28 October 2011

The Basic Cleric: Mentzer Reflections

I'm trying to resurrect my section by section of the Mentzer Red Box Basic set.  You can read my earlier entries here:

Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6Part 7

Before I get to the cleric, which is the first class covered in the Basic book, there's a one page introduction to the "Characters" section.  Up until this point, there's been plenty of solo play as introduction to the game.  The introduction to this section mentions two other modules (M1 Blizzard Pass and M2 The Riddling Minotaur) that you can play by yourself, but focuses on playing in a group.  In a group "fighters are always needed" and mention is made of trying to include most of the character classes if there are enough players.

The introduction also covers the Prime Requisite.  I found it interesting that the penalties and bonuses are not symmetrical.  The penalties are -20% and -10%, while the bonuses are +5% (for scores of 13-15) and +10% (16-18).  This would really serve to drive players to play classes that suit the rolled ability scores, I would imagine.

Turning the page to the cleric,  the first thing one reads is an explanation for the clerics power.  In Basic, clerics get their power from serving "a great and worthy cause" which is usually the cleric's Alignment.  The next paragrpah takes pains to remove any ethical or theological beliefs from the game: "This game does not deal with those beliefs" (emphasis in original).  No gods, no temples, no religion at all.  I can only assume this was done to sanitize the game a bit.  As an introduction designed to bring new players into the game, talking openly about polytheistic deities could have been seen as risky.  That's understandable, even if a bit dissapointing.  What it could do, however, is reorient the cleric (and the game's theistic frame) to Law vs. Chaos.  The cleric channels those primal forces to power her abilities.

The next bit deals with saves, experience, and other class features.  Though there is no theology present, the class titles are clearly religious (you're a priest at third level!).  Advancement would seem to be rapid, with second level gained at 1500 XP.

The next section details the cleric's special abilities -- turning undead and casting spells.  Turning undead is the 2d6, check the chart, then 2d6 of hit die system.  And, lest there is any confusion about how to use this ability, there is this helpful paragraph:

"When you want your cleric to try to Turn Undead, just tell your Dungeon Master 'I'll turn the Undead.'"

Umm. . . yeah.

For the spells, a cleric doesn't get to cast any until second level.  She meditates to learn the spell, choosing what she wants to learn at the beginning of the adventure.  There's a tacit assumption that the cleric will leave her home, go on an adventure, and then head back for a good night's sleep, as she only gets one spell per adventure at 2nd level, though there is a note that in "advanced games" where adventures can last for more than a day, she gets new spells each morning.  Only eight spells are given; none of them are remotely offensive.  They certainly emphasize protection, detection, and healing.

The cleric's role as a secondary monster-fighter and a caster of supporting spells is pretty clearly laid out here, even if the religious nature of the class is shoved way to the background.

I also like the Elmore illustration of the female cleric, running and brandishing her mace.  Wither her winged, feathered helmet and dark hair, I get an Eastern European vibe from her.

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