Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aloof Gods and Vancian Clerics

My first high level character that survived past level 10 was a cleric. I realized early on that clerics were a very powerful class. They have the ability to manage their HP better than any other class. They can wear any armor, fight with decent weapons, turn undead, and cast spells! In fact, it is my personal belief that in most editions of the game the cleric is way overpowered relative to the other classes.

One thing that a lot of other GM's have done over the years is give their PC clerics the ability to cast spells without praying for them ahead of time. One excuse for this is that clerics should not have to pray for their spells - instead the diety will grant the magic as the player needs the spells. Another excuse is that if clerics are forces to prepare their spell list ahead of the game they will be forced to choose all healing spells and therefore robbing them of using "the fun spells" during the game. I say bull crap.

I think this viewpoint is tainted by the influence of Christianity on the game. I am a Christian gamer and believe in God. However, I think the typical views of Christianity - that we have a personal god who interacts and listens to us - has begun to seep into the DnD game. In the DnD world I like to think of the gods as being more aloof than our Christian god. This poly-theistic world forces the gods to look down at men as pawns in a battle as they vie with the other deities for the souls and prayers of humanity. They play by certain rules.

In order to perform miracles, clerics must recite ancient prayers and rituals instilled with power over the ages of mankind merely by belief and repitition. These prayers and rituals bind the magics of the fantastical realm and allow clerics to cast this "spell" or "miracle" at any later time by finishing the prayer. The gods are bound by these rules that have been created by the beliefs of humankind. It is this same belief that supports their very existence.

A god can choose not to answer a ritual or prayer, but if his cleric fails to perform the ritual the god cannot just "give the magic" to his cleric. If you want to have "channeling clerics" than why don't you just adapt the rules of Rolemaster or some other channeling based clerical magic system to the DnD game or perhaps a spell point system? In addition, the DnD gods are not personal, they aren't right by your side as you are adventuring. Instead, I see the DnD gods as aloof, proud, and terrible! They watch your cleric and make sure his deeds, actions, and maybe sacrifices please him/her - if they do, then that cleric's prayers will be answered. As a cleric advances in levels he unlocks the secrets of more powerful prayers and rituals - calling on more fearsome miracles.

Anyway, even if you don't buy my fantasy world metaphysical argument about why clerics should use vancian type magic - I think vancian clerical magic in DnD just works better than spell point, channelling, or just letting clerics use their spell slots according to the chart on any spell of that level. I also think it improves player creativity and skill to have to choose out their spells ahead of time and also brings a measure of balance to what I think is already an overpowered class.

Related to this post, I've been thinking quite a bit about greatly altering the cosmology/planar system of Forgotten Realms (which used the standard multiverse system of AD&D). My next post will likely cover that.

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