[HR]Divine Elves

From the post:

A recent thread on RPG.Net had an awesome premise. What if you removed Clerics from OD&D and gave their magic to elves?

I thought the idea had merit. The more I rolled it around in my head, the more I liked it. Even if you left Clerics in, the spell creation and class creation rules in ACKS gave a perfect opportunity to build a ‘better elf’… or at least a different one…

Basically, I rewrote the elf race with divine magic then tweaked all the existing classes to see what they would look like.

The Racial Class Build

The Rebuilt Spellblade

The Rebuilt Nightblade

The Rebuilt Elven Courtier

The Rebuilt Elven Enchanter

Hey man,

First of all, I love the work that you do for ACKS. You roll out some amazing classes and house rules and I love how you tweak the game.

In this particular instance, I think these classes are significantly overpowered - not all of which is on your shoulders. The more I work with the class creation rules, the more I feel as though the Divine experience chart is way too forgiving for custom class creation for races other than human. As it stands now with how you’ve built these classes, I see little reason to play anything other than an elf-divine-something – and certainly no reason to play an arcane caster. For a mere 675xp point investment you can have at least full spellcasting progression as a cleric and elf abilities. I can make an elf full mage-cleric for 3175xp and even though he can only reach 11th level, that’s enough for him to get full spellcasting in both classes, and when you reduce the armor and weapon benefits and turning the cleric gets, stat him out with a ton of proficiencies. Things get even crazier when you make a full elf divine-thieving class.

On top of it, you’re adding arcane spells to the divine list, such as for the elven nightblade. Even though you’ve added levels to when the class aquires spells, it makes little difference. For instance, even though spectral force is a 5th level cleric spell for your divine elven nightblade, he acutally gets it 15,000xp sooner than the original class, full clerical spell progression, a very generous spell list that he can draw from at will, and all of the abilities he got from the original arcane class!

If you’re running an all-elf campaign that’s totally cool, but my advice if you’re using ACKS core and the Player’s Companion is to bump Divine 2 (100% spellcasting) to Elf 4 and see how that works to start. That way all elves will have a touch of divine magic, but you’re need to invest fully if you want to be a true elven cleric. You can always get a little more generous if they’re weak - which I imagine they won’t be.


I tend to agree with moorcrys that cleric casting may be a bit underpriced XP-wise. Spellblade’s XP progression in particular concerns me - barely slower than fighter, full casting with none of cleric’s weapon restrictions, and the only thing they lose is ~1 HP / level. I could very easily see bad blood in a party with both a fighter and a divine spellsword. Sure, max level is lower, but that doesn’t come into play in most campaigns. In any case, I think I’d prefer the divine spellsword with d8 HD; then he is very literally a full fighter and a full cleric, but the XP gap between him and the fighter is a little bigger (I believe the primary reason that arcane spellswords only have d6 HD is because 4500 XP to 2nd was deemed too damn high).

One thing I think it is important to remember while picking spells for divine lists is that the cleric list is mostly specialized utility and support spells and, unlike a wizard, a divine caster cannot readily upgrade his list away from specialized tools towards more generally-useful tools. One thing I see looking at the nightblade conversion (and something which, looking back on my Valkyrie, I was no less guilty of) is that the spell list is stacked with reliably good spells compared to the cleric list. Basically what I’m getting at here is that I think there should perhaps be room for some judgment calls on divine XP value based on the general quality of the spells on the list - cleric spellcasting is cheap because there’s a lot of party-support (remove conditions, divinations, protection from/resist/dispel X, bless/prayer, create/purify food and water) and situationally useful stuff like Snake Charm, Feign Death, and Quest on there. Direct offense and single-target combat (vs defensive) buffs are relatively rare. With a fast-leveling cleric, the entire party wins, because most of his spells aid everyone. The divine nightblade’s list seems to be focused primarily on increasing his own capabilities, and where the spellblade’s differs from the cleric, it seems to be almost entirely ‘upgrades’ in terms of versatility and punch (charm monster > atonement, skinchange > speak with plants, call lightning and fire, invisibility, and winged flight > locate object, feign death, speak with dead, and glyph of warding, … Polymorph self vs insect plague is sort of debatable, but insect plague is much more situational because it’s wide-area, indiscriminate, and hard to control).

In sum - I think divine value is balanced for a spell list composed like the cleric’s, of mostly support and situational utility spells with a handful of general-purpose offensive spells or direct / single-target buffs (spiritual weapon, striking, flame strike, smite undead, strength of mind). When one starts cherry-picking from across multiple divine lists and pulling in arcane spells as divine at +1 level… maybe not so much.

That said, I think the divine elf idea has plenty of merit for building an elfier elf - one whose ‘connection to nature’ does more than boost saves and provide immunity to ghoul paralysis. Mechanically I have no objections to the arcane nightblade or spellsword, but in terms of flavor, I’m not sure they capture ‘elf’ very well; the inhuman fey, the fair folk of the woods, with knowledge beyond mortal ken and a fickle and condescending nature. The spellsword and the nightblade are great game constructs, because ‘arcane fighter’ and ‘arcane thief’ are well-established tropes and fun, flexible ones to play, but they duplicate the powers of human classes and add nothing uniquely elven but a few proficiencies at 1st level. Dwarves at least get the bonus to all proficiency throws, something which is impossible for humans to get and fantastically useful for thief-types at low levels.

I think divine elves are a step in the right direction, but I also think the spell list selection for them is extremely important too. Me, I intend to pilfer the Priestess and Shaman lists to build a nature-utility, divination, and healing-themed Elf list first, out of spells mostly not available to clerics, and then build some divine elf classes whose spells are a strict subset of that list.

Hey Moorcrys. First off, thanks for the compliment. I’m glad you like my stuff and sorry these guys didn’t float your boat.

I don’t really agree that these classes are too powerful. I haven’t had the chance to playtest them, of course, so I could be wrong. However, they are all built legal by the book (though granted that doesn’t guarantee balance by any means). The classes built with this race could easily have been done with the Nobirin race, at basically the same xp values. The XP value you quote for a Mage-Cleric full caster is exactly what the Nobirin Wonderworker needs for level 2…so that class already exists.

Now, some spells they get sooner than an Arcanist, but that is nothing new. Cleric’s get Hold Person before mages do (needing 6,000 xp compared to the mage’s 20,000 xp).

Now, of course, if you like the ideas, the spell list can be changed to match your own ideas. Give the Nightblades pure spells from the bladedancer list. No real issue with that class. But the spell creation guide lines are there and I went with them (though again, they don’t guarantee balance).

Anyway, I can see how it might look problematic. But check out the Enchanter. They don’t get Sleep until 9300 xp, and Charm Person until 37,200 xp. Meanwhile, our human wizard gets both of those at 1st level (potentially). So I think it depends on what you want to play and what you are willing to wait for. 1st-3rd level is literally made by judicious use of the sleep spell and these guys get it almost by the time it’s not that useful anymore.

Anyway, that’s how I see them and why I don’t think they are overpowered as is. At least compared to some other classes. Again though, thanks for your time and comments. I really appreciate them!


Oh one other thing. While these lists might have a lot of personal buffs and what not, they are also having to pull double duty between increasing their abilities and helping/buffing the party. Every self-buff they cast takes away from a cure or neutralize poison the party might need. The eternal cleric conundrum…

Also, Apostasy already allows this tailoring, as does spell research, and the Witch and Bladedancer show us that spell lists can be tailored to the concept.

I suppose it depends on what you want ‘elf’ to mean. And certainly I agree. My initial design goal was to rejig the existing race into a a divine caster instead of an arcane one, no more no less. I do think the spell list I choose for the Spellsword helps with the nature oriented build though…at low levels they can pass through the wilds without leaving a mark, survive in cold climates dangerous to humans, and speak with authority that commands the wills of men. At a slightly higher level, they are faster than any human swordsmen, can disappear into the woods, speak with animals, etc, etc.

Part of the original idea was that the cleric class would be removed, and elves would act as their replacement. So in this assumed setting, these abilities would be (nearly) uniquely available to this class and not just a selection of abilities that they share with other classes.

That being said, I’ve also created a ‘full Tolkien’ elf race that I’ll post soon. D&D elves aren’t really based on Tolkien elves, despite what people often think, but are instead more based on Three Hearts, Three Lions, as soulless creatures of chaos. Having been unfamiliar with where their concept originated, I was always a bit disappointed by how they didn’t really mesh with my expectations (coming off of LotR and Sidhe myths). But with the class/race guidelines, you can make a race that leaves no trace where it goes, is immune to disease, sees in the dark, and fulfills the other expectations for elves.

I guess I have a different view on the spell list limitation. ACKS 10 per level limit is basically arbitrary, and is not inherent to the Cleric class or it’s XP cost. From OD&D to 2nd ED AD&D, the Cleric xp chart has remained roughly the same. In AD&D, clerics had tons of spells available to them, that they could pick from freely (same in 3rd ed). Specialist priests were defined by the deities they worshipped and that controlled the nature of their spells… they weren’t limited to the original spell list from OD&D. B/X spell list didn’t get modified to much over the years, but there was nothing stopping new spells from showing up or being researched.

So I guess I don’t view dumping some of the core cleric spells for different ones that suit the faith better as really anything more than sensible. I’ve actually tailored the spell lists of clerics in my campaign to the specific gods so there isn’t a ‘generic cleric’ list per se.

Though I can see that if you did, it could be a problem.

Just some very brief comments.

I am very interested in the “elf replaces cleric” concept. (In the LotR movies, the elves seem extraordinarily psionic to me, but that’s another matter.)

I believe the Divine Value XP Costs are on target, given the existing spell lists.

Apostasy may be a good “measuring stick” when creating custom class divine spell lists. In other words, if a Divine Value 2 class starts with the cleric, bladedancer or shaman spell list, how many “free” Apostasy proficiencies does the custom class receive in customizing the list to the class?

It may be true that the cleric XP chart remained the same… but should it have? One of the comaplaints I’ve heared from several 2e vets was that specialist clerics were broken-good, and even if their testimony was incorrect or disputable, clerics in 3e definitely became a problem as supplements were added (and arguably were in core-only as well depending on the resource / resting situation and at high levels).

Again, I have no problem with altering the list to suit the faith; that’s something I do for my games when it makes sense. But I do think that the relative power and versatility of the new list should be a factor in the XP cost for the divine value, rather than assuming that all divine value / spell-list combinations are created equal.

It’s not that they don’t float my boat - the idea behind them is really interesting. I feel like my concern is more directed at the custom divine progression system in general and less at the idea of divine elves, which I think are cool. :slight_smile:

As I briefly addressed in my original post - I have a concern about how non-human races can rack up a goodly amount of power through building divine character classes. I like the Nobiran wonderworker, but my personal opinion is that it’s a bit low on the xp requirement chart.

And yes, I think the problem can potentially be exacerbated by pulling ‘mage purview’ arcane spells and adding them to a divine spell list. An 18 intelligence mage will have, at most, 7 first level spells to choose from at the peak of his power. Divine casters will have anywhere from 10 through 20 immediately available to them, and get more castings per day. Muddying the spell-list can really neuter an arcane caster’s schtick. Mages get spells like sleep at first level when they are at d4 hit points, no armor, a tiny selection of weapons, and no ‘bonus’ abilities other than spellcasting. Hell, they NEED a spell like sleep at first level. :wink: The divine elven enchanter will add sleep to their significant list of available spell options, more spell slots per level per day, a more generous experience progression chart,and several class perks. They have 15 spells to choose from at first level - enough to potentially solve any number of problems that come up over the course of the adventuring day - they don’t need it like the mage does. Again, I feel as though it’s the build cost that’s an issue, and how easily you can get full divine progression at so low a cost.

Apostasy becomes a very powerful proficiency when you add more and more spells to the system, particularly when you make bread-and-butter-mage arcane spells divine and add them to the divine caster’s spell lists, as in the case of the witch or the shaman. As the system adds potentially dozens and dozens of new spells over time, I may only allow a divine caster to cast each spell granted by apostasy a maximum of once per day, regardless of the number of slots they have at that particular level.

As an experiment, we could create a zaharan ruinguard as a +divine race instead of a +arcane race. I bet the xp cost would be noticeably lower and the ruinguard would end up being able to burn upwards of 21 spell slots ranging from 1st-5th level instead of 6 slots ranging from 1st-3rd. AND he could keep all of his armor, weapons, and special abilities.

As a 2e vet myself, I have to disagree. My own experience was that Specialist Clerics were the only thing that even began to make the class interesting to players at my table. As today, no one wanted to be relegated to the ‘heal-bot’ role. Making the class more entertaining and, yes, a little more powerful, to me seems perfectly reasonable.

While I agree that not all spell lists are created equal, I don’t think you can make a system that takes every individual spell into account. Further, even if you add a few spells into the mix that are more powerful than the original ones (which, let’s face it, should not really be regarded as sacred just because they are old…they were the first set of ideas, and they modeled one type of fantasy priest but certainly are a poor fit for any polytheistic setting) the character still has to split their time between healing/damage control and doing other things. Unlike a mage who can go ‘nova’ they still have to patch the party up afterwords, so can’t afford to blow all their spells on offense or buffs or whatever.

Yeah it is a cool concept!

Would love to see some ACKS psionics… :wink:

I’m not clear on what you mean by ‘free’ Apostasy profs. Apostasy just adds to your repertoire, it doesn’t replace them. Can you explain?

Out of curiosity, what is it exactly that concerns you in regards to the Wonderworker? Why do you think that XP value is too low?

RE: Mage Purview. Obviously taste’s vary. If using the Spell Creation system then spells aren’t really purviewed to either side of the equation. You can have arcane healing and divine fireballs (well, weaker versions).

I am unclear on how Divine Casters can have 20 1st level spells available in your example above. The most they could have would be 19 (a Divine 4 class, plus 4 spells gained via apostasy).

They do get more castings per day, but are denied 6th level spells, have far fewer (and more expensive) offensive options, and must always split their time between healing and everything else. If a combat lasts 4 rounds, they can only take 4 actions no matter what resources they have. I can have all the bad-ass spells in the world on my list, but if my party is getting a beating, I still have to use my slots on party buffs, heals, defenses, etc.

The Elven Enchanter, while having more spells, is as physically weak and frail as the mage. They do need as much help as the mage gets. Also, their beginning spells are far less helpful over all in surviving first level. They have no big ‘end the fight’ spells like a mage does…no sleep or charm person. So while they might solve some problems, a gang of orcs isn’t one of those.

I do agree that apostasy is potent. However, as written, it can only be taken once ever (I don’t actually obey that, but technically its raw) so that means they only can get +4 spells once ever.

Yes, it would be in some ways a more powerful class, but it would be weaker in others (namely losing out on good offensive powers especially early on). However, if you were true to the build, it wouldn’t have full divine casting but half-casting. And it would still have less offensive powers overall. A smaller repertoire (5 per level). Finally, if by ‘burn’ you are referring to the arcane channeling power, that would need to be re-figured (cost wise) before simply giving it to the class (I’d guess it would be at least one extra custom ability).

For example, I believe the cleric XP is on target, given the cleric spell list. The cleric spell list has 50 spells. How many spells can a Divine Value 2 class differ from the cleric spell list before we might be “underpricing” the class’s XP? I don’t know, but if I compare the cleric and bladedancer level 1 spells (in the core rulebook), two slots are different: purify food and water, sanctuary vs faerie fire, fellowship. Maybe one differing spell per Divine Value per spell level would be a good rule of thumb for the existing XP to remain valid?

My concern isn’t with the wonderworker, a class that I like. I think it’s flavorful and interesting. My (personal) concern as we go along is more with the base xp cost for adding full clerical spellcasting to non-human races. Humans are capped at 4 build points so it’s not an issue. Just to be clear. :slight_smile: I would have to see everything mashed together in play, but I feel as though a class with the breadth of options that the wonderworker has should be adventuring xp-wise alongside the Spellsword and the Ruinguard. Two of my other favorite classes. I like options. :wink: Every primary spellcaster other than the cleric is mushy at low levels - but by the time wonderworkers get to 5th/6th level, they have an incredible range of options to choose from over the course of an adventure. Sure they can only pick one option per round like everyone else, but they can run offense and/or defense at their leisure like no other class, and have a fanatical bunch of followers to boot as well as the best endgame options for a stronghold. They’re pretty kickass, and I feel like they deserve to be near the top of the experience requirement chart. Which I don’t think of as a bad thing.

Regarding the spell creation system - absolutely. The rules are there should you decide to go in any direction. That’s great - I would probably slide a little more on the conservative side of things. If you want a divine caster throwing fireballs around, play a wonderworker, IMHO. :wink:

By 10-20 available spells, I was referring in general to the number of spells available on a divine caster’s spell list based on how many levels of Divine the class has in its build. Half-level casters should have a list of 5 spells, full level casters 10, 1.33 casters 15, and 1.5 casters 20.

Divine classes cap at 5th level spells, but they get more spell slots in total, and they get higher level spells earlier. Also, and maybe someone can explain to me how I’m wrong in this instance, the cap at 5th and 6th seems rather arbitrary - flame strike, quest, and insect plague don’t seem weaker spell-power wise than geas, projected image, or wall of iron. Again, these things are balanced by the types of spells each class gets - healing, support, and occasional damaging spells for divine - with a couple of exceptions that everyone knows about and sometimes complains about as well - hold person for instance. The more arcane spells brought into a clerical spell list, the less desirable playing a “mage” is, because even though clerical spells aren’t as showy, they’re AWESOME to have around, and if you can get a couple of your favorite arcane spells thrown in as well it becomes a no-brainer. It also depends on which clerical spells you’re discarding to bring in sleep or fireball. Are you removing cure serious wounds, or are you removing speak with plants? Cure light wounds or purify food and water? Feign death or cure disease? It makes a difference. Allowing a mage to add prayer and cure wounds to the arcane spell list while removing magic mouth or infravision would have a more powerful reaction from the community.

We can debate the power of the enchanter’s spell list and have different opinions about the value of each spell, but they have 15 options to choose from, and a number of them are pretty good. I think you’re downplaying what they DO get. They can increase everyone’s attack throw and damage for a battle, they can command the leader of a gang of orcs to SURRENDER throwing a coordinated assault by the enemy into utter confusion, they can can heal… and so on. Though I agree with you, sleep is awesome. :slight_smile:

As for the ruinguard - my point with it was exactly what you’re saying I shouldn’t do, which is give it full clerical casting for a lower experience cost than in would take for me to give him half-arcane progression. That’s why I brought it up. And we’d at least get him an extra proficiency slot by dropping turn undead to offset the increased cost for his spellburning. :wink:

Just to be clear so there’s no confusion: you’ve obviously thought your divine elves through - the only concerns I am bringing up are my own with the system’s xp determination for divine spell progression with non-humans. My personal opinion is it’s too low, but I’m not shaking my fist at it too hard. ACKS is my favorite system hands-down precisely because its so well thought out with many guidelines should you choose to do precisely what you have done. Your responses indicate to me that you have a clear idea of what you want and are well-satisfied with how it is, which I think is fantastic. As I said initially, I really like your ideas. If you have people playing your divine versions of these classes, please post how they work out.

First, this is a cool idea. Depending on the setting this would be a very fun and different way to set up the world. I could especially see something like this in an Arthurian inspired fantasy setting. Would make elves strange and mysterious, especially if they are the only ones with divine magic, or at least full divine magic - say if you did allow humans access to it (and I’m not saying you should for the settng necessarily) they be limited to divine 1 in the class build system.

As for the power of divine magic. I agree that it can come across as broken, and when using the class build system it is a real danger because you can combine aspects of other classes/races to really buff them up. This is just my opinion and it isn’t a reflection in any way of what the Autarchs came up with. They created a custom system to allow for the “classic version” of the game that fits the feel too. Its just that as is the cleric class is a special case. They get heavy armor, 2nd best HP in the game, decent weapons, casts spells, and can repel the most feared enemies in the game with ease. They are probably the best class in the game overall. BUT, it is a class that historically few people want to play. No one wants to be the healing/buffing character. They want to be the warrior or archmage, not the priest. In 3.X I would defend the class on forums where people tried to “fix and balance” the class by reducing its abilities. I would always respond the same way, “Do you have everyone wanting to play a cleric?” The answer was always “No” and frequently “no one wants to be the cleric”. A simple reminder that if players don’t perceive it as desirable in a claimed broken state, if they fixed them then no one would ever want to play it. That is why IMHO the cleric build is a finicky thing.

So I sort of disagree with regard to healbots. As I see it, there are 3 types of proficiencies in regards to combat (and to a lesser extent / by analogy, spells) - those which let you avoid combat (Diplomacy, Sensing Evil, Augury, Divination), those which let you win or survive combats (Combat Reflexes, Fighting Style, Spiritual Weapon, Striking, Sleep), and those which mitigate the risks of combat (Lay on Hands, Cure, Remove *). It’s true that clerics do get the best risk mitigation… but they also get plenty of stuff in both other categories, and if someone is playing them as a healbot, it’s probably because their party is being stupid. Smart play, as far as I can tell, is characterized by gathering more information in order to avoid combats, or to make trivially winnable those that you must fight (via Sleep, Trapping, lots of flaming oil, &c). Healbot clerics are a symptom of rash play and poor play, and if you are primarily focused on preventing damage, nothing does stop clerics from going nova; sometimes the situation warrants it.

Also important is the relatively ready availability of the Healing proficiency to wizards; it’s become standard in most of our parties for the wizard to bring Healing III, comfrey, and woundwort, and to cover most of our healing. What I see here is that at low levels, clerical spellcast healing is inferior post-combat to Healing III+comfrey in terms of availability, and inferior in-combat to Lay on Hands (due to perfect reliability and no possibility of casting interruption). Most of our clerics have focused primarily on Detect, Protection, Bless, Spiritual Weapon, and Hold Person.

Hence my concern with the alteration of the cleric list - I do not take as a postulate that clerics will be spending most of their slots healing, because that is not what I see in play in ACKS at all.

First off, nice breakdown of ingame resources. Never quite thought of it like that, but it makes a lot of sense.

I do agree that Healing is worth it’s weight in gold, especially when you are low level. At higher level, if you can’t pull off the ‘triggered Cure Serious’ it doesn’t (at my table) see much use. There are three clerics and a Witch in my group, and when they are repairing 20+ hp damage that several characters just took, they are using heal spells and/or Lay on Hands. Comfrey just doesn’t cut it anymore. So while they do get to shine with the occasional ‘Dispel Evil’ or Hold Person, by far they are mostly using their spells to buff or heal. That’s been my experience and my group is pretty damn good at combat avoidance.

I’ll admit, it was a bit different at lower level, but not so much anymore.

I’ll admit, I do want to see a wonderworker in play, which I’ve not yet…sadly. I’m not sure how it will pan out, though I definitely feel that if you started them at 1st, the xp requirement would be onerous. Sure, Elves cost more, but after their spell is gone, they are still fighters and can wear the best protection in the game. A WW only has 1 spell at level one, and are essentially wizards with slightly better saves…so surviving to level 2 would be difficult, and I think that’s where the ‘balance’ comes in.

However, I agree with you that these are all inexact sciences to say the least and the class creation system was designed to recreate things that were made by eye-balling and pantsing, so mixing things up can make things unbalanced for sure. I mean, I don’t think anyone would say that Turn Undead is worth Laborer+Smithing…but technically they are equal value. I guess you have to just accept some oversight to make certain that what you get out of the system works.

Divine Casters get 5, 10, 12, and 15 spells in their repertoire, depending on the points in Divine. I agree…having 20 would be broken!

I think the thing with spells capped where they are was simply to give wizards more power. OD&D did it because Clerics were kind of the half-class between fighting men and magic users, so they had less overall power. And while things like Flamestrike are nice, they’ll never be 10d6 nice! So mages always have the advantage if damage is your key goal.

I do agree that neutering the mage makes the class less desirable, and I think that you are right, it’s possible to build something that is unbalancing. But I also think some people say that about the original Elf class…oh it’s too powerful because it can fight and cast spells. But none of my players wanted to touch it because 4000xp seemed like an impossible amount when they rolled up their characters, so there is that. :wink:

Anyway, to be clear, I appreciate hearing your concerns and having this discussion. It’s helped me focus some of my thoughts on the system as a whole and the nature of class balance. I’ve enjoyed it and I hope to have some of these characters in play soon. I’ll let you know how it goes! :slight_smile: