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I'm new to the whole D&D scene. Our group put together a fairly balanced party, with me playing a War Cleric (we needed a “tank”).

My problem is that I can't figure out how to roleplay such a character! There seem to be paradoxical elements to being a War Cleric:

  • As a Cleric I would have thought that piety and an overwhelming urge to do right would define my character's behaviour.
  • A Cleric who worships a War God would probably not be the typical do-gooder of my first thought.

Additionally, pious and driven to do the right thing seems too close to how a Paladin should be played, so maybe that's not right for a Cleric anyway.

I understand that the game is what I make of it but I could use some help resolving my somewhat paradoxical understanding of what a War Cleric should do in most situations we encounter, especially as I'm the “tank”.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not posting small or incomplete answers. Please use answer posts to submit answers instead. Prior comments containing answers have been purged. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Nov 27 '15 at 3:34
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As a Cleric I would have thought that piety and an overwhelming urge to do right would define my character's behaviour.

The onus of the Cleric class is to serve and represent their deity. Like all flavor/background things, this can be filtered through whatever other lenses you want (alignment, background, your vision).

If the deity values piety and an overwhelming urge to do right, then the cleric should consider doing likewise.

On the other hand, if the deity values honor and swift action, the cleric should probably consider himself to be called upon to do the same.

Here are two example war gods, each a bit different:

Athena values strategy and tactics. She favors wisdom and defending people who need her protection.

Ares values prowess on the battlefield. He favors strength and defeating those who oppose him.

Given the conundrum of whether to stay back and protect the village or root out the bandits who are harassing it, the cleric of Athena would be more about protecting the village. The cleric of Ares would be more about hunting the bandits down.

In broad stereotypes, I'd expect a half-orc war cleric to be a bit of a Klingon. Naturally, you can go wherever you want with the concept.

But then this seems too close to how a Paladin should be played.

Your observation that war clerics are similar to paladins is spot-on. Both are heavily armored front-line fighters who serve a higher calling.

The distinction is that a paladin serves his oath above all else, while a cleric serves his god.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 "the onus of the Cleric... is to serve and represent their deity," not necessarily to do good (however you define that!) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Nov 27 '15 at 1:44
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One things is that characters in a setting with manifestly present deities probably wouldn't have faith in those deities but instead would know that they exist. In real life religion, differences are mostly over matters of fact: what is true and what is false. With manifestly extant deities the differences are more over matters of value: what should be done rather than what is true.

A war god rather than being a warmonger might actually see war as so sacred a thing that a frivolous or unjust one one would be blasphemy. The followers of such a god might have the philosophy that you should, to lift a quote from Babylon 5, "Never start a fight, but always finish it." There are ways to link a deity to a concept beyond the obvious "more is better" of making a war god a war monger or a fire god a pyromaniac.

Similarly there are ways of being good other than being a "goody two shoes" type. D&D's alignment system doesn't particularly help with this but you can try to work around it. For instance you could try to model your war cleric on someone like Worf from Star Trek The Next Generation; he's certainly not a goody two shoes, but he is also very much a good person, while also being very martially oriented.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your first paragraph seems to be a bit of a tangent. Is there any way you could tie it to the relevant points you make in the second and third? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 26 '15 at 23:25
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A cleric tries to embody the virtues of the god they worship. A cleric of a war god might be a leader who inspires others to march into battle with them, or a warrior who seeks to vanquish the mightiest foes to demonstrate the glory of their god, or a support character who uses their divine powers to keep other warriors alive and fighting.

Be careful, however, of My Guy Syndrome. Your first goal is for your roleplaying to be fun for the group, and for your character to do what's right for the group.

As a concrete example, maybe the party encounters a force of fifty orcish warriors. A hypothetical war cleric might have decided that his god values courage above all else, and might insist that the party charge into battle against overwhelming odds. After a long argument the rest of the party might argue him down -- or they might be persuaded, and charge into battle and get killed for the glory of the war cleric's war god. Neither outcome would be fun for the party. Instead, the player should find a way to roleplay his war cleric that leads to a fun experience for the whole group.

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