Friday, April 30, 2010

So a cleric walks into a club...

Question for all you old-school DMs out there: How would you handle this scenario?

My 1st level cleric's mace breaks, so he drops it, draws a dagger, and attacks a charging orc.

What happens? Does the cleric auto-miss? Does his dagger break? Does he instantly forget all his spells for the day?

See, clerics are prohibited from using anything but blunted weapons—which I find to be a very "gamey" decision foisted onto the cleric class for no other reason than to balance clerics against fighters. The idea that holy warriors can't bring themselves to spill the blood of their enemies—yeah, that's crap. If you've got a job to do, you'll hardly turn up your nose at the most common weapon in the entire game (sword) to get it done. Or something.

But still, within the paradigm of "imagine the hell out of it" old-school gaming, how would you referees deal with a cleric player who insists that his character tries to attack with a sword? Or uses a dagger to cut the bonds on a captured prisoner? Or picks up a cursed sword and puts it in his backpack?

I'm genuinely curious, because Mike/Chgowiz and I came up with a neat little workaround to deal with this scenario in his Dark Ages campaign. It removes the gamey aspect of the restriction that I find distasteful, while not overpowering my cleric character. I'll post the details on that later, but I wanted to hear DMs' responses first.

19 comments:

JoeGKushner said...

Depends on how much of a prick GM I wanted to be at the time. The standard would be to start with the old ability to use weapons. Proficiencies I think they were called back in he day? Then if the cleric insist on continuing to use prohibited weapons, if I wanted to be mega prick, spell loss, if I wanted to be make the character's life more interesting, loss of status as the churchs but no loss of status with deity.

Daen Ral Worldbuilder said...

I always assumed the limitation (besides being a "balancing mechanic" kind of thing) was based on the notion that priests in the crusade era wouldn't use edged weapons (whether or not that assumption is based on reality is debatable) - if so, what would a real-life priest have to do if he violated a "code of conduct"? Probably some form of penance - something to "atone for the blood spilled" or whatever. In game terms, you could limit spells or impose some kind of penalty (to hit penalty, reaction penalty, etc) until the penance is completed.

Daddy Grognard said...

It kind of depends on his deity's viewpoint. If the cleric is giving it out to the forces of evil with the wholehearted approval of his god, then why make a big thing about it? If it was just a situation that could have been avoided by some means (spell, magic item) then the deity might be a bit less forgiving.

The whole 'no shedding blood' thing is a bit of a false starting point anyway, since if I whammed a goblin over the head with my mace for, say, six points of damage and he only had one hit point to begin with, he's taken 600% of his capacity for damage. There's got to be some blood somewhere - or has the little runt died of terminal bruising?

Anonymous said...

My take has always been thus:

If a player can adhere to the tenets of playing the cleric class, perhaps the player's cleric can adhere to the tenets of being a cleric: one must ban edged weapons from one's use as a matter of principle, as a pretense of faith. If the player can do that, then perhaps they can identify with the subtler aspects of playing a class steeped in traditions based on principles and faith.

Anonymous said...

Gamey, yes.

It has little to do with the quasi-historical notion of clerics... it has everything to do with the fact that magic swords are the most powerful martial weapons in the game.

Being able to use one is really the only benefit to being a fighter class.

Even though clerics have slightly smaller hit die and worse "to hit" numbers than fighters, if you allow them to wield swords they really become no worse than a fighter martially, plus the benefit of spells. Why play a fighter, ever?

PatrickWR said...

Aren't there magic/holy warhammers and maces too? If not, why? Surely some thoughtful DM invented one to give his cleric character a nice piece o' loot.

Siskoid said...

Penance and cleansing all the way. I'd say he needed to do penance for just CARRYING a dagger in the first place.

Needing to do the cleansing ritual doesn't necessarily need to carry a mechanical penalty, just a role-playing one. Up to you.

Oh wait, you did say "old school", didn't you?

1d30 said...

Reminds me of a Dragonmirth comic in Dragon Magazine where a Cleric was mashing this steak with his mace in a tavern. Peas flying everywhere. A concerned party member in the background explains that "his deity is really strict about edged weapons".

As far as I can tell, a Cleric's inability to use swords related to the common presence of intelligent and special magic swords. 25% of magic swords were intelligent, and of those many had the ability to cast magic spells or otherwise do cool stuff. These gave Fighters interesting choices even though they couldn't cast spells.

If a Cleric or Magic-User was allowed to use a sword, it meant these previously Fighter-Only items weren't so special to them anymore and there was less reason to play a Fighter.

That said, when the Thief arrived it kind of ruined the whole Fighter / Ego Sword dynamic.

I'd suggest that anyone can use any weapon or armor. But:

A Thief cannot use any Thief skills in armor heavier than leather or Elven Chain,

An M-U cannot cast spells in any armor or while he has anything in his hands,

A Cleric must have his Holy Symbol in hand to cast spells, and the Holy Symbol cannot be incorporated into a device with other functions (such as a weapon or shield),

Only Fighters can persuade Intelligent Swords to function for them. For everyone else the weapon acts as non-magical.

So I'd say nothing happens, and he can freely stab the guy.

DeadGod said...

How about a more simple option: The cleric simply *cannot* wield the dagger. Picking up an edged weapon at with the intention of wielding it is simply impossible. This might be a physical force that knocks the weapon from the clerics hands, or a maybe the cleric experiences a severe and debilitating burning pain. Maybe indoctrination into the clergy makes the character psychologically unable to wield the edged weapon.

In any event, it is as simple as saying "no."

On the other hand, what if that same cleric picked up the dagger and instead used its pommel to smash their foe? I would let something like that slide, and even give them the full 1d4 damage.

Supah said...

First, I have no problem with the blunt weapon restriction. Maybe it doesn't make any "sense," but it's D&D. What does make sense? The restriction is clearly there to provide balance, and it's a classic feature of a wonky game. The wonkiness is a big part of the fun.

Second, there's the question of what to do in the dagger situation. It depends on what type of game you're playing. If the fun of the game comes from being tactical and judicious with resources, maybe taking away spells for a little is a good idea. If a twisting plot is a big part of the game, maybe a little quest to regain the diety's trust is a good idea.

The point is that the "punishment" should be fun. The player and GM could bargain over the punishment before the dagger action is taken, and the punishment should ideally be one that's acceptable but tough. Then, the player is left making a tough choice on the spot in the heat of combat. It could get even more fun if the GM didn't cut the PC any slack with time to make a decision after the bargain is made. This way, the player would have to live with consequences from a decision made in the heat of battle.

Chris said...

...how would you referees deal with a cleric player who insists that his character tries to attack with a sword?

Knife as tool I've no problem with. But a cleric using a sword in combat is, in my mind, breaking his vows by using worldly weapons, rather than spiritual ones (prayers). Loss of spells until he atones.

The more rigorously demanding priesthoods may have a "no edged tools, ever!" rule. But there's RL precedent for this in cult taboos. The old Roman Flamen of Jupiter was ritually banned from touching iron, seeing death, eating meat, or having any knots upon his person.

Anonymous said...

What would a DM do if a fighter broke his sword and declared that he was now going to start casting spells?

Why is it any different for a cleric? Class limitations are class limitations. I'd have no problem just saying "you can't use a dagger because clerics can't use daggers."

Clovis Cithog said...

I would make him roll d12 to hit, apply all normal modifiers and remind him that his religion forbits him to use edged weapons in combat . . .

I blogged about this in detail in January under the label, COMBAT

jamused said...

We always (and still) play it that clerics can use edged tools, or even edged weapons as tools. If you use something with an edge as a weapon, then it's just violating any other restriction that your god places on you (such as not committing evil acts, or donating a portion of your treasure to the church); the exact consequences vary from campaign to campaign or even god to god within a campaign but generally are along the lines of losing your special clerical abilities until you've performed some kind of penance or ritual purification. To people who say that's arbitrary, yes, in real-world religions gods are usually depicted as arbitrary or even capricious. Why would you expect game-world gods to be rational according to your way of thinking?

1d30 said...

Chris gave us this:

The old Roman Flamen of Jupiter was ritually banned from touching iron, seeing death, eating meat, or having any knots upon his person.

I think this is awesome and would be a great way to structure the Cleric. Each religion has a set of taboos and if the Cleric violates them he suffers some standard predetermined penalty which the player knows.

This allows for Druids and other specialty priests, who have different prohibitions or requirements than Clerics, without actually changing the spell lists.

Flynn said...

I prefer a game about choices and consequences. The cleric can easily make the choice to grab the dagger and use it, but since this goes against the dictates of his patron, the cleric is voluntarily giving up access to divine powers for the rest of the day. Should the cleric be out of divine powers, then he's giving up access to divine powers for tomorrow as well. Each additional time this happens without atoning, the unit of time expands: a day becomes a week, then a month, then a season, and so forth.

Of course, the cleric can take on other course of action, such as pummeling, tripping, overbearing, pushing/shoving, shield bashing, etc. Since there are other options that can be pursued, his patron deity isn't going to be as forgiving.

If you choose a class knowing its limitations, then you are agreeing to live by those limitations.

This is also why most people don't play paladins in my game, because I enforce consequences.

With Regards,
Flynn

Lord Kilgore said...

I'd give a couple of warnings about consequences, but if the player insisted I'd let him go ahead and inform him that the PC is no longer a cleric.

Probably make him a 0-level fighter with a chance to earn his way up to 1st level.

The possibility of atonement might exist, but it would depend on the attitude of the player and the character.

Yes, weapon restrictions are gamey. But it is, of course, a game that is being played. Play or don't play.

FrDave said...

A lot of folks have put forth the idea of atonement and penalties in combat. These are all well and good, but what about using a mechanism where the cleric's "sin" affects those around him as well. After all, the affects of sin ripple well beyond the sinner, and what better incentive than peer pressure to "toe the line?" I would have a spirit of wrath descend upon the cleric, giving a penalty to NPC and monster reactions as well as henchmen morale. In addition, the spirit would increase wandering monster checks. Thus, sin affects the whole party and could possibly kill off another character besides the cleric. Atonement would be the only way to be rid of the curse.

Icarus said...

What's a cleric but a weaker fighter who can cast spells. If the cleric wants to be like a fighter and fight with bladed weapons, let him but he should lose his cleric abilities for the day. Unlike magic-user spell, clerical abilities are derived from prayers that are answered by their patron deity so the GM needs to cook up some story about why blood interferes with this. Perhaps blood has its own patron i.e. blood for the Blood God etc. Maybe that's why only fighters worship the Blood God...