Holy Shit: Let’s Talk about Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 3

As previously noted, I am writing with two particular assumptions in mind: One, that alignment represents allegiance, and two, that the majority of “nature gods” are Neutral.

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I would say that Turn Unholy poses the biggest problem for me in regards to Chaos clerics. Last time I mentioned the anti-cleric, who completely lacked any version of Turn Undead. Considering what the power represents in the fiction, it makes sense that it would be exclusive to Lawful clerics. It’s Peter Cushing rebuking Christopher Lee with a cross; it’s a holy man passing unharmed through the valley of the shadow of death. When I first started playing D&D, the fictional truth behind Turn Undead instantly made sense to me, even if the rules for doing it didn’t. But where does the Chaos cleric fit in that fiction?

Traditional D&D offers two solutions: In B/X, clerics could Turn Undead regardless of alignment, whereas in AD&D evil clerics could Command/Rebuke Undead. The AD&D solution makes more sense to me in terms of the game setting – I can see why dark clerics would have power over undead in the same way light clerics can cast them out. The default DCC solution is somewhat closer to B/X, though by expanding the power to Turn Unholy it implies that there could be any number of supernatural beings the Chaos cleric could still turn. However, in practice I’ve found that Turn Unholy is a bit useless for Chaotic priests. In pre-published materials there are almost no challenges to a party that I would readily identify as being “unholy” by the perception of Chaos gods. Moreover, the majority of monstrous humanoids are Chaotic in my game world, even many that are listed as Lawful in the DCC rules.

But beyond any rules practicality, I also find the fictional resonance of Chaos clerics turning to be lacking. The image of a crazed cultist rebuking an angel just doesn’t jive for me. The first obvious solution to this is to go the AD&D route and make the power a command ability for Chaos priests. I’m not in love with that option, either. DCC does a great thing by expanding the power to Turn Unholy instead of Turn Undead, allowing for all sorts of creatures to be affected if it seems appropriate to the setting. By contrast, Command Unholy could allow for a some interesting situations, but for some reason it just doesn’t seem very Appendix N to me. That said, I can why some would go this route.

Another alternative I’ve considered is some sort of variation on the Demon Summoning spell as a replacement ability, but it’s pretty tricky to adapt a 3rd level wizard spell into something a cleric could do at 1st level. Ultimately, the solution I plan on going with was proposed by Matt Butler, player of filth-priest Sherman Funk, who summed it up succinctly: “Lose Turn, gain Burn.”

The DCC rulebook has a short paragraph on clerics and spellburn; the heart of it states “Clerics can never utilize spellburn for normal spells; only under specialized circumstances the judge will specify.” Since clerics of Chaos gods are pretty firmly in the crazed cultist circle along with infernalist wizards and necromancers, it seems pretty fitting that those clerics should be able to spellburn. So that’s the simple solution that I’m implementing in my game (at least on a play test basis) – Chaos clerics lose Turn Unholy, but gain the ability to spellburn.

In fact, given the ritualistic spellburn mentioned in the rulebook, it also seems appropriate that multiple Chaos clerics any acolytes could spellburn to enhance a single spell, which Matt noted as well. My tentative answer is try to allow the cleric and any other devoted worshippers of the same god in line of sight to spellburn for a single spell. That may prove overpowering both for and against PCs, so I’m very ready to revoke that notion if gets too out of control.

As with mutations from healing, individual Chaos gods should probably have unique spellburn tables just like patrons. And anything that adds more random fun to the table is pretty fitting for DCC.

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6 Responses to Holy Shit: Let’s Talk about Clerics in DCC RPG, Part 3

  1. Matt Butler August 1, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Love it!

  2. Brianna Heine August 2, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    I’ve only just started delving into DCC so I can’t comment on spellburn. My best knowledge of rules sits with D&D. Specifically 3e. I always found it a little silly when people try to figure out their alignment or the alignment of favorite fictional characters. In the real world people probably wear a differtent alignment according to the situation their faced with. It’s nebulous and too broad to actually define a complicated person in real-world terms. In D&D alignment IS a very real and palpable thing. If you are evil the Paladin staring at you KNOWS you are evil. Period. If you are a Cleric the very power of your god falls down from heaven (or up from hell) and quite literally fills your body with god’s power. Although I like the idea of Control Undead I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume good beings are uncomfortable around chaotic clerics. If said cleric turns his attention to an angel and begins spouting unholy words of spite I can imagine the hand of chaos stepping in and that Angel feeling very unhappy.

    • John Carr August 2, 2013 at 8:39 am #

      I don’t disagree with the notion that it isn’t unreasonable to believe that the power of a chaotic cleric could repel a good being based on the setting implied by the rules, but much like you are doing with Conan I am trying to think about the setting/inspirational fiction first and then figure out how the rules reflect that and can be tweaked to reflect it better. In this case, the notion of the chaos cleric repelling the angel just doesn’t feel right to me.

  3. Brianna Heine August 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    As I get older a campaign setting’s atmosphere becomes more and more important. Just reversing a “good” power to make an “evil” power wouldn’t add anything to the game.

  4. Xander June 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    I appreciate these posts. While I love the stripped and easy to use rules, I think the Fighter and the Wizard get way too much love. The patron rules for Wizard’s are awesome, and something similar should exist for Clerics. I would love for them to come out with a supplement that would inject some life into the Cleric to make them more flavorful and as fun as a wizard in their dangerous alliance with big scary Space Gods.

    • Xander June 12, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

      I mean a character who wishes to be a cultist of Bobugbubilz or Azi Dhaka, are better off making Patron Bound Wizards. Which is something I think the Cleric class in DnD and DCC should consider. Clerics with healing and turning abilities as the “unique” mechanic (if not core mechanic as you argue) should maybe be restricted to Lawful or Netural, while the crazed demon cultist is better represented as a Patron Bound Wizard. In 4E DnD the Infernal Pact Warlock was much more fitting than a Cleric of Asmodeus to represent a Devil Cultist, just like the Gloom Pact Hexblade made a better Priestess of Lolth than a Cleric with a paucity of appropriate darkness Cleric spells.

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