Alternate cleric magic

Giotto – The Miracle of the Spring

Here is an idea for another way to do cleric magic, based on a d6 roll and my idea of competency (which is character level divided by 2, round up).

All cleric magic is ritualistic, and requires a turn (10 minutes) to attempt. This time represents the cleric petitioning for aid, reciting prayers or sutras, and so forth. Roll 1d6, add competency, subtract disfavor (see below), ritual succeeds on a 6. If the magic works, the cleric gains a point of disfavor. Disfavor is reset to zero when the cleric returns to civilization (generally, between sessions). Rituals available would be the standard spell list and max level of spell known would be equal to competency, just like for magic-users. Or maybe competency minus one to make it so that clerics don’t get any spells at first level.

Clerics are thus differentiated from magic-users, as cleric spells do not require preparation, are not useful during combat (unless they have been performed beforehand), and consume exploration time. This does slightly change the number of spells that can be cast per session. For example, a second level cleric would be able to get off two cures (or other spells) rather than one, but this is offset by the uncertain amount of time required to petition for aid.

Banishing demons or turning undead might also decrease effective competency, though I’m not sure if turning undead should require a roll or not.

Inspired partly by the patron disfavor system in DCC.


17 thoughts on “Alternate cleric magic

  1. Edward Hamilton

    It seems thematically odd that a 14th level cleric casting even a fairly trivial healing spell would suffer “disfavor”, and suffer exactly the same amount of disfavor as from demanding a major miracle.

    In practical terms, I think this would motivate using powerful spells early in the session, and switching to simple spells later in the session, which is roughly opposite of the way resources tend to be managed under a Vancian system. Not necessarily a bad thing, if you want to encourage clerics to function more as melee combatants instead of casters, but definitely different.

    1. Brendan


      It’s not really functionally the same amount of disfavor for a high level cleric though. A second level cleric goes from a 33% (+1) chance per turn of getting off a spell to a 16% (+0) chance per turn (because of the 1/6 decrease) whereas a 12th level cleric goes from a 100% chance (+6) to a 100% chance (+5) to a 84% chance (+4).

      Looking at Men & Magic, with the exception of the fifth level spells, which are pretty much all special cases and so deserve extra consideration (raise dead, commune, quest, etc), and the two levels of healing (light/serious), most of the cleric spells are actually of about equivalent power (really more depending on situational usefulness). So I wouldn’t really personally worry much about an incentive to use powerful spells earlier.

      I think the exploration turn casting time would also make clerics focus more on fighting during combat as opposed to spell casting.

      That’s a good point about potentially incentivizing using the powerful spells first, but remember that as long as the cleric has at least a 1 in 6 chance of casting, the question is not if the spell can be cast but rather how long it takes, since the spells happen outside of combat.

    2. Brendan


      Minor note: one possible point of divergence regarding our expectations is that I don’t think any spells should ever really be trivial, even first level spells being cast by high level casters. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but it is a goal (and also probably connected to my appreciation of flat power curves).

  2. Talysman

    I’m not keen on the competency and disfavor parts, although I’ve got something similar. But making all clerical magic take longer seems like a good idea for STEALING.

    1. Brendan


      What exactly turns you off regarding the competency and disfavor? To be honest, I’m not totally sold myself, but I’m looking for something less Vancian for clerics. Your “cleric without spells” paradigm works nicely, but it also changes the tenor of the class significantly.

      If possible, I would like to keep the traditional spell list but still create some sort of friction regarding continuous use of spells. Healing is specifically problematic if too available, but really some degree of resource management for all cleric spells is probably necessary.

      Glad you like the turn-based casting time.

    2. Talysman

      I think the main thing that turns me off about competency is the name. It reminds me too much of the idea of training. I realize you’ve got to call it *something*, though.

      I do think your odds of success are much lower than I’m OK with. I set the C w/o S 2d6 target number to 9+, which would be about 5+ on 1d6. And I actually wondered if that was too low a chance of success.

      As for disfavor, it rises too fast too frequently for my tastes. Your disfavor increases every time you successfully cast a spell. I went with impiety (disfavor) on a 2 on 2d6, and with only two levels of impiety: displeasure (-1 to reaction rolls from supernaturals of the same alignment) and loss of faith (no more spell casting until atonement is made.)

    3. Brendan


      That seems potentially like a lot of magic per session, especially compared to the 1 fire and forget spell that a second level traditional cleric is given. Which might be okay — I tend to think that low level characters have too few spells, and high level characters have too many.

      What I’m leaning towards now is probably doing away with the idea of disfavor altogether, as tracking any abstract point totals other than HP seems like too much bookkeeping. Instead, some of the spells would be recast as item creation (healing potions rather than cure light wounds, for example) and the cleric magic ritual roll would just have the competency bonus. That seems a bit more straight forward.

      Another idea would be to do resource management by having rituals require a vial of holy water, thus shunting the problem over to the encumbrance system.

      I hear you regarding the word competency, but I haven’t been able to think of a better word. Maybe just calling it the “class bonus” would be better.

  3. Gus L

    I would up the duration of abjurations a bit for this system because while split second timing is useful things like bless become really hard to make useful. Perhap, bless prayer etc don’t start duration until used?

    1. Brendan


      Yeah, a few spells like bless would require some thought. Maybe clerics could just pick one abjuration per session? For example, bless or protection from evil. As players would likely cast their abjurations before setting out for the wilderness anyways in a system like this.

    2. Brendan


      Here are all the cleric spells from Men & Magic. I have labelled the ones that are obviously combat oriented with ** and those that are potentially combat oriented with *.

      Cure Light Wounds
      Purify Food & Water
      Detect Magic
      Detect Evil
      Protection/Evil *
      Light *

      Find Traps
      Hold Person **
      Bless *
      Speak with Animals

      Remove Curse
      Cure Disease
      Locate Object
      Continual Light

      Neutralize Poison *
      Cure Serious Wounds
      Protection/Evil, 10’r.
      Turn sticks to snakes **
      Speak with plants
      Create Water

      Dispell Evil *
      Raise Dead
      Insect Plague
      Create Food

    3. Gus L

      I don’t think the idea of a cleric being allowed to make one ward or abjuration via a ritual before setting out is bad at all. I’d make them more specific though and of course varied as level went up. Like “Detect lies” or “protection from fire” or “prayer of inspiration (allies gain +1 to attack)” that sort of thing, a whole different set of effects clerics can pick. It might be a bit MMORPG or videogame – but it seems decent. As to combat spells I’ve always thought the petitioner idea was good – like asking for direct divine intervention right at that moment(quick healing and damage, holds or turning) and maybe had backlash if it’s a failure. Not sure how to manage it though?

      Maybe Clerics can’t do anything quick until higher level but make the rituals easier even at 1st level?

  4. jackstoolbox

    I want to chew on this a little bit, but I think I like the underpinning ideas, even if the system itself doesn’t strike me.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is tactical healing versus… I guess it would be “strategic” healing? The difference between healing in-combat (which I think should be limited so that DPS, AC, and Healing are tactically-balanced and viable options)and out-of-combat healing (which should be limited enough to punish poor tactics, and yet there’s an argument for it to be plentiful enough to not shut down adventuring with every fight).

    I really like the idea of pushing Clerical magic into the realm of turn-based rituals and differentiating it from Arcane magic. This may even make a solid case for introducing tactical healing into Arcane magic (since I haven’t heard a good reason for why Wizards can’t heal).

  5. gameystuff

    One option that might maintain the different feel you want from ritual magic being different is to make it so ritual magic is either lengthy and done before hand or channeled i.e. they don’t *cast* a Hold Person or a Bless they chant it and it lasts as long as they continue the chant.

    A possible extension of this is to rip a simplified version of the computer space idea from Traveller i.e. a chant spell takes one space per level, moving takes one space and melee takes two spaces and the character gets a certain number of spaces.

    Say for example it was one space per level
    At level 1 a cleric could only run a single chant and can’t move or fight at the same time.

    At level two they could
    – run a level 2 chant
    – run 2 level 1 chants at the same time
    – run a level 1 chant and move
    – melee

    at level 3
    – 1 level 3 chant
    – 1 level 2 and 1 level 1
    – melee and run a level 1 chant at the same time


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