Through every incarnation of D&D the cleric has always given me the most trouble. My favourite clerics (in terms of concept rather than execution) were the Priests of Specific Mythoi from the second edition game, and I’ve desperately been trying to recreate them ever since. To me a cleric should be entirely coloured by his faith. A cleric who worships the God of Fire should be completely different from one who worships the God of Death: different appearance, different skills, different powers, different spells. Stand them side-by-side and you shouldn’t even know they are the same class.
Clerics with a common spell list, or common abilities such as turn undead or channel energy strike me as a bit lazy. They could have been so much more. To this end I have created many, many house rules for clerics. And because clerics have always been an intrinsic part of the campaign, those abilities are deeply woven into the campaign world. Excising them, returning to a semblance of the published rules is not going to be easy – and arguably it’s not that desirable either.
However, we have our Pact of Minimal Tinkering. So let’s compare the Pathfinder cleric to the House Ruled cleric and see if it’s possible to fit a square peg into a round hole.
The Pathfinder Cleric: All clerics have the same skill list and the same proficiency in weapons and armour, with the exception that all know how to wield their deity’s favoured weapon. All clerics also share the same spell list. The only limitation is that clerics can’t cast spells that have a descriptor for an Alignmen that is opposite to their own. In addition to this generic spell-list, each cleric chooses two Domains that reflect the purview of the cleric’s god. For example, Animal and Plant for a god of nature. Each domain adds a few faith-specific spells to the cleric’s list that may not be on the Cleric spell list. Each domain also grants the cleric two special powers, one at first level and one at eighth. These powers are tied to the theme of the domain. All clerics also have the ability to channel energy a number of times per day. This unleashes a wave of energy (positive for Good clerics, or negative for Evil clerics) that heals and harms according, and increases in power as the cleric gains levels.
The House Ruled Cleric: All clerics of different gods have different skill lists and different proficiencies in weapons and armour depending on the nature of their faith. All spells in the game are divided into one of 46 domains. Every cleric has three major domains and three minor domains that come together to create a spell list unique to the cleric’s religion. The cleric can also choose special powers listed under its major domains. These powers are directly tied to the nature of the domain, and the cleric gets one at every even level, so many more than the traditional Pathfinder cleric.
The Three Tests
I like the version of the cleric that we’re using, but I know that it is complex and I know that some of the domain powers I’ve come up with are ill-advised and game-breaking (the Second Chance ability of the rebirth domain springs to mind). If we are to adopt the Pathfinder rules as they are written, then I don’t think there’s a place for the cleric in its current house-ruled form. However, I also don’t think I could stomach a vanilla cleric that uses the rules as written either…
This is the biggest stumbling block to the adopting the Pathfinder cleric in all its glory. The signature abilities of clerics have long been established in the campaign world. Priests of Calafax are immune to fire, even from first level. Priests of Zephyre have the ability to fly at will. Nothing in the domain powers currently in print comes anywhere near this. We simply cannot move to the printed rules. The story doesn’t allow it. It can’t be done.
Games without Miniatures
There’s nothing too much to worry about on this front, though. Although some domain powers may use the tactical combat rules these are things we can look at in a case-by-case basis.
I find the Pathfinder clerics bland and pointless. I don’t really want to use them in their current form. However, the basic rules for the cleric with its Channel Energy feature and its homogenous spell list are simple. There are tools within the Pathfinder rules that would help us customise clerics into something of an approximation of what we have now. It would probably be easier to handle, as it had full rule support.
As far as I see it we have three choices:
1) We keep the house ruled cleric and be damned. We continue to work on the spell lists and the domain powers to bring them in line with the Pathfinder game.
2) We adopt the Pathfinder cleric whole-cloth. We simply take the rules as written because they are easier.
3) We take the middle road. We make an effort to create a cleric that is as like the published rules as possible, but we don’t compromise the story elements that already exist in the game.
My preference is option 3. Getting there is not going to be particularly easy however. I’ve given a little though to an approach that we can take, which I explain below. Then I present a cleric crafted with these rules: the good old Cleric of Calafax. Most of us are familiar with how that clerci works, so I think it’s the best starting point for our discussion. There are rules in Pathfinder for Subdomains, clerical Archetypes, and for Variant Chanelling. We have been given the tools to make this work. So let’s see what we can do.
Building a New Cleric
The generic Pathfiner cleric has the following class abilities and features. In order to create a new cleric that operates the same way under the Pathfinder rules, we’ll have to hit each of these abilities in the new cleric as well, although we do have the freedom to change them slightly.
- Base Attack Bonus: Average.
- Saving Throws: Good Fortitude and Will saving throws.
- Class Skills: Appraise, Craft, Diplomacy, Heal, Knowledge [arcana], Knowledge [history], Knowledge [nobility], Knowledge [the planes], Knowledge [religion], Linguistics, Profession, Sense Motive and Spellcraft as class skills.
- Skill Ranks: 2 + Int Modifier per level.
- Hit Points: 1d8 hit points per level.
- Alignment: Must be within one step of the deity the cleric worships.
- Weapon and Armour Proficiency: The favoured weapon of the deity, as well as all simple weapons, light armour, medium armour and shields (but not tower shields).
- Aura: An Aura that corresponds with the deity’s alignment.
- Spells: Access to all spells on the generic Cleric spell-list. Clerics are acquired spellcasters that prepare their spells in advance. They have a set number of spell-slots of each spell level that they can cast each day; although they can prepare a lower level spell in a higher level slot. Clerics gain bonus spell slots for having a high wisdom. The cleric also has orisons that he can cast at-will; although he must still select which orisons are available to him in any one day and prepare them accordingly.
- Channel Energy: All clerics can unleash a wave of energy that affects targets within a 30-foot radius of the cleric, and the cleric as well if desired. Good aligned clerics channel Positive energy, Evil-aligned clerics channel Negative energy. Neutral clerics choose which type of energy they channel during character creation, after which time it cannot be changed. Positive energy heals living creatures and harms undead. Negative energy harms living creatures and heals undead. However, the cleric must announce whether he is chanelling energy to heal or harm when he uses it. He can’t both heal and harm at the same time. The energy inflicts (or heals) 1d6 damage per odd-numbered cleric level to a maximum of 10d6 at nineteenth level. The cleric can use the ability 3 + his Charisma modifier times per day. Certain divine feats can be selected that modify this power with other abilities such as Turn Undead.
- Domains: The cleric selects two domains from his god’s portfolio. He may only select an Alignment domain if his own alignment matches it. Each domain adds nine new spells to clerics spell list: one of each level from 1st to 9th for each domain. The cleric also gains an additional spell slot for each spell level that must be used to prepare one of his domain spells. If a domain spell is also on the generic cleric list, then the cleric can prepare that spell in one of his other spell slots. If not the spell can only be prepaered in the domain slot. In addition, the domains grant two special powers: one at first level and one (usually) at eighth level. There are 35 domains in the Pathfinder game. There are also 70 sub-domains (two per domain) that a cleric can choose instead of the related domain if their deity permits it. There’s a full list of all domains and sub-domains over at the Pathfinder SRD.
- Spontaneous Casting: At the point of casting the cleric can replace any prepared spell with a cure or an inflict spell of the same or lower level. This means the cleric never has to prepare healing magic as it is always on hand. Which spells the cleric is able to spontaneously cast depends on his Channel Energy choice. If the cleric channels positive energy then he spontaneously casts cure spells; if he channels negative energy then he spontaneously casts inflict spells.
Okay… I’m going to take each on these elements one step at a time, and highlight my thoughts and intentions moving forward.
Some priestshoods and gods are connected and have certain abilities in common. The Moon Gods are an obvious example of this. Calafax, Zephrye, Vitaeous, Terranor, Mortis and Sharrash are elemental deities exemplified by the six moons of Iourn. The waxing and waning of those moons affects the powers and abilities of the clerics. Traditionally, a cleric in the dark of the moon is less powerful and has access to less spells. A cleric during the full moon is super-charged. I don’t want to get rid of this element as it has significant game related effects.
Therefore I would propose that all clerics of one of the Moon Gods would have to take the “Moon Faith” archetype. This would present subtly different ways that spells and domain powers would function during the dark and the full of the moon. It wouldn’t preclude the cleric also having other archetypes if that was a route the player wanted to take. You’ll see the text of the Moon God archetype when we look at the cleric of fire below.
Just because clerics worship the same deity, does not mean that they are equal. On Iourn, the Moon Gods are worshipped by various different priesthoods. Calafax is a the god of terrorism and explosions to the Bombastics, he is the god of war to the Warmakers, and he is also the god of fire, rebirth and good dress-sense to the Firestarters. Helian, the god of the Hadradan faith, is worshipped by Elyastic, Vandanian and Timonite churches. The rules for these different churches shouldn’t be equal.
Therefore I propose that where there is more than one church or sect that worships a god, then that church should also have its own archetype. This is an archetype that jollies along with any pantheon-related archetype. So the character of Nicos in the Iourn campaign would be of the cleric class, but also take the Moon Faith archetype and the Firestarter archetype.
Church-related archetypes would influence the following aspects of a cleric: base attack bonus, saving throws, class skills, skill ranks, hit points and weapon & armour proficiencies. These would be balanced so that, taken as a whole, they would have the same net utility as the vanilla cleric.
Aura and Alignment
I haven’t looked at Alignment closely yet, but it’s my opinion that we’re going to have to accept it in some form in order for the game to work mechanically. However, there’s no reason that it needs to be in the forefront of the cleric. The universe of Iourn is polarised by the forces of Good, Evil, Law and Chaos and everyone sits somewhere on the alignment spectrum whether they realise it, or care about it, or not. I use terms such as Taint, Rapture, Order and Entropy as physical forces but this is really just somantics: beneath it is alignment.
I view alignment as something that is mutable. A person may slide around the scale completely unknowingly depending on their actions. As far as the cleric is concerned, I just think that a cleric simply has to follow the tennets of his deity and his church. If he does that then his ‘alignment’ must be acceptable. It should be gross violations of the church’s code that expel a priest, not something as abstract and woolly as an “alignment violation”.
I think that we can leave the Alignment system quietly ticking along in the background. We can reference it every now and then (when someone casts detect evil, for example) but for the most part we can ignore it. That’s largely how I’d view these elements of the cleric: yes, they exist in the game. No: we’re not going to talk about them unless we absolutely have to.
Now we’re getting to the meat of it. Obviously clerics will use the standard rules for casting spells. I’ve talked about that on this blog in the post on Arcane and Divine spells, so there’s no point discussing that again here. What I proposing is that we follow the rules as written here. There is a generic list of cleric spells as it’s published in the Core Rules, and all clerics from all faiths have access to all spells from that list.
“Whoa there, Tex” you’re thinking. Doesn’t this is contradict the ideal that each cleric of each faith is unique? Well, it does slightly. But I’m hoping that other elements discussed, and how we’re going to handle domains, spontaneous casting and channel energy will make up for this. The fact is that the generic Cleric spell list is so hard-wired into Pathfinder that saying it doesn’t exist causes more problems than it solves and would lead to more house rules, which we’re trying to avoid.
It’s not entirely without story-precedent on Iourn. In my setting gods grant divine power, they don’t grant spells. It’s up to the invidual clerics and churches to create spells. You can imagine that over the centuries spells have been passed around between friendly churches, they’ve been copied, they’ve been stolen… until you reach a point when the majority of the more utilitarian spells are available to most churches.
What I am going to do is remove the Alignment restriction on spellcasting. Good clerics can cast spells with the Evil descriptor if they want to. However, they might not stay Good clerics for long if they keep using such a spell. Their alignment would drift. Whether that would have any other game effect beyond roleplaying would remain to be seen; but the impact on a character’s conscience should be enough.
One last point: in my post on Arcane and Divine spells I appealed for the retention of one of my favourite house rules. I said that I wanted clerics to learn new spells in the same way as wizards, that rather than automatically get access to every spell ever, they should grow their own personal spell list in the same way as a wizard does. Those rules would make the use of the generic cleric spell list much easier to swallow and to administer. Go and read them if you haven’t already.
Channel Energy as a concept and a mechanic stays with the cleric. However, the type of energy chanelled and the effects of the channelling vary from faith to faith. There are some fab rules for Variant Chanelling on pages 28-31 of Ultimate Magic (2011), and also online at the Pathfinder PRD. I would definitely want to use these these rules, at least in principle. The alternatives in the text are just examples, but I’ve taken the principles into something I hope is generally in keeping.
We abandon the house rules for domains and domain powers. We keep the Domains and the Subdomains as they are written in the Pathfinder rules. Clerics still choose two domains and still get the granted powers from those domains at the appointed levels. However: we make two changes to these domains. Firstly, domain spells aren’t limited to one of each spell level from levels 1 to 9. There can be any number of spells of any level in the domain. This means we don’t miss spells that are incredibly appropriate for clerics because of the restrictive format that domains currently have. Obviously, this rules change would lead to an enormous bloat in cleric’s spell-list unless we also rule that clerics gain new spells in the same way as wizards (something I’m continuing to push for). Secondly, although clerics still need to prepare a domain spell in their domain slot, I would lift the restriction that says spells that are not on the generic cleric list can’t be prepared in other spell slots. All domain spells can be prepared in any slot regardless of their origin. I think this would encourage players to learn and prepare spells closer to their idiom.
Obviously, this means that there would still be work to do in expanding the spells on the domain lists, and it makes the subdomains merely a source of alternative domain powers rather than also being a source of alternative domain spells. I’m okay with that. A lot of work on putting spells into appropriate domains has already been done by the house rules. Graham’s new Spell Filter will make it very easy for us to produce a list of all spells in a domain, so there shouldn’t be any book-keeping issues once that is up and running.
But wait! There’s more.
I also propose that all clerics have a third domain. A “Deity Domain” if you will. This domain looks very much like the cleric’s other two domains, but it contains powers and spells that only clerics of that particular god have access to. So the Calafax Domain would grant immunity to fire, and the signature fiery aura. The spells in the Deity Domain could also be other signature clerical powers that we’ve used in the past, but converted into a spell format. Again there is no limit to the number of spells that can be in the Deity Domain, but there’s likely to be less than in the other domains.
We retain the mechanic for Spontaneous Casting, but the type of spells that can be spontaneously cast vary from faith to faith. Normally, spells that can be spontaneously cast would be defined by a descriptor or a subschool. Therefore clerics of Calafax could spontaneously cast all spells with the Fire descriptor instead of all cure spells as it is in the printed rules. Again the versatility of the cleric becomes directly related to the god he worships.
And there we have it. It’s taken a long time to describe rules that I think make fairly minimal changes to the Pathfinder cleric. Yes, there’s a lot to take in… but I think this would really do the job while staying as close to the spirit of the generic Pathfinder cleric as I dare. Spellcasting, Channel Energy, Domains and Spontaneous Casting have all be drawn back to the base cleric and then embellished.
There’s far more tinkering for this class than anything else in the rules, but I think there always would have been. The cleric is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. The above is a compromise, but is it a good compromise? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here’s the new cleric of Calafax attached as a PDF. Have a read and tell me what you think.