[AD&D and me] The Cleric

Posted on October 26, 2011


This is part of an ongoing series. Previous posts can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Today’s post covers page 20 of the 1987 AD&D Player’s Handbook.

Finally! Today we’re getting into what for many people is the core of D&D: the classes. Originally I was going to do a post per class with the sub-classes rolled in, but the internet ate my fully finished Druid section from today’s post, so we’ll see how that goes. All in all, the classes are a meaty part of the game, and to be honest, after this the Player’s Handbook is mostly lists of spells.

A caveat: I’m sure we’ll touch on classes more in other sections (like when we look at spells), and there’s a lot of cool stuff contained in the Classes section, but a lot of it is across-the-board cool: what’s nifty about the Cleric is kinda the same thing that’s interesting about the Fighter, for example, so some classes may not be covered as in-depth as you might want (I don’t talk about the Cleric’s spells at all, for example).

This is in the order they appear in the text, not in alphabetical or any other order.


It seems that the classic Cleric has pretty much survived to this day intact in roleplaying culture: A healing-focused spellcaster that can also fight decently (with a blunt weapon) and beat back the undead with the Power of the Lord. That’s what we find in AD&D, and that’s what we find in everything from Pathfinder to 4th Edition to Dungeon World.

So that’s not very interesting, from my perspective. Or: not more interesting than usual. Clerics are fun, and fun to play, even if the religio-magical-fighter trope is a fucking weird one, and, as far as I can tell, one whose origins belong to D&D.

Where things get exciting is in the tables (seems to be a pattern with this book). Take a look at the CLERICS TABLE 1:

So you have the amount of experience you need to reach a particular level, and the amount of dice you roll to generate your hit points based on that level. But look at the Level Title column. You’re seeing what I’m seeing, right: a built-in story arc for the Cleric? I mean, I don’t know how well that story arc fits in with actually engaging the mechanics of AD&D, but arguably that table is a game mechanic, or at least a hard reference point.

The Beginning of Your Pastoral Leadership

I can almost read it as: “Play the Cleric if you want to start as a lowly temple Acolyte, progress up to a Priest, and eventually control your own temple as a High Priest!” Because yeah, at level 9 you become a High Priest and can be the head of a temple. Let’s look at this more in-depth. Actually, at level 8 you become a “Patriarch” or “Matriarch” (yes, Matriarch is in the text) and you

automatically attract followers if [you] establish a place of worship–a building of not less than 2,000 square feet in floor area with an altar, shrine, chapel, etc. These followers are fanatically loyal and serve without pay so long as [you do] not change deities and/or alignment. These followers number between 20 and 200 (2d10, totaled, and multiplied by 10). In addition, there will be followers who are men-at-arms

More even than a character arc, this looks like a built-in goal structure to me, just as much as gaining experience to level up is a goal structure. In fact, it’s why you want to gain experience and level up–or at least, it’s one big fat reason why you do. And because AD&D is a roleplaying game, the very structured goal is paradoxically open-ended: you attract followers if you establish a place of worship, but how and where and why you do that is surely reliant on the particulars of the fiction that you’re making. Now, the text doesn’t talk about it in this way, but the text spends little time on the little structures that I’m spending so much time on here, and spends a lot of time up front talking about how roleplaying is open-ended. Which is to say: I’m inferring, but I think reasonably so.

Your Very Own Religious Stronghold

With the Cleric, levels 8, 9, and beyond are where it’s at. What comes after your Matriarchy?

Upon reaching 9th level (High Priest or High Priestess), the cleric has the option of constructing a religious stronghold. This fortified place must contain a large temple, cathedral, or church of not less than 2,500 square feet on the ground floor. It can be a castle, a monastery, an abbey or the like. It must be dedicated to the cleric’s deity (or deities).

And Deity help you if yours isn’t one of war. What kind of god other than a warlike one would want you to construct a stronghold? Eh, chalk it up to AD&D’s core focus on challenges and combat. I suppose “stronghold” is just the generic term, as the text does say it can be a monastery or an abbey or anything else. This jumps your Matriarchal duties up a notch or two into mini-society management. Now, there’s not rules for that on a managing level, but theoretically you can do that in the game. Bet your ass if I were playing a Cleric and hit High Priestess level, that I’d bend all my will toward making my castle work for ME.

Really, at the 8th and 9th levels of Cleric the game seems to want to shift into a different scale of play, though again, there’s not much to help you with this shift of game modes. It’s mostly fictional, as far as I can tell. I wonder if people who play/ed this do higher level management? Or do they still just speak and act as their character and have the GM adjudicate it per the rules (which are: make a judgment call)?

One last nugget in this section:

If the cleric then clears the surrounding territory and humans dwell in this area, there will be a monthly revenue of 9 silver pieces per inhabitant from trade, taxation, and tithes.

Or maybe what you do is set your fat cat Cleric up in his castle, get him collecting tithes, and then dial down again, roll up a new character, and play one of your Cleric’s Men-at-arms? The text doesn’t push you in this direction, either through rules or advice, but it seems to me that it does simply through lack of support for this “higher level” play. I mean, is your Cleric who has a monastery, hundreds of followers, and a tithing countryside still supposed to go out and dive into nasty holes in the ground in search of treasure?

I’d be excited about playing a Cleric up to High Priest/ess level, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to play her after that.

Next Week

The misplaced Druid!

Posted in: Old-school, Readings, rpg