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Do you know of any literary basis for Clerics & Paladins?

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Grymlorde
Do you know of any literary basis for Clerics & Paladins?

I now believe that there is no literary basis for D&D clerics and paladins and I need your help to prove otherwise.

Background

I've been working on a series of modules set in Grymwurld(TM) -- my own homebrew setting for PnP D&D games that I ran from 1978-2002. In Grymwurld, I have tried to present a world based on European myth, legend, fairytale, and pre-1650 popular fiction. Up until now, I have allowed standard D&D clerics because of Turpin, the Archbishop of Reims and to a lesser extent Bishop Odo, the half-brother of William the Conqueror and other historical prelates who led soldiers. I admit that this is an area which I have researched the least in the last forty years. However, I have now done my research and believe that I was mistaken.

Assertion

As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no precedent for D&D clerics and Paladins in any pre-1650 literary source, European or not. No miracle-workers who bear arms & armor. Turpin did nothing miraclulous beyond the usual saying of mass and forgiving sins that an archbishop would be expected to. Likewise, none of Arthur's or Charlemagne's knights performed any miracles. My research into the 1650-1970 literary record while not as thorough, has likewise turned up emty handed. Plenty of saints from various religions and religious practices who worked miracles but did not fight with weapons and wear armor of any kind. Plenty of ex-soldiers who gave up their arms and later became miracle workers but no-one who fought with weapons and with divine spells. Even the Evil High Priests of the pulps (Lovecraft, Howard, et al.) dressed like wizards in robes and sacrificial daggers. Also, I could find no record of armored clerics or paladins amongst the ancient Greek, Roman, Celt, Norse, Phoenician, or Egyptian myths. Nor in the bible.

Request for Help

Hence my request for your help. Can you cite any reference to true D&D-like clerics and/or paladins from before 1974? Miracle workers using divine magic while wearing armor and using weapons of some kind?

Note

Please do not take this as any criticism of Gygax & Arneson, D&D, or Neverwinter Nights. It is not my intent to do so. I have a particular project wherein I wish to be as faithful to the source material as possible. I am looking for outside assistance to confirm or correct what my research has told me. Thanks!
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Proleric
Proleric's picture

The limited research I've done supports your findings.

To be fair, D&D was always first and foremost about making a balanced, combat-oriented game. Historical & mythological accuracy were sometimes sacrificed to make classes more equal and monsters more varied. It always had to be taken with a large pinch of salt, with the bottom line that while x might not have been true in our history, it was true in Faerun.

Having said that, from the outset, aspects of D&D were just plain weird. To English people, the idea of Cuthbert (a real cleric) wearing armour and cudgelling folk was simply ludicrous - on a par with the oddball classical redux such as the Medusa - Gorgon thing.

As you say, clerics were sometimes military leaders, like Odo or Julius II, but even they were far from the D&D stereotype. I've often thought that D&D would be a much better game if clerics (and indeed nobles) had charisma-based powers rather than combat abilities. From Hild of Whitby to Savonarola, exceptional clerics were, above all, influential.

The paladin thing is pure hokum. As I'm sure you know, the original paladins were vassals of Charlemagne, probably no better or worse than others of their class. Later, troubadors wove romantic tales around them, but D&D takes them to a different planet entirely. Ironically, in reality, the very notion of chivalry was encouraged in popular myth as knighthood descended into atrocity - for example, Edward III creating the Order of the Garter while his son, the Black Prince, burned the Languedoc.

Looking at it another way, though, every age has retold the old stories with a new spin to suit current aspirations and circumstances, so why not D&D?

Having said that, I do feel a sense of frustration that D&D rules lock us in to a concept of clerics and paladins that seemed dated / clunky decades ago, let alone today.

 

NWN and DAO adventures at http://proleric.com/

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Grymlorde

I agree with you Proleric, 100%. From a game perspective, what Gygax & Arneson did was brilliant in terms of creating the cleric -- a front ranker who could heal, turn undead, and invoke certain spells which magic-users could not. Thus, they reinforced the notion that a diverse and balanced party was the only way to succeed and every player got a chance to be in the spotlight. Here we are 44 years later and the core four — fighter, cleric, thief, and magic-users -- are part and parcel of practically every D&D inspired game, for better or worse.

I also think that there is validity in having armored clerics & paladins in a world like Faerun or Oerth, one that is rife with magic and active deities.

In the case of Grymwurld(TM), I have been trying to hew as close to our literary heritage as possible, hence the research. Thanks for the confirmation and your thoughts.

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Ancarion

Clerics originated in Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign as a sort of undead hunter, and specifically to counter a guy named Sir Fang, who wanted to play as a Vampire. They were not originally based on anything historical, so searching for medieval literary sources is not going to be very fruitful. Even St Cuthbert is a bit of a red herring, since he was just some deity conjured from whole cloth by Gygax when his players pressed him for details about the gods of Greyhawk. He was never indended to be taken very seriously, rather just being some humorless guy who hit you with a club if you misbehaved. Much of early D&D was tongue-in-cheek; character names were puns and anagrams, etc. and Gygax never expected people to put too much thought into his world, thinking they'd rather create their own.

The more interesting question might be, why couldn't there be historical "clerics" in the D&D sense? If divine magic exists, why wouldn't priests be able to wear armor while wielding it? Just because they don't exist in literature doesn't make them any less plausible than magic itself. If you think they're cool, put them in.

The same goes for Paladins. No, you won't find their exact analogues in historical literature, but that was never the point. They are an extrapolation of the consequences of having gods and magic in the world, fighters who swear to serve a diety and are rewarded with certain divine gifts. Certain elements of their nature were drawn from popular ideas about knights in shining armor, but they were never meant to be representations of historical people.

You're just not going to find modern fantasy tropes of holy warriors fully realized in historical literature. And looking for them in the grim, cynical works of Howard or Lovecraft isn't going to be very helpful either; there were many reasons they made their priests caricatures of Mesopotamian, or Central American, or other then-perceived-as swarthy and evil cultures.

So, no - there's no direct line from Medieval history to D&D character classes. They were invented because they were cool, and only loosely based on our cultural imagination of what those times would have been like had magic and a pantheon of gods really existed. But in that context, they are plausible.

Edit - Having seen your response to Proleric, I would add that yes, if you're going to limit your world to only the historical works that have survived, then Clerics and Paladins are probably right out. But that is a tenuous road to walk... The Medieval era was wholly Christianized in the West, and if you are to be accurate, you'd be better off to steer clear of anything divine, rather that "game-ify" a religion that still has great significance to many people. 


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Tarot Redhand

Ironically there is an actual saint cuthbert. I only knew this as he is associated with the early monastery on Lindisfarne island and I watch quite a bit of history on tv. As for a fighting priest I seem to recall that William the Conquer's brother in law (a bishop odo) is depicted on the bayeux tapestry on horseback with a large club. However it is also surmised that the only reason he is there is that he paid for the tapestry to be created.

TR

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sport

The basis for paladins at least is the inquisition that is why paladins are assumed to be lawful good (evil) and make no sense in any game world they are plunked into clerics are whatever you want ... gods exist so people that follow them are devoted even if they are evil...

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sport

To follow up Lancelot is the prototypical paladin but he is fallen almost as soon as he is introduce as a character so the truth is that d and d treats paladins like they are at best NE and majority of then are LE the are all blackguards and should not be allowed at all

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sport
St cuthbert of the cudgel is not a paladin he is a cleric
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Proleric
Proleric's picture

@Tarot Redhand - yes, that's the Cuthbert I was referring to.

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Thunderstorm Witch

The "Ten Commandments of Chivalry" in this article sound a lot like a paladin:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chivalry

As for clerics, there have been bishops fighting and even leading whole armies in history. "There was an old saying that bishops did not carry a mace into battle to draw blood, but merely to split hairs by other means". Some did carry a mace, others fought with a sword.
Here's the full article about members of the Catholic clergy fighting:
http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/battling-bishops...

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Ancarion

These are all great points, and give useful insight into historical precedents for the invention of the Paladin and Cleric classes. But they lack the key features that define those classes, most notably the idea of wielding magic and serving as the bane of the undead. This is a modern invention, inspired by such things as Van Helsing, Catholic exorcism rituals, and in the case of Paladins, legends of knight's purity and incorruptibility (which weren't even a thing during the actual Medieval era; knights were more often regarded as bullys and right bastards). Credit should really be given to the early innovators of D&D, who so successfully built upon those historical and legendary inspirations that the modern popular idea of divine warriors is taken for granted.

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kamal
The various Crusades would seem to be religiously inspired fighters, plus miracles which I suppose you could consider as divine magical effects that were the result of faith.
 
http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06670-7.html (The book focuses on accounts of miracles reported to have happened in the course of the crusade, especially the miracle of the intervention of saints in the Battle of Antioch.)
 
https://sites.dartmouth.edu/crusadememory/2016/04/25/miracles-of-the-fir... ( Peter Desiderius said that the Crusaders needed to turn their back on sin and perform a barefoot procession around the two and a half mile wall around Jerusalem ... This was particularly important because it presented an opportunity for the Crusaders to cleanse themselves of their prior hardships and loss, and renew their standing with God.)
 
Peter Bartholomew (while technically a peasant) had visions that the Holy Lance—the spear that had pierced Christ’s side on the Cross, would be found in a given Church. After a lance was indeed found, Peter went through a trial by fire (literally) while holding the lance. While Peter died a few weeks later, he certainly would have led people into battle wielding the lance. The ordeal by fire was considered a miracle. 
 
 
 
Care of the dead is generally handled by the priestly caste. In any case religion generally is responsible for dealing with how the society handles death, so in a world where the dead can start walking around again, the line to the religious being responsible for the dead who keep hanging around doesn't seem like a stretch.
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rogueknight333

I am not sure I quite understand your criteria. There are certainly some examples of noble & devout knights (Sir Galahad comes to mind) or fighting clerics (your own example of Bishop Turpin, among others) from literary and historical sources. There are examples of various knights of the Round Table (among others) receiving help from supernatural sources, which is not exactly the same thing as "casting spells" but might be said to roughly correspond to it allowing for the inevitable needs of adaptation between different mediums. The Paladin class is clearly inspired precisely by the chivalric ideals of medieval knights and their depiction in the legends of King Arthur and similar tales (that actual historical knights often failed to live up to these ideals is true but not living up to one's ideals is a problem for the entire human race, not for knights in particular). It is true these example do not exactly correspond to the depictions of Cleric & Paladin classes in D&D, but that is true of all the D&D classes. Many of them were inspired by literary archetypes, but all of them were adapted for gaming purposes in ways that make them different from their antecedents. Why single out Cleric & Paladin classes in particular for something that is more or less true of all the classes? 

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GCoyote

Echoing kamal. As I understand it, both the Knights Templar and the Hospitalers were religious orders although not all members were clergy. They should rightly be considered "warrior monks" rather than priests. IIRC the original Advanced D&D books (which I sold off a few years back made just that reference. However that is not where the spell casting angle comes in.

When you look at pantheons of the various D&D worlds, the obvious inspiration is classical Greece. Greek mythology is filled with instances of humans (not just priests) who "called upon" their patron deity in moments of crisis resulting in divine (although not always favorable) intervention. The spell casting mechanic is necessary to regulate this practice as a deterrent to player abuse.  OTOH, back in my P&P days, if a player in a hopeless situation came up with a really creative appeal to his deity I'd fudge him a small miracle with a note that gods tend to expect a lot in return for their attention. 

<b>"Please VOTE on the content you play."</b>

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Grymlorde

@rogueknight333 - My criteria is for heavily armored divine spellcasters (clerics and/or paladins) in any "real-world" stories, whether myth, legend, fairytale, hagiography (saint's biography), popular fiction, what have you. There are plenty of literary sources for arcane spellcasters (Merlin, Morgana, Circe, etc.) as well as unarmored saints (Christian, Jew, & Muslim). There are likewise instances of Christian bishops & popes taking up arms (historical!) but none of those warlike prelates were saints (miracle workers). The druids in the stories I have found, are described much more like arcane spellcasters than the D&D druid and did not wear armor nor bear arms. The Norse Goði, Egyptian priests, Roman priests, and other "pagan/heathen" priest are also likewise unarmored.

Hence the data leads me to believe that the ancients conceived of all spellcasters (divine & arcane) as unarmored and lightly armed (if at all). Therefore if I am going to be relatively thorough in giving my module(s) a Medieval or Ancient feel to them, then I should adjust the cleric and druid classes to have the combat abilty of wizards and sorcerers. Likewise I should eliminate paladins and cap rangers at 4th level or eliminate them entirely. This of course has absolutely nothing to do with any religions or alignments because the image of an unarmed and unarmored priest/cleric/miracle worker appears to be universal.

As far as using spells as a way to moderate the invocation of miracles, I do find that an interesting concept but ultimately must reject it from the model. Reason being is that the people in that culture or era who consistently worked miracles were unarmored and unarmed (perhaps armed with a dagger or staff) saints rather than the noblemen ganted bishoprics who still behaved like their knighly bretheren. Furthermore, this model of the unarmored divine caster does not preclude any other character class from requesting divine intervention anymore then the traditional D&D cleric and paladin does. And there were plenty of Greco-Phoenician heroes who invoked the gods but were not the least bit clerical or priestly. On the other hand, I think that an argument can be made that the Divine Champion (Champion of Torm) is a good way to describe the various holy warriors and warlike priests since it gives them some charisms (divine gifts) such as smite evil, turn undead, sacred defense, and divine wrath.

And finally please do not take this request as an indictment against D&D. Dungeons & Dragons (or NWN) does not have to have a literary or historical basis to be fun! Giant space hamsters have no literary or historical basis but that did not prevent Spelljammer from being fun!

P.S. @Kamal -- thanks for the links. That book looks interesting and insightful. I must check it out.

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Empyre65

I think that fun should trump historical accuracy. If making something more historically accurate makes the game less fun, go for the fun option.

"Never laugh in the face of a live dragon." - Bilbo Baggins

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Proleric
Proleric's picture

Ancarion makes a good point "Gygax never expected people to put too much thought into his world, thinking they'd rather create their own."

That was my reading of the early D&D works, too, which is why I created the Enigma Mundi gameworld. However, in hindsight, I wrongly assumed that the game would be unbalanced unless I included all the standard classes.

The whole question of what feels comfortable, credible & fun is obviously cultural & subjective. The lesson for me is to be bolder in revising D&D until it feels right. Our understanding of history and myth is part of that. If I were starting over, I would quietly drop the Clerics and Paladins, as Ultima and others have done. Being non-religious, I feel bad about perpetuating those questionable stereotypes as icons of good (Van Helsing stylee).

As it is, clerics are part of my gameworld, and, ironically, that unease drives some of the dramatic tension. I can't unequivocally endorse Rogue ethics, either, but then that generates plot twists, too. More recently, the afterlife trope has come into question, as we learn that the Undead are not quite what they seem... and so on.

In the end, though, each to their own.

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sport

On palidins, principles and propelling penurious.. meh I can't keep it up, IT'S A ROLE PLAYING GAME it's all made up, if it is internally consistent that is good if not Meh.. the historical archetypes of them have nothing to do with the D&D version, history has magical tales that are nothing like D&D magic, and Zombies have only really been a thing since the 60's, I'm just saying that just because it's a video game doesn't mean you need to stunt your imagination

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