Ode to the Old School Cleric.

Ya know, I’m going to tip my hat to the OSR this week. New school D&D players who’ve only dabbled in d20/3.5/Pathfinder and/or 4E Dungeons & Dragons really don’t know how pampered they are, especially when it comes to playing the Cleric class.

In our Friday game, which has been playing Mentzer D&D (using Redbox and Rules Cyclopedia), I stepped up to the front and volunteered to play a Cleric. As of right now, he is quickly approaching his 5th level of experience, and I have to say this has been one of the toughest, most rewarding D&D experiences I’ve ever had. It’s a miracle he’s still alive (he’s fallen a few times in battle and has seen death’s door a bit), but where many have seen a weak support role I have seen nothing but an amazing role-playing challenge that has left me on my toes.

Rough Start

Brother Grigori started out like any 1st level cleric in Mentzer D&D: a single d6 hit die, a modest weapon and armor, and no spells. First level Clerics only get the added privilege of a Turn Undead ability that, thankfully, they get to cast At-Will as a standard action (using the new school terminology.) I figured as long as our party played smart and didn’t get in over our heads, we’d pick up our 2nd level in no time. Wrong.

Our “Island Hopping” campaign began with us ship wrecking and coming ashore to a strange island, only to be captured and enslaved by Hobgoblins. All of our gear was lost, and we spent the first session in nothing but rags with rusty pickaxes as our only possible weapon. When we attempted escape, my character (being restricted by his religious tenants) was forced to use the blunt side of the rusty pickaxe; making our gimped weapons even weaker. We were offered a chance to fight in an Arena for our freedom, with some rusty armor and slightly better used weapons. My cleric even landed some crucial blows, and was the last party member standing (until getting owned in the face by wild animals.)

We didn’t get to see our 2nd level until after our second session. It took us escaping into an abandoned mine, fighting off Spiders, Kobolds, and eventually a family of 3 Ogres. Yes, you read that right: three Ogres, vs. Level Ones.  I think the DM had intended us to sneak or flee past them; but some quick thinking saved the day.

Thinking on Your Toes

Being considerably gimped and not even getting to start off with spells forced me to kick creative thinking up several notches. Biggest thing I learned playing this style of D&D is forgetting what you know about later editions, even first edition AD&D. The other thing was stop thinking about what’s written on the character sheet, and think about things your character knows. In this case, I realized that my alignment was simply “Lawful.” No good or evil expressions or mechanics there. There was also no significant rulings against or for the use of Poisons by the class. Also, we had decided as a group that we’d implement some kind of “profession” system to flesh out skills we have outside of our classes, and I had my heart set on him being some sort of herbalist/botanist during his monastic years.

When we had slain the spiders, which were large sized Black Widows, I asked the DM if my character would view Poison as a strictly chaotic or evil act. I brought up a bit of my herbalist/botanist back ground, and how poisons were used in agriculture for keeping out the pests. While I wasn’t necessarily inclined to use them, I was able to give a convincing statement allowing my character to harvest the poison glands from the spiders and allow the other members to keep them for coating their weapons with toxins. This allowed us to narrowly defeat the Ogres at the end of the cave by using poison tipped crossbow bolts.

Making those Spell Slots Count

Even now that my character has decent bludgeoning weapons and armor, and the ability to cast spells, I’m having to take into careful consideration the actions and abilities I use. There’s been times where I’ve had to consider if my place was hanging back from the party lending support, or taking the front lines with my mace in the air, or holy symbol in hand blasting away undead threats. Even outside of battle, I’ve had to make some clever considerations. When we finally left the first Island, and embarked on a sailing expedition that lasted weeks into the unknown, I made damn sure to give up my heals for Purify Food & Water and encourage the others to fish when they could.

Now that I have a 2nd level spell slot open, I’ve decided to make regular use of Hold Person. It’s such a badass spell, in that it has a ridiculous range and allows me to cast on up to 4 targets. But it’s also the ultimate, in my opinion, passive aggressive spell. In our current situation, we have arrived on an island under siege by cut throat invaders who have been corralling refugees into their harbors in hopes of forcing the food supply to run out. Before we were granted into the main island, we were stopped in an outpost where the invaders took our boat and attempted to take all of our weapons and armor. We stashed many of the weapons where we could — bails of hay, ale barrels, but my character had no place to stash his Plate Mail or magical mace. So, instead, I covered it up with thick layers of cloaks and robes attempting to look like a rather large Friar, and another party member covered my face and tried to warn everyone I had the plague.

The plan almost worked, but then a scuffle broke out and guards immediately started clubbing everyone, especially us. My character looked up to see a guard charging at full speed with a baton, and Grigori without even flinching lifted up his hands, Held the guard in place, and began “thanking” him in his paralyzed state for showing mercy on a poor, plague infested man of the cloth such as himself. That’s role-playing gold right there, folks!

Getting the Most out of Little

I don’t have any cool divine laser spells I can blast my enemies with. I don’t have this amazing spammable channel ability that heals all my friends in an area and harms the wicked and the undead at once. I don’t have any fancy domain powers, orisons, or even bonus spell slots because of my high wisdom. In this game, I am merely Grigori, a fourth level Cleric. He may not have the fancy feat list or “kewl powers”, but his story is epic. He has survived for so long on so little, and what he lacks in power he has made up through faith, devotion, determination and zeal. He has a righteous fire burning within him, and even though he’s a bit of a grumpy old bastard….his heart is in the right place, and he has allowed himself to be an instrument of his Lord’s will.

So many times I’ve almost lost him; and each time I couldn’t help but think to myself “This is but a glorious death for such an incorrigible bastard.” And yet the fates have left him standing still. God damn I love this game.

3 thoughts on “Ode to the Old School Cleric.”

  1. Oh, I’ve been craving to go back and play some Old-School D&D. For now I will just have to live vicariously through you.

    You have my admiration and pity for volunteering to play the Cleric. It is a crappy, thankless job, even more so in the older editions. Kudos!

    And great post, too.

  2. Cleric has really grown on me. I’m playing a Fighter/Cleric Dwarf in a monthly AD&D campaign and having a blast with him too; although I do feel more of an attachment for my basic Cleric character right now.

  3. Back when we still played DnD I usually went for the Mage or the Rogue. Never had success with the Rogue but had a blast with the Mage.

    For some reason we never really had a cleric worth a damn, the only one we did have was more interested torturing people and setting fires than healing (Hate playing with an Evil party).

    The more the editions have moved on, the more you seem to have to research your classes these days. This does however make for more interesting characters (rather than the old cookie cutter approach).

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