LS over at Papers and Pencils has been doing a series on Pathfinder's Advanced Players Guide classes and the latest is on the Oracle class, which is basically a PF Sorcerer with Cleric spells instead of Wizard spells. And some of his comments, especially a link to his thoughts on the actual Cleric class, inspired me to revise my own ideas about the Classic D&D Cleric (and why I find it superior for my style of play).
So what's my beef? Of course it's to do with healing. Should Clerics be the party band-aid? Is that the reason the class exists? I disagree, but modern game design seems to believe that is the case.
LS mentions that the PF Oracle class automatically gets Cure X spells (or Inflict X spells if they choose) at levels they can cast, in addition to the Sorcerer-style "spells known" each level. So no need to debate about whether to take a handy utility spell or a cure spell, you've already got the cure for free. And in the PF Cleric, instead of Turn Undead they get a blanket "heal everyone in 30' of xd6 damage" a large number of times per day (minimum three, but with a Cha bonus or the right feat selection, that increases) in addition to spells and the hold-over from 3E, spontaneous casting of cure X spells.
In our old PF game from a couple years ago, I was playing a Paladin, but we always had at least one other Cleric in the group, sometimes two. Any time I thought to use Lay on Hands on another PC, the Clerics would stop me and just use their Channel Energy ability instead. I was left using Lay on Hands in the rather selfish and un-paladinly manner of keeping myself in a fight (since I was able to self-cure as a minor action in addition to moving and attacking) rather than aiding the needy (but with two actual Clerics, I guess the party injured weren't really needy after all...). They get a lot of healing ability is what I'm saying.
Now in Classic D&D, assuming OD&D/BX/BECMI, Clerics are actually fairly limited in the amount of (hit point) healing they can do in a day, until you get up into the Companion/Master levels of BECMI. Even then, they still get lots of non-curative spells as well. Let's take a look at some numbers, shall we?
OD&D Men and Magic lists a 10th level Patriarch (the highest in that book) as getting spells per day: 3/3/3/3/3
They have Cure Light Wounds as a 1st level spell and Cure Serious Wounds as a 4th level spell. At most, they could take six out of fifteen spells to heal hit points in a day, curing 9d6+9 hit points per day. Cure Disease and Neutralize Poison are at 3rd level, Raise Dead is at 5th level. Yes, they are healing/restorative magics, but not usually needed as often as Cure Wounds spells.
BX Clerics at 10th level get one more 1st level spell: 4/4/3/3/2, so could heal 10d6+10 hit points, at at the maximum 14th level can cast: 6/5/5/5/4. That's a fair bit of healing, actually, if all spell slots are devoted to it, 16d6+16 points. Spells are as OD&D.
BECMI Clerics at 10th level: 4/4/3/2/1 actually have a decrease in healing if you stick to the Basic and Expert books - Companion adds Cure Critical Wounds (3d6+3) at 5th level. With Companion, that's 11d6+11, only two dice more than the OD&D Cleric at the same level. Without Companion, it's 8d6+8, one less! At 14th level, the BECMI Cleric has spells: 5/5/5/3/3/2 - yes, 6th level spells, which includes Cureall which heals nearly all of a character's hit points. If all hit point healing spells are memorized, that's 20d6+20 before the two Cureall spells are factored in. They still end up with ten spells of 2nd and 3rd level that don't cure hit points, and with Cureall available, you likely don't need all of those Cure Light Wounds spells anymore. I'm not even going to bother with 36th level BECMI Clerics.
Also note, none of the above Clerics start out play at 1st level with the ability to heal a single hit point! No spells at level 1!
Do I need to remind everyone that in 3E, they upped Clerics to 9th level spells and lowered the bottom to include 0 level spells, and there are hit point curing spells in all of them? And Clerics can instantly change any prepared spell into a Cure Wounds spell of the same level at any time.
Let's take a look at a 10th level 3.5 Cleric - assuming they don't have Healing as a Domain, so those spells can be used for something else. They cast 6*/4/4/3/3/2 spells per day plus Domain spells. *0-level spells. Ignoring the 0-level and Domain spells, it's actually the same as in BX - oh, except for bonus spells for High Wisdom. The Cleric will have bonus spells from Wisdom, but let's ignore them for now since it's variable.
Cure spells now use a d8 instead of a d6, and add a variable amount depending on the Cleric's level. 33d8+126 just with the 0 through 4th level spells, and at 5th level they get Mass Cure Light Wounds, which will heal 1d8+10 to up to ten creatures, for a potential 43d8+326 points of damage in a day. And remember, with bonus spells for Wisdom and the Healing Domain (which grants more spells and gives a bonus to the amount each healing spell cures), there could be more! Of course, that's assuming all spells get used to cure hit point damage.
I'm not going to figure out the 14th level 3E Cleric. Nor the Pathfinder Cleric, since in addition to all the spells (they wisely axed the 0-level Cure Minor Wounds, though, since in PF 0-level spells are at-will), as I mentioned above, they get the Mass Cure spell series at least three times a day from level one!
Some people over in the d20 versions of D&D really really expect way too much combat to happen in D&D. And for the Cleric to be there to patch everyone up in time for the next combat.
Now, of course, some will argue that the abundance of healing available to the 3E/PF Cleric means that they actually do get to prepare and cast other spells instead of only healing spells. And that's true that most adventuring parties are not likely to need 500 points of healing in a day.
But the thing they miss is this: in Classic D&D, Clerics get to cast other spells too! And they don't get the party members bugging them to give up their utility spells in order to heal another wound. If they don't max out their healing, they get to cast those other non-healing spells because they can't just switch it out for a Cure X spell.