Have Faith, My Friend (Part A)
As I continue to fill out the knowledge details for a future blog entry, I discover I still have too many gaps to complete it to my own satisfaction.
In Blog #10, some basic principles were outlined allowing me to continue progress. In it I briefly reference that some casters’ knowledge needs to be subdivided further than the initial 6 categories I outlined. I cited faith-based casters specifically. This is important: just because you’re a faith-based caster doesn’t mean you and the next one down the way have the same selection of spells and powers. Why? No two faiths are alike.
On Earth, there are hundreds of religions and even more variants within those religions. Should Neuith be any different?
A Little Prudence, Please
Neuith is not Earth. It’s a fantasy world built for gaming (first) and fiction (second.) For that reason, hundreds of unique religions, and hundreds more cults and variants within them, are impractical. Go to your local library or bookstore and look at all the books written about religions. For that matter, go to a Christian book store and look at all the books about Christianity! I’m trying to write a game manual that is capped at two-hundred pages. There’s no way I can devote more than ten to twenty pages to religion and make it useful for players and Conductors.
A Little Tolerance, Too
I spoke to one of my friends about creating religions for SligoRPG, and he doesn’t want any part of it. I can’t say I blame him. This is something that touches sensitive nerves for a lot of people. The granddaddy game, D&D, has undergone quite a challenge. I encourage you to read this article by Mike Stackpole, http://www.rpgstudies.net/stackpole/pulling_report.html. I’ve met Mike on several occasions, and am familiar with his work, especially pertaining to Tunnels & Trolls and his own variant game, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes. While I cannot speak for “other people” and their motivations, I have personally seen no evidence that gaming, specifically RPG gaming, encourages Satanism, devil worship, or suicidal behavior. If such a game exists, I will not play it.
The point I’m making is that Neuith is a fictional world. Nothing more. Nothing less. My intention is to create a simplified religious system, based on the fictional historical events that supports the game mechanics and offers players a reasonable variety of options when building and running their characters. This is not intended to be anti-Christian or pro-anything. I maintain that someone who is devout in their real-world beliefs, whatever they may be, can enjoy playing this game without feeling like their own, personal beliefs are being challenged.
I cannot help but to inject my own thoughts and ideas into this game, however. It’s human nature. I’ll state right now that I am Christian, and I place my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. If you’ve read any of my poetry elsewhere on this blog, you might have figured that out. I write this blog and design my game in complete confidence that my own faith is neither challenged nor diminished. Understand that I am creating a fictional pantheon of deities, and am no way advocating, suggesting, recommending, or soliciting any form of real-world belief in them.
A Little Guidance, While We’re at It
I typed “Creating RPG Religions” in Google’s search. The first page lists a half dozen articles and blogs that are very helpful in what I need to do to create fictional religions. There are similarities, of course, but the main thing is there is no shortage of advice. Glancing through these articles, I see nothing that suggests anything other than fictional world-building advice. Over the next few thousand words, i.e. the rest of this blog, I will step through the process and create the religions of Neuith. I know in my head the general history of my setting and how the “gods” play a role in the current era.
What I’m clearly not going to do is copy pantheons from existing RPG games, like D&D. I need my world to be independent from established canon.
A Brief History
We’re not going to retype the entire history of Neuith. However, for this discussion, I do need to review the highlights. (Unfortunately, it still takes almost a thousand words!)
Recorded history starts roughly ten thousand years prior to the current era. The first era spans over six thousand years where the gods ruled the world. The gods were, for the most part, benefactors and peaceful. There was plenty of good land, resources were plentiful, and each community lived and grew without too much interference. Like shepherds, the gods tended their flocks. This is seen as both good and bad. The gods maintained tight control over their populations, preventing them from growing too fast and learning too much. There was no incentive for people to expand their knowledge because the gods provided everything they needed.
The power of the gods was enough that physical aspects were modified. For example, the calendar year is exactly three hundred sixty days. The lunar cycle is exactly thirty days; the new moon is always the 1st day of each month, and the full moon is always the 15th day. Solar eclipses also fall on a regular, predictable cycle of 27 years over a given region.
The gods were directly involved in the day-to-day lives of their people. They were visible, and they had no scruples about demonstrating their powers when needed. When the gods couldn’t be there, they trained and appointed individuals, known as Judges, who acted as their representatives.
At some point, however, people began to question their gods. Dissension developed into cults that tried to remain hidden. Merchants traveled from one community to another traded not just goods and services, but information. Sure, when these atheistic cults were discovered, the gods were quick to destroy them. They knew what development of knowledge and technology meant for them.
Human nature, however, cannot be stopped. I use the term “human” collectively, because Neuith is populated with many humanoid (and non-humanoid) sentient races. People learned how the gods gained their power. As described in the blog #10, the primary source of magical power comes from the innate radioactivity in this world. But this only goes so far. Yes, skilled practitioners can seem god-like, but they still aren’t gods; they are still mortal. The other component of a god’s power is drawn from the collective faith of their believers.
Every being in Neuith can access magic. What the gods learned was that by teaching certain rituals, people would channel their untamed and untapped power to someone else – namely, their god. Worship, on Neuith, was the pipeline through which the gods became and remained gods.
When people figured this out, not only could they diminish the power of the gods by stopping their worship rituals, but through redirection, they could access this energy as well. This is what the existing gods feared more than anything. Losing their god powers meant becoming mortal.
Six thousand years of “paradise” unraveled. Men and women of all races spread the word that the gods were anything but. Becoming a god was possible for those willing to follow the path and do the work. The gods resisted and were quick to denounce, decry, and destroy the rebels. But like weeds in a garden, they could not be stopped. As individuals gained followings of their own, their power grew. A war of words and ideas escalated into a war of weapons and death. It didn’t take long for the disparate communities to get swept into the maelstrom. Neuith was a world at war, known historically as the War of Apotheosis.
Suddenly it came to an end. Something happened that severed the link between worshipers and the worshipped. A great curse fell upon the world. The mechanics of the curse is unknown, though it was as if some higher power, an intelligence greater than the gods, ended it. Those who were gods lost their divine powers. Those who sought to be gods realized their goal was unattainable.
War continued for many years. The old feuds and rivalries remained as civilization fell into a dark age. As the last vestiges of the old ways diminished, people had to learn how to survive on their own. They learned that they had to compete with one-another for resources. Perfect weather during planting and harvest seasons was no longer guaranteed. The natural cycles of nature were no longer under direct control. For many, the pursuits of higher knowledge and ability to control magic were lost in favor of day-to-day survival. This era lasted around five hundred years.
Communities formed from family groups and tribes. Settlements grew into towns and cities. Civilization began to rebuild, though it took many generations. New religions and faiths began to develop as people still needed a moral code and a way to explain supernatural events. At some point, ruins were unearthed that uncovered the old monuments and texts. Some of the old religions and traditions were retained, though they underwent numerous variations.
Among the ruins was discovered the gateway to the plane of Hehl. Within this otherworldly realm resided the souls, or the life force, of all those that had died throughout the history of Neuith. At one time, it was ruled by a god who managed the plane in cooperation with the other gods. With no gods, this plane had devolved into total chaos. The mortal man who discovered the passage became the new ruler, though he never attained true immortality or possessed divine power.
The last of the old gods disappeared when the last two surviving dragon lords were trapped and banished at the end of the dragon wars in year A333 (G8563). After them, there is only one person who was alive at the end of the War of Apotheosis, and she was just a young child at the time.
Within the last few generations prior to the current time, when the game is played, and story events are told, a new, monotheistic religion has begun to develop and spread. The core question this faith focuses on is who was the intelligence that ended the Great War?
I scoured the helpful websites and extracted a list of the components I need to determine. I should point out that each religion is different, and therefore, I can’t necessarily follow a programmed checklist. Each religion must be organically built to understand how it is observed in the current era.
One major caution I picked up from several sites is that I only need to provide what is necessary to support the game. My enthusiasm and desire for thoroughness must be put aside in favor of practicality and expediency. On the other hand, I want to offer a level of depth and richness, because these religions will support mechanical aspects of SligoRPG. What I envision in the finalized rulebook is a section consisting around fifteen pages. The first two or three pages covers historical context. The remaining pages are each a one-page explanation into each religion. I want to provide more insight than D&D 5e’s Players Handbook, where gods are listed by name and domain. I don’t want players searching the internet for more information, or relying on their own, personal knowledge about historical mythologies.
All the Cultures
Before we can start discovering the religions, we first need to list the cultures of Neuith. Below is an overview based on region and race. This is not a complete and exhaustive list, nor does it mean I’ll write up religions on everything here.
- Elves of north Waralica: Wood/High/Drow
- Dragonborn: 4 countries, 10 “colors”
- Human and Halflings of north west: Guyaugh, Faywin, Ebatta, Blie
- Dwarves: Stocreleo, Canstead, Gathia, Gamiraland, Kneuerg, Tomaidia
- Giants of Vipersand Desert
- Orcs of Uleg
- Goblins of Gozau
- Humans of central west: Acheada, Niogland, Leafandria, Lewdrora, Palenna, Tharovia, Rodanche, Rodienn
- Humans and Tiefilings of Ydisfa
- Halfings of Wrige
- Humans of Hardunica, Gilthorn
- Gnomes of Pziakland
- Kenku of Robguard
- Humans (melting pots) of Mirascai, Aimach, Antarrow, Avensaria, Handocher
- Humans of Island of Scone
- Humans of Central East Lewdaria: Rausula, Juivestea, Bonianda
- Elves of east: Ceridwen
- Tabaxi of Czethai
- Humans of East: Kithorica, Swardia, Bolldictia
- Halflings of east: Mansilla
- Humans of North East: Grifflandia, Creoslia, Diricend
- Dwarves of Statow Island
- Merfolk of Raubian Sea
The listed races are based on D&D. Let’s revise them now:
Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Merfolk, and Giants are standard representations that don’t have copyright or trademark burdens.
Dragonborn shall be henceforth known as Drackhori. These are humanoids that bear a strong resemblance to their dragon ancestry. They are warm-blooded and bear children in the same manner as humans. Their ancestry derives from humans that mated with dragons in humanoid form.
Halflings are now referred to as Pucklins. They are the result of gnome and human parentage.
Kenku are now Raptiire. Like Felini, there are numerous sub-races resembling humanoid forms of a variety of other birds of prey and scavenger birds.
Tabaxi are now Felini. These are cat-like humanoids.
Orc isn’t a protected term, but it’s still associated heavily with published works. I’m going to use the spelling Oarkh for this race, which is a hybrid race of elves and goblins.
Tieflings are known as Spawn. Neuith’s interaction with other planes of existence is limited. The gateway to other dimensions is through the afterlife plane of Hehl. A limited number of “incursions” from the afterlife plane have occurred where demonic spirits were brought into the material plane. Spawn are the result of interbreeding between these spirits and the humanoid races. Visually, they exhibit some traits of their demonic parentage, but are basically human in all other ways.
I want to mention two other races that once existed on Neuith but are now extinct: Winged Folk and Dugreth. Winged Folk were human-sized fey that had feathery wings. Harpies are a sort of descendant of them, but do not bear all the same traits. Dugreth were dog-like humanoids. Both these races were unable to adapt to the higher levels of radioactivity present on Neuith.
The Old Gods
For the first six millennia of recorded history, there was just one pantheon of deities that ruled Neuith. Most of them were considered patrons of a relatively small community of people, many of which were isolated geographically.
What does this religion do?
- Why do things happen?
Most things happen as a direct result of either physics or direct intervention from the gods. The gods used their power to adjust certain natural processes to suit their needs. They aligned the calendar so that a year is exactly 360 days and the lunar cycle to exactly 30 days. The extreme power necessary to accomplish this required cooperation from the entire pantheon.
- What is the origin of the world?
The “official” belief is that the world was created by the pantheon. They were heroes who became gods on some other world elsewhere in the material plane. For reasons unknown, they decided to work together to create this world.
- Is the religion teach freewill or determinism?
While there’s an element of determinism in that the gods created a world where things would remain the same for eternity, individuals were free to follow their own destinies and make their own choices. The gods, while powerful, didn’t see fit to control the lives of every individual. They thought their benevolence would engender trust, which would lead to long-lasting peace and tranquility. People would never want to step outside their lives and become greater than they are.
- Will there be some sort of messiah?
- Is there an end-of-the-world prophecy?
There are no prophesies foretelling the end of the world or of any heroes, messiahs, or other holy leaders that would bring people out of submission. If there were, the gods were quick to suppress them.
- Does the religion provide a moral code, and does it define good and evil?
The moral code basically called for people to follow the instructions and live as their gods instructed. The gods were above reproach and seen as good. Their disagreements were kept hidden from the mortals. Each person, from the time they were born, were taught to obey and respect the gods. Specific rules for treating others within their daily conduct varied from community to community, the theme was largely the same.
- What happens when you die?
Upon death, the life force, or soul, travels to the dimension of death, known as Hehl. One of the gods was assigned to oversee this process. Faithful followers were sent to sub-regions within the plane where other gods maintained a private paradise. Those deemed unworthy were relegated to the pits where they were sentenced to toil for eternity.
- What should the followers do?
- How are non-believers to be treated?
At first, there weren’t any. When people began to doubt, they were treated as criminals and sentenced to die or forced into the wilderness.
- What are your roles and responsibilities of the followers? Are there differences based on race, gender, or station?
Not really. A few individuals are trained as Judges, who represent the gods among the people, but they can come from anywhere. I’d go so far to say that all people are of equal station, regardless of race and gender, except the Judges.
- What incentives are in place to keep its followers?
Benefits are favors from the gods, in whatever forms they deem fit. The primary incentive is fear of punishment for those that doubt.
- Is its canon written or verbal?
The gods discouraged literacy among the people. They had their own writings, which some believe came from the “time before.” Verbal traditions were reinforced by regular visitations by the gods.
- Is it dynamic and evolving, or static?
- How is it integrated into non-religious culture, like schools, government, guilds, etc.?
Faith and worship were integrated into every aspect of culture.
Who are the primary personalities?
For the old gods, I’m just going to list the personalities with a little information about each. I’m writing these blurbs in present tense even though they’ve mostly been gone for over three thousand years.
- Radanus Valadon
Radanus is often referred to as the Father. While considered the driving force behind the discovery and settling of Neuith, he is rarely seen by mortals.
- Urdame Valadon
Urdame is Radanus’ wife. Their goal was to establish a paradise in the mortal plane free from the war and tyranny they left behind. With the other gods, they brought refugees from multiple worlds to seed this new world.
- Riccitrus Valadon
Riccitrus, the younger brother of Radanus, is the patron god of humanity. Though he isn’t the only god who cares about humans, the others answer to him in the hierarchy. A consummate planner, he was responsible for arranging the alignment of the planet and the moon to regular schedules. He also ensures proper weather patterns and geological cycles.
- Zealdra Whisperthi
She is the ruler of Hehl. She rejected the “old ways” where the death planes and dimensions were ruled by evil beings. While she is known for her compassion, she is also the keeper of secrets.
- Varden Dundrus
Varden represents the stars, the moon, and the sun. It is said that it is his face that appears on the full moon. He is the steward of the gods, responsible for keeping track of the mortals on Neuith.
- Cymrillian Carcani
Cymrillian brought the first group of settlers to Neuith who were refugees from a terrible war on another planet. This first group consisted of a variety of races, including two that are extinct, the Winged Folk and the Dugreth. Cymrillian is the patron god of travelers and settlers.
- Amelot Blackroth
Amelot brought many of the monster races to Neuith. She believes that paradise requires balance, and that all creatures, large and small, deserve salvation. Great beasts, like dragons and dinosaurs, to small scavengers like troglodytes, kobolds, and ratkin, are under her purview. She is the patron god of balance and fairness.
- Storginhard Murnasath
Storginhard is the patron of the dwarves. After their arrival he taught them how to survive in this new world. He was the first to understand the strange sickness that pervaded Neuith and figured out how to resolve it, though he was too late for some races. He created the giant geode where Shrinehall, Gathia, was built. Of the patron gods, he is the most visible to the mortals and enjoys working alongside his people in the mines. He doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
- Medelas Francen
He brought most of the non-native crops to Neuith and is considered the patron god of farmers. He teaches the people how to plant, tend, and harvest crops, tend livestock, among other things. He also experiments with the natural flora and fauna to create hybrids.
- Nuiralia Francen
She, the wife of Medelas, populated the seas with fish, and is the patron god of sailors. Many believe she brought the great sea monsters to Neuith as well.
- Helike Adeney
Helike is the patron god of the fey. Helike taught the settlers of Neuith the basic rules of civilization and morality. He was the god who selected the best regions to settle and build for each of the races and cultures.
- Tave Anloro
Tave is the patron god of the oarkh and goblins. Considered an outcast by many, it was Amelot who ensured he had a place here. His followers see him as a great warrior who never backs down from a fight. Some think of him as the god of anger and foolishness.
- Iakkhosi Aresdren
Iakkhosi is the patron god of chromatic dragons and drackhori. She is a master of magic and was the first to manipulate the strange wild forces of Neuith. She believes her followers are greater than the other races.
- Vronrox Aresdren
Vronrox is the patron god of metallic dragons and drackhori. He is Iakkhosi’s brother and is the keeper of the old knowledges. Hidden in his domain in Hehl it is said that these old tomes are kept.
- Karet Ofronus
Karet is the patron god of hybrid races, including raptiire, felini, and pucklin. Karet is considered a trickster and experimenter. He believes that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
- Jacenelle Ofronus
Karet’s sister, Jacenelle is the overseer of all that is dark and evil. She is the patron god of night. Like Zealdra, she isn’t considered evil, but it’s her job to root out, expose, and punish those that are guilty.
- How is the religion organized? What is the hierarchy?
Throughout the six millennia the old gods were regular fixtures in the daily lives of their followers and believers. When not around, they maintained a strict hierarchy within each community that was based on an individual’s devotion, their influence, and their leadership. Rarely did the gods allow family lines to maintain hereditary control because they believed this would lead to their subjects believing they could be more than they were. Those that seemed to have natural talent for manipulating the energy known as magic were taken in at an early age and trained. They eventually became Judges who would dole out justice in the name of their patrons.
- Who are the movers and shakers? Where is the real power centered?
When the gods weren’t around, the Judges ruled. In some cases, the Judges were fair and honorable, but in others, they were harsh, unrelenting, and even cruel. They were above the law and believed themselves to be immune to punishment.
- What are the hidden agendas? What are the closely-held secrets?
The most closely guarded secret was the source of the godly powers: the worship of the believers and followers. The gods understood that when people stopped believing, their powers would diminish. Varden tracked the populations and maintained a census. When changes were noticed, the gods were quick to address the problem.
- Are there sacrifices? Hidden markings or specific dismemberments?
The Judges were rendered sterile, as were their top servants and assistants. It was believed that were they to have children, they would gain power and become rivals to the gods.
- Are there symbols and symbolism?
Each of the gods have a recognizable symbol.
- Are there representative weapons, fighting styles, magic usage?
Some of the patron gods brought from their origin world various traditions which were taught to their followers, though most were adapted to the new traditions established on Neuith. Some regional or cultural differences did survive, however.
- Are there rules covering money and trade?
The god, Helike, understood the value of currency and how it contributed to maintaining a civilization.
- Where and how do followers worship?
Each community, village, or settlement, had a central structure dedicated to worship. The Judges lives and worked in these buildings and imposed a mandatory tithe to cover various costs and expenses. Those that couldn’t pay the tithe were expected to contribute their time, often by performing menial tasks.
- What are the rituals, rites, and sacraments? (Birth, marriage (joining), death, others? (like baptism, confirmation, manhood, service, etc.))
- Birth: When a child is born, the current presiding Judge offers a blessing.
- Casting: At age 5 or 6, the child is tested to determine if they can be trained as a Judge.
- Accepting: For a child trained as a Judge, at age of 13-14, they are re-tested. If they pass the test, they are brought into the inner circle (or whatever it’s called) and they receive further training. These people will either become Judges or be their trusted assistants. Either way, they are sterilized. If the youth fails the testing, they are returned to their community.
- Marriage: Judges preside over marriages. These are usually arranged by the parents with the consent of the Judge.
- Elevation: Those who completed their training as Judges remain as servants and assistants to the current Judge. When that person passes away, the god chooses the next Judge from those eligible. If none are eligible, one can be brought in from another village.
- Death: The Judge offers a blessing for the survivors and prays to Zealdra for compassion.
- What should followers be doing when not at services?
Nearly every aspect of daily life was infused into culture. The people were reminded constantly of what the gods had done for them and they were taught to be thankful. When anything good or bad happened, regardless the source, it was ascribed to the gods. The gods were considered perfect in all ways and above reproach. Every meal required a prayer of thanks. Every activity had some sort of religious aspect or connotation. Services were held the day before the new moon and the day before the full moon every month (30th and 14th, specifically.) The Judge would tell a story about the greatness and the glory of the gods. The service included public confessions where every believer had to stand up and either profess their faith or profess their guilt. The judges used magic to ensure people were telling the truth, and when they weren’t it was known and dealt with quickly and decisively.
- What are the holy days, festivals, and feasts? In honor of, or in celebration of what?
At the peak of each season they held a festival celebrating their god given bounty. The gods would often attend these festivals:
- Founders: Celebrated the first day of the first moon, recognized the time when the gods brought the first people to Neuith.
- Planters: Celebrated the fifteenth day of the fourth moon, recognized the beginning of the planting season.
- Growers: Celebrated for three days starting the fifth day of the seventh moon, recognizes the growing crops and the hope that the gods bestow upon the people for a bountiful harvest. Growers days is when the gods identify potential candidates for future judges.
- Pickers: Celebrated on the first day of the tenth moon, honors the bountiful harvest with a three-day feast.
In addition to the four annual holidays, there were three other regular celebrations:
- The Darkening: Every year, the lunar cycle causes a solar eclipse. It is a regular cycle where every 27 years, the eclipse is visible over the same set of regions. Since the landmasses only covers about 25% of the planet, most of the eclipses are never visible to the population. The others appear in regular intervals. The Darkening is the recognition that the gods are more powerful than mortals, and, especially, Radanus and Urdame Valadon are the most powerful among them.
- The Unmasking: One month prior and one month following each solar eclipse are the lunar eclipses. Like the solar eclipses, most are not visible from the lands. For those that are visible, the people honor the dead and lost with this celebration. It is said that during The Unmasking, Zealdra opens a window to Hehl and allows people to speak with love ones that have died.
- The Brightness: Every forty years two stars in the night sky form a conjunction, which is visible in the night sky for five days. Technically, these are other planets in the solar system, which are both small gas giants that orbit just outside of the star’s garden zone. During the conjunction, the stars are almost as bright as the full moon. For most, The Brightness only happens once during their lifetime. It is a celebration of life and, during this time, normal morals of civilization are relaxed.
- Is there a dress code or clothing style?
Colorful clothing is always encouraged, though most cultures adopted their own unique fashions. Only Judges were permitted to wear god symbols.
- Are there forbidden or required foods or activities?
Reading and writing were only permitted by Judges, and even they were limited.
- Are there tithings and offerings?
Each community was required to take care of the needs of their Judges. Some Judges were humble and lived on the minimum necessary while others led extravagant, luxurious lifestyles on the backs of the faithful.
I’ve spent the allotment for this blog discussing the old religion, the history of Neuith, and covered some basic disclaimers regarding how religion works in a fantasy game. Unfortunately, I’m not even close to finishing this subject!
Since the fall of the old religion, roughly 3,500 years prior to the current era, many new religions have started. Some are based on the old ways while others are completely different. It is the nature of social evolution. It won’t be the next blog (because I already have it half-written on another topic), but in a future entry I’ll touch on the major religions of the current age.
To do this, I’ll need to fill in some historical gaps, including identifying those who were involved in ending the old ways, as their names will be remembered, revered, and sanctified over time. Stay tuned!
Edit: This article was recently published on Tribality, and pertains to this conversation: https://www.tribality.com/2018/10/01/roleplaying-religions-right/