Good news, everyone! I've just created a house rule that will outlaw clerics forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
Well, sort of.
Not long ago, I discussed a number of fiddly ways to handle my proposed removal of the cleric class from Dungeons & Dragons (or Labyrinth Lord, if you prefer). You may recall that by the end of it, I was ready to give up and just let the cleric stay. After all, what right had I to just rip one of the original classes out of the game, with no respect for its legacy? It's not as though I'm a stranger to backpedaling, especially when it comes to tweaking the core assumptions of D&D.
I'm backpedaling on my prior backpedaling. I'm reverting to my original idea: putting all the cleric's spells (and maybe the druid's and illusionist's, too) in the magic-user's basket.
There were a number of objections to this idea, most of them centering around the cleric's iconic status, the setting implications of its removal, and other issues of flavor. Frankly, none of these really bothered me, which shouldn't be surprising considering what I'd proposed in the first place. I have a pretty solid idea of how religion, faith, and priesthood work in my setting. It's not that these things won't exist in it; it's just that none of them are inherently magical. In Cosk, the gods don't just hand out spells to their faithful, in other words. (You might have priests that use magic, but in game terms, I think you can guess what class they'd be in my setup.)
The comment that was most troubling to my initial "lump 'em all together and let the player sort 'em out" idea was this one, from my fellow New York Red Box player Naraoia:
"The only problem that I can see is that it puts too many hats on the poor M-U's head. Is he going to be the guy who casts fireball, or heal serious wounds? Especially at low levels, it's tough enough to pick spells. If the DM is evil enough, every M-U is going to have to take cure light wounds as their first spell. And memorize it every single day."
Spell memorization! That's the problem, of course. Clearly, the answer is to just dump it! Easy, right? Well, no. I'm trying to put together a campaign that's recognizably old-school D&D here, and I've already made up my mind not to chuck Vancian magic in the bin, no matter how badly I may want to at times. So, what to do?
My idea is this: Let magic-users have "spell mastery". Any memorized spell can automatically be replaced by a mastered spell of the same level or lower. Let's say your magic-user knows three spells: charm person, magic missile, and cure light wounds. He's mastered charm person. He heads into a dungeon with cure light wounds memorized, in case somebody gets badly hurt. As it turns out, his companions find some healing potions in the dungeon, so nobody really needs that memorized spell, but it would be useful if the magic-user could charm a goblin they captured in order to learn the location of some treasure. Remember, the magic-user has mastered charm person, so he can automatically trade that memorized cure light wounds spell for charm person and proceed to make a new best friend.
(Anybody who's played some version of 3rd edition D&D will recognize this as a warped version of the cleric's "spontaneous casting" ability. I happen like this mechanic a lot, and think it's worth stealing.)
Obviously, the next step is figuring out how magic-users get masteries. I could just hand out a certain number per level. I could make characters spend money for training, much like weapon mastery in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, or use something like Jeff Rients' well-received carousing rules to determine whether a spell was successfully mastered. I've got a few ideas as to how this could work, but first, I'd like to see what repercussions my idea would have on the way the game is played. So, let me know what you think.