Raid dungeons. Slay monsters. Take the treasure. What about praying for deliverance? Seeking serenity? Finding oneness with nature? Players whose characters with a religious bent — priests, clerics, druids, avengers and such — need to feel their contribution to the game is more than serving as a healing machine or turning shambling undead. GMs should resolve to provide story beats that provide characters of faith a compelling reason to raid dungeons and accompany their fellows on their quests for wealth and magic.
This might be the easiest to arrange — placing an artifact of importance to the character’s faith within reach, such as in a dungeon, abandoned cathedral or other forgotten holy place, or in possession of a rival church.
Clerics might not reap financial benefits from recovering these lost or stolen items precious to their faith, but the boons that can be gained from the gratitude of the temple or like-minded spiritualists cannot be overstated.
Simply being a person known to be on a mission to recover such relics — whether any have yet been found — can earn the cooperation or admiration of other faithful.
On the dramatic side, searching for relics also invites no end of rivals — other relic hunters who have secular or more nefarious motivations.
Tilling the field
Priests who work at preparing the faithful for the coming tribulations, seven years of famine and drought, a period of subjugation by an evil power or the End Times, must, by definition, have a difficult row to hoe.
Who heeds doomsayers? Very few people do. Remember how King Theoden of Rohan welcomed Gandalf? He derisively called him Stormcrow because of his reputation as a herald of woe.
But such characters see the signs and portents, understand the implications, and spread the message that the period of divine retribution is at hand. Only when the apocalypse or period of upheaval is at hand will they remember their words of prophecy. Until that time, they must endure the mockery, ridicule or indifference of their words.
Of course, during the whole of this period, the cleric can be at work in the world trying to mitigate the damage the coming end time will bring — if anyone will listen. Such clerics journey to far away lands or explore the haunts of the enemy to uncover the means of thwarting the apocalypse bringer or finding the key to surviving the next age.
Re-flowering of the faithful
Clerics whose faith has fallen from prominence should not wallow in self pity. Rather, they are at work in the world, no matter what the odds, always striving to serve as paragons of their faith.
By demonstrating that a period of resurgence and restitution is within reach by virtuous action, these characters have great latitude. They show, by example, the blessings of their church.
Even when associating with ne’er do wells and outlaws (or adventurers, nearly as bad) they advance their faith’s cause. Think Friar Tuck from Robin Hood or Shepherd Book from Firefly.
By being advocates for a deity who is in ascendance, the player characters can rise along with the church. Of course, that also means the clerical character will have to deal with situations that often arise in organizations that experience rapid growth — pride, greed, self-aggrandizement and short-sightedness that results in short-cuts for the sake of convenience.
A final word
Taking a few minutes to devise and implement such story arcs — or even occasional encounters — that address these aspects of clerical characters, can go a long way toward amping up their involvement and keeping their interest beyond being the party’s band-aid.
This was a GREAT article. I have a cleric and a paladin in my current campaign, so lots of great ideas here. I may mine the idea of relic hunting. That’s a great one. Cleaning out a temple is another oldie but a goodei. Thanks again and more please.
Glad you liked it. Ideally, the GM is thinking along similar lines for all the classes or vocations for the characters in their campaign.
I’m glad that you’re saying that because that was my first thought when I read the article. I often wonder if anyone really still plays the way described with your first seven words because I actually never did this since I started in the early 80’s.
And generally, that’s why I’m so fond of getting backgrounds by my players because I can search through those for flags of what they would like to see happen in game.
That is not to say that there aren’t great tips in the article, and as your second one shows, you probably can adapt them pretty easy for use with other classes (I mean Gandalf is a wizard, not a cleric, and the rise of organisations need not be restricted to religious orders either.)
To add a bit to the topic: Perceval, Jeann d’Arc, the Templars, Inquisition scenarios, even cheesy things from literature like Salvatore’s Cleric Quinted (or Erevis Cale) can offer a lot of inspiration to create stories for religious characters.
About two years ago I was playing in a Pathfinder campaign in which our cleric was seriously undermotivated, so I agreed to be “the party cleric”.
I’d never played a cleric before, and decided to play a cleric of Sarenrae to keep continuity with the old cleric (now a duelist).
My method of playing was at odds with the old cleric’s in two ways: a) I showed up for every game and 2) I demanded tithes for healing “Sarenrae needs a cathedral”.
The old cleric player nearly went nuts.
“That’s not how it’s supposed to be played!”
“And were you a cleric we could debate the nuances of ecumenical technique. However *I* am the cleric, *you* are a duelist who cannot be expected to understand of know of the ways of religion”.
“You’re doing it wrong!”
“You want to be the cleric again?”
“OK. That will be 200 gp please.”
“You can afford it”
“That’s not the point.”
“Sarenrae begs to differ.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That is your privilege. But remember that Sarenrae’s benevolent healing powers may not flow freely to the unbeliever. ”
“That’s blackmail! You can’t do that!”
“I? I fear you overestimate my role in the process. I am but a poor mortal conduit for the blessings of the Deity.”
I used the money to secretly set up holy sanctuaries with magic circles etc and an acolyte to keep things running. The one in Sandpoint is particularly pleasant. 8o)
Great post, Troy. This is a fresh reminder for me to challenge my players to take the overreaching desires of their characters into account in playable ways.
Yes, clerics need to keep the practice of their faith and the objectives of their order top of mind at all times, as it should shape all their actions. But Wizards should also be driven by their own arcane pursuits, as fighters could be driven by lust for renown or military advancement. Play that out over a long-term campaign, and characters will rightfully become legend for their class-based achievements, not just for their conquests or wealth.
BTW… long overdue in saying that this is one of my top RPG blogs. Thanks so much for your consistent hard work!