Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The cleric is broken: or, how the eff do I give clerics (and others!) new spells...

I'll admit it: I legitimately believe that the 2nd edition specialty priest was one of the best forms of the Cleric class. But we live in a post third-edition world (and first-edition and before are part of that world too), and I have a legitimate dilemma. How the eff do I give clerics new spells..? (I've noted this before.)

Clerics, since time immemorial, have always had access to their entire spell list. The problem is that every book that expands the cleric spell list directly expands the cleric's versatility and therefore power. The conflict is: certain gods should grant certain spells, but the cleric class doesn't have a great mechanism for gods granting spells.

The genius of second edition (at least following on the heels of the 1st edition Dragonlance Adventures) was dividing cleric spells into spheres. You could easily assemble a list of spells known based on spheres, and new spells were simply added to the list of spheres. It wasn't perfect, but at least each book with new spells didn't automatically add to each priest's selection. And those that did add were reasonably appropriate.

Now, I wish 3rd and 5th edition had expanded domains a bit, such that each domain granted more than a couple spells at each level. Ultimately that would be like an expanded second edition sphere of all but more distinction between deities/domains. It still suffers because there's no way to grant appropriate spells to a cleric of Isis and not to a cleric of Horus or Set. The problem remains: expand the cleric list, you do it for all or none (or specifically just to a few).

So I'm considering running a 5th edition assorted Saturdays game here in faraway and need to decide how to integrate spells from the Elemental Evil stuff or the Necromancer Games' Book of Lost Spells. I'm picking on the cleric here, but most D&D classes are now like this: bards, clerics, druids, fighters (eldritch knights), rogues (arcane tricksters), sorcerers and warlocks [Edit: forgot paladins & rangers!] all have the same basic problem. However, there's a few options.

1) Just fucking add them for everyone. This is the least satisfying option.

2) Let some appropriate spells overwrite generic spells. This is say I offer detect disease or putrefy food and drink in exchange for some spell on the regular list. This is reasonable at each spell level, and requires the DM (i.e. me) to decide which spells belong to a particular deity, patron, or whatever-the-fuck bards and sorcerers use for gaining spells. Its reasonable, but also unsatisfying.

3) Discovery. Through mystic tomes, journals from dead mages, runestones, or whatnot I could add spells to particular characters' lists. This is still in the DM's hands, and could be combined with option #2 I suppose. The thing is... there's no real reason why bards couldn't have found a particular spell anyway. For bards and sorcerers this is a bit more satisfying as they basically just add to a set list of spells known. For clerics and druids, this is less exciting because, by the rules, it seems like their god should have either granted the spell from the get-go or not.

4) Replacement. This is like #3 but without discovery. Here I (i.e. the DM) just arbitrarily replace some spells on a PC's list with others. Doesn't motivate anyone to discover new shit, but it is reasonable.

5) Bonuses. Like #4, but based on spellcasting stats. Essentially, the DM gives bonus spells to particular characters based on their spellcasting list. So a Cleric of Ptah with a +3 wisdom bonus would add 3 additional spells of the DM's choice to their list. I like this option, but it might be hard to come up with that many spells per level. Simply replacing the bonus/level with the bonus spread across levels this would be pretty manageable, or maybe double the bonus across levels (so that +3 bonus translates to six added spells of whatever levels are appropriate). The problem with this option is finding the right number of additional spells for any given priest. That's 5 or 10 depending on wisdom scores, I suppose. Thankfully the Book of Lost Spells does provide quite a few, but there might not quite be enough great options for any given priesthood (or bardhood, druidic cult, sorcererous bloodline, or warlock patron).

I'm obviously still brainstorming a bit, but option 5 seems like its the best. Its DM-sensitive, but gives some customization to different types of cleric (or bard or druid or sorcerer or warlock) without stupidly expanding each class's spell list. I'm still looking for something better. I'm thinking combining #3 Discovery with #5 Bonuses, but ultimately anything that could be discovered also feels like it could be a bonus. If deities are active in the world, I suppose one-off spell options could be given as well: Isis knows her agents may need a Detect Curse spell and offers it on one particular occasion. 

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I should note: My beloved 2nd edition Complete Book of Necromancers does list exactly which necromancy spells are granted by each deity. So DM fiat isn't super uncommon.