significance of how this governs the need for players to roleplay their characters "correctly" can nor be overlooked. Players of AD&D were, for the first time in the D&D universe, were required to roleplay a certain way to reap the benefits of their character's class. From my (incomplete) reading, I have not encountered anything such as this in the RAW of OD&D. The degree to which AD&D requires roleplaying "correctly" is further demonstrated by the following:
"It is then assumed that prior to becoming a first level cleric, the player character received a course of instruction, served a novitiate, and has thoroughly read and committed to memory the teachings of and prayers to his or her chosen deity, so that the character is dedicated to this deity and is able to perform as a cleric thereof. It is this background which enables the cleric character to use first level spells." -- 1E Dungeon Masters Guide (1979).
The author (Gygax) then goes on to write that each of the additional levels of spells absolutely requires an increasing level of devotion to the ethos of the Cleric's deity. So much so that players who do not play their Clerics according to their chosen deity's ethos will not only loose spells, but will be punished (in-game of course!) for their transgressions.
"The deity (you, the DM) will point out all of the transgressions, state a course of action which must be followed ... grant the spells which the deity deems are necessary to complete the course ... and pronounce anathema upon the cleric until satisfactory redemption has been made." -- 1E Dungeon Masters Guide (1979).
Quite harsh indeed. I wonder if later editions of the game professed such severe penalties on the players for roleplaying out of character, instead of acting in character.

The introduction of a new Dieties & Demigods book for 1E AD&D in 1980 was source of inspiration for both players and DMs alike. For players of Clerics, it was a boom-town addition to the game. Not only did this new book detail over a dozen different pantheons, it certified that Clerics were a key class for the progression of the campaign. It was the Cleric that was key in interacting with the non-combat environment of the game. This point is best illustrated by the following from the D&DG book:
"Of course, serving a deity is of greatest importance to clerics. This book should help that sometimes-neglected class come into its own. Players whose characters are clerics will find much more range and many more possibilities in their roles when the information herein is used to flesh them out completely. Clerics can and should have a great influence on the course of an AD&D campaign. They are prominent members of society (much more so than the common fighters or the reclusive magic-users and thieves); they often have a close relationship with the populace, and are usually well-acquainted with local leaders. They are looked up to as masters of ritual and keepers of knowledge. In addition to this special relationship with men, a cleric has a special relationship with his or her deity, an affinity usually denied to other mortals. This makes clerics a special class indeed, a class with a lot of room for creative innovation on the part of experienced players." -- Dieties & Demigods (1980).
For players who enjoyed the roleplaying aspect of D&D, this was a clear signal that this style of play was where the game was headed. More 'fluff', more narrative back story, more evoking game play. This happens to be about the time I first was exposed to D&D - at the ripe old age of eight i was flipping through the D&DG book and laughing my arse off at the naked lobster chick... but I digress.

As a final point - the Cleric was no longer the iconic "multi-class" character as I suggested was true in OD&D. Instead, the Cleric now had a clear role in the game. They were the leaders, the mediators, the "face" of the party to the townsfolk, lords, and peons of the game. Their role was changing, maybe becoming a bit softer in the process, but more importantly the game as a whole was changing.

These changes to the Cleric's role in game did not stop in 1st Edition D&D. In the next edition of this series I'll look at the Cleric class in 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons and how it continued to evolve towards the class we now know. Until then, GAME ON!

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  1. I think the description of a cleric in AD&D has always tainted my view of them. I think I will always see them as more of the "fighting" arm of the religion in question. I guess this is why I don't really get into the need for paladins for every alignment. The clerics are the "paladins" effectively for that alignment.

    Of course the problem with that view is what about the non-fighting arm of the church? That problem was talked about in more than one issue of old Dragon (can you say issues under 100?).

    Of course this was changed in later edition, which I assume you are going to talk about in your next entry.

  2. Nice post on the AD&D Cleric and the important changes and clarifications which were added with 1e. You've managed to cover all I know about Clerics in the first two posts, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the series to educate myself on recent (haha) changes. I've always defended the Cleric as a class, probably because I like underdogs and back in the day I always 'played' one (as a full-time DM, I ran the NPC since none of the PC's would ever play a Cleric).

    @bonemaster: One of my defenses of the Cleric, in OD&D terms, is that players should think of them as 'proto-Paladins' moreso than holymen. There are still 'run-of-the-mill' priests and holymen who never leave the church to adventure. Clerics are the my campaigns, anyway.

  3. Thanks for your support and comments! The proto-paladin is an interesting idea, ... but I usually thing of paladins and clerics as being very distinct.

    Clerics: think angry priest with a club who wears armor and bashes skulls of infidels.

    Paladin: Someone who was been anointed (or merely chosen) by there church to go destroy infidels and heretics and to defend the church against all new threats.

    The basic distinction in my mind is that the cleric decides who the heretics/infidels are and is judge by their own deity/god/ethos etc. Whereas, the paladin has his "targets" chosen for him, whether he agrees or not. Think Charlemaigne and or the Knights Hospitalis from the early middle-ages. This men and women are characterized by being volunteers of an Order who may or may not always agree with their Order's wishes, but nonetheless work to uphold them. I've also had a paladin character in one of my games where her back story was that she was an ex-criminal - and being a paladin was part of her penance.

    Does that make sense?

  4. I would personally not use phrases such as "more cerebral" or "evolved" when it comes to different editions of D&D. (Neither would I use their opposites.)

    Actually, evolution might be accurate, as it means adaptation more than improvement. Claiming that the cerebrality of the game somehow increased I still consider strange.

  5. @ Thanuir : Well, I could go back and re-edit; but I tend to avoid that with my blog. What gets written stands after I click "POST". =D But, I still stand by the comment about cerebral - to clarify though: I am an outsider of the OD&D community. I never played it then (I was too young) and do not play it now (I'm a 4E guy), but from reading the OD&D rules-as-written I was struck by the emphasis on mechanics, and the lack of emphasis on character development, backstory, and suspension of disbelief. This is not to say that the OD&D gamers did not enjoy these aspects of the game; in fact I expect that they did since the game continued to evolve -on paper- towards a more roleplaying and less wargaming style of game. The RAW for AD&D seems to support a more cerebral game explicitly I suppose - this was the angle I was coming from. But, to each there own I suppose.

  6. I should add that I became a rabid fan of D&D right around the time the Monster Manual II was printed (~1983; I was 11). So, my retro-perspective on the game prior to that is not from having actually played it in the 1970's - but from having seen my three older siblings play it for years while I was growing up. OD&D was always a board game style game to them, and when they started playing AD&D it took on an entirely new style of play.

  7. FYI: I'm 21 years old. I've never played D&D edition older (or newer) than 3rd/3,5th. (I have played a game I designed to fit similar style of play, though, and read a number of retro-clones.)

    Cerebral, as far as I know, refers to intellectual, calculated, and so on. From what I've gathered from sources such as mister Finch's quick primer for old school gaming, OD&D was plenty cerebral, if only on level different from current games. (More emphasis on strategy and long term resource management, less on M:tG-like power comboes and on flashy encounters.

  8. @ Thanuir: after reviewing my current edition of Google dictionary, I humbly offer an alternative pseudo-word: immersive; as in something that facilitates immersion. Both ... err.. all editions of the game would be considered cerebral on one level or another. The usage of the word was to indicate that 1E AD&D was moving towards "immersion" and away from "tactical" play. imho.

  9. That would be more accurate a word. (Sorry for the nitpicking.)

  10. Hello! my name is Steve , first time I visit your blog,
    I really like the 1 first part of clerics because the new game kind of confuse me for some reason maybe I need more practice, my niece and nephew like this game of Dungeons & Dragons that is how I learn about this cool game. Greetings from Kansas :-)


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