Dungeons and Dragons with no Divine casting

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Séadna

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I would argue that the mystical and spiritual were critical to Middle Earth, but since they were so clearly manifest, something like religion may have been unnecessary. I don't know if that's a correct interpretation, but it's always been the feeling I got from the material. It's like the characters are already living inside a myth, so they don't need to go creating new ones.
That's the general line it goes for, that Illuvatar is so clearly known to exist that he is "worshipped" with action.
Tolkien in his later writings mentions how men are withdrawing from this natural worship as the world becomes less mythic and Illuvatar will need to come in flesh as the final myth
 

Edgewise

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That's interesting, because I very much like the idea of deities as monsters, aliens, daemons, or even powerful sorcerers.
Yes, I very much swung back in this direction. I really liked the old weakened pagan gods in Marlinko/Hill Cantons who wander around without much to do.

For my recent fantasy games, I have a metaphysical concept that gives me a lot of flexibility. The idea is that the pure gods exist on a plane of timeless stories, sort of like a the Australian aboriginal idea of the "dreamtime," or some of what I've seen in Glorantha. There's an infinite number of such beings, existing as possibilities when they are not actively worshiped.

When they are actually worshiped, they manifest through some sort of avatars in proportion with the degree of veneration. Almost anything can be thus invested with divinity by worship, and receive a connection with this timeless god plane. The avatars can themselves be bodiless spirits, demons, humans, animals, trees, etc. And the degree of avatardom is also variable. Clerics in my current PbP campaign are essentially deputy godlings.

A lot of pulp fantasy really blurs the lines between gods and monsters, and I like having a metaphysical framework to make sense of that. It isn't supposed to be something explained to the players, but I feel that having these explanations as the GM allows me to give everything a more consistent underpinning.
That's the general line it goes for, that Illuvatar is so clearly known to exist that he is "worshipped" with action.
I was thinking about this bit after I wrote it, and it occurs to me that Tolkien was trying to write the definitive classic myth with all the scholarship of a modern academic. Those classic myths didn't have myths inside them and other cute postmodern concepts, and they weren't shooting for psychological or social realism.

To put it another way, Lord of the Rings is a kind of fictitious religious text i.e. it could be part of the religious mythology of a non-existent modern nation. So it's not going to have another religion inside it. For Tolkien it was enough that this fictitious religion is an allegory for his own. Too much referencing and simulation smacks of modernism!
 

dbm

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What I don't like about these two classes is how different tropes are haphazardly combined to create something that doesn't quite fit any archetype or relatable social structure.
I think that is true of all the ‘big four’. There are many ways of preparing for combat, but only one fighter class. A whole host of types of chicanery, but only one thief. Lots of different real-world magic beliefs but only one magic-user.

Clerics possible get more flack because we still have priests and organised religion that we interact with on a regular basis and so have more distinct expectations that the cleric class fails to meet. Religion is also, of course, something people invest their personality in and it can be very important to them.
 

TristramEvans

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I think that is true of all the ‘big four’. There are many ways of preparing for combat, but only one fighter class. A whole host of types of chicanery, but only one thief. Lots of different real-world magic beliefs but only one magic-user.

but how would you describe the cleric that way? "There are many different ______ but only one cleric"

"Holy warriors"? "Religious adherents"? "Monster hunters"?
 

Rob Necronomicon

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I'd miss the old Cleric myself. But then, I always saw them like a secondary fighter class (like the in old BX, etc.). I think one of the big problems with 5e is that the players are very over powered from about 3rd level on.

That's why I tend to gravitate to human-centric, and low magic gritty settings. But horses for courses and all. :smile:
 

Black Leaf

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It's not hatred. I just prefer a setting where you're not bumping into divine intervention around every corner. I also limit how many magic-users are allowed and what spells/items are available so magic stays scarce and awesome to the ordinary mortal.

I like that, but I also like the extreme where magic is common place and your averge peasant knows a Mend spell. D&D is a bit odd on that. It feels like that should be the case in most of its worlds, but it isn't.
But it's largely a moot question since it's doubtful I'll run any fantasy games anytime in the foreseeable future.
Even if you did the only thing I could really see you running is something very historically grounded like one of the Malestroms.
 

Edgewise

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I think that is true of all the ‘big four’. There are many ways of preparing for combat, but only one fighter class. A whole host of types of chicanery, but only one thief. Lots of different real-world magic beliefs but only one magic-user.
Well, that's the point. Those classes have the breadth to accommodate a wide array of tropes. The cleric, on the other hand, has many mechanics that are strongly Christian-themed. Which, by the way, I don't object to in principle. It can entirely work if your fantasy world has a fantasy Catholicism, but the problem is that the cleric is meant to represent a wider array of...
but how would you describe the cleric that way? "There are many different ______ but only one cleric"

"Holy warriors"? "Religious adherents"? "Monster hunters"?
Yes, exactly. The fighter feels like an archetype but the cleric seems like an awkward collision of tropes.
 

dbm

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The cleric, on the other hand, has many mechanics that are strongly Christian-themed. Which, by the way, I don't object to in principle. It can entirely work if your fantasy world has a fantasy Catholicism, but the problem is that the cleric is meant to represent a wider array
I’m not sure I agree, at least in terms of 5e. Domains put a huge amount of variation into clerics.

Now, I would agree that there are a number of spells that hark back to Bible miracles, like spells to create food. I don’t recall if ‘walk on water’ is a cleric-only spell? (Just checked - no). Clerics have access to them, but you never need to prepare that spell if you don’t see it fitting with your character.

5e class design seems to be based on adding to, rather than taking away. Wizards are the same; your sub-class adds options but doesn’t enforce limits in the way that earlier editions did. It’s up to you to self-select in line with how you see your character, irrespective of what class you are.
 

Ladybird

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Well, that's the point. Those classes have the breadth to accommodate a wide array of tropes. The cleric, on the other hand, has many mechanics that are strongly Christian-themed. Which, by the way, I don't object to in principle. It can entirely work if your fantasy world has a fantasy Catholicism, but the problem is that the cleric is meant to represent a wider array of...

Yes, exactly. The fighter feels like an archetype but the cleric seems like an awkward collision of tropes.
I think that makes a lot of sense if you go back to the Cleric's origins - a sort of "screw you" to a player than wanted to play a vampire, then given every ability which didn't clearly fit into Fighter or Magic-user but which a party might need, written by a bunch of christian boys who liked the idea of multiple religions but didn't really have any material on how that would work. They feel like a collection of tropes smashed together because they are, and the attempts to broaden them out feel iffy at best because they're building from a flawed chassis; the Fighter and Magic-User split relatively neatly (Including Fighter into Thief and then that entire branch) because the inspirations were strong to start with so it's just emphasising different parts, but no part of the Cleric is really strong enough to stand on it's own, even before you get into it's purpose as needing to work at the table as part of a group.
 

Vidgrip

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As someone who generally likes to run games in a naturalistic setting, I always try to avoid divine magic and the D&D cleric trope. The closest game to 5e without clerics that I know is Low Fantasy Gaming: https://lowfantasygaming.com/ The basic rules have no clerics and are free. The deluxe rules are expensive and capitulated to the demand for clerics (now called cultists). Guess which version I recommend?

The other game that gives good approximation to D&D (at less complexity) with no cleric class is Fantasy AGE: https://greenroninstore.com/collections/fantasy-age/products/fantasy-age-basic-rulebook-pdf Once again, a later supplement includes clerical tropes for those who can't wrap their head around a world without them.

I have nothing against D&D-style clerics if I am playing in a high fantasy game with a medieval European monotheistic setting. But I prefer low fantasy, which precludes active gods and divine magic. There are few such settings from commercial sources and writing your own is challenging when you have to fight against the default mechanics in most rule books.
 

EmperorNorton

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5e runs fine with gods removed tbh.

1. Paladins in 5e run on strong belief itself, not on gods.
2. Magical healing is not as necessary.
3. Even magical healing is possible to get through other classes. Bards, Druids, Favored Soul subclass for Sorcerer for instance.

On top of that, there is always just refluffing stuff. I don't know why a lot of D&D fans are so scared of refluffing. Classes are just bags of abilities. Just refluff the Theurge divine school for wizards. Or the Warlock Celestial Patron.

Or just Clerics themselves.
 

Voros

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Only for the opening of the very first adventure. It didn't last very long.

Now Dark Sun on the other hand...

After Dragons of Despair Goldmoon is the only cleric in the setting with powers, if I recall correctly the Gods just start to slowly return at that point, it's not like suddenly there are clerics everywhere, as many or even most have abandoned worshipping the 'old Gods.' And there is the option to play before the return of the Gods or the pre-Apocalypse when the Gods start to withdraw divine magic due to the excesses of the KingPriest.

I feel removing Clerics or Priests entirely from a setting loses more than it gains unless one does it in the way Dragonlance and Dark Sun do and tie it into the setting.

A setting without religion is missing a big part of what makes societies tick. Having Priests but no divine magic doesn't jive with either S&S, real world myths or the logic of living Gods, seems like a projection of more modern notions into a fantasy setting that loses a lot of flavour and potential roleplaying opportunities.

I'd say this is an area that the OSR hasn't really tackled well either, DCC has the best take so far and some still claim that isn't 'really OSR.' Honestly just removing them can seem a bit lazy, an attitude not infrequent in some OSR design. To me 2e continues to be the best example within a D&D framework. 5e could really benefit from a new book combining 2e's Legends and Lore and The Complete Priest Handbook within 5e.
 
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TristramEvans

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And in this moment I suddenly rember the existence of Fizzbang.
 

Oculus Orbus

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For what it's worth, the idea for the Cleric originally came from the character Father Sandor from the movie "Dracula: Prince of Darkness." At least that's what I read somewhere. In any case, Sandor was a holy ass-kicker with a shotgun strapped to his back, so I could see someone wanting to add that type of character to the game.

This is he-
unnamed.jpg
 

Brock Savage

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I feel removing Clerics or Priests entirely from a setting loses more than it gains unless one does it in the way Dragonlance and Dark Sun do and tie it into the setting.

A setting without religion is missing a big part of what makes societies tick. Having Priests but no divine magic doesn't jive with either S&S, real world myths or the logic of living Gods, seems like a projection of more modern notions into a fantasy setting that loses a lot of flavour and potential roleplaying opportunities.
I agree with you that most fantasy settings lose something without religion. Those religions are usually going to have priests. Some of those priests will use magic. I have no problem with any of this.

My disconnect is that spellcasting priests in D&D started as fighting crusaders in heavy armor and shield with spells that were copied from the Bible. Later editions try to remedy by giving more flavor, options, and spells, but it's polishing a turd as far as I'm concerned.
 
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TristramEvans

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For what it's worth, the idea for the Cleric originally came from the character Father Sandor from the movie "Dracula: Prince of Darkness." At least that's what I read somewhere. In any case, Sandor was a holy ass-kicker with a shotgun strapped to his back, so I could see someone wanting to add that type of character to the game.

This is he-
View attachment 17993


Well, that's how we fix the class! Give him a shotgun
 

Voros

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I agree with you that most fantasy settings lose something without religion. Those religions are usually going to have priests. Some of those priests will use magic. I have no problem with any of this.

My disconnect is that spellcasting priests in D&D started as fighting crusaders in heavy armor and shield with spells that were copied from the Bible. Later editions try to remedy by giving more flavor, options, and spells, but it's polishing a turd as far as I'm concerned.

If one wants to stick with the traditional cleric the previous recommendation of making them Christian or monotheistic and the Druid as their foil seems like a good approach. I used the 2e Complete Priest and it is fine in play. To me, at a certain point if you're going to remove or change so many things from D&D why bother using it when there are so many other, often more appropriate, options?
 

Brock Savage

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To me, at a certain point if you're going to remove or change so many things from D&D why bother using it when there are so many other, often more appropriate, options?
For me it has to do with system mastery, making something my own, convenience, and a dash of sunk cost fallacy.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Priests exist in S&S, most memorably in 'Lean Times in Lankhmar' by Leiber, otherwise they usually showed up as bad guys. So I wouldn't be down with eliminating them entirely. I don't think removing divine magic entirely would make much sense either, as the Gods are literal presences in almost all S&S and so it makes sense for them to grant their priests powers.
A setting without religion is missing a big part of what makes societies tick. Having Priests but no divine magic doesn't jive with either S&S, real world myths or the logic of living Gods, seems like a projection of more modern notions into a fantasy setting that loses a lot of flavour and potential roleplaying opportunities.
Gotta disagree here. In Howard's and Leiber's stories, the gods are - from the reader's perspective - objectively real, and yet they virtually never make their presence known in an obvious way. Any time they try to work their will on the mortal plane, it's usually in a way that can be explained away by chance or happenstance. Any 'miracles' that various cults try to lay claim to are often either a magical (arcane) ritual that they enact, or a bit of Scooby-Doo style fakery.

In S&S stories, 'priest' isn't a character class, it's a profession. Most priests in these settings would either be 0-level normals, or perhaps a fighter or (more likely) a wizard whole leads the cult/temple. In 5e that's a Background, and in 2e it would be a Kit.

Even in the Elric stories, where the gods can be more obvious at times, they still don't just hand out spells/miracles on command. Usually you would have to either summon or commune with them via an arcane spell, and then bargain with them to gain some sort of boon. Priests may well know some spells that are taught in their temples, but that seems to again be more a matter of arcane training.

None of which takes away the power that religion can have over the people of these settings. Worship (or at least reverence to avoid divine disfavor) still seems pretty common in the Hyborean Age, Newhon, and the Young Kingdoms.
 

Ronin

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So I've always been someone who has numerous issues with many aspects of DnD, however I do quite like the "Back to basics" approach of DnD 5th edition.

That being said, one of my biggest issues with all editions of Dungeons and Dragons is that the system has all sorts of baked-in assumptions about the campaign world in which you are going to be running your game. Specifically, DnD always assumes interventionist gods who grant their devoted followers special powers. As someone who prefers to write campaign worlds with distant gods who possibly don't exist at all this has never sat right with me.

I was thinking, what if we took Clerics and Paladins out of the classes and instead made Divine healing spells a school of Magic that Wizards and Sorcerers can take?

I'm curious if anyone else has tried to do this. Has anyone else tried this? Did it work out? Is this already in Unearthed Arcana and I'm just dumb?

Thanks in advance.
Sabres and Witchery does not have a cleric class. But both the witch hunter (monster hunter), and the magus can turn undead, devils, demons, and certain fae. The magus can cast healing spells. The game free so worth checking out to make your own decision.
 

TristramEvans

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"Just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, 'Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.' "
 

Voros

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Gotta disagree here. In Howard's and Leiber's stories, the gods are - from the reader's perspective - objectively real, and yet they virtually never make their presence known in an obvious way. Any time they try to work their will on the mortal plane, it's usually in a way that can be explained away by chance or happenstance. Any 'miracles' that various cults try to lay claim to are often either a magical (arcane) ritual that they enact, or a bit of Scooby-Doo style fakery.

In S&S stories, 'priest' isn't a character class, it's a profession. Most priests in these settings would either be 0-level normals, or perhaps a fighter or (more likely) a wizard whole leads the cult/temple. In 5e that's a Background, and in 2e it would be a Kit.

Even in the Elric stories, where the gods can be more obvious at times, they still don't just hand out spells/miracles on command. Usually you would have to either summon or commune with them via an arcane spell, and then bargain with them to gain some sort of boon. Priests may well know some spells that are taught in their temples, but that seems to again be more a matter of arcane training.

None of which takes away the power that religion can have over the people of these settings. Worship (or at least reverence to avoid divine disfavor) still seems pretty common in the Hyborean Age, Newhon, and the Young Kingdoms.

Sure I'd agree when it comes to divine magic's power per se in Leiber but
I was referring more to how religion is very much part of the setting. But look at Kuttner's S&S stories which have prominent evil priests of Cthulhu-like dark entities. In Greek myths divine magic is indirect but very powerful, for ex. Ulysses is lost for decades, Agamemnon murdered, etc. because of the despoiling and rape of a temple and its priestess during the destruction of Troy.

And after all as we all know magic in S&S hardly resembles D&D's highly mechanical and reliable 'Vancian' magic in any way as well, it is more subtle, more wild and uncontrollable in S&S. A 'proper' S&S game would remove wizards as playable PCs as well.
 
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TJS

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I've been using gods as Icons in my scarred lands 13th Age game.

How it works is at the start of the session the players roll 3d6. If they get a 6 then they get some unequivocal benefit from the god helping them out - if they roll a 5 they get a benefit but it comes with some sort of obligation or complication.

It wasn't until I was a few sessions into the campaign that I realised that I'd basically made the Cleric classic obsolescent.
 

ExCrusader

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Back in 2E days I made it work by just banning Clerics and Magic Users.

I then took the Druid class - crossed out druid and wrote "Wizard".

It worked very well for emulating something closer to most fantasy novels I was reading at the time.
That seems like it would work out amazingly well. Simple, and I think it would have great flavour. I would never have come up with such an elegant solution.
 

ExCrusader

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I also like how Crypts & Things does it. One magic class that casts black (offensive), white (defensive), and grey (illusion) spells. Black spells can corrupt and mutate the caster, white spells attracted attention from Lovecraft type things from beyond space and time, and grey magic was relatively safe to cast, if I’m remembering correctly.
 
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I believe AD&D's Lanhkmar had no clerics and advised players who wanted to use the cleric class to just call clerics "white wizards" and play them as is. You ignore the divine flavor stuff and voilà! I'd do that.

I'm honest, I don't get everyone's hate for clerics or Paladin prototypes (in Red box Basic clerics were fighting types first and got spells after first level.)

The basic idea of a cleric class was awesome, but the early rule prototypes sucked ass and had a lot of Gygaxian nonsense (really? Your religion prevents you from slicing people up, so you crush their skulls with a spiked morningstar? How merciful of you). Still, the core idea of a holy warrior was/is solid.

The real mistake is that instead of fixing the cleric's problems, they decided to create an overlapping holy warrior class that could use edge weapons and call it a paladin. So now we had two designs that didn't make sense amd occupied the same thematic and design space, instead of a single badass class.

Paladins are to clerics what illusionists are to magic-users: redundant, confusing.

In later editions, the designers had enough common sense to fix wizards and make them more versatile, integrating the potential for specialist like illusionists into them. Designers also started making more sense of the cleric and exploring its extreme possibilities as a specialist but somehow kept the paladin class separate as a sacred cow, even though no iteration has ever nailed it.
 

Brock Savage

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The basic idea of a cleric class was awesome, but the early rule prototypes sucked ass and had a lot of Gygaxian nonsense (really? Your religion prevents you from slicing people up, so you crush their skulls with a spiked morningstar? How merciful of you).
I am sure someone on the board can correct me on the finer points but the TLDR story is this: Clerics needed to use d6 weapons for balance, otherwise there's no reason to play fighters. The fluff was derived from apocryphal tales of Christian priests going to war with blunt weapons because they were "forbidden to draw blood".
 

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The “niche” protection of classes is one of those sacred cows I wish would be slaughtered. Adventures in Middle Earth is evidence of a D&D game that’s been customized without the supposed intrinsic “need” for clerics.

I still argue that D&D is a toolkit to make your own worlds. Make your clerics monotheistic. Ditch the classes you don’t “feel” are a good fit for your setting. Allow healing spells for your Wizards etc...

The RPG rule gestapo won’t kick down your door for doing it. But make sure your players are on board; they might have expectations. For example, I told my players that Feats weren’t allowed and one guy refused to play a Fighter without Feats because they “would suck and be boring”. I wanted to tell him to take a hike, but whatever.
 

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The real mistake is that instead of fixing the cleric's problems, they decided to create an overlapping holy warrior class that could use edge weapons and call it a paladin. So now we had two designs that didn't make sense amd occupied the same thematic and design space, instead of a single badass class.

Paladins are to clerics what illusionists are to magic-users: redundant, confusing.

In later editions, the designers had enough common sense to fix wizards and make them more versatile, integrating the potential for specialist like illusionists into them. Designers also started making more sense of the cleric and exploring its extreme possibilities as a specialist but somehow kept the paladin class separate as a sacred cow, even though no iteration has ever nailed it.
I quite like 5e's Paladin, because I love the combination of strong D&D fundamentals (Armour, HP, Saves), team boosts, and Charisma (Definitely at least the second-strongest 5e attribute); their mechanics are good and their RP potential is fun. I see them as being the offensive divine character, while clerics are defensive.

The edged weapon rule for clerics hasn't aged well though, and any game mechanic rationale is long gone.
 

Black Leaf

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They'd also pretty much dropped the edged weapons rules in 2e supplements. In that priests had favoured weapons depending on their gods (obviously a Priest of Peace isn't going to be using a bastard sword but a Priest of War probably is).
 

TristramEvans

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The fluff was derived from apocryphal tales of Christian priests going to war with blunt weapons because they were "forbidden to draw blood".

Yeah, this was entirely from apocryphal stories of Bishop Odo of Bayeux wielding a club-like mace at the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry, the idea being that he did so to avoid either "shedding blood or bearing the arms of war", which priests were forbidden to do by the Church.
 
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