Divine Magic

Posted: 6 August 2012 in House Rules
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Although he takes it in a different direction than I would, Seth over at Kobold Enterprises touched on an idea I’ve been mulling over a little bit when he posted about recasting Divine Domains as “schools” of magic, the way arcanists have transmutation or divination.  He wants to set up pre-made spell lists and boils the domains down to a core of 8, which isn’t really the sort of thing I’m interested in.

Rather, what struck me about divine magic was this: Clerics (and Paldins, etc.) are tied to a given god (or allegedly a pantheon or idea, though I’ve never seen a good explanation on how that should be implemented).  They must be within one step of their diety’s alignment (a LG god can have LG, LN, and NG clerics, etc).  Depending on alignment (on the Good/Evil axis), they can Channel either positive or negative energy, and spontaneously cast either Cure or Inflict spells.  What this means is that a Priest of Zeus, a Priest of Hades, a Priest of Poseidon, and a Priest of Kronos all look exactly alike, with the possibility of a small variation based on good/evil.  It doesn’t matter that Zeus commands weather, Hades death, Poseidon the seas, and Kronos time — each cleric has access to the same spells (Bless, Compel Hostility, Cause Fear, Detect Undead, Enthrall, Raise Dead, etc).

I would like to recast (or maybe ‘fracture’) the Cleric Spell List so that Clerics only gain access to spells that are relevant to their deity’s domains.  Divine Spells are already marked with arcanist-style schools, and that might be a good place to start, but gods deal in domains, not schools, and a God of Love and a God of Deceit may both have Enchantment spells but probably shouldn’t have the same spells.

I think there may be some common core, spells that are iconic for the class (Cleric vs Paladin vs etc.) but I’m not entirely sure of that (it’s easier to concieve of spells that match all paladins than ones that match all clerics, I think).

  1. I wish I could offer some advice here, but all I can think of is how much it bugs me that so many clerics come across as the same in game play terms. At least one hopes that the players will manage to role play them as individuals.

    • Jack says:

      One thing that I do make a point of for my game worlds is that clergy does not equal Cleric, the same way that bandit does not equal Rogue. The priests and monks and nuns and acolytes of my temples are as likely to be Commoners, Experts, and Warriors (maybe more likely) as they are to be Clerics — Clerics are a very special type of clergy, particularly blessed by their god. But it bugs me that their class doesn’t actually seem to care who that god is.

      Actually, this is just a piece of a much larger gripe I have with the way spell lists in D&D and Pathfinder are structured, and if I’m honest I think I’d want to redo arcanist spell lists almost as much as I want to redo divine spell lists.

      • casewerk says:

        One of my fantasy settings (LoA) completely divorces spellcasting from clerical duties. As you say, most priests, nuns etc are normal nonmagical folk. However, there’s a wrinkle: the Church goes out of its way to recruit most of the magically talented people out there to serve in its ranks in one way or another (not necessarily as priests, though some do – a lot of them end up as protectors, artisans or agents), and a fair chunk of the rest tend to get branded as “witches” and given a certain special form of attention…

        Out of curiosity, what general changes would you make to arcane spell lists?

        • Jack says:

          It bothers me on a low level that Wizards can’t learn Cure Light Wounds. I can see that being valid for a setting choice, but as a broad rule it feels wrong. In fact, a lot of the choices over who gets what spells strike me as arbitrary — I could understand if you required, say, Bards to take spells that could be couched in music or performance, but that’s not even the case (not 100%, anyways).

          I would probably take all of the spells, Arcane and Divine, and with a few exceptions (consecrate, desecrate, etc — things that are obviously Divine) make everything available to everyone (with stronger restrictions for certain flavorful classes, like Bard). I’d keep variant levels, so you might need to be a higher level Wizard than Cleric to raise the dead, but generally push the differentiation between casters into “what makes their casting different” (spell failure vs unlimited spell list vs spontaneous casting vs …) rather than “what spells are avauilable for that class.”

          I don’t think I’d really get rid of ALL class restrictions (restricting spells is a good balance for an otherwise ‘superior’ caster, and as noted here some classes ASK for a strong theme), but I’d get rid of a lot of it.

  2. Brendan says:

    It sounds like 2E does almost exactly what you want.

    Priests of specific mythoi have access to relevant spheres (which are the equivalent of arcane schools of magic). They also have a custom weapon list and sometimes other powers. The Complete Priest’s Handbook has a relatively comprehensive method for creating new orders.

    Of course, then you end up with wanker priests like “priests of battle” which are basically fighters but with spells too. Or priests of the elements that have all the artillery power of an arcane caster but can wear heavy armor and fight much better.

    I have come to quite enjoy the simplicity and atmosphere of the pseudo-Christian original cleric (the archetype is more demon hunter and crusader than priest), and don’t much see the draw of an overgeneralized priest class anymore.

    • casewerk says:

      You beat me to the 2E thing. But that’s okay. 🙂

    • Jack says:

      I think I would really like to see more of 2E, since again and again it sounds like the stuff I feel is missing from “modern” D&D was still around in that version. I haven’t a clue for what to look for (I doubt it was pitched as “D&D 2E”, eh?), though, let alone where.

      I agree that Clerics should not be Priests. I’ve always looked at Clerics as miracle workers/crusaders, not entirely unlike Paladins (in fact, I’ve often questioned why ‘Paladin’ was ever made a distinct class, but…). I’m not really looking for a “generalized priest class,” per se, but I do think that Zeus’s miracle workers would have a different style than Hades’s.

      • Brendan says:

        Actually, for most of its life, 2E was helpfully labelled 2nd Edition in the logo:

        Near the end, they just started calling it “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” again, but most of the stuff near the end of 2E is not very good anyways (in my opinion).

        I would start with the Second Edition Player’s Handbook (the priest class, and the discussion of spheres), followed by The Complete Priest’s Handbook, and if you’re still interested, the Tome of Magic. There are probably others, but those are what come to mind right now.

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