Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Divine devotion, and other dealings with dieties.

Just a friendly FYI. I'm bowing out of the #rpgaday thing. I can't keep up with the schedule, but I will cover some of the topics it brought up. Like my first GMing session and first game bought. But that's later. Still working on Swankier combat, just got done with the player side and need to do some GM advice. Expect it whenever. Moving on...

Let's talk about Patron Gods and roleplaying. In a lot of Fantasy games the characters worship specific deities. The fiction of the setting handles it as this is a normal thing but in play I've often found there seems to be issues with overly zealous cleric/paladin players, or a fundamental misunderstanding of community and how it impacts the faith of the PC and group.

First consider polytheism. I think this is one of the fundamental sticking point for players of priestly characters. D&D and it's kin settings are a weird mishmash of time periods and cultures to begin with, but polytheistic states have a very open stance on worship. After all, you pray to the forest god for food, the water god for safe passage, and the death god to protect your ancestors. A community and the shaman, priests, etc within it will have a multitude of rituals and practices dedicated to the various gods. I wouldn't be surprised that most cities and towns have a small pantheon temple or church. It's rare that you would find a specific god as the only local deity. That means there is either an effort of the church to stamp out rival factions, or something major happened in the towns history to deserve that veneration. I still scratch my head when I see town maps with 3-4 temples in them as the cost alone to support that many temples is crazy. Shines, community centers dedicated to a faith, sure. But the rainbow of faiths? You might find that only in the richest of cities.

And this matters! Because a PC won't walk into a town as a cleric/priest/whatever of god X and get aggravated if god Z is the local patron. It means the crazy monotheistic take on conversion might not exist in the PC mentality. As long as their god is appeased on with the right rituals on their holy days then the faithful character should be fine. In fact a good priest will off their services if healing is needed (for a god of healing), burial rituals (god of death), or general festivities and holy rights need to be done. (Any)

When modern players play priests in fantasy settings they confuse modern ideas of priests and behavior into their actions. Many play the Roman Catholic exorcist (which is FINE!, but not always correct for that god) or a early day Judea/Christian profit. It's the culture and media we ingest that causes this.

But a fantasy priest in many ways is like a public servant or a community specialist. They're dedicated to their flock and community as a whole. Often working with priests of other temples to officiate events. Acting as judges (if a god of Justice/Law) if the mayor is busy, advising methods of planting and crop protection (if a god of Nature/Harvest), teaching children history and arts (a god of Knowledge/Beauty), etc. Celibacy, self denial rituals, etc MAY be a part of the gods requirements, but just as likely may NOT be.

This gets complicated when you introduce monotheism and rival gods into the picture. These are the times the angry profit, the punishing paladin, etc show up. And in those cases if you are playing as such...you would be in the right. It gets interesting when you have settings with a mix of religions and types. Let's take a look at 2 D&D settings as an example. Forgotten Realms vs. Eberron!

Forgotten Realms has a very set theology, in part because the gods meddle in mortal affairs often and with world shaping results. The various godly factions sponsor champions, send in avatars, and uplift mortals as servants. Not quite a pantheon but rather alliances. In this setting the gods are like kings and queens of the world. However they control specific elements with frequent overlap and fights. So a community might support a local pantheon of friendly gods, but have a banned list. So they might be fine with a Cleric of Bane showing up even though they worship and venerate the Tyrant because Bane supports strong local laws and strict punishment (the local bandit problem keeps them praying Bane will bring the mighty smite down on the fiends). However if a cleric of Cyric shows up he would be run out of town if not outright killed. And so on. Each community would have an alignment of gods with important exceptions written into how it behaves. Often priests would be held in contempt or praise based on their actions alone.

Eberron however is a fun hodge-podge of monotheistic, polytheistic, and cult behavior. You might run into priests of the Silver Flame who don't support the polytheistic gods and consider them fools for worshiping anything but the divine silver. Or maybe the ancestor worshiping elves find the human religions foolish and misguided. Heaven help you if you are a follower of the Blood of Vol and get preachy in the wrong country. Etc. It allows for the conflict of community values over faith. The gods in the setting are mysterious and aloof, if they are even there. It's not better than Forgotten Realms take on gods and communities, just different.

If you run into the Lawful Stupid Paladin, the zealot problem priest/cleric players in a setting where it wouldn't make sense draw the players back a little and ask them...why are you playing them this way? It might do for a GM and crew to sit down and to talk about the setting and it's gods so players interested in them can get the most out of them and not disrupt the setting or other players.

This coming from a guy who played Clerics of War Gods for years on end. And yes, I played them like war chaplains inspired by M.A.S.H.'s Father Mulcahy mixed with Dirty Harry. Later on I turned into more a classic Van Helsing meets Sgt. Rock mix when my focus turned to gods of the Sun/Dawn. But one of these days I want to play a more pagan cleric who is dedicated to nightly rituals and odd rites. I wonder if I'll step on Druid player toes.

Be fun to find out eh?