Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thank You Sir Fang!

The wonders of the internet never cease to amaze me. I’ve learned more about the history of D&D this year alone than I ever did in the nearly thirty previous years combined. This nugget of wisdom from the OG, Mike Mornard, made me realize that my favorite class, the Cleric, got it’s start as a foil to a player’s Vampire character. Pretty wild stuff.

So, I felt it appropriate, in light of this newfound bit of historical information, to take a moment to say Thank You, Sir Fang! And also thank you to his player in Dave Arneson's game, Dave Fant (see the comments section for further information about Sir Fang, posted by Philotomy).

So here’s to Sir Fang, who I can only assume was dispatched forthwith by the Vampire-Hunter character devised to rid the world of the diabolical undead master. Arriving on the scene, brave hearted, clad in shining mail, exhorting his faithful brethren, and fearlessly brandishing his silver cross in the face of the dastardly, unsuspecting Sir Fang. With that, Sir Fang was sent back to the grave, for good this time, as the Vampire ended up permanently on page 9 of Monsters & Treasure, while the Vampire-Hunter character won the admiration of his fellow heroes, those men of light, and became, ultimately, that most awesome class of the OD&D three-pronged crown, the Cleric.

I’m sure that’s not at all how it actually happened, more likely the Cleric wasn’t defined into it’s OD&D form until after the fact, as alluded to in OG’s post. What certainly transpired was a titanic struggle that forever changed the face of the as yet unpublished game, D&D. If Sir Fang had managed to slay his newborn arch nemesis, the Vampire-Hunting Priest aka Cleric, perhaps we would all be playing a game called Castles & Clerics now, taking on the role of those evil victors of that legendary struggle between man and undead, between good and bad, between light and dark. Thankfully, the good guys won, and we ended up with Dungeons & Dragons. And I ended up with my most cherished class, the oft maligned Cleric.

I’ve always been mystified in regard to the generally poor attitude of many of my fellow OD&D fans concerning the Cleric. I have gained insight into this fact recently, that there seems to be some opinion that the class isn’t a pulp or fantasy archetype, unlike the Fighting-Man and the Magic User. I’ve always thought of Clerics as those devout members of the Church who take the fight directly to the dungeons and wilds of the D&D world, furthering the cause of their God in a more direct fashion than those priestly members of the Church who serve followers while worshipping amongst the safety of civilization. A proto-Paladin, if you will.

Still others view the Cleric as an underpowered and undeserving Player Character choice in a D&D campaign. I take exception to this myth. I do believe that, perhaps, many players simply don’t like the idea of being the ‘party healer’. The OD&D Cleric can be so much more, though, if one can look past this common misconception.

I will grant you that in OD&D, the Cleric has an extremely limited spell selection. Only 26 spells are available, and of those only 10 are available through 5th Level. In many campaigns, 5th Level is fairly experienced. Compared to the Magic User, who gets access to 32 different spells at 5th Level, the Cleric seems to get rather short-changed. But let’s compare the three classes assuming that Level 5 is the ‘meat’ of the campaign.

At 1st Level, the Cleric is a beast. It’s almost laughably unfair to the Fighting-Men and Magic Users of the world. Granted, Magic Users are a particularly limited class at the lowest levels, one-trick ponies who will benefit more from a high CHA score than their own spells. Fighting-Men are assumed to be the backbone of the adventuring party, there to absorb the brunt of melee, and to protect the spell-casters until they can come into their own, as it were. Consider this, if you will; Clerics and Fighting-Men have nearly identical Hit Points through 4th Level (Clerics have 1 HP less); they have the same Fighting Capability (attack columns) at Levels 1-3, and Level 5 (it is only at Level 4 that the FM has an advantage); they have identical AC potential at all Levels; Clerics have superior Saving Throw scores, except at 4th Level, or vs. Dragon Breath (let’s hope the PC’s don’t roll on that column often at Level 5 and lower). The two classes are fairly equal thus far. Sure the FM has the full weapon selection to choose from, but they all deal 1d6 in OD&D. FM are the only class able to wield Magic Swords, which can be beneficial, or detrimental. Juxtapose these two advantages with the two unique Cleric abilities: Turn Undead and divine magic.

Is it even a contest?

By 5th Level, a Magic User has certainly become rather potent. Access to 32 spells, including one of those juicy 3rd Level spells. Rest assured that the MU didn’t make it to the rarified air of Level 5 on his own, though. Still, even with his arsenal of seven spells per day at this level, the MU has no armor and the lowest HP pool.

What can the Cleric bring to the fight at 5th Level? A decent HP pool, strong Fighting Capability, excellent Saving Throw scores and AC, Turn Undead, and, in power-gaming terms, two Cures and two Hold Person spells. The Cures, of course, are for himself in order that he might continue to show his two less capable brethren how to successfully smite evil, and to remind them of their error in judgment when they chose their profession. Don’t mess with the Church!

OK, so you get it, Sham likes Clerics. All of this is just an exercise in futility…none of us play D&D with a single class, and the three classes are almost designed to complement one another. Furthermore, OD&D is not and never has been about who is most powerful; it is about teamwork and having fun by overcoming obstacles together. It’s also rather obvious that I picked a sweet spot to use for this comparison, at higher levels, the FM and the MU begin to eclipse the Cleric in sheer power. No matter the level of the party the Cleric remains a vital part of the adventure, and will always contribute to the success of a campaign. That said, if I were a betting man, and I was given a single character and charged with getting him or her to 5th Level, there’s little doubt which class I would pick. For pure survivability, the Cleric wins, and it's not even close...at all.

The Cleric IS a gaming archetype now, thanks in no small part to Sir Fang. The Cleric is D&D's own Son, an archetype built through the decades by it's own gaming heritage. I think we should celebrate and embrace that fact. The Cleric embodies the creative spirit of our hobby, and for a class with no true literary archetype in pulp or fantasy before the arrival of D&D, that little idea that sprung forth during some of Dave Arneson's games has certainly taken on a life of it's own.

Now, let’s hope none of the players in my Solstice campaign which begins in 18 days read this, lest they all show up with Cleric Player Characters…which gets me thinking, how cool would a Cleric only campaign be…? OK, I’ll stop now, and throw out one last hearty Thank You, Sir Fang!

Just remember this sage advice, as I quote that last little blurb from Mike Mornard’s earlier referenced post:


See, Clerics ARE fun! I now have the proof.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee


Anonymous said...

When I do allow cleric in my campaign I let them cast ALL spells spontaneously.


Sham aka Dave said...

Hey! Aren't you that Cleric-hater from odd74?!?!

Just kidding, Zulg. :-)

I myself have a Cleric-free campaign in the works, my No Future setting (a sort of fantasy post-apoc world in ruin after a return of the nameless ones...in other words a Howard/Lovecraft pulp bronze age theme).

Perhaps one aspect I missed before my post, maybe OD&D referees don't like Clerics because they are too powerful at low level?

In regard to your comment...Thanks as always! I'm not up on my modern D&D terminology, though. I assume Spontaneous Casting means no spell memorization, cast on the fly system? If so, Clerics are really strong then. I'm pretty sure that's how it works. Nice little rule to encourage Cleric players that don't want to fill their character sheet with Cures!


Philotomy said...

Quote from The First Fantasy Campaign:
'Originally a 9th level fighter (Dave Fant) that fell prey to a Vampire and didn't get away. He is treated as a Vampire x5 in value (he is today much stronger than that...sic.) and interpreted as a "Traditional" Slavic Vampire (Note Hollywood). He goes out in the sunlight does not have to be in his coffin by dawn etc.) He charms x5 strength, can use a saving throw vs. Crosses (as against a Spell of Magic). Among other things he has control of all the Dungeon Rats (he travels at will through the numerous cracks and crevices in the Dungeon) which he can summon by the thousand. My practice of warning players is to give them about ten turns where the number of rats watching them builds up considerably before the encounter. If they are smart they flee back to the great hall or "escape" into the depths of the Dungeon. Fang also has a Vampire Ogre (Dbl strength Ogre) and two Dwarves (also Dbl strength). He is studying to be an Illusionist and has reached 3rd level in that area, and 2nd level as a magic user/anti-cleric. His presence in the upper levels is well known.'

Sham aka Dave said...

Heh, thanks Philotomy! quite a coincidence that I picked Nosferatu for the pic (seeing as how I assume that's as close to Slavic as any of the movie Vampires get).

I should add a blurb about Dave Fant in the post, I suppose. I didn't realize his character was a former good guy who returned as the undead Sir Fang.

Sir Fang sounds quite powerful, it's no wonder they brewed up the Vampire-Hunter after reading that!


Jonathan said...

"The Cleric is D&D's own Son, an archetype built through the decades by it's own gaming heritage." This is an excellent point that is probably missed by thousands of gamers. If you don't mind -- I'll plan on pointing back here and quoting you in the final wrap up to my series on "The New Cleric is the Old Cleric" - four of six parts written at this point.

thank you for pointing us to this older post. Its a gem.

Sham aka Dave said...

Thanks, Jonathon. By all means link back or quote away. I'm enjoying your series, and thanks for the comment.

Sham aka Dave said...

sorry, Jonathan: spelt it rong.

Jonathan said...

No problem.. happens often. Meanwhile... did you see this post over at Grognardia from back in May, 2008?


once again... it's all been said before. I wish I has found these posts before I started in on my own series. James basically sums up many of the same points I am making over my much longer series at The Core Mechanic. In any case, it is an excellent post along the same lines as this post and my series, and the 38 or so comments are valuable as well.

Sham aka Dave said...

Another in the long line of great posts at James's place. I even commented in it, and then revisited the topic after I saw the Mike Mornard post I linked. Truly an interesting bit of D&D history.

I wanted to post about why I felt that Clerics had earned a well-deserved spot in the three pronged crown of OD&D classes; and to show how I feel the class is actually very powerful at low levels.

It's nice to know that sometimes these older posts are of some use...the blogosphere is so time sensitive and lots of information gets buried along the way. Hopefully your project will help make some of the 'good stuff' relevant for more than a few days.

Brendan said...

It's nice to know that sometimes these older posts are of some use...the blogosphere is so time sensitive and lots of information gets buried along the way.

And they are still in use. I just read this... almost 3 years after your last comment. :-)

greyooze said...

Still in use. :-) Excellent read, and interesting points!