Clerics, Run Away!
Clerics bridge the gap between life and death for an adventuring party, yet finding people to play a cleric can be a monumental task. It has been my experience that most gamers shy away from playing a cleric. In many ways, clerics are seen as the servant to a party rather than a full member. Cries of "Band-Aid" and calls for healing can ruin the experience of playing a cleric. No one wants to play a character who can never shine.
Clerics bridge the gap between life and death for an adventuring party, yet finding people to play a cleric can be a monumental task. It has been my experience that most gamers shy away from playing a cleric. In many ways, clerics are seen as the servant to a party rather than a full member. Cries of "Band-Aid" and calls for healing can ruin the experience of playing a cleric. No one wants to play a character who can never shine. However, I believe the true trouble with clerics stems from misuse. Gamemasters, GMs, and the gaming industry have trouble writing material for clerics. I do have a few suggestions which could help when running a cleric.
A GM must make a place for religion in her campaign. Tiptoeing around the issue will not lead to better game play. A cleric is tied to both a god and a church. The character does not live in a vacuum. A GM should provide opportunities for a cleric to interact with her church and with those people who follow the cleric's god. A church will have holidays and events important to the god. It should be a place where a cleric can interact with those who follow her beliefs. It also provides a place where a cleric can feel important. A cleric should never spend an entire campaign without encountering her church or members of her faith. In addition, many small towns may not have a cleric that follows a specific faith.
For example, Devyn, cleric of Grendel, enters the small village of Hamlet. The only priest in the village follows Zod. Suddenly, Devyn becomes a major figure in the village, as those who follow Grendel have not seen a priest of their deity in years. The villagers would probably want to hear a sermon from Devyn, or have him perform marriages, burials or bless those followers who have passed beyond the veil. Those who follow Grendel would see the party in a more favorable light. They may give the party discounts on merchandise or needed information that would have been far more difficult to earn without Devyn. A GM needs to portray a cleric as more than a healer.
I have found many GMs skimp when it comes to a cleric's deity. It is easy to pull a god from mythology or a shrink-wrapped game world. However, how many GMs research religious holidays, clerical vestments, and duties of the priesthood or the appearance of the holy symbol? What animals, plants, minerals or items does a deity hold sacred? It surely would not make sense for a cleric to kill a dragon if their god deems dragons to be a sacred being!
A god can be more than the domains she grants. Like the church, a cleric's god should be fully fleshed out. It does require a fair amount of work from a GM, although I believe it worth the work. A person would be much more enthusiastic about playing a cleric if you provide her the details she needs to have fun. Flesh out the god!
Here are a few questions I ask myself whenever I flesh out a deity:
- What is the alignment of the god? What domains does she grant?
- What does the holy symbol look like? How do people perceive the appearance of the deity?
- What items, animals, plants and minerals does the deity hold sacred?
- What are the main beliefs of the deity? Goals? Desires? How should a cleric of that deity act?
- What type of people worship the deity? Farmers? Craftsman?
- Do differing sects exist within the church? Are there different interpretations of a deity's holy word?
- Are there any traditional rituals, ceremonies or holidays associated with the faith?
- How do other religions perceive the deity? Does the god or church have enemies?
Answering those questions can define both the god and the religion. It makes worshipping a deity far easier and a player is not left wondering how to perceive certain situations. For example, if the deity finds divorce to be a sin, then the cleric would not advocate it as a course of action.
My worst experience in playing a cleric had to do with many of the problems discussed in this article. The GM had not bothered to really flesh out the deity. When I wrote up my own comments about the god, the GM said the god would not fit his world. Needless to say, I was angry. The rest of the campaign was spent with my cleric healing the party whenever they got into a fight. In fact, the GM asked me to stop using my spells until after the healing was complete. Of course, the worst part of playing that cleric had to do with NPC reaction. Apparently, people thought of my god in very unfavorable circumstances. I never encountered anyone who shared my faith. It was not a good experience and it took me years to warm up to the class again.
Many parties need a cleric. A GM should do everything in her power to make the experience fun and interesting. The player should not have to feel forced into playing the class because a party needs a cleric. If they do, this is a sure sign the GM is not making it fun to play a cleric. A person should feel as if any class they choose would be fun to play. Clerics get a bad rap, not because the class is uninteresting, but because the GM has usually not done their homework.