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D&D 3E
Why Play A Cleric? 
6th-Aug-2008 08:36 pm
I like to devote some thought to the characters I play. I don't necessarily spend a long time coming up with elaborate histories. But I like to have an idea of who I'm playing, what their motivations are, and why they live as an “adventurer”. I also like to try new things. I have the opportunity to start playing in a new campaign soon. I realized I've never played a cleric.

So I started thinking about possible motivations for clerics, why and how someone might go about gaining divine power, and why they would become an adventurer if they did. I mean, here you are minding your own business, you get a call from god and you answer, and god tells you to strap on the armor, grab a mace, and go start cracking heads and taking treasure. Why? Why wouldn't the god tell the budding young cleric to start taking care of worshipers, building churches, collecting converts, that sort of thing?

I suppose there's a historical basis for the class, knights errant, wandering warriors dedicated to the service of their god (and don't tell me that's paladins, it's clerics too). But that's not interesting to me. And I'd like to play something a little less clichéd than that.

I started thinking about other ideas for clerics. Most of what I've come up with, most of the ideas I like anyway, don't really fit the class abilities. I can't think of a good reason for a cleric of a non-martial god to be wandering around in chain mail cracking skulls. But if I go with that, ditch the armor and shun the combat abilities, I'm basically a high HP wizard with no decent attack spells.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to violent characters. I just got done playing (or I'm just getting done, the games not quite over yet) a pirate who pretty much killed everything in sight, I'm also currently playing a barbarian who, while kind at heart, does a fair amount of people killing and stuff taking.

What I need to think of is an interesting concept for a cleric, that uses all the class abilities, that's not the typical armored heal-bot or another version of the holy warrior trope. I don't want to be lawful and I don't want to be evil. I don't know if we're playing 3.5 or 4e yet so I don't need build suggestions, I just need to think of a character concept.

I suppose I could say I'm a wandering priest, traveling around doing my god's work, and justify the armor and combat skills by saying it's a dangerous world, you gotta be ready. Seems a little typical.

If I want to justify the armor and weapons, I could say the character got his start as a warrior before being called by his deity. That's the tack I like best. Some warrior, normal guy, minding his business, kicking ass for fun and profit. Has a religious experience. Finds god. Goes and does his thing. I don't know. I'm still thinking about it. I have a feeling I may fall back on my idea for a mage. I have a good idea for a mage.

Anyway, if you play clerics a lot, or if you just have any suggestions for how I can go about this, let me know. Thanks!
7th-Aug-2008 02:13 am (UTC)
But if I go with that, ditch the armor and shun the combat abilities, I'm basically a high HP wizard with no decent attack spells.
Or, in 3.5e, a Cloistered Cleric.
7th-Aug-2008 09:56 am (UTC)
Came to suggest this. Cloistered Cleric more closely fits my mental image of what fantasy priests are, regular Clerics just seem like a toned-down Paladin.
8th-Aug-2008 02:55 am (UTC)
I think you mean "super-powered paladin"
7th-Aug-2008 02:30 am (UTC)
Consider the Undead Slayer. You can take a sun-god (or Pelor) as your patron and seek out ruins and other adventuresome places which harbor undead. Gear your spells and combat toward light, positive energy, and anti-undead. Beef-up your turn undead powers or use metamagic to extend those talents.

Often, the Undead Slayer has a vengeful bent and a history of tangling with undead. This may suit you better than 'a high HP wizard with no attack spells.'
7th-Aug-2008 03:24 am (UTC)
If your DM doesn't require you to be evil to do so, you could be a clerical necromancer(clerics of wee jas can be true neutral). Most spells relating to commanding undead are of the evil type, but a neutral cleric can use them as some minor(or great, depending on GM) peril to their alignment.
7th-Aug-2008 04:18 am (UTC)
A current idea I'm working with is an Ur-Priest style character--someone who seeks to destroy the followers of other gods, specifically Pelor. God I hate Pelor. He's like the god of cleric'ing--more turning and more healing. It's like "I'm a cleric of a god of clerics!" I know it's more of an evil type build, but I really want to play someone who's battle cry is: "Where is your god now?!" That and so I can bitch and moan about how much I hate Pelor. Did I mention I hated Pelor?

I've also been interested in playing various paladin types (knight protector, divine warrior, etc) but building them as clerics to be more magical. But those aren't particularly special ideas.

I think the Cleric part is actually really hard to come up with something unless your DM wants to play along. If he can help you come up with some kind of divine mission that fits into the game, that's the best. Otherwise, you're (as you said) basically a wizard with different spells and armor.

Oh, one last one: one of my favorite (temporary) characters AD&D was a dwarven cleric of a nature god for a Ravenloft campaign who was a total coward. He really just wanted to be a farmer--he liked plants because they were calm and quiet and stuff. But somehow he got sucked into the clergy. I don't remember the details, but I've wanted to revive him at some point. Couldn't quite figure out how to do nicely in the recent editions though.
8th-Aug-2008 01:33 am (UTC)
God I hate Pelor. He's like the god of cleric'ing--more turning and more healing. It's like "I'm a cleric of a god of clerics!"

i don't feel as strongly as you do, but that's exactly the type of character i don't want to play.
8th-Aug-2008 03:57 am (UTC)
what if i played a priest of a trickster god? i could go around pretending to be serious and giving people incredibly bad advice on purpose in an effort to teach people to think for themselves. or i could pose as a cleric of other gods and solicit donations and spend it all on ale and whores. hrm. i dunno. i think i'm still leaning toward my mage idea.
8th-Aug-2008 04:06 am (UTC)
"Redistribution of wealth!" That could be fun. Of course, there is no real reason to play him as a cleric... same character works fine as any other class (perhaps best as a bard). But playing a bard with a cleric is possible.

Well with a cleric, you could always play him as a mage who can wear a bit of armor. That's basically how they play (in 3.5 anyway).
7th-Aug-2008 07:20 am (UTC)
I play clerics a lot, and I tend to choose gods like Pelor and Heironeous who support a lifestyle of going into dungeons, finding evil things, and snuffing them. Outside of gods like this, who seem tailor-made to fit the adventuring lifestyle, it becomes difficult to justify a cleric of a certain god becoming an adventurer. At that point, the DM and player need to have a discussion and figure out how the character can fit into the story. It usually helps if the god/dess in question has a favored enemy type (orcs, undead, etc.) and that enemy just so happens to be the main source of trouble in the campaign. A cleric of Thor fighting giants is so much more flavorful (and logical) than a cleric of Thor fighting hook horrors and skeletons.

As for why a cleric is using heavy armor and weapons in addition to his spells, well...the dungeon is a dangerous place! Seeing as divine magic just appears when you pray for it, that leaves a whole lot more time during your apprenticeship to train in stuff that will keep you alive. If there was no Spell Failure chance, I'm sure wizards would be training in heavy armor if they weren't otherwise busy learning magic.
7th-Aug-2008 01:32 pm (UTC)
In the campaign that I run, our cleric is played by someone who wasn't really looking forward to playing the cleric. He turned it into a rather interesting concept by being a defense-based class. If you think about it, just because you are wearing armor doesn't mean that you have to kill things. He made it his purpose to stand in the front lines with the warriors to protect the weaker members of the party. He rarely actually hit anything with his mace, but he could certainly take a hit. Kind of 'turn the other cheek' sort of idea. If you are going to be passive when someone hits you, shouldn't you be able to survive that hit?

He also took advantage of the different divine feats (the ones that use your turn undead attempts) and really liked them. At the moment, one of the other GMs is winding down his campaign and I heard this player tell me that I need to run next because he wants to play his cleric again. -.- This from a player who hated playing healers.

I guess one other point I would make is that despite the cleric abilities, if you are the only cleric in the party, do not delute yourself into thinking that you'll get a lot of action. I played the cleric in our last campaign (in fact, this current campaign is the first one I've ever been in where I'm not a divine spellcaster) and I actually got annoyed that ALL I was ever allowed to do was cast healing spells. It was like "innitiative in, cure moderate out". ;)
7th-Aug-2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
You could ask the DM to maybe swap out the medium and/or heavy armor proficiencies for Combat Expertise and/or Dodge. Maybe your character isn't super into fighting. Later on they can take Improved Disarm or Improved Trip. That way they don't need to avoid the fight so much as incapacitate the enemy.

It is hard to come up with a reason why a non-militant person would justify heavy armor. As you said, it is easy to become cliche ("to smite mine enemies") or lame ("cuz I have to or I'll die"). But if you add enough personality to the character, it will make up for some of the minor details.
7th-Aug-2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
One build I had involved the Book of Exalted Deeds, specifically the Vows of Poverty and Peace, respectively. The basic idea was that this priest would travel the world to spread these ideals, and while it was okay to combat the forces of undeniable evil, anything else was a strict tabboo. He owned nothing more than a staff (that really only served as a walking stick) and a wooden holy symbol.

This, of course, throws the entire party dynamic into a new light, not just the Cleric's. The Cleric can't feasibly travel with anybody who won't respect his choices and aid him in his endeavors, because that would be turning a blind eye towards the things he preaches against. It does, inevitably, turn you into something of a Turn/Heal bot, but the roleplaying reasons for it make it much more worthwhile than say "Oh, hi, I'm a cleric."

Personally I believe that many people play up the martial abilities of clerics far too often, and those not playing the cleric will simply see the player as a walking bandaid. Both of these tick me off to certain degrees.
7th-Aug-2008 09:33 pm (UTC) - rationalization
Why clerics?

Okay. In D&D worlds adventuring is an unavoidable fact of life; for instance, in Cormyr in the Forgotten Realms where licensing adventurers is a money-maker for the government. Adventurers are often the bulwark of the common people against monsters; adventurers are often the people who become powerful leaders.

Natually the Church - or the various churches - are going to want in on this. Lending clerics to adventuring groups assures that those groups will probably not oppose the sects; encourages adventuring groups to more or less follow the aims of the sects (laying undead to rest, defending the innocent, etc); means there's an official arbiter of sect policy on-site whenever the adventuring groups hit anything big (evil artifacts and the like); and means that adventurers generally like the various sects (a fighter brought back to life will remember the kindly cleric of Pelor a lot better whether he becomes a powerful duke, or perhaps just the local wheel-wright with a few extra coppers to drop in the box).

And it's good publicity to the common people too; commoners and nobles who never even vaguely get near the risk of adventuring can feel good that when they tithe to the church, some of that money will be going to train and aid paladins and clerics who are out there doing the footwork.

In return for this sort of unintrusive encouragement, the sects basically gain muscle they ordinarily wouldn't have had. And remember these guys are polytheists/pantheists, so they have no problems fraternizing with people who aren't so devout or who are devoted to other deities. When you know from personal experience that Pelor's light moves through the world, your faith doesn't get shaken up by the way Gruumsh intercedes for his worshippers, or the way your beer-swilling, course, short associate thinks your god is a pansy compared to mighty Moradin.

Why adventuring clerics? Because it's a dangerous world. Sure, there are a few people who take a Jesuit/Franciscan styled approach of wandering out there with no weapons or armor other than personal conviction and sturdy shoes, but strapping on armor and weapons works for the bulk of guys who wind up with adventuring parties.

I dunno. Just trying to think it all through.
8th-Aug-2008 04:39 am (UTC) - Re: rationalization
But, the inherent difficulty in rationalizing the place of the Cleric in a party is that, truly, no party would select one by default if it didn't need one.

A simple stop to the local magic store for a wand or two of cure X wounds eliminates the need for a cleric in many cases. I've never known a cleric to be useful for much more than healing that other members of the party couldn't do just as well.

Turn undead! Um...ok...or fireball?
Create food and water! Or we could just travel prepared, like we oughta do to begin with.
Well...um...divination? Yeah, mage's got that too.
Protection from....Circle of....Create.... *sigh* Oh tartar sauce. Yeah. My sentiments exactly.
14th-Aug-2008 07:52 pm (UTC) - Cleric
I'm currently having a blast playing a Chaotic Good cleric who runs around with a bunch of thieves. Basically, I preach to the thieves and make sure they don't do anything too evil, but being Chaotic I really don't care about the laws they break or the stuff they steal. I see my cleric as sort of a Friar Tuck type character who tends a flock of lost sheep.

As for being a heal-bot, my god is a god of strength so I quite often tell them to suck it up or rub some dirt on it until they come back with a real wound.

Also, in our game world there is almost NO magical healing outside of clerics... certainly no high level healing.
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