Friday, July 05, 2013

What Are Clerics Good For Anyway?

I read recently John Four's brief comment on the fact that Clerics tend to be thought of in some RPGs as Heal-Bots.  I was thinking about this earlier today, actually, while reading a book on ancient religions.  It does seem that in a lot of games I've seen that Clerics do tend to be type-cast in the Adventure Party as the quiet guys who stick to the rear so that when the fighting class Characters are wounded they can step up and pronounce the mystic mumbo-jumbo for healing, and that's that.  Their mission accomplished they return to the rear and wait for their next chance to perform their useful function.

Occasionally I've seen one or two get involved in some philosophic debate about the alignment of an item, and once in a blue moon, set the party direction based on their Deity's perceived Will, usually guessed at by the cleric and based on some half-vague description of the Deity's nature from some dubious source like the GM. Roughly speaking that's how things have gone, more or less, with a few notable exceptions.

For my world, I want to change all of that.

Here's a sample of what I mean.

Elthos is played in the Age of Heroes of my world. Civilizations themselves are not entirely new creations, but some are older than others, and some have already vanished beneath the sands of time. The Elkron, the Deities, hover enigmatically in the distance with their All-Seeing Eyes trained mostly on one another, or on the top of their enormous temples located at the centers of the huge metropolises dedicated to each Elkron. One day the King of one such city, after many decades of wars in the name of his Elkron, and after years of prayers in the Ante-Chamber of the Holy Chamber requesting to be allowed to build a new Temple for his Great and Mighty Sovereign (the idea of which came to him in a dream in his youth), receives word in a vision: "Now is the time. You have been chosen by the Elkron to build the new Temple of Palamir."

The King, overwhelmed with joy, wakes up. He immediately goes to his High Priest, and tells the vision. He is told to wait by the High Priest, who also had a dream regarding a New Temple. The next month, the King has a second dream-vision. In this one he is shown sacred symbols, which are related to the construction of the Temple, it's location, orientation according to specific stars, and the date on which construction should begin. Yet the dream is confusing. The King does not know the symbols. He goes immediately to the High Priest. Together they pray and meditate and the High Priest researches every aspect of the dream calling upon his acolytes (ie - a Player Character), to find certain books in the House of Sacred Texts, and bring them forth. These texts reveal that the combination of symbols and dates provides extensive detailed information regarding the topics of the dream. But the King is still confused. He does not feel capable to build the Temple, as the vision he received showed a structure so immense and complex that he could not imagine how to instruct his people build it.

Another dream comes to him in which the Elkron appears in his Glory to explain that the King shall indeed build the Temple, and it will be done according to the Plans created by two Young Elkron who will arrive from the East with special knowledge, tools, and instructions, and that they will help the King in every detail. "With the Temple completed, the prosperity of the land will increase two fold, the waters will fill the canals in due season, the crops will yield a double harvest yearly, the sheep will produce double their folds, and beneath the earth silver and gold will be revealed in plenitude." Now the King is satisfied. He feels he is able to proceed because the Elkron is going to guide him in every detail of the work.

From that point on missions are sent out under religious auspices for many things. Workers must be organized and ceremonially purified. Grievances and legal sentences must be resolved and the people brought into a state of divine favor. The entire Nation must contribute so that the blessings of the new Temple will flow everywhere evenly. The priests must all conduct services and ceremonies. 

Not to mention that Devils must be cast out. Demons must be slain. Beasts and Monsters must be hunted down and destroyed.  The most dangerous of these Adventures will often be carried out by the King and his Knights personally.

But also, materials from other nations must be brought from afar for the construction of the Temple according to the Elkron's plan. Therefore Clerical Emissaries must be sent forth in Divine Regalia to the other Nations, and tributes received.

All of which creates conditions for a huge outpouring of Clerical activity.  And so the Player Character Clerics will have plenty to do. And during those times, not be relegated to the role of Heal-Bots alone.


Unknown said...

While all that sounds great, I wouldn't neglect the role mechanics play in the "heal-bot" issue. In D&D, for instance, clerics are heal-bots because the mechanics say that healing is the most effective thing that clerics can do with their spell slots, that if they do take the mechanically superior option of using those slots to heal it no longer has slots to do other interesting things, and that without those spell slots they are mechanically inferior at more or less everything they could want to do (to balance out the fact that they have spell slots, and other classes don't). It's not that there are no story reasons for clerics to do anything besides heal people, it's that if you want to survive in a harsh world, your best bet is to let someone else do anything else that needs doing. Fix the mechanical problems, and it's easy to come up with story reasons. A cleric is, after all, a human being with human drives and ambitions, even aside from any motivations directly tied to his faith or profession. Fail to fix the mechanical problems, and even when you have story reasons, in the hands of a smart party the cleric will continue to stand in the back healing his buddies while they do all the heavy lifting accomplishing whatever it is his story demands.


vbwyrde said...

Yup. I agree with you, Tim. Good point. In many ways the mechanics drive the decisions the players make. I wasn't suggesting that this would no longer happen, but rather that with enough interesting cleric-oriented context the entire scenario can be much more favorable to giving the clerics a much more central position in the role playing side of the story. In the case I'm presenting the clerics would be 1) guiding the party to the adventure via commandments from the High Priest, 2) determining what is 'just' and 'unjust', 3) leading negotiations in diplomatic situations and so on. But yes, when it comes to combat, I also would expect the clerics to do what the normally do. Step back and let the fighters do their thing - and then run over to heal them like a good heal-bot should. :)