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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Default Ecclesiarchy in Games

    How do you guys run church hierarchies in your games? I've noticed that most of my games and the games that I've played in have some kind of implied hierarchy in their religions but nothing really substantial in terms of game impact. That seems like a missed opportunity for story-lines and character interactions. I was wondering if anyone else has noticed this tendency towards a vaguely defined "church" with no real structure to explore in their games. If you do have a well defined ecclesiastical structure in your games how did that work out and how do you play it? Does anyone have advice for church building (not just the theology but the actual organization) in their game world?

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by SandyAndy View Post
    How do you guys run church hierarchies in your games? I've noticed that most of my games and the games that I've played in have some kind of implied hierarchy in their religions but nothing really substantial in terms of game impact. That seems like a missed opportunity for story-lines and character interactions. I was wondering if anyone else has noticed this tendency towards a vaguely defined "church" with no real structure to explore in their games. If you do have a well defined ecclesiastical structure in your games how did that work out and how do you play it? Does anyone have advice for church building (not just the theology but the actual organization) in their game world?
    I run a 2E AD&D Al-Qadim campaign off and on. Because religious believe and piety are baked into the campaign setting, I decided to lean into it as a feature. I think, and my players seem to agree (since they keep coming back), it's worked out very well.

    Session 0 started with the PCs being orphaned and seized by slavers. Technically, as part of the civilization, they were off-limits, but when did that ever stop slavers? Their plight caught the ear of a local priest. That night, he went to free them at the same time a group of holy slayers serving another god decided to "chastise" the slavers to death. When the dust settled, our five PCs became wards of the priest's mosque. They grew up there.

    One PC is basically a travelling priest kit, while 2 other PCs are holy warriors of the same god. They are very definitely tied into their hierarchy, answering to their original savior. A fourth PC is soothsayer/diviner priestess of an allied god, with no real affiliated hierarchy. The fifth PC is a godless genie summoner, and they all ignore him. (They don't, but he gets some in-character guff about poor life choices.)

    The PCs count the old priest as a patron, a mentor, and an honored honorary uncle. For me, he serves as a quest-giver, a plot complication, and other endless source of driving the campaign. They're all invested heavily in the NPCs from their upbringing, going so far as to buy gifts for the gardener and for the cook, whom they are still in mortal terror of.

    The three aligned PCs maverick operations don't sit well with the more orthodox members of their faith. But they are popular with the more populist members of the faith. Church politics are an ongoing concern but also give an in for interaction with other cities, courts, mosques, or tribes. The priest has started evangelizing to dao and been successful. That's got EVERYBODY nervous.

    The seeress isn't really tied into her god's church. But she has been useful interacting with her coreligionists.

    Honestly, I'd recommend starting simple. Stat some of the NPCs as religious figures. Make the interactions positive and negative, just like any PC. Design the church just as you would any other organization. Bait your hooks, and see what the players bite.
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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    I have defined a few heirarchies beyond the need-to-know level of detail. My two driving philosophies are, what would the deity want and what would the society tolerate.

    Dezarra, mistress of feuds and murder, has a LE clergy isolated into cells of 3 where each cleric is responsible for training 3 subordinates and each cell member knows only the cleric that trained him and the two other members of his cell.

    Polla, the god of the sun and farming, has a NG clergy organized into 12 Rays lead by a Radience who resides in the Golden Dome of Tischen.

    Each Ray leads a heirchy in a designated region except for the militant Ray of the Defenders which trains and organizes the temple guards.

    So my experience is, if you need a heirarchy, describe it in general terms and only generate the part you need because the minutae of church building can be as time consuming as worldbuilding.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    DwarfBarbarianGuy

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    This is just another thing to add to the list of why religions aren't handled well in RPGs.

    AD&D actually had the feature that druids could not progress beyond a certain level if they didn't defeat a druid of that level, because there could be only X druids of level Y.
    This would mean that your level equals your rank, which is kinda problematic.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    ClericGuy

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Good points from everyone. I get why you could fall down a well trying to build everything out. It just seems like a really good RP situation. It would all be dependent on the players, obviously.

    And I can see how tying a mechanic to the religious structure of the game would make things really difficult. I don't think anyone wants to go battle a Fantasy Preacher just to level up. It just feels like a missed opportunity in a lot of games.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Agreed. Which is why I have built churches in my campaign. Only I've learned that knowing the Grand Poobah exists is enough. He doesn't need a character sheet until the characters go to meet him. Only create as much as you need and let the players guide you with their questions. If no one ever asks about the keeper of the prescient pig, he doesn't need a charater sheet.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    it very much depends on the religion (even within a given setting), the level of communion the deity has with their priests, the level of development of the society it exists in, the type of government that exists in the region.

    I may treat them as multinational cartel with the locals high priest having quite a bit of local say in operations but regularly in communication with other high priests or divine agents so that major doctrine usually stays somewhat similar...This is probably my most common.

    It is a tool. a highly variable one. Thus it is like "How do you deal with traders" or "how do you deal with mages". Try lots of things in different places as storytelling tools.
    Last edited by sktarq; 2021-03-19 at 04:21 PM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Laserlight's Avatar

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Usually my PCs are on the fringes of civilization, so they might interact with the equivalent of the parish priest but not with a bishop or archbishop--just as they might meet a knight or journeyman merchant guildsman but are probably not going to get in to see a count or banking magnate or someone of similar rank.
    For the game set in Paris, they had a father-confessor ("no, you do NOT get a bulk discount") and they eventually were summoned to meet Cardinal-Duc Richelieu. Those were in fact the only two NPCs they were sure weren't trying to kill them.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Beholder

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    I've been doing some reading over on this blog (kudos to whichever fellow Playgrounder it was that suggested the Sparta articles in one thread; sorry I can't remember your username!)

    That post is an explanation of how the Medieval church functioned as both a religious and social structure, using Game of Thrones as a counterpoint; he doesn't necessarily get into the hierarchy, but he gets into the purpose it tends to serve, and he does discuss a couple of conflicts that the church had with secular rulers. Could give you some ideas.

    There's also a series he did (which I'm currently in the process of reading) about the societal and religious functions of ancient (especially Roman) polytheism. In that he talks more about the specific roles that clergy took in religious rites and practices, and I think you'll probably get something useful out of that.

    I'll probably be checking in on this thread frequently - I'm currently building a world with the goal of religion and ecclesiarchy having a major role. Thanks for starting the topic!
    Last edited by jinjitsu; 2021-03-19 at 08:49 PM.

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    Colossus in the Playground
     
    Eldan's Avatar

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Setting dependent. For example, I ran a game based on vaguely the Ancient Mediterranean, in which priesthoods were explicitely political offices. You could become a priest by financing a temple with your own money, and many politicians did. On the other hand, some priesthoods came with social taboos and restrictions, and were sometimes given to people as a political maneuver. (Famously, Julius Caesar was given a priesthood as a young man that prohibited him from riding and, I think, leaving the city, so he couldn't have a normal military career.) Other priesthoods were automatically given to the leader of a city state. Many of these came with clerical spellcasting, so that upon being elected tyrant, or being made king, you might gain clerical levels and weird responsibilities.

    In other games, I've had organized temples, where I mainly used them to tie cleric characters into political intrigue. In a court intrigue game, it can be very useful if your party cleric has a superior who tells them that yes, they have to get involved in the plot, because they need the king to marry the right woman, because she has promised to promote their god over a rival god. Makes good plot hooks, basically.

    In other games, priesthoods were very loose. In a classical travelling adventurers game, it might not matter much. Occasionally, for flavour, a cleric might be called upon to officiate a wedding or funeral, or might be given free lodgings at the temple. But otherwise, I keep it vague.
    Last edited by Eldan; 2021-03-20 at 06:48 AM.
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    Halfling in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by brian 333 View Post
    Dezarra, mistress of feuds and murder, has a LE clergy isolated into cells of 3 where each cleric is responsible for training 3 subordinates and each cell member knows only the cleric that trained him and the two other members of his cell.
    Ok I love this. Got that pyramid scheme feel to it as well. Suitable structure for an illegal problem group.

    I read a webnovel that had a MLM based system of warlocks who sells access to their patron’s spells and invocations. Structure there was:

    patron>5”hands”>their direct recruits>next gen recruited>etc...

    Aligning the structure of a religious group with the needs/domains of its deity is definitely the way to go in my opinion.

    Other important question to ask is how accessible/involves is the deity? Basically how flat vs pyramid is the power structure.

    Is power centralized with a holy city/prophet/pope/saint? Or does each cell function independently?

    I’d expect lawful religious groups to have more structure and a stricter hierarchy while the more chaotic ones propagate uncontrolled like mushrooms in your back yard.

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Beholder

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by KragBrightscale View Post
    Ok I love this. Got that pyramid scheme feel to it as well. Suitable structure for an illegal problem group.

    I read a webnovel that had a MLM based system of warlocks who sells access to their patron’s spells and invocations. Structure there was:

    patron>5”hands”>their direct recruits>next gen recruited>etc...
    Sounds a lot like the Dark Brotherhood's structure in Oblivion.

    I think that's a pretty reliable structure to follow for tricky or secretive religions (e.g., cults to Norgorber or an archfiend), as well as for groups with a "might makes right" ethos (e.g., churches of Hextor or Bane) - the latter group doesn't keep the second layer up secret from you, you just aren't allowed to talk to them because you're not important enough. Which is actually a bit more like the Dark Brotherhood - you don't see Lucien Lachance often, but when you do, it's because he has an important job for you.
    Last edited by jinjitsu; 2021-03-21 at 02:24 PM.

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    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    To me, the big question is, what does the church do?

    Ceremonies (birth, death, marriage, coming of age, festivals)?
    Healing (magical and/or mundane?)
    Education (theological, ethical, academic, magical, practical)?
    Mediate (between peasants or between kings? informally or run courts)?
    Prevent disasters?
    Fight evil (within people, evil people, evil dead)?
    Charity?

    Once we've decided what they do, it become possible to see what king of organization would fit.
    Last edited by Quizatzhaderac; 2021-03-25 at 05:25 PM.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Devil

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Some related general worldbuilding principles: (1) Try to explore the things that make your setting different from the familiar. Standard elements meant to be already familiar to the reader can be briefly described by reference to other sources, as in "The elves in this setting are as elves are presented in the Player's Handbook". (2) Try to think through the implications of things and make your setting internally consistent so that its various elements don't conflict with each other but instead support each other.

    For instance: In a world where clergies receive religious teachings more or less directly from their respective deities, there's not a whole lot of room for internal religious disputes. If your god officially endorses or opposes some course of action or statement of fact, then that's part of your religion; and if he doesn't, then that issue is outside of your religion.

    But there's huge potential for conflict between religions, because if two gods openly disagree about something, their clerics know that, and if two gods are enemies, their followers are probably enemies too. D&D's alignment system obviously lends itself to diametrically opposed values, but different deities can make competing factual claims as well. And not just because they have different beliefs! Especially in a setting where gods are shaped by mortal belief, deities may issue unqualified proclamations that they have no particular confidence in (or even believe to be false). Mortal leaders of competing factions generally each try to sell their faction as likely to succeed, and gods may have even more reason to instill evidentially unsupported faith regarding which side will so definitely and unquestionably triumph in some forthcoming Final Battle.

    Of course, as alluded to above, a deity doesn't have to take a position on every issue. They don't even have to be internally consistent, honestly, in which case maybe there are some internal religious disputes. And this seems like an area where alignment can be used to create something weird and interesting. Religion is non-Chaotic in general, so a Chaotic Neutral goddess who promotes Chaotic Neutral values is gonna be way different from the norm. Why would she have a "church" with anyone in charge, rather than proclaiming that everyone in the world is a fully qualified pope? So one way to implement church hierarchies in general is to not give one to every deity. Not every religion is an organized religion.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by Devils_Advocate View Post
    Not every religion is an organized religion.
    If a religion involves a community, there will be some kind of organization, even if it's not a formal hierarchy. Annual festivals and ceremonies don't happen spontaneously. When it's time to decapitate a buffalo in the spring to ensure the village has a good year with an abundant harvest, somebody has to say the right magic words and do the chopping. If there are no priests, it's unlikely to be a free-for-all: the villagers probably all know whose job it is.

    When it's Hearth Lighting Day, for example, and everybody is praying to the Fire Goddess for a safe and comfortable winter, they probably turn to the village blacksmith to lead the ceremony as the local fire guy.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by Xuc Xac View Post
    If a religion involves a community, there will be some kind of organization, even if it's not a formal hierarchy. Annual festivals and ceremonies don't happen spontaneously. When it's time to decapitate a buffalo in the spring to ensure the village has a good year with an abundant harvest, somebody has to say the right magic words and do the chopping. If there are no priests, it's unlikely to be a free-for-all: the villagers probably all know whose job it is.

    When it's Hearth Lighting Day, for example, and everybody is praying to the Fire Goddess for a safe and comfortable winter, they probably turn to the village blacksmith to lead the ceremony as the local fire guy.
    While what you said is generally true, "organized religion" has a specific meaning setting it aside from other types or religion: a belief system that has large numbers of followers and a set of rules that must be followed is the Merriam-Webster definition, and you can find a more in-depth analysis with some googling.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    HalflingPirate

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    And of course there are varying degrees of organization, even within a single deity's religion.

    Example:
    Oleanah, the god of knowledge, is well known for the temples in which vast numbers of donated scrolls are stored and organized by a monastic order of women who never speak above a whisper and who shush anyone else who does.

    She also sponsors smaller temples in towns and villages where the local children are introduced to the concepts central to her faith, such as reading, writing, and arithmatic.

    She also supports traveling clergy who bring news and new ideas to the outskirts of civilization.

    Among her clergy are those who delve into the ruins of past civilizations and those who conduct research into the unknown.

    And of course, every mother who recites nursery rhymes to her children are acting as lay-priests of her faith.

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    Devil

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    Default Re: Ecclesiarchy in Games

    Quote Originally Posted by Xuc Xac View Post
    If a religion involves a community, there will be some kind of organization, even if it's not a formal hierarchy. Annual festivals and ceremonies don't happen spontaneously. When it's time to decapitate a buffalo in the spring to ensure the village has a good year with an abundant harvest, somebody has to say the right magic words and do the chopping. If there are no priests, it's unlikely to be a free-for-all: the villagers probably all know whose job it is.

    When it's Hearth Lighting Day, for example, and everybody is praying to the Fire Goddess for a safe and comfortable winter, they probably turn to the village blacksmith to lead the ceremony as the local fire guy.
    A religion doesn't have to have annual festivals nor ceremonies. Like, for example, here is something I came up with just now to illustrate. Ahem!

    The deity of individualism disdains standardized formalities, and encourages each follower to independently decide how best to worship. "Think for yourself, for you shouldn't rely on anyone else to do your thinking for you. Don't uncritically accept what you're told nor blindly imitate common behavior; seek to understand why others say what they say and act how they act. When confronted with unfamiliar ideas, listen with an open mind and then carefully steal only the good parts."

    There could be a society where someone like that is a popular figure with lots of followers who like to discuss their various different approaches to those teachings with each other. The religion wouldn't "involve a community" in the sense of getting a community to do any specific thing, but that's rather the point. It's not a conventional religion, but that's my point. Exploring the strange, unconventional aspects of a setting helps to create something original and interesting.

    And what I've observed in D&D is that the religions of Chaotic deities tend to seem structurally similar to the religions of Lawful deities, and Chaotic characters seem less likely to be religious. And the latter certainly makes sense given the former. But if the clerics of Chaotic deities are supposed to generally be Chaotic, that implies that those deities are supposed to be pro-Chaos with Chaotic religions. And while that may not make any particular sense as a general rule, "pro-Chaos figure actually popular with Chaotic peeps" seems like a niche just begging to be filled.

    And to state the obvious, if you want your setting's gods and religions to be significantly different from each other, don't make them all the same! There are loads of possible differences that they can have. For example, you mentioned a couple of instances of deities of natural forces. But there can also be gods of mortal activities like deception and warfare and crafting and so on. As Quizatzhaderac noted, there are lots of functions that a clergy can perform, and there's no reason to assume that every clergy in a setting performs all of the same functions; if they're meant to be different in character, that shouldn't be the case!

    brian 333 gives a good example. Religious institutions are often centers of learning and education. In a pantheon of specialized deities, general studies can be covered by a goddess of learning and education, while other gods promote other things. And the goddess of learning and education can have an order of librarian nuns who probably favor the Wizard class rather than Monk, because they're big into book-learning but probably not so much martial arts. Now if the librarian nuns fight the PCs because they kept making noise after repeated warnings, they'll have thematically appropriate abilities (probably focused around subduing and banishing, if only because they don't want to knock over any shelves or anything). Neat!
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