Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Cleric Conundrum: Van Helsing

At the same time, the cleric class, in its origins and even in its in-game description, isn't a completely good fit for medieval Christian priests. It's a bit more like a religious knight (as opposed to the paladin, which is a "holy knight," if the distinction makes sense), but its essential character is that of Van Helsing from the Hammer horror films -- a monster (i.e. undead) hunter. 
--James Maliszewki  10/11/2008

I dislike the cleric class for much the same reason many in the OSR dislike the thief class.  The argument is the thief class can be considered in game terms a broken and unnecessary class.  By creating a specialized class and skills, a broken subset of rules was made to handle previously common talents and the basic game structure was then broken.   The thief then is an artificial class construct that limits what any character should have a reasonable chance to do: climb walls, find and disarm traps, pick locks, scale walls, hide in shadows, or sneak around.

If one agrees to this then I would ask you to consider if the cleric is any different?

The cleric in essence is a specialized fighter with
1) Spell casting ability
2) Ability to turn undead
3) limited weapon choices based on deity

Spell casting
There really isn't, to my mind, any reason why the spells allocated to the cleric class should not just be part of the wizard's spell lists.  The conceit for game play is that they are divinely granted, but with the wizard class already the core spell caster in game terms, these spells should really just be part of the wizard lists.  If you can agree to that, then one is left with a fighter, on a mission from god, with weapon restrictions from that deity, that can turn the undead.

Turning Undead
In order to turn the undead the cleric must present a holy symbol.  So in game terms, isn't the power over the undead really the result of ownership of a holy symbol or blessed relic?  That being the case couldn't anyone/ or any class use it?  Of course they could, but the cleric gets a bonus to do so and in game terms is the only class that can do it.  This ability, based on presentation of a holy symbol, is something any character could do, just like picking a lock, or sneaking around.  The limit or effectiveness would be based on the power of the holy symbol, perhaps varying ranges of Holy Symbols +1 through +5, or better yet specialized symbols or artifacts that effect specific undead types.  Far more interesting in terms of game play.

Weapon Restrictions
Weapon restrictions based on deity are not something that requires a class distinction so much as it is part of a character concept.  Dwarves are fond of axes and hammers, elves bows, and perhaps due to regional or clan religion there is a ban on ranged weapons, or edged weapons.  It is an interesting concept for a character, but not something that requires a specialized class.

Van Helsing
If you think of the recent Van Helsing film, he was a fighting man in service to the church.  The church supplied him with the tools/weapons and hireling necessary to fight the undead.  He did not cast spells (any more so than did Peter Cushing's Van Helsing) he was simply armed and equipped by the church to battle a specific monster threat.

In effect Van Helsing is just a fighter, on a mission, given tools by his employer to accomplish the mission he is hired to do.  Using the Van Helsing reference, and comparing the Cleric class to the thief class...is the cleric class unnecessary?
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