Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Piety Police and Karma Cops

What to do about clerical "transgressions"?  I've got a situation in the campaign where a cleric's behavior out in the wilds wouldn't be endorsed by his church back home; I did some research in AD&D to see how Gary the Great advised the DM to manage the cleric in the campaign back in the 70's.  Incidentally, Tim asked a similar question over on Gothridge Manor about "handling clerical responsibility" so that was enough to get the wheels turning and make me crack the books.

First some background - what the heck is a clerical transgression, anyway?  The Dungeon Master's Guide has advice on the acquisition of clerical spells in AD&D; it assumes the following conditions exist:

  • Clerics serve a deity in the campaign
  • Clerical training involves learning the rites, rituals, ethos and precepts of the deity
  • 1st and 2nd level spells are enabled by the cleric's training
  • 3rd-5th level spells are granted by the deity's servants through prayer
  • 6th-7th level spells are granted by the deity itself through prayer
  • The cleric is expected to act in accordance with the deity's religion to gain 3rd and higher level spells

The 1E AD&D approach goes on to point out how the DM is the subjective "judge" that determines if the cleric is acting in accordance with the deity's precepts.  When the cleric is determined to be out of bounds, the DM should decide on things like appropriate penances, sacrifices, quests, and so on, to get back into the deity's good graces - or kiss their level 3 or higher spells good bye.  Holy Schmow!  We joke about the DM being the creator of his campaign universe, but here (and in the DMG section on the Atonement spell) the DM is literally expected to act as a judging god!

You may note, my group has been using Moldvay BX and the LotFP flavor for basic D&D because I prefer those rules, but for campaign advice, I love heading to the 1E DMG and seeing what Gary had to say; it's an awesome book when running a campaign.

What's interesting troubling here is that a DM is expected to lay out the tenets of a belief system for each deity in the campaign, sketch out the expected behaviors for clerics, and then score or rate how players with clerics behave against the ideals.

I'm finding this whole concept a bit jarring because I've already reduced alignment from Alignment as Ethos to Alignment as Allegiance.  I've been quite proud that my roguish players have been free to loot the sandbox without me having to create a naughty or nice list and do side coaching on what exactly Chaotic Neutral with good tendencies means; the sandbox has its own consequences for 'bad behavior'.  I've been able to avoid micromanaging their ethical choices.  And yet, here it is again - the requirement to subjectively judge player behavior in game, and attach mechanical penalties based on the DM's rulings.  (Dingle!)

I'll put some notes together on the state of affairs in Gothic Greyhawk and my next steps, but in the meantime, a question for readers.

Do you take on the personal "voice" of the deity or deities in your campaign and rule on the ethical and religious behavior of the player clerics in your game?  Do clerics have to act "appropriately" to get their higher level spells?