Friday, February 19, 2010

A Crisis of Clerics

I was toodling along, tinkering with the Swords & Wizardry rules (as is the old school way) when, finally satisfied with my tweaks to most of the basics, I turned to Clerics. I never liked the idea that Clerics use the same Vancian magic system as Magic-users. A sorcerer having to memorize a fireball, okay, a cleric having to memorize a prayer to heal someone . . . umm, why can't they just, you know pray, ask their divine power for aid when their friend is hurting?

So, my imagining of the Cleric archetype is that they can cast (petition for) spells of their level (miracles of a certain order) whenever they decide to (are in need of that kind of aid). Simple enough change. Second Edition revised Clerics to function this way. But I also wanted to, because they are pettioning for help, give Clerics a chance that they could ask for spells (aid) above and beyond their spell slots per level.

I started merrily to work on how to implement this at the game table when I noticed . . . whoa, Swords & Wizardry cleric spells, and thus Original D&D clerical spells are very different than the First Edition spells I was most familiar with. In order to cast Create Water you have to have attained 6th level. That's a first level spell in 1e. Yikes! How did I miss this? And is the cleric spell list why of the ~14 characters made in my sessions since I got into S&W only 2 have been clerics?

I decided I better look closely at the Evolution of the Cleric spell list. First, in comparison of 0e to Moldovay Basic, spells don't move around, the difference is a small expansion with about 2 additional spells per level. First level, for example, is identical except for the addition of Remove Fear and Resist Cold. Now I expected that as the years passed more and more spells would be added, which has happened, so I'll focus here more on how the first set of original spells are moved around or removed.

Comparing 0e to 1e reveals these changes:
  • 2nd level Bless moves down to 1st
  • 4th level Create Water moves down to 1st
  • 5th level Create Food moves down to 3rd
  • 7th level spells Aerial Servant & Part Water move down to 6th
  • 5th level Finger of Death is removed from Clerics completely and made a 7th level Druid spell
In Second Edition the moves of the original spells remain, a few new spells are added and all the druid spells a lumped in with Priest spells. The one difference an 0e Cleric might notice is:
  • The Druidic version of Finger of Death is not re-merged with the other Druid spells and becomes a 7th level Wizard spell
In Third Edition, the 0e Cleric's core spells will see these additional rearrangements:
  • 1st level Detect Magic, Light, Purify Food & Drink, and the previously moved Create Water all move down to the 0th level cantrip-like orisons
  • 2nd level Snake Charm is removed completely
  • 3rd level Cure Disease is removed completely
  • 4th level Cures Serious Wounds moves down to 3rd
  • 4th level Protection from Evil, 10' moves down to 3rd
  • 4th level Speak with Plants moves down to 3rd
  • 4th level Sticks to Snakes is removed completely
  • 5th level Quest is moved up to 6th
  • 6th level Conjure Animals is removed completely
  • 6th level Speak with Monsters is removed completely
  • 6th level spells Aerial Servant & Part Water previously moved are now removed completely
  • 7th level Astral Spell moves up to 9th
  • 7th level Earthquake moves up to 8th
  • 7th level Wind Walk moves down to 6th
  • 7th level Symbol moves up to 8th
  • Finger of Death becomes a Druid spell again moving up to 8th, but Clerics can't access it
Not sure what to make of this yet, except that while 2e made a major revision to how Clerics spells were organized, it was very conservative with the spells themselves. First Edition and, especially, 3rd edition, however, made big changes to spell level and even removed many of the classics. Some of these removals make sense to me- Conjure Animals, Aerial Servant, and Sticks to Snakes are all pretty specific monster summoning spells that can be replaced by more general ones. But what happened to Cure Disease? See Below.

I've never played 3e, only recently aquiring a PHB. But it looks like the designers were trying to have 1 and only 1 spell for each domain for each level? Is that true? Is that the reason for all the spell movement? I know the domain system in 2e always seemed elegant to me, allowing for Evil High Priests and Medieval-like Templar Clerics in the same system. I don't understand why 3e would throw that out to go back to the seperate Bard/Druid/Paladin list complexity.

I'm sure tracking the spells added in 1e (feeling pretty classic in their own right) would show tons of movement and revisions over time as well.

Now, to satisfy myself . . . what spell list do I give my players?

Update:Thanks to Matt for pointing out that Cure Disease just got renamed.


  1. Cure disease is still there, but renamed "remove disease".

  2. With regards to Clerics using the same Vancian system as Magic-Users: what if that's *exactly* what they're doing? What if clerics don't have a special connection to the Gods, they just use magic and tell people that it's the Gods doing it? Different spell lists could be explained by independent invention and different traditions, perhaps. And maybe, while they don't *seem* to need spellbooks, their holy texts are secret spell books that you understand more and more of as you progress in the order?

  3. You could certainly do that. One of the things I love about fantasy roleplaying, though, is the fantastic and I want to stuff as much of it in as possible. So, I crave a world that has weird medieval Magick as well as miracles (and runic magic, and weird mental powers, etc.)