Friday, February 25, 2011

Egypt Gazetteer thoughts: on clerics.

Well, it looks like I'm actually devoting some brainpower to trying to make this work. Naturally, almost immediately I find myself having Deep Thoughts -- in this case about the four classes and what I plan to do with them.

The cleric is being, to put it kindly, a pain in the arse.

You see, the concept of a "cleric" or "priest" as it exists in the modern Western world (and in many other modern places for that matter) is of an individual who feels a higher calling, called to serve a higher power, preach the word, etc. etc, and this carries over into D&D with the benefits of getting nifty spells and the ability to smite (or control) the undead. Which is cool; I love me some crusaderish types with a warhammer or the pious healer types. It's all good.

But for the vast, vast majority of pharonic history in Egypt, it wasn't like that. Ye hells, there wasn't even an established priestly "social class" until the New Kingdom -- serving at a temple was something the middle class and the nobility did as a job, as a duty. They had seasonal shift-work at the temples, even. And when the concept of an "official" priesthood developed in the New Kingdom it was still more of a job than what we often define as "priest": one could be granted a priesthood as a sinecure, much like any other title, and men could pass on their positions to their sons. Certainly a lowly we'eb could work his way up the priestly ranks, but it was often more like looking for a promotion.

Priestly duties are also different from what the Western world is used to. The Egyptian priest maintains the rituals of the temple and performs the offerings to the god's statue in return for the benefices of the god in question to be given to the people -- a business transaction of sorts -- and because the rituals maintain the order of the universe so that the gods can do their thing. (The offerings to the deity were then distributed to the temple staff as part of their wages!) Very much an "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" sort of thing. This is why, when shrines and temples fell into disrepair such as during the Amarna interlude, the gods were said to not answer; humanity wasn't holding up its end of the bargain.

All of this isn't to say that there wasn't faith in Egypt -- there certainly was. In many ways, though, it was a very D&D-ish way of faith, with it's "I'll do x if you do y" (leaving aside how even the faithful will cheerfully threaten the gods when using magical incantations -- which the sun god gave to humanity as its perogative).

So, should there even be a "cleric class"? Or should it be subsumed into the other classes as something any given character may do as a profession? Much of the mechanical abilities assigned to the class fit just as well with an Egyptian "wizard" if not moreso. On the other hand, tweaking a few things to add a bit more flavour and keep the fourth class probably wouldn't break the metaphorical bank even if it might feel a little redundant to me as I write it.

Deep thoughts, blaergh ...


HappyFunNorm said...

The way you describe it a Egyptian "Cleric" would be a good deal different, but still an interesting kind of character class. As the Cleric seeks to get whatever god to grant boons to the people, that looks tome like this would be a fantastic kind of 'buffing' type of class, granting short or long term benefits to the party or communities they're involved in.

Imagine there are, say, 5 Gods involved: Nature, war, health, prosperity, death. Perhaps you can have 1 boon from each active at any given time, or a number based off of level. Of course, those boons might have variable levels themselves, like a low level nature boon might keep fleas at bay, but a high level one might call or stop floods or earthquakes or bring in animals to help do something. A health boon might provide a poison resistance, or slow regeneration, and a death boon might actively kill someone, help the dead move into the afterlife (like undead... not destroyed, but sent on, so to speak)or might bring people back from the dead.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I've had similar mental exercises for my Sumerian setting. Drop me an email, I'd love to bat it back and forth with you!

migellito said...

If I was running an Ancient Egypt campaign and someone wanted to play a cleric, I would have them be something like a hermit or wandering holy man, compelled by some sort of vision to team up with the party for some inscrutable purpose.

Egyptian society would see him as a wizard or sorcerer who got his powers by making pacts with the gods.

Tom Hudson said...

This makes me think of Runequest, where any character could be an Initiate - if they spent 10% of their time serving in the temple - but to get full access to Priestly powers could require the majority of their days be devoted to duty.

(If I recall correctly, one edition catered to adventurers by introducing a middle status that got most of the Priest's benefits with a smaller commitment.

Nicklongshanks said...

As a former Egyptology major with many years fitfully working on egypt d&d adaptation, here are my thoughts:

the cleric class works fine if you conceive of adventurers/classes as 'special' in the world and you use them as a kind of templar/temple hierarchy kind of thing. They are the High Priests of Amun at Karnak, badass dudes who wear godshead masks. I've also played with the idea of them as Medjay, or elite pharaonic bodyguards with loyalty to the king granting their powers.

The real problem comes when looking at the two classes of cleric and wizard. Basically, in egyptian lore and history, the powers divided between Nostradamus the Astrologer and Edward the Confessor in the West overlap. Healing and necromancy and spells against demons and so on are all tied together in the priesthood. I've thought of trying to separate the classes by redividing the spell lists, but it just doesn't feel "right."

Perhaps the 'best' solution would be to have a wizard-type class as the priest: no armor b/c purity most be maintained, spells like raise dead and lock/unlock, but adding healing spells. But then, you're back to the start, what to do about the cleric? Perhaps abolish, having a Priest/Wizard, Thief/Tomb Robber, Warrior. Maybe a rare high requirement medjay/guardian warrior type?

Nicklongshanks said...

Oh, also, I highly suggest you check out formalhaut's sword & magic, it seems VERY well suited to ancient egyptian style gaming. I'd also like to know your ideas about pantheons: i'm thinking all local deities with a few major cults from the big cities (Amun, Horus, Osiris, Ptah and the Onnead)

migellito said...

Nicholas makes a great call on this, I think. (anthro/historian myself) In addition, I feel the idea of his Medjay/Guardian works well with the game mechanics of the Paladin.

taichara said...


Interesting idea! *grins* Although there will (hopefully) be a similar concept built into the magic system(s) already, once I work out how to convey a few things. I don't really want to add classes if I can help it, though.


I very well may over the weekend ~


It's an interesting concept, but not really what I'm going for. It's not the kind of thing found in the Egypt I'm trying to work with. But it does sound cool :3

@Tom Hudson:

I'm not terribly familiar with Runequest; I may have to take a peek, though ...

@Nicholas (and migellito again, for brevity):

I'm in a similar place in my schooling (though with a three-undergrad anthropology/history/classics base, by suggestion from Dr. Tobin -- curse you, Masters, I'll try to get you someday), and I know of the various overlaps of magical fields. I'm using Geraldine Fitch's works as my most recently-published base; there's a nice variety, and not always with priestly ties, of magical works described in there.

I like the sound of what you're going with, but it's a little at odds with the take I want -- I'm not singling out adventurers/PCs as already "special". The cleric is also possibly already on the chopping block, as noted in my post ;3

I would prefer to use the Medjay as (depending on the time period I ultimately draw the most from) in a different manner; your suggestion doesn't quite sing true for me.

Pantheon will depend on the timing I decide to ultimately use as a base and how I plan to implement the division between the (to our more recent eyes) religious practices of the elite and those of the population at large.

migellito, I don't think that I would take the same route as your Medjay-Paladin suggestion -- aside from not feeling much by way of "paladin" from the Medjay, I'm using RC D&D ;3~

trollsmyth said...

Until I read the comments, I was thinking you could possibly make clerics a different race, some sort of semi-divine guardians or something, but my knowledge of Egyptian myth isn't granular enough to nail the details on that. And it sounds like that's not where you want to go.

Another option might be to make it "seasonal shift-work" and give the powers to one PC during their time as temple-maintainer, and then passing it to other PCs as the seasons change. During their temple-duty time, They'd be expected to contribute some percentage of their won treasure to the temple roof fund or something, but would wield clerical powers as if they were a cleric of their usual level, while still maintaining their usual abilities. Certain classes might not be eligible, but it seems like it would fit the sort of society you're describing.

Another option is to axe the cleric entirely, be far more liberal in regards to natural healing, and port over some of the spells and powers to the other classes.

Frankly, if I was building D&D today, I'd make healing a ranger and elf thing (a la Tolkien) and drop the cleric entirely. And that's without the issues you're talking about here.