... now with 35% more arrogance!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Clerics Without Spells

I've grumbled a bit that clerics seem a little more powerful than they should be: of the original three classes, they have the lowest experience requirements, but are between the fighter and the magic-user in terms of both combat ability and spell casting. But it occurs to me that I can solve that problem with the alternate cleric mechanic I've posted about before: using the Turn Undead mechanic to "cast" spells, under the guise of commanding spirits in the name of all that is holy to reveal traps in the area, heal the sick, or otherwise perform miracles.

Originally, I thought about clerics "turning" spells as undead with hit dice equal to the spell's level. But if we restrict clerics to purely defensive, commanding, healing, and dispelling magic, we can eliminate the spell list entirely (except as an alternative magical spell list.)
  • Defense: Use the hit dice of the enemy for the Turn Undead roll. Area of effect is one person + half the cleric's hit dice, in feet (round down.)
  • Command: Use the hit dice of a supernatural enemy for the Turn Undead roll. Double hit dice for natural animal, triple for plant, quadruple for sentient being; command must be simple and defensive in nature.
  • Healing: Cleric defines how big of a wound to heal in terms of hit dice, but this can only be done once per day per person.
  • Disease: Compare the disease effects to undead powers; trivial ailments are 1 HD (like zombies,) paralysis is 2 HD (like ghouls,) serious or deadly diseases are 3 or 4 HD, and anything as bad as a mummy's curse is 5 HD. You can treat "death" (for raising the dead) as being at least equivalent to a mummy and poison as one step below (4 HD.)
  • Dispelling: Use the level of an evil spell effect as its hit dice. Can only be attempted once per day per spell effect, and it might not last.
  • Warning: Traps and non-living dangers can be rated in terms of damage dice, which can be used as HD when praying for knowledge of nearby dangers.
Use the Turn Undead reaction roll to create the effect: 2d6 + double (cleric's level - opposing HD rating). On a Good or better reaction (9+) the cleric's plea is heard. On a 2, the GM notes a cumulative penalty to future requests for aid. Acts of faith or service without requesting anything in return allows an unpenalized reaction roll; on a Good or better, the penalty is reduced.

I would keep the exact penalty secret, because that allows me to leave the question of "which religion/deity is the true one?" open. The cleric doesn't know if prayer works because the deity or deities are listening, or if it's just a matter of convincing minor spirits to obey.

Edit: See More on Clerics Without Spells for further thoughts, Paladins Without Spells for an application of the same mechanic to another class, and White Magicians for spellcasters who use the now-orphaned Cleric spells.


  1. You are onto something here. It kind of irks me, even as it makes play easier, that clerics run around casting and blasting by the same mechanism as magic users. For want of a better word, they should feel, not entitled to their powers, but grateful for miracles they channel. This kind of animistic approach plus the random resolution gets near that. I'd make each feat get more difficult according to how many have been attempted that day, too.

  2. I agree. I think this is a interesting take on solving the problem of cleric spells. I was thinking of doing something with "piety" dice- the cleric gets a certain # of dice based on level and a random roll every morning when they pray. the dice can be used to cast "prayers" throughout the day. particular pious actions preformed will grant a chance for bonus piety dice.

  3. I also think you're onto a very interesting idea here. However, reading over those abilities, it seems that lower level clerics actually become much more powerful, though it is somewhat offset by the random rolls. I think Roger's idea of implementing a cumulative daily penalty after each attempt is a good way to mitigate this increased power.

    Ed Green

  4. I like this and might have a serious think about using it.

  5. I agree. This is a very cool idea. I'm thinking that the cleric should get (level + WIS bonus) rolls on the table each day. After that, they would start suffering a cumulative penalty. Perhaps, missing a roll after their given rolls are used up signals the end of any miracles that day... Just some ideas. Reminds me a little bit of "Five Point Fudge Magic" (Yet Another Magic System by Steffan O'Sullivan)

  6. I don't think the problem is with clerics, per se. I think the whole magic system is an unworkable flustercluck.
    If you take MU's and clerics and make them both SPELLCASTERS, then you can devise a unified magic system that works for both. In my D&D Redux/Mashup, for instance, Spellcasters can't wear metal armor or use metal weapons, it interferes with the magic. They can wear leather or padded armor, and flint or crystal or obsidian blades. Clerics can only cast defensive and healing spells (similar to what you have stated above) and Wizards can only cast Offensive spells. They can both cast minor spells like light and auguries and so forth. Magical armor may be made from silver, but it is both rare and expensive. Same with magical weapons. I'm thinking of still keeping the edged weapon restriction as well.
    Make INT the prime req, high INT gives a bonus to spell points (get rid of this foolish 'spell memorization nonsense once and for all) and number of spells per level. I would also skew the spell table to allow lower level characters to have more spells.


  7. This is an interesting idea, but I don't understand from your post what problem you intend to fix. If the cleric's quick progression is the problem, isn't the most straightforward solution to change the class's progression? Outside of level progression, in what way does the cleric seem too powerful?

  8. Thanks, guys! I'm going to have to address some of the issues raised in a follow-up post, because I don't have time to write at the moment (on stand-by for possible jury duty.) Plus I have all these image posts scheduled...

  9. Do you know when Liber Zero will be ready?

  10. Nope, but I have a rough draft of ... something ... that I plan on releasing this month for comment. There will be a post about Liber Zero this week.

  11. Nothing really to add, but I like the idea of them performing miracles rather than casting spells. It fits better with the character ideal. I also like the idea of tying it to the turning roll.

  12. Added to Links to Wisdom under spells, which seems both right and wrong, given the post.

  13. @David: Thanks!

    #Jovial Priest: I saw that, and had the same reaction: is putting it under spells a good thing, or a bad thing? I have no idea.

  14. DaveL has right if you would like to change the magic of the cleric, you should change the whole system.

  15. Nah. Magic's fine as-is, and only needs general changes to match individual settings. Making M-Us and Clerics identical exacerbates the real problem, which is that Clerics are too much like M-Us. Nevertheless, if you want to make both classes the same, use the White Magician I just posted... and if you want a *real* overall of all magic, use the system above.

  16. Great post & edit update!

    *you capture spirit of the game as it is meant to be played*

    Keep going in these directions~

    ~reminds me of Fritz Leiber Newhon-'Lankhmar' milieu & the companion AD&D material from TSR

  17. using the Turn Undead mechanic to "cast" spells, under the guise of commanding spirits in the name of all that is holy to reveal traps in the area, heal the sick, or otherwise perform miracles.

    So this is where I got the idea from. I just started implementing a very similar idea in my own game.

    1. I seem to recall you posting about this recently...

      Clerics Without Spells seems to have turned into a popular idea; it's one of the all-time most popular posts on my blog.

  18. Reminds me of the good things from the Warlord class in 4e.