The Gods are Fickle

Jack over at TOTGAD recently reminded me of his cleric spell preparation house rule: the referee chooses half (or all) of a cleric’s prepared spells every day. Here is his original post on gothic character classes. I think that I would like to try out something similar: random spell determination for clerics. This would represent the incomprehensible and mysterious nature of the gods. In terms of game play, this would also differentiate the feel of the cleric from the magic-user even more. Intuition versus reason.

The only downside that I can see is that some players might feel best served by just waiting several days until they get the spells that they want. To make this work in general, strict time records must be kept. But we’re all good Gygaxians, so that’s already a given, right?

8 thoughts on “The Gods are Fickle

  1. LS

    That’s a really interesting idea. I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do in a game which I GMed, but I’d certainly be interested in being a player in such a game.

  2. Ed Dove

    That IS a really interesting idea!

    Here’s a possible variant I just thought of:

    Lawful god — 1 spell per level chosen by the referee according to whatever s/he thinks the cleric might need.

    Good god — — 1 spell per level chosen by the referee according to whatever s/he thinks the cleric might need.

    (So, Lawful Good god — 2 spells per level chosen by the referee according to whatever s/he thinks the cleric might need.)

    Chaotic god — 1 spell per level determined randomly.

    Evil god — 1 spell per level determined at randomly.

    (So, Chaotic Evil god — 2 spells per level determined randomly.)

    1. Gordon Cooper

      I like that compromise very much, although I might, as a referee, be tempted to determine spells randomly even for Lawful and Good clerics if I don’t foresee a definite need for a specific spell in the immediate future.

      One hazard of spell selection (as opposed to random determination) by the referee is that it might very well lead player characters to over-prepare for a situation they believe to be imminent, and this could also lead to feelings that they are slaves to predetermined outcomes, i.e. railroading, even if it isn’t true.

      I’d say it’s worth playtesting.

    2. Brendan


      Let me know how it goes if you try it.

      Coincidentally, I was just reading your post Liberated Clerical Spell Selection. If you do try that, you might consider decreasing the number of spell slots available.


      As a referee, I think I prefer to rely on the dice for this sort of thing. If I choose spells, I think my players would assume that they were intended for a specific purpose. I do like the idea of differentiating the different types of deities though. Maybe different spell lists?

      Rolling is less work too, and I’m lazy!

    3. Gordon Cooper


      Will do.

      Decreasing the spell slots is a good option. I’m also considering a combination of selection, deferment, and randomization, thanks to you, Ed, and FrDave. So many ideas to playtest, so little time…

    4. Ed Dove

      Thanks for the feedback, Gordon & Brendan!

      I, too, might randomly determine spells for even Lawful & Good clerics if I didn’t foresee any likely specific needs. Or I might just choose more curing & healing spells because those always can come in handy.

      I actually think it would be entirely appropriate for clerics to feel “that they are slaves to predetermined outcomes” — because they’re servants of divine beings! If players don’t want to have that feeling, then I say they shouldn’t play clerics.

      And, likewise, it would be entirely appropriate for my players to at least wonder if any spells I choose might be intended for some specific purposes — because they might be! That’s one of the best things about referee choice: It gives clerics sort of vaguely prophetic visions.

      The easiest way I can think of for differentiating different types of deities through different spell lists would be simply having the randomly determined spells from Good gods be limited to only the default versions of reversible spells and the randomly determined spells from Evil gods be limited to only the reverse of reversible spells.

      The big potential problem I see with the referee choosing (as opposed to randomly determining) any spells for player characters is… What if the referee chooses the wrong spells? Even knowing everything that’s knowable about what could possibly happen soon in the game world, the referee still could choose poorly. And that could easily result in players being upset with the referee.

      So I, too, might go with purely random determination instead of any referee choice. And, if I did that, I’d probably just randomly determine 1 spell per level.

    5. Gordon Cooper

      It’s not that I’m concerned about the cleric’s feelings about being guided by his or her deity, it’s that I’m afraid the other players will overreact to the cleric’s predetermined spells, and not because their deity chose it (which another player might disregard if they have a dissenting view about the cleric’s patron), but because the referee chose it (which is a meta-game out-of-character concern rather than an in-character concern). Now if it were understood by all that the predetermined spell choices are made in character by the referee from the point of view of the god in question, then it might not be problematic. The referee would need to keep the god’s personality uppermost in mind. Both the referee and the players should be aware that the god’s solution may not always be the most efficient (and may even be somewhat detrimental in order to teach “valuable lessons”). I wouldn’t go to the extreme of Job, but as they say in Good Omens, God is ineffable.

    6. Ed Dove

      Ahhh… I think I understand your concern now. But it sounds to me like it’s rooted in assuming that certain real-world attitudes about religion still make sense in game-worlds where they don’t.

      In the real world, it’s perfectly reasonable to disregard other people’s religious beliefs because nobody has ever managed to prove to anybody who wasn’t already inclined to believe it that their religion is anything more than just beliefs. But, in game-worlds where gods seem to be obviously real, and religions seem to be obviously correct, because Clerics can consistently perform otherwise inexplicable miracles, it just doesn’t make sense to disregard any religion that has Clerics.

      You might not practice a religion, participate in it, or even just submit to it. You might even utterly disagree with its doctrines and violently oppose it. But you wouldn’t doubt its reality & importance.

      So the fact that other players might think the fact that the referee chose a certain spell means something extremely important is actually a good thing because their characters should think the fact that a Cleric’s god chose a certain spell might mean something extremely important.

      So, while it certainly would be even better if the referee tries to choose the spells s/he imagines the Cleric’s god would choose (and I really like your idea of some gods sometimes choosing spells to teach lessons instead of aiding adventuring), it’s really not necessary as it relates to other players and their characters.

      Did I understand you correctly? And, if not, what did I misunderstand? And, if I did, what do you think of my responses?


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