I've talked before about how the default religion of D&D is is analogous to the Catholic Church in the middle ages. Based on my last post reworking cleric magic I want to examine the what the divine powers granted to a cleric tell us about his religion. First I want to examine the implied setting of original D&D for clues about the religion and then I will go through the BECMI spell list and note what each spell tells us about the deity, religion, and beliefs of the Basic D&D cleric.
One Sixth of all strongholds are ruled by Patriarchs (name level clerics), or possibly Evil High Priests. This implies that the church has a significant political presence, yet it doesn’t dominate the local rulers. Also, the fact that they specifically rule military strongholds implies a more militant view of the church’s role in society, or at least the Clerics, if not the whole church.
Again emphasizing the militant aspect, “Clerics are served by fighters of 4th level (hero) or 8th level (superhero), ents or hippogriffs.” These strongholds are clearly military outposts of the church. The alliance of the church with Ents is interesting to say the least; the implication being that one of the goals of this religion is to protect the natural world. I think this is reinforced when the Evil High Priest are allied with Trolls, Vampires, White Apes, and Spectres (Nazgul). The Evil High Priests, who are the direct enemy of the Patriarchs, are allied with unnatural creatures, the undead, trolls that regenerate, and white apes as an evil version of the normal ape. This supports “Clerics are much closer to the knight templar type,” they are an organization that fights against enemies of the church and the undead.
It is also telling that when a Patriarch’s stronghold is visited by an adventurer, a tithe is demanded. This can’t be a literal tithe of ten percent, or an annual tax that the clergy impose on the local populace (though we can assume this takes place also), the Patriarch has no way of knowing what income the adventurer has had over the last year or if he recently paid a tithe to another Patriarch. This means that the Patriarch isz demanding some sort of payment, not necessarily a tithe of ten percent, to prove that this adventurer is loyal to the church, and if the adventurer doesn’t have the money, he can prove his loyalty by going on a quest.
“each town must have some fairly active necropolis attached to it, and the population must bar themselves indoors at night.” Because of this, I suspect that Evil High Priests have more influence in the towns. The patriarchs may or may not have a presence in these areas, but it seems that the enemies of the church have more influence here. This may be due to the great number of dead bodies that accumulate in graveyards, or to the lack of faith of city folk. I also suspect that the raise dead spell of the clerics is meant to fight this plague of the towns. The fact that the spell is ineffectual after a few days tells us that the spirit/soul of the person has departed the body and gone to the afterlife.