Those Blasted Clerics

Random idle research topic: Where did D&D clerics get all these blasting spells from?

OD&D -- Good clerics don't have any direct-damage spells whatsoever. The closest thing to offensive spells they have are hold person, sticks to snakes (no stats for the snakes), and insect plague (which routs weak creatures but does no damage). The chaotic Anti-clerics do get to use reversed cure wounds spells and ye olde time finger of death.

1E AD&D PHB -- Now all clerics can use the reversed spells if they feel they really need to. You also have the damage-dealing spiritual hammer, blade barrier, earthquake, and my favorite outright blasting spell, flame strike.

1E AD&D UA -- Adds stuff like magic stone, spike stones, and spike growth. (Hmmm, seems like a lot of stoning going on there.)

2E AD&D PHB -- At this point you fold in all the spells that were previously unique to druids into a single, unified cleric spell list (and give pretty wide access under the 2E "spheres" system), such as: entangle, shillelagh, fire trap, flame blade, heat metal, produce flame, trip, call lightning, hold animal, pyrotechnics, snare, produce fire, wall of fire, fire seeds, animate rock, creeping doom, and fire storm. (You know, suddenly it makes a lot of sense why the long-running cleric character I had, made first for 2E, was something of a pyromaniac.)

3.0 D&D PHB -- So here some of those spells above again become restricted to just druids, but you also add stuff like: magic weapon, death knell, shatter, sound burst, searing light, greater magic weapon, energy drain, implosion, and storm of vengeance. Certain domains even add more stuff than that, like burning hands, wail of the banshee, disintegrate, incendiary cloud, Bigby's clenched fist et. al., subeam, sunburst, power word stun/ blind/ kill, ice storm, cone of cold, acid fog, horrid wilting, plus chaos hammer, unholy blight, holy smite, and order's wrath. Hey-o!

Okay, so the point is, when clerics started out, they were almost entirely defensive -- they could paralyze or drive off creatures with their spells, but not directly damage them. Except for the chaotic Anti-clerics. That's basically maintained throughout the OD&D supplement series, except for Druids being given a big heaping helping of fire-based attack spells (and there's some confusion in the Eldritch Wizardry supplement about whether they're supposed to be a sub-class of Clerics or Magic-Users). Then with 1E AD&D clerics get the flame strike spell outright, and we're sort of off to the races. Nowadays we don't think much at all of clerics having a wide array of long-distance direct blasting spells, even though that was (literally) the Antithesis of clerics in their original conception.


  1. Ah, Heregar (the priest Delta mentions). I still marvel how a priest of a city's patron deity could be so enthusiastic about burning down buildings.

  2. And people talk about character flaws. I'll *give* you a character flaw! :)

  3. Gotta love power creep.

    Lack of blasting spells was the only thing that balanced out the cleric; they got all the armor they wanted, were only moderately limited on weapons, AND could cast spells... and their XP advancement table was the cheapest available until the advent of the Thief.

    With power creep, by the time 3E rolled around, clerics were toitally broken. Why play any other class?

  4. James, I totally agree. In hindsight it looks silly how easy it was to break clerics like that.

    When we went to the RPGA event at Gen Con, I seriously suggested playing a party of all dwarven clerics from a temple squad somewhere.

    At least we did get the all-dwarven party. :)

  5. I never played a cleric in 3e but the 3.5 one is ridiculous, and even more so in Pathfinder. And yet, and yet..! There's just something very offputting about the idea of playing one. Maybe we always did it wrong but not one person in our group was ever enthusiastic about the cleric; it was just something someone "had" to pick to get a well-functioning party. I dunno, I just find them dull in a way that the fighter and wizard, for example, are *not*.

    1. I feel that! They're such a weird wrinkle in the overall D&D pulp mythology. (As someone said on our last Wandering DMs show this season -- the very first sentence Original D&D says about clerics is that they've taken some parts of fighters and some of wizards as their class benefits.)

    2. Yeah... Somehow, all the Kool Powarz they get feel to me like a consolation prize. "Oh, you drew the short stick, too bad! Maybe all this will help you get over it."

      Doesn't help that not much of the things they do get (excluding the obviously "clericky" things such as healing) is really unique to them. Many domain spells are from the sor/wiz list, for example. Or spells to make you fight good... which the fighter can do without spells, of course.