Alignment and Religion in Telengard, take two

Having bounced the last post off my brother, and considering his critique (what exactly do Law and Chaos mean?), I’ve decided it would be a lot simpler to keep alignments as written in Basic D&D/Labyrinth Lord and just use the Norse pantheon.  I really like Rolang’s Norse  Catholicism and will use that basic idea: instead of the unorganized, diffuse religious practices of the Norsemen, the gods are worshiped in a hierarchical manner much like the Medieval Church.  Particular temples may be dedicated to particular gods or goddesses, but Odin the All-father is the chief god and worshiped in all temples.

Clerics will use blunt weapons because it is sacrilegious to spill blood except to make sacrifices to the gods. Some of the gods, like Baldur, do not accept blood sacrifices either and his clerics use blunt weapons because they hope to subdue rather than kill foes.

I will keep Kraken because he is just cool.  The major Norse gods are lawful, except Loki, Aegir, and Ran (Chaotic), and Njord and the Norns (Neutral).  The most powerful jotuns (Surt, Thrym, etc.) are worshiped as gods by trolls and giants, and are mostly Chaotic as well.

Within Skara Brae there are several temples to specific gods, but Odin is recognized as the All-father and all lawful gods are considered his children — a few foreign gods are acknowledged in Odin’s cathedral, but their rites always invoke Odin as well.  Priests of the Norse gods are usually dedicated to the entire pantheon but some are specifically dedicated to particular gods.  The clerics of Thor are a militant order who seek to destroy monsters, just as Thor does, and are the most likely to become adventurers.  The clerics of Tyr are the only order who may use swords (they must however cut off one hand to prove their valor!).  Clerics of Loki are regarded by the populace as malicious and unwelcome, but the Church understands the importance of keeping Loki pacified.

Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming has a nice section on Norse religion, outlining the “sins” and virtues and also providing a nice cheat sheet of who-is-the-god-of-what, so I may summarize some of that for the players and myself.

Published in: on September 27, 2010 at 7:31 pm  Comments (8)  
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Alignment and religion in Telengard


Alignment does not indicate a particular ethical code or dictate conduct. Alignment in Telengard describes a creature’s relationship to the cosmic forces of Order and Disorder, or Law and Chaos. Law is understood as the motive force behind order, permanence, and reason, as well the impulse to impose civilization and order on the world. Chaos is the motive force behind change, entropy, and magic, as well as the impulse to stop the march of “progress” and civilization.  Those unaligned to either are Neutral.  Neutral creatures are not interested in these abstract cosmic struggles and just want to get on with their lives. (more…)

Published in: on September 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (XXVI)

So the next section deals with the pagan Norse religion in lines that mostly parallel the previous section, although with some changes in the order of presentation. “Norse” religion stands in for all Germanic, Teutonic, and Scandinavian religious traditions, as they were fairly similar. It is too bad the Celtic religion does not get a similar treatment, but the Norse model makes it pretty clear how one might simulate other pantheons and religions, with a little research. (It would also be really fun to see similar sections on Islam, Judaism, and other major religions of the periods covered!)

First, the hierarchy of gods & goddesses is discussed, along with how intercessions work (things are complicated a bit because of blood and marriage ties between various deities), and how promotion within the hierarchy works.

Piety for pagans is always with respect to their own gods, not the Christian ethereal host, but pagans with negative piety attract the Devil’s attention, as he may claim the souls of anyone, of any religion. I did not like this idea much until I remembered a certain scene in Poul Anderson’s The broken sword where the Devil visits a Viking woman who is desperate for revenge, so I guess it would work.

The sins & virtues of Norse paganism are generally different from those of Christianity, with much more focus on heroism and hospitality than self-abasement and charity, as you might expect. The afterlife is handled differently too, as there is no Norse Purgatory and the circumstances of death matter more (in battle, at sea, etc.) so you may go to Valhalla, Niflhelm, etc. as appropriate. Heroes form the lower ranks of the Norse Ethereal host, so in principle you could have fallen heroes advance to become full-fledged gods in time, just as you could work out afterlife adventures for saints and sinners in Christianity.

The Norse ceremonies mostly involve sacrifices and feasts, and I as I noted earlier the mana values of specific animals are lists (ranging from 2 for fowl to 5 for cattle). There are also ceremonies for marriage, baptism (dedication to a specific god or goddess which also adds a component to the recipient’s name), funereal rites (barrow and ship burials), oaths (which are immensely important for the flavor of sagas!), and Seidhr (a sort of divinatory appeal combined with a ceremony). Inspiration may follow appeals, ceremonies, or oaths, and the Norse are more easily inspired spontaneously than are Christians.

Then a run-down of the Ethereal host is given in more detail, with a similar descriptive table to the one for Christianity and demonology.

Lastly, there is the section on monsters, magical beings, and general fauna.

Published in: on August 21, 2010 at 11:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Fantasy Wargaming cover to cover (XXV)

Ethereal hosts and hierarchies

The Higher and Lower powers are organized into 9 “ranks” denoting their approximate power. At the top of the hierarchies are the Trinity and Satan (Rank 9); at the bottom mere servants (Cherubim and Imps/Hellhounds/Demon Warriors). Saints and demons generally rank in the 5-3 range, although certain archdevils fill out the upper ranks of the Lower powers (the corresponding rank 6-8 in for the Higher powers are angels, archangels, and the Vigin Mary). Rather interestingly, there are rules for promotion within the hierarchies, and also suggestions for how to “personalize” the lower ranks (as lesser saints, cherubim, imps, etc. all have very generic rather than individualized attributes). Coupled with the rules for become a saint or demon after death, I think you could cobble together a campaign where the players start as imps or cherubs, (or just the souls of a TPK’ed party) and have them struggle to rise among the ranks! This may work better in a pagan setting (Norse religion is covered later but has its own hierarchy with the souls of ancestors and heroes in the lowest ranks).

Anyway the Heavenly and Infernal hosts are then listed in detail on a pair of tables that have contributed to some of the game’s infamy. In fairness, these are primarily meant to chart the appropriate powers to Appeal to, and their resistances to appeals, and their ares of interest/favor/disfavor. The powers’ Magic Levels are given to help with calculating their spells’ effectiveness. However they do also have Combat Levels and other physical attributes given (excepting the Trinity who are off the chart in most respects!). Beelzebub would kick the Virgin Mary’s ass in combat, I’m afraid. But the chart is really awesome for detailing the many, many patrons saints of various minutia you’d otherwise need to research, and similar information for the demons is also very useful to those of us without a copy of the Grand Grimoire lying around.

Lastly religious XP is explained. XP is gained by making Appeals, performing or attending religious ceremonies, exercising other clerical powers, resisting temptation, and piety earned.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Fantasy Wargaming, cover to cover (V)

Continuing Chapter II, the next section is on religion. First, we get brief outline of Church organization and Church-state relations. Then, there is some interesting discussion of heresy, and the first mention of “piety,” a concept just a central to religion as “mana” is to magic. The context is a mention that when the Church burns heretics, they are in effect making a sacrifice to God which produces mana for God and piety for His worshipers, but at the same time the heretic’s tribulations are just as real and earn the heretic piety points. So, reality of the Otherworld is even more clearly demonstrated to be dependent on human belief, an idea I really like. Apparently the the seeming contradictions between the orthodox and heretical views are to be understood in relative terms. This does seem to leave open the question as to whether the Arian or Pelagian God is the same as the ortodx Christian God (let alone whether any of these can be identified with the Moslems’ Allah or the Jews’ Jehovah!). Perhaps this ambiguity is entirely intentional, as the Otherworld is, after all, mysterious.

The section on Christianity leads by a natural and logical path to the Devil. The Devil’s place in medieval thought and the FW rules are described. For example, the Devil accumulates mana by condemning and torturing human souls. I really like the game mechanics used to explain the motivations of the Higher and Lower powers!

From here, we move on to witchcraft, a very difficult topic for historians and game designers both. Should they be treated as peasant magician types, or pagans, or actual Devil-worshipers? FW solves this problem by saying “Yes!” to all three. To quote the text, “FW treats witchcraft as a pagan cult infiltrated and perverted by the Devil into a foul parody and deadly enemy of Christianity.” We’ll see that witches are one of the several types of magic users playable in the game, while Devil-worshipers have extensive rules in the religion section of the rules. I have to admit this is a pretty elegant solution. Just as with the “unified field theory” of magic, this theory of witchcraft seems to be a pretty good way to handle an otherwise intractable problem of history.

The third major part of the religion section deals with paganism, although the author stresses these should be considered applicable to the Dark Ages only, and not the High Middle Ages. FW intentionally conflates Anglo-Saxon, German, and Norse mythology into a pastiche that covers all three pretty well, since they are after of common origins. This also works because these mythologies are much less well documented than say Greek mythology. To quote the text again: “Our vivid, coherent picture of the Norse region of the Ethereal Plane is an accident of literature more than a reflection of belief.” That is, there is not really an organized Norse “Church.”  Still, there are temples, priests, and sacraments.  The most important Norse sacraments are sacrifices, usually of animals but possibly humans, and there is even a brief mention of the infamous “blood eagle” as a sacrifice.  The text also notes that the Norse gods are not “jealous” and don’t seek converts, but they also are very fickle and may let down even a devoted servant.

Published in: on July 31, 2010 at 2:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Ye gods!

My brother has been DMing for a long time — around 30 years, if my memory is right. One thing he’s been pretty worried about lately is the place of gods in the game universe. He’s felt for some time that it doesn’t make a lot of sense for anyone to worship an evil god. Pretty much every pantheon has several evil gods. Moreover, if every god can work miracles, why should anyone worship just one of them? He’d rather just take the old “implied Christianity” of D&D to use a stand-in Church of a creator, with one god. I’ve pushed him to make room for Druids, which are nature-worshipers or perhaps pagans in his games but he like to leave the Church ascendant in most civilized areas. He definitely doesn’t like the idea of introducing multiple conflicting pantheons, as some D&D campaigns did back in the days of Gods, demigods & heroes and Deities & Demigods. (In fairness I think both supplements instruct DMs to choose one pantheon, but there has always been an anything & everything goes mentality among a lot of players!)

Anyway, in an effort to mitigate some of his concerns I suggested that the gods might be called various names but all actually represent a small set of actual divinities. We both prefer historical pantheons, so I created a table of corresponding gods & goddesses, allowing a multitude of cultures and cults while keeping the divinities down to about a dozen individuals. I had it in my mind that any gods from each pantheon that are not covered should be equated with demons, devils, aliens, or other less-than-divine beings, perhaps demigods (which could still exist as distinct entities in their multitudes, but which would in principle be mortal). A pdf of the chart is here: The universal pantheon. I tried to correlate Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Hindu, and Mesopotamian gods into the list, as well as Christian saints and the Trinity. The Mesopotamian gods are combined from the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Syrian pantheons — I just used the names I was most familiar with.

I don’t think this idea is really all that original; I suppose occultists have attempted such correspondences for centuries, and the Greeks and Romans famously identified their gods with the gods of other cultures.

I based my chart partly on the Interpretatio graeca linked above, and partly on some work I’d done for my GURPS Bestiary of Spirits, as well as additional research. The infamous list of saints from Bruce Galloway’s Fantasy Wargaming certainly helped too!

Although I have problems with the conceit of clerics just worshiping one god in a pantheon, this system would allow such dedicated clerics to recognize their own god as another when in a different setting. But mainly it would give a DM some rationale for why the northerners worship Odin and the southerners worship Zeus and the two gods haven’t smitten each other’s followers.

We have not actually used this idea in a game, but I though I’d share.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 10:14 am  Comments (10)  
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Godhead like a hole

Two observations:

  1. D&D has an implied Christian setting, at least in the earliest versions where clerics pass through the Catholic hierarchy as they gain levels and use crosses, and some devils are largely lifted from Dante and European occultism, and all that.
  2. D&D also has an implied pagan setting, what with the stat-ing out of deities and mythological monsters, the druids and all that.

Who says these can’t go hand in hand? You could go the obvious “Broken sword” route and have the pagan gods in conflict with the Church, or fearful of the “White Christ”… or you could just say, why can’t Christianity be pagan?

Here’s a possible pantheon: The many Christs.


Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 10:00 am  Comments (4)  
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