With all the talk of cleric and paladin floating around in articles and forums, I wanted to put my thoughts out there. In the article posted today by Mike Mearls, he puts up some of their “design criteria” for how they are trying to make classes.
1.) The class should be recognizable to anyone who has played D&D. No matter what edition you’ve played, you should be able to identify the class based solely on a summary of its abilities.
2.) The class should have an element that makes it unique. Playing one class should feel different from playing another one.
3.) The class should relate in some way to archetypal characters, stories, legends, and myths that form modern fantasy. Someone who has never played D&D should understand what the cleric represents within the fantasy genre.
I would suggest a fourth criterion, more of an expansion on number three, be added to these simply for the reason that this edition is being touted by wizards as being able to reconcile the “Edition Wars”.
4.) The class should share characteristics with similar archetypes in previous editions of D&D so that someone who has played other editions can feel familiar with the character in front of them when they first experience D&D Next.
I feel this fourth criterion should drive some of the options that are being so hotly discussed in comments sections across the site.
On to the real reason for this post, Paladins and Clerics. If Wizards wasn’t so hot on maintaining established classes from previous editions, I would suggest that we abandon the difference all together! Many people I know draw no distinction between the two and there is so much bleed-over in the last two editions that I have played warclerics that behave like paladins and compassionate paladins that play more like clerics. If you are sticking rigidly to your #2 guideline, then you are dropping a big barrier between them simply because people want to put a different nametag on the same archetype!
In 3rd edition, probably the most widely played besides 4th, the cleric can be on par (or better) in combat than a paladin with a few choice self-buff spells. Isn’t the schtick of the paladin supposed to be martial combat? In both 4th and 3rd the paladin got “Lay on Hands”, a heal, isn’t that supposed to be the cleric’s job? In both editions there are extras for these classes that let them move further towards the other’s archetype, sometimes even becoming a du-facto copy. Tactical Warpriest in 4th edition allows a cleric to mark with at-wills all the time, paladins can take feats to increase their Lay on Hands and take Hospitaler to get some nice healing going.
Delving further into the issue, how you deal with clerics of Bane or Tiamat from an alignment perspective is much clearer than how you deal with their “paladins”. Clerics always had an alignment tie to their deities, paladins always had to be LG to fit with what I would call the “Chevalier”. I have flat ignored the alignment restriction on paladin since I learned that rules can be ignored with DM permission. Then UA came out with Freedom, Slaughter and Tyranny Paladins. I just about wept with joy when I read them! When 4th dropped alignment restrictions on classes, I believed we had finally come out of the ignorant times and embraced the definition of a paladin to simply be “The weapon of their deity”. No more shiny horse, curing poison and disease (cleric thing), or being forced to rescue the damsel in distress. I was finally a warrior filled with divine guidance and fervor, out to crack heads and smite stuff! Paladin of Heironeous LG, armor glistening with the blood of orcs wielding a longsword and shield, done! Paladin of Sehanine NG, standing shoulder to shoulder with druids wielding a quarterstaff, perfect! Paladin of Corellon CG, clad in beautiful leather armor wielding a longbow against blighters, sounds good! Paladin of The Raven Queen LN, smiting undead left right and center with a scythe, my picture of paradise!
If you are not going to make them one class, then I have a suggestion for the design team. Make paladins and clerics abilities more based on their deity and domain choices than “basic class stuff”. I realize this runs counter to #1 at first, but hear me out. When a player walks up to your table and announces that she is playing a “Cleric”, what is the first question that runs through your head? My question is “what deity do you worship” not “warcleric or healing cleric”.
If you have a paladin of Pelor, he can get Lay on Hands and is less smite-y then his brother paladin of Heironeous who gets a smite-yer Smite. Give Pelor the Healing domain and Heironeous the Smite domain. Corellon has the Archery domain and it’s thing could be “lose heavy armor proficiency, used bows instead of melee”. Let a paladin pick a domain associated with their deity and focus on gaining stuff in line with that particular part of their deity. Clerics could embrace a similar system of domains with more focus on spell selection instead of martial styles.
When it comes to what you define as a “Paladin” don’t require me to ride a horse or be a goody two shoes. Those things should be optional, not required. Paladins are warriors of their deity, they are martial, they are a distilled essence of their god’s might/wrath/power in mortal form, they are driven by their faith. Anything beyond these definitions is only reflections of how their deity manifests itself through them. The only thing I should be forced to have as a paladin is a deity and martial ability.
Clerics are the voice of their diety, they are casters, they are a living exemplar of everything their deity represents, they are inspired by their faith. Clerics should get access to special abilities based on what domains their deity represents; after all, they are a living exemplar of their god. However, I am still a big fan of the cleric as a support class. Even a cleric of Bane needs to keep his warriors conscious to continue the fight.
All in all, please make paladins and clerics be able to reflect the will of their god, any god. Not every paladin worships heironeous and not every cleric worships pelor.