01 March 2012

Unfocused Thoughts on Religion

While I like to present organised and cogent statements, I find them time-consuming and difficult. Consequently, I save that kind of energy for my day job, and anyway figure they're less important to gamers, who largely decide to go where their imaginations lead them.

In planning out The Bastard's Blade, It seems to me that the fundamental aspect of the campaign is religion. Or rather, the influence religious belief has on the setting's peoples and how it motivates their behaviour. With that starting point, here are some unfocused thoughts on religion in Barael's Europe: [1]
  • Christianity represents Law, civilisation, and order. 
  • Though historically significant, the specific differences between Arian and Trinitarian Christianity are likely to be glossed over in the campaign. I anticipate that efforts to distinguish the two as separate flavours of Law will be confusing (or, more accurately, that I won't do a good job of explaining the difference).
  • That said, I can still represent the conflict between East and West: As the last man standing, the East Roman Empire sees itself as the "true" Christian authority, unspoilt (as it is) by the barbarian influence that toppled the West. Meanwhile, the Christian states in the West struggle to recover from Rome's fall, and some doctrinal details are bound to suffer for the greater good: You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
  • Paganism represents Neutrality and teaches self-reliance for the benefit of the community.
  • I'm thinking specifically of Germanic Paganism, and I'm applying a broad brush to include any non-Christian state. [2] In the interest of simplicity, I'll probably include about 6-10 deities, but without distinguishing between the Germanic, Norse, or Anglo-Saxon aspects of each.
  • For now, I'm not touching Celtic Paganism. As the Celts begin converting to Christianity in the 5th century, I think it makes sense to depict Celtic culture as a mix of western Christians and Germanic pagans (via the Anglo-Saxons). I'm picking nits, but I think it's good enough for government work. If I want druids, I'll flaunt historical accuracy and make them cultists who worship demon lords.
  • Who, by the way, represents Chaos and the rise of the individual to attain power over others. The roster includes Baal, Pazuzu, Dagon, Demogorgon, and perhaps a few others drawn from Babylonian, Mesopotamian, or Phoenician myth.
  • Numerous cults venerate the demon lords (or aspects thereof); each focuses on different aspects—destruction, sadism, power, spider-worship, father-raping, essentially any value that promotes self at the expense of others. Or, perhaps more accurately, cultists are evil folks who worship demons to rationalise their depravity by associating it with a higher power.
  • The demon lords are responsible for The Darkness, a pervasive evil force that covers all the white areas of the Shepherd Map. The Darkness spreads slowly west, subverting nature along the way. This is my rationale for monsters and arcane magic (and, by extension, non-clerical magic items).
  • While all demon lords believe in spreading evil, they don't always agree on how to go about it. Thus, there are shifting demon alliances as they play politics and curry favour. Like, I'm sure Pazuzu would love to sink his talons into the Eastern Pope, but the other demon lords might have different mischief on their to-do lists, and struggles for priority amongst the demons occur as a result.
  • All this brings up some spell-caster stuff: Christian clerics are Lawful, Pagan clerics are Neutral (and have access to reversible cleric spells). Demon lords have no clerics, but they are the source of arcane power, so all magic-users are Chaotic demon worshipers who pay for spells with their souls.
  • In this light, I see Christian clerics from the west getting along with Germanic pagan clerics (after all, the pagan isn't a demon worshiper, and who knows—he might stand conversion?). At least they can probably work together in the same party. The same can't be said for clerics and magic-users—no cleric will be happy about hanging with a demon supplicant.
Next Up, Character class overview
Listening To: The Police, Synchronicity
  1. Thanks to Evan for endorsing this format—turns out that it's pretty useful. Credit where credit is due.
  2. Emphasis on "state;" this excludes barbarian territories.


  1. Some random replies on religion:

    Although Arianism is Trinitarian, they saw both the Son and the Spirit as created beings. Thus, the ultimate goal is not an ontological union with God, but rather a union with His will and the purpose of the Arian Church is the defender of the morals and ethics that represent that will. From a practical POV, Arians are more likely to support a despotic social structure. Orthodox Christianity (which includes, for the purposes of this reply, Western Christianity) is interested in ontological union and therefore places far more emphasis on individuals. From a practical POV, this results in more of a conciliar social structure.

    Another ironic possibility might be that Arian clergy cannot cast spells (having denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit), but neutral pagan clerics can. Assuming that they understand that there is a life-creating divine being, the Holy Spirit works with them to reveal the Truth about the Creator. It might be interesting to fiddle with neutral clerics who deny such a reality.

    Technically, the Celts began conversion as early as A.D. 41. Aristobulus (mentioned in Romans 16:10) is the Apostle to the Britains. This mission saw quite some success, because there were three bishops from Britain numbered among those that attended the First Ecumenical Council in the fourth century. Thus, you are completely justified in your choice to limit paganism to a Germanic flavor.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, though I do have questions (my knowledge is scant - this is part of why I feel 'safer' not focusing on the Arian split). Can you provide an example of how the Arian Church, upholding the morals of union with God's will, would support despotism? Or (seemingly) conversely, why a question of ontological union necessarily places emphasis on the individual?

      I do like the possibility that Arian clergy is denied spell use. I want to play with that a bit - it'd certainly have an impact on the cleric class and that sounds like fun to explore. For example, would the inability to provide divine healing promote medical knowledge?

      Thanks again for your patient course-correction. I'm learning a lot about the Christian history of this period as I go, and I appreciate your deep knowledge on the subject.

    2. The primary supporters of Arianism were the Emperors — it helped justify their centralization and use of power. Some time compare Eusebius of Caesaria's In Praise of Constantine with St. Athanasius' On the Incarnation. The former is in essence a propaganda piece arguing for the necessity of an emperor and the latter demonstrates the ontological necessity of Christ's incarnation. If Christ's salvation is ontological and humanity has free will (which it does, being made in the image and likeness), then it is up to each individual to make the choice to participate in Christ's salvation — each individual has value and their choice matters.

      I was thinking about other alternatives for the Arian cleric class. What if their class powers derived from feats of will/willpower? I seem to remember in the Psionics Handbook from 2e that there was a class of body-based psionic powers. Would an Arian cleric look something like that kind of psionicist?

    3. That helps clarify the difference and also to cast some light on how I might portray Arian states in the campaign. And I appreciate any additional resources you can recommend - certainly the Wikipedia entry on the subject is not clear to me.

      Psionics is an interesting proposal. I think the basic question is whether Arian clerics have any "powers" at all? If they do, what's their origin, and (more importantly) how do they portray them in the setting? IOW, would an Arian cleric with ~psionic~ healing explain this ability as divine or the result of piety? Would he believe it, or would he know the difference between divine and will-based powers? These would seem to influence how the player runs the character.

      I think I need a primer on Arian Christianity that assumes novice understanding on my part. That said, I will check the titles you recommend above.

  2. I guess the expectation is that there will be no magic-user PCs?

    1. No - they'll be available. Didn't mean to sound so proscriptive.

      Arcane magic is the stuff of Chaos, the secrets of which ultimate originating from demon lords. The spell-casting rules will reflect its corrupting influence, so you might start out with a Lawful MU, but continued use of arcane spells could cause alignment shift (or worse).

      Details to come...