Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Clerical Ramblings

In a timely enough fashion, playing a cleric has become a topic of discussion in my house. My domestic partner, who is new to table top gaming, has undertaken the task of playing Kyra in a Pathfinder Basic Box game that I'm running for my cousin. I bought him the Box for Christmas after he told me he missed playing D&D from his high school days.

I've always liked characters connected to divinity, because I'm a support player. So when she started talking to me about "how to play a cleric"  I did some quick Internet searching and started to try and condense the "problem of Clerics" in a short, non-boring way. I did not you may read.

My early search revealed some interesting turns of thought and I started off on the typing. Then, today, This appeared in my google reader stream...showing that this is an issue that will likely never resolve its various differences. So, I typed on...and here's what I wrote...

On being a Cleric:
Crusaders, zealots, oracles, and pawns of the gods. The standard fantasy cleric is a thing of controversy.

Here's what the Pathfinder says about them:

Here's an article from the D&D 3.5 era about Cleric strengths and weaknesses:

And even more meta-analysis related to Clerics:

It seems like a lot to read...but its good background that you don't need to study, just skim...

LASTLY, let's look at the entry for your deity in the wiki:

SKIM all this...but don't take it as...ahem...gospel. Its just for flavor. WE will build this particular cleric's personal experience more as we play. This is just the baggage that comes with it.

and then...

On being a Cleric Part 2; my ramblings...

Conversely, the fiction aspects we strive to emulate with fantasy gods and their "clerics" is much more ambiguous; more reminiscent of myth and legend. IMHO, before the great Christening of the world we humans thought about "the gods" as unknowable, unpredictable, and downright dangerous to be associated with.

Dunsany's 'The Gods of Pegana' is listed as an inspiration for some seminal fantasy writers, and chief amongst those must be Tolkien. For better or worse, his vision of a sweeping, and fantastic pre-history of earth filled with wars and songs and elves and dwarves gave us the foundation upon which the creators of D&D and most "high-fantasy" began to build their own stories.

Pathfinder and its cousins are the evolutionary successors of the mass marketing of the Tolken-eque ideas and european fantasy tropes piled in on top of each other and packaged for sale. They're familiar enough, strange enough, and able to be known...much the same way that 'The Lord of the Rings' movie trilogy is a branch/flavor of Tolkien's cosmology.

Now, contrast that with the works of another Dunsany fan, H.P. Lovecraft...his work is so intimate, specific, subjective and full of uncertainty that his emulators are often mocked rather than revered. However, if you've read Tolkien's 'Silmarillion' ... its easy to see Tolkien, and Lovecraft clearly following the paths of earlier "fantasists."

That's where our split in the sub-culture comes from now...certainty vs. uncertainty...but that's a digression.

So the problem with Clerics is that some people interpret their presence in game as "proof" that THE GODS ARE REAL and then they extrapolate a false corollary THAT ALL BELIEF IS FOUNDED ON PROOF IN THE FORM OF MAGIC AND MIRACLES. When, in all actuality, neither one of those is true...nor are they false...the interpretation is up to the gamers involved.

I like to think that Jesus is the most iconic Cleric in fiction. Flipping tables and breaking cages, throwing out the un-righteous. Casting out demons, and rocking other miracles. However, Buddha, and most of the Greek philosophers can count too. Holy folks and philosophers of all stripes...thats what clerics really represent. The human connection to the mystical is what they represent in the game world.

So, its a question of what kind of Cosmology is there really? In the game? What kind would emulate the myth, legend, and fictions that we love collectively as humans and as gamers? Its a weird place to be, and a hard question to answer. The books being published and sold have to be universally appealing. So they are irrevocably ambiguous and use a sort of centered assumption of whats holy and how the universe is ordered. I really can't wait to explore them things in a game!!!