Gosh, but we’re an ungodly lot. A few weeks ago, Larian put out some stats showing that the Cleric was Baldur’s Gate 3’s least played class, with the majority of players preferring to play more front-line heroes rather than the humble god-botherers we rely on for healing and buffs. But now we might know why.
Spotted by GamesRadar, a series of tweets from veteran RPG designer Josh Sawyer suggests that the Cleric’s unpopularity has nothing to do with its efficacy as a class in D&D or the fact that everyone just wants to keep Shadowheart in their party. Across all the RPGs Sawyer has made—ranging from the original Icewind Dales to Pillars of Eternity 2—Clerics (or their equivalent) are just chronically unpopular.
“In my experience this has nothing to do with the specifics of BG3 or [D&D 5th Edition],” Sawyer wrote on Twitter last week, “people generally don’t make cleric/priest main characters in fantasy RPGs. They’ve been the least played class in every fantasy RPG I’ve made”.
Onlookers were quick to offer their own explanations for the phenomenon. One pointed out that BG3 already had a Cleric companion—Shadowheart—and players likely wanted to avoid doubling up, to which Sawyer replied that he’d be “willing to bet [that] doesn’t stop people from making Fighters or Barbarians.”
Another opined that, well, Shadowheart is a rather pretty romanceable half-elf, so players would probably rather cart her around in their party than play a priestly type themselves. Sawyer responded with a picture of Pillar of Eternity’s Durance, a deranged, bearded, and howling vortex of misogyny who was also that game’s main priest companion. “Every RPG I’ve worked on where clerics/priests are a playable class, they are the least often selected for main characters,” he wrote, “this is true in games where the companion Cleric is a Very Sexy Baby and also true when they are Rasputin But Worse.”
So why does Sawyer reckon Clerics are always out of favour? Because players want to be the hero, mostly. When a Twitter user called Doc Venom tweeted that “people just see Cleric as one of those side-kick classes,” Sawyer was quick to agree. “Yes. I’m pretty confident that’s it,” he wrote, summing up players’ attitudes to the class as “‘Support is for other people.'”
After all, being a god-loving type doesn’t deter players from playing Paladins—BG3’s most popular class—and Sawyer reckons that’s because “Paladins smite things and are ‘heroic’ and people lean into ‘deranged zealot with sword and shield’ more than ‘preacher with Bless'”.
That rings true to me, at least partially. I don’t think I’ve ever rolled a Cleric in any of the numerous CRPGs I’ve played in my time, and I’ll admit it’s at least slightly because it feels like something less than top billing in my party’s line-up. But I also think there’s a psychological barrier for a lot of players. Clerics and Priests conjure up images of boring, pacifist proselytisers in a way that Paladins don’t, and I imagine that’s a bit of a turn-off for players jumping into a swashbuckling fantasy epic.
Whatever the reason, it’s left Sawyer and his preferences out in the cold: the designer says the class is his “most commonly played” in both tabletop and CRPGs. Perhaps we all just need to go to church.
looking at BG3 played class stats pic.twitter.com/NHlJV87gnwAugust 25, 2023