In his response to the first article of this series, Wallace Cleaves argued that Jedi may be better represented as clerics of The Force than as any other class (yes, including the monk, though it’s a close call).
This time around I’m going to go a step further: Gandalf isn’t a wizard. He also isn’t human.
Both of these observations are critical to my next flavor-twist on the cleric. I’ll be creating yet another a “cleric” that uses the rules for clerics as written and keeps the divine-magic angle, but which redescribes his nature to create a fantasy character archetype that feels fresh and, I hope, kind of cool. But understanding my point about Gandalf is critical to seeing where I’m going with Bettelfegne, so let’s go back to Tolkien’s iconic character.
Why Gandalf Is (at least Partly) a Cleric
In The LEGO Movie, the writers have a lot of fun with LEGO Dumbledore and LEGO Gandalf in a scene which has Morgan Freeman’s Vitruvius mixing up the two, to the frustration of both. (We’ll see how long that link stays live.) Like Obi-Wan and Merlin, they certainly play similarly bearded, magical, Hero’s Journey mentor roles. They’re also both explicitly called “wizards” in the text, a fact that probably ranks foremost among those of you objecting right now to my premise. (Yes, I read minds.) Yet those are roles and flavor-text. What is he, in terms of game mechanics? Which set of class features best represents what he does?
While Dumbledore can bring 20th-level offensive and elemental wowzah to a mage battle, Gandalf’s powers don’t seem to match up well with the wizard’s spell list. Most of the time, he relies on wisdom and powers of persuasion, or else inspires others using what might be described as a bardic buff but which seems in impact a bit like the cleric’s bless spell. When he breaks out the magic, he’s using light-based defensive powers to do things like turn undead or keep demons at bay. In another scene, he appears to be using the cleric’s thaumaturgy cantrip, despite his claim not to be a conjurer of “cheap tricks.” The whole resurrection thing is kind of clericky, too. At the same time, he sometimes veers toward the druidic, speaking to animals, heating metal, or cracking stone. So just off of spells, he seems like a mix of cleric and druid, rather than a wizard. (He’s getting a lot of mileage out of that Wisdom score.)
But there’s another good reason to think that cleric is the class that best describes Gandalf: It’s right there in his race and in his purpose. Despite appearances, Gandalf is a maia, like Sauron and the Balrog. He is a supernatural, semidivine being, in other words, and one who states explicitly he serves “the Secret Fire” – that is, the creator deity of Middle-Earth, compared by Tolkien to the Holy Spirit. After Gandalf and the Balrog kill each other, Gandalf attributes his later resurrection as Gandalf the White to being “sent back […] until my task is done” – specifically, Gandalf is sent back by “the Authority,” the creator of Middle-Earth himself. The maia then are angelic beings, sometimes taking more earthly forms, often serving a Valar (or god)—and in Gandalf’s case, serving the chief architect himself. The maia sent to Middle-Earth to oppose Sauron (all labeled “wizards” in the stories) were specifically tasked with training, guiding, and protecting inhabitants of Middle-Earth, with minimal displays of their own power.
Gandalf is, in other words, a clerical being serving a divine force on a mission that is clearly clerical rather than arcane in nature. Any druidic powers might be seen then as a Nature domain within his clerical role, or perhaps as a multi-class.
Relevance to Bettelfegne
Gandalf serves as much of the inspiration for Bettelfegne, whom I intend to be more like a maia than like the traditional cleric. Another, albeit minor, influence or model is Bellenorgum, one of my own, earlier cleric characters, briefly described in the first column of this series. I like the idea of a cleric dedicated to the Knowledge domain, and Bellenorgum, as a cleric of the Greyhawk god Boccob, fit that role pretty well. (If you notice that the name Bettelfegne seems like an echo of Bellenorgum, yeah, it is.) When I put these together, Bettelfegne isn’t going to be Gandalf—just a member of a similar race.
Ah, you protest, but the leading game doesn’t have a maia race!
True enough, but that’s just a flavor-text obstacle. Behold! I take the High Elf race and use its non-flavor specifications – exactly as written – to create the obilim. My new obilim have all the features of elves, but look like and identify as human. That means they’re long-lived, they have Elvish resistances, and they have access to an arcane cantrip. This also means they can use bows and, much like Gandalf, swords. They recognize each other, and like the maia, many of them partner up with or make alliances with gods. Now, DMs might not want to have obilim in their worlds because it requires hacking campaign histories or figuring out how to fit yet another race into the landscape, but there shouldn’t be any game balance objections here—not unless the DM bars elves on similar grounds.
The Order of the Obilim
The obilim are semidivine beings, similar to aasimar or deva. No human has ever witnessed the birth of an obilim; they are, instead, found and then adopted. In terms of appearance, the obilim resemble humans; in terms of aptitudes, lifespan, and racial features, they resemble high elves. Early in their childhoods, the Order identifies obilim and offers to teach them. Over time, obilim who accept the offer develop abilities identical to those of clerics. Though their powers stem from their racial nature rather than divine choosing, most obilim take a guiding interest in world events and affairs and the most powerful among them end up allying with divinities. Obilim who reject training are known as malbilim and are hunted by warlocks for the arcane value of their body parts. Those malbilim strong enough to survive most often become sorcerers, drawing on their innate powers in an untutored and less disciplined fashion. (Note on alignment: Obilim tend to be lawful or neutral with respect to ethos, and good or neutral with respect to morality. The bitter, fiercely independent malbilim are more often chaotic, and are more likely than their kin to be evil, though exceptions exist for both types.)
Established temples or religious orders seldom know what to make of obilim allied with their divinities. Outside their chains of command and often more powerful than lay clergy (who often lack spellcasting of their own), obilim pursue agendas that overlap with but are not always entirely consistent with those of clergy. Obilim are more apt to listen to the consensus of their racial order than to the wishes of the cloth. Even then, clergy are often surprised how readily obilim take their own counsel, against instructions of church or Order, counting on their description of the circumstances to sway peers once their deeds are done. Finally, obilim strike clergy as odd because they tend to work alone or with mixed groups of people who seem of dubious value to temple business, but rarely work with other obilim except in times of dire crisis. (One sage dryly notes in a much-copied journal, “If one obilim enters town, raise your hopes. If three enter, saddle your horse. You may or may not wish to collect your family first.”)
Bettelfegne the Book-Knight
Bettelfegne was found, named, and raised by members of a nameless warrior community known by detractors as the Baors—not barbarians, but a cluster of people who had deliberately shunned the advancing civilization of the kingdom around them. The name the Baors gave him is simply a dialect variation of “battle-fang,” a label most of his companions find deliciously unsuitable for him. Angry about the encroachments of local rulers, the elders of the Baor community venerated a god of physicality and slaughter. (In the Vorago campaign setting, this god would be the Outcast King.) It was the Baor priest who raised him, sensing Bettelfegne’s nature and hoping to capitalize on it.
Pronunciation of Bettelfegne:
Although Bettelfegne initially accepted the culture, he grew quickly frustrated with its lack of foresight, its lack of respect for knowledge or those who had knowledge, and its lack of faith in strategy. No pacifist, Bettelfegne was not bothered so much by the violent tendencies of those around him as by their lack of interest in thinking things through. When a senior obilim from the Order arrived to offer training, Bettelfegne turned his back on that home forever.
Years later, Bettelfegne decided to ally with a god, and perhaps in continued rebellion against his former culture, veered as far away from a god of slaughter as he could, striking up an alliance with a studious god of knowledge and arcane magic. (In the Vorago campaign setting, this would be the King of Tomes.) Neither a champion of good nor a fan of evil, Bettelfegne chose a patron whose outlook matches his well: knowledge is, to both, more important than politics. Bettelfegne has since become a rather practiced divination specialist, believing strongly in the value of knowledge—as well as misinformation—in both peace and war. A savvy strategist, Bettelfegne has a knack for winning conversations and fights before potential adversaries realize what they’re up against.
In person, Bettelfegne tends to leave most people a little off-balance. A man of dangerous habits, haphazard grooming, and dry wit, he doesn’t seem like he’d be a scholar. Yet his disdain and lack of care about arms and armor, as well as his preference for verbal rather than physical dueling, do little to suggest a warrior’s soul. He seems too irreverent to be a priest, yet seems to have conversations with divine (if unseen) agents. He pursues self-selected missions that sometimes seem to have sweeping consequences for populations of innocents, and seems to pursue the good of the masses, yet he is also deceitful, manipulating, and willing to sacrifice to meet his ends in ways that are hard to recognize as “good.” Most who travel with him either puzzle over his behavior incessantly or else they give up on the idea, rolling with the moment.
Bettelfegne attracts epithets, being known in some areas as Bettelfegne the Book-Knight, in others as Bettelfegne the Eremite (as members of his order are sometimes called). Perhaps the most appropriate yet least obvious epithet is Bettelfegne the Borrower, for he recruits locals to his causes, develops in them skills they didn’t know they had, and reassures their families that things should go back to normal when he’s done. Yet he knows full well that even if they live they will be forever changed by the events in which he involves them.
On another page, I’ve presented a version of Bettelfegne at three different levels: 1st, 5th, and 10th. His Knowledge domain spells are boldfaced.
♦ Graham Robert Scott writes regularly for Ludus Ludorum when not teaching or writing scholarly stuff. He has also written a fantasy novella about the last cleric in this article series, titled Godfathom, which is presently available for free. Like the Ludus on Facebook to get a heads-up when we publish new content.