Dungeons & Dragons, House Rules

Making Clerics Distinct

One of the great problems I find with clerics is that they’re largely all the same. A lot of the sameness comes from the way that Dungeons and Dragons presents the class. Little wonder too, as they’re trying to provide a class that will be appealing to the greatest number of people across the largest swath of play styles.

So how do we fix that sameness feel?

For me it all starts with how we present the gods and what they expect of our players. That means that as Dungeon Masters we have a bit of work to do up front.

We don’t need to have 50, 60, or a 100 gods for the game world to feel alive (though having a varity of gods can help create a sense of verisimilitude in your games). Instead I pick 10 or 12 gods for the players to pick from. These gods get fleshed out a bit. I describe the core tennents of their faith, how their priests act, their holiest days, and how their faith is treated in the world at large.

The goal is to do all that in a single page. I want it to be easily digestible for my players and to provide them with inspiration for how they play. On this single page I also provide a list of spells that the god provides their clerics.

The was exceedingly easy with 3.5e D&D as there were hundreds of officially publisted spells across dozens of books; and as a DM I could make unique spell lists with little crossover. 5e complicates this slightly as there are less spells overall by comparison; however, it’s still possible to accomplish this task. You just have a bit more crossover.

What about you all? How do you make your clerics feel special?

6 thoughts on “Making Clerics Distinct”

  1. Speciality priests are a great way to do it.
    Distinct gods also assist. The tendency to go generic is a risk. Got distinct.
    Who doesn’t love playing a Pholtan zealot ….? Admit it!

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  2. I think clerics are easier to feel distinct than fighters by not only the weapons they chose, but the spells they pick. There is the tendency to just make a cleric that distributes healing and maybe buffs before fights, but you can do a lot of useful utility spells, especially if you start thinking laterally. You can also easily pick influences from different real world faiths (although it should be done carefully to avoid harmful stereotypes!).

    With fighters, especially in earlier editions, you’re really down to picking different weapons and personality traits when you play them.

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  3. In my campaign world I have a half dozen pantheons (with some deities making an appearance in more than one pantheon, sometimes syncretised) — these are generally distributed geograhically.

    Within each, or at least within the core region of the Empire lands and border territories, there are multiple churches comprising select deities (with many making multiple appearances), mostly catering to different congregatins (city folk, rural folk, reformationists, knowledge keepers) — there is much overlap.

    Within each church there are then a few orders, characterised by their role in the church. Not every church has all the roles covered (most churches don’t have an order that wages holy war, the larger churches usually have an order given over to policing their flock, the knowledge keepers usually don’t have hospitaliers etc.)

    It is these orders (within churches, within pantheons) that are the basis for specialty priests — Scribes, Templars, Hospitaliars, Inquisitors, Enforcers, Mendicants, etc — some had training in arms, some were skilled in the language arts, most had specialised knowledge of the rituals/etc of specific gods .. but generally avoiding the trope of “I’m a cleric of «insert-god-here»”.

    My notes are woefully incomplete though, and a terrible mess. I definitely over-egged this custard. I have a few examples I provide to players and then encourage them to make up new orders to suit their concept.

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    1. Since the 2e days i did something similar (though today it’s with C&C or basic fantasy rpg). In my settings Priests, in all their iterations, worship the ‘one true’ god that halflings found and humans adopted (Vayth, the three headed genderless lord). Clerics (the traveling priests of the religion) all belong to the church but come from one of the Virtue Branches (yes, I stole this from Ultima). That branch determines favored weapons In C&C & basic fantasy &/or sphere in 2e.
      Those that oppose Vayth (evil clerics) follow Suth’Ule, the Void serpent that has a antithesis cult.
      The elves, dwarves, gnomes, troc (I don’t use half-orcs) all worship the Great Spirits through druidism (local animal or ancestor spirits). This has allowed me to keep religion & the planes relatively simple.

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  4. My Clerics have always been rather distinct because they generally reflect the mythology and folklore of their chosen deity. My players and I will do research on the God or Goddess they’ve picked for their PC and the culture from which it came, reflecting this against the world/setting we’ve developed for the campaign.

    My deities are also more interactive with their devoted followers than is typically seen in D&D. The idea being that there are tons of believers and even priests of a given divine entity but only a relatively select few ‘Clerics’, those given Miracles (Spells) and powers to enforce the deity’s presence and point of view on the mortal world.

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  5. I kind of got rid of them by relegating them to an NPC-only class that doesn’t adventure. Undead are now terrifying, healing of any kind is cherished, and the gods are their own mystery. Done and done.

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