Monday, 25 January 2010

D&D, religion and the cleric

Some people wish to drop the cleric class from their games of Dungeons and Dragons. Some have already done this, folding the spell list into the magic user class whereas some have dropped it completely. Some people don't like the thief class either, because its inclusion in the system seemed to mean that other classes couldn't do stuff they could do before.

Dropping the cleric class is interesting, though. I considered it myself once, but only because the party of adventurers I take into my imaginary world of Summit on a sunday afternoon don't have one. We ended up solving that by keeping the class but turning one of the fighters into a 'blessed fighter' after he had a religious experience - he's now akin to a paladin.

One of the things that interests me about people wanting to drop the cleric class is their focus on the crunch i.e. the mechanics of the game. What I'm wanting to think about here, though, is the cleric's role in the world as a crusading man who channels the power of his god to further its purpose on the mortal plane. Viewed this way, the cleric's role becomes important within the game world, and he's not just reduced to a healer like so many computer roleplaying games do with him.

My big question though is this. If any of you have considered dropping the cleric from your games is it because you are atheist in world view? I suspect that atheists would dislike the cleric, and the game's focus on him and the DM building campaigns around him, despite the abundance of gods within the ancient world and medieval world that Dungeons and Dragons, and its inspirational fiction, is based around. In other words, if we didn't live in a mostly secular society, but lived in a parrallel universe with a theocracy running the show, might we feel differently about this and perhaps be thinking of dropping the magic user instead? In other words, does discussing dropping the cleric as a class reflect more on our own world views and less on the rules themselves?

Food for thought, if nothing else ;-)

4 comments:

Ameron said...

I've got to be honest; I've never considered dropping the Cleric or any other divine class from my D&D games. Way back in the days of D&D's infancy I found that the Cleric was often portrayed as a religious zealot who always spouted off about his beliefs and tried to convert the locals (who often didn't want to convert). This made the class unpopular at my gaming table. But in more recent editions the Cleric has become more of a clutch player. He fulfils a role which includes (but is not limited to) healing wounds and battling undead, often in the name of his deity.

As a non-religious person, I've had a lot of fun playing Clerics over the years. I think part of the reason is that I'm not a devout person in real life. In fantasy role-playing I'm able to try something that I'd never do in real life: champion a religion in the name of god.

Doug Easterly said...

While I am an atheist, that's not my reason for dropping a cleric for my Athanor campaign. I dropped the cleric because the cleric didn't make sense for the kind of feel I wanted to emulate.

Though it has always struck me as difficult to explain the cleric as a class, even back in 1981 when I first started playing, since the archetype of the cleric in heroic fiction is pretty thin. Fighting priests who do miracles aren't quite as easy to connect with as wizards and warriors, and the strangeness of the idea of clerics as an archetype seems even more muddled by the presence of paladins.

I guess I would invert this: does the presence of clerics in a game become an imperative if one is theistic? Does believe in a god or gods make one believe that a special class of magically empowered divine servants is necessary?

The Recursion King said...

Good question. I would say no, it would not. I think it comes from something else.

I think it comes from emulating the medieval period, where religion was part of daily life and crusaders were the military arm of the church. I think it also comes from emulating the ancient world, where it is written that prophets performed miracles and healed the sick. Throw the two together and you have the cleric and an interesting class to play. Part ancient prophet, part medieval crusader.

anarkeith said...

I like the idea of divine magic (inspired by faith) and arcane magic (inspired by intellect). D&D would seem incomplete without both. There are other traditions that would probably be considered divine than the traditional theistic ones. Faith traditions based on animism would probably be a good example. Since we are talking about a role playing game, my actual preferences would be less important than those of the role I'd chosen to explore (in the context of the game.)