Damn it DM I’m a Cleric not a First Aid Kit

Damn it DM I’m a Cleric not a First Aid Kit (or spicing up your priests)

Player 1: “I’m going to be a fighter.”
Player 2: “Me too”
Player 3: “Well, I’ll be the mage”

Everyone looks at Player 4
All: “You need to be the cleric”
Player 4: “No way, I hate clerics”

Ever seen this happen? Or better yet been one of the players involved?

It has been my experience that many players try to avoid two classes, the cleric and the thief. In this article I want to examine why the cleric class is avoided by many, and different ways to play it. I want to note I am specifically talking about a single class cleric here and not any of its multi-class versions.

Other players often look to the group cleric as just the guy that heals. It is all too common for the cleric in a group to spend most of their spell memorization slots on cure spells. A 2nd level cleric with a good wisdom can memorize 4 1st level spells, there have been a number of occasions where I have seen those slots dispersed as 1 random spell such as light or bless and 3 slots devoted to cure light wounds just in initial adventure preparation.

This forces the cleric into the all healer all the time role, and makes the player feel their character is more generic than other party members. In fact I have seen the party cleric turn into little more than a living potion of healing, and it takes a strong player to pull away from that cookie cutter character type once it starts to form. This is most common among newer inexperienced players, but sometimes even those who have been around the game for years have avoided the class all together for fear of this type of pigeon holing.

While it is true that the group will rely on the cleric for some healing, it should not necessarily be his only priority; his priority should really be determined by his god’s ethos.

I will list several cleric personality types, a brief paragraph of what they are, and a list of common types of spells the personality would use.

Obviously no player should be forced to any of these personalities, remember this article is to try and help those players who feel shoved into the role of nothing but healer. Many experienced players already have the ability to shed that role and do not need such help.

The War Priest

Outline: These clerics tend to be followers of Odin, Ares, Thor and other warlike or tactical combat gods and would not be content with being a medic. While it would not be out of the norm for such a priest to obtain a healing spell or two, their main focus would be towards battle and spreading their deities word through action. These types of priests tend to lead from the front, and even though out of the norm for clerics, could be in a leadership type role within a party. They tend to be heavily armored and well armed, and backing down from a fight could be seen as cowardly and a stain on their deities honor. These priests are as close to a fighter as a cleric can get.

Common Spells: These clerics tend to gravitate towards tactical support spells. While they may fill a spell slot with a cure light wounds, their other slots would be devoted to spells such as command, bless, chant, or spiritual hammer. Their main concern will not be on keeping the parties wounds closed, but more how the can assist, or lead, in defeating any combat the party faces.

The Scholar Priest

These clerics tend to be followers of Oghma, Thoth, Athena, and other gods dealing with knowledge, learning, magic, wisdom, logic, and so forth. These priests concentrate on learning and other scholarly pursuits over a life of excitement. They are not fond of danger and adventure, but will quickly set aside their comfortable life and take the hard road if they believe it will lead to new frontiers of knowledge. They make great advisors but rarely take on a leadership role. They tend to dress simply and avoid heavier armor whenever possible. They are most comfortable wielding light and simple weapons such as a staff or club, and will avoid combat if they can.

Common Spells: These priests are not likely to take a cure spells as a default. Their selections tend to be devoted to spells that will aid them in other ways particularly in deduction, learning, and personal safety. Common examples of spells memorized are sanctuary, protection from evil, detect evil, detect magic, find traps, and speak with animals.

The Helper Priest

Outline: These clerics tend to be followers of Freya, Rongo, Isis and other gods dealing with healing, fertility, the harvest, the hearth, and anything else related to the life of everyday people. These are the clerics that tend to focus on the everyday needs of individuals and the common man. They win over converts by helping heal the sick, feed the hungry, etc. These clerics tend to spend most of the time at their temple addressing visitors and raising awareness (and money) for their deity. When the players need a raise dead or restoration, these are the priests they find (and pay). They have no particular use for heavy armor or weapons, however they don’t shy away from them when needed.

Common Spells: These clerics do tend to memorize the curing type spells such as cure light wounds, purify food and drink, create water, slow poison, or remove fear.

The Wilderness Priest

These are the clerics of Cernunnos, Silvanus, Mielikki, Artemis, and other gods of the forest, the hunt, and nature. While you could put druids in place of this type of personality rather than the base cleric class, I see no reason why clerics can’t fit in as well. These priests tend to remain lightly armored, but are not afraid of adventure. They will normally be great foes of the evil humanoid races who make their home in the natural places the cleric cares for.

Common Spells: While they may pray for a heal spell of two they are sure to devote other slots to spells that have a natural affect or affect on nature such as create water, light, snake charm, speak with animals, or dispel magic.

The Zealot Priest

Outline: These clerics tend to worship the more powerful gods that rule patheons or great spheres of influence such as Zeus, Anu, Posiden and the like, or evil gods that demand their clerics dominate the weak and force others in servitude. These are the fire and brim stone, do as I say or else priests. They tend to ignore the followers of other gods and will only deal with there own believers. They will go to any length to do whatever they believe will further their own gods reach often favoring war, restrictive laws, torture, whatever they think can force others to their way of thinking.

Common Spells: This personality has little or no care for the individual person, their focus is entirely on their deity and how to spread his word and their own personal fulfillment. They tend to pray for spells that will help them in such a task, or give them some kind of personal knowledge they may use. Such as command, detect magic, augury, know alignment, and detect evil/good.

While these personality outlines can help give a player an idea of how to stay out of the “medic” box, ultimately it comes down to the DM. A party can not go without healing capability, and it is up to the DM to make sure that options other than just the cleric are available to the party. I tend not to make magic items available for sale in my campaigns. I don’t want the party running out and buying magical swords and shields and cloaks. However, the exceptions I make to this rule are healing potions and spell scrolls. While I don’t allow an unlimited amount of potions, or just any spells, I do make sure there are some available.

This takes some of the pressure off the cleric when the party has an additional option. I also make sure that the party can “tith” (pay) to a local temple and receive cure spells while in town, with the combination of being able to heal up quickly in town and being able to purchase potions and heal scrolls the party cleric should not have to devote more than a few spell slots to healing spells.

Also in an attempt to spice up the cleric class I have a few house rules I use to draw interest from players. I have never believed that the cleric should be generic across the board, and that the priest of one deity should be the same as the priest of another deity (even if the same alignment). So I have added a bit of flavor by implementing some special rules based on each deity.

The primary change I make is in the allowed weapon list. I go through my list of deities and for many of them I allow the cleric to use a specific weapon that may not be on the list of allowed weapons in the PHB. I determine this by the deities sphere of influence and whether or not he is associated with a specific kind of weapon. For example, a cleric of Poseidon may use a trident, the clerics of deities oriented towards war and combat (such as Areas or Odin) may use a spear, the clerics of a god of the forest or hunt (such as Mielikki or Cernunnos) I allow to use a sling. I have not found this to be game breaking in any way, in fact if you use the weapon versus AC rules the typical cleric blunt weapons can actually be better. Even though it isn’t a major change I have found it gives players (in particular new ones) more of a sense of individualism with their cleric.

A few other additional rules I implement revolve around reaction to the player by NPC’s.

If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards combat I give an additional +5% to reaction adjustment for fighter henchmen.

If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards knowledge, wisdom, logic, or other scholarly pursuits I give a 5% discount on the cost of hiring a sage or alchemist.

If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards the things everyday people rely on such as crops, healing, the hearth, or the sun I give an additional +10% reaction adjustment to commoner NPC’s (NPC’s who are not classed or specialized in an area) such as bar keeps, farmers, general workers, cooks, tailors, etc.

If the player is a cleric of a deity oriented towards the forest, the hunt, or other wilderness influence I give them an additional +5% reaction adjustment towards trappers, hunters, foresters, and rangers.

Hopefully this article has got you thinking as either a player or DM on what you can do to spice up the cleric class in your game and keep them from becoming more than a first aid kit.

The Looking Glass

This week I am listing a new magic item I am including in the module I am currently working on. It is what I am calling a Fire and Forget Staff. These are one shot magical staffs tied to an element or para-element. Each staff contains a single spell that once released cannot be recharged.

Fire and Forget Staff (Ice)     XP: 1000               GP Value: 5,000
This is a magical cherry wood staff that has been enchanted to hold a single Ice Storm spell. When the command word is spoken, the spell is cast at the 12th level of ability. After the spell is cast the staff becomes a normal quarter staff and cannot be recharged. These staves are usable by any spell casting class including rangers and paladins who have reached the appropriate level to memorize and cast spells.

16 thoughts on “Damn it DM I’m a Cleric not a First Aid Kit

  1. this is starting to look a lot like 2e in some respects… and you guys bash it! 😉

    (im teasing!)

  2. Possibly reigning as the longest-standing corruption in D&D stands the idea of the cleric character class as the model for all, or even most, priests in a game world. This idea unfortunately got codified in Deities & Demigods, in which all gods which had priests at all had clerics (or druids) as presented in the Players Handbook with little or no qualification.

    Using the terminology of the article above, the cleric class cannot represent the “scholar”, “helper” or “wilderness” priest. All clerics fit the “war priest” type, with a possible “zealot” option in addition to their capacity as war priest. Otherwise, why have all armor and shield types available? Why have combat ability and hit die type second only to fighters? Gods which have no interest in warfare should have nothing to do with the type of clerics presented in the Players Handbook.

    That said, a cleric (war priest) should not eschew healing spells. Battle inevitably results in woulds and the cleric mainly functions as battle support. This does not necessarily make him a medic.

  3. I disagree, the cleric class in the players handbook is generic and can fit any of the above molds. Each of which is nothing more than a roleplaying persona. There is no change in mechhanics if someone wants to play a scholorly type as opposed to a templar mold. The article was in no way supposed to imply forced restrictions, only roleplaying ideas to help build a cleric who is something other than the generic healbot priest I have seen to often.

  4. I hate to say it, but 3E helped with this problem by allowing clerics to swap a healing spell for any other spell they had memorised (of the same level). I plan on using this as a house rule in my hopefully-soon-to-start 1E game.

  5. Eight-sided hit dice, unrestricted armor and shield use, and a better combat table than magic-users and thieves do not befit a scholarly priest. The Players Handbook tells us that the cleric class “bears a certain resemblance to religious orders of knighthood of medieval times.” These orders themselves actually fit into the religious hierarchy as monks rather than priests, but the name of the character class and several level titles suggest priesthood, so the class must refer to a specific type of priest, perhaps a member of elite branches of such orders who had special training and took on holy orders (vows). The scholar priest would spend little or no time on combat training. I’d give such a character, if I deigned to assign him a character class at all, which you need not do to fit him into a campaign, four-sided hit dice, no armor or shield ability, and the magic-user’s combat table and weapon selection. He could still function as a priest in the game world, but not as a cleric in the sense of the character class.

  6. In our 1E game we have also home ruled the ability for good aligned clerics to swap out a spell for a healing spell of the same or lower level. This allows the cleric to plan for exploration as their main focus and makes healing a secondary worry. It works very well!

  7. The 2E kits from Forgotten Realms really individualized clerics and solved the generic-healer issue. They did exactly what was described in this article. If you worshipped a war-god (Tempus) you could specialize in a weapon, if you worshipped an Elemental God (Kossuth) you could cast wiz fire spells, Clangeddin let you use an axe, etc.

    Better yet the gods/church/clerics’ dogma, holy days, rituals etc were all laid out as well. An excellent aid for roleplaying.

    Faiths & Avatars, ($3 on eBay) Demihuman Dieties, and Powers & Pantheons are 3 books with a wealth of info to help make a cleric unique. I highly recommend regardless of what edition you play or what god you worship.

  8. 1E gives the cleric class a model of what a cleric can be. Not what it must be. We can assume that as a part of most temple training programs acolytes get some training in the martial arts and at least learn to use all forms of armor. Whether or not a cleric decides to follow a martial path, or a path of knowledge would not remove his knowledge of anything he has learned in the past, Thus, a battle oriented cleric can heal quite easily, as well as any other form of spell that is not battle oriented. Conversely, a scholar, out in the real world of bad guys, may feel safer if he were to use that training he got years earlier and put on that platemail. He may not feel comfortable in such bulky, confining attire, but at least it will keep his skin intact.

    If we look at cleric in this prior training light, much as we do the magic-user or fighter, then these archtypes listed above seem to me to be not only feasible, but desirable as a means of giving some color to the character.

  9. The beginning of the post reminds me of R.A. Salvatore’s introduction to his Cleric Quintet series of books, in which he recounted his first experience playing a Cleric, where he showed up to a table at a convention, asked if he could play, and was told to sit down and play a cleric since they needed a healer.

    I personally, have always liked the cleric as a class, but then again, I like those characters that can fall into a utilitarian role, while still holding their own on the front lines of combat if the need arises.

  10. Cyril said: “I personally, have always liked the cleric as a class, but then again, I like those characters that can fall into a utilitarian role, while still holding their own on the front lines of combat if the need arises.”

    Totally agree! Cleric is my personal favorite from white box straight thru 3.5 (cant comment on 4E, never played). Love the freedom to step up to the front when my fighters decide to either take a nap or just hang in the rear (btw I hate a fighter that decides to hang with a bow when the cleric is up tanking). The spell ability of clerics just seems more wide spread than arcane casters to me. Heal, protect, attack, scry, detect all in good proportions.

    Our group just started a 1st ed. Greyhawk campaign and I decided on cleric or Kord. Group has not yet had the opportunity to discover that I refuse to just be a heal bot. We’ll see how that goes.

  11. I once played a cleric that was responsible for reviving a religion that had been abandoned for 500 years. At first level she was the High Priest because she was the only priest! She was definitely not a combat medic. She spent a lot of time obtaining followers, battling the worshipers of the rival god, and helping to defend the local villages from attacks by humanoids. Good role-playing can overcome any perception of a character.

  12. “I hate to say it, but 3E helped with this problem by allowing clerics to swap a healing spell for any other spell they had memorised (of the same level). I plan on using this as a house rule in my hopefully-soon-to-start 1E game.”

    You sure you are ready for AD&D?

  13. I don’t see any problem with people house ruling in some mechanic or rule they find makes their 1E game more enjoyable. I just give two huge thumbs up to anyone that sticks with the original Gygax version of the game.

    That said, I don’t think I understand the idea of “swapping out” a spell for a healing spell. You can pray for any spells your god will grant you at the beginning of the day. Part of the “resource management” of being a spellcaster is trying to decide what you’re likely to need that day.

    I suppose that if your cleric were in a truly dire situation, where there were no healing spells left and you REALLY needed one, I’d consider it as a DM. You could pray to your deity for the chance to have that one lost healing spell. If your cleric had been devout and particularly faithful, and the need was great, I believe a deity might just give that one last heal – just don’t make a habit of it!

  14. I don’t like the whole swaping out spells idea or just picking a spell to cast at time of use. I think you need to declare what spell you memorize before hand and those are the spells you have until next time you sit, study, and pray for some new ones.

  15. Solinor wrote “You sure you are ready for AD&D?”

    Quite sure, why do you ask?

    DM Jayson wrote “Part of the “resource management” of being a spellcaster is trying to decide what you’re likely to need that day.”

    You still need to manage your spells, you just have the ability to convert a spell to a cure as necessary. In my experience with 3E, this rule allows clerics to memorise an array of non-healing spells, which usually means that the cleric will cast some less common spells.

    Todd Hughes wrote “I don’t like the whole swaping out spells idea or just picking a spell to cast at time of use.”

    I agree that picking a spell at the moment of casting is too much of a departure from the standard spell system in D&D (unless you are moving from Vancian to something else) but I will stand by swapping for healing as a way to get a wider variety of clerical spells into play which gives the cleric the opportunity to not be the first aid kit.

  16. I just posted a question about clerics and their spells to Vince. So it sounds like most DMs have their clerics choose their spells at the beginning of the day. What about the DM either rolling or deciding which spells the cleric gets (and them maybe allowing a swap for a healing spell?). I like the randomness because one does not always get what one prays for. However, if the DM is role-playing the god (I know, not a stretch for most DMs), she could decide which spells to grant. So if the cleric was a follower of a war god, the god would only grant spells that he decided were within his area of influence.

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