On the level of game mechanics, the classic D&D cleric melds the healer, the crusader and the witch/vampire hunter in one person. Is this a genuine D&D mish-mash or is there any cultural/literary predecessor this very concept harkens back to?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This question about the origin of cleric weapon restrictions just happens to answer your question, although the question itself is not a duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/15358/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 21:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ditto this question about why clerics can't use slings: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/15347/… \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 21:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you very much for the links - what shall I do with this question - delete it? Answer it myself? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 21:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Not sure, actually. A "good" answer here would be more complete than the answers there, probably. I'd say leave it and see if the community votes it a duplicate or if it stays open. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 20, 2013 at 21:55

1 Answer 1


The D&D Cleric, apart from its Blackmoor origins as a vampire hunter (as noted here), is a mish-mash that has grown into a trope of its own.

The D&D cleric as a trope, encompasses:

  • undead hunter
  • healer
  • second rate combattant
  • priest of a pantheon (or faction within a pantheon)
  • non-direct-damage spellcaster
  • no edged weapons

The Cleric was one of the three Original D&D† classes; the other two were Fighting Man and Magic-User.

The Cleric as evolved to add priest of specific cults - the original presentation almost ignored the deity.

In fact, the original published presentation is short enough to quote:

Clerics: Clerics gain some of the advantages from both of the other two classes I Fighting-Men and Magic-Users) in that they have the use of magic armor and all non-edged magic weapons (no arrows!), plus they have numbers of their own spells. In addition, they are able to use more of the magical items than are the Fighting-Men. When Clerics reach the top level (Patriarch) they may opt to build their own stronghold, and when doing so receive help from "above". Thus, if they spend 100,000 Gold Pieces in castle construction, they may build a fortress of double that cost. Finally, "faithful" men will come to such a castle, being fanatically loyal, and they will serve at no cost. There will be from 10-60 heavy cavalry, 10-60 horsed crossbowmen ("Turcopole"-type), and 30-180 heavy foot.

Note that Clerics of 7th level and greater are either "Law" or "Chaos", and there is a sharp distinction between them. If a Patriarch receiving the above benefits changes sides, all the benefits will immediately be removed! Clerics with castles of their own will have control of a territory similar to the "Barony" of fighters, and they will receive "tithes" equal to 20 Gold Pieces/ Inhabitant/year

(D&D Original Edition, 6th printing, Vol 1, page 7.)

So, we have hybridization to some degree directly in evidence

  • The D&D cleric is aligned not to a deity, but an alignment. This is counter to almost all historical models, save those of the dualistic religions (Zorastrianism, especially).
  • We have the Hammer Films anti-vampire hunter (Holy Symbol, Holy water, repels undead that others can't).
  • We have the Medieval "Fighting Priest" of the Romances (ahistoric, but historically loved) coupled with the priest-friar tending to a fighting company as chaplain (historic, but best beloved because of the legends of Robin Hood containing Friar Tuck, who combines both).
  • We have also priest as landowner - a nod to medieval abbots and bishops.
  • The use of no edged weapons isn't explicitly given an origin that I've seen, but appears to be a "thematic" element arising from the early Christian Conciliar prohibition on clergy causing the shedding of blood, coupled to a lack of grasp that blunt weapons also are quite capable of drawing and shedding blood. (A grazing mace will in fact rip you open nicely if you aren't armored.)

More evidence of mashup are the titles for the levels:

Village Priest

(D&D Original Edition, 6th printing, Vol 1, page 16.)

Acolyte, Vicar, Curate, Bishop: All used in western churches, including Roman Catholic, Church of England, and Lutheran (tho' not all Lutheran Synods).

Patriarch is used in the Roman Church for 4 particular Archbishops; its use is far more common in the Eastern Churches - The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches. Orthodoxy also uses Acolyte, Priest, and Bishop.

Adept and Lama are borrowed from elsewhere -

  • Adept from a variety of pagan traditions,
  • Lama from the Tibetan... for Abbot.

    Which is itself an interesting placement - Abbots rank below bishops in Orthodoxy and Catholicism - but in the Early Irish church, were the ones appointing bishops.

Notably missing are the subdeacon, deacon, archdeacon, dean, and archbishop of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the High Priest common in pagan traditions, with the gaps filled by other traditions' titles. A sure sign of mish-mash. (Evil High Priests are listed as anti-Clerics in Men and Magic, p. 34, and on p. 9 under alignment tables under Chaos)

Later editions, in addition to expanding the spell repertoire, add priests of specific mythoi, and priests of specific deities within a given mythos. They also provide alternate titles.

D&D has had an influence, however. Fighting priest-spellcasters have become an accepted trope in fantasy fiction, even tho' the majority of priests in the Sword and Sorcery genere were one of three facets: Bookworm preacher, spellcasting priest, or warrior monk; all three can be found in the Conan stories. The D&D cleric has migrated into the video games and into a few Manga and Anime series. It has infected later RPG's, as well - the Shugenja of L5R has more in common with D&D clerics than with Shinto or Buddhist monks.

† Ignoring supplements for the moment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 just for using † for notes. Maybe woth mentioning some of the staple cleric spells are taken from the gospels (notably resurrection, cure blindness/deafness and water walk). \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 12:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't toss in the "Scarab of Protection from Evil High Priests" from Monsters and Treasures, but since you mentioned High Priests, I did fold in where Evil High Priest fits ... PS love your answer, wish I could give it more than one up vote. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 18:55

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