Sunday, September 19, 2010

AD&D Specialty Clerics Series

Sorry for the light posting! It has been a busy and beautiful summer in Alaska. Given that we're still in the midst of hunting season I expect posting to remain light until the winter closes in on us.

As a holdover for my loyal readers (and Chinese Gold Farming Comment Bots) I'm going to start a weekly series that discusses specialty clerics for AD&D. The purpose of specialty priests is to differentiate the different types of priesthoods. It also slightly power-ups the cleric class. Clerics are already very formidable -- I think they are the most potent class in the game. However, there is usually no surplus of them at the gaming table. Nobody wants to be the "medic" or "heal bot." However, clerics are the heart and soul of a party. I'm alright with "souping them up" if it means they are more popular.

Expect these posts about once per week.


Specialty clerics have long been thought about for AD&D; in A Guide to the World of Greyhawk (Gygax, 1983), Gary introduced a series of specialty clerics. These variants on the core class gave specialized benefits at the cost of XP penalties. Unfortunately, there are problems with implementation.

Gary's benefits are not evenly spread out. Some are front loaded (i.e., you get all the goodies in early levels) and others are delayed until name level or later, when they won't really come into play at all. For example, the Cleric of Heironious puts up with a 10% XP penalty his entire career to get a 1x/week bolt of energy (which is pretty awesome) at level 11. That's great if you're playing a name level campaign but useless if the campaign will end by level 7. Others are front loaded, which makes them prime candidates for a quick dual-class dip.

As previously mentioned, Gygax imposes XP penalties on clerics who take advantage of their special abilities. After some analysis, this is the rule of thumb I've drawn from his work:
  • Adding a Class Function from another class: -5% XP
  • Adding a Bonus Spell, perhaps from another class: -2.5%
  • Blanket Offset: +2.5% (this basically means a specialty cleric gets "something for nothing")
Thus, clerics are generally souped up a small amount by Gary's work, at least gaining a spell for free. These are VERY approximate formulas, and I don't know how much Gary tested them out.


I've added abilities to clerics in exchange for XP penalties, similar in broad terms to what Gary pioneered. However, I have spread out the abilities to fill in "dead" levels where an AD&D cleric traditionally gets nothing. Here's an analysis of the AD&D cleric and what they get at each level:
  1. Level I Spells
  2. Nothing
  3. Level II Spells
  4. New THAC0 and saves
  5. Level III spells, weapon proficiency
  6. Nothing
  7. Level IV spells, new THAC0 and saves, Scribe Scrolls
  9. Level V spells, Weapon Proficiency, Stronghold, Penultimate Turn Undead Chart, Last HD
  10. Level 10 - New THAC0 & saves
  11. Level VI spells, Make Magic Items
  12. Nothing
  13. New THAC0 & saves, Proficiency
  14. Nothing
  15. Nothing
  16. Level VII spells, new THAC0 & saves
Abilities have been placed to fill "dead levels" as much as possible, or to provide growing benefits over the entire career of the cleric to discourage dual-class dips. "Front loading" abilities at level 2 allows clerics to quickly get a definitive ability. Level 12 abilities should be rare capstones. The exception are deities -- often evil -- which are really intended more for shamans or multiclasses (like half orcs). In this case, they remain front loaded. This is intentional, as it allows those shamans to access the benefits and it encourages a short sighted dual class dip to get power -- at the cost of alignment.

Abilities have also been selected with an eye towards maximizing underused spells and weapons. For example, the Battleaxe rarely gets much love as it is inferior to the longsword, making it ideal for a specialty priest. The same goes for many underutilized spells.

In addition to an XP penalty, each specialty priest adds a few new requirements.
  • New Prime Requisite: Wisdom is the default prime requisite of a cleric. It remains so with specialty clerics, but they also usually add a second prime requisite, similar to other subclasses (Paladins need CHA, etc). A specialty cleric must have at least a score of 15 in the new Prime Requisite. They must have greater than 15 for bonus XP. This is actually often a significant cost as it prevents clerics from putting scores in more useful abilities. If the new prime req is WIS, then it requires a 15 WIS (i.e., you can't be a specialty cleric with marginal WIS).
  • Alignment: A Specialty Cleric's alignment must exactly match that of their deity.
In general, all mentioned abilities are bonuses. So, if a spell is listed, that is a bonus spell slot which does not tie up a cleric's daily memorized quota, although it must be memorized as any other spell must be (time to rest, time for prayer, etc). A weapon proficiency or other feature is also a bonus, unless otherwise mentioned.


Here is the example cleric of Pelor, the NG Sun God.

New Prime Requisite: CHA
Alignment: NG
XP Penalty: 10%
Light (2), Cure Disease 1x/week & Lay on Hands as Paladin (2), Cloak of Bravery (6), Sunbeam (12)

  • At level 2, Clerics of Pelor take on their two primary roles: That of servants of the Sun (light), and that of exceptional healers. The minor paladin-like abilities grow throughout the cleric's career, encouraging progression in the cleric class.
  • At level 6 -- normally a dead level -- clerics of Pelor are able to cast Cloak of Bravery one level before they would otherwise. This spell allows them to confront evil. Moreover, this is a spell which is rarely memorized.
  • At level 12, the cleric gains a capstone ability that really symbolizes his class, the power of the sun and the ability to vanquish the undead.
  • A -10% XP penalty is paid to offset the three bonus spells and paladin abilities. Calculated, it should be -15%; three spells (-7.5%), two class functions (-10%), and the blanket offset (+2.5%). Consequently, 10% may seem generous. However, the cleric only gains one new non-cleric spell (Sunbeam) at a high level. Also, the Remove Disease paladin ability, which costs 5% is essentially obsolete by level 5 when it can be easily memorized far more than once per week and by level 7 when it can easily be scribed onto a scroll. Given that most of the spells are clerical -- i.e., little access to out of class powers -- and the cure disease feature is of limited utility past the lower levels, 10% seems appropriate.
Here's another cleric, one of Erynthul:

New Prime Requisite: STR
Alignment: CE
XP Penalty: 10%
Scare (2)

This minor ability fills a dead level. It also is a low-level ability, allowing shamans or half-orc clerics to take advantage of it. No XP penalty is needed to pay for this very minor ability.

1 comment:

N. Wright said...

I really like it.

I think that giving players something every level is just good fun, really, and wish that more designers would think as you do.