Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cleric, but not a priest

In the D&D 5e game I'm currently playing in (that may or may not be winding down as the DM may be leaving the country in the near future), I'm playing a gnome trickster cleric, but I'm not a priest. This has caused mostly consternation for the other players and DM.

The other folks in the group don't seem to understand the concept. Which I get, but it's not how 5e classes are set up anymore. I don't have the religion skill. I don't lead mass. I don't administrate for a temple. I don't read the oracles and omens. I don't even wander and spread the good news of Garl Glittergold. I just happen to have access to his powers.

So the DM thinks I'm just dicking around a bit, I think, and causing a bit of trouble. But really he didn't ask for much background info and I thought I had explained myself: I was a troubled youth who found solace in Garl and then was chosen by him to wield his powers for some inscrutable reason. Yeah, its a 4e Invoker or Pathfinder Oracle. I'd run him as a prophet if the DM had let me. Alas.

So, woe is me and all. But this is an issue. 5e has tried to divorce classes from background and skill and not entirely succeeded. How can you be a wizard (intelligence-based caster) and not have any Arcane knowledge? I'm not sure about that one. You can do a cleric as a prophet or oracle, chosen by the got but not part of the hierarchy of worship and avoid taking religion knowledge. You can't quite do a bard without music, as the bard is trained in 3 instruments. I see a lot of wandering monks who seem to know nothing about their temples/history/religion. A fighter really should have some background knowledge about fighting and military orders, but that leaves out the hometown hero who should mostly have local knowledge.

Regardless, this is why I really am liking the 13th Age style backgrounds-as-skills a bit more. I think they're a bit story-focused and gonzo for some games. Or can be, maybe giving people examples or example sentences to fill in would be good: "I was trained as a pewterer by my father, but abandoned the trade because of my wanderlust."

The old AD&D secondary skills are somewhat similar. Granted, the DM decides when they apply and there's probably little principled rolling, but you just assume people can do the relevant things and they run into problems the few times they wouldn't know something. I was looking at the old Proficiencies of AD&D 2nd as well, and I think one of the flaws with them (and 3.5/Pathfinder) is you're not required to take a proficiency/skill that would actually reflect your background. It might lead to a lot of wandering healers (trained by their parents), mapmakers, blacksmiths/armorers or the like, but a lot of the crazy system abuse comes when people ignore character backstory and pick all the good options. Its a simple thing to switch things so the backstory (or some element of it) is real and meaningful.

Which brings us back to the cleric who isn't a priest. Its an odd thing back in the era of AD&D. Becomes more plausible in 3.5 or 4e, where specific classes (favored soul, invoker, oracle) exist to handle the cleric-but-not-priest type of prophet or divine champion. Even roles like inquisitor-priests and the like end up being folded into their own classes (and increasingly the Paladin, it seems). But the plain old cleric is still shoehorned into the priest role. Which is a shame, then, in 5e because the only reasonable backgrounds are mostly Acolyte. Sure, you could be a convict or a sailor or a noble who joined the church, but then you're still a priest, no?

In my dreams of a AD&D 2nd game, I'm contemplating using the Spells and Magic rules to bust cleric into two sub-classes: hierarchy priests who use ritual prayer, and free priests who use conditional magic. Which would give the actual priests distinct magic from the prophets and mystics. But would anyone care about the distinction besides me?

Its hard to get through stereotypes, I suppose.


  1. I guess I'm missing out on something or have been entirely corrupted by the evils of Indie Story Games, but I don't see why it would be important to the other players would have an issue with your character being the "cleric" class (divine powers) but not a priest (religious profession). I almost get the "cleric" required to take healing powers problem you talked about previously, but this shit just baffles me...

    1. Yeah. Totally baffling. I think Cleric, Monk, and Bard (and maybe Barbarian?) are some of the worst offenders for a class that comes with an intrinsic and unalterable background. If I do a bard for my next 5e game, I'm totally going to hope the DM lets me swap in 3 languages for the 3 musical instrument proficiencies.