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It's been almost two decades since I last played D&D, so my memories of it are slightly fuzzy. I know that third edition allowed clerics to follow an ideal rather than a god, and still get spells and be able to turn (or command) undead, but I also remember it as something that could only be done for a few levels, the idea being that the more advanced spells required actual divine intervention rather than drawing upon general godly power. Presumably, there was also an out-of-game justification that one of the limitations of clerical powers was that there was a god out there who might decide they no longer wish to back you, or might not deign to give you a particular spell, a situation which would not happen with an "ideal" source of divine spells.

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2 Answers 2

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No.

Rules for the level of cleric that a given god—or lack thereof—could sponsor went out with 3rd edition, and haven’t returned. While narratively interesting, they made for awful gameplay and meta considerations.

This is difficult to cite, though. The “real answer” here is that the primary source on the cleric class is the Player’s Handbook, pages 30 through 33, and there is no mention in there of there being any such limitation. But I can’t quote four pages of the Player’s Handbook, and I can’t point to anything more specific than to just say it’s not anywhere in those 4 pages. It’s also not anywhere in the discussions of leveling up and choosing what class to take for that level (Player’s Handbook pg. 58), nor anywhere in the Dungeon Master’s Guide discussions of PC experience and leveling up (38-40) or distribution discussion of cleric NPCs (114-115). It simply doesn’t exist.

Moreover, on the subject of rules for deities themselves, Deities & Demigods is the source, and page 25 defines different “ranks” of deities, including:

Rank 0: Creatures of this rank are sometimes called quasi-deities or hero deities. Creatures that have a mortal and a deity as parents also fall into this category. These entities cannot grant spells, but are immortal and usually have one or more ability scores that are far above the norm for their species. They may have some worshipers. Ordinary mortals do not have a divine rank of 0. They lack a divine rank altogether.

Rank 1–5: These entities, called demigods, are the weakest of the deities. A demigod can grant spells and perform a few deeds that are beyond mortal limits, such as hearing a grasshopper from a mile away.

(Deities & Demigods, pg. 25, emphasis mine)

So if you have divine rank 1 or greater, you can grant spells to clerics. Not spells up to some particular level, or spells to clerics of up to a certain level, but just you have this ability to sponsor clerics (and other divine spellcasters as appropriate). If you don’t, then you can’t—there is no limited form of this.

Since there is no limited form of spell-granting, there is no limited form of the cleric class that is only granted spells up to a particular level, or that you can only take so many levels of. The ideals that clerics of ideals venerate are things of such fundamental import that they operate, in this fashion, like deities of at least divine rank 1.

Note that Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting has separate rules wherein clerics (or anyone else) of ideals are not allowed in that setting: everyone has to have a deity, and that goes double for anyone who wants divine spells. There still isn’t anything in 3.x Forgotten Realms that has certain deities limited to only providing lower-level spells or only sponsoring lower-level clerics.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps it'd be useful context to mention that AD&D 2e specified that clerics could only cast lower-level spells without a deity, and could be granted higher-level spells only by worshipping deities with an appropriate level of power? (This was originally presented on page 111 of the PHB as an optional rule, but many subsequent supplements and adventures assumed it was in use in every campaign, similar to 2e's nominally-optional rules for non-weapon proficiencies.) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jan 15 at 21:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I feel that “Rules for the level of cleric that a given god—or lack thereof—could sponsor went out with 3rd edition," already hints at that sufficiently, personally. That is what I was getting at, though I am not very familiar with those rules and didn’t have the citation. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 15 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes and no. In 2e, a limit on the level of spells a god could grant to a cleric wasn't a limit on the level of that cleric, just on the level of spells they could cast: A level 20 cleric of a demigod still technically had seventh-level spell slots, they just couldn't prepare seventh-level spells in them. I know it might seem like I'm splitting hairs, but the difference between a tenth-level cleric who can't cast seventh-level spells and a twentieth-level cleric who can't cast seventh-level spells can be significant. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Fair enough. I don’t think it’s quite worth bumping the question for, but if it gets bumped for some other reason or I think of other edits to add, I’ll adjust the wording to refer to spell level rather than cleric level. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    yesterday
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There was no such limitation in 3rd or 3.5.

Your recollection is incorrect. On the whole and in every way that matters, clerics without a deity are mechanically the same as clerics with a deity. Additionally, 3rd edition mostly does not have limits on advancement.

There were a few edge cases that you arguably would not get something if you were a cleric of a cause instead of a god (example: the war domain). Similarly, whether miracle works as advertised if you don't have an actual deity on the other end is never clearly settled (though mostly comes up in a theoretical debate around shadowcraft miracles).

There is also a little noise on how anyone advances past level 20. There are some authorities that argue that the Epic Level Handbooks is not inherently how advancement works, etc. While not totally unsupported, that view is not mainstream.

If you played the original 3rd edition, you might possibly be remembering Ur-Priests. They are a militantly anti-deity prestige class. As a prestige class in 3e, the entire class was ten levels long and had no rules for advancing beyond that. Ur-priests were updated in 3.5 and still only covered 10 levels, but the Epic Level Handbook had been printed by then, and recommended that 10-level prestige classes be extended for epic characters (still no official support, but official encouragement to house-rule it). If the godless cleric you're thinking of conjures up an image reminiscent of Anton LaVey, you're probably remembering Ur-Priest.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The ELH recommendation for 10-level prestige class still recommends (IIRC) restricting levels 11th and up of the extended prestige class to epic characters. A character can easily be an ur-priest 10th by 15th, leaving 16th through 20th as levels where you can’t take ur-priest and can’t advance its spellcasting. Seems a little moot, though, since ur-priests already have 9th-level spells by this point. (Plenty of similar prestige classes don’t get 9th-level spells, though I sort of doubt that any of them are a source of confusion here.) Anyway, I don’t understand your 2nd paragraph. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 16 at 6:27

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