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Going through Faiths & Avatars and its sorta-followup Powers & Pantheons I saw the various Specialty Priests listed there, and some of them looked pretty neat with all sorts of unique abilities. Looking back at the Player's Handbook (p. 49, 2nd edition) the only thing I could find is that I can find that is different is the spells you get access to.

So I wonder: if you qualify to be a Specialty Priest for your god, is it always the best choice to be a Specialty Priest instead of a regular Priest? Or does it depend on the deity in question?

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It's not always the best choice. Depending on what your measure of "best" is, it may actually be a worse choice.

Pick specialty priest when you feel like the unique abilities are especially neat and that's what you want to play. In particular, there's no attempt at balance in the specialty priest options, so if that is part of one's measure of "best" then they are all over the place.

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While specialty priests offer a lot of interesting features beyond normal clerics, there are a few things that can be considered as their weakness:

  1. Certain specialty priests are limited in their list of accessible spheres. If you want to be able to cast certain spells, be careful with what a particular diety's specialty priests can choose from. Another thing is that some specialty priests lack the power to turn/command undead.
  2. Specialty priests follow the druid level progression. That is a weird progression where they initially need more experience points to reach levels 2-4, then they get to levels 5-13 earlier than clerics, but from that point on they become twice slower than clerics. For example a cleric needs 1,575,000 xp to reach level 15, while a specialty priest would need 3,000,000!
  3. The second point becomes even more important if you consider the 10% experience point bonus you qualify for when you have 16 or higher in your prime requisite abilities. Clerics get 10% bonus simply by having a Wisdom score of 16 or higher, while specialty priests will need 16 in one or more other scores as well.
  4. If you are a non-human priest, the maximum level you can reach in your class might be tighter bounded. For example a half-elf can reach 14th level as a cleric, but only 9th level as a druid.
  5. Kit Usage: Faiths and Avatars explicitly states (page 183) that specialty priests cannot benefit from kits. Some kits, like those described in Warriors and Priests of the Realms, are disturbingly powerful. For example, Torm's paragons are essentially paladins but with cleric level progression and cleric spellcasting.
  6. Clerics can get help/support from temples/clergy of other deities more easily; particularly from other clerics of their deity's pantheon. A dwarf cleric of Clangeddin, can ask for help from the temples of pretty much any deity of the dwarven pantheon.
  7. Access to magic in the planes can be less limited for clerics. Quoting from the Planescape sourcebook On Hallowed Ground (pages 10,11,18):

    ... a cleric worships a cause, a pantheon, or one deity first and a group second. ... A specialty priest ... follows and upholds the tenets of only one power. ... a cleric ... gets his home-plane advantage on any plane inhabited by the member of the pantheon. ... Take an 8th-level cleric of the Greek pantheon, for example. He can cast spells at his full strength while on the pantheon's home plane (Arborea) and all adjacent planes ... {In addition, he} casts spells at 8th level while on the Gray Waste or Baator - the home planes of Hades and Hecate, respectively.

  8. Specialty priests cannot join pan-deity organizations in space (according to the Spelljammer supplement The Concordance of Arcane Space, pg. 26). Similar to the constraints experienced by plane shifting priests, a spelljamming priest who travels to a crystal sphere in which her deity is not worshipped loses access to any spells above 2nd level. To overcome these issues, a "space cleric" can be polygot (worshipping an entire pantheon), follow The Path & The Way (serving a celestial bureaucracy), be part of a Planar Church (venerate all powers of a plane, like Seven Heavens) to gain access to higher-level spells from a range of powers. Even if a cleric prefers to stick with one power, she is arguably more likely to get friendly powers to respond, as compared to a specialty priest.
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