2016-01-29 No Clerics

I’ve had this discussion in German already (Keine Kleriker) and I’m thinking of sticking to it.

  1. no clerics in my setting
  2. every faith can have priests with an appropriate spell repertoire and they’ll be magic users for all intents and purposes
  3. if you really want to cast spells like a pro and fight like a pro, you can be an elf

This necessitates an appropriate repertoire for the relevant priests in my campaign. Luckily, only two gods have made an appearance until now: Freya and Marduk.

I already have a spell book notation that I usually follow, so making the two lists should be easy. Once that’s done, I can type them up using LaTeX and add them to my house rules document, Halberds and Helmets.

As for the campaign currently in progress, I don’t mind letting players continue to play their characters using the old rules. All the new player characters will be converted, however.

At the same time, fighters dedicating themselves to a god can be sworn paladins and they may get a small number of enumerated powers. If you’re a paladin of Freya, for example, you’ll get a wolf that turns into an ice wolf until it’s as big as a pony. Each increase is related to how many “Freya points” you accumulated.

Priest of Freya

In my other campaign we’ve had a Freya cleric for a very long time so these spells were easy to pick.

Spell Level Caster Level Spell Name Traditional Name
1 1 Watchful Eye of the Peace Keeper detect evil
1 2 Scent of Sorcery detect magic
1 7 Weather the Storm resist cold
2 3 Language of Animals speak with animal
2 4 Sound of Silence silence 15’ radius
2 8 Paralysis of Men hold person
3 5 Light of the Moon continual light
3 6 Weapon of the Gods striking
3 9 Wolf Shape limited polymorph self
4 7 Honey of the Valkyries neutralize poison
4 8 Wall of Ice wall of ice
4 10 Curse of the Völva curse and remove curse
5 9 The Path to Sessrúmnir raise dead and ray of death
5 10 Freya’s Quest quest

Priest of Marduk

And this is work in progress with Marduk only recently making an appearance...

Spell Level Caster Level Spell Name Traditional Name
1 1 Bolt of Power magic missile
1 2 Protection from Harm shield
1 7 Voice of the Ruler charm person
2 3 Club of Law limited striking
2 4 Courage of Marduk bless
2 8 Eyes of the Overlord detect invisible
3 5 Bolt of Lightning lightning bolt
3 6 Protection from Hail protection from normal missiles
3 9 Wings of God fly
4 7 Chariot of Fire new
4 8 Voice of the Master charm monster
4 10 Wall of Fire wall of fire
5 9 Eyes of Truth true seeing
5 10 Melting Walls transmute rock to mud

Paladin of Freya

Anybody swearing eternal fealty can be a paladin.

The goddess of winter, of spring, of fertility, of grain, of war, of cats, of magic… She leads the Valkyries and collects half the slain in battle. These dine with her in Sessrúmnir.

Defeating stronger, human opponents in single combat after a challenge to a duel in her name pleases her, as this dedicates those brave souls to her hall. Keep track of the number of people you thus slew in battle. This is your Freya score!

(We’re assuming that player characters are not too interested in bearing children and bringing in the harvest. Those activities would also increase your Freya score, of course.)

Score Way of the Wolf
2 Adopt a wolf and it’ll turn into a loyal companion. No training required.
4 Share beneficial spells with your wolf.
6 Your wolf is blessed by Freya and turns into a winter wolf: HD 3+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F4 MV 15
7 The winter wolf grows larger: HD 4+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F5 MV 15
8 The winter wolf reaches the size of a pony: HD 5+1 AC 4 bite 1d10 (1–4/6) or breath of ice 2d6 for 5m (5–6/6) F6 MV 15

Winter wolves are immune to cold. Magical cold only deals half damage. Magical fire deals +1 per damage die.

Paladin of Marduk

Anybody swearing eternal fealty can be a paladin.

Marduk is the patron of war chariots, of war lords, of might, of lightning, of punitive justice, of commandments and stone tablets. Marduk is popular in big cities and the dwarves love him as well.

Marduk enjoys smashing things with his giant club, throwing lightning bolts, and the slaying of monsters and demons. Keep track of the number of stronger monsters and demons you slew in single combat. This is your Marduk score!

If you’re a favorite of Marduk, you can rise in power!

Score Way of the Slayer
3 When bellowing commands, you can increase morale of mercenaries by +1
4 Lead a company of men (at least a hundred) into battle and fight in the first rank to become a champion of war – your enemies will die when you bring them to 5hp or lower
5 The morale of troops in your immediate surroundings are increased by +1
6 Kill a devil of the fifth rank and become a devil slayer – devils and demons with HD 10 or less will recognize the invisible mark on your forehead and prefer to negotiate instead of fight no matter their numerical superiority
7 Cut down a hundred men in battle using the scythes of your war chariot and become a reaper of blood – when you ride on your chariot, the armies of your enemies will part and you’ll be able to strike deep into the heart of you opponent

But why!?

Here’s the gist of it:

  1. I’ve never read any Fantasy books that had clerics in them.
  2. Having healing magic available during combat makes combat last longer without improving the game in any other aspect.
  3. Having healing magic available between combat devalues hit points as a resource to be managed.
  4. Having healing magic available between sessions reduces the need for longer recovery periods. (I’m actually not sure whether that’s required or not. I’ve been running a game of “the time between sessions is more or less one week in-game” and it worked just fine.)
  5. Turning undead makes undead a special challenge like traps being a special challenge for thieves. A separate mini-game that is boring for everybody else. (There have been interesting fights of low level parties against hordes of skeletons, but these encounters would have been just as interesting without clerics.)
  6. Having a potential healer in the party puts social pressure on the player to do just that.
  7. I’ve had a few players that had a hard time picking spells for clerics – both when they had to memorize them at dawn and when picking them freely from their repertoire in combat when I no longer insisted on memorization. Few spells means less choice means less paralysis.
  8. The spells available to clerics by the book often have a weird biblical backstory to them. I don’t want to be reminded of Moses and Jesus when playing D&D. It’s jarring. Unless you’re playing Unholy Land, I guess.



A very interesting discussion on Google+. I’ll need to summarize some of the points made.

One alternate system: allow PCs to “burn” physical stats (STR, DEX, CON) to heal HP, one hit die per point burned, whenever the PCs are not in an emergency situation. Stats recover one point per day.

This solves #2,3,4. Taking more damage leads to lower stats, a limited resource, which also creates a negative feedback loop resulting in worse performance. The one point per day heal rate leads to slow recovery as desired.

This system also matches the fiction - the points burned represent the lowering physical capability of the players as they take cuts, bruises, flesh wounds, and become generally weary.

Ian Wyckoff 2016-01-29 20:30 UTC

Something to keep in mind if it turns out not to work as intended! Thanks.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-01-29 20:39 UTC

Some of my points from the discussion on G+:

I suspect that game play will change a bit. Certainly adventures will be a bit shorter because of less healing. I don’t think I’ll need to do a lot of active changes myself since I run a sandbox so effectively players get to choose the kinds of risks they’re willing to take. There is no Challenge Rating (CR) system like there was in D&D 3.5.

When I was a player in parties without a cleric, the added tension made the game more interesting for me. It’s probably a problem if you play adventure paths or longer adventures, design encounters based on some assumed baseline (challenge ratings and all that), and keep the adventuring party small (retainers, hirelings, mercenaries – all ways to mitigate the lack of healing). So, I’m excited, I’m curious, and I hope my players won’t mind. If it turns out that it doesn’t work, no problem, we’ll add clerics back in. But I want to try without, for now.

One of the reasons I wanted to get rid of healing is because I felt it just prolonged fights and I don’t really enjoy the fighting aspect of the game. I like the strategy of when to fight, who to fight, how to fight, and then I want the fight to be short – in a different discussion a while ago I said my preferred fight was two rounds.

Healing outside of combat would not prolong fights, it would allow players to make longer expeditions into dangerous areas because they could handle more fights before having to retreat. Perhaps I’m not noticing any pressure in this respect because my actual gaming sessions are so short. We play on workdays for three hours, eg. 19:00 to 22:00 or 20:00 to 23:00. And since my group consists of a large pool of players and not all of them are regulars, I often push for “you all need to return to safety at the end of the session.” The length of the expedition is not limited by party hit point totals but by session length. Healing in combat would simply allow them to fight more dangerous foes that they need to avoid at the moment (i.e. longer fights), and healing between combats would allow them to continue for longer but they can’t because the session is over.

Tsojcanth also posted about Classic Greece and the D&D Cleric Problem. There, they suggest to replace turn undead with other abilities. Harald then suggested I could simply replace healing spells with other spells. And that, to me, is where I’m going with this. Just turn them into magic users.

Norbert suggested the use of Wonder & Wickedness by Brendan S. The reason I never checked out W&W was that I didn’t feel unhappy with magic-users and traditional Vancian magic, and I like some spells only being available at a higher level. It’s part of D&D’s promise of changing gameplay over time and thus a significant element of long running campaigns.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-01-30 11:13 UTC

Courtney offers a longer discussion on his blog. He links to a blog post by Delta where he notes that “it is the cleric class which makes the least overall sense in the context of pulp fantasy [...] the armored, adventuring, miraculous man-of-Catholic-faith is simply not a type you see very much in the roots of the genre, if at all.”

– Alex Schroeder 2016-02-01 14:30 UTC

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