Cleric shenanigans (metaphysical, no right answers)

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Elderbrain

Guest
This has actually been presented as a character option, a PC or NPC who is so convinced of their own divinity that they actually got spells. I can't think of an official WOTC or TSR option (thought one may exist), but definitely third-party. Presumably if the characters lost confidence in him/herself, the spell ability would disappear....
 

Cap'n Kobold

Adventurer
I guess what I'm saying is, if you want to fundamentally alter the cosmology created to explain D&D spellcasting, you probably ought to do what 2e Dark Sun did and actually create new spell casting rules and classes. Even Eberron, which I don't think moved the rules as far as they needed to accommodate it's altered cosmology, at least made some changes in how the class worked and what existed within the setting (no Outer Planes, for example). Still, for all the changes, the populace of Eberron's "common sense" judgment that the Gods do exist and are the origin of Divine magic seems most likely to explain the mechanics of the game and the described fiction. All Eberron has really demonstrated is that it's Gods are a bit weird philosophically compared to the normal D&D pantheons, but they seem to function pretty much the same way.
Eberron is a bit further down the "Divine magic is a matter of belief" path: People are able to gain and cast divine spells when their ethics seem directly opposed to the god's - as long as they still believe that they are doing their work.
They are also able to gain divine power from definite non-gods, whether from philosophies, belief in the divinity within yourself, or that the Gibbering Mouther in the cellar is a gestalt of generations of your family's ancestors.
 

Laurefindel

Explorer
(...)

Here are several thoughts, and I'd love to hear some counterpoints/riffs:

1)
Faith is the source of the cleric's spellcasting power. Divine forces may "mediate" (allow, negate, tamper with) their access to the weave, but the power lies with the cleric. This is how you get factions within a church, and heretics. Even if God A denies you access to the weave, God B may enable it as furthering God B's cause. The cleric can't show, on a spell-by-spell basis, that their power is enabled by their god, because it isn't. THEY are the source of their own power.

(...)

Divination could be made into specific spells PER DEITY. So when you find a scroll, it might be Divination (Odin).
Or it could be that Divination simply comes with a <insert deity name> section. The spell is generic, but you make it unique when you cast it. This would accommodate Druid castings in a clean way.

Anyway, before this gets much longer... thoughts?
That's how I like to interpret it. Clerics have magical powers of their own, but unlike wizards who focus the magical constructs in their mind with formulaic quatrains, gestures and the quintessence of physical materials, clerics focus this magical energy through prayers and devotion.

If they lose their faith, they lose their ability to focus the magical energies (or whatever) into spells, but the gods themselves, as powerful as they are, have little to do with their cleric's ability to cast spells. At best, they can guide the cleric spiritually, display actual powers (divine intervention feature), or "block" their magic if they think the cleric is out of line.

I also like to see druids as proto-wizards; an ancient art predating divine and arcane magic, harking from the days where neither magic nor gods where really understood. Many druids probably called themselves wizards, enchanters or sorcerers back then. The origins of somatic and verbal components is lost to most cultures, including many words in ancient sylvan languages no longer spoken, and components rich in quintessence mostly discovered by trial and error throughout the millennia. Their magic is much more freeform than that of cleric, but not quite as versatile as modern wizards, and will ever remain "tainted" and restricted by the natural themes from which it is drawn and by which it is "filtered".
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
The idea that deities (or their servants) granted clerics their spells, either when they prepared them or cast them, isn't part of standard* D&D in editions since 3e (and I think Eberron was moving away from that too). 4e did something different and specific, and 5e has left it somewhat vague.

Here is one interpretation of how it works, that I believe is more or less consistent with current products. It's not the only interpretation, but it's mine and I like it.

Clerical spellcasting is bestowed on mortals from some divine source, usually meaning gods and their ilk. Clerics receive the ability to channel this divine power when they become clerics, whether by investiture/ordination in some religious hierarchy, personal mystical experience, or whatever. From that point on that power to channel divine energy into spells is theirs. No divine agency is required for them to go all the way up to 20th level and beyond as a fully functioning cleric. In fact, if that power is granted through investiture from established clergy, who were granted it from other clergy, it's quite possible that it goes back thousands of years to get to the point where the deity actually granted it to the ancient founders of the religious hierarchy.

But wait you say, so they can just do whatever they want and their god has no say? Of course not. You don't need to grant their god the ability to "refuse to give them spells" or take away their class features to do that. First, if they are part of any sort of religious hierarchy, they probably have quite a lot to say about how the cleric behaves as a representative of the religion. Getting kicked out of your religion and declared a heretic if you refuse to do proper penance and shape up is nothing to laugh at (especially if their livelihood was tied up in that hierarchy). But that's just the mortal situation. I said that the gods don't have anything to do with a cleric's spellcasting (other than being contacted by spells that allow you to contact deities), I didn't say that they are fools who don't care what people do in their name. If a cleric goes around representing themselves as a cleric of such and so, and blatantly disregards the teachings of such and so, you can bet that sooner or later, unless such and so has a clergy who will handle it for them, such and so is going to be giving that cleric a stern talking to at the least. They may not be the power cord on the cleric's spell machine, but they still have legions of powerful divine servants they can send down to smite that cleric to dust.

That's more interesting to me than tying their abilities directly to an NPC (and I do something similar with warlocks).

*Forgotten Realms may be a bit different, I don't recall the specifics. But that's because its deities are jerks who have redirected all the astral conduits on Faerun to a layer of Hades and trapped all the power they get from their followers to prevent it from leaving their realm of control to float more naturally to the Outer Planes where it's supposed to. That's probably why they have a ridiculous number of Greater Powers--too much mortal worship power trapped there.
 
If they lose their faith, they lose their ability to focus the magical energies (or whatever) into spells, but the gods themselves, as powerful as they are, have little to do with their cleric's ability to cast spells. At best, they can guide the cleric spiritually, display actual powers (divine intervention feature), or "block" their magic if they think the cleric is out of line.
Again, I say: it depends on the campaign setting. In the Forgotten Realms clerical magic comes directly from gods. Lose the favour of your god and you lose your spells. This isn't a core rule, it's a setting specific rule. In some universes clerical spells can be fuelled by faith in yourself or some ideology, but not In the Forgotten Realms. If a cleric from Eberron where to somehow travel to the Forgotten Realms, their spells would stop working until they adopted a deity. However, if a cleric from the Forgotten Realms was transported to Eberron their spells would still work since in that world the thing they believe in does not have to exist.
 

Staffan

Adventurer
It's likely that they don't. First edition through 3e offered a fairly consistent take on the cleric class, with the only modification to the class in 3e being a little used call out that you could be a cleric but not have a deity. Part of the reason that I say that it is little used, is not even WotC seemed to take that very seriously, as the vast majority of resources for clerics published by WotC assumed a tight relationship between a deity and their cleric, and you certainly didn't see a lot of published clerics of an idea or a philosophy.
Eberron explicitly had clerics of forces and philosophies.
  • The Blood of Vol is a philosophy based around the concept of the Divinity Within - every living being has a spark of divinity within, and by nurturing this spark you can overcome mortality. But this is hard for mortal creatures, and the gods are bastards for cursing mortals with short lives so they don't have the time to do this.
  • The Silver Flame is a force consisting of the spirits of almost all the couatl who gave their lives to become a force binding various fiends, preventing them from exerting influence on the world.
  • The Path of Light is a philosophy built around the belief that performing various rituals and meditations on the physical plane will accelerate the next age of Dal Quor, ushering in an age of light and goodness as opposed to the darkness and evil that currently dominates the plane.

In Planescape, you had the Athar who rejected the divinity of beings like Zeus or Tymora, but some of them were clerics of "The Great Unknown".

You also have the Charonti on the island of Jakandor. The dominant belief in their society is the ideal of a just society, which is akin to konfucianism. There were two priest kits dedicated to these priests - both the more general Philosophers as well as Jurists who were responsible for the judicial stuff in that society.

Even Eberron, which I don't think moved the rules as far as they needed to accommodate it's altered cosmology, at least made some changes in how the class worked and what existed within the setting (no Outer Planes, for example).
Eberron certainly has outer planes - or at least other planes, since it doesn't have any distinction between outer and inner planes. The main difference from "mainstream" D&D in this regard is that the gods do not dwell on the planes, and the planes don't have any particular alignment association.
 

Laurefindel

Explorer
Again, I say: it depends on the campaign setting. In the Forgotten Realms clerical magic comes directly from gods. Lose the favour of your god and you lose your spells. This isn't a core rule, it's a setting specific rule. In some universes clerical spells can be fuelled by faith in yourself or some ideology, but not In the Forgotten Realms. If a cleric from Eberron where to somehow travel to the Forgotten Realms, their spells would stop working until they adopted a deity. However, if a cleric from the Forgotten Realms was transported to Eberron their spells would still work since in that world the thing they believe in does not have to exist.
Oh, I know I'm deep in houserule territory, but as the OP pointed out, the PHB seems to support the "faith as the key to a door inside the cleric's own powers".

For what it's worth, I run my Forgotten Realms exactly as the OP stated. The gods will want you to think otherwise obviously...
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
By the way, does anyone not ignore the last few edition's insistence that most priest aren't clerics/don't have spellcasting powers? I know I have always ignored that, partly because the entire rest of the game's published materials (adventures, NPC statblocks, etc) ignores it and gives every NPC priest spellcasting. I'm not sure why they somehow felt they needed to start saying that in recent editions. One of those solutions in search of a problem it looks like.
 

MarkB

Hero
By the way, does anyone not ignore the last few edition's insistence that most priest aren't clerics/don't have spellcasting powers? I know I have always ignored that, partly because the entire rest of the game's published materials (adventures, NPC statblocks, etc) ignores it and gives every NPC priest spellcasting. I'm not sure why they somehow felt they needed to start saying that in recent editions. One of those solutions in search of a problem it looks like.
I certainly don't ignore it. My current game is set in Eberron, and one of the setting's principles is that adventuring classes in general, not just clerics, are relatively uncommon.

Faith takes many forms. The form that grants you a direct link to divine powers is just one of them.
 
Oh, I know I'm deep in houserule territory, but as the OP pointed out, the PHB seems to support the "faith as the key to a door inside the cleric's own powers".

For what it's worth, I run my Forgotten Realms exactly as the OP stated. The gods will want you to think otherwise obviously...
I'm an FR vet, so I'm citing 2nd and 3rd edition rules for FR. I don't think it's ever been make explicit in 5e. Other DMs are free to rule differently.

But I think it makes campaign settings more interesting if there are fundamental differences in how magic works, and I think divine magic is one of the best ways for those differences to be represented in rules.
 
By the way, does anyone not ignore the last few edition's insistence that most priest aren't clerics/don't have spellcasting powers? I know I have always ignored that, partly because the entire rest of the game's published materials (adventures, NPC statblocks, etc) ignores it and gives every NPC priest spellcasting. I'm not sure why they somehow felt they needed to start saying that in recent editions. One of those solutions in search of a problem it looks like.
By "last few editions" you mean 1st edition onwards?

It's always been the rule that adventuring classes are rare - explicitly 1 in 10,000 in 1st edition, with most of the rest of the population zero level chumps. Most editions have stats for zero level humans, but it not really necessary, since they are so weak as to be pretty much irrelevant in any fight. They run away screaming, usually with their robes on fire. 3rd edition was a bit more generous and added weaker "NPC classes" to the game, some of which could cast spells.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
By "last few editions" you mean 1st edition onwards?

It's always been the rule that adventuring classes are rare - explicitly 1 in 10,000 in 1st edition, with most of the rest of the population zero level chumps. Most editions have stats for zero level humans, but it not really necessary, since they are so weak as to be pretty much irrelevant in any fight. They run away screaming, usually with their robes on fire. 3rd edition was a bit more generous and added weaker "NPC classes" to the game, some of which could cast spells.
Okay, good to know. And they still didn’t *do* it in actual products. Just grab a module, find a priest, and you will find spellcasting. I personally like it that way and dislike the idea of clerics without divine power, but the main point, which apparently goes back further than I thought, is that they say one thing in the PHB/DMG but then do something different for the entire rest of the product line.

That makes me actually want to think of how many other areas the game has consistently said one thing in the core books and ignored it everywhere else. I’m sure there are others.
 
Okay, good to know. And they still didn’t *do* it in actual products. Just grab a module, find a priest, and you will find spellcasting. I personally like it that way and dislike the idea of clerics without divine power, but the main point, which apparently goes back further than I thought, is that they say one thing in the PHB/DMG but then do something different for the entire rest of the product line.

That makes me actually want to think of how many other areas the game has consistently said one thing in the core books and ignored it everywhere else. I’m sure there are others.
There is no contradiction. Most priests are not clerics and don't cast spells, but those aren't detailed in the modules because there is no point fighting them. Only the small proportion that can cast spells are worth the time of adventurers. Things only get stat blocks if they can actually pose a threat or offer meaningful aid.

There are far more sparrows in most fantasy worlds than their are dragons, but there are lots of stat blocks for dragons, and none for sparrows. That is because the sparrows are irrelevant to the adventure.
 

Celebrim

Legend
By "last few editions" you mean 1st edition onwards?

It's always been the rule that adventuring classes are rare - explicitly 1 in 10,000 in 1st edition, with most of the rest of the population zero level chumps.
Except, Gygax very much ignored his own guidelines in every thing he ever wrote. If he followed this guideline with Village of Homlet it would have been very different. Heck, even the Monster Manual and the DMG violated this idea many times, both with the sort of levelled characters you'd randomly encounter in urban areas (DMG) and the levels of characters you'd meet when encountering "Men" entries from the Monster Manual. Nor do any of his settings suggest that adventuring classed characters are so rare as that, as nothing about the populations of this regions indicates that there are 10,000 0th level characters for every 1 adventuring classed character. The populations of his cities and his regions just aren't large enough to allow that.
 

ccs

39th lv DM
By the way, does anyone not ignore the last few edition's insistence that most priest aren't clerics/don't have spellcasting powers? I know I have always ignored that, partly because the entire rest of the game's published materials (adventures, NPC statblocks, etc) ignores it and gives every NPC priest spellcasting. I'm not sure why they somehow felt they needed to start saying that in recent editions. One of those solutions in search of a problem it looks like.
BEcmi --> AD&D --> 2e --> 3x --> PF --> 5e: I've always had non-casting priests in my games.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
There is no contradiction. Most priests are not clerics and don't cast spells, but those aren't detailed in the modules because there is no point fighting them. Only the small proportion that can cast spells are worth the time of adventurers. Things only get stat blocks if they can actually pose a threat or offer meaningful aid.

There are far more sparrows in most fantasy worlds than their are dragons, but there are lots of stat blocks for dragons, and none for sparrows. That is because the sparrows are irrelevant to the adventure.
I'm sure someone can find a priest in a D&D adventure somewhere (probably Eberron) that doesn't have spellcasting ability, but for every one of those you find there are quite possibly 99 that do have spellcasting. They even went out of the way to make sure that monsters that weren't allowed to be clerics got their own way to be divine spellcasters or some such.

Yes, when you are talking about the monster the party is fighting, it makes sense to have them be a spellcaster. But when they are describing the inhabitants of towns and villages, at any temple, inevitably the priests have spells.

How many priests in just 5e published adventures (let's say only new adventures, not updated ones) are there that lack spellcasting?
 
How many priests in just 5e published adventures (let's say only new adventures, not updated ones) are there that lack spellcasting?
That's the point, the ones who don't cast spells aren't in the adventures. The game fiction assumes the world is full of people who aren't plagued by monsters or hatching evil plots for world domination. The farmers farm, the laborers labour, and if they get hurt the local priest can't cast Cure Wounds on them. They are just part of the background scenery, like trees, birds and squirrels.


It's pretty much essential to the standard D&D plot set up that villages have few, if any, people with class levels. If they did, they could deal with the monster infestation themselves, and wouldn't need to pool their life savings to hire the first group of adventurers who happen along.
 

Scott Graves

Villager
I like to see anyone playing a Cleric or Paladin play something of a religious fanatic. Someone whose devotion to a particular god or set of gods is greater than the average person. Someone who has had some kind of experience in their life that made them BELIEVE hard in a god. I like to see backstories where they were sure they were going to die and swore if they lived they would devote their lives to the god whose element they were threatened by. For instance I made a Cleric once who swore he'd follow a god of the sea and swear eternal vengeance upon pirates because he was trapped in the bowels of a sinking ship that had been attacked and looted by pirates. He awoke the next day safe upon the beach and from that day he entered the temple and became a cleric. That's the kind of thing I like to see in a Cleric or Paladin.
 

Celebrim

Legend
It's pretty much essential to the standard D&D plot set up that villages have few, if any, people with class levels. If they did, they could deal with the monster infestation themselves, and wouldn't need to pool their life savings to hire the first group of adventurers who happen along.
Well, that's precisely my point. You are looking for logical consistency, and when you start citing supposed 1e AD&D demographics as the basis of logical consistency, things fall apart very quickly.

For example, if it is essential that villages have few if any people with class levels, consider the most iconic village in the game, Hommlet from T1: The Village of Hommlet.

It addition to the PCs it contains a 6th level cleric, 8th level M-U, 6th level fighter, 4th level thief, and 7th level Druid. Each of those characters has a backstory that gives them the motivation and means to "adventure", as well as largely compatible goals and a common purpose. They are vastly more capable group of "adventurers" than the 1st level PC's the module is intended for, and they have at least as much reason if not more to want to protect the village from the dangers of the moat house. They could indeed deal with the monster infestation themselves, and claim the treasure for themselves.

So why don't they? Because this the set up to a game.

Nor is there any sign that there are 10's of thousands of nameless 0 level characters hiding some where in the setting. Pretty much every man, woman, and child in the village is detailed. And those aren't remotely the only leveled PC class individuals in the little village. Nor do the entries for pilgrims, bandits, pirates, or beserkers suggest level NPCs are rare.

Why are they not as rare in practice as you'd expect in theory? Because this is the set up to a game. In particular, my suspicion is that the Village of Hommlet is filled with potent PC classed NPCs to dissuade the players from looting and pillaging the Village, or to at least make it a considerable challenge for the PCs to do so should they decide to do so.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I like to see anyone playing a Cleric or Paladin play something of a religious fanatic. Someone whose devotion to a particular god or set of gods is greater than the average person. Someone who has had some kind of experience in their life that made them BELIEVE hard in a god. I like to see backstories where they were sure they were going to die and swore if they lived they would devote their lives to the god whose element they were threatened by. For instance I made a Cleric once who swore he'd follow a god of the sea and swear eternal vengeance upon pirates because he was trapped in the bowels of a sinking ship that had been attacked and looted by pirates. He awoke the next day safe upon the beach and from that day he entered the temple and became a cleric. That's the kind of thing I like to see in a Cleric or Paladin.
Well, the interesting question is whether, given the certainty of divinity and multiple gods etc. in most campaign settings ...

would that make it more, or less, likely for fanaticism and zealotry?

My guess/assumption would be that it would be less likely, especially given the number of deities (it would be more of a background fact of life than faith), but there would always be a few deities out there that are REALLY into expanding the flock, if you catch my drift.
 

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