While walking my dog this afternoon I got thinking about Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the Cleric class. I recall some playtest rules in either Vaginas are Magic or Eldricht Cock wherein LotFP game designer, James Edward Raggi IV, contemplates removing the Cleric class altogether. I hope he doesn’t. It is, in my opinion, the best version of the Cleric out of the #OSR that I have seen with a possible exception to Lion & Dragon’s cleric (more on that below).
For the purposes of this discussion, I am referring to the Mentzer cleric. I do not have the experience with Moldvay or Holmes to comment. It is my understanding that there isn’t much substantive difference anyway. If I am wrong, feel free to eviscerate me in the comments below! 😊
Why is LotFP’s cleric superior? For the same reason why the Specialist is superior to the Thief class: versatility. In the B/X version of the Cleric, you do not start with spells at level one, but you can turn undead. This immediately enforces a thematic element to the character class: They are more akin to knights templar who, through their devotion, gain spells as they gain in power. Further, it really sets the tone that these guys are undead slayers. With some clever storytelling and role-playing you can make this thematic element work for you, but I feel you are sort of stuck as the anti-undead pseudo-paladin class.
In contrast, the LotFP cleric does not get turn undead but gains a single spell at level one. If you consider your spell selection as your powers from your deity, you now have a serious amount of versatility to play the type of cleric that you want to play. Turn Undead is a spell in LotFP so you still have that option but you don’t need to play a Van Helsing type character at all. I also find the spells in LotFP more useful and more powerful, thus allowing you as a player to do more with that one spell you have. In a LotFP live play of “Menagerie of Exiles,” my Catholic priest used his one spell to bless our French swordsman. Thank God (no pun intended here) I did because what we ended up facing was ridiculously challenging…I ran, btw. I was the only survivor! (LotFP’s Bless is my favorite cleric spell, fyi.)
Recently, I briefly participated in a Horror on the Hill game using a B/X clone. I made my character a devotee of Odin. I played him like a fighter, but I really could’ve used the spells. We never encountered any undead during my brief time playing. Thus, my turn undead ability was useless. I felt particularly useless while my fighting skills were decent (I rolled a 16 strength), I could not help the party in the ways we would expect a cleric to help out. If I was playing an LotFP cleric, I would’ve been able to do more as a player.
Weapon use is another demonstration of the versatility of the LotFP cleric. The B/X cleric is limited to blunt weapons because, I guess, they don’t cause people to bleed….? This never made any sense to me because all you have to do is watch a medieval war movie like Braveheart or The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc to know bludgeoning weapons can cause some serious bloodshed. Indeed, Negan does a rather nice job of showing how you can literally make mincemeat out of someone using a baseball bat!
However, the idea that a clerical order may have restrictions on weapon use due to divine edicts is not necessarily a bad thing. With the introduction of specialist clerics in AD&D, you started seeing clerics with a more diverse weapon options. Well guess what? With LotFP your cleric can use whatever they want for whatever their reason. With a little role-playing ingenuity you can explain why your cleric’s deity says it is “a-okay” to use a blunderbuss!
When discussing OSR games and skill use, I think we need to tread lightly. Neither cleric we are talking about has access to skills. That is by design as your thief or specialist is supposed to have those in-game abilities to round out the adventuring team. This is a game of cooperative play after all. Also, I am of the opinion that if a game design focuses too much on skills, you end up having players who try to game the system for the perfect build and/or rely on their character sheets rather than engage in the immersive environment you are putting together as a GM.
So, while I thought about giving the cleric (B/X or LotfP) some adventuring skills, I am refraining. Why? You’re a cleric. You don’t need them. Your GM should be telling you, because of your training, when you gain some religious insight upon reading runes in an ancient temple, or when you discover an ancient codex of wisdom. You’re a cleric. You would have some understanding of bureaucracy and the politics associated thereto. You’re a cleric. You know who the important people are in the realm you serve and probably know who regularly attends church and who doesn’t!
Furthermore, I think using ability checks is much better than some oddball skill system where you add a proficiency bonus to beat a target number. The target number mechanic leaves too much to the subjective interpretation of the GM in terms of difficulty level and can be “swingy” in terms of how the game plays out. With a straight ability check, you have a static percentage of success. For example, if your Wisdom score is a 13, you have a 65% to roll equal to or under it.
That being said, with LotFP streamlining “common adventuring activities” vis-à-vis a d6 skill check that everyone has access to, your LotFP cleric is going to have a 1/6 chance of doing something that adventurers commonly do. So, in a sense, your LotFP cleric starts off with some skills the B/X cleric doesn’t get. These skills will be modified from time to time by situational modifiers at the GM’s discretion.
It’s not a strong point in favor of the LotfP Cleric, but it is a point in the game’s favor!
Finally, with regard to alignment, I think LotFP hit the nail on the head when it makes being lawful mandatory. Religion by its very definition is an attempt to make order out of what we experience. As LotFP uses alignment as an understanding of the cosmos, I think making a lawful alignment mandatory makes sense. With B/X and later D&D games, the idea of Law, Neutrality, and Chaos are seen more like personal choices for the player-character. This lends itself to a type of moral relativism which I abhor and waters down what the Cleric is supposed to be: a champion of religious order.
The counter-argument that you cannot have a group of crazed chaotic cultists trying to take over a town is easily countered with LotFP’s approach to alignment. Yes, you can have a group of crazed chaotic cultists trying to take over a town. They are led by a magic-user who is not speaking to a god but rather is getting his/her powers from some unnamed entity and wielding them as if he were a cleric. This is how I envision the “bad guy” clerics in my homebrew campaign world. They are magic-users who have made foul pacts with unnamed powers in exchange for worldly power.
I don’t think you need druids in LotFP. If druids are neutral and revere some unnamed nature entity (Gaea, Mother-earth, etc.), then they wouldn’t have spells to remain consistent with LotFP. I think they would be more of a specialist. I refer you to my prior blog post on how I use the specialist to make druids for my campaigns.
Okay, I wanted to talk about Lion & Dragon because I really like this game. I think RPGPundit has done a masterful job conjuring up Medieval Europe with Dark Albion and the companion ruleset Lion & Dragon. I’m not a super Medievalist historian or anything, but I did do a bit of studying of the time period back in my college years. RPGPundit is not wrong when he says what we call “medieval fantasy” really isn’t all that medieval.
The clerics from Lion and Dragon feel more like bureaucrats than they do holy warriors. They do not get spells. These clerics get miraculous powers and it is a rather limited list. They can bless, gain divine inspiration, turn undead, heal, and conjure a holy weapon, among other abilities. The particular ruleset for Lion & Dragon contemplates random improvements with each level. Thus, a cleric player rolls a d10 upon gaining a level and consults a chart to determine if their fighting skill improves, or they gain a new miraculous power, improve on saving throws, etc. I like this cleric but that is more because I think the character advancement rules of Lion & Dragon are cool. It’s different and adds a variable into the character creation and development process that would allow for one Lion & Dragon cleric to be more scholarly and the next one be more of a warrior. This is the same for all of the character classes in Lion & Dragon.
That being said, I have yet to play a game of Lion & Dragon. My understanding of the game is limited to my reading and not with any hands-on experience with the system. It seems to me that you could potentially fit a Lion & Dragon cleric into an LotFP module, but I do not know if you could fit them into a standard D&D module. With the limited hit points, lack of both spells and combat abilities, your Lion & DRagon cleric may have a hard time. In contrast, you could put an LotFP cleric into any module and have a good time.
Thus, at the end of the day, LotFP clerics, in my opinion, are the clerics of choice.