Cracking The Cleric
Let's talk about Mercy.
Overwatch, after its numerous snowflake "scandals" on showing athletic busts and butts in a fantasy world, remains one of the top tier titles in the first-person team shooter world. All of the assembled heroes cover distinct roles to help fill out an effective team: Defense, Offense, Tank, and Support. These are pretty straight-forward, but let's cover our bases.
Defense: defensive units excel at holding down a location and laying out damage to DEFEND a position. Widowmaker, Bastion, and other sniper types fit this model.
Offense: offensive units are fast, mobile strikers with high damage output, but don't do well in heavy fire. Folks like Reaper and Tracer do best here.
Tank: with shields, crowd-control, and high health, tanks pull aggro from enemies and keep the fire on them cuz they can take it. The big boys and girls of Reinhardt and D.Va are your go-to's here.
Support: support is the backbone of a team. Buffing, building, and healing, characters here keep everyone up while bogging down your foes. Mercy is the easy example here, but folks like Symmetra and Zenyatta fill in too.
Now, just like in any decent game, these roles serve merely as a guideline in and not a concrete directory of what hero to pick in any given round. Meaning, not unlike Dungeons and Dragons and others of its ilk, characters can pivot when the situation deems it necessary. However, Mercy shouldn't be relied on to make kills. Sure it's possible, but that's not really the thing to do.
Now, I've been a Mercy main before, and the weird thing is that...not a lot of people are. In fact, the majority of players are the other three. I go in order of priority = Support, Defense, Offense, Tank. I LIKE being the healer when I'm playing with others. Same thing happened in City Of Heroes (back when it was good). Of my 6 characters, 3 were healers, and 2 were built to be the best support characters in the game. I could stick myself in the melee and burst low healing to allies, while I cue large healing to the tank, and prep resurrection for the strikers that went in over their head. And, if someone pulled aggro and died in a tunnel somewhere, I could teleport their body next to me and queue their resurrection next. Every battle was a tactical switchboard between positioning myself enough out of harm's way to keep healing, and tracking the output of my allies to keep them moving, which in turn pulled enemies off of me. MUCH grinding later, I could burn area buffs on top of everyone else, making my team way more effective at their jobs. It was a lot at once, but I need that kind of strategy stimulus.
Being "the healer" had a bunch of social benefits, too. I'm never without an invite to an adventure. EVERYONE needs a healer, and you learn quickly what kind of group you're signing on to. Some are obnoxious, others are happy to play, but everybody gets in over their heads at some point. You learn to manage the group's needs while cueing them into threats; a few times I was gifted the "team leader" mantle after running with a specific crew, because I was good at recognizing where the AI would move and would at least offer my two cents to keep everyone alive. (Resurrection has a countdown timer, so you can't wait around to get folks back into the fight - if it goes to zero, they return to the HQ spawn point and it takes FOREVER for them to come back to y'all). There are jerks in every party, but most of my interactions were positive, and when I was playing a lot over the summer between college breaks, I found and kept a solid crew of 3-4 other players that vibed well on missions. It was a good time.
Psychologically speaking, I'm sure my therapist has a few things to say, so I'll paraphrase.
Support classes are acts of service at their core - their main goal is to make the team around them better and to make their foes worse (buff/debuff). They are absolutely essential, but they require checking your ego at the door, at least in the beginning. They don't feel heroic, despite making the hero even better...in the background. They're also the main healers in a game - later levels net powers that can SAVE encounters in a single round, but the majority is still mitigating damage. They also have to be protected, and sometimes it's hard to prioritize defense over offense, so a support character needs to also take care of themselves...something I needed to learn in the real world, but that's another story.
My point is that for all their benefits, people still look down on the Support characters in any genre. They're a lot less flashy, lacking on NOVA, and often get to be the butt of the joke for no discernible reason (until you need a medic, that is).
Clerics Are Machines
There are two board game types I excel at: Deck Builders and Machine Builders. Deck Builders involve starting with a base deck of cards (or some shuffled resource) and buying/trading for other cards to add to your deck. The cards you add make your deck more efficient, effective, and versatile, until you are unstoppable. Machine Builders are similar - start with a basic flow of resources and production, and use that production to upgrade your "machine" until it "comes online" and you really start wrecking shop.
In Dungeons & Dragons, Clerics have been a staple of the experience. Early in the editions, Clerics were the only class to tap into healing abilities, but in a lot of cases that was ALL they could do. Later editions expanded on the Cleric's role, and they became the quintessential Control-Support, especially in the first two tiers of a campaign. In 5th Edition, it is important to consider that, yes, healing is great, but the power of the Cleric is found more consistently in the rolling buffs and debuffs they can lay on the battlefield, and the consistent "chip damage" of spiritual weapons and guardians. Thing is, they take a couple rounds to come fully online. Here's how to do it.
Get Your Priorities Straight
Ruling Initiative is hard with this class. You tend to have low or even negative Dexterity, prioritizing Wisdom and Strength instead, so without an Alert Feat to help out, you are at the mercy of the dice here. However, make a Twilight Cleric and use their Vigilant Blessing to grant Advantage on initiative for one creature (including you, which is what I'm saying here). Going first or close to it lets you turn on your buff and debuff abilities early, before enemies start restructuring your priorities. If you go later in the initiative, chances are that you might be putting out the fires they set on your allies instead of getting the ball rolling into a boulder.
Priority 1 - Raise the Fallen/Fix the Broken: notice I didn't say "heal the party." Damage is negligible until a character is unconscious. We know this to be true as players; you are just as dangerous at 1 Hit Point as you are at 100 Hit Points. The difference lies in how much punishment you can take until you go down. On your turn, if anyone is down, get them up if you can. Healing Word is clutch not for its healing amount but for its RANGE and economy. 60 feet, Bonus Action, get your people up, that's the BEST use of that spell. Keep it locked and loaded for emergencies. If you need the character up AND very healthy, you'll have to burn your turn getting them up instead with an "upcast" Cure Wounds (and at later levels, the obvious Heal). In later levels, spells like Lesser/Greater Restoration, Revivify, and the Mass Cure Wounds/Heal live here. In other words, always put out the fires first.
Priority 2 - Prepare the Field: IF your peeps are healthy or at least standing, you can risk popping off a Bless or Bane as your Action on the party or the enemies, respectively. Personally I would use Bless over Bane, as Bane requires a Saving Throw on your opponents (if they fail, they take a -1d4 penalty to all Attacks and Saving Throws, which is just embarrassing), meaning they can succeed against the effect, while Bless JUST WORKS. Three allies add a 1d4 bonus to all their Attacks and Saving Throws. The more you all hit, the faster the fight ends.
Subsequent Turns need to be spent taking care of Priority 1, while stacking on benefits (without compromising concentration) from Priority 2; spells like Sleep and Command are very powerful in early game, use them to effectively remove key enemies from the encounter for a round or two, or altogether if you don't kick them while they're asleep. As you gain levels, though, your options get much more awesome.
Turn By Turn (Levels 1-4)
Early game you will likely be nervous about allies going down. Characters have low hit points, low defenses, and all it takes is a lucky shot to knock out your tank. Having a spell slot saved for Healing Word is going to be your main focus, which means you might have to clock a few fools in the face with your warhammer and draw some fire. Lucky for you, a decent DM won't push a dragon on you at this stage, so your enemies should be in a similar boat as your party in terms of power level. For the following, let's assume that the encounter is at least a little balanced.
TURN 1 - fulfill Priority 1; otherwise pop Bless (concentration) for three buddies. Yeah, you didn't hit anything, but THEY WILL.
TURN 2 - fulfill Priority 1 (this is always first, I'll stop saying it*); otherwise use your Bonus Action to cast Spiritual Weapon, then use your Action to Toll the Dead on the enemy that's taking the majority of the damage.
+ Spiritual Weapon conjures a floating, flying translucent weapon that can be moved and swung on subsequent turns as a Bonus Action (including the turn when you cast it). It moves 20 feet, and it can't be hurt (can't flank, mind you, but it passes through objects and creatures). It also deals Force damage, which a lot of our monsters aren't resistant to. Plus, it is one of the few spells in the game that adds your Wisdom Modifier to the damage. Best part? It isn't concentration, so it's a perfect cog in your machine; it stays around for its duration - a lever you can always pull once it's out.
+ Toll The Dead is a cantrip that does more damage to enemies that have already TAKEN damage. It requires a Wisdom Saving Throw to avoid the damage, but on a success, you're rolling 1d12 of necrotic damage. (if they are uninjured, it's 1d8). Counterpoint - a creature suffering from Bane is easy to gang up on with this spell in tandem.
Subsequent Turns - keep yourself out of direct damage lines to avoid concentration checks, and keep knocking them out one by one from a distance. If you have the spell slots, use Command (1st level) to knock out an enemy for a round.
Turn By Turn (Levels 5-9+)
TURN 1 - *; pop Spirit Guardians (concentration) for the field, with you at its center. Then wade into range. Sorry, my fellow DMs.
+ Spirit Guardians summons a 15 foot sphere of spirits (you at the center, 10 feet out surrounding you). This field requires enemies entering it (like when you cast it) or starting their turn there to make a Wisdom Saving Throw. On a failure, they take 3d8 radiant (if you're good) or necrotic (if you're evil) damage. On a success, they still take half damage. This spell is arguably the most effective radial chip damage in the game. By now, your allies are beefier than early game, so switching to an offensive concentration, again, ends the fight faster. And casting it even one level above 3rd, will give you an additional 1d8 per level to the damage (4th is 4d8, and 6th would 6d8). Remember, they still take half damage on a success, so if they're in the range, they're guaranteed getting hurt!
TURN 2 - *; use your Bonus Action to cast Spiritual Weapon at the highest even spell slot you can afford (I mean it, I'll explain in a moment), then use your Action to Toll the Dead on that unfortunate soul.
+ If you cast Spiritual Weapon at an even spell slot above 2nd level, it does an extra 1d8 of damage per even level. So, if you cast it at 4th level (which you gain access to at character level 7), it deals 2d8 + Wisdom Modifier every round you swing it AS YOUR BONUS ACTION. Baller. 6th level = 3d8, 8th level = 4d8. That's not nothing, and it perpetuates. However, if you have defensive spells ready to go that use those even spell slots, buff the party first.
+ By now, Toll the Dead is dealing 2d12 of necrotic damage. Given that most offensive cantrips for the cleric require saving throws, and it's got a long range, this is still an effective slam for damage output.
TURN 3+ - *; you are officially online. If your allies are being forced to make a lot of saves and failing, it is still worth it to drop Spirit Guardians to bring up a higher level Bless (casting it at higher levels grants the effect to more creatures).
+ If YOU are under direct fire, it is also worth it to try the following "hack": Use your Bonus Action to cast Sanctuary on yourself (it forces enemies to make a Wisdom save in order to swing at you), then take the Dodge Action (leaving Spirit Guardians active, and Spiritual Weapon waiting to be triggered). As per RAW (Rules-As-Written), Spirit Guardians is a spell that was cast prior to Sanctuary, so its damaging effects are already in play, and therefore would not break the Sanctuary effect (if you attack, directly damage a creature, or cast a spell on a creature). Coupled with Dodge, IF the enemy beats the Wisdom Save, they still swing with Disadvantage due to you Dodging. If/when you are no longer a main target, use your Bonus Action to swing the Spiritual Weapon, breaking the Sanctuary, and return to business as usual. [If your DM won't allow this in RAW, taking the Dodge Action while you bop enemies with your Spiritual Weapon is still super effective to buy time].
IF THINGS GET BAD
+ Word of Recall is one of the best GTFO spells in the game. Period.
+ Channel Divinity is your Superpower. Twilight Clerics use Twilight Sanctuary, which buffs their allies with Temporary Hit Points that scale well (and if they lose them in the duration, they can get more) and end debilitating effects like Charm or Fear on them. It also lasts for 1 minute without Concentration, so it doesn't interrupt the machine. Look at your additional Channel Divinity options for your Domain to consider your "superhero moments."
+ Heal (6th level) has other benefits. On top of healing 70 HP, the creature is cured of Blindness, Deafness, and any Disease.
+ Mass Heal (9th level) is freaking amazing. 700 HP divided as you like within range.
+ When you need someone up and completely reset, Power Word Heal is your jam. 9th level spell to heal a creature up to their full HP and end any charm, fright, paralysis, or stun condition immediately. They can also use their Reaction to stand if they like.
STACKING THE MACHINE
Once you are online, stacking your machine with other spells becomes a mini-game in and of itself. When and how to debilitate foes while still smacking them around with your Spiritual Weapon and Spirit Guardians is kind of bonkers. Some spells to consider (with warnings and recommendations).
GUIDING BOLT (1st) - Clerics aren't big damage dealers, so Guiding Bolt helps us feel powerful. If you hit, it's 4d6 radiant damage, with a temporary boon - the next attack made on the creature has advantage. Great way to setup the Rogue. Honestly, though, if damage is your goal, might I suggest:
INFLICT WOUNDS (1st) - nothing complicated. Melee spell attack, 3d10 necrotic damage. BUT, every spell level you cast above 1st adds another 1d10. You can do 7d10 with a 5th Level spell slot. When you need to take somebody out, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT (also, it's an Attack roll, meaning it can CRIT).
GUARDIAN OF FAITH (4th) - a great "salt in the wound" effect stacked on top of Spirit Guardians, the Guardian of Faith floats in a fixed point. When enemies enter its range (10 feet), they have to make a Dexterity Saving Throw. On a failure, they take 20 radiant damage, or 10 on a success. The Guardian is 10 by 10 and spectral; put him right on top of you, and his range equals that of your Spirit Guardians. Only downside is that the Guardian vanishes once it has dealt a total of 60 damage (but at least it didn't burn your Concentration!)
HOLY WEAPON (5th, C) - imbue a weapon, like that of an ally, to have them deal an extra 2d8 radiant damage when they hit with it. You can also choose to end the spell and have it burst with radiance, which deals 4d8 radiant damage and can blind nearby foes. It does, however, burn your Concentration (so there goes Bless or Spirit Guardians), but it DOES make your DPS offense just a little stronger.
HOLD PERSON (2nd) - devastating against Humanoids because it can Paralyze them, which means every melee attack has advantage, and if it hits...it CRITS!
DEATH WARD (4th) - costs an Action and lasts 8 hours. Put this on an ally, and if they drop to 0 HP, they instead drop to 1 and the spell ends. An excellent insurance policy on an unlucky ally that buys you some extra action economy.
BLINDNESS/DEAFNESS (2nd) - though Constitution saves tend to be pretty strong, a Blinded opponent is a major boon in your favor.
I hope these recommendations add fun and flavor to your table.
Message Over Character
Political Hollywood is entering its death spiral - flailing and ripping at every thread on the way down.
The Writer's Strike pulls a particular lens of reflection on recent works in particular. Something happened post-Covid; true, our collective lens illuminated sincere acts of justice, civil rights, and the human experience. But it also lent a voice to the delusional minority, and once that pedestal was erected, the tolerant gifted this minority with a megaphone.
It meant that while silent voices can finally be heard, that we can all stop and think for a second, such a pause gave momentum to new ideas.
I'm a creative person. I like looking at things from many angles, finding new and innovative solutions, and for a time, being "woke" was a good thing. We were checking our privileges, reaching hands across invisible gaps, acknowledging the collective human experience, and raising the awareness of social, cultural, and environmental issues. Inclusion, diversity, and representation are not a bad thing in and of themselves. These moments I like to think are our glimmers of hope; the instances where we evolve as a species, and collectively acknowledge fundamental truths of our time:
1) LGBTQ+ people ARE PEOPLE, and deserve the same rights as everyone else. If you're not hurting anyone, who you love does not dictate your worth as a human being.
2) My body, my choice.
3) Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.
4) It is okay to change your mind.
5) Fear is the mind killer.
6) Sexism and racism are wrong...in every instance. (including against men, and white people)
7) The truth, taking responsibility, and showing integrity are the building blocks of a powerful society.
8) Art will always be relevant.
9) Change is constant.
10) "...and then we die." Life is too short to be spent on petty squabbles. Commit to the future work.
The Pendulum Swings
Then we went too far. (I'm about to be very honest)
Sexism is wrong. Except, apparently, when it's against a man. Instead of writing compelling female characters alongside their male counterparts, let's re-write those male heroes to be staggeringly flawed, broken, stupid, and overly emotional...and write our women to be stoic, flawless, and super-intelligent at all times. Have them fill the traditional male roles...every time. No exceptions. Make a fleet of girl-bosses; unstoppable, allied with all other females, unified against the blatant oppression of the male hero, with no struggles to overcome and no arcs to journey through - because you were always perfect, Queen. But male characters can be belittled, subservient, outclassed in their own expertise, and emasculated for a laugh.
...This was novel once. It is now the norm. And I'm exhausted.
Captain Marvel and Mulan were...strange. I actually think that Captain Marvel *mostly* worked in its first two acts, but the payoff felt unearned (she was always mega powerful, her powers were just being dampened). Unfortunately, this film's message now appears subtle in light of current trends.
The modern character of Mulan (the remake) BEGINS the film perfect - SHE has no arc. It's just the supporting cast that needs to recognize how awesome she is. In fact, she's NEVER actually defeated; the only time she comes close is against a witch (another oppressed female character). She doesn't even struggle. There is NOTHING for her to overcome.
What message does this send actually? "Feeling down, little girl? It's okay, just START at perfect. No big deal."
This wouldn't be such a slap in the face if the animated film didn't already exist. The original Disney Mulan doesn't know how to be a soldier or a lady; she doesn't fit into either category. But we identify with her nonetheless. She's witty, likable, interesting, and we can see some of her strengths beginning to shine through - she's determined, she rallies for what is right, and she thinks outside of the box. For all those good traits, though, she needs to be tempered; there are skills she lacks, and when she takes up arms to save her father, she has to LEARN how to be a soldier (a great musical montage, by the way). You SEE her progression from a girl to a soldier, and the Mulan we see Act to Act is a different version of herself, each one learning new lessons from struggles and defeats and challenges, bringing all that she has learned and cultivated to bear at the climax of the film when she squares off against Shan Yu.
And that's an intense fight, too! I remember seeing such an imposing force; Shan Yu is a BIG GUY, and is WRECKING the palace as Mulan flees from and dodges him. She doesn't go toe to toe with him on the physical stage - that would be impossible given her build and strength. Instead, she outsmarts him; outmaneuvers him. A skill that she has fostered throughout the film. She didn't start her journey at this level; in fact, the Mulan of the first act would probably have died a horrible death at the hands of this guy. But this Mulan grew; she leveled up to fight the boss.
That's a character. I love that character. And I'm a white dude.
Which, by the way, DOES NOT MATTER. My race and sex has NO BEARING on what I enjoy. I'm allowed to like things. That is all.
Fat Mice Don't Know What They're Doing
And I wouldn't be so defensive if actual, multi-billion dollar studios weren't weaponizing their fans against each other, gaslighting their audience trying to rewrite history (looking at you, Woman King and Cleopatra the "documentary"), or accusing their audience of racism or sexism just for not seeing a bad film. If a film looks bad, I won't see it, regardless if it's lead by a female ensemble (Ghostbusters, 2016). Make a good film first, focus on your checkboxes later.
This roiling landscape of shifting blame and shattered integrity, gaslighting and gatekeeping, crushing otherwise decent humans for the simple sin of not being interested - terrifies me on the grand scale of the entertainment industry. It is rare to find something without an agenda.
To which you reply, "It's entertainment, everyone has an agenda!" And yet, in the quiet corners of Hollywood, far from the bastions of scandal and woke, we get a Top Gun: Maverick - a film that makes no promises other than to be entertaining (and it delivers). Or a masterpiece like Puss In Boots: The Last Wish - a beautifully animated fairy tale with a lot to say on life, death, and happiness, if you just take the time to watch it. And though it was released before this string of years that feel like an eternity burrito wrapped in guilt, Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse is STILL lauded as one of the greatest animated films of all time. No messages or agendas...just stories.
And that is why I am so sad for Hollywood. The mainstream studios are precise and ironic examples of having so much potential, literally BILLIONS of dollars in resources, and not knowing how to use them. Disney walked into Star Wars without a plan, and it SHOWS. How embarrassing for them. How shameful. After decades of entertainment, the execs didn't think far enough ahead to avoid becoming a laughingstock in the industry.
Disney's stock dropped by 50% and HAS NOT RECOVERED. If you feel the same as I on their business practices, we could literally collectively buy them out, and start over. It is baffling the rate at which the fandom has turned on Disney and others like them; no matter the remaining projects, it is clear that one of the biggest studios on the planet is mishandling a beloved franchise, and burning the other to the ground.
Remember, inclusion and diversity are not a bad thing. Vilifying specific groups to raise up others...is.
Thor is now a moron to laughable levels to pave the way for...Taika Watiiti? Valkyrie? I actually don't know. Just seems mean-spirited for no reason.
Loki has been reduced to a moron to make way for Female Loki (Sylvie).
The Mandalorian has been reduced in intelligence, agency, and resourcefulness to make way for Bo Katan.
Hawkeye is a side character in his own show (even though I like Kate Bishop).
Bruce Banner, a literal genius, who has gone through over five films of character development and personal growth, is reduced to a montage of jokes and outclassed in every way by She-Hulk because "Go Women," I guess.
The list, unfortunately, goes on, and the House of Mouse's hate boner for their legacy characters is baffling. It's also COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. You don't have to diminish or destroy one character to lift up another. You can retain and respect where a character has come from AND usher in the next generation. That way, you don't alienate fans.
Instead, what we're getting is a push too hard and too fast toward certain "woke" ideologies to the point of brow-beating, scolding, and pandering. As if we should all feel bad for liking Phase 1, 2, or 3. That because we identified with a flawed character who grew over time (ya know, with an arc), that we're "part of the problem." That if we can't connect with a flawless, superpowered, rude heroine that belittles and conquers the weak men around her with little effort...then we're just sexist, and should shut up.
This is backfiring while these studios double down. It is appalling, and a complete waste of time. Better scripts, better films, better plans. That's how you win us back. I will not be guilted into watching a crap product.
Most of what I see, I'm not excited for. I don't look forward to many films. The system is currently broken.
But there are glimmers; rays of possibility, stretching outside the echo chamber to actually make art again. And, as I've stated, that is one of our fundamental truths.
Thank you for reading this long.
Stay safe out there, nerds.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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