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Pawing though the old piles of files on the computer. I found this. With links updated: Some of this I have presented. But it is here as recovered.

Creating Religions in Role-Playing Games

The impetus for this article started with a question on my phoenixRPG list.
OK, I keep trying to write up the religions of my game world, and I always run aground because my mind keeps rolling over into working up what a plausible religion would be like if gods were real and cared about human behavior AND I’m facinated by the fringe-folk blessing and lucky charm trade that always grows up around any successful faith. So I slam merrily into the same blind corner, and then I stall. I keep falling into writing what the GODS want and will provide, because that is what setting books typically do. But if you search the internet, the magic that /people /WANT enough to pay for is luck, wealth, youth, beauty, loveslaves, sexual prowess, popularity and revenge. In a world with working arcane magic, religion would have to offer something lately, not an ‘age of miracles’ long past, to complete. … And what about when a religion splinters and the two groups preach diametrically opposed Truths concerning the same god? Is wealth a sign of god’s grace or are riches a trap and it is the poor who are blessed?

I have seen that few people put any work into fantasy religion. Fantasy in terms of Garry’s First Rule of Fantasy, all games are fantasy even if that is not the genre. I believe that well crafted religions add immensely to role-playing by giving the Priest character something to hang his miter on. In a broader sense by adding to the background of the game world and the richness thereof.

I am breaking the process down into two stages. The first you preform once when making your game world, the second as often as required.

The Nature of Gods
First you have to decide if gods are real. This is a step in making your game world.

If gods are real, and active, you get what gods want. They can rein in the priests with divine favor/disfavor, a pretty direct feedback system. There isn’t much to be said, when god speaks, the clergy listens.

Something to consider about gods and religion was the way the ancients delt with gods. The Mediterranean religions we usually associate with pagan polytheism, the Greco-Roman tradition, safely dead so we can play with it, didn’t see gods as a parental all watching force. If you wanted their attetion you had to get it, and you made bargains with your gods. “Hey Poseidon, get me safely to Alexandra and I’ll give you a sacrifice when I get there.” You shopped gods, you gave worship to the gods you needed when you needed them. The above list of typical wants would be divided among a pantheon of service vendors if you will.

So if the religion isn’t serving the needs of the community they will be looking for new gods. The gods might define what they want, but if what they want isn’t want people want they will look for new gods. A world with real active gods and lots of them is going to have service oriented religions. A world with real active gods and only one or a few could be a pretty bleak place to live. So we get the next category.

If gods are real but distant you can get more of the splinter mentality spoken of above. I don’t deal with a subjective game reality. Being the ultimate god (GM) I decide what is right wrong, good and evil.

When god(s) is real but there isn’t a direct feedback system, you will get differences of opinion as to what is right. So in the case of a prophecy with several interpretations or prophets, one prophet might be right, or they might all be full of bullshit. They cannot all be right. Just because some smelly hermit with bad hair predicted something 600 years ago doesn’t mean they were right. There is also the case of everyone knows and it is wrong. Something will happen, but the prophecy has “telephoned” away from the correct wording or interpretation. All too common if the prophecy was in an obscure language with several translations between then and now, or the church fathers think that a slight realignment will serve them better, and bite the ass of the congregation once they are dead. Distant gods do not keep close tabs on the worshipers or the priests. Then we have the case of less feedback.

If there are no gods, the field is wide open. That is the case with Elvisites. “Magic” works because of conformation bias. No one remembers the 999 times the prayer or totem didn’t work, just the one time it did. And the good old gospel dichotomy. If it went my way, god provided. If it didn’t evil interfered and my faith was not strong enough

If magic is real then it is of the arcane variety with a different bent to the spell list, lots of unnecessary ritual, and a built in denial, or outright lie, as to what is going on. Look for priests with a good deal of political power. The real parasite. They might be the only legal dispensers of magic. Anyone not approved by them is a heretic devil worshiper that needs to be burned at the stake. In the setting where the gods are not real the primary job of the priest is making sure that people need them and they can continue to not do real work. When real gods are not present, orthodoxy will be defended with fire and sword.

Once we have the nature of the gods defined we define the religion itself.

Building the Religion
My first step in building a good religion is understanding the nature of my universe, easy enough as I am the builder. Second understanding the nature of deity, again I define. Third the nature of people and religions. This I don’t define, but I have seen, I think, sufficient people reacting to and within religion to predict where that is going. I’ve seen religion from deep inside and from outside and understand the nature of the conformation bias. People will flip backwards to believe what they want to, need to, believe to confirm their own station in the universe. It doesn’t need to be reasonable. Sometimes the less reasonable it is the more people grab onto the idea.

Once you have defined the nature of godhood it is time to define your religion. Remember all religions consider themselves the right and good way to do things, The Truth accept no substitutes. Write from that perspective, not how their foes would see them or even the reality of the situation. You can have that in you private GM notes.

I use a question format. A form to fill out regarding the basic beliefs and practices of that religion. I’ll go over it item by item. I’ll try and keep the document explanation system free. Obviously you should insert your system as required. Remember the fact of the reality or non-reality of gods does not affect the existence of religion. Incidentally this is one of my tools for not using alignment, defining religion The method below assumes that gods are real, but so does any religion. A number of my religions can be seen here if you want to see the method in use.

God(s) worshiped: Direct enough, who is being worshiped and by what name? Religions do not have to be to a single god. Even polythesitc religions can have sects that worship more than one diety. I have gods with more than one religion. Be creative.

Sphere of Influence: What does the religion cover? As specific as a single trade or broad as everything. The fewer gods your cosmology has the more they will deal with. One thing to consider with sphere of influence is how political is the religion? Are they a minor sect without clout, do they have the entire country by the short hairs? Again, the more exclusive the religion, the more likely there is political clout.

The following two entries are optional. The beauty of this format is you can remove or add categories as required. Nothing is engraved in stone.

Sacred Colors: Holy colors. If you have holy colors, are there sumptuary laws restricting who can wear these colors? The more politically powerful the religion, the more likely this is.

Sacred Animal: As with color; You can have plants, planets, minerals anything you want.

Place of Worship: Where do the worshipers meet? Mystery religions or forbidden religions might meet in caves, small religions might meet in the homes of worshipers. Of course the ones with money and clout have the big temples.

Worship Days: When is regular worship? Weekly, monthly, and what time of day, or however often. You might describe the worship service as well. “Three hours of chanting praise”, “a drunken party that lasts until the brawl starts”, “lectures on the glory of the god(s)”.

Holy Days: Festivals and holidays. The special occasions. God’s birthday, accession, the days sacred to “saints” or demigods, harvest feasts, and so forth. I generally look for at least one feast a season. I give the day or days of the holy event and what is usually done there.

Propitiation/Sacrifices: What do you bring to the god? Propitiation would be the daily sort of thing, onions and beer for the Egyptians for example (very important onions and beer), a tenth of your income, flowers and honey, it should reflect the nature of the god.

Sacrifices are what you bring for the big feast or special favor. It doesn’t have to be red haired virgins. (Keep them small please, my wife does not allow pets that eat more than she does.) A sacrifice again needs to fit the nature of the religion. A god of healing is not going to be big on baby killing, or anyone killing. Gods of war on the other hand…

Holy Writings: Obviously you do not want to write the whole book. Name, author, age if you want and the basic outline are enough. “Contains the life story and teachings of the god” or “parables illustrating moral principles”, for example. You can have more than one book, a religion of oral tradition (The ancient druids for example) will have no books.

Favored Deities: If your god is the only, leave this one out. If not (usually the case) who do they like and are willing to work with? Explain why.

Disliked deities: Who do they dislike or are active enemies with? Explain why.

Favored Governments: Politics, what governments will the religion work with and why?

Disliked Governments: Likewise, who is on the bad people list?

Teachings and Other Information–

Worshiper Requirements: We have defined who and what to worship. Now we define who does the worshiping.

Typical Worshiper: Who worships this god and religion? Members of a given trade? Women? Everyone like it or not? Tell us.

Sex of worshiper: Is the religion restricted by gender?

Minimum Age: Is it restricted by age?

Race: By race?

Worship of Other Gods?: This is important for polytheistic cults. One did not worship only Apollo and shun all others. You went ot Delphi for knowledge of the future, or gave to Poseidon for safety at sea, Aphrodite for luck in love, Hymen for fortune in marriage. You took your worship to the temple that met your need. This aspect of polytheistic religion is often lost on those raised in a monotheistic tradition were it is one god and all others are opposed.

If Yes, Any restrictions?: The god of healing might not like you paling with the god of war. Does the religion have those religions that are opposed? The gods of another land for example.

The place were we define what is and is not right to do. Something beyond those two pesky alignment words. One commandment per category is not the rule. Use as many as you need, or as few. This is not just the flavor text and list of rules of your religion, it sets the tone: Authoritarian, relaxed, prosaic, lyrical. Here is where you put in that extra touch. I have done everything from old Testament style “Thou Shalt Nots” to a question and response style.

Like the other categories if you think one was left out or there is one too many, change it.

War & Fighting: The rules of war or fighting, for dealing with violence period, allowed or not everyone has something to say about it.

Love and Marriage: Love, sex, marriage, and child-rearing all fall under this category.

Duty to Liege Lord: How you should deal with the temporal political powers.

Self Interests: How you should treat yourself. From live large to mortification of the flesh. It takes all kinds.

Others’ Needs: How you should deal with other people. Be that give them everything to give them the back of your hand.

Duty to Religion: How you should deal with the religion itself. I have had everything from “no other anything before me” to a Laissez-faire take or or leave it attitude. There is not just one answer.

Other: Was anything missed? Is there a single thing you don’t think is worthy of a category?

Afterlife Expectations: OK, I’ve been a good worshiper, what is my reward? Again there is no cut and dried answer.

Clerical Requirements– Religions have priests. What does it take to be a priest?

Name of Order: Obvious. Some religions might have multiple orders of priests or brothers/sisters that fulfill different roles.

Statement of Mission: What is the stated goal of the priesthood?

Sex of Cleric: Gender restrictions if any.

Minimum age: Age restrictions.

Race: The same for race.

Sexual Practices Allowed or Required: Important, don’t overlook it. The sphere of the religion will say a lot toward this one. Celibacy is not the only choice here. Priests might be required to marry, may marry, but only within the Clergy, they might have to shag everyone in sight.

Wealth and Magic Allowed: With some religions wealth is a sign of sin, with others a sign of success. Again look to the sphere of the religion.

Oaths of Ordination: I don’t usually write them out but state what they do, poverty, obedience, service to the poor, etc…

Special Attributes Needed: This travels into game information. Minimum wisdom, intelligence and the like.

Special Abilities Given by Level: This is again game information. What does the cleric get game-wise for being a cleric and when do they get it? Your system might not have levels, adjust the wording.

Weapons Allowed: Weapon restrictions if any

Armor Allowed: Likewise for armor.

Special Commandments: Clerics are often held to a standard greater than the lay people. Detail those rules here.

Clerical Ranks– Most religions have a hierarchy. Give a break down of the hierarchy here,

name – level What is the rank called, when do you get it? “Level” may not be literal, it could well be time served when god says so, etc.

Duties: What is required of this rank?

Privileges: What are they allowed?

Vestments: What do they wear?

Who’s Who – My final section is usually pure flavor text. Legends about the god or gods, important persons in the church or church history and that sort of thing. This is a second chance to add some depth and flavor to you world.

This concludes my breakdown of how I create a religion. I hope the guide helps you in injecting more life and belief into your clerics and world.

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