On "The Working Of Miracles both Minor and Major"
(Taken from the story, "Downfall" by Tony Sandoval)
Clerics within the Order of Hosts of the Church of Yahweh practice a different kind of "magic" than the magic used by Magic Users and Illusionists. Theirs was more similar to Druidic magic in that they were able to use the gifts of their god Yahweh and those of their patron saints through prayer and meditation. Unlike Druids who went through a secretive procedure only known as the Druidic Ritual of Ascension to know their capabilities and directives.
For Clerics and Druids alike, they had enough capacity within them to perform "magic" (though Clerics preferred to refer to it as performing "Miracles" of either Minor or Major types.) In general, a Cleric had the spiritual capacity to perform a given number of Miracles each day and even those were affected directly in their strength and capability and to the degree of faith, devoutness and piety of the Cleric in question. Essentially, the Cleric was merely the vessel or conduit through which Yahweh worked miracles in the world. Many of the Minor miracles were of low enough demand of the Clerics resources that they could perform them mostly through meditation in their own right.
The more Major the Miracle, the more it required prayer and divine bestowal. Those Miracles that tended to range between "upper Minor" and "lower Major", were often come through prayer to one's patron Saint. Anything greater than those required prayer to Yahweh directly and there was a saying among the Order that with Yahweh's Miracles "You don't always get what you want, but you always get what you need."
There was a ritual for Clerics upon rising to higher status to gain knowledge of the types of Miracles they would be able to affect or attempt to affect at that new status. They would still be limited by their personal strengths, skills and talents within that status as well as their faith, devoutness and piety.
In game ApplicationAs a DM, I ask background stories for every PC that players enter into the fray. It helps a lot, especially when the DM is trying to determine things like how to gauge whether a Cleric has been Faithful, Devout and Pious (FDP) and the degrees of those to properly determine the outcomes of their spellcasting.
Devoutness is pretty easy to determine. How well do they stick to the rules of their sect, order, deity, etc...The better they do at following the rules, the higher their devoutness "score". Piety is a little more guesswork. It is really reflected in the roleplaying and representation of the PC. Remember, we are not talking about the modern definition of piety which looks at it as being ostentatious or "holier-than-thou". No, we are referring to the integrity and "true-ness" to the deity(ies) and organization, if there is one, of the PC.
Faith is perhaps the most difficult to gauge. You can have a very devout cleric who follows all the rules but has struggles with their faith inside. You can have someone who is pious and holds themselves true to the intent but still has little true faith. Kind of like someone who gets into relationships because they are in love with the idea of being in love but they themselves have yet to actually experience being in love.
Basically, I use the Henchman Loyalty rules to handle a PC's Faith to their Deity. I will roll for Faith/Loyalty to the Deity at the beginnng of the game, using the modifier's listed in the DMG (treating the Deity as a PC if they are a very involved deity or an NPC if they are not very benificent or actively involved. I will then check that Faith/loyalty at specific times during the games based on the roleplaying of FDP and the situations the Cleric faces that may create extenuating circumstances.
Once again for devoutness and piety, I like to gauge these factors from 1 to 4. 1 being best, most or greatest and 4 being least, worst or not even trying.
Cleric PC's that are played as all ones across the board in regard to faith, devoutness and piety will have the greatest success, least negative consequences and best odds. Those played as four's across the board will consequently will have the lowest chance of success, worst odds and worst possible results.
Also, the higher the FDP scores, the less likely they are to be punished or restricted by their deity and the more likely to be rewarded and given to rising in the ranks. This can come in handy when it comes time to level up. Just because they have the XP doesn't mean they have earned the right to gain the next level unless you are running basic "hack and slash" games where roleplaying isn't as important. I have a "ritual" that must be completed sucessfully in order to gain the next level.
The first step of the ritual is to prove their worthiness. An offerring is required in the form of something obtained during the capture or slaying of an evil enemy. Then a test of preparedness. This requires a display of knowledge of the types of evil monsters and sreatures of that same relative level of ability the Cleric is striving for. What they are and what the most common or established methods of combatting them are. The last is a Test of Faith. The Cleric will be put into a situation in which Their PAtron saint and Yahweh will provide the solution to the problem without the prior knowledge of the intended. It will be purely a matter of faith that the Cleric will allow the scenario to play through to it's end. If their faith holds out, they will make it out at the next level. If their faith does waver, they will have failed the whole ritual and even having successfully completed the other two components, will not level up. They may also find themselves injured or negatively afflicted due to their lack of faith during the scenario.
I approach the game as collectively creating a story. Roleplaying is one of the most important things in the games I run. Of course, not everyone runs games the same way and roleplaying s taken into consideration depending on the way the game is oriented.