Saturday, October 22, 2011

LL Cleric = Powerful (and well it should be)

I ran my first ConstantCon game on Monday (play report forthcoming), and since we use Swords and Wizardry White Box rules for that, I got to talking with Spawn of Endra during the session about the relative power of the Cleric class across several D&D rules iterations and their retro-clones. It turns out that 1e AD&D and Labyrinth Lord favor giving clerics spells at first level, a privilege denied them by other systems like White Box, Swords and Wizardry in general, the LBBs, Holmes, and even Moldvay/Cook, upon which LL is primarily based!

Even James Raggi's LotFP Grindhouse, which has sparked much of my recent thinking on this matter, slightly de-powers the cleric from its LL / AD&D heights, NOT by denying clerics a spell at first level, but by making their Undead Turning ability into a spell. I think that is a very clever approach, and yet as I step back and reflect upon this whole cleric scenario, I find that in the end, I may actually prefer the "high-powered" cleric of LL and AD&D.


Well, this current campaign of mine is really the first time I have ever gamed with a cleric for any sustained period of time. I never realized how cool and versatile a class the Cleric was until this campaign. I will leave the particulars of my positive cleric experiences to our group's play reports and possibly Spawn (I am hoping he may eventually post on "The Cleric as Detective"), but I do want to note here why I think that clerics SHOULD be powerful, SHOULD get spells at first level as well as their Turn Undead ability.

It really boils down to their alignment, to whose team they're batting for. As I have recently outlined,

"All clerics, unless they serve demons or chaotic demigods, are aligned with Law. [. . .] Law is what 'naturally' occurs in one's home dimension, including its 'indigenous' gods, and Chaos always comes from without, crossing into a foreign dimension via the energies of Chaos."

So Lawful clerics worship the gods local to this dimension, the so-called "True Gods" or even "Lawful Gods" -- though recall that, at least for me, deities are NOT bound by strict alignment guidelines -- so it follows that their magic should flow more easily and "naturally" here than do the arcane forces of inter-dimensional Chaos. Clerics play by local rules and accrue benefits therefrom. Magic-users tamper with inter-dimensional forces and so should have a harder (and more dangerous) time of it.

May the Arandish gods bless Dan Proctor for going with the slightly more potent AD&D-style cleric for Labyrinth Lord. I can see why some folks prefer the lower-powered OD&D cleric -- for tradition's sake, or because of the "prove their faith before being granted the ability to work miracles" angle -- but I think that, now that clerics and the Lands of Ara have finally met, the spell-at-first-level-having, undead-turning cleric of Labyrinth Lord suits my campaign's (developing and evolving) assumptions quite well.


  1. I think a lot of people use house rules to increase survivability of low level PCs, and/or give away a lot of healing potions. When you do that I can see where the cleric might seem powerful, but by the book a cleric is literally a life saver. There will be many more PC deaths and TPKs without those spells at first level. Even with a functional 1st level cleric you will have party deaths if you go by the book. In my own games PCs are dead at 0 hp, unless they can be brought back above 0 the same round. I don't use other house rules like "shields shall be splintered" or anything like that. IMHO once you start stacking those things, survivability to -10 or CHA, that sort of thing, you are altering the assumptions of the game so there will be repercussions. In this case I think the cleric gets an undeserved bad rap.

  2. I am glad to see someone else figure out how cool the cleric class can be. Welcome to the club!

    Personally I am torn about giving clerics spells at first level. I am a really big fan of the "prove their faith before being granted the ability to do miracles" idea, but from a practical POV, Dan is exactly correct — clerics are life savers. In my current campaign we use the LL cleric as is.

  3. @Dan: Well said. I do use Shields Shall Be Splintered, but it has indeed increased PC survivability, obviously. Do you permit use of the Raise Dead spell in your own games? If so, how accessible is it?

  4. @FrDave: Thanks for the insight. I guess I have never (until my just-incepted ConstantCon game) run Clerics any other way besides the way you and Dan do; I too prefer the LL "Spells at first level" variant.

  5. I would contend that even without a spell at 1st level, the Cleric is the most powerful low level character in OD&D.

  6. I would contend that even without a spell at 1st level, the Cleric is the most powerful low level character in OD&D.

    The case for this becomes even more solid when you consider the XP requirements for clerics compared to those of other classes. It's an extremely attractive class.

  7. @Carter: I allow all of the spells. Characters can get Raise Dead when they are a high enough level. If they establish a relationship with a local church they can hire a cleric to do it...for an extremely large donation. It will clear out the PCs' savings. I also subtract 1 CON permanently each time. Sort of related to this I do require item saving throws when a PC is exposed to stuff like acid or fails a save versus breath attacks, that sort of thing, because magic items may be destroyed. So in the end I never find that Raise Dead impedes play in any way. Sometimes characters can died where raising is impossible, or they are just too poor to hire it out. Characters come and go so much at low levels I don't begrudge some of this stuff if they manage to get to a higher level. I've never found it to be a big deal.

    Oh, I was going to comment about turning ability. In my games, and I think the underlying assumption in D&D, is that PCs will encounter a lot of things like skeletons and zombies at low level. Hordes of them sometimes. Then toss in the occasional ghoul. I've never found the turn ability to be too powerful, all things considered. So they turn a group of skeletons (or most of a group) in one encounter. No big deal. There's more around the corner and that cleric won't succeed in every Turn! Only one turn attempt allowed per encounter, after all. Again, if you think the cleric is too powerful ask yourself what other house rules you are using. In the big picture the problem may not be with the classes as written, but imbalances introduced from your own tinkering.

  8. The reason not to give clerics spells at first level is to reinforce the fact they are a melee class, 90% of the spells given to them in the LLB's are out of combat spells. They are fanatical religious knights, ad&d went off the deep end by adding so many combat spells, better to have added the priest class as the lawful version of the druid (mu/cl). Leather armor and further weapon restrictions as a balance to more spell casting prowress.

    Nobody likes the cleric because people turn the class into a robed holy man, instead of the plate armored knight, then they want to add ridiculous things like free casting in order to help the cleric cast even more spells in combat (as if having the 2nd best HD and attack progression wasn't enough).

    Clerics are jihadists, not lutheran monks.

  9. @Dan: Thanks for the suggestions, I REALLY like the concept of subtracting 1 CON permanently for each time you're Raised from the Dead.

    @UWS: I like that concept a lot.

  10. Yay! Another cleric fan. There are just not enough of us out there. By the way, I wouldn't be too surprised at how effective the cleric class works as an investigator. It's said that GG created the class in response to a player who wanted a character based on Hammer Horror's take on Van Helsing character.

  11. Mr. Dangerous Brian is right on with the Van Helsing detective angle of the Cleric. I just griped at someone on Grognardia about that. Now I probably must finally post on this.

  12. A large part of the cleric class is the idea behind it: Having one saves lives. People here
    have discussed it, but I played in some older campaigns and things like healing potions were
    rare. In that style of play you will see people wishing they had that healing buddy to give them a leg up. Even to this day healing potions are good, but still incredibly lacking as a replacement. Don't get me wrong, I don't think a set of consumables should ever replace a class, but if you have a lot of these items at your fingertips it won't sting as much. I
    think a lot of the "bonuses" that seem to make clerics powerful were added to make the class
    more tasty. As James Maliszewski and Sham aka Dave touched on, they are an attractive
    class...but for a reason! I think the designers of the games wanted them to be more played, because as Carter said in hispost people are drawn to fighter types and magic user types. People want to be part of the action and feel that the cleric is kind of the glue and not the up front, take it to 'em, hard hitter. Magic users aren't either, at first level, but they come into their own mystique.

    I feel a cleric's progression is more mild in the magic department, but that doesn't mean they can't be exciting. I myself admit that I have a hard time seeing them as a holy knight (being that paladins existed when I first was introduced to D&D, that version being AD&D 2e)and often saw them as more of a field medic. You still wear armor, but nothing too cumbersome (so you aren't hindered and can aid the wounded). You are devoted to your diety and beleive he will shield you in battle. You are still trained as a soldier, but you fall a
    bit behind a true fighter because you spend time learning to harness the power of your diety. I often think of a cleric wielding a shield and mace over a two handed hammer. I think all these things are realized in their HD, hit progression, etc. Them not having a spell to cast at level 1 with their Turn Undead seems harsh. They are still devoted to their faith and wouldn't be much of a medic otherwise, in a universe with magic. A clever roleplayer can always make the most of what they have, even if they didn't have the spell at level one, they could find a way to use what they do have to get the job done. Even simple prayer can be a strong avenue for helping the wounded.