I’m returning to an old idea posted here last year: that all Clerics are lawful. They might, if you use the good/evil axis, be good, evil or neutral, but they must be lawful.
The gods all seek to expand their power and their ethos. Even if a god were to style himself ‘chaotic’ it would be nothing more than a schtick (possibly a very successful one). True chaos would defy any imposition of patterns, beliefs and frankly, intelligible thought.
If you buy into that, and I’m not saying you should but it works for me, then I could easily envision a campaign world where clerics might end up in more real, deadly duels than knights or mages.
Priests (in the old editions sense of the word) are believers, yes. They know and perform the rites and administrative duties of cults and churches. They preach and they tend to their flocks. Clerics, on the other hand are true believers of another kind. They are so crazy devout that they can perform miracles big and small. They hunt down the evils in the world, from heretics to the undead. If priests and evangelists are the slow and steadier engine of growth of their church, the clerics are the lights that burn bright and briefly and usually end up being sainted after death.
If you buy this, then clerics should hardly be able to stand the sight of clerics of another god or even a different branch or denomination. Their lawful nature and their devotion brook no disagreement and in most cases no tolerance whatsoever (not like those simpering priests and monks, abbots, nuns and priestesses).
Clerics should be getting into fights all the time in areas where they come into contact. For this reason, I think it could be interesting if your campaign world had a certain protocol, which would be honored in the way a samurai duel would be and not in the way it was in the old west. These are fiercely lawful characters, even the evil ones.
The Clerical Duel
Challenge: The dropping a small holy symbol, rosary or other token of the faith in front of another cleric (not on the ground, on a tavern table or something). Or it might even be sent via messenger. It’s a calling out and to ignore it is for one’s god to lose prestige. It would better for a god to have a martyr than a cowardly cleric.
Preparation: When a meeting place and time is arranged, the clerics of course will make vigils, penance, say prayers or perform deeds.
Declaring Names and Sermons: When the parties have arrived, they must give their names, their home church, monastery or status. This is so everyone who witnesses knows who died and who won. Each cleric might give a small sermon, perhaps disparaging the other’s faith. Invective is used, souls are damned. It should be full of bluster and ego.
Combat: Weapons and clerical spells may be used. I prefer to have all arcane magic be chaotic, so any magic items that are not holy in origin are blasphemous to all gods and would never be used. These duels can be to the death, or, if a cleric really wants to stick it to his enemy, to the humiliation and utter defeat. Scarring should be involved. Some clerics will demand conversion (which almost never happens) in exchange for life. Other clerics might let the defeated live as a testament to whose god is real and whose is false, fake or weak.
The winner is likely to gain adherents, even if he does not want them or personally minister to them. In a small village, a chapel or shrine to the victor’s god will be built overnight and 1d20 faithful will convert. If the cleric leaves or does not tend to them, one of the locals will become clergy (even without qualifications). If the victor is still present, his blessing will be sought by this new congregation.
The loser might go into seclusion, if he survives, and pray for strength, forgiveness, etc. Of course the cleric will not fault his the god–it was clearly his own unworthiness or the presence of filthy pagans in the area. A rematch might be demanded later on, but in general a defeated cleric is disgraced for a time and is expected to make himself scarce for awhile.
Word of victory or defeat should spread quickly. One’s reputation and ability to find followers should be effected by the outcome of the duel.
If you are using Adventurer, Conquerer, King, this might be a great rite of passage for a cleric who has reached name level.
As DM, you could impose level limits, or incorporate some way of making sure that 2nd level clerics are not put into the position of having to duel 14th level clerics. Or not. Maybe the cleric who stays discreet is the one who survives to name level…
Any thoughts, ideas or additions are welcome in the comments below.
(I will be finishing up bring it soon. This all just came to me quickly and I had to get it posted).