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.
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.
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.