The Path Before

My first D&D character I ever made was a cleric, over the years I still harbor a wonderful love for clerics. Ed Greenwood made me appreciate clerics and wizards especially with the Elminster series, the fabled Sage of Shadowdale during his youth was a cleric of Mystra while under female form before eventually realizing his deep love and affection to magic did he return to his home to exact vengeance as a true mage blessed by the goddess of magic. Playing clerics and paladins fundamentally lead to this bastion or champion of a deity, whereupon they adventure for the sake and glory of their god or to spread their faith across the lands, or to defeat their god’s foes and enemies.

Clerics across the various editions of D&D had the martial training to wear armor and wield some powerful spells, some not as powerful as a wizard but could definitely keep up with them. Druids were given the offensive power of wizards and elementalists and sacrificed defense for wild shaping offense. Wizards had no training in armor or weapons but their spells are their mainstay, their claim to fame after all.

Back in D&D 3.5, there was the idea of a Cloistered Cleric, a studious cleric who became a wise sage who could be an inspirational leader or priest for a temple or church. In short, this variant was more spell-centric and focused on the pursuit of knowledge. Heroes of Horror introduced the Archivist, which was a Wizard who could cast and prepare divine spells from a prayerbook and studied forbidden knowledge to combat the forces of darkness. I have been fiddling with the idea of a spell heavy divine spellcaster class for a little while now but I’ve been open to other ideas and variants.

Messages from Beyond

I was approached by Jason Thompson, who does those awesome D&D Walkthrough posters for Wizards of the Coast (seriously check them out), to review a new homebrew class he cooked up. Ultimately his hard work lead to the current incarnation of a Priestess class. I took the challenge both because I like to be challenged and also because I genuinely curious once I read the synopsis for the class on the its DMsGuild page (found here). My first impressions for the quality and thought that went into this class were above and beyond some of the content I’ve seen on the site. It really feels like a supplement entry for a player’s handbook. Lots of material and details for the class features, along with complimentary lore and suggestions. There are plenty of tables and unique features and mechanics to truly make the Priest(ess) stand out compared to a Cleric. More on that further down, but as a product there is clear effort, precision, and overall quality. Something that many consumers have to ponder prior to purchasing, well I can attest that the pdf file itself is stunningly pleasing, pretty organized, and the amount of content you are given (which is 22 pages) is quite a hefty amount since it also includes spells as well. There are a plethora of abilities and features to enhance your idols to make them feel unique and special compared to another priest.

Priest channeling their divine power, Image by isdira
Priest channeling their divine power, Image by isdira

Holy Warrior vs. Spiritual Guide

Cleric class as whole often is treated as a catch-all for various descriptive archetypes for a holy or divine ambassador for a faith or deity. The Priestess is treated as more of a character who is part of a community or city who channel their divine magic through a powerful idol instead of a mundane holy symbol. The idol is a unique item that grows to become a physical anchor of a deity’s presence from which the priest pulls their spell from. In essence, the idol is a physical proxy for the faith which can when used by a priest, can generate powerful boons and effects surrounding it and its believers.

A priest tends to the temples and shrines their idols reside, adventuring may seem seldom for such a character but they have just as much incentive to adventure as anyone else. Their methods and practices over time become difficult as the need for larger idols in order to perform higher tiers of magic but the tradeoff for such a burden is the divine powers granted by the idol. That does not mean a priest cannot cast their spells without their idol, but that when they are near their idol, their performance radically improves compared to any other divine spellcaster. A feature that initially took a few readings to understand, for players and DMs coming from earlier editions of D&D the idea of spell focus items sometimes feel foreign but flavorfully they make sense. It’s the mechanics portion that oftentimes gets overlooked, a spell focus item can be used in place of traditional spell material components so they are not mandatory but just a mechanical element to remove some of the clunky portions of spell material components in certain spells.

Imagine a large golden statue of the Bane being brought on an oxen cart, there are retainers and escorts hired by the priest of Bane to guard and navigate the cart through the long trade roads. Those who are within proximity of the idol and are faithfuls of Bane can be granted the powerful boons should the Priest deem it appropriate. The priest seeks to build a new temple for Bane but before all that, there were rumors of a potentially powerful artifact in some nearby ruins which would provide a wonderful offering to his Bane idol.

This is the sort imagery that is present through this class and it’s interpretation and execution of flavor. There are many avenues that a player may explore to play the angle of a priest/missionary or even something else. Plenty of roleplay potential, the idol can prove to be both a benefit and hinderance for an adventuring party but that is part of the charm of this particular class. Even the chain mail clad dwarf fighter is a hinderance when the group opts for stealth in certain situations, so one cannot say that Priest will not have its own mix of pros and cons in a party dynamic. Overall, the flavor is very well expressed and truly encapsulated the image and vision of a priest as a unique divine spellcaster apart from the traditional cleric go-to.

Towering idols oversee their devoted followers, Image by SeanSoong
Towering idols oversee their devoted followers, Image by SeanSoong

Polishing the Stains on the Idol

Let’s break down the mechanics first.

The priestess’ idol is the mainstay of many of her abilities, almost central to many of the features on the class. The idol offers additional versatility to the priestess in regards to spellcasting and granting divine boons. Divine boons as written (commonly referred to as Read As Written or RAW) allows the priest to perform actions to curry favor from their idol of their deity in the form of boon points. The number of boon points and saved divine boons are supposedly limited according to the Priestess’ level. As of the review, I have combed through out the entire document and found no such reference on how many boon points or saved boons a priestess can store within themselves at any given time. It does dictate when boon points are lost but honestly this feels a bit oddly placed. To gain boon points, the priestess must perform actions depending on their chosen idol aspects. The idol aspect chosen also dictates what sort of rituals a priestess must perform to regain their spell slots back.

Many of the idol boon abilities, about 7 of them are accessible at 1st level into the class. These include things like casting spells from the Priest spell list, to even turning undead (which in 5th edition, Clerics do not even get that feature until 2nd level through Channel Divinity). The idol evolves with the priestess as she gains levels, from awakening the idol to attack for the priestess to allowing the aura from the Enhanced Idol feature to encompass larger areas until it can fill an entire city.

At 3rd, 6th, 11th, and 17th level the Priestess gains specialized idol powers that separate the idol from others, most of them are selectable choices based on the deity’s domains that it is affiliated. I enjoyed the idea for these abilities for the idol that are tied with the priestess.

BUT I have a few reservations regarding the overall structure and distribution of features, so we’ll start with the Idol Divine Boons and the Enhanced Idol abilities. I feel there are too many feature trees, what I mean is that there are too many distinct features that encompass the class. I have set of features just for Idol Divine Boons, there are a set of features for Enhanced Idol abilities, followed by Idol Aspects (which are only 2 chosen at 1st and 7th level).

Suggestions: It would make more sense to combine the Idol Divine Boons and the Enhanced Idol powers together. While there are an extensive list of Enhanced Idol powers, having four abilities by 20th level seems excessive since the abilities have 2-3 parts from adding spells to additional choices for actions. By combining the two into a single feature, we’ll call it Gifts of the Idol (it doesn’t matter, it’s an example) change-up the availability of the divine boons and lower the amount of enhanced idol powers gained to 2 instead of 4. We want Turn Undead as a boon to be as accessible as when a cleric would gain the same feature, so at 2nd level instead of at 1st level as written. We can stagnate Divine Vengeance to 3rd level, and Temple Aura and Awaken Idol would be moved up to 8th level, with the add-on of an Enhanced Idol ability feature. 13th level is still the same but the priestess chooses another Enhanced Idol ability. At 18th level, the Idol gains the Body of God divine boon.

What about the Temple & City Aura you might ask? I thought about it perceived that the boons are intended to help the priestess when not in close proximity to the idol itself. Honestly, the connectivity between the idol and the priestess should be a feature of the class, where the greater their level, the greater their training and supposed devotion to it. The devotion is rewarded to the point where the priestess does not need to be close to the idol to gain some of its benefits. These are design suggestions that I believe would help smooth out the class and streamline it to fit the design model of the 5th edition ruleset. Overall the mechanics were thoughtful and truly captured the idea of making mechanics fit into flavor.

A Priest’s Identity

In 5th Edition the classes all have subclass or archetypes, essentially additional features granted to the class to make them distinct and specialized from another member of the same class. The current incarnation of the Priestess attempts do this with Idol Aspects, which are aspects of their deity manifesting within the idol. The aspects have unique methods to gain boons and rules for how the priestess would need to appease the idol in order to refresh spell slots after a long rest.

I feel that the Aspects could be the archetypes/subclasses for the Priestess, so with that train of thought maybe instead of having the Enhanced Idol features being tied to the Idol Divine Boons, maybe we incorporate some of those ideas as features for the various Aspects. The class offers 5 Aspects which are flavorfully unique but also offer a mechanical attribute to the Priestess’ Inviolate Aura for damage type. The Aspects might offer class features at 1st, 2nd (for a new channel divinity), 6th, 10th, and 14th. Very similar to the Cleric’s feature setup only because conceptually the two share many similarities together. There is plenty of design potential here to give each Aspect their own distinct mechanics that will fit their flavor to change how the Priestess could be played.

The Inviolate Aura feature is an interesting and flavorful feature, but feels overly restrictive and particular with who it can designate as a target. Sure it involves when an non-believer touches the idol, that idea can remain but needs to be dressed to fit the 5th edition jargon better as I believe the Priest should be able to designate allies to be safe to its effects. Additionally I feel that the Inviolate Aura should be turned on with Channel Divinity feature. My reasoning is that since the Priestess is ultimately more in tune with their deity using the idol as a physical proxy that they should be able to channel the divinity so to speak more frequently or be given more powerful options than a cleric.

Book of Prayers

So one thing that was expressed within this class was the blending of cleric and wizard themes. In response to that theme, I think the Priestess should have a Prayer Book to store their spells. If you were playing D&D during 3.5’s reign, you will recall the Archivist class from Heroes of Horror, the class itself had a Prayerbook and functioned like a wizard with their spellbook but could case divine spells from the cleric’s spell list. This would differentiate the Priestess from the Cleric entirely.

I have mixed feelings about incorporating Cleric domains with the Priestess for spellcasting purposes, but if we were to include the bonus spells as optional spells the Priestess can learn and add to their Prayerbook, then I believe that would work better in the long run. How does this work the Idol Aspect’s way to refresh their spells? Well we can say that the rituals are part of a ceremony to focus the mind and open it to the guidance and divine insight from the idol.

This would give some distinctive differences between the Priestess and Cleric but still offer some of the benefits of a domain selection.

Action Economy Concerns

One thing I have tried to overlook but really felt that from a design standpoint was rather too potent was the Call to Prayer ability. It was originally treated as a Channel Divinity ability as an artifact from previous versions I assume and later written out but there are trace elements still written in some mechanics. Overall the ability to have the priest invite followers to worship and pray to the idea seems out-of-place in execution. I understand the free action part of rallying allies and followers to pray to the idol, and if they do so they are granted one boon from the idol.

This feature feels vague and honestly needs a bit more refinement. This was probably the one part of the class that felt distracting yet flavorfully enticing. I suggest that we change it from a free action to an action instead, have the priest rally his allies and followers to offer displays of worship to please the idol. Instead of having it last an entire combat encounter, a set time limit like maybe 1 minute would suffice. During that 1 minute window, allies and followers within 30 feet and line of sight of the idol can take an action to make a display of worship that suits the idol aspect to gain a divine boon. If not a divine boon, than perhaps transfer the Inviolate Aura’s damage to melee weapon damage?

The Idol Aspect’s had another issue with their methods of gaining boons. Largely due to the fact that mechanics do not express how boon points are gained and then the Idol Divine Boons use this imaginary currency to generate effects. It is equally expressed that several divine boons can be in play from an idol but is dependent on the Priestess’ level. There seemed to be changes in the design that either did not get carried over or were added later in the process. The boon points system is not a bad way to go since Call to Prayer has the allies under its influence generate boons, which I assume meant that their actions are used to generate boon points. But honestly the Priestess should be only be the one to spend these points to generate the boons. Additionally, due to the large amount of boons the idol has at its disposal, either we need to limit the number of boons the Priestess can select during combat (which was suggested in the class feature descriptions but never expressed completely).

According to the descriptions, supposedly the priestess can save anywhere from 1 to 5 boons at a time, and after combat was over they would dissipate. Unfortunately nowhere in the class chart or the descriptions indicated a progression so I am to assume that every 4 levels, the Priestess can have any 5 divine boons active. Which would suggest that the Priestess can choose which boons to implement or store in the idol. If that is the case, I am fine with the large assortment of divine boons and that the Priestess would need to select a set of boons that the idol can grant perhaps after a long rest (or something to that effect).

Prayers Answered

The Priestess class offers many unique features that does well to differentiate itself from the Cleric class with its utilization of idols and granting powerful effects through them. I honestly enjoyed the descriptions and overall level of thought. It’s never easy building a whole class from scratch, it often takes a lot of time and sometimes playtesting. I wanted to build my own Priest NPC just to try out the abilities and features, there are many roleplaying opportunities that are tied to the mechanics and the flavor the class offers.

But where the flavor and overall approach are novel and unique, there are some fundamental design oversights that seek to overwhelm the gameplay in favor of mechanical accuracy. Meaning that it the class sought to fully interpret every facet of flavor into game mechanics, while this is not a bad design approach it has a tendency to feel clunky and extremely top-heavy on its features. One of the design flaws from earlier editions of D&D and even from some RPGs were the overemphasis of features in the very early levels of the class. Most 5th edition classes require at least 3 to 4 levels of investment before gaining any unique features. The Cleric, Warlock, and Sorcerer are the only exceptions as their choices have a higher payoff further down the class chart. The Priestess had the Divine Boons up front which were defined by the Idol Aspects they chose, in order to give the idols more versatility and greater power, the Enhanced Idol powers were granted in relative proximity of the idol in some cases while a few required only attunement. The final capstone ability could grant the Priestess’ Enhanced Idol aura to encompass an entire city area, which is considerably powerful and should not underestimated.

But while there were some flaws, I truly believe that this class provided some valuable ideas on execution of ideas, the details and quality should definitely not be overlooked. While my opinions and design philosophy differ from the content provided, that does not mean that this class does not work. It is for the most part a fully functional class, it can work, whether it is too powerful or underpowered will required some playtesting.

At the time of writing this review, the Priestess class on the DMsGuild is set at $2.99 USD. Would I recommend buying it? I would say yes. Why? Simple, purchasing community projects and providing meaningful criticism helps create a more streamlined experience and functionality. Maybe you have your own ideas on the class or this helps inspire you to write your own. Ultimately this class was created for a particular game setting and game style, but worth a look nonetheless. I honestly still love the idea of this class along with its amazing flavor, unique mechanics, and a lot of thought was put into it.

The Priestess class by Jason Thompson can be found on DMsGuild here. Check it out. Give honest reviews. That is how we all grow as creators and dream weavers.

You can also follow Jason on Twitter and his website.

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