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Building Your Character Using History: The Cleric

Charles A White A-Musing History Leave a Comment

You sit down to create a character for your next game and decide to create a cleric. You figure out your character’s stats and abilities, and all of the other mechanical details, but what separates your cleric from the myriad of other cleric PCs and NPCs out there?

To begin with, even clerics are flawed. Whether or not the RPG system you are using has a mechanism requiring you to choose character flaws, it is still a great idea to think of a few basic flaws or a personal code that helps set your character apart. This could be as informal as determining the character’s underlying philosophy to being as complicated as highlighting specific items of your character’s ideology that best reflect your PCs personality and outlook. Whatever you decide should reflect your character’s basic code of conduct.

But how do you determine what your code of conduct is?

You could throw some pretty general personal beliefs on your character sheet and then try to figure out your character’s persona as you go. However, this can lead to a pretty flat character from a role-playing perspective. Instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel or kicking the can down the road, what if there was a way to use something that already exists as either inspiration or as something to be tailored to fit your needs?

I would posit that history gives us everything we need.

 

Clerical Code of Conduct: The Rule

Next time you create a cleric, why not draw from a real religious code to help craft an ideology that will shape how you role-play your character? The great thing about a real religious order’s code is the fact that they are a treasure trove of both mechanical and role-playing nuggets.

Let’s look at one specific religious and code and see how we might use it to build our cleric. The code that we will use is the one written for The Knights Templar. The Knights Templar was both a monastic and military order. As such, their rule is particularly suited to most fantasy genre clerics who both fight and act as a representative of their god. The Latin Rule, created by Bernard of Clairvaux for the Knights Templar, contains 72 paragraphs with each covering a particular aspect of Templar life and conduct. For example in section 17, it says:

For if any brother does not take the vow of chastity he cannot come to eternal rest nor see God, by the promise of the apostle who said: Pacem sectamini cum omnibus et castimoniam sine qua nemo Deum videbit. That is to say: ‘Strive to bring peace to all, keep chaste, without which no-one can see God.”

Other chapters cover things like how the brothers should dress, how and what they should eat, and how they should treat each other. For example, brothers should remain silent after evening prayer unless it is an urgent matter. Also, brothers are commanded to give up their worldly possessions and no longer concern themselves with material possessions. “And if any brother out of a feeling of pride or arrogance wishes to have as his due a better and finer habit, let him be given the worst.”

So far, it is pretty easy to see that if we follow the rule written for the Templar, our cleric would be both poor and chaste. Also, the order prescribes complete obedience to their particular Master and the Temple’s leadership. Perhaps Brother John’s order doesn’t offer much freedom to come and go as he pleases. Since the Order of Light demands obedience to the order’s leadership, perhaps Brother John can only go on a quest when ordered to do so.

However, Knights Templar were also warriors. As such, they were among the best fighters in the known world. However, the Rule also tied them back to their monastic roots. For example, most knights wore the best, rode the best, and wielded the best and thought nothing of it. In fact, they demanded this!

The Templar Knights were a bit different. They weren’t allowed to pick their own mounts and equipment. Their equipment was always high quality, including their mounts, but everything they had was the property of the order. As such, their mounts and gear couldn’t be decorated in any way that would set one brother apart from another. “We utterly forbid any brother to have gold or silver on his bridle, nor on his stirrups, nor on his spurs.”

Also, the Latin Rule forbids members from participating in a common activity of nobility: hunting. Members were never permitted to put on airs of their former lives as nobility. “It is not fitting for a man of religion to succumb to pleasures, but to hear willingly the commandments of God, to be often at prayer and each day to confess tearfully to God in his prayers the sins he has committed.” In other words, they weren’t allowed to act at all like nobility.

 

Do you draw from real world religions when it comes to running them and their clerics in your games?

    Trying It Out: The Order of Light

    Let’s see if we can put this all together.

    For our purposes, our cleric’s name is John. Brother John is a member of the Order of Light. This is a religious order dedicated to protecting travelers and helping others, similar to the mission of the Knights Templar. Just like the nobility that joined The Knights Templar, Brother John came from a wealthy family but has renounced all worldly possessions other than those provided by his order. He also doesn’t associate with his old friends, as he feels the temptation of worldly pleasures is too great.

    A cleric of this order cannot hope to serve both his base desires and the church’s mission. To attempt doing so splits one’s attention and leads to failure. Therefore, Brother John has taken a vow of chastity in compliance with his order’s rules. Also, the order demands strict obedience to its leadership, as did the Templars. Brother John’s day is spent in quiet contemplation, completing chores, and training for battle. He is forbidden to leave the monastery without permission. Only those brothers who have business in the outside world may go.

    However, the order has vast resources, with chapter houses throughout the game’s setting. That means that the equipment John has when he travels is top notch. This also means ready access to food, supplies, and contacts nearly everywhere Brother John goes, just like the Templar who had chapter houses and holdings throughout much of the known world.

    This quick thumbnail sketch of Brother John hopefully shows you how using an existing historical clerical rule can help you build a character with a rich background and have a better idea how to role-play your character. Using a historical religious rule can help set your cleric apart from the sea of clerics you might encounter while building a distinct personality. This will influence who your character is now and where you might take their development through the course of the campaign.

    Ultimately, it is up to you.

    Whatever you do, have fun!


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    Cleric art by www.shutterstock.com

    I am the co-founder of Fabled Environments. We are a Savage Worlds Licensee that publishes modern floor plans and various Savage Worlds products. I have written several gaming adventures and worked on other projects for Savage Worlds including Olympus Inc and Buccaneer: Through Hell and High Water.I hold a Master of Arts in Religion with a focus on Church History as well as an advanced masters (Master of Sacred Theology) focused on American Religion and Culture. I am also hold certification from AATB (American Association of Tissue Banks).

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