Saturday, April 2, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Titus the Wonderworker

Titus the Wonderworker was a monastic saint from the ninth century. He was called to the ascetic lifestyle from his youth and he became a monk at the Studion monastery outside of Constantinople. He was beloved of his fellow monks and through their requests, St. Titus became a priest. He defended the use of icons during iconoclasm and lived into his old age.

The title Wonderworker refers to a classification of saint through which God has chosen to work miracles. Most often, these miracles include:
  • Healing of physical and spiritual illness
  • Raising from the dead
  • Physical feats of great wonder
  • Healing of Demonic Possession
  • Myrrh-streaming relics and icons
From this perspective, all Clerics in D&D are Wonderworkers — which leads me to think of that brilliant observation from the Incredibles: when everyone is special, no one will be. In a world where magic is an everyday occurrence, what constitutes a "wonder?"

Beedo over at Dreams in the Lich House recently delved into the DMG about how Clerics get their spells. At first glance, it might seem to answer the implied question posed by the title Wonderworker in that low level spells are merely training (i.e. they can be understood as mundane) whereas higher level spells (3rd level and higher) are granted through prayers, intermediaries and the deity itself.

My major quibble with this understanding of Cleric spells is that it runs counter to a Christian worldview. In the Orthodox tradition, chrismation (what has become confirmation in Western Christendom) happens at baptism. The person being brought into the Church is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit Himself. Indeed, those who are baptized and chrismated are called the newly illumined because they shine forth the light of God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. We are the temple of God. Thus, there is no separation between a Christian and God as implied by the DMG's understanding of Clerical magic.

In addition, Christian tradition understands ordination as a laying on of hands wherein the candidate is given a special chrism from the Holy Spirit for the ministry. Thus, Clerics would have an even more intimate relationship with God specifically for the purpose of being a Cleric.

There are several ways to deal with the question of the Wonderworker and honor this Christian understanding. The first I've already spoken about in a previous post. In short, the only sort of the Cleric that does adventuring is the deacon. Thus, bishops and priests are almost entirely low-level Clerics. Couple this with the fact that in older editions of the game Clerics don't get spells until 2nd level, and then the healing-by-magic thing becomes severely limited and very rare. There is, however, the implication that PC Clerics will begin to have the reputation of being a Wonderworker and might get very popular indeed (not always a desirable thing).

The second accepts magic as normal for those campaigns that use later editions (or LL) and that embrace the implication of level names — high level Clerics are bishops. Note the last example in the list of miracles above. In a fantasy world where magic is abundant and normal, myrrh-streaming relics and icons could be the standard by which a saint is called a Wonderworker.

The last option is one that takes the DMG take on Cleric magic and modifies it with a splash of the first option. If first and second level Cleric spells are re-skinned as mundane skills (CLW is medical training rather than magical healing), than the implied period of testing (as stated in Moldvay's Basic that Clerics must prove their devotion to their god) can be expanded until the reception of 3rd level spells. It is at this point that the Cleric character is ordained.

Given my own understanding of the deacon-as-adventurer, this still limits the level of priests and bishops as well as the amount of actual divine magic in a fantasy RPG; however, it does add a very nice level of spice to the progression of the Cleric character. The player is forced to ask various questions about their character: will they be celibate or married? will they retire from adventuring in order to be a priest or a bishop? are they really ready to dedicate the rest of their life as clergy?

There are a couple of very interesting implications from this third option:
  • Low-level Clerics are laymen. This opens up the possibility for monastics to simply be low-level Clerics without the implication of ordination.
  • It also opens up the possibility for characters to be low-level Clerics without formal training (the spells represent natural abilities), but get the notice of the Church through their adventuring.
  • In order to get 3rd level + spells, one has to be ordained and be within the Church; however, one could theoretically continue to advance in levels outside the Church, but never receive any spells beyond 2nd.
  • Should there be an option beyond this for Cleric characters who decide not to get ordained? Could they be allowed to dual class?
The life of St. Titus, by the way, implies the third option...

1 comment:

  1. I've also come around to thinking that the gaining of level 3 spells is a good time to make a cleric "get serious."

    I've taken a different demographic approach to investiture - rather than granting all clergy spell casting ability, I've been using the idea that the ability to cast spells is divine fiat - who gets given the necessary grace is a mystery. It fits the real world model a bit more - not everyone who accepts holy orders or a calling throws around flashy magic; their day to day work is more of the transforming lives/helping the less fortunate variety. (A fantasy world certainly could be more fantastic, but it lets me dodge questions around too much clerical magic and how that changes the medieval assumptions).

    One of these days I'll put in the work to forecast (or research what others have said) how a fantsy world would be different if every priest was level 3 and every bishop was a 7th or 8th level cleric!