29 April 2012

Christian Clerics (part 1)

In Barael's Europe, Christian clerics come in two flavours: Arian and Orthodox. Originally, I balked at making distinctions, partly because both were Lawful, but mostly because I don't know enough about Christian history to portray such distinctions confidently. Then I realised historic accuracy is already going to take a few lumps in a setting that includes magic swords, ice trolls, and dragons.

That said, I want to lay a Christian foundation that permeates the setting, noting important distinctions through mechanics, all without offending religious convictions held by my readers. I think the best approach is to start with basics and fill in details as they're revealed to me. I agree to do my best if y'all agree to be patient with me.

Christian Cleric

Mechanically, we'll start with the Cleric class as outlined in the S&W Core:
Prime Attribute: Wisdom (+5% XP for WIS 13+)
Hit Die: 1d6 per level (+1hp/lvl after 9th)
Armour: Any
Weapons: Mace, hammer, flail, club
Base XP: 1,500
Christian Clerics have the following basic abilities, starting at 1st-level:

Convert:[1] Clerics may appeal to sentient beings with a religious proclamation relevant to the current situation and delivered by the player. This forces a reaction roll, modified by the difference between the Cleric’s level and the subject’s Hit Die (e.g., a 4th-level Cleric converting a 1HD orc gains +3). If the subject can understand the Cleric, it responds as indicated by the reaction result for the duration of the encounter (conversion is permanent if the reaction roll is 12 or more).

Saving Throw Bonus: Clerics gain a +2 bonus on saving throws vs. Paralysis or Poison.

Divine Spells: Clerics receive miraculous powers from a devout acceptance of Christian Trinity (God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost). Full faith in God and service to His law are all that the Cleric requires to cast divine spells.

Orthodox vs. Heretical Christianity

Orthodox Clerics gain full access to the Clerical spell list. This is due to their understanding of the Trinity and the attendant belief that salvation is possible only when each member of the Godhead is witnessed in equal measure. FrDave provides a wonderful explanation of this arrangement when he relates how Athanasius likens the Trinity to a flowing fountain: the Father is the fountain, the Son is the water that flows from it, and the Holy Spirit is the draught that quenches our thirst for grace. No part of this triumvirate can function out of balance, and therefore salvation cannot be attained when one part is given more significance than the others.

Thus, full participation in the Trinity occurs only when each facet is afforded equal emphasis. If this approach provides complete access to the Clerical spell list, then it follows that unequal emphasis provides limited access. At a high level, this logic could be applied to any of the many Christian heresies (i.e., any non-orthodox view in which salvation is possible through unbalanced participation in the Trinity).

Arianism is one such heresy, and it holds that Christ the Son was created by God the Father. In other words, God the man is separate from God the creator. This stresses the Son's role in salvation over that of the Father's. Athanasius would disagree that salvation could be attained through Christ alone: the fountain does not create the water, though it does make it accessible; we must go to the fountain before we can drink.

Yet Arians are Christians, and they do participate in the Trinity, though not with balance. In game terms, I'm allowing Arian Clerics to cast spells, but with the following limitations:
  • Maximum spell level is third, and
  • Spells are cast as rituals, which I'm saying requires either 1 turn/spell level spent in preparation or casting on consecrated ground.
This arrangement accomplishes a few things I want to reflect in the campaign: First, Christianity--no matter what the stripe--is Lawful, in recognition of God who created order out of nothing. Second, it decouples spell-casting ability from salvation. In other words, all Christian Clerics can cast divine magic, but being able to do so doesn't necessarily require that the Cleric has the doctrine figured out. Third, it puts mechanical emphasis on how belief affects spell-casting. Orthodox clerics receive their spells directly from the Holy Spirit, and those spells are available when the caster wants. The Arians (and, indeed, any other Christian heresy I want to introduce) have to rely on ritual magic, and so spells are granted on more conditional terms. 

Final Words

One question that does come up: given the spell-casting limitations, why would anyone play an Arian Cleric?

Maybe because the character comes from an Arian Christian country. Or maybe because Orthodox Clerics are saddled with some restriction that I haven't figured out yet.

Not sure if this is the right direction, and before I go further, I'd love for the comments to be filled with your thoughts as to why this is brilliant or blasphemous.

Next Up, Christian Clerics (part 2)
Listening To: Donald Fagen, Morph the Cat
  1. This replaces the traditional Banish Undead ability, which I'm reflecting as the spell Control Undead.


  1. One question that does come up: given the spell-casting limitations, why would anyone play an Arian Cleric?

    How about access to political power and patronage? Some of the biggest supporters of the Arian heresy were political leaders (particularly Emperors), because the theology better justified their use of power (unity through doing the will of God rather than the Orthodox participation in the being of God).

    This could take the form of better reaction rolls, a certain amount of political favors that could be spent and/or a political patron that would give the cleric access to resources otherwise unavailable. This patron could grow in power and influence as the cleric advances in level.

    Christian Orthodoxy has always challenged the political order because it stands in direct opposition to stratification and differentiation (There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. — Gal 3:28). Therefore, the kind of political access available to the Orthodox Cleric would be very limited in comparison.

    BTW I like this very much, it is both tastefully done and pays homage to historical reality.

    1. How about access to political power and patronage?

      I like this suggestion. Definitely better reaction rolls in certain situations and a patron option, possibly with escalating benefits paid with XP.

      Another reason I like your approach is because it provides mechanical reinforcement to how Clerics are viewed politically. Your statement about political access turned on a light bulb.

      Thanks also for the endorsement - this was a hurdle for me, but I really appreciate your advice, and your previous meditations were extremely helpful.