... now with 35% more arrogance!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Examining Archetypes: The Cleric

I really should have focused more on practical matters in yesterday's post about archetypes, so I'm going to do a quick series of posts on each class, starting with the Cleric (because of something Faoladh said that fit with some ideas I had.)

The Cleric is, as I've said, meant to be a representative of the "holy" archetype: a character whose primary motivation is faith, who derives strength from that faith, and is seen to succeed because of that faith. It wasn't exclusively a militant priest, originally. Part of the reason for the Clerics Without Spells article was to allow players more freedom in character conception, so that the Cleric could be used for a traditional missionary, or for Van Helsing, or for Solomon Kane.

The Cleric can be changed further if you recognize that clerical power doesn't (and perhaps shouldn't) necessarily come from a supernatural being, but comes instead from the Cleric's devotion to a supernatural being, or potentially anything else: a megalomaniac, for example, who believes himself to be divine; or a conspiracy theorist, dedicated to revealing the truth. Depending on the setting, these alternative "Clerics" might need other restrictions on or reinterpretations of their abilities, but they provide a little more variety.

Faoladh mentioned the Lover as a possible archetype. There are actually two kinds of "lover": the Don Juan/Cassanova type, able to bed many lovers, and the Lancelot/Romeo type, willing to do anything for their One True Love. The latter can obviously be based on the (spell-less) Cleric, gaining the ability to stare down enemies, persuade the powerful, or even push themselves beyond normal human limits in pursuit of the object of their devotion. Again, they may need restrictions to make them "fit": a Romantic Cleric would not be able to heal others, but might be able to heal himself or dispel fear in order to rejoin his love.

I think the key to adapting the Cleric archetype to non-religious forms is to recognize that the object of their devotion is not really someone or something else, but to some ideal of Loyalty, Fidelity, or Integrity deep in their own character. Replace Piety with one of those three, and subtract a penalty when Very Low results are rolled; Loyalty, Fidelity, or Integrity is slowly restored by selfless acts of devotion (in other words, not expecting a miracle as a result.) For "Clerics" with delusions of divinity, it takes worship or selfless acts by others to restore faith in themselves.


  1. Intriguing post. It's interesting to think of the different classes as divided by what motivates them
    to go adventuring, rather than what powers/abilities they have. The cleric goes for God, the thief for Gold, the wizard to improve his mastery of the magical arts, and the fighter...presumably to smash things. ;-)

  2. so to take a terribly pedestrian tack here, is the superhero who does stuff "for justice" a cleric?
    I'm thinking about this in GURPS terms: you have a disad (vow or obsession) which frees up points for some kind of (fickle) special ability? Or am I missing something fundamental?

  3. ...and the fighter isn't obsessive or he'd be a cleric? Could you potentially get clerical powers during a quest/geas, and they might go away at the end? Sorry, I like what you're doing here. It's not my intention to be combative.

  4. @Richard - I would say cleric's are people who tend to derive special abilities from their devotion--("his thirst for vengeance gave him superhuman strength," "love made him unstoppable"). A fighter could be motivated by something, but when in fiction the motivation would be credited as the source of their abilities, that's when there a cleric.

    That's my 2 cents, at least. :)

  5. I'd agree with Trey on this one. Any character can have passions or acquire temporary -- or not so temporary -- powers during play. But in general, a Fighter is all about facing problems head-on, usually by physical might, whereas the Cleric (or Cleric-like variants) is about drawing strength from some other source. In fact, for the faithful romantic, that strength is mostly about shaking off personal injury or feelings of defeat for the sake of their beloved; many times, there's no fighting involved, just extreme stamina when overcoming natural obstacles.

  6. I guess I should add something about the disadvantage (Vow) question as well. although Clerics may have vows of some kind, I'm talking about a advantage or ability. The Cleric is able to do something by virtue of extreme devotion that other characters can't do, or can only do in a more limited way.

  7. Yes, indeed. I'd say that there is not that much difference between Don Juan and Romeo, though. Don Juan is devoted to Woman, while Romeo is devoted to the particular woman Juliet.

  8. Don't be tricked by the word "woman". Don Juan has power over women. Romeo has power from the love of a woman, and loses power when he thinks he's lost his love. The difference is more obvious when you consider characters like John Carter.

  9. It could be a matter for much debate. Don Juan needs his devotion in order to fulfill his failure to integrate his own feminine nature. If a (well-integrated) woman were to fail to need his sort of devotion, his power would be lost. Basically, he's a sort of inverted image of Romeo, gaining his power from the needs of psychologically unfulfilled women.

  10. I wasn't going to get into this, but... Romeo's a problematic character to cite since, AFAICT, he has no powers, only misfortunes. In that regard he's kind of a strange ironic reworking of the hero of classical romance, whose separation from their love powers them through the narrative: he gets power only through dying. Lancelot's a natural, sure, like Orpheus. Valmont's an interesting case, as a self-loving *charmer(?)* who turns out to be a lover in secret.

    I'm still troubled by how this whole archetype thing should play out, though: it seems like many archetypes would be hard to play as characters because their acts can only be interpreted in a narrative, which roleplaying doesn't assure you. By which I mean: the trickster bestows wisdom (often lateral thinking) because of the outcome of his tricks. The mentor provides advice/support which turns out to be necessary. But if the mentor's advice turned out to be useless they'd be a malign trickster, and if you can pull the sting from the trickster's work then he's more like a mysterious mentor. But RPG rule classes assume you are already this thing, that seems to me more an ascriptive category. Just maybe not a very good one... in which case are you actually the archetype?

    All that said, here's the three musketeers in archetypes:
    Athos - mentor
    Aramis - charmer/schemer
    Porthos - um. Fighter, sure, but Toblerone seems more like a motivation
    Dartagnan - adventurer. A version of fool, perhaps? I don't know how else to classify him: he is actuated by the plot and uses his wits.
    Richelieu - schemer, also vizier, man of power
    Milady - ...um. She's a schemer, sure. And a woman of skill, a charmer, an adventurer, possibly. Mostly though she's a nemesis. Can that be an archetype? Does it make her a lover, because she's obsessed with revenge?