“In the war of magic and religion, is magic ultimately the victor? Perhaps priest and magician were once one, but the priest, learning humility in the face of God, discarded the spell for prayer.”
― Patti Smith
Of all the ‘classes’ that have been handed down to us from the RPGs of the 70s and 80s, the Cleric — or Priest — class has always been difficult for people to wrap their heads around.
The original cleric of D&D was loosely based on medieval crusaders and horror movie vampire hunters, and other systems like Runequest tried to make them more shamanic. But they always seemed to end up as a mish-mash of healing, support, and second-tier warrior. And then, of course, The Fantasy Trip ignored divine power altogether and left the priesthood as simply an occupational skill.
One of the problems, for me, is that role-playing games are self-centered by nature. The players create heroes and go on adventures to seek glory and treasure for themselves. A cleric, by definition, serves something more important than themselves. Any glory or gain must be shared with their patron, and the character ends up overshadowed.
Arbitrary strictures on choices (no bladed weapons) and artificial moral boundaries (like alignment) always put clerical characters at risk of losing their abilities, as not even their power belongs to them.
Later version of D&D and many other RPGs have tried to address this, giving religious characters options reflecting many kinds of patrons, and choices as varied as the broadest pantheon. This often lead to the opposite pole of overwhelming complexity and confusion.
In Heroic Expeditions, virtually any character can serve a god, and their choices of Aspects and Attributes can reflect that god’s attitudes. The Priest (and Theologian) Aspects are reflections of temporal power and authority, not magic. Magical power comes from within, regardless of what inspires it. A character’s faith, and adherence to it, is left as a role-playing concern.
The Road of the Righteous
That said, what if you wanted to build a warrior priest in the mold Saint Cuthbert? It would require a balance of Aspects and spells, as well as Attributes. But it can be done.
To allow any level of magical prowess they will have to built as a Wizard, which will limit the choices of Aspects. Traditionally, clerics used heavy (if blunt) weapons, and that will require Strength. A fair amount of IQ will be need to access spells. Dexterity can not be overlooked, but since spells cannot be cast in iron armor we won’t have to overcome extreme DX adjustments. Let’s start with 2 points in ST and DX, and 4 in IQ.
The gives us 12 points for Aspects and Spells. They will need a weapon, and Axe/Mace (4) seems thematic. They should have the Priest Aspect (2) and Literacy (1). Their beginning spells will include Vigor/Weakness, Acuity/Confusion, Clumsiness/Deftness, Refresh, and Healing.
One of the most iconic abilities of these ‘classic’ clerics is their power over the undead. If this aspect is important to you, you could house-rule this as part of the Priest Aspect.
New Aspect Aspect: Rebuke Undead (Priest)
A figure with the Priest Aspect may attempt to Turn or Command the Undead. This task costs at least 3 Stamina and takes a full action. The figure rolls 3/ST in competitive test against the Undead. If they succeed by more than the opponent, the undead creature is cowed by the Priest, and can not move within 1 MMH of the priest. For every additional 3 Stamina the Priest wishes to spend on the attempt, roll one less die in the test. A figure with the Theologian Aspect always rolls one less die to Turn of Command undead.
For each point the Priest wins the contest by, an additional undead creature is cowed. And if the Priest succeeds by 5 or more, one creature can be destroyed.
The typical skeleton or zombie has 8ST, and may be easily turned by our cleric, but more powerful undead like a wight (ST12) will be much more challenging.’
Alternate Cleric Packages
The only truly common ‘alternate’ cleric from the early days of class-based RPGs is the druid. Frankly, it has veery little in common with the cleric presented here. I may have to give them a treatment off the own.
Cloistered (or Pacifist) clerics might be a viable alternative package, though. It would start with +3 DX and +4 IQ, and +2 Stamina in lieu of ST gain. They would rely on their wizard Staff instead of heavy weapons. They would also use defensive magic like Shock Shield and Stone Flesh over armor. Social Aspects like Diplomacy and Charisma would be taken earlier, and Universal Aspects like Lore and Academic would replace more martial skills.
Are there aspects of the ‘classical’ cleric that we have overlooked here, or do you have a better way of bringing this kind of character to life in a skill-based system like HEX? Let us know in the comments below.