Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Clerics and conversion

So there I was thinking about clerics, gods, and worship. Part of the idea behind clerics is that they are defenders of their faith, right? And the gods do desire worshippers, right? But where do those worshippers come from? Eventually, Patriarchs get lots of loyal followers, but there's not much there before that. But the idea of having a group of the "faithful" is there.

Recalling an article in an old White Dwarf about "conversion" as a clerical ability, I thought about this a bit more deeply. If you think about it, each of the other four "archetypal" classes have something they do that is part of how each is defined: fighters engage in combat, wizards engage in magic, thieves steal things. But clerics? Clerics - in an uncharitable view - are a kind of sub-standard fighter who doubles as an EMT. Faith and religion are part of the back-drop for their activities, but rarely come into play. But isn't one of the roles of a cleric to convert people to their faith? So clerics might benefit from this - or so it seemed to me.

In the interests of keeping mechanics simple, I would like to suggest the following:

Conversion: Starting at 4th level, clerics may attempt to convert persons to their faith. This requires a sufficient period of time to converse with, or preach to, a person or group of people, usually 2-5 turns (d4+1). While a friendly audience is favorable, it is not required; even those who are indifferent in their initial reaction are potential converts.

To determine the possibility of conversion, use the "Turning Undead" table in your favorite set of rules. For the purposes of conversion, a cleric is treated as being three experience levels lower than their current rank, e.g. a 5th level cleric is treated as being 2nd level for the purposes of conversion.

To interpret the results, proceed as follows: the cleric converses with a group of listeners. Those of the same alignment as the cleric are treated as 1HD undead (or the lowest sort of undead), while those of different alignments are treated as being two or four levels higher, e.g. a Chaotic audience listening to a Lawful cleric would be treated as having 5HD (or the fifth rank of Undead).

A result of "T" on the table means that the audience is willing to think about the faith of the cleric, and is open to potential conversion (further results of "T" should be eventually treated as "D"). A result of "D" indicates the audience is definitely open to conversion. If a number is given, a roll is made for the cleric. If the roll is made, then the audience is willing to think about the faith of the cleric, as above. Another roll is then made for the number of people so affected. For both the success and number affected roll, a cleric may use their WIS bonus (if any) as a positive modifier.

It is up to the referee to determine how many times are necessary for conversion to the cleric's faith to take place. In areas with many clerics preaching, such as large cities, an audience might be resistant to change, and therefore might be treated as several levels higher or require many more attempts at conversion for this to actually happen. Differences in native language, species, relative resistance to different religions, etc. may also contribute, and so on.

Actual use in game play: as is immediately evident, such a system could result in the fantasy equivalent of the Thirty Years' War, if overplayed or abused. What this system is suggested for is determining the relative success of a cleric in attracting personal followers, maintaining their congregation (if charged with such a duty), or acting to spread their faith in new lands. Potential adventure hooks include the following:

  • A cleric with congregation may end up having to deal with a hidden cult converting people to a radically different faith and alignment.
  • An imprisoned cleric may attempt to influence their guards so as to effect an escape.
  • A noble or ruler has asked for a convocation of clerics to guide him in his choice of proper religion.

I am quite sure there are some referees who would not want to get into this issue at all. However, it may be of use to those wanting to add some depth to clerics and their role in the game world, if used effectively. As part of an on-going campaign it might help in determining who a cleric's followers are, and the degree of their adherence to the faith. It might also give clerics more to do than being "first responders" after melee is over. In all of this, a light and deft touch is probably required of the referee to ensure that it doesn't end up going badly.

(A slightly shorter version of this was posted on the odd74 forum earlier)


  1. Your three adventure hooks I like a lot.

    Some historical materials for each:

    "Cult" trying to convert members - read Irenaus of Lyon or any of the early church fathers who struggled against Gnosticism.

    "Imprisoned cleric converting guards" - many examples, but St. Ignatius comes to mind. He wrote a very important letter and talked a lot about his guards as he was being shipped to Rome to be executed.

    "Noble ruler calling convocation" - again, many examples, most notably Constantine, but also Vladimir the First, who did exactly what you describe.

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  3. Normally on this kind of stuff I judge it on the player's role-playing with a fudge factor based on their charisma rather than use a mechanical set of rule.

    With that being said what you got is looks pretty solid.

    I would include some type of bonus due to high (or low) charisma as this is critical to the process.(similar to the roll strength or dex play in combat and consitution for hit points). I would go with 14,15 +1, 16,17 +2, 18+3

  4. Malcolm: your historical comments are right on target; the actual historical ruler I was thinking of was Oswiu of Northumbria, who wanted to pick between Celtic and Roman Catholic Christianity in the 600's, if I recall correctly.

    Rob: I would definitely want some sort of role-playing to be done as a part of this process. And I agree with you able the role of charisma - I wanted a simple system for more abstracted interactions, and which could also be used for in-game activity as well. Good stuff!

  5. Indeed, the Synod of Whitby in 664.

    A number of interesting things happened with that, most notably for D&D players, the exile of Cuthbert. :)

    But also the moving of the royal residence from Lindisfarne to York.