Friday, November 4, 2011

On Elven Clerics

One of the things that I adore about actually playing (as opposed to just thinking about playing) is that you are forced to consider things that would never occur to you otherwise. Living inside the bubble of intellectual exercise it is easy to be a purist, where your favorite ruleset perfectly meshes with your vision of the campaign world and the way you want the game to be played. Once you give up control and allow the messiness of an actual campaign, however, the intellectual exercise makes less and less sense.

As I mentioned in my last session report on Lost Colonies, some of my players have pooled a considerable amount of money in order to build a church in the elf lands — something that has never been done before. This comes on the tails of the party helping out the elves in dramatic fashion, all the while saying that their problems are better dealt with a dash of faith. A faith, by the way, that would be largely appealing to those elves of the Summer Court.

In the (in)famous verse Gen 1:28, God gives humanity dominion over all of creation:
Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the east, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.
In Greek, the word translated as subdue has as its root kyrios, meaning lord. This is a title given to God — thus, God is commanding us to have a relationship with creation as He has. This view is reinforced when one looks at the Hebrew for the word translated as dominion. The literal meaning is to tread in a wine press. In other words, we are to be co-creators with God and we are to offer up our creative efforts to God. It is significant that verb has the visual image of the wine press — creating something that, by offering it to God, becomes the Blood of Christ. This kind of relationship with nature is right up the elves' alley.

Therefore, due entirely to play, am forced to consider something I have never before allowed in any game I have ever played — an elven cleric. Looking at the rules as written (AEC/1ed), elves can advance to 7th level and half-elves to 5th level. Personally, this doesn't make much sense to me. I can understand why an elf would be less likely to advance to higher levels using divine rather than arcane magic, but why are half-elves so much worse? If being a cleric is a human thing, how is it that a half-elf would be less inclined to divine magic than an elf, who is completely alien to humanity?

The AEC is more generous with potential fighter levels than 1ed. Elves can advance to 10th level (as opposed to 7th) and half-elves can go to 12th level (as opposed to 8th). I believe this discrepancy originates in the fact that the AEC operates in a system where race-as-class is an option. Therefore, going the multi-class route needs to be comparable to the race-as-class or there is no point in allowing the multi-class option in the first place.

This begs the question: why shouldn't elven clerics simply be a race-as-class that casts divine magic instead of arcane magic? While I really like this approach (being partial to race-as-class), I am not particularly comfortable with the idea of elves running around like super-paladins (despite the extra XP requirements, it would be awfully tempting to go with an elf over the cleric). It also removes some of the alien-ness of elves.

A more attractive option, taking a cue from Genesis 1:28, is to allow Istinite elves to cast Druid spells. This differentiates them from ordinary elves and maintains that alien-ness that I like to have with my demi-humans (especially since no one else would be casting druid spells).

One aspect of this that I find particularly interesting is that this will likely sour relationships between the Summer and Winter Courts. Whereas the Winter Court is all about cheating death, a Summer Court dominated by Istinite elves would be quite comfortable with death. What had been a rather cordial relationship (because all Summer Court elves knew they would one day be members of the Winter Court) could become downright hostile.


  1. I encourage you to go ahead mulling all this over! I do have a simpler solution that I'd likely use in your situation.

    What makes a cleric unique is that the god gives the cleric spells. If no god gave the elves spells, as they were not the chosen people, then... they could be faithful, but not clerics. Just like humans can't get the hang of being fighter-wizards. But can make wizards with weapons.

    It's not primarily about the faith--it's about the god's response to that faith, that makes the class. Your hand is not forced by elves worshiping a god, is my main point.

  2. @fictive
    Thanks for the encouragement. I also appreciate your simple answer because I would agree with it if the context were either an OT analog or some kind of polytheistic environment. The problem is that I am running a NT analog, where union with Christ (or His analog, in this case) brings with it an ontological change. The very being of Istinite elves will have been altered. This is why replacing arcane spells with druid spells has such an appeal.

  3. What's the AEC position on elves and souls? OSRIC's contention that they have none opens up an interesting Thomist angle on it: Elves are angels that have assumed a body. It would explain why they don't die, why they don't rise as undead, and why their divine spells would be different than clerics'. Now that I think about it, if I was running a game with a Christian setting, I'd think about making the 'default' Elves use the druid spell list for precisely this reason (that they're part of creation in a way different than humanity is).

  4. I share your Courts in my own campaign setting, However the Southern or Summer Kingdom has long ago accepted a Human doctrine of faith where as through hidden betrayals the Northern Kingdom or Winter Kingdom has been cursed with a type of undeath.
    I have always liked the idea of the Demi-Races to have or own their own character classes, something that makes them unique, While humans receive the four main classes, the Demi-Races would borrow one or two from humanity and then have one maybe two unique to their race.
    The Old D&D Mystara Gazetteers touched on this with race specific classes.


  5. The Cyclopedia version of D&D I believe has an option to have Elves use Druid spells rather than the wizards' list; it's an option I like, since the the campaign I'm thinking of would allow human PCs only, and giving Druid spells to the Elves alone would, as you say, reinforce their alien nature and provide grounds for friction with the expanding human lands.

  6. In my current campaign Elves and half-elves may not be clerics of the Celestial Orthodoxy which serves the Lords of Light but aren't considered soulless or evil. They are apart from the world of men and their clerics cast druid spells.

  7. Yeah, I think this is good thematic choice. In my 3.5 amalgamated D&D setting, I restricted Druid and Ranger (and Monk!) classes to Elves/Half-Elves or other Fey-relations. I toyed with the idea of doing the same with Bard, but it never had to be settled.