Thursday, 21 December 2017

Hacking LOTFP Classes Part 6: Redesigning the Cleric Class

This is the sixth part in an article series examining the LOTFP classes in order to design new ones. Part 5 is here.

Before I go about designing new classes and putting everything together that I have discussed so far, I'd first like to examine the cleric.

This is because while I may tweak aspects of the Magic-User, Specialist, and Fighter, in my next article, overall I think those classes are pretty solid in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. The only class which I think needs a bit of redesign is the cleric as I find it a bit of a problematic class. It's partially why I think James Raggi dropped clerics entirely in his playtest document in favour of letting the magic-user being able to cast traditional cleric spells. 

While I am critical of the cleric class. I think to remove it entirely, or roll it into the Magic-User class, would be a mistake.

This is because out of every group that I have played in or been part of, there is always someone who genuinely enjoys playing the cleric. Most often I think because for them it's simply fun to be the ‘good’ guy. Some people may not care about reoplaying their character in a 'moral' manner or give much thought to the morality of gameplay actions, but for the type of player who likes to play the cleric, I find it's often an important and enjoyable part of the game to them. 

Additionally, as the GM, I find the inclusion of a cleric in a party, makes the game more interesting as it adds a moral dimension to the parties actions that may not exist otherwise. Instead of being purely cutthroat, the players have to at least consider what would be the moral thing to do, even if they decide against it. This often adds depth to the game.

From a game design perspective I think the cleric is a hugely problematic class but one whose problems stem more from game design things than not being fun. I’d much rather fix the problematic parts of it and have it a more robust class, then remove what I think is a fundamentally interesting and popular class to play.

Overall I think there are four main problems with the cleric class as it pertains to LOTFP. I’m going to outline these problems and solutions for them here at length and present more concrete mechanics in the next section when I tweak all the classes and design two new ones. 

Problem 1: The source of their magic

In LOTFP all of the other classes are fairly normal in the sense that they are individuals who are assumed to be average commoners of the 17th century world. Basically regular people who are just a little more insane or thrill seeking than your average peasant. As outlined in the ideals, none of the classes have any special inborn super powers. 

The one that you could make a case for being special is the magic-user, but this is generally explained in the sense that the magic of LOTFP is not something inborn. It resembles real world 17th century magic where if you've read an actual historical grimoire or read up on occult systems of magic like Enochian magic or Kabbalah; it’s confusing and requires a lot of study to comprehend. The Magic-User is kind of portrayed as a scholar of the occult who, more often than not, is dealing with forces beyond their comprehension. They tap into occult forces of the universe, forces that the magic-user is never quite sure exactly how they work, as they are never quite certain that the system of magic they have studied actually is correct in its revelations about the workings of the universe or not, they just know it works by it's effects. There’s always an element of danger in not really knowing the why, only the how, which is why most people don’t dabble in magic. 

However the cleric is a bit more problematic as their source of magic is divinely orientated. It’s not musty tomes which contain strange rituals that communicate with occult forces to bring about strange results. They literally have a channel to communicate with their god, or at least this is how the cleric is portrayed in most RPGs. In this manner I think there is an underlying contradiction in the cleric class in LOTFP. Are they your common village priest? Or are they more special, something more akin to a saint who can actually commune with their god? 


While this is a tricky problem I think there is an elegant solution. I would rule that all clerics are village priests. They don’t have a special connection with the divine, any more than your average priest would. But while this average village priest may not have a special connection with the divine, there have been and are rare people who can, saints. In my version of the 17th century setting for LOTFP saints are able to cast genuine miracles (clerical spells). When they die their remains are turned into relics (as they are in real life), these relics are able to do wondrous things like cure disease and wounds.   

There are estimated to be over 10,000 saints in the real world catholic church. That’s a lot of relics. So many that people probably wouldn't go few missing, a few which end up in the hands of a local adventuring priest.

For full disclosure sake, I did not come up with this idea. I originally found it in Burgs & Bailiffs: Trinity - The Poor Pilgrim's Almanack. Which has information on relics and pilgrimages and using them in an RPGs. 

Problem 2: The System of their magic

I find how clerical magic is ‘gamified’ in most RPGs to be pretty lackluster. Most times their magic functions pretty much the same as the magic-users. Yes there may be slight differences but largely the cleric spell systems are just the magic-users copy-pasted with differently spell lists.


I think tying cleric spells to holy relics is a much more interesting system of magic for the cleric and one that distinguished them from the magic-user. The magic-user is able to cast a certain amount of spells per day from their spellbook. If you’re using Raggi’s new level less system, it’s 1 spell per level. 

In contrast I would keep cleric spells leveled and not use a leveless system. But instead of a cleric automatically being able to cast all spells of a certain cleric spell level once they get to a certain level the cleric can cast any spell of the level or lower associated with their relic. The actual catholic church already kind of has a system for the power and magnitude of relics with three different tiers. It’s pretty easy to expand these 3 tiers into 7 and associate one with each level of cleric spells:

Relic/Spell Level
Any object that is touched a relic of greater importance. Most of these relics are small pieces of cloth, though in the first millennium oil was popular and some reliquaries have holes for oil to be poured in and out again. Many people call the cloth touched to the bones of saints "ex brandea".
Items that the saint owned or frequently used by a saint, for example, a crucifix, rosary, book, etc. Sometimes part of an item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) 
The physical remains of a minor saint who lived an exemplary Christian life. 
The physical remains of a saint who lived an exemplary Christian life and died for their faith as an important martyr. 
The physical remains of an important saint, generally an: influential theologian, a royal who was a defender of Christianity or who converted his kingdom to Christianity, or the first missionary to successfully spread Christianity to a new region. These reclis tend to take the form of the saints status in life. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary's right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian's head may be his most important relic. 
The physical remains of one of the twelve apostles or an important biblical figure, generally alive during the time of Jesus.
Items directly associated with the events of Christ's own life (hay manger, bits of cross, shroud, sandals, foreskin). 

A level one cleric would start the game off with a level one relic that would grant them access to their first level spells. As they grow in level if they want access to their higher level spells they are going to have to find a new relic, either through theft, reward, or seeking out the lost or stolen remains of a saint etc. I think this will make the gameplay more interesting for the cleric and a little more like the magic-user who has to quest for new spells. It also creates some interesting moral decisions, if a cleric steals a major relic from a cathedral to defeat some great evil would it be considered a moral action? Would the church approve? 

It is also important to remember, in this regard, that during this time relics were often an important source of income for a church. Their theft would be considered sacrilegious and the relic would be considered a ‘hot’ item. The church would likely pay people to track it down and retrieve it.

Problem 3: Enforcing morality

There often is a sense of morality about the cleric class. They are often seen as the class who started adventuring for reasons other than money, and the class that often has to follow some kind of morality to maintain ‘character’. However most RPGs don't really handle this very well. The closest they seem to come is an alignment system that often has no bearing on the game.


Instead of having a system of three alignments, Law, Neutral, Chaos, the cleric has a religion they belong to and a piety score. Piety can be gained and lost for by committing moral/immoral actions. What determines a moral action is the character's religion. The DM may have to research what would be considered immoral/moral in the time/setting the game takes place to get an idea of how to adjudicate players actions. Overall the cleric would receive piety for pious acts and get a default of one point for taking time to pray each day. Casting a spell using a relic costs one piety point. 

Problem 4: Types of religions and different clerics 

Some RPGs let your cleric follow different gods that give different abilities and spells based upon the philosophy and religious doctrine of that god. I find this often leads to such open ended bloat that the cleric class begins to lose all meaning. This is especially seen in 5th edition where I still don’t really understand what the difference is between a cleric who worships a god of war and has powers related to it, and a paladin. Yes, I understand that these two classes would have mechanical differences in little numbers here and there, but thematically they’re kind of the same class. 

I find allowing multiple gods and a lot of customization creates versions of the cleric where each is almost it’s own class. Most other classes don’t really work this way. You don’t get unique powers if you’re a necromancer or a pyromancer, you’re still a magic-user. You can portray yourself and roleplay one. But mechanically you are the same as other magic-users. 


I would rule that all religions a cleric can belong to are organized religions. That more unorganized religions would basically need an entirely different class to represent well. I would define organized religion as any religion that has an organized hierarchical structure and to some extent, has political clout.

This is something that I find is often overlooked. Religion in the 17th century wasn't just a personal matter. Religion was highly political in nature and most religious institutions had governmental responsibilities along with religious ones. There was often very little separation between church and state. If you were part of a clergy, as a cleric would be, then you would have higher ups you’d be responsible to and a fair amount of authority that the image of your office would provide. 

Most RPGs don’t model this at all. I feel the best way to think about a clerics authority is to not think of them as a priest but as an learned authority figure. They would have probably received a better education than your common peasant and their office comes with a sense of public recognition. People would turn to them for both civil and academic matters.

I think this is a missed opportunity and one that can really be taken advantage of in LOTFP with its’ real world setting. I view the Cleric, who is a scholar of the church and has read the chronicles of missionaries to strange foreign places, who is privy to the libraries of the church, and who is part of an organization concerned in things not of this earth, to be an expert in the supernatural. Unlike the men of reason of the enlightenment, the cleric has faith in the unseen and knows that evil can take many strange forms. In this manner the cleric is a bit of an agent of the church, a little more like an investigative monk and a little less mace wielding holy warrior.

Next is, Part 7: Putting Everything Together 

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