Thursday, May 3, 2012

Worldbuilding – the Clerical Solution, Part II


The idea here is to use clerics in a fantasy world where they’re more in line with their historical counterpart (as far as this is possible in D&D). So, as briefly mentioned in the previous post, if you have clerics you also have a church… actually, you have The Church.

How to implement this?

Before proceeding, there’s some background that may prove handy.

First we have Eberron. For those that don’t know this great D&D 3rd setting, in Eberron the gods are truly elusive entities, never manifesting directly in the world and always acting (if acting at all) through strange signs and omens. Because of that, while you still have clerics, the fundamental question of “Who are the gods” remains open, providing ample room for faith and belief. Eberron’s gods don’t live in the Outer Plane. In fact, no one knows where they live. Clerics in this setting don’t lose their powers if they change their ethos or alignment – they become heretics. In this campaign setting, “heretics” are a religion’s minority, which is actually a very authentic definition for heretics in the real world. (This cosmological trait also has one good in-game consequence – player characters run the risk of corruption, but not of losing their class powers.)


Our second background reference goes to Green Ronin’s amazing Book of the Righteous. This is an all-time classic for religion and pantheons in D&D. This hardcover provides a full myth, cosmology and pantheon, implicitly linked to many other products of Green Ronin (like the equally outstanding Book of Fiends). The idea that I want to take from this book is of the Church of the Tree. While the Book of the Righteous does provide lots of deities, priests and prestige classes, it also provides the option of worshipping all the civilized gods as a unified pantheon – the Gods of the Tree. This clerics and paladins serve the whole pantheon and are member of the Church of the Tree, which is an excellent example of a medieval Church-like organization in a D&D setting.


Fine, now we can move on. It’s easy to see where I’m going with this. Actually, those two basic premises can give you a lot of options.

The most simple and easy-to-use approach is create an organized and influent church based on the local pantheon – maybe with one Church for each pantheon or continent; or just one massive Church covering most of your Known World (I believe that Kalamar may do something along these lines). Clerics become thus members of the Church, with their Domains indicating from which orders they come (and maybe which deities they revere most).

If you’re using Pathfinder you can go a step further. Here I’ll steal from Ptolus LINK. Create a monotheist (or henotheist) religion and base your Church on it. It can be a classical and intolerant “the One True God religion” or a more pacifist “followers of the Creator” – or it can be both, with different sects and points-of-view inside of its massive organization. This will work a lot better if the Church’s god is aloof and elusive (like Eberron).

You can create orders of clerics using the Axial Domains or just the usual Pathfinder Domains. Maybe each order is dedicated to a saint, a celestial or even a philosophy or sect. You can even establish that Evil clerics are those that are corrupted by Devils (Lawful), Daemons (Neutral) or Demons (Chaotic, the classical anti-cleric of OD&D), that remain hidden inside the Church.

The classical myriad of gods of D&D still exist in this world, but here they’re the “Old Gods” and are served not by clerics or paladins, but by oracles (which have an amazing “mythic” or S&S feel and match perfectly with the idea of Greek, Scandinavian, Celt and older pantheons).

Using this approach you get what I believe to be the best of both worlds – a Catholic Church-like religion, perfect for D&D classic clerics; living side-by-side with older “pagan” deities and their bizarre and “heathen” priests (the oracle and druid classes). As a bonus, you get a new source of dramatic conflict for your setting.

Now, I mentioned A magic of twilight in the first part of this series. Well, while the novel isn’t really dazzling, it does have a very sinister idea for a powerful Church. In that novel you have a world where spellcasters are real, but all magic is considered to come from God. Any spell that goes against “God’s will” is considered sinful – specially healing magical. After all, when you heal someone to save his life, you’re avoiding his natural fate. It’s a terrific idea for a (very different) D&D world. It’s also a good idea for crazy heretical ethos.

For example, let’s say that the powerful Church of your campaign setting is dominated by a Lawful Neutral priesthood that believes that healing is “meddling with God’s plans”. Magical healing is only allowed against damage caused by “dark magic” (arcane magic) or “demons” (general name for outsiders and fey). In this grim world you got a minor Lawful Good/Neutral Good heresy that believes in magical healing in all situations.  Even if you keep the traditional “objective” gods that manifest and grant (or remove) powers, you can have your stern and grim Lawful Neutral deity together with his rebellious children – Angels – that believe in more merciful ways. Most PCs here will be heretics that follow a particular Angel instead of the deity. The hard and vengeful Lawful Neutral god can have this radical ethos because he needs of all mortal souls he can get in the Outer Planes in order to battle Demons or other extraplanar menaces to Creation.

While the last examples may be too much for most GMs, it’s relatively easy to create pantheon-based Churchs with medieval clerics in most official settings. Use their races and cultures as a template for the church, particulary if there aren’t good pantheons around. For example, a Taldane or Chelaxian Church (in Golarion) dedicated to Lawful deities is reasonable; or a Cormyrian Church (in Forgontte Realms) built around the faiths of Tyr, Torm and Ilmater (already known as the Triad). Oracles remain isolated priests tied to temples, not churches, which may  be why they’re so rare these days – their social organization is just obsolete. This concept of church seems to me to work well with dwarves and halflings. Gnomes and elves may fit better with oracles (or better yet – druids). Orcs can be good candidates for shamans.

Well, let’s end here for now. Next post is about ignoring all the ideas above and going full-throttle with believable polytheist view of the world.