This post is part of a series describing the rule changes I've made for my current fantasy role-playing campaign. "Kenton's Dungeons & Dragons," or "KD&D," is a full-fledged variant of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game initially released in 1977. Feel free to use some or all of these rule changes for your own D&D gaming, no matter what edition you play.
As I described in the inaugural post to this series, I’ve recently started playing 1e AD&D again, running a campaign for my neighbors and family. While I’ve always enjoyed AD&D, the game system itself can be clunky and difficult, and some parts are, frankly, lame.
To make what I consider to be improvements to the core rules, I’ve borrowed ideas from issues of Dragon magazine and later D&D editions, as well as come up with a few of my own. My operating motto for re-tooling the game is to make it, “Simpler & Better.”
In the previous post, I discussed changes I made to the number of character classes, and which races could play them. This time, as part of a deep dive into each class, I’ll fiddle with the rules from the Players Handbook (PHB), and Unearthed Arcana (UA) for clerics (I’ll cover druids in the next post).
Clerics have, since the game began, always been treated primarily as walking boxes of Band-aids (how often do gamers shout, “Medic!” when they need the cleric to heal their characters?), and secondarily as back-up fighter/magic-users.
I decided that clerics’ roles needed better definition. In my campaign, when a player says they’re going to run a cleric, they must decide right out of the gate if they will be a “priest,” who serves a single god; or a “shaman,” who interacts with multiple gods. This designation as a “priest” or “shaman” isn’t just a matter of terminology: it has several significant in-game ramifications.
A priest’s greatest duty is to his or her deity. Priests carry out that deity’s will, and all other concerns are secondary. Priests must have the same alignment as their deity, are extremely limited in their spell selection (compared to shamans), but have special abilities granted to them by their gods, and may use spells or weapons normally prohibited to clerics.
A shaman’s greatest duty is to his or her people. Shamans intercede with whichever god of their pantheon is needed to benefit the shaman, their associates, and/or the shaman’s followers.
Sometimes, a particular deity may not be the most savory character, or the most pleasant to deal with, but that’s an occupational hazard. If you’re a shaman of the Olympian gods, you’ll have to work something out with Hades if you want to bring a party member back to life.
Shamans may use any spells and abilities granted to clerics, and may be of any alignment (except evil, because I don’t allow evil PCs in my campaign). Shamans might also have a few special abilities granted to them by certain gods.
Though I haven’t yet had a cleric player ask to switch from one role to the other, I would be inclined to grant that. Why? Mostly because of the story opportunities that would arise from the difficulties that switching would present that player-character.
After all, if you’ve ever thought that an “It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me” breakup discussion with a Significant Other was awkward, imagine how much more so it must be when having that conversation with a deity–or deities. (“I like all of you, I do, but I really like Thor best, so I thought I’d serve just him, now. I hope we can still be friends?”)
Creating a Priest or Shaman
When they’re created, some fighter-types are defined by a particular combat style and/or choice of weapons (“I want to play a berserker who uses two big-ass axes”). Some wizard-types are defined by their spell selection (“I want my magic-user to be a pyromancer”). Some thieves and their ilk are…well, they’re all pretty much the same (which is a subject of a future post in this series).
Clerics, though, are defined by their deity/deities. For my campaign, I use the original Deities & Demigods book (and yes, it does have the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythoi). I also use the non-human deities from Unearthed Arcana, and some of the 3e D&D Greyhawk gods.
As alluded to, priests emulate their deity as much as possible: alignment, choice of weapons and armor, outlook and tendencies, etc. Any priest of Thor is going to carry a hammer (and only a hammer), be eager to fight whenever an opportunity presents itself, and hate giants and their ilk with a violent passion.
A priest of Thor would be limited to certain spells–Spiritual Hammer is definitely in, Sanctuary is definitely out–and would use the fighter “to hit” tables. He or she would enjoy weapons specialization for their hammer, and might also have the same bonus to damage (+1 hit point per level) when using his or her hammer against “giant class” monsters as rangers do.
If, to you, that sounds like all priests of Thor are pretty much the same, well, yes: that’s intentional. And the point.
A player who wants to run a shaman has much more freedom when creating their character. They have a wider variety of spells, may wear any armor, and may use any weapons allowed to clerics. In addition, as mentioned in this post, demi-humans may use preferred racial weapons even if those are not ordinarily available to clerics, so an elven shaman can still use a bow or sword.
Thus, a shaman is much more like a typical “cleric” that old-school AD&Ders are familiar with.
If I were writing and publish a rulebook, I would go through the DDG and delineate all the various spell modifications and special abilities for priests and shamans. Because I’m not writing said rulebook, I’ve been using this variant approach to clerics on a case-by-case basis (which you’ll see examples of in a moment) in my campaign.
However, if you as a player or DM would like to try something similar to what I’m doing, I recommend using the DDG’s Appendix 3, “Clerical Quick-Reference Charts,” as a starting point (see below).
If you have old issues of Dragon (or the CD-ROM collection that came out several years ago), there are many excellent articles on how to make clerics more distinctive (you can also find them online). I particularly recommend these:
- “Clerics Must Be Deity-Bound,” by Fraser Sherman (Dragon #85)
- “Special Skills, Special Thrills,” by Roger Moore (Dragon #85)
- “Hammer of Thor, Spear of Zeus,” by James A. Yates (Dragon #115)
So, what does a fully-formed “priest” or “shaman” look like in my campaign?
Example of a Priest
In a previous campaign, my niece Natasha played Ennostielle, an elven priestess of Hanali Celanil, her people’s goddess of love and beauty. “Enn” (as the other players nicknamed her) didn’t dish out a lot of damage, but she was nevertheless quite powerful, with a range of mind-affecting spells and abilities. Ennostielle quickly became the spokesperson for the PC party, which was to prove very handy in several adventures.
Enn had the same experience points/levels table as other clerics, and enjoyed the typical 10% xp bonus and extra spells for a Wisdom of 18. She used the same tables as other clerics for combat, saving throws, and turning undead. She rolled a d8 for hit points, and gained weapon and non-weapon proficiencies just like any other cleric.
So, in all those ways, Ennostielle was a standard cleric. However, as priestess of Hanali, she was required to:
- Be Chaotic Good (the same alignment as her goddess);
- Have a minimum Charisma of 16;
- Wear no armor or use a shield (too concealing); and,
- Use only a short bow and short sword (her goddess’ weapons).
She had fewer spells available to her than a shaman of the same level, with most of them focusing on enchantments and charms that allow her to easily persuade humans, demi-humans, and even humanoids to do as she wants. Because, after all, clerics of Hanali make love, not war.
Here is a list of the 1st and 2nd level spells that Enn could use when she was a 4th level cleric:
First Level Spells:
- Cure Light Wounds
- Charm Person
- Detect Evil
- Purify Food and Drink
- Remove Fear
Second Level Spells:
- Detect Charm
- Hold Person
- Holy Symbol
Note that some of those spells–Friends, Fascinate, and Forget–are magic-user or illusionist spells. I let Enn use those because it made sense that she would have them in her repertoire.
In addition, Enn had a number of special abilities granted to her by Hanali:
- +10% bonus to reaction rolls made by male NPCs;
- Enn’s wounds heal without scarring;
- Bedazzlement: Once per day, intelligent opponents who wish to harm a cleric of Hanali must save vs. magic or be unable to attack her (or do anything else) for 1 round per level of the cleric. Bedazzlement ends immediately if the cleric physically attacks any of those affected.
- Enhanced Influence: Opponents’ saves vs. mind-controlling spells and
special abilities (including Bedazzlement) of clerics of Hanali are at:
- -1 for clerics of 1st to 4th level;
- -2 for clerics of 5th to 8th level;
- -3 for clerics of 9th to 12th level;
- -4 for clerics of 13th to 16th level;
- -5 for clerics of 17th and higher levels.
Example of a Shaman
In my current campaign, my neighbor Andy runs a high elf shaman named Alphonse (Yeah, I’m not a fan of that name, either, but that’s what Andy picked). Rather than being a representative of a deity, the way Ennostielle was, Alphonse serves as a go-between for his people and the elvish gods.
Like Enn, Alphonse uses the typical cleric tables for experience points, combat, saving throws, and turning undead. He gets +10% to his xp, and extra spells, because of his high Wisdom. He uses d8 for hit points, and gains weapon and non-weapon proficiencies like a regular cleric.
Alphonse is Chaotic Good, though he is not required to be (sometimes, he exhibits disturbingly Chaotic Neutral behavior). He currently wears scale mail, and recently upgraded his protection by acquiring a +1 shield. Because he’s an elf, he’s allowed to use a long sword and a long bow.
Being 4th level, he has available to him all the 1st and 2nd level cleric spells (20 of each) from the PHB and UA, but no special ones from other classes, like En did.
To differentiate him as an elvish shaman (as opposed to one from another race), he enjoys several “Divine Boons” (usable one at a time) granted to him by his people’s gods and goddesses:
- Corellon Larethian (God of battle, arts, poetry, music): Re-roll misses with long sword
- Rillifane Rallathil (God of forests/wood elves): Count as having the (woodland) Animal Lore, Fire-Building, and Foraging non-weapon proficiencies
- Deep Sashelas (God of oceans/aquatic elves): Count as having the Boating, Fishing, and Swimming non-weapon proficiencies
- Aerdrie Faenya (Goddess of air and weather): Count as having the Weather Sense non-weapon proficiency
- Erevan Ilsere (God of mischief and change): Force opponent to re-roll successful “to hit” rolls, saving throws, or other hostile actions in the hope that they fail
- Solonor Thelandira (God of hunting and archery): Re-roll misses with long bow
- Hanali Celanil (Goddess of romantic love and beauty): Bonus of +2 to Charisma when interacting with one person
- Labelas Enoreth (God of time and longevity): Double duration of a spell cast by self (not “Instantaneous” duration)
Like Enn’s special abilities, some are more useful than others, but mostly, they’re meant to make Alphonse more interesting to play. He has his own skills and abilities, and is far more than the party’s “medic.”
What About game Balance?
Something I kept in mind as I was coming up with these variant rules–and the rules I came up with for fighter-types, magic-users, and thieves (which I’ll share with you later)–was balance. While I want every player to think that their character is cool and fun to play, I don’t want one overshadowing the others, because that’s not fun for the rest of them.
So, as I’ve been designing these rules, I’ve considered how the changes made match up with other character classes. Do they impinge on another class’ area of expertise? Do they make another class less desirable to play, the way cavaliers and barbarians did to fighters when Unearthed Arcana was published? Do they make that character class much more powerful than all the others?
Ennostielle and Alphonse are the first PC clerics I’ve had under these new rules, and I don’t think they’re unbalanced compared with the other adventurers in their parties.
For all her ability to beguile men’s minds with her looks and spells and abilities, Enn was walking around with Armor Class 6 (base AC of 10 for no armor, -4 for Dexterity). Not to mention that high Charisma doesn’t do much good when dinosaurs or mind flayers come after the party.
With his ability to re-roll misses with sword and bow, Alphonse is a good combatant, and his range of spells allows for a lot of options. However, he’s nowhere near the heaviest hitter in the PC group (that distinction would fall to Ziah, my wife’s fighter), or the most badass spellcaster (my daughter Ally’s gnome illusionist). He was, however, invaluable when the party was recently attacked by ghouls and ghasts.
So much for balance when considered against other PCs. As for balance vis-a-vis the monsters…well, don’t worry about that. I’ve upgraded some of them as well, in various nasty ways (“What do you mean, ‘the githyanki uses its sword to deflect your arrow before it can hit him?'”).
And besides, the DM always has an unlimited supply of monsters: if one or two don’t challenge the party, maybe three or four–or more–will do the job.
Come back next time, and I’ll talk about one of my favorite classes: druids.
When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F for young adults, and adults who are still young. And now you can get my novel Lost Dogs
–the story of the end of the world as seen, heard, and smelled, by a dog–for free!
This Wasted Land, my latest novel, isn’t your typical teenage love story. It’s more like: Boy meets Girl –> Evil Witch takes Boy –> Girl goes to get Boy back.
My first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons. With Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel, I created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.