Monday, July 13, 2015

Clerics of Blackmoor

 The Cleric class originated in Blackmoor, yet we have little concrete information on the details of the Blackmoor Cleric.   What we know from a few statements of the original players and Dave Arneson can be summed as: the lawful Cleric had spell casting ability, including healing, and could counter attacks from undead by turning them with a holy symbol.  We know nothing of anti-clerics.

Indeed, it is not clear what if any powers evil clerics had.  The entire original Temple of the Frog, as published in Supplement II Blackmoor (1975), tells us nothing of the abilities of the chaotic priests, acolytes, and monks who dwell there.  No statistics are ever given, and the only hint of spell powers is a sole reference to a temporal stasis spell (affecting Gargoyles at the very least), that only four of the priesthood know.  The spell is also contained in a book, which at least gives support to the notion of Clerical spell books. (Supplement II, p41, room 3)

 Lets number what we have so far for reference later.

1) Some Clerics can cast spells, including healing
2) Clerics can turn udead with holy symbols.
3) Cleric spells are kept in books

 Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign book (1977, reprint 1980) provides a few more interesting tidbits, but not much.  In addition to what we know of characters in general, such as the use of d6 for damage dice and hit points, we learn that:

4) Clerics are expected to give 40-90% of any money received to their faith including to "off grid" patriarchs, and won't receive any experience points for money kept for personal use. 80:51
5) Clerics are expected to  both go on religious "quests" and send others on them. 80:51
6) Clerics can suffer up to 4 lost levels when their religion suffers a significant (financial) setback 80:10
7) Clerics create 1/8th (12.5%) of all magic swords.  These are "Holy swords" with clerical spell powers 80:45-47
8) Remove Curse is within the clergy's power 80:17
9) Clerics can make Holy Water that burns/destroys undead. 80:29
10) Some undead perform unholy rites, and thus may be allied with some evil clerics. 80:21

And one last dubious possibility:
Cleric spells can be found on scrolls, and curiously, can co-exist with magic spells thereon.  80:31,level 4 room 14  (Note there is no hint of clerical scrolls in Blackmoor prior to the above referenced 1976 gencon stocking notes . One could ignore this entirely if it were assumed that the "cure light wounds" spell which is the sole "cleric only" spell listed on the 7 spell scroll, is actually a privately researched magic user version.  I'm inclined to dismiss spell scrolls as an actual feature of Blackmoor clerics)

The TSR DA series:
Although the DA series was originated and co written by Arneson in the early 1980's, it was heavily reworked by TSR and it is often very hard to know what parts of it really come from Dave.  However, one of the things that clearly has his fingerprints all over it are the character profiles in the back of DA1.  Among these are 3 Cleric profiles (pp 48 - 63), the chaotic high priestess of Zugzul, Toska Rusa; Bishop Bolitho, the High Patriarch of Blackmoor; and Brother Richard, the Flying Monk.

Now, this is interesting for a basic set of reasons.   DA1 was published in 1986 during the Mentzer BECMI era, so details, if any, not in agreement with BECMI or an earlier version of D&D most likely hint at Arneson houserules from a time when these NPC's were actually PC's. 

Let's have a look:


18th level cleric
18th level cleric high  priestess
11th level cleric
Cha 11/18
Cha 18
Cha 5
He dwells in a fortified manor house

Property Controlled
he also controls a good deal of monastic property
an entire nation of 170,000
fief at Fairfield
Money Controlled
the church funds are under his control

Treasure Controlled
Bolitho is custodian of the famous
“White Sword.”

1 7,000 gold pieces,
1 1,000 silver pieces, 3,000 copper pieces, and hundreds of gems and pieces of jewelry worth an additional 70,000 gold pieces.
great rewards were offered Richard, but he would take none of them
Personal Wealth
The bishop’s personal wealth is almost
she owns no property of her own
He always travels afoot and will own no animal of any kind. His  purse never contains more than 10 gold pieces and 5 silver pieces.
he is always accompanied by 6 body guards (AC 2 plate
mail and shield; F6;)

The priestess is guarded at all times by 12 bodyguards (AC4 chainmail and shield; F9)
 he controls a small private army of
High Church troops

Controls a company of 200 elite soldiers called the Handmaidens of Death
He always wears  plate armor when travelling
she wears leather armor, and her auburn locks are surmounted  by an iron-bound leather helmet.
a shield, plate mail and the round metal cap
Hand Weapon
carries a great war hammer.  Bolitho carries a dagger (for eating purposes only).
ironwood club
a mace
Projectile Weapon
he often carries a crossbow or a short  bow (he’s an excellent shot)

Worn Magic items

She wears a ring
of protection + 1 and a medallion of ESP
Flying cloak
Expansion Projects
University of Blackmoor
as promised Zugzul that she will build him a temple of gold.
Fairfield Abbey

From this we can build something of a partial profile of a Blackmoor Cleric

11) Clerics are lawful or chaotic.
12) Clerics eschew personal wealth
13) Clerics can use magic items
14) Clerics use blunt hand weapons
15) Clerics can use projectile weapons
16) Clerics can wear any type of armor, wear helmets, and carry shields.
17)Patriarchs control territories and receive income which they manage for the faith.
18) Patriarchs desire expansion and conceive of new building projects, including temples, abbeys, and schools.
19) The most high Patriarch has a personal gaurd of 6-12 Fighters of level 6-9
20) The most high Patriarch has a cadre of elite soldiers at their command.  Notice that no stats for these forces are given and Bolitho's force is also unquantified.  Here is one place the supplement II ToTF can help.  The map on page 42 shows 1140 soldiers housed in the barracks, the text indicates another 400 housed in the towers and an above ground barrack.  These troops are described (page 40) as being  "as heavy infantry".  They are led by 12 officers (8th level Fighters) and 48 sergeants (5th level Fighters) as shown on page 36 and in room 8 on page 43.  (edit: the page 42 map evidently has 100 too many soldiers - the grand total should be 1440.  See my April 19 2016 post) That is 1 sergeant per 30 men and one officer per 120.
21) Being the most high leader of the faith conveys an automatic Charisma score of 18.  

Okay there's a few things to note in particular.  No version of D&D expects or requires personal poverty (#12, but see also #4 and #18).  No version of D&D allows clerics the use of weapons shooting arrows or quarrels (#15).  No version of D&D gives any level of patriarch a personal guard of 6-12 high level fighters (#19) however, OD&D  allows 1-6 assistants (presumably other clerics)  of levels 4-7 to accompany a castle owning patriarch on a foray, and within the walls of the stronghold may be up to 20 heroes and 6 superheroes, who could presumably be drawn on if needed, as a personal bodyguard.   None of this is in BECMI, of course. 
Another thing to mention is Bishop Bolitho's dual Charisma score (#21), since there is no other reason I can see for his Charisma score to jump from 11 to 18, I presume it must indicate, that as the head of his faith he is entitled to an 18 Charisma, and that's an idea not in D&D anywhere either.

Now, as it happens, there is another source that gives us some information on Blackmoor Clerics.  At about the same time DA1 was being released Arneson published a 2 part adventure in Different Worlds magazine where he was on staff.  Part two of Garbage Pits of Despair, as it was called, (issue 43, July/Aug 1986) details a party of evil clerics from the Temple of the Frog out on a slave buying expedition.

Here is what we can glean:

Fins of the Frog (6 clerics)
9th level Patriarch
7th level Bishop
3rd level clerics
Property Controlled

Money Controlled
Slave purchasing funds

Personal Wealth
None mentioned
none mentioned
None mentioned
6 Level 2 and 8 level 1 fighters


Chainmail and armored cowl helmet
Hand Weapon
Mace and dagger
Sword and dagger
Staves, swords, daggers
Projectile Weapon
None mentioned
None mentioned
None mentioned
Worn Magic items
None mentioned
None mentioned
None mentioned

Notice that the patriarch here is traveling with 7 assistants,  but 6 of them are level 3, so neither the total, nor the level fits the OD&D pattern mentioned above (1-6 of lvl 4-7).  Like the senior patriarchs of DA1, he is accompanied by a guard, but they are much lower level Fighters.    

However, what jumps out most here is their weapons; all the clerics have daggers and most have swords (many of these are magical, and some are not).  These clerics obviously have no prohibition against edged weapons of any sort.  The question is whether this weapons freedom applies only to chaotic clerics, and for that I think we need to go back and look at Garamond Bolitho in DA1.  Not only does Bolitho shoot bows and crossbows, but, like the Froggies, he also carries a dagger.  We are told parenthetically that it is "for eating purposes", but this is really strange.  First, knives are for eating and food preparation, not daggers by any means.  Second, why would a simple dining utensil be mentioned at all?  I think it quite likely that an editor at TSR caught the dagger note in Arnesons draft, thought "hey, clerics aren't supposed to have daggers", but instead of deleting it, added the parenthetical explanation.     There is further support in GPoD also.  Aside from the Froggies, there are others to consider.  Accompanying a wagon train of immigrants together is Bathare, a "9th level good Druid" armed with a club and staff, and his daughter, a 6th level "Cleric/Druid" named Monaca of Dinsbury.  Monaca's alignment is not given, but it is clear she is on the side of "good" like her father.  She is armed with at dagger +1.

22) Patriarchs may travel with 1-8 assistants of levels 3-7.
23) Patriarchs receive a personal guard of 3d6 1st and 2nd level Fighters.  
24) Clerics can use edged weapons.
So there we have it.  Now there's a curious thing I haven't yet mentioned and that regards spells.  Both in DA1 and in GPoD, there are lists of spells for the chaotic clerics, and they are all of the usual sort.  Nothing is ever said or hinted at in any of the Arnesonian sources regarding reverse spells - no Cause Light Wounds for example.  The conclusion would seem to be that there are no reverse cleric spells in Blackmoor.

Now as to the use of the spells themselves, how many and how often, we really have no special information, and must rely on what is found in D&D.  Unfortunately, with OD&D at least, frequency of use is still pretty vague.  While it is not Blackmoor, an option would be to look at the 1975 D&D spinoff work of Arneson's fellow twin cities gamer MAR Barker, Empire of the Petal Throne.   The rule found there may well reflect the norms of play in the Twin Cities gaming circles, including Blackmoor games.  The "green cover" version is as follows:

25)"... most priestly and magical spells are usable only once a day,  although some are indeed repeatedly possible.  If a party is forced to spend a night in the Underworld, all such limited spells are regenerated by the following morning (approximately 6:00 A.M.)"

Now putting it all together, we certainly have not revealed the "original" Blackmoor cleric by any means, because what we have is an accretion of many years of play, but we are left with a genuinely Blackmoorian Cleric nonetheless, suitable for play:

The Blackmoor Cleric
Clerics are lawful or chaotic (11) members of a religious hierarchy, who, in exchange for a vow of personal poverty (12) and a commitment to building up their faith either through the acquisition of wealth and or converts or destruction of enemies, receive spell powers (1).   Clerics of Law also receive the ability to turn undead with the use of a holy symbol (2), while many undead will tolerate or even be deferential to chaotic clerics. (10) Clerics use a d6 to determine Hit Dice and damage.

Clerical spells are recorded in books (3) and include such things as the ability to remove curses, banish evil, (8) and create holy water. (9) Clerics can also create special Holy Swords imbued with clerical magic.  Holy swords will constitute 1/8th of all swords found.  (7)   Unless otherwise noted, clerical spells are usable only once a day.  All expended spells are regenerated by the following morning, approximately 6:00 A.M., even if a night has been spent in the Underworld. (25)

As zealous evangelists of their faith, Clerics are expected to both go on religious missions and to send others on them. (5)  Likewise, clerics seek to bring in wealth and riches, usually for the purpose of establishing new institutions, such as temples, monasteries, and schools. (18)  To this end clerics are expected to never retain more than 40% of any money received. (4)  Hoarding wealth may cause loss of up to 4 levels, as will any significant failures or financial setback suffered by the faith for which the cleric is responsible. (6)  Clerics will receive experience points for money offered to the faith or used for religious purposes but will not receive any points for any money kept for personal use. (4)

 Clerics are able to employ most magic items, unless otherwise specified.  They are able to wear any kind of armor and use any kind of shields and weapons, including projectile weapons. (14, 15, 16, 24)

Upon obtaining Patriarch status, clerics may seek to establish their own institutions, if they are able, which may include the control of a territory generating income for the faith.  (17, 18) Patriarchs may freely receive 1-8 clerical assistants of levels 3-7. (22) Patriarchs also receive a personal bodyguard of 3d6 1st and 2nd level Fighters  (23)

Upon reaching senior status (lord tier) Patriarchs receive income, goods and treasures from the territories and institutions controlled by the clerics beneath them. (4, 17) They are responsible for the management of these funds and treasures.  (17)

The most high Patriarch of the faith has a personal guard of 6-12 Fighters of level 6-9 (19) and control a holy army of (2d10 *100) seasoned 0 level Fighters, with one Hero tier sergeant per 30 soldiers and one superhero tier officer per 120 soldiers, in command.  (20)  Finally, being the most high leader of the faith conveys an automatic Charisma score of 18.  (21) 


  1. Nice article. The bit about the clerical scrolls probably explains the rule in D&D:

    "There is a 25% chance that any scroll of spells found will contain those usable by clerics." Monsters & Treasure, p.24

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Nice article. Wish your work on shipping us books we paid for and that were in 9 months and 16 days ago was 10% as good.

    Dan, if you're out of money for shipping please let us know so we can work something out. Right now your utter silence comes across as a big middle finger to those of us who backed you for an actual book on KS>

    1. Hi Herb,

      I think I have to adjust my email settings because I didn't realize there were comments being posted here. Glad you liked the post. Sorry you didn't get your CoZ book yet. The address list was created randomly and some folks are naturally at the bottom. There was (just barely with all the international orders) enough KS funds to cover the shipping, so you needn't worry about that, it's time that has been my main struggle. However, I'm down to the last few now and yours is among the batch I'll be sending out early next week while the kids are on a playdate. Also, Though I don't spend too much time online these days, I'm always reachable via my email - Boggswood at gmail - which is posted all over the place including on the first page of CoZ.