Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Clerics and Detection, PART 1, or "If You've Stuck Yourself in Heal-Bot Mode You've Got Your Own Damn Self to Blame"

Thus does pronounce The Spawn of Endra!

[Okay, here's my Cleric cred, right off the bat. I've been playing the Cleric Innominus the Follower of Endra in Carter's game since January of 2010. I've read all the LabLord and AEC rules about Clerics closely, I compile all of Bat's Ancient Vaults and Eldritich Secrets Divine Spells, and I think about how to use my PC to do more interesting stuff all the time. Because of this, I am biased toward the view that Clerics are Bad-Ass.]

There's been a bit of a "Clerics ARE Bad-Ass" vibe going on in the blogospheroid, between Carter's last post on the subject and this one at Grognardia that really didn't have much to do with Clerics initially (it was about a Rients post on class generation). But a segment of the comments on Grognardia boiled down to the relative merits of Clerics, and how they are perceived by some as just heal-bots that no one wants to play. I made a comment there that was perhaps more abrasive than is appropriate for a Canada-based blog (just kidding, Canucks! I know you're not as civil as everyone thinks!):
Quoth I: As a person playing a LL cleric for the last year and a half, I have to say if your cleric is turned into a heal-bot, or never gets to fight, or never uses all the really useful detection spells to make yourself like f'ing Van Helsing then a) you suck as a player, b) you play in a pretty sorry game, with c) other pretty sorry players. If you can't make a B/X cleric awesome and fun, you've got serious problems.
Maybe that's harsh. A commenter suggested that they have a hard time elbowing in to get their way in a game ... and so I guess they get pressured into not fighting and just healing folks. Some folks suggested it's the MMOs that are the problem. Others said it goes further back. Well, I'm sorry but ... well, what I said. Something SUCKS: you, the GM, the other players, the gestalt of all that. B/X/LL Clerics are bad-ass and a lot of fun to play. They don't suck. Some human element of your game sucks.

Clerics apparently are terribly boring in later editions of D&D. I haven't played those editions, but I get that impression from such posts as this one at Rule of the Dice. There I read this rant, and I commented thusly:
Ahoy. I play a cleric in what are essentially B/X rules.... I'm not savvy with later editions, and have no opinions about their mechanics. But for the earlier editions, the magic isn't super spectacular, but the cleric whips ass in combat compared to many other classes (outside of fighters, of course). Yes they can cast Cure Light Wounds, but this idea that they hang back and offer first aid like M*A*S*H doesn't happen in play.
Is this a common thing in 3.x or later that the Cleric ... just ends up being a first aid kit? That's not my experience ... yes, there are times where my character heals a bunch of folks, but it's after my character crushed several skulls in a series of withering flail attacks.
And CDGallant_Knight (the author) responded:
Back in the "old days," clerics were the second-best option for combat, after fighters. (They had to do something once they ran out of spells, after all). The recent addition of so many other classes with specialized attacks and damage-dealing options, however, makes what little combat potential clerics had obsolete. The clerics are there to keep the strikers/DPS characters alive, so they can keep pouring on the damage.
And I said "Well, yeah then that DOES suck." (NB: I'm so old-school I have no idea what 'strikers/DPS characters' are, though I get the drift.)

But I'm not playing that edition. When we first started the Lands of Ara campaign back in January of 2010, I recall Carter mentioning that our party might want to have a Cleric, or even his setting-specific Sword Cleric of Frey, on board, and I took this off-handed remark to heart. I assumed he had some undead-heavy stuff planned. And I also was being that sort of "responsible player" that is alluded to in the Grognardia post comments: somebody has to be the stupid cleric or else we can't play, I'll take one for the team. But my motivation as one of two experienced gamers in the group with a bunch of almost total RPG newbies (two of whom choose to be house-ruled Bards off the bat ... humanities grad students!) was to make sure we were a well-balanced party, because I wanted the campaign to succeed at gaining and keeping new players and giving them enough time to figure out the game through play.

I NEVER played Clerics back in the day and I assume that it was because of all the god-damned (as it were) tonsured monk-looking fools with crosses and rosary beads that were depicted. And not having a spell at first level in B/X also seemed sucky (a topic well-treated in Rients' post and on Grognardia, and in Carter's last post). And no edged weapons. They seemed sucky, but now I know they weren't. The Lab Lord Cleric borrows the AD&D spell progression for the class, and so another layer of potential suck has been stripped away.

Before I get into the detection stuff, which is the point of PART 2 of this post, I'll touch on a few things that make Clerics play really cool. Many of these are not new ideas but there are enough *^$*)$#@ers out there crying about Clerics sucking that they need repeating yet again:
  •  The blunt weapon restriction isn't that severe. In most B/X-style play you've lost only lost rare d10 weapons, d8 one-handed weapons, and d6 missile weapons. If you're JB and consider variable weapon damage optional (as written), it's almost completely an aesthetic choice.
  • They aren't ^&@#@ing priests telling everyone to be nice and turn the other cheek, and they aren't paladins with a boring moral absolutism that has almost no place in a party of killers and looters. They are trying to destroy evil or chaos or whatever in the world. By smashing its fucking skull in with a blunt object. And with righteous fury, I would expect.
  • They have access to all spells of the level they are able to cast each day. This is really important. As Carter has noted, this was one of the first insights I had about the cleric when I got back into the rules. Clerics don't have to find scrolls or buy spells to gain magic. They don't HAVE to slect CLW as their first spell (as opposed to MUs that logically really HAVE to choose Sleep as their first spell after Read Magic, since they are so weak in combat). They just have to pray and do what their deity wants (i.e., destroy enemies of the faith with righteous lust ... duh, what else were you planning to do?). 
  • This means that Clerics are in a better position day-to-day to assess what sorts of spells will be useful in the adventure scenario, and are able to move the game forward in the non-combat sessions when detection is going to be more productive than healing or offensive spells. It's powerful because the Cleric never incurs long-term opportunity costs for selecting a 'lame' spell over and 'awesome' spell, like Magic Users might. You select spells for the day, if they aren't useful, so what? In fact, the ability to choose each day promotes experimentation and creative application of the spells because there is no long-term commitment to keeping those spells.
  • The ability to customize the day's spells to suit the gaming situation (especially if you're using the AEC Wisdom bonuses too) means that around 3rd level and higher, the Cleric's player has a lot of strategic options to consider, whether they are going to be Abu Nidal jihadist or Christopher Lee Van Helsing that day. Nobody else gets that flexibility. And in my experience that is really FUN. At times this can put you in the party's driver's seat, but just as often you get to do your bad-ass thing while the other party members do THEIR bad-ass things and it's like the A-Team just showed up to save Prince Arkus from demons from Hell!
Next time I'll talk about my favorite daily spell lists for Cleric Detective, as well as for Cleric Holy Warrior. For now, let me re-emphasize that I play my Cleric for me,and though I have a sense of trying to support the whole party, I don't put it up to a vote what spells I'll choose for the day to help everyone else out. Van Helsing wouldn't. He's trying to save reality, not save Dungo the Fighter with a +2HP CLW so he can swing his sword one more time. Seriously, folks. Clerics have have bigger fish to fry.


  1. "I don't put it up to a vote what spells I'll choose for the day to help everyone else out. Van Helsing wouldn't. He's trying to save reality, not save Dungo the Fighter with a +2HP CLW so he can swing his sword one more time. Seriously, folks. Clerics have have bigger fish to fry."

    Hear, hear! Preach it, brother!

  2. Thank you for the mention. I try to diversify my Divine spells to get away from the "healing kit" mentality, also by portraying Valance as a Chaotic priest that, as he says, "Doesn't cast that kind of spells."

  3. I also want to point out that Cleric doesn't have any healing spells in the 2nd and 3rd spell levels. This forces him to choose something else.

    If your DM takes poison onset time into account (most of the time you're just boned), Slow Poison or Neutralize Poison can help. Keeping Cure Disease on hand is pointless unless you come across one of the rare diseases that need to be cured within a day (and the Paladin gets to Cure Disease for free anyway, so let him do it).

    Spiritual Hammer and Hold Person are so awesome, it makes me wonder why they didn't give Cure Serious Wounds more than 2d8 healing. Spiritual Hammer is especially good in magic-poor games because it's a guaranteed way to smack up the resistant monsters.

    Typically, in our games, nobody told the spellcasters what they should memorize. If the Cleric wasn't taking any healing spells, other players might ask him to take some, but they wouldn't expect him to do nothing but that.

  4. In later additions of the game Clerics were able to swap any spell out of the same level for a cure spell of that level or lower. I thought that was a great rule to promote use of the cleric as something other than a med kit as well (while still giving them a chance to toss a heal). I have always enjoyed the cleric class, even in later games.

    "Feats" in 3e were so specific to class and "role" that it put a large divide on fighter vs healer, but creativity helps overcome this just like ANYTHING else in roleplay. I had a very successful boomerang wielding halfling cleric for one of my games.

    I agree with your blunter points Endra, a lot of the time it is the outlook of the person that makes the role you end up in be exciting or boring. If you go into it thinking you need to sit back, take all the cure spells you can memorize for the day, and wait for someone to get hurt before you can do anything...then you're probably not going to have the most fun at the table.

    One of the ways I used to spice up my clerics was to actually say quick prayers while in combat to my diety. Especially if I had a diety of battle. Often the dice would met out my god's favor or disfavor with my actions. If I got a string of bad rolls, my character would often find this as a sign he needed to appease his diety in some other form. If I crit, my character would take pride in the favor of his god.

    I guess my point is: I agree you don't have to stand in the shadows. That's a rogue's job.