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Every time my group starts a new campaign or adventure with new characters, the caveat is that they must try and play something new and different. None of them have played a cleric, ever.

The Problem: Worship and Theism

I have tried to tempt the players into the Cleric role: amazing spell list, very versatile play styles, could be great fun roleplaying (basically built in to character creation)! No bites. They even know that they won't be heal bots, they can get creative!

I feel that the piety aspect is what is holding them all back. Organized religion is something that they seem too cower away from. This stems from the fact, or the apparent fact that, despite the option allowing Clerics to follow an "ideal" instead, the PHB and errata seems to still direct a Cleric to choose a deity (emphasis mine):

While the vast majority of clerics revere a specific deity, a small number dedicate themselves to a divine concept worthy of devotion—such as battle, death, justice, or knowledge—free of a deific abstraction. (Work with your GM if you prefer this path to selecting a specific deity.)

Which, to me, translates into a Cleric needing to pick a specific deity.

In addition:

Clerics who follow a philosophy must select a patron deity among the philosophy’s associated religions (they gain no additional benefits from adherence to a philosophy). -Inner Sea World Guide

AND

Even clerics, who must choose one deity as their patron above all others, sometimes offer such minor prayers to divinities allied with their chosen gods, although their faith must still remain primarily focused on their deity of choice, for even the good gods can be jealous. -Inner Sea Gods

AND

A follower of a specific pantheon may take the Pantheistic Blessing feat to gain access to a spell-like ability tied thematically to his or her chosen pantheon. Note that single-class clerics gain their powers through allegiance to a single deity, and therefore cannot select this feat. -Faiths and Philosophies

And, while not a handbook, here is one of Creative Director James Jacobs' innumerable direct statements on the matter:

The official stance in Golarion is that if you're a cleric, you MUST have a patron deity. That's one of the big things that makes clerics not a different type of spellcaster.

(And yes, I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and fix the Core Rulebook so that it says that there in the Core Rulebook as well.)

You're free to say clerics don't need deities in games you run, just as you're free to say wizards don't need spellbooks or rogues don't need thieves' tools or whatever... but the baseline assumption for our campaign setting is that clerics must worship a deity.

So, having established that a deity-less Cleric isn't really viable in our play setting: How can I encourage the players to give the Cleric a try without DM intervening and allowing a deity-less Cleric? And further to that, how can I help them roleplay the cleric so that it is fun and engaging?

Eventually, I suppose, once all other options have been exhausted, I'll have an entire party of clerics! :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do your players commonly play other characters that have sworn fealty to another, or do they prefer characters who aren't tied down by any authorities overseeing their behavior? \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Mar 12 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ You know, it varies for everything except religion...they just don’t seem to know how to or aren’t willing to try to role play with it as a central theme for their character. We had a paladin once and the player seemed annoyed and surprised all the time at being reminded of his fealty to a god. \$\endgroup\$ – TigerDM Mar 12 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ To Clarify, so I can better answer the question: Your players don’t want to be a Cleric solely for the reason of dealing with a Deity or you feel that’s just one of or the Main reason in a multitude of factors? \$\endgroup\$ – BloodySprinkles Mar 12 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I’m not sure, but I suspect hat is a main reason. I think roleplaying piety is daunting, and unappealing. \$\endgroup\$ – TigerDM Mar 12 at 16:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I need to ask the obvious question: "Why do you want them to?" Without you elaborating on this in the question I feel we are in xy problem territory. That is, why is "my players don't play clerics" an issue at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Mar 13 at 0:19
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Make clerics interesting!

There are multiple ways of doing that. The first is to actually play a cleric, they are amazing, they are one of the strongest classes in the game and the most versatile after druids and wizards (Personally, I consider clerics more versatile than wizards, but that's me). I also had strong (bad) opinions on clerics, but then I played a few of them. And damn, what a blast I had, they are extremely fun and you can explore all sort of weird concepts with them, other than your typical healbot or cleric-necromancer.

The second is to introduce them to interesting deities, one at a time. If you find a certain god to be interesting, then maybe they will do too, but without reading about them, how will they know about it?

For instance, did you know the priests (and inquisitors) of Asmodeus (a lawful evil deity) are allowed to act as judges when there is no appointed judge for that city? Not only that, but you can roleplay characters with characteristics like of the Judge Dredd comic (and movie) character, and that is fine, because your word is the law (quite literally sometimes)!

Another example, churches of Abadar are banks! I kid you not, all of their temples are some sort of financial institute. They control the coinage, exchange rates and will give you credit to start your own business for a small fee if you prove that you are capable of doing it. I GMed a game where the players had to constantly deal with clerics of Abadar and one of them was converted to the faith so he could safely exchange trade goods with no risk of being called a cheater, as he had a badge (holy symbol) to prove that he was a reliable source of monetary information and knowledge.

Did you know that temples of Calistria are brothels, inns, and such? So, the next time the PCs wish to get some company, introduce them to the priestess of Calistria, and explain how their donations are being put to a good cause, like saving orphans from a war on a nearby country.

In another game, the church of Pharasma was so well connected to the PCs, both because they did many quests to help the church and because they donated a lot of recovered lost relics (cough archeologically stolen artifacts), that the church would cast any divine spells that they required, and that had a total material cost of 100 gp or less, for free! They used this to cast a bunch of divinations to guide themselves to their goal in that campaign. One of the players even talked to Pharasma herself (when he died, of course) because of this connection.

In that same campaign, they were saved by a monk/cleric of Irori, who defended them against a small horde of ghouls so they could escape safely. Being immune to diseases, he couldn't be affected by the ghoul's paralysis, and being a little higher level than the PCs, he displayed some awesome kung fu action in front of them by taking down single-handledly 12 ghouls and coming back later to tell the story. They had to escape before the combat was over, as 2 PCs were unconscious and paralyzed already. This NPC later became a valuable source of information (Irori is a god of knowledge after all) and allowed them to retrain most feats (a house rule, of course, but Irori is also a god of inner strength) when necessary. They loved Irori ever since.

One last example, in a campaign set in Osirion (which is an Egyptian-themed region), one player wanted to be a cleric of Sobek (the crocodile god) because of the domains associated with him (strength and war), but since we had so little information about that god in the setting and the choice of domains were pretty much for their crunch alone, the god was uninspiring to him once he had finished it. We sat down and looked up everything we could about the (real) god in the (real) Egyptian mythology. And we found out that he also had a strong association with blood (because the Egyptian believed that blood and water were connected) and we pretty much rebuilt the god around the whole "god of strength, water and blood sacrifices".

The result was epic, his Divinations used a crocodile heart as reagents (a flavor created by us), and every blessing involved dripping some blood on his teammates (mostly his own) while chanting some battle cry, while all of his curses involved either turning his own blood into a magical effect, or that of his enemies. Yeah, you read that right, it was all like the Kali-Ma priest from Indiana Jones. He would put his hand on a wound and splash it on his face before casting a Cure Wounds spell while chanting something like "Sobek accepts your sacrifice!" or "Your blood is not worthy!" before a Flame Strike.

As GM, ever since I got my hands in the Inner Sea Gods, I try to introduce a reliable NPC that can instill the awesomeness of their god to the PCs, like those examples above, on every campaign. Those NPCs don't have to be higher level, they just have to do something cool or useful to the party, even if that is simply being a barkeeper that worships Cayden and can turn water into beer for free to the PCs.

All of these examples applies to Golarion, but the spirit in my words go for any campaign setting of your liking. Read up about the gods in that setting, see what makes them interesting other than their powers and spheres of influence, what other gods are their allies or enemies, it's the little details that make them memorable. If your players can identify themselves and feel conneceted to those gods, they may consider worshipping them the next time you guys create new characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ For Asmodeus, judge part is interesting but the fact that his church founded orphanages and gives orphans care and even glimpse of luxury is even more interesting - for an evil deity. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 13 at 14:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good call. That's not something you normally would expect from a "Prince of Lies" and "Lord of Devils" kind of deity. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Mar 13 at 15:11
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The existence of the Gods in pretty much all fantasy settings is categorically proven and beyond dispute. Everyone knows that all the gods exist, because they are capable and willing to perform miracles and provide spells to their clerics and paladins.

Thus everyone will worship the gods, not as a demonstration of belief, but in an attempt to sway them into acting on their behalf. If you want to ensure better crops, you'll pray to the God of agriculture. If you want to smite your enemies you will pray to the Goddess of War.

Certain people may favour certain gods, farmers and warriors are obvious examples, but Clerics and Paladins merely take this to the next level. They have chosen to become pawns of their chosen deity and gain power from it, at the risk of being considered a rival piece by gods hostile to their patron.

This relationship is obviously different to the one mortals and deities have in our world (and we are going to avoid the specifics there, as that is just asking for problems), so any preconception of faith gained in this world does not apply in the same way in the worlds of D&D et al.

Whilst I can't guess why your players have misgivings about faith and religion, you can tell them that they do not have to be any more religious then anyone else in their world to play a divine class, they are simply aligning themselves with a divine patron the same way a fighter might swear themselves to a mortal lord. Both have benefits and both have consequences.

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Roleplaying a cleric well is not easy. Our real world experiences do not prepare most of us to the pantheistic worldview of these fantasy settings. As a solution, we have benefited from two tactics:

  1. Read fantasy that involves priests as major characters. For example, Salvatore's The Cleric Quintet was helpful. It takes place in the Forgotten Realms setting, a magic and religion-rich setting like Golarion.

  2. When you start as a cleric for the first time, do not push yourself too hard. Give yourself time to gradually grow into the role. Deities work in mysterious ways, not all priests or chosen ones start devout. Actually, fantasy stories have skeptics or underdogs being favored by their deities. Chose another profession and multiclass in it or chose a skill/craft and earn ranks in it; and pick the relevant deity. For example pick Shelyn and multiclass as a bard. Perhaps she likes you and accepts you as a cleric just because your are singing and hold a beautiful heart. Gradually as the game progresses, you will learn how to be a 'proper' cleric.

As the gamemaster, it also helps introducing NPC clerics, not only for short interactions, but also as a character who joins the party for a number of sessions. It always encourages players to see how the GM herself roleplays certain classes. If this NPC is a couple of levels higher than the party, he/she can also act wisely rather easily and earn respect as a cleric. This might help the initiation of PC clerics. My multiclass cleric character had fallen in love with a high-level cleric of an allied deity, just because the GM had played her wisdom very convincingly. Then I imitated his play style until I got comfortable with my own cleric interpretation.

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Foreword

First of all, I encourage you to take a light touch with this, especially if your campaigns are long. If none of your players are comfortable playing a cleric, you shouldn't try to force them - putting a player in the position of playing a role he or she doesn't want to play is a good way to lose a player.

Restrictions of Faith?

One problem that you might have is that many players don't like being restricted - i.e., if your players see playing a cleric as requiring a code of conduct like a paladin. One reason that paladins are often looked down upon is that many players like having the freedom to lie, sneak around, or kill a defeated enemy even if they would never actually do those things, if for no other reason than they've heard horror stories about DMs who decided that the party's paladin had fallen for seemingly no reason.

My preferred solution for dealing with this is to make it clear that faith is a two-sided coin - part of having faith is having that faith tested, but another part is having that faith rewarded. The cleric doesn't follow the tenets of their deity to be difficult, they do it because they're trying to make the world a better place and they've been granted the power to make that happen through devotion to a deity.

The Hero Points system from the Advanced Player's Guide provides a good way to represent this. Award Hero Points to PCs who follow the tenets of their deities. You don't have to restrict this to clerics, though I would award them to clerics more often.

Use NPCs to Spark Interest

@ShadowKras and @ZwiQ make some interesting suggestions about introducing NPC clerics that I'd like to expand on. You can make clerics more interesting by showing them responding to situations in interesting ways, both in gameplay and roleplay terms.

In gameplay terms, this can mean describing the cleric's actions in more dynamic ways. I recently played a game in which the party was confronted by a powerful undead creature. It had paralyzed two of the party, leaving a cleric of Sarenrae and a wizard to defeat it. The cleric defeats it by channeling positive energy. As a DM, you can describe it like this:

The monster takes 6 points of damage, finishing it off.

Or like this:

The cleric raises his holy symbol and cries out to the Dawnflower for aid. For an instant, the golden ankh catches the light and seems to magnify it, releasing a burst of white light. The hideous creature screams as the holy fire sears the flesh from its bones and what remains collapses in a mangled heap.

(Note that there's a fine line to walk here between making the cleric seem impressive and creating the dreaded all-powerful DMPC.)

In roleplay terms, this can involve making the cleric seem reasonable and flexible, but it can also involve showing how rigid adherence to the tenets of faith can affect others. My favorite example of this comes from the Dresden Files series and the character Michael Carpenter - at times, Michael's deep conviction and overwhelming faith in divine providence gets through to people when other approaches fail.

Is it likely that the cleric can talk an evil NPC into abandoning his life of crime and savagery? Maybe not. But isn't the point of playing a cleric to try and make miracles happen?

It's Your Game

I might step on some toes with this final note, but you're the DM, not James Jacobs. Granted, he's put a lot of time, money, and effort into creating the Pathfinder campaign setting, but he (probably) doesn't know your group of players. If you think deity-less clerics are a better fit for your group, feel free to introduce them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ "@ZwiQ makes a good suggestion about introducing NPC clerics that deserves some expansion." Wow man, I feel like you didnt read my answer. \$\endgroup\$ – ShadowKras Mar 15 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Sorry, I didn't intend to be snide. I interpreted your answer as being more about making clerics and their institutions interesting as concepts rather than creating an NPC cleric specifically as a kind of "example PC", since you seemed to be talking about them more as NPC support (providing information, spellcasting services, etc.). I've amended my answer to mention yours as well. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben S. Mar 15 at 21:31

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