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D&D Burgoo (3.5): It’s time to panic. We don’t have a cleric.

Posted By Troy E. Taylor On June 9, 2008 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice,Specific RPGs | 16 Comments

The players have gathered at their table for their first session in a new adventure. Each player has rolled up a new character, then shared their creation with the others in a quick once-around the table.

A grim realization dawns. 

“Oh noooooooooo! We don’t have a cleric! We’re all gonna die!”

And the DM smiles … and it’s an evil smile.

Play on

Must every party have a cleric, or even a class capable of casting some healing spells, such as the druid or a bard?

Nah. I say, “Play on.”

What’s the worst that could happen? Yes, I know, one of the PCs could die. And depending on whether it’s a casual game or not, this could be a problem. 

So if it’s a beer’n’pretzel game, allow the PC’s brother or sister to arrive (you know, the one with identical stats to the PC that was just slain?) and go on from there, using the same character sheet as before. As long as everyone has a character sheet and the dice are rollin’, (and the beer’s flowing the pretzels are salty) the game can go on, and the suspension of disbelief is given a wide latitude.

But …

An in-depth game

This could be the start of an adventure path. Or, your style play is to have in-depth character interaction, and the expectation is for the characters to develop. If they must die, at least it should be a heroic death (and not because there’s no one left to cast healing spells). A party death should be dramatic, or at least have purpose within the context of the story.

“We need a cleric!” the party cries.

I hear you.

I say, “Play on.”

PCs should explore their options

You see, I don’t think it’s necessary to make a PC play a cleric. Here’s why:

a) It’s a forced choice. Players should have a character they want, not one that’s forced on them. (Pregens in a convention setting being an obvious exception).

b) The rules provide other means for healing.

I’m not a heartless DM. I’m willing to meet the PCs halfway when it comes to securing potions and wands of cure spells, securing the patronage of a church willing to dispense cure spells or even hiring an NPC outfitted with a healing kit or an adept. 

But it’s up to the players to give me, as a DM, an in-story reason for supplying these alternatives. Maybe they have a wealthy patron, or they can actually join a church (if cure spells means that much to them, maybe they will find their devotion improving) or they can pool their resources or agree to share their spoils as part of the cost of hiring help.

The point is, not every party needs a cleric. And it’s a good roleplaying opportunity at problem-solving for the group. If no one wants to play the cleric (a mystifying decision, I know, but nevertheless …), then it’s up to them get around this little problem, just as if they had chosen to go left instead of right, and encountered some other type of obstacle in a dungeon.

Choices make good roleplayers

Dealing with the consequences of choices that are made in-game is at the heart of roleplaying. Having a party without a cleric will test their ingenuity, patience, and most importantly, their approach to combat. It will be different game, and maybe, even a better game.  

The point is, you’ll never know unless you let the players try. 

So the next time the party rolls up without a cleric, go with it. Let the dice roll. You might be surprised at the result.

And so might the players.

About  Troy E. Taylor

Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.




16 Comments (Open | Close)

16 Comments To "D&D Burgoo (3.5): It’s time to panic. We don’t have a cleric."

#1 Comment By epharian On June 9, 2008 @ 6:18 am

In the campaign I am currently running I set it up like this:
Everyone was to create their character in a void, without any knowledge of the other players’ choices, so that they had no idea whether or not there were gaps in the party. I then spent considerable time on the backgrounds integrating the characters into a location and a rich backdrop story in order to tie the party together. The name of the city is Epharia (hence my handle).

The final party composition included a cleric, but only out of chance. It also included a paladin, a rogue, a fighter type (although he’s so much more), and a warlock. So far things are going quite well, but the truth is this: we could have very easily ended up just the paladin as a healer, and that would have been fine.

I’m a really big believer in the idea of story-driven decisions. Players should be immersed into an ongoing, immersive world where there is a continuing set of actions, and then given an immediate mission to tie them together, and from there they are allowed to do as they please. I suspect that my players will have a LOT of things that they will want to do once this first mission is finished, but the trick is simply that I don’t care what they decide to do. I’ll give them a ton of plot hooks, and ideas, but if they don’t follow them, then I’ll go where they need to. A cleric in the party is useful, but so is a rogue, a fighter or any number of other classes.

#2 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 9, 2008 @ 6:59 am

I’m the guy who always plays the cleric, so this only comes up in games with me as the DM – and then there’s usually an NPC cleric. That’s usually because I have small groups that could really use an NPC, though.

#3 Comment By lynxnc On June 9, 2008 @ 7:20 am

I’ve always thought it would be fun to be in or run a game that was all fighters, (maybe be something like a small company of merc soliders) or a party completely without magic or healing, just to see what kinds of things you could come up with to make up for not having kindof the advantages that magic, divine or arcane, gives. I know in some of the games where our cleric got killed, and we got quite imaginative with some things because we didn’t have an easy way to make it all better. We also got quite good at using our own healing skills. If the situation looked too dire, we would retreat back out, or if the encounter was a little large, the group would run little missions to take out a few at a time instead of running into the midst of things with swords a-waving, and spells a-blasting. It can make for a very fun and interesting game or a very short one, depending on how your PC’s plan and roll. LOL

#4 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On June 9, 2008 @ 8:56 am

This is so timely for me.

I’m currently running a 3.5 Freeport campaign with 6 players. From the beginning, I’ve told them that party balance is their responsibility. I remind them of this everytime they make new characters, which is a frequent occurrence (lazy play, a story for another time).

Two sessions ago, the party consisted of a cleric, a corsair (Green Ronin pirate class), dragon shaman, a fighter/rogue/ranger, a sorceror, and warlock, all 5th level. The party got involved in an assassination plot that was a rouse and ended up losing four party members. Between sessions, the affected players rolled new characters. Unfortunately, they didn’t heed my warning.

It wasn’t until they were knee-deep into the next dungeon that the PCs realized how woefully unprepared they were. The party now consisted of a corsair, a fighter, a fighter/rogue/ranger, a monk, a paladin, and a scout. After a couple of combat encounters and a couple of traps, the players are cursing themselves for not consulting with each other.

Walt

#5 Comment By Jonathan Drain On June 9, 2008 @ 9:42 am

I’ve used two solutions to this in the past.

1. Ask someone to be the cleric.
One player reluctantly volunteered to give up his fighter and go cleric. Fortituously, he became that player’s all-time favourite character. I think he ended up a lich.

2. Have a healer NPC follow the party.
The healer ought to be quiet and avoid taking any of the glory. You might even make him a ghost. This is the best solution when there are a very small number of players.

#6 Comment By Patriarch917 On June 9, 2008 @ 10:07 am

I would handle this by playing with the 4th edition rule. Everyone has healing surges. Anyone can spend the feat to become a ritual caster and raise dead.

#7 Comment By DarthKrzysztof On June 9, 2008 @ 10:41 am

“I’ve always thought it would be fun to be in or run a game that was all fighters…”

If you have a resourceful or clever group, that might be a lot of fun. I ran a 2nd Edition game once for four guys who all played male human fighters, and it was a complete disaster. YMMV.

WotC has an article on using the new death & dying rules (but not the healing surges, etc.) with v.3.5: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/drdd/20080201a. You have to sign up for D&D Insider to see it, but it’s still free…

#8 Comment By BluegrassGeek On June 9, 2008 @ 11:50 am

We’ve been playing an RPGA game without a cleric.

It’s brutal. Several characters have nearly died. Luckily we’ve got a pair of druids, or we’d have been wiped out on several occasions. My rogue has been dropping cash on healing potions to keep himself alive.

It’s playable, but just barely.

#9 Comment By Scott Martin On June 9, 2008 @ 12:50 pm

My current campaign has lacked a Cleric for much of the time. It worked out fine– the PCs all wanted to make a cool infiltration type group and it worked out fine. I lean my treasure (particularly potions) toward healing and they have a Staff they captured early that mimics the dragon shaman’s heal to half HP aura, so they’re pretty solid most of the time.

Plus they use their sneak/hide to turn everything into an ambush, so they take much less damage than you’d imagine.

#10 Comment By Swordgleam On June 9, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

Lynxnc – Have you ever tried Iron Heroes? That’s basically what it’s like – a ton of different classes that all fill the role of fighters. There’s only one magic class, the arcanist, and they’re almost discouraged. No divine magic of any sort, no druids, nothing. Just lots and lots of sword-swinging ass-kickers. (Plus some nice ranged classes, and some sneaky classes.)

I’ve found that not having access to healing has made our Iron Heroes campaign a lot more fun. Of course, we can heal in between battles with reserve points, so we don’t need to spend a lot of time resting up. But when you’re facing an ogre, a half-dozen centaurs and that many gnolls all at once, with absolutely no healing to speak of.. it certainly makes things a lot more dramatic. We have an NPC healer with us now, but she kind of hates everyone, so it’s hardly healing on-demand.

#11 Comment By Omnus On June 9, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

Have you looked into Monte Cooke’s Arcana Unearthed book? He gives a few pointers on a variant of 3.5 D&D involving Vitality and Wounds. Vitality returns quickly, so resting between encounters can rid the party of the necessity of having a combat medic at hand. Wounds don’t return as quickly, which is why the good Gygax invented potions of healing. Sprinkle those rules into the game, and your party can resume their heroics with less mind of imminent death.

As for Patriarch917’s comment about switching to 4th Edition, yes, the need for a cleric is even less, but you still need a paladin or a warlord at hand or a steady supply of potions, since Second Wind only works once an encounter, and those healing surges get sucked up between encounters pretty quick. If the party can’t take the full rest, they could run out of resources quickly enough. But like a druid or shaman in 3.5, other classes can reduce the trauma of missing a cleric.

#12 Comment By JuanNavarro On June 10, 2008 @ 6:20 am

At least in a low level game, I’ve given players the option of buying potions and wands, in some way, and maybe having an NPC healer somewhere near by in a town. Other times I had little “twists” on them, like the a magical Healing Kit construct, RoboCleric or Cleric in a bag, which at a press of a button, the bag they carried for it would pop into a little stick figure robot of sorts, start bandaging and doing stuff. Thing is it would hay wire and heal the wrong folks or bandage your hand to your face for the day.
Another thing was to allow like small heals like a Horizon, but with a million charges or to have like a wand of Cure light but would only work once an hour, so as to not abuse on it too much.
In the end it’s true, just PLAY ON. It’s more fun to do it without a safety net….
Also:
I was just reading the comment on the “all fighter” campaign parties and I will say this: Having a common class within the group is awesome. I once played a rogue/fighter within a group of Rogues and it just made us gel all our tactics perfectly, even the DM was impressed.Imagine the Mage, Cleric, 2 Fighters and Psionic Warrior being able to sneak into the dungeon, little by little taking out guard and troops silently and then surprising the MindFlayer held up inside! It was like being part of a Green Berets or something

#13 Comment By Scott Martin On June 10, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

JuanNavarro: That’s exactly what my group does (and is doing).

#14 Comment By robosnake On June 11, 2008 @ 3:19 am

I’ve actually had fun acting as the healer for a group as the much-maligned Bard, as a Druid and even as a Paladin (at higher levels at least). The Druid especially can be a solid healer – but it impinges on your spell choices for the day. The Bard can also be a good healer, particularly in low to mid levels. The real downside is lacking good resurrection-type spells, but that’s not a big deal to me. I think death should be serious, that death-scenes should be a big deal, and that resurrection shouldn’t be offered in the equivalent of a vending machine.

#15 Comment By Hautamaki On June 19, 2008 @ 3:31 am

My group rarely plays with clerics. It doesn’t matter at all. The DM just has to adjust the challenge a little, and make sure there are plenty of other ways for characters to heal. Lots of great points made here, everyone seems to be on the same page.

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