D&D’s been around so long that clerics and paladins are a normal part of most fantasy settings. Divine magic in any setting has a great many implications — most of which involve causing players to get into stupid arguments.
I Wish I Could Turn Stupid People
In the real world, people pray to their deity of choice all the time. Whether it has any effect is the subject of intense theological debate and many wars throughout the course of history. The presence of divine magic in a setting means that gods definitely exist and that they will answer prayers. If you ask a cleric how she knows her god is real, she can say “You remember how your bones magically unbroke themselves and you quit bleeding to death? THAT.” If you ask a paladin how he knows his god is real, he can say “You remember when that vampire burst into flames when I smote him righteously in his stupid fangs? THAT.”
A person who has seen the direct effects of a deity’s influence won’t be wondering if their god exists. They have proof. However, there is still the opportunity to wonder if one is playing for the right team. What if a person finds the things their god asks of them to be immoral? What if someone thinks another god will treat them better? A lot of fantasy settings go polytheistic (many gods), so there are a lot of higher powers to choose from. That being said, it may not easy for the average person trying to change faith or renounce the gods, especially if that person’s family or village all support that god.
It stands to reason then, that a crisis of faith of this nature is absolutely catastrophic to a divine-powered character. For starters, there’s not going to be any more divine juice coming. Magic notwithstanding, a character whose resolve used to be backed by the force of a god is suddenly going to find only the otherwise unsupported steel in their own spine, and their confidence and morale are likely to be shaken until they can learn to deal with that.
Oh yeah. There’s also the whole “making a god angry” thing, and I’d imagine there are a few gods out there that might take being abandoned by one of their elite devout as a bad thing. Gods like curses. Mythology is littered with poor souls that ran afoul of the gods. Littered, I say!
Alignment Is Evil
I’ve never been particularly fond of alignment (mostly due to the amount of heated arguments I’ve seen over its interpretation), and while I think it might be useful to a DM as guidance for how to play a monster or NPC, I think it has no place on a player character sheet. People aren’t computer programs with set responses. They’re flawed, nuanced individuals who change over time. Their idea of good and evil may well be different than another person’s, and very few people will define themselves as evil.
It’s for these reasons that I hope game mechanics that deal with alignment go the way of the THAC0 in D&D Next. If you have two people with opposing views that each would consider good and the other’s evil, what then would a Detect Evil spell do? Detect Opposing Viewpoints? Does your whole party glow subtly, the marbled nuance of their moral fibre visible in the darkness?
There will need to be other options made available in their place, though. Detect Danger gets into Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses territory. Detect Malice might work but you’d have to make something angry at you and then it usually becomes evident. Detect Enemies is what this spell is usually after. It’s X-ray specs combined with a lie detector made out of a sledgehammer. Of course, since you’re receiving a power from a god, the god could let you detect whatever the hell they felt like. I personally like the idea of a Detect Nonbelievers variant of the spell. Or they could just mess with you. Detect Pollen? Detect Sharp Cheeses?
An interesting sidebar: the average joe in a fantasy realm probably won’t know the difference between arcane and divine magic (especially in a setting where magic is really rare to begin with). Mages could trick people into thinking their deeds were backed by the force of a god. And what if a divine character suddenly found out the powers they’d received from their god ever since childhood were actually psionic or a natural talent for sorcery?
Let Your Conscience Be Your Spirit Guide
At this point even I am starting to think I’ve loaded a shotgun with Divine Character Thought Pellets and fired it skyward, so here’s my (somewhat dubious) point:
Divine characters are fueled by pure belief. It’s interesting sometimes to think how much a character truly believes in their god’s ideals and how deeply this would affect this kind of character. Their belief in their god, their ideals, their confidence in what their doing would shape their very identity because to waver means to fall. But that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.
As usual, I have roleplaying-shaped ulterior motives behind my article. With all the recent discussion on Mike Mearls’ latest L&L column about clerics (and by “discussion”, I mean people angrily yelling “HEALBOT” into the heavens), it’s clear that people have a few defined ideas about what clerics and paladins should and should not be. One of the things that has me very excited about D&D Next is that the design team seems committed to making a system that allows you play whatever you want, whether it’s a traditional “mace & shield” cleric or “I get a horse and +5 holy avenger” paladin, or something new.
People are complex. Religion is complex. People’s feelings about religion are crazy complex. There’s conflict and drama all over the place. That means there is a wide variety of things you can create a character from, and million more things you could try when roleplaying that character. There is room in the imagination for infinite gods, and those gods can each grant different powers or demand something different from their followers. Even then, it’s up to the player to determine how his or her PC chooses to worship. Of course, in D&D, it helps the DM’s sanity if you have specific powers backed by game mechanics, but for several editions now clerics could choose spells or domains or feats or skills that made them different from any other Generic Cleric™. Paladins can still believe very strongly in gods and causes that are not Lawful Good, and I see no reason why a character’s personal code of ethics couldn’t be peppered with some nice habañero chaos.
For my part, I will be petitioning the team at WotC to make sure the default setting for D&D Next includes gods in charge of:
- Marching Order
Wish me luck. Or pray to whatever gods govern tabletop roleplaying games. Doesn’t matter to me. Crom gives a man but two things at birth: a blog and the courage to post in it. And if he won’t help me, then to hell with him!