THIS IS PART OF A COLLECTION OF THOUGHTS ON FLESHING OUT THE USE OF GODS AND DIVINE POWER IN GAMES, SO YOU CAN PROVIDE MORE FLAVOR AND HOOKS FOR COMMON OR DEVOUT WORSHIPPERS.
Druids revere and protect nature. Clerics worship and are the servants of the gods. You think this would be a simple distinction, but it can start to look very confusing when you add in so-called “nature gods” and the fact that some Druid devote themselves to those same deities.
If a character is going to become the servant of the Old God of the Forest anyway, does the difference between a cleric and druid become nothing but which powers they get? No.
What’s the difference? Here are some thoughts on where they diverge, and suggestions on how to work clerics with such allegiances into your games.
It’s a Matter of Loyalties
Clerics are individuals with faith in the power of their patrons and who are empowered to serve the will of those patrons in the world. This is important, because it means that there is something about the specific divine power they serve that has drawn them into service; maybe they are terrified of a world without the guidance of their master, maybe they’ve sworn themselves to a presence that represents everything they value in the world, or maybe they share an obsession.
For the Cleric, the god is the source of their power and the focus of their faith, and serving a nature god is about representing that particular perspective and set of priorities in the world, rather than “Nature” as a general concept.
It is generally easy for a player to imagine what being an inspired adherent to a religion or pious follower of a philosophy could be like, and in most fantasy settings the gods they worship either fully embodies their values or acts as their only link to – or champions on – the divine playing field.
For a Druid, the situation is completely reversed. To the druid it is Nature who has their true allegiance, whose purpose and needs are paramount, but the best method of going about that is far from settled.
When a druid dedicates herself to a nature deity it is more like a monk joining an order led by an enlightened master than what a Cleric would recognize as worship. In some druidic traditions, or pantheons, it may even be the case that they literally believe the gods to simply be ancient druids that have achieved a higher level of power than most.
To put it another way: A cleric would treat Garnoa the Wolf Goddess as a figure they might serve faithfully on her own merits, while a druid could treat her as a powerful druid who has some very good ideas or as one aspect of Nature.
This is reinforced by the fact that clerics are generally described as receiving their power as a gift, or investment, from their patron while druids tend to receive their power from the primordial forces of the world itself.
Still… a Druid in the service of ol’ Garnoa is going to be doing the same rituals and visiting the same holy sites as her most devout Cleric, so there is more than a little overlap for such followers when it comes to everyday practices.
This can lead to some plot hooks, which I will touch on later, but more importantly leaves room for the players of druids or clerics to stretch their legs a little when it comes to how their character sees members of the other class or their own place in relation to the larger powers.
It’s A Matter of Priorities
Step away traditional fantasy gods and mythological pantheons, and things can actually become decidedly less simple.
In many of these situations the potential overlap between clerics and druids would fade, as they are no longer likely to have the overlap that following the same pantheon or deity. The problem is that in these situations the few remaining areas of overlap become decidedly more philosophical.
Imagine a cleric who worships the sun, maybe personified to the degree that the cleric reads moral values and judgments based on the effect that the sun has on the world (notably the supernatural world), but without an intermediary divine power in the form of a dude in a chariot or fellow with a falcon’s head.
This cleric has what could reasonably called a nature god, and is gifted with a portion of divine power by it, but there’s little chance that a druid is going to devote themselves exclusively to the sun or see it as mentor. You end up with a character that will behave according to interests and values that represent a sliver of the natural world, most likely holding sacred as altars places that druids probably see as their own or simply a small part of the world, and have the opportunity for a distinct clash in priorities.
Where normally druids come into conflict with fanatical worshippers of elementals trying to tip the world into fire on one side, or with the encroachment of civilization into wild places on the other, here there is someone who is the worldly agent of a single part of the very natural order they are trying to protect.
Below are a number of small adventure seeds, building off of some of the ideas above, which could involve cleric and druid characters directly or have the involved parties asking local adventurers for help.
- The druids of a region all tend to revere one particular member of a tight pantheon. Local priests viewed them as wrong-minded fools at first, but after a series of disasters have come to believe that the other gods are become discontent. As an agent of the gods it falls to a cleric to sort things out, but when the same god is one of their own patrons it quickly becomes an almost political situation.
- During a major drought a cleric of the Sol Invictus finds themselves facing an ever more discontent populace, especially when crops begin to die. This is aggravated when a local druid declares that the drought is the result of an imbalance being caused by outside powers. While the druid does not lay the blame at the feet of the cleric or his kind, it’s obvious they distrust sun-worshippers.
- The Goddess of Storms has grown incredibly popular after a great harvest and a massive storm assisted in the defeat of a hated enemy. Due to the high number of adherents she has among the Old Faith of the druids, however, this newfound reverence is leading many to abandon regular forms of worship. If the gods require worshippers for their power, this may lead to a counter-intuitive drop in the Goddess of Storm’s divine influence. Or maybe the priesthood, entrenched in the politics of the region, just doesn’t like to see the people turning elsewhere. Or perhaps the Goddess herself just tasks one of her worshippers with making sure there isn’t a schism between her followers.
- A dangerous mystery cult, rumored by many to responsible for all kinds of ill deeds is rising to power in the city. Maybe its threat is entirely political, but more likely it is working towards the completion of some dark ritual that could spell disaster for the good people of the region. The characters could be tasked to discover the truth by all manner of patrons, especially as the name of the figure at the center of the cult’s rites is the same as a mythic being supposedly sealed away by a circle of druids ages ago. It would fall to the characters to take on the cult directly, hunt down clues in the wild, or seek out members of the Old Faith who might know how to stop this power.