Sunday, December 20, 2015

An elegant solution to the cleric problem

I've been debating writing up my ideas for an improved 5e cleric class, and have a few that I really like. The idea is to make the cleric a much more versatile and customizeable class, rather than what the cleric is now. To that end, there's a few simple fixes. Conceptual at the moment, I might mock up a version later. I'll say cleric and priest interchangeably, but I might ultimately call it a priest because there's not a real reason you couldn't also use the cleric class in the same game as this priest.

Spells and domains. The cleric spell mechanism is stupid. For some reason, they're much more flexible than wizards in their spells known (two bonus domain spells for spell levels 1 through 5!) and any increase to the number of cleric spells automatically makes all clerics more versatile. I think there's a solution to this problem (that I've written about twice before) to be found via Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria: just give them a few spells per level. When clerics and druids have a whole list to choose from, its unbalanced. Wizards have to work to expand their list of spells knowable, so why can't clerics? Originally, clerics had a thematic and reasonable spell list which wasn't too big, so why not keep it that way? Then, you can expand the list with a few simple mechanisms. I think it would work something like this:

1) All clerics have access to a small set of pretty iconic priest spells. This is basically the sphere of All from 2nd edition, with a few staples in it like bless and protection from good/evil. So make that 2-3 spells per spell level.

2) Add to that a couple iconic domain spells. All clerics of a specific faith gain the training/insight of their deity or aspect of the deity. This is largely what happens in 5e, and similar to gaining one or two spheres in 2nd edition.

3) Add one more layer to the system, where, based on a cleric's wisdom, you gain a few bonus spells for insight. This allows a player to pick 1-5 additional spells per spell level that a cleric can add to their list which are derived through piecing together obscure bits of theology or delving deeper into the mysteries of their faith. These might be restricted to secondary domains or spheres, but means the player has a finite set of possibilities. This could be ditched simply by expanding the universal cleric list a bit (still restricted from what it currently is), but I like the idea of being able to pick a few additional spells that others of your order might not have access to.

4) As is, you keep prepping spells normal-like, you just create a custom list for each priest. Its definitely not as simple as the current system, but I could imagine two clerics of Lolth in a drow game with different spells this way.

Cross this spell system with a vocation system. Just like fighters or thieves choose an archetype at 3rd level, why not give clerics another meaningful choice? Priests would have a few distinct options:

A) Crusader. The militant of the faith. This option would get a few combat bonuses, like weapon and armor training and extra attack.

b) Evangelist. This is the skillful priest, who gains expertise in persuasion and performance. Alternately you could reword this as votary so the archetype is trained in the deity's ways, so it might cover thief skills for a god of thieves or knowledge skills and tools as appropriate. Or maybe they're two distinct options.

c) Theurge or mystic. This is the caster priests, who probably gains a few additional spell options and maybe a "divine recovery" for a few extra spell slots. You could get halfway to wizard by allowing a theurge to maintain a ritual book as well, giving them more rituals (or a limited number of rituals, like 1 their wisdom modifier).

d) Prophet. A cleric free from the heirarchy, the prophet might lose some basic spell training but gain some big guns and granted powers.

This makes a cleric about as complex as a warlock, with two meaningful choices (domain/deity at level 1 and vocation at level 3).  And I can imagine a game in which the party all follows one deity yet has multiple clerics in the group actually working.

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