02 June 2012

Liberated Clerical Spell Selection

I confess I'm not very familiar with editions of D&D past 1st edition AD&D, so the following may not be the first time this idea has been expressed. (I'm fairly certain it has already been expressed in some capacity, if not an official one, by someone. I'm just recording some thoughts on the subject.)

It seems to me there ought to be more to differentiate clerical spells from magical spells than their source. I addressed the idea of changing the nature of verbal components to reflect the communicative role of clerics (spreading the faith), but I think the nature of spell selection lends itself to modification as well.

If magical spells are selected and memorized as a matter of forethought and strategy (an intellectual exercise), perhaps clerical spells should be chosen only in times of need (an exercise in faith). Unlike magic-users, who owe their powers to academic study, clerics owe their powers to their deity and their faithfulness in serving that deity. (This is not to say that clerics do not engage in study, but that their study is of a theological nature rather than quasi-scientific inquiry.) A cleric should not have to guess which spell may or may not be useful in advancing his or her patron deity's divine plan. Rather, when the time comes for divine intervention through the agency of the cleric, the right spell within the cleric's capacity should be available for casting. In other words, a cleric prays daily for his or her due allotment of spells based on his or her level, not for specific spells. When the time comes to cast a spell, one spell slot of the appropriate spell level is marked as having been used for that day. If the cleric's mission necessitates that three cure light wounds be cast in a single day or one cure light wounds, one protection from evil, and one light, so be it. It is the deity's will. Clerical magic should, after all, be miraculous. It is a little less than miraculous for a cleric to be forced to admit, "Well, remove curse would have been useful, but I'm afraid I picked locate object instead. Sorry." Aside from falling short of inspiring awe, it doesn't even resemble how divine magic is presented in mythology or literature. The cleric's deity should either enable the clergy to predict which spells would be needed (in which case the referee is choosing the spells for the cleric each day), or the cleric should be able to invoke an available divine power when the need arises. The latter more accurately reflects a priest's decision of which prayer to say or which verse to read on a given occasion (and this ties into the idea of reciting an extemporaneous prayer when casting a spell).

Does this unbalance the game? Does this flexibility make clerics too powerful? I haven't playtested this yet, but I think the fact that clerics must act strictly in accordance with their religion or lose their spellcasting ability is a strong limitation. Certain deities may even render the casting of a spell impossible on a case-by-case basis if it is judged to be a frivolous (or maybe selfish) use of divine power. Magic-users, of course, have no such restrictions.

11 comments:

  1. Your reasoning makes sense to me. I think the idea is certainly worth playtesting. I'll do so myself when I get the chance. But all my games are quite low-level, so I won't find out how powerful this might make high-level clerics.

    Some related ideas you might find interesting to consider are HERE.

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    1. Thanks. I replied to your comment there. It *is* interesting!

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    2. You're welcome! I'm glad you do find it interesting! And thanks for your reply -- and your blog posts here, too! You're giving me all sorts of good ideas, inspiration for ideas, and help thinking them through.

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  2. At higher levels, this would make the cleric extremely powerful. Though I do like the logic of this approach, it fails to consider two things: 1) the traditional game mechanic of resource management and 2) the reality that God works in mysterious ways (what we may think we need isn't really what we need sometimes).

    I have had a tremendous amount of success emulating this through randomizing bonus spells. It allows players to plan for what they think they'll need and deal with what God thinks they need. It is surprising how often that randomly determined spell becomes critical.

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    1. I, too, am concerned about this idea undermining the importance of resource management as a central element of the game. And I also agree that it doesn't support the belief that "God works in mysterious ways", which is so common to so many religions. But FrDave mentioning "randomizing bonus spells" gave me an idea...

      What if, instead of choosing bonus spells randomly, bonus spells were the ONLY ones that didn't have to be chosen until cast. That way, only exceptionally wise clerics would have that most miraculous ability. And, the wiser a cleric was, the more of that miraculous ability s/he'd have.

      And, to emulate the "God works in mysterious ways" thing, how about using the idea I put forth HERE instead?

      That way, clerics would still have to deal with some spell resource management, exceptionally wise clerics would have exceptionally miraculous abilities, and the ways of gods would be so mysterious that some of them would seem random.

      What do you think?

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    2. Oh...and I forgot to mention...

      Another benefit of the approach I suggested above is that it limits clerical "miracles" to only at most two 1st-level spells, two 2nd-level spells, one 3rd-level spell & one 4th-level spell (assuming AD&D rules), regardless of how high-level the cleric might get.

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    3. Actually, I think that's a perfect solution. Excellent suggestion!

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    4. Thanks! Glad to be of help! I like it, too! So much, in fact, that I'm going to try it out as soon as I can. Thanks for getting this ball rolling! I think we've come up with something that will not only differentiate clerics from magic-users, but will also make clerics more interesting.

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  3. Might as well comment here too. If you like the idea of deferring selection until casting, perhaps decreasing the number of slots available is a good trade-off? Perhaps no more than one spell of each level per day, but the cleric does not need to prepare the spell ahead of time.

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    1. Definitely a viable limitation, although now I'm seeing the potential benefits of combining selection, deferment, and randomization.

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    2. If I were to make ALL clerical spells deferred, I probably would lower the number of spell slots clerical spellcasters get. But, rather than lowering them all the way down TO 1 spell per level, I'd probably just lower them BY 1 spell per level. Or maybe, at most, cut them in half (maybe rounded up, so 1st-level clerics still get a spell, but maybe rounded down, so they don't).

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