I`ve read a lot of materials about D&D in this forum, and I kinda noticed that people expect from D&D to give them possibilities to play out their favorite character archetypes. Two-weapon warrior like Drizzt, greatsword fighter like Conan, thief like Garret, archer like Legolas, wizard like Harry Potter or Gandalf. Legendary rogues, legendary fighters, legendary wizards. But what about clerics, the fourth core class? I`ve seen people complain for various reasons that rogues are not roguish enough, wizards are not wizardy enough, fighters are not fightery enough. But I`ve never ever seen a single person complain that a cleric lacked the flavor of his class. What are clerics, just walking bandaids?
Well, they are not. At least, they should not be.
The core idea of clerics, flavor that is supposed to make people choose it instead of some other class (note that I`m talking flavor here, not mechanics), is the idea of DIVINE POWERS. The idea of a faithful servant of his chosen religion, a guy who can heal and raise dead, a guy who can ask the gods for favors, a guy who is likely to get some mission from his church or directly from his god, a guy who must follow a chosen path and try to not stray from it... or change classes. I`d love to play such character. I like the idea of expressing the higher will, the idea of following the path once chosen, the idea of getting a lot of abilities at the price of constraints on how you can use them.
And in addition to all that comes a completely unrelated flavor of a capable melee or ranged warrior. And it doesn`t come with the certain war-oriented deity, no! Clerics who chose a path of HEALING recieve free weapon proficiencies - to balance out their non-offencive magic, I understand. But the balance in capabilities doesn`t have to be a balance in damage dealt, and in fact shouldn`t be. As the result of such approach fighters are totally underpowered, because other classes have useful out-of-combat capabilities (skills for rogues, spells for... all spellcasters), and fighters are left with sheer damage, which is for some weird reason made to be equal or at least comparable with others.
An idea of fighter cleric, who spent his time training to defend his faith rather than studying the details of his faith, is nice. A figher cleric. A fighter/cleric. That`s what multiclassing is supposed to be about: some character who gave up opportunities in his chosen field to become more capable in some other sphere. A fighter/rogue: someone who is both skilled melee warrior and a dextrous trickster. A wizard/fighter: someone who can both swing a sword and cast spells. A wizard/rogue: a guy who uses his brain to both bend reality to his will and influence everyday reality in more mundane and practical ways. A wizard/cleric: someone who tries to both pursue individual power and serve some higher purpose, and is not really effective in both spheres, but is really versatile. A cleric/rogue, a guy who both serves gods and excels at everyday, more mundane tasks, a powerful trickster archetype, by the way. But fighter/cleric? Right now it`s a meaningless multiclass flavor-wise, because clerics are ALREADY fighers. They already combine divine studies with melee training, although it`s not really their speciality.
When I say legendary priests and clerics, who do you imagine? When I say "a priest archetype", who do you imagine? Note that all the "dark cultists" and such are also, in fact, priests, although NPC priests of the dark and evil powers. What is their typical image?
They are guile, able to decieve others with sly words, using their wisdom and understanding of human nature to reach their ends.
(a really typical archetype of a "servant of evil gods")
They are charismatic, leading not armies, but nations, starting and stopping wars with the power of words.
(of course I`m talking high-level clerics here, but even a village priest is capable of stopping fights and calming quarrels)
They are the keepers of knowledge, learned and wise.
(in Medieval Europe for a long time literacy was equated with religion, schools and later colleges and universities were mostly run by churches and monasteries, libraries were concentrated in monasteries...)
They are personally fragile, either coming off as "heroically fearless" if Good (think missionaries, going off to convert savage tribes and often dying) or "good-for-nothing loudmouths" (think false prophets, trying to ignite conflict, only to be easily taken down by more down-to-earth hero).
Note that in all fiction, in all famous stories, if a cleric is revealed to be a capable combatant, it is a SURPRISE to his enemies and often to his allies. This talkative guy can not only pray to his gods, but also fight? Seriously? o.O Badass clerics are cool, but they are NOT default, as are sword-wielding wizards.
I know that clerics have been like that ever since they first appeared in the game. But a new edition is being made here. Maybe it`s time for some changes?
On a more practical note, I`m not saying that the option of the "traditional" D&D cleric should be removed. After all, when rogues` expertise was broadened, the path of Thief was still avaliable as a possible choice. But there should be options for those who want to play traditional clerics: the leaders, the sages, the mystical prophets.