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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Clerics: Piety and Spells

Over on Dragonsfoot, I responded to a request for ideas on how to limit magic in a low-magic campaign and had some positive response to my solution for limiting clerics, so I'm posting it here, with expanded material.

By default, clerics are supposed to serve their patron deities, but it's up to the GM how to handle this. My suggestion: track a Piety score, openly on the player character's sheet or secretly, tracked by the GM. Assuming the old-school approach to clerics (no spells at first level, spell levels range from 1 to 5,) Piety starts at 0 and can reach a maximum of 5.

Every time the cleric does something that serves the deity's will, make a reaction roll for the deity, adjusted as feels appropriate. On a good result, Piety increases by 1. At the GM's option, an excellent reaction may mean an increase of 2. Conversely, make a reaction roll for affronts to the deity or violation of taboos, to see if Piety decreases.

How does Piety affect clerics? Option 1 is to limit the maximum spell level usable. Piety 0 means the cleric doesn't have enough faith to cast any spells. Piety 5 means the cleric can cast any spell available, based on the character's level.

Option 2 is to limit the type of spell usable. A simple interpretation is to allow healing spells at Piety 1, purely defensive spells at Piety 2, and all other clerical spells at Piety 3+. A more elaborate approach is to breaks spells into more spell types or create unique spell groups for each religion, perhaps with a domain approach as used in AD&D 2e: you get access to your deity's primary domain at Piety 1, secondary domain at Piety 2, defensive spells of any domain at Piety 3, and other spells at Piety 4.

I have some more thoughts on Piety for later posts.


  1. Piety 0 means the cleric doesn't have enough faith to cast any spells.O ye of little faith. Option 1 & 2 are each interesting, but option 2 would require more prep work for the DM. Is the limiting in Option 1 based on total number of spell levels available or a spell failure % based on piety? I was thinking the former, based on your description.

  2. @Rusty: Option 1 isn't a failure % or total spell levels; it's a flat prohibition of spells higher than a given level. Consider a fallen 10th level cleric with Piety 1. Under Swords & Wizardry Whitebox and a couple other versions, the priest could normally cast three 1st level spells, three 2nd level, three of each level up to 5th, but because of low Piety, the priest is limited to three 1st level spells only. If you prefer a risk of spell failure, have the spell fail if you roll a d6 higher than Piety, or something similar (call that Option 3.)

    Option 2 is going to require more prep work if you choose the more elaborate custom spell groups option. The basic version, though? I could rule on whether a spell heals, defends or does something else on the fly. No prep work needed.

  3. Okay, that makes a lot more sense.

  4. Have you considered a "piety spend" mechanic? It gives you the option to make Miracles based upon fulfilling your clerical duties while keeping it equally low magic. I posted this here as I realised it made a lot more sense on this post.

    I'll give an example:

  5. @Zzarchov: Ah, yeah, makes it easier to answer in this thread, too. I sort of have a "piety spend" in the sense that I can roll for the deity's reaction when asking for a miracle; on a bad result, the deity might grant the miracle, but the character's Piety drops a point. I like a very shallow point range for variable resources other than hit points.