Clerics & Priests in AD&D

Religion in D&D is different then in the real world, and I feel that some is ripe for further explanation. While I play core rules as much as I possibly can, the Cleric Class has some, um, rather large holes in it that need to be filled before play is possible.


There are only two core classes within the Cleric class. An incomplete Cleric, and a specialty priest called Druid which shows the player and the DM how to write up your own specialty priests.

In order to get more ideas on how to make specialty priests, one probably needs to pick up another book called The Complete Priests Handbook by Aaron Allston. That book is very helpful, however many of the priests found within are kind of useless, but as far as providing guidelines for religious matters, it is always helpful to have at least 2 examples to compare.

A cleric is not a priest, he is a defender of the faith, as in all faiths. What this means is that he does not serve just one god exclusively, but an entire stable of them. A cleric’s true religion is defined by Good, Neutral, or Evil. He defends all of the gods who have these traits, and is an enemy of those opposed to him.

A Priest is more specialized, he worships and chooses to defend one specific god. His alignment is much harder to maintain as it must be the same as his chosen deity. He may or may not get along with clerics or other priests, but the key is uniqueness.

If it helps, think of Clerics as compared to Mages, and Priests in the family of specialty wizards. Clerics are restricted to blunt weapons, but have access to a good variety of spheres as dictated to the player by the DM, specialty priests may have access to different weapons, but at a cost of access to spheres.


Gods in AD&D are dependent upon the DM. Some settings, the gods walk among us, while in others they bicker and fight up in the heavens. In order to do this article, I have to chose a side, and try and figure out what is the most core of the gods. To do this, we have to assume that there are Major Gods who honestly don’t care about the world anymore, and Minor Gods which are more interactive. Of course there are demi-gods and others but we won’t deal with them today.

It is always helpful to have a war, good vs. evil. This gives everybody something to do. Major Gods are more out-there, they exist but don’t deal with human matters. Space, Time, Dimensions, etc. Minor Gods look over very human elements, and it is these gods that have the most clerics and specialty priests. They are the gods of man, and either help or hinder him in his quests.

Monsters typically have their own myths, as do demi-humans. All of the classes probably worship their own deities within the common mythology, however different kingdoms may have different beliefs, when this happens a religious war can break out. A religion can never be permanently stifled unless total genocide is used, and even then there is usually some record of this religion some place.

In the D&D world it is usually helpful to have 2 or 3 human religions, and a third which is forgotten and lost. Each Demi-human race has their own unique religions which are less defined and more broad. Usually blatant ancestor worship, else hero worship with the same hero but different names depending on the clan or village.

Humanoids typically have 1 god, because it is just easier that way. Humanoid clerics are usually rare, so the name stays consistent for long periods of time until this god is replaced by a more powerful being.


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition, has, in my opinion, the greatest Cleric Magic system of all time. It involves Spheres, no god has access to all spheres, and it is up to the DM to determine how these spheres are divided. This involves a human brain and planning on the part of the DM. It also involves some common sense, figuring out how different sphere combinations make up the gods influence.

The more specialty powers that a priest has, the less spheres he has access too. The two greatest powers are Turning Undead, and Using Edged Weapons. The typical Cleric has the ability to Turn Undead, that is his bonus power. If the priest can use edged weapons, typically, he can’t turn undead.

Evil Clerics can control undead, and turn paladins. Neutral Clerics can do one or the other, either dictated by the player, but preferably by the DM. Specialty priests usually have additional powers which are bestowed upon them in a limited way. A priest who worships a goddess of healing will probably be able to lay hands, one of Justice would be able to use a sword and perhaps have the ability to Detect Lie once per day without using a spell.

The further up the ladder the priest gets, the more powerful he becomes and the more gifts he is allowed. 1st edition had an excellent philosophy in regards to Cleric Spells, which stated that Magic Levels 1-4 were granted through pure meditation and faith, while the spell levels of 5 and above are divine in nature, granted specifically by the god itself.

What this meant was that if a cleric or priest breaks alignment or offends his god, he is denied high level spells until he atones for his behavior, or proves himself worthy to his god, or to a new god which is more compatible with his new alignment.

That to me is an excellent idea and I have no clue as to why this was taken out of the 2nd edition. Me personally, put it right back in. I think that it was done in the attempt to slowly remove alignment from the game, which is bogus. Alignment serves a function within the game, it always has and the systems that don’t use it are weaker for it.


Each clerics path is a unique one. Jobs during this time are crappy, and if one has money, then one can buy one’s way into the church. A purchased cleric will typically also achieve rank higher then others.

Another method of becoming a cleric is becoming an orphan. The church uses orphans to fill their ranks. Clerics assist Priests in their duties, many have no real homes outside of the churches and monasteries. Paganism was different, and much less formal. Much of D&D is dependent upon Christian principals and ideals. Pagan clerics were Shamans, they were crazy people who spoke to the spirits, some were also comparable fighters, but most were simply doctors or witches, which honestly don’t fit into the AD&D magical system. D&D witches are typically wizards, but duel class Wizard/Clerics aren’t impossible. It is even possible for a wizard to be a cleric, (at least in theory), his spells are all wizard spells, but instead of researching them, he is allowed to pray for them, as a cleric would. He would also have the same 1d4 hp per level as a mage, but share the weapon restrictions of both classes, (i.e. only staffs, and slings).

A Witch-doctor would probably be considered a specialty priest, and the rules for them are slightly different.

A priest is typically chosen by his god itself. The god sees the potential of the priest at a very young age and begins engineering his future. The god either physically becomes involved, or just spiritually depending on the strength of the god.

It is possible for a cleric to become a priest, and it is also possible for a priest who has been dishonored to become a cleric.


Clerics usually don’t get followers. They aren’t powerful enough, they are more like paladins as an order. A chief cleric does divide up the forces, but it is more like a thieves guild then a church. The Cleric will always have to answer to high level priests.

Priests on the other hand will gather followers, and be able to construct a sanctioned church. In order to arrive at 20th level, he will have to take over the entire religion. Each god is only allowed to have 1 20th level priest at one time, as dictated by the Druid specialty priest description, which I find to be good and sound.


Published settings such as Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk have a good and thorough base which still needs to be fleshed out, by looking at the Druid class, we can figure out how to divide things up. It describes bonus powers, as well as the political demographic within the order. How one advances within the order. While a fighter or a thief can just advance with no limitations, a high level priest is not given this option, his title actually changes, and he is responsible for more and more people within the order. Once a priest fulfills the XP obligation, he then must be voted per the council, or have to fight to actually achieve his new level. Once the cleric has maxed out his XP, he won’t get anymore until his church has cleared him to advance the level.

Neutral and Evil religions typically do have a fight to the death, but Good religions have none-violent ways of handling this situation. How you chose to handle this situation, if indeed it ever does become a problem, is up to the DM and the DM alone. The player can express his thoughts and ideas, but as far as how the game is moved forward, the DM has the final say as to if this character should be allowed to advance, or if it should be retired.


Specialty Priests are typically ordered out for specific reasons, while the Clerics represent the common man. A Cleric is more approachable then a priest is, especially at higher levels.

Clerics are charged with defending the faith, and the faithful. They defend the priests, as well as the followers of them. If a church comes under fire, clerics are sent out to protect her. If a priest falls under suspicion of corruption, it is a cleric who is sent to investigate him quietly.

Clerics are more prone to being adventurers then are Priests. A cleric will spend his off-time telling stories and myths, providing spiritual guidance for rural folks who may not have access to a church. Clerics seek to prove themselves to their gods, attempting to follow in their footsteps. They collect stolen items, or items which have been lost and return them to the church. They also collect history, if an ancient temple is to be explored, a curious priest would definitely enjoy a cleric to be present to report back what he has seen and learned.

Not all priestshoods are as formal as the common. A minor, and unknown god can take interest in someone and they can act as a priest for the god without ever setting foot inside of a church, or answering to anybody but his own heart. The worst thing that you can do to a cleric is treat him as some walking hospital. That isn’t any fun, and there should be lots of fun to be had from any class, especially a class as open to pure elements of Role-playing as the cleric is.


Unofficial Games: There is candy at the bottom of this post


Zzarchov said...

I always found the sphere system as a good start, but too hard to really maintain with internal consistency. When I started making onto a priest system I used the sphere approach for awhile but found it grew unwieldy.

Instead I replaced with with player creativity.

To plug it into AD&D the idea would be a cleric or priest could use any spell of any sphere if they could justify how their deities domain could be responsible for the effect.

A forge god follower would have no problem using heat metal, A follower of the sun god may require that sunlight is falling upon the item (thus the sun's rays heat the item) while a follower of a god of the sea is S.O.L for using that spell.

RipperX said...

That is a very interesting idea, Zzarchov. I added a link to it.

While I really enjoy the spell spheres I can't imagine creating something like it from scratch. That is definitely the domain of professionals, and the product of many talented and great minds.

I do have a question for you though, in regards to your system. Don't your players find ways of abusing this? I think that mine would, it wouldn't be with the intention of cheating, but if there is a way to do something, then they'll find it. Do you limit this in anyway? If not, why? and if so How?

Zzarchov said...

part of it depends on the type of gameplay you want to evoke. Some players (I mean that to include GMs) prefer games where the obvious choice is the best choice to "solve a problem", if you see orcs and goblins its because you should slay them, not bribe them into attacking your enemies and "spoiling the game".

Some players (again, including GM's) want the obvious solutions to be the hardest one. The best solutions should require careful, often bordering impossible manipulation of the situation and environment. You don't throw a rock though the window and loot everything you can grab in one go then build an elaborate set of machinations that will be included as the plot for "Oceans 14".

In essence, it is the "Trope" of the game you wish to run. Im a firm believer the Mechanics should support the trope you want to run.

If you wish a different trope, the easiest way is to know which mechanics support which trope, and change them. In this case, if you wanted less inventive player thinking and more adherance to a different archetype, then you can really strip down the miracles by simply shortening the amount of variance you'll allow in descriptions, or simply quickly jotting down which miracles each deity allows (tweaking in gameplay as needed)

Note I don't mean to say that "Inventive Solutions" is the right way. Like Stubborn and Determined, or Arrogant and Confident, so too is Abusive and Inventive. Its all about if it fits in with the trope you want to run.

RipperX said...

The word "tropes" on my blog . . . burrrr. But seriously, I guess that it has to do with how you play. I actually love it when folks get that deep into the game, and I do set up situations were uneasy partnerships must be made in order to survive.

I have to be very specific about what a spell can and can't do, players who are good enough can bust a game in a second. Modern Modules are pretty much impossible for me to run because of the players, but that is what makes the game fun! At least I think so.

Valandil said...

Hey! I added advancedgaming-theory to my blogroll. I´ve been reading for a couple of hours and its full of useful tips. Not only numbers and encounters, just...well,THEORY. I´ll be reading ye! Oh,good post on clerics too!

RipperX said...

Thanks Valandil! Welcome to the blog :)

The Dale Wardens said...

This is some really good stuff Ripper.

I like the split you make between clerics and priests. It's an interesting view. I always just used the two names more or less interchangeably.

What's your opinion on the weapons limitations?

David S.

RipperX said...

Damn, you are digging deep, David.

I have mixed feelings about the weapon limitations; killing someone with a blunt object is messy and grim work. The people who have thought about this logically believe that the reason is because the warhammer is bloodless, which is a nice thought, but not true in any way. This is clearly a mechanic to limit the cleric. I've been thinking, why not just go with it? No matter what weapon the cleric uses, the best that the player can roll is a d8. He can also choose to roll dice below that if he wants to. This would apply to all of the classes: Wizard d4, Thief d6, and Fighter d12

The problem is that I like how different weapons do different damage, so I kind of stick with the core rules, but apply the same limitations, but I think that a Wizard should still do just 1d4. I had ruled this a couple of times, the wizard being a good example: The mage broke his weapon, there was a sword that had been dropped nearby, he picked it up and slashed at the enemy, I ignored the normal damage, he wasn't trained in the sword, but he didn't do anything fancy, we kept the to hit penalty, but used the dice instead and it worked fine in the pinch.

In regards to what weapon a specialty priest can use, the system manages that itself, the more spheres that you have, the crappier the weapon. A magically powerful priest would use a low dmg weapon.

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