Friday, January 27, 2017

Considering Clerics     

We are skipping over bards for the moment (we'll come back to them soon!) to talk about clerics, a truly unique character class.  Clerics are one of the "original four" standard classes, along with fighters, wizards (formerly magic users), and rogues (formerly thieves).  The cleric, sometimes known as a priest, was a little bit crusader, a little bit Friar Tuck, and a little bit Van Helsing.  Clerics could fight in melee combat, but with restrictions that made them subpar fighters.  They could cast spells, which were generally less powerful than wizards, and they were extremely effective at dealing with the undead.  They had two very important abilities that set them apart:  they could heal other characters and they could cast spells while wearing heavy armor.

Magical healing is an absolute necessity in most fantasy RPGs.  You can do without the fighter or the rogue, because there are lots of character classes that shares those skills.  You can even do without the wizard, although it will slow you down in higher level adventures.  But you need a healer, and this means someone has to play the cleric.  I'm not certain whether it is because the class is practically mandatory, or because of the religious background, but for whatever reason, I have found that many players hate playing clerics.  If you are lucky, there is that one person in your group who enjoys it (it's almost always a dwarven cleric for some reason), and they end up taking the role in every game.  More often, the cleric is the last character class chosen, by the person who doesn't really care what they play.  The game designers of D&D and Pathfinder, beginning with TSR, realized this.  There were three approaches that they could take to solve this problem:  make clerics more interesting, allow other character classes to heal, or change the way the hit point and damage rules work.  What we have ended up with is a bit of all three.

Second Edition D&D made clerics more powerful and flexible, dividing their spells into "spheres" of influence by their deity, and relaxing the weapon restrictions a bit.  This was greatly aided by one of the classic settings of Second Edition: the Forgotten Realms.  In this campaign world, created by Ed Greenwood, the gods and goddesses were major characters in the story.  Suddenly, playing a cleric or agent of one of these deities gave a character a whole lot of story potential.  Other settings also helped, such as Ravenloft.  The predominance of undead as an enemy meant that clerics would always have a lot to do.  So clerics were still mandatory, but they became more interesting to play.

Third Edition D&D made druids a more viable and interesting character class, and they had access to healing abilities, but druids never really caught on as healers.  Their other abilities, such as wild shape, were not well-suited to support roles.  Bards also gained healing spells, but they were so limited that they were rarely used as full-time healers.  Instead, the main solution of Third Edition and later Pathfinder, was to crank the cleric's healing power up to 11:  spontaneous casting of healing spells and channeling positive energy made healing incredibly easy, leaving the cleric to focus on other aspects of their character.  At the same time, hit points all got a significant boost, so that by Pathfinder, no one had d4 hit die any more.

In my house rules, I've also modified the hit point and damage system considerably, which helps make having a healer no longer a mandatory requirement.  Fourth and Fifth Edition D&D have taken similar approaches, although they use substantially different rules.

Clerics are now about as powerful as they can reasonably get (they are overpowered compared to other character classes), and they still get little respect.  But I suppose that means that folks who like playing clerics (I count myself among them) will always have the option and be welcomed at the table.

How Components Interact

My ulterior motive for skipping to cleric is to discuss how different components of a character's class can interact with each other.  Here's how one could break down the cleric into four components:

Primary Healer
  • Heal skill
  • spontaneous casting (cure spells)
  • channel energy (positive)
Secondary Spellcaster
  • fast Will save
  • Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (planes), Spellcraft skills
  • divine spellcasting, beginning at first level
Secondary Armored Fighter
  • 1d8 hit dice
  • medium attack progression
  • fast Fortitude save
  • proficiency with medium armor and shields
  • allows spell casting from Secondary Spellcaster with armor
Tertiary Community Leader
  • Diplomacy, Knowledge (history), Knowledge (nobility), Knowledge (religion), Linguistics, Sense Motive skills
There are more things that are granted by these components in my house rules, but these are how the current Pathfinder cleric abilities break down.  Clerics also get a few things that don't fit within any of these four components, such as Appraise and Craft, and some things that are granted based on what deity they follow, such as Aura and Domains (more on that shortly).  Note that I've assumed that this cleric is channeling positive energy.  That is because healing through positive energy channel is such an essential part of the cleric, as it is played in the vast majority of games, as to make evil clerics into practically a different class entirely.  I'll talk about changes we can make to this "standard" cleric in the next post, but for now, assume that the cleric is good aligned and follows a deity of good, community, and/or healing.

There are two ways that these components interact, both with spell casting:  Healer grants the ability to spontaneously cast healing spells, which is useless without Spellcaster.  And Armored Fighter grants the ability to cast spells while wearing armor, which can only be used with Spellcaster.

Spellcasting While Wearing Armor

The Armored Fighter class component is designed to work together with Spellcaster in order to reproduce the effects of the wildly inconsistent and incomprehensible "spell casting while wearing armor" rules.  Currently, arcane spells cannot be cast while wearing armor without a) incurring a chance to fail in casting, b) taking a particular feat tree, c) having magical armor made specially for the purpose, d) having a particular racial bonus, or e) being a Magus.  And what qualifies as "arcane" spells is equally unpredictable (bard spells, including healing spells, are arcane, but ranger spells are divine).  Divine spells, on the other hand, are cast in the same way, often with the same somatic components, but can be cast while wearing any sort of armor.

The real reason for restricting wizards from wearing armor is story based.  Wizards wear robes in fantasy stories, and not armor.  That's it.  There is very little game balance justification.  Granted, if wizards could wear armor, they would be likely to wear as much of it as possible.  Wizards would become small tanks, like rooks on a chess board, hiding behind their metal walls and lobbing spells.  And this would be fine!  The system could totally support this sort of change.  Any resulting game imbalance could be easily fixed in other ways.  However, since very few fantasy stories have this sort of character in them, and the genre as a whole is moving away from heavily armored characters, toward more mobile characters, this is not done.

So, instead, here is an alternate solution that generally maintains the status quo, but does so in a more streamlined way:  Armored Fighter allows a character who also has Spellcaster to cast spells wearing armor, if and only if, the Spellcaster component is equal to or less than the Armored Fighter component.  Since a character can have only one primary component, Primary Spellcaster characters cannot cast while wearing armor.

The core classes break down about like this:
  • Barbarian - not an Armored Fighter, not a Spellcaster, not applicable.
  • Bard - not an Armored Fighter, Secondary Spellcaster, cannot cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Cleric - Secondary Armored Fighter, Secondary Spellcaster, can cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Druid - not an Armored Fighter, Primary Spellcaster, cannot cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Fighter - Secondary Armored Fighter, not a Spellcaster, not applicable.
  • Monk - not an Armored Fighter, not a Spellcaster, not applicable.
  • Paladin - Secondary Armored Fighter, Tertiary Spellcaster, can cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Ranger - not an Armored Fighter, Tertiary Spellcaster, cannot cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Rogue - not an Armored Fighter, not a Spellcaster, not applicable.
  • Sorcerer - not an Armored Fighter, Primary Spellcaster, cannot cast spells while wearing armor.
  • Wizard - not an Armored Fighter, Primary Spellcaster, cannot cast spells while wearing armor.
If we added Magus to the list, they might have Secondary Armored Fighter, Secondary Spellcaster, and thus would be able to cast spells while wearing armor.  The only class that doesn't come out ahead in this equation is the ranger.  Sadly, the ranger loses the ability to cast spells while wearing armor.  However, as the spell casting ability of a ranger is of very low importance to the character class, that it isn't too great a sacrifice.  When I write about rangers, we can see whether we can make it up to them.  Druids also lose the ability to cast in armor, but other abilities and restrictions of druids highly mitigate against wearing much armor anyway.

If one of any of the above classes were to switch out Armored Fighter for a different component, they might lose their ability to cast spells while wearing armor.  And if a spellcasting class switched in the ability to wear armor, they might gain it!  More on switching out components, and how it is a highly useful way to make Domains more interesting, next post!

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