Religion in Fantasy Worlds
This post was inspired by a post at the KORE rpg blog about the topic. And it got me thinking, which is sometimes not a good thing…
Religion is definitely one of those hot buttons in the real world, like sex, money, politics, and many other hot buttons. As soon as you breach the subject however, some people want to either convert you or condemn you – and neither option really appeals to me.
I’m an atheistic-leaning agnostic… or an agnostic-leaning atheist. Just depends on the day. From my point of view, religion is a good thing for a lot of people, so I don’t make a fuss about it. If you want to talk to me about religion, that’s fine – but I don’t like being preached to. Just a personal thing. The door-to-door folks concerned with saving my soul should just move along. (I’m nice about it, but don’t want to waste their time or mine.)
What’s funny is that it’s also not one of the things I typically think about in my roleplaying. I’m more likely to play a cleric or priest as an NPC than a PC, which goes along with my leaning towards creating worlds with conflict these days.
My Immortals’ Wake setting has a church – the Church of the Mother – that has been twisted in the last thousand years to preach a message of no tolerance. History in the real world shows that many faiths have had issues with tolerating views other than their own. And I wanted to bring that aspect into my setting.
And, as with all things, there are those people within the Church who are more liberal in their views of brotherhood than others. A militant arm has sworn to destroy a group of so-called “demons” simply because they are an affront to what they believe. Other groups within the Church are more tolerant of the “demons” and even helps them from time to time.
However, priests in my games tend to be focused on the personal aspects of the mortal condition – helping the sick and poor, aiding those seeking sanctuary, providing spiritual guidance, and so on – not just the traditional D&D cleric point of view as far as mobile MASH and holy smash unit. As mentioned, there are militants in the Church of the Mother who certainly focus on what they think of as fighting the good fight. But most priests would rather tend to their flocks than fight I think.
As such, my priest NPCs tend to be more philosophers and scholars than weapon-wielding crusaders of faith. They’re more likely to talk you to death than beat you with a blessed club. These folks are also just as likely to be warped by greed or lust as any other mortal, so they may not be the paragons of virtue they’re made out to be. They’re simply men and women doing a job they believe in (or want you to believe in).
This is not to say that they don’t apply their healing abilities to those who need them. Nor do they stray away from praying regularly to the focus of their devotion. And miracles do happen. But these are mortal representatives of their faith who only rarely become vessels to the divine power of their gods.
When you bring in the whole wizard vs. cleric debate and wonder whether a priest might directly oppose a wizard and try to have them lynched. Many priests would decry that wizardry is evil and therefore should be destroyed. But many others would state that if their divine hosts could work miracles through the faithful, why would they allow magicians of other types not to exist? What’s to say that the wizard isn’t working divine miracles of his or her own and simply doesn’t appreciate the divine side of the equation?
A priest whose power base is threatened might turn his flock against a rival wizard, but that would erode his power base. The wizard would most likely fall to greater numbers eventually, but how many members of the priest’s flock would die first? Wouldn’t that give them pause?
So there is definitely room for religion in my games. I’ve only had one player ever convincingly play a priest in a campaign I ran. But I’m always hoping for another!
How do you use religion in your fantasy games? Is it a force to be reckoned with?
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