I recently had a conversation not long ago with some people from the online community and even from some of my players about Clerics and their Domain choices. Specifically the principles and mechanical interpretations utilized to express the Cleric’s relationship as champion of a divine cause.
Traditionally, most Clerics or divine casters generally worship a deity and become their emissaries in the mortal realm to further the belief and ideals of the particular deity. The deities are typically temperamental and in return for devotion and fervor, they bestow their followers with spells and blessings to be used in their name.
Most iconic campaign settings or fictional worlds deal with deities and gods with their own agendas and use their followers to fulfill them. For some players, it may feel daunting to read all that lore and seemingly possess the knowledge to play a character of a fictitious religion. Granted there are players who enjoy such a challenge, and then of course there are GM/DMs that are willing to help educate the player and guide these players through the road of these religious studies.
For more semi-traditional concepts regarding deities and their ability to bestow divine spells, the substitution of heroic spirits who are idolized or revered may also be a means for a divine follower to obtain spells and blessings. This could be setting specific, for example you may have a world that does not have deities and so divine casters have to use things like spirits or even heroic spirits to grant them knowledge and blessings on divine spells.
Non-Traditional practices, when Deities are not good enough
There campaign settings where there are no deities (like Dark Sun), or perhaps the setting is more agnostic by nature. In these sort of situations, ideals or archetypes generally are utilized to bridge the divine mental plane with the mortal plane.
What do I mean by archetypes or ideals? Well generally a deity is a personification of various ideals like justice, war, loyalty, betrayal, shadows. So instead of an entity as the embodiment of various beliefs or ideals, there are simply the ideals themselves. For example: Justice, justice as a term and ideal infers the highest integrity of fairness, the need for duty, and sound judgement. So how does this translate for a Cleric or any divine spellcaster? Well let’s think about it this way, if deities have tenants and dogmas, than ideals or archetypes simply are defined by their core characteristics. Another example, the archetype of “the Warrior” perhaps is a noble weapon user who embraces challenges and bravery. Such instances are more abstract and therefore require a bit more interpretation from the GMs and the players.
In a system or setting with no deities, archetypes or ideals fit the bill when determining the source of a divine caster’s spells. It does not matter what system or edition you wish to implement this idea but it should be noted that in order to pull this off, clerical domains will categorized by interpretation from the DM and possibly the player as well. In D&D 3.5 edition, or even in Pathfinder, instead of using a deity’s domain list it would be prudent to chose a set of domains that define the cleric’s ideals or if they have some role model/archetype than that should help define the established domains. In D&D 5th edition, it’s a lot more simpler to choose just one domain that accentuates the ideal/archetype the cleric is hoping to personify.
Let’s address a cleric of “Justice”, Jora is a devote believer in bringing justice to the world full of greed and oppression. Jora channels energies under the doctrines of justice and law, which in essence allows him to bring divine judgement on the wicked. If a new domain is necessary, I would consider a collaboration between player and GM to create an appropriate spell list and any special abilities required. The lovely aspect to this sort of approach would have to be the level of customization and uniqueness, perhaps not all clerics of “Justice” have the same spell lists or even same abilities but different ones that reflect their interpretation of the ideal of “Justice”.
The Arcane Difference
With no deities, how does one differentiate between the arcane and the divine?
This is where metaphysics comes into play, I will try to keep this concise.
Let’s understand Arcane spells and their source. Arcane spellcasters channel energies using a focus and idea, the components of any spell: the somatic and verbal components are the focal aspects to narrow the spell that is from the idea dimension. In other words, the gestures and incantations assist the caster to create the desired spell effect. Now we need to address the source of these energies, arcane users pool their energies from their will, meaning that the power of their spells derive from the willpower of the caster. An individual without discipline tend to be haphazard with their spells, even the most skilled sorcerer need a bit of discipline to control the swell of arcane forces.
But wait, isn’t discipline and willpower necessary for divine casters too? Yes, it is,but there’s more to it than that alone.
Divine spells are not different using somatic and verbal components as foci for their spell effects, divine spellcasters require willpower as a source for their spell energies. By there is an additional source that accompanies will, it is belief. To believe in their devotion, religion, deity, or ideal creates an unique characteristic to the desired effect while it remains in the idea dimension. An idea is inherently powerful, an idea fueled by faith becomes tenacious and often goes beyond the paradigms of the material world. Granted arcane casters have means and methods to create effects that go beyond the paradigms of the universe, there often comes a cost for such endeavors.
Alright guys, that’s my advice and interpretation on divine spells and Clerics. Now this advice is applicable in other systems not just with D&D, it really fits in a myriad of role playing systems which I tried to keep in mind. Thanks again for reading and subscribing. If you want to stay updated on our other projects please follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Help us out, we have a donate button, the proceeds go for equipment and minor expenses.