Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 2

As I noted in Part 1, I am writing with two particular assumptions in mind: One, that alignment represents allegiance, and two, that the majority of “nature gods” are Neutral. Also, this topic will now be split across three posts instead of just two, as I previously expected.

Chaos Knight by Ian Miller

In little brown book OD&D, all clerics are Lawful in alignment, and the priests of Chaos are “anti-clerics.” This distinct class lacks any power over undead, not even AD&D’s command variation for evil priests. Also, the anti-cleric spell list lacks any healing spells. Now, DCC comes together from an amalgamation of ideas across all editions of D&D, along with a lot of excellent original material. But I think there’s still a lot of value in looking back at the anti-cleric when considering Chaotic clerics and how they are distinct from Lawful and Neutral clerics, both fictionally and mechanically.

First, the Lay on Hands ability. There is something of a disconnect for me when the priests of chaos gods are making whole the injured, even when it’s accompanied with a great bit of role-playing like smearing wounds with feces. The concept of mending the sick, restoring them to their former state of health, seems a little out of step with the agenda of the lords of chaos. And looking back to the anti-cleric, we see that the class lacked healing spells, so there’s certainly precedent for a similar line of thought in the origins of the game.

I’ve considered two different mechanical solution for this issue. The first is to simply make Lay on Hands into a damaging ability instead of healing. Chaotic clerics would need to make a touch attack (however you want to define that) and then roll as normal. When determining damage, invert the normal reading of the columns, so that someone of opposed alignment is the easiest to damage.

The second option, which I am leaning more toward, is to keep Lay on Hands as a healing ability but tie corruption/mutation into the power. Whenever a chaotic cleric heals someone, regardless of alignment, the target must make a will saving throw versus the cleric’s spell check. If the save fails, the target incurs some sort of chaos mutation. Using this option, clerics of chaos only get deity disapproval for healing targets of opposed alignment if the target passes the saving throw.

The nature of the mutation or corruption could easily be determined using the wizard spell corruption tables in the DCC rulebook or any other chaos mutation tables of the judge’s choice. I’ve referenced the Marks of Chaos tables at the Dungeon Dozen blog before, and there’s the classic table from Realms of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness – I’m sure there are plenty more out there as well. It’s also simple to tie the severity of the mutation into the benefit of healing if you are using multiple tables, like so:

Spell check Level of Corruption
1–11 None
12–13 Minor
14–19 Minor/Major (50% chance)
20–21 Major
22+ Greater

In part 3, we’ll return to Chaotic clerics, their anti-cleric antecedents, and the Turn Unholy ability.

Author: John Carr

Gamer, comic guy, office drone.

11 thoughts on “Holy Shit: Let’s Talk About Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 2”

  1. What if, as a third option for the Lay on Hands of the Chaotic Cleric, have it work more along the lines of a “Life Drain”. Meaning, that as an incidental to damaging a foe, a lesser die of healing has the chance of healing a friendly player (they may not match in alignment, but they are friendly given their status as an adventuring party).

    For example, as the Anti-cleric, you roll to damage as you had previously mentioned. The roll table for this ability (call it what you will) would then have a chance at granting a predetermined amount of healing utilizing the alignment chart as normal, but changing the number of hit die restored…or perhaps having an additional table for just such an ability. Thoughts?

    1. Thanks, Adam; good stuff! I think a life draining feature totally fits, and had vaguely thought about some vampiric version where the cleric heals himself. Where I think I would still tweak this is there’s currently no negative impact on the person being healed — that is, if I was going to do this, I’d probably still use the mutation healing in some way.

      I think the thing that’s been getting me about Chaos clerics, from a fiction standpoint, is that even if your party is full of self-serving murder hobos, a chaos cleric should probably not be someone you take on lightly. Because at the end of the day, the chaos cleric plays for the same team as all the creepy crawly weirdness lurking in the dungeons and dark places. So really, even one some is a “friendly,” it’s just as a tool to the dark purposes of mind-shattering space gods.

      1. Wholeheartedly agree that a Chaos Cleric would be one sick mother. Keep up the great work, boss.

  2. I agree that the the idea of healing seems abnormal for a Cleric of Chaos. However by limiting a spell list the God is, in effect, saying “Oh I don’t care if you or any of my worshipers die for any reason.” Maybe He really doesn’t care. Maybe it’s a Sith-like thing and he only wants the strongest to survive. But if that’s the case shouldn’t said cleric refuse healing if offered from someone else? He’d want to prove how strong he is.

    I don’t think it’s out of character for that cleric to heal himself, his flock, or other minions/followers of this particular God. Maybe illness or everyday bumps and bruises can’t be healed (that’s just natural randomness of life) but damage from combat, especially caused by enemies of the church should be.

    For example; An adventuring party storms the God’s temple, injure or slay a number of acolytes but are temporarily driven back. The Party begins to use magic to heal and are soon at 100%. The clerics inside the temple are in deep trouble because they aren’t allowed to heal themselves at all.

    In this case the healing would be situational and appropriate, not an everyday occurrence.

    I can imagine any Church of Chaos without healing magic would soon be eradicated if any good church declared a holy war on it.

    1. At this point, I’m pretty much 100% on the “healing with mutation” option as opposed to no healing. I think it’s both the simpler solution actually the more flavorful. Just turning Lay on Hands into a harming ability doesn’t really bring all that much fictional zest to the table, but healing with chaos mutations (especially if god-specific tables get written) brings a whole lot of in-world coolness. The followers of Chaos, after all, see the mutation as a blessing and at the judge’s discretion could possible provide a mechanical benefit depending on the mutation. Of course, to those of more Lawful (or even mundanely Neutral) outlook, the healing comes with a hideous and insidious price.

      1. For that matter, perhaps random mutation tables could be generated to not only include location, but visual representation, much like corruption. This way also helps keep things random, as the other game mechanics do so well.

        *Roll: 22* “Congratulations, your left leg now resembles that of a roach. The Dark Lord must really like you@!”

        Or some such type of thing.

  3. For potential mutations you might be interested in the Transmutation table here http://www.lastgaspgrimoire.com/do-not-take-me-for-some-turner-of-cheap-tricks/ and the Malpractice tables here http://www.lastgaspgrimoire.com/full-of-clerical-errors/

    I have my Clerics use a Faith system where things can go all kinds if wrong if they try to exceed their limits, and Malpractice is specifically for healing in that situation. I’m also considering implementing a chance of things going wrong if the person being healed simply doesn’t believe in the Cleric’s god.

    So I’m a fan of anything that makes Clerics more manky and disconcerting.

    1. Thanks Logan, I’m actually surprised I forgot to link those as potential sources since I’ve had them both saved in my Evernote for months now!

      1. Hahaha, nice site by the way, it popped up in my referrals a couple of weeks ago and after a quick look added you straight to my links.
        When “Holy shit! Let’s talk about Clerics” popped up in my feed I knew I’d made a good decision.

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