In this game world, clerics are not simply clergy members with divine magic. Rather, they are very rare individuals who are more like messianic figures, bodhisattvas and saints, monks to whom mystical feats are attributed, but also random people who seem touched by transcendent, mystical power.
About religion: Clerics are as likely as no to start their own religions (or, more often, splinter groups bordering on cults) as they are to follow an established religion. They may not be religious themselves, but others around them tend to see them through a religious lens.
(If you’ve seen the TV series Carnivàle, Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin Crowe both fit this mold well. Click through to the videos I linked on their names if you haven’t seen the show: they should give you some idea of what I mean.)
Not all of these feats are free of consequence: a Cure Light Wounds spell effect might suck life energy out of flora or small fauna nearby, for example—as in the Ben Hawkins video above.
Also, not all clerics use their supposedly-“divine” powers for good; some use them selfishly, or for personal gain, or in the service of destroying whatever the locally dominant religion is… just for the sheer joy of doing so. Not all clerics are even associated with a religion, though ultimately, their cultures tend to send them in that direction when they go in search of an explanation for their powers.
If you have an idea for a cleric PC that you believe could fit well into a dark 1680s campaign setting, run it by me and I’ll let you know what I think, but I really don’t love the Cleric class as traditionally run in D&D, and traditional cleric characters won’t fit this setting anyway!
Taboos & Temptations
The traditional D&D cleric had a restriction from using edged weapons—hence the cudgels and maces—though it misattributed the reason why most historical clerics didn’t use swords. Also, clerics in original D&D (and in the LotFP Grindhouse rules) are limited to the Lawful alignment.
Instead, I’d prefer each cleric to have her or his own specific taboos and weaknesses. One might have a weakness for rich or forbidden food and drink; another might struggle with vows of chastity or poverty. A cleric may have a taboo against killing sentient beings, or against withholding mercy from an adversary. Typically, a cleric will start out with one or two minor taboos, and will proceed to increasingly more demanding taboos as she or her advances to higher levels.
When the cleric is confronted with a temptation, he or she may be required to make a Temptation check to resist temptation, as determined by the Referee. The Temptation check is a Wisdom check, with a bonus of +1 per level of the cleric. Specific penalties and bonuses may apply, if:
- The cleric has recently completed a penitent act (see below): +1 to +5 bonus.
- The cleric is in the company of fellow believers (or followers) observing the same taboo: +1 to +3.
- The cleric’s level: +1 per level above first level.
- The cleric is stressed by injuries, a major setback, or difficult circumstances: penalty of -1 to -5
- If the cleric is personally targeted by a supernatural assault: -1 to -10, depending on the power of the assailant.
- If the cleric has recently failed a Temptation check: -1 per failure in the past year.
When a cleric fails a Temptation check, she or her loses all spellcasting abilities until performing a penitent act. She or he may decide on an act independently, or may see hints of suggested penances in dreams or visions. When committing to the task, the cleric may (or may not) regain
Here’s some recommended viewing/reading for developing the concept for a Cleric character:
- The Mahabharata (dir. Peter Brook) — it’s on Youtube. It’s also very, very long. But also great, if you’re in the right mood:
- Carnivàle (2003-2005).
- The Golden Child (1986)—not for Eddie Murphy’s jokes, but because the eponymous kid’s story would be a great origin story for a cleric character:
- This little video on the hoaxed story of The Angel of Mons—the cleric would be that random soldier who invoked St. George.
- Kateri Tekawitha is an interesting example, as might Ichadon, a Korean Buddhist saint (pictured below):