Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Clerical Error?

I was listening to the latest installment of the Spellburn podcast, this morning, as I was taking a run. If you like DCC (or think you might) and aren't listening to this podcast, start. +Jeffrey Tadlock+Jobe Bittman, and +Jim Wampler do a bang-up job on it, and I've learned a lot from listening. It's also pretty entertaining, so there's that as well. Anyway...

This episode features DCC RPG artist (and new Metal God), +Doug Kovacs. He said something that got me thinking, about how he's been playing his clerics (to the hilt, up to eleven, pick your own metaphor). Basically, he plays his cleric as if that cleric actually gives a shit about his god, and wants to advance his god's agenda. Zealously. No matter what the situation. No matter the consequences. His clerics are True Believers, and expect no less from everyone else. Doug observed that playing a character that way makes the rest of the party begin to wonder whether or not its really worth having a cleric in the party.

Here's a fun example. Sister Crack (priestess of the Gravel God) is committed to overthrowing social hierarchies. She's like a bomb-throwing anarchist, and she's not what you'd call subtle about it. She's the sort of character that, if the party was trying to slip through a guarded gate, in disguise, would call the guards "fucking pigs" or "tools of The Man." Totally in character. Totally correct. Totally NOT HOW YOU WIN THE GAME. I must say, I love that stuff. My character, on the other hand, is like, "What the hell, woman? Shut it! You're gonna get us killed!" Friar Tuck, she ain't.

Now that I've seen it happen a few times, I find it kind of fascinating, because playing a cleric like that is so very unusual in many games. It seems like, for most people, a cleric is pretty much like a wizard with some healing magic. That's probably at least some of the reason some folks suggest that clerics aren't needed in an RPG, and should just be another kind of wizard. People don't embrace their gods, and they don't believe in the ways that True Believers do. It's kind of self-defeating, if you think about it. What priest of a god doesn't really want to be a priest, or do priest stuff, or get other people to follow the god and its teachings, or... you know... be a cleric? In my experience, most people who play clerics, don't play their clerics as zealots.

The reasons they don't, in metagame terms, are pretty obvious. Zealous clerics are a pain in the ass. They're you're uber-religious aunt, come to dinner. You're trying to eat your meal, get your drank on, and whatnot, and she can't shut the hell up about Jesus (or crystal magic and how "spiritual" yoga is, for that matter) for five fucking minutes and just have some fun. Worse, she wants to bully you into sending your kids to church. She questions whether you, as an unbeliever, can ever really be happy, or even have a real sense of morality. Her world begins and ends with her religious beliefs (whatever they might be). She thinks everyone else's lives should be like hers, as well, and she ain't gonna go quietly about her business and leave everyone else alone. Unbelievers ARE her business. Making them into True Believers is her vocation.

Add to that equation the fact that there's a financial/power side to religion (looking at you, TV preachers), bringing in more True Believers means having fuller coffers (and having to buy even more coffers to fill). It means competing for power on par with kings, princes, and pashas. It means dominion over daily (secular) life. It means holy armies. It means holy war. It means this:
We came down the Avenue, ten thousand strong, filled with the Bloodfire, swords flashing in the light of dawn. And there they stood, the hated, the blasphemers, the vile and filthy Medicari, arrayed in their pristine bandages and aromatic unguents, and bearing caducei. In their wickedness, they bind the flow of the Sacred Wine, denying it to Gorus Na'al. Such audacity could not stand. We slew them to a man, though thousands of our brothers and sisters fell that day. Each of our martyrs died smiling, for Blood ran in the gutters where they lay, ran in torrents like the runoff from a summer storm, and the Medicari learned well that true cleansing can only come from opening wounds, not from binding them. (The Bleeding of the Medicari by Primate Jacurus of Gorus Na'al.) LINK HERE
 Yeah, so Doug knows how to play a cleric: You know, like a cleric.

I played a cleric like that in my friend Kyle's D&D game, back in the early 1990s, and that campaign started with us getting abducted and sold into slavery (after we spent like two hours rolling up and equipping characters. Haha, Kyle. Really funny.). His name, like my current cleric, was Kormaki. He felt compelled, because of that experience, to (1) kill lots of slavers, (2) convert lots of slaves, (3) establish shrines and temples with the help of his new followers. It was a great campaign, one of the best I've played in.

Strangely, I'd sort of forgotten how to play a cleric, since then, though I did a creditable job in my buddy Jason's Dark Heresy campaign (but that's canon). I think I needed another reminder how it's done. Thanks, Doug!

You know... it would really fascinating to play a party made up only of the clerics of a single god, and maybe few True Believer templars, to add a little buckshot to the bucket of spit, so to speak. They'd probably end up getting killed, simply by pissing off too many of the wrong people, but if they found the right congregants... boy would that be fun. To paraphrase Archimedes (I think), given a lever and a place to stand, they could move the world.