My earlier post about Holy Lands, the explicitly Christian fantasy rpg, had me thinking more about the 1981 Bruce Galloway game I'd also mentioned there. Though it's generally considered an abomination of a rules set, if one can manage to put that aside along with the ridiculously pretentious name, The Highest Level of All Fantasy Wargaming (here after “HLFW”), does have some interesting game mechanics. One of these involves tracking a character's favor with God or their chosen deity by utilizing “Piety Points” (PPs).
For the player, there is the choice of two pantheons or mythos in Galloway's game – either the Christian, or the Norse. Rough analogies are made between Christian saints and Norse deities for logistical purposes, and I'm sure any pantheon or one of the GM's own design could be used as well.
Beginning with a base score of zero piety points, actions which curry favor with God (or “Good” gods) or with the Devil (or evil gods) will add or subtract piety points respectively. To use an example, murder might greatly subtract from your piety points – if this put you below zero points, you’d have more favor with the devil, or would have fallen from grace. Differing amounts of piety points correspond to Piety Bands (PBs), either negative or positive: 0-9 PP = PB 1, 10-39 PP = PB 2, etc. with the width of each band increasing by 10 PP each time (meaning that the more debased or in a state or grace you are, the harder it is to rise or fall from it).
Which PB the character is in will effect their ability to call upon their deity for magical purposes of divine intervention. HLFW doesn't distinguish classes from one another – characters gain experience in the areas of Combat/Adventuring, Religion, and Magic. All characters track PP, and consequently must consider whether or not their actions might be considered sinful. Even characters who aren't actively seeking favors from their deity should be wary of committing sins that may attract the attention of demons looking to bind or possess them.
It's an interesting approach to the problems alignment can bring up. Tables are provided that list the effects various sins have on PP total. Implementing consequences for immoral/unethical behavior is built right in to the game rules, dovetailing neatly with the actual mechanics of magic in the game but also even potentially effecting the direction of the overall narrative. Imagine having your character compelled to follow through on a demon's twisted plan, having been finally bound to its service because of your foolish carousing and sinful ways!
It might be a fun exercise to see if the system could be adapted for use with the Cleric class in my Labyrinth Lord campaign. Various deities would have different types of tables to consult based on the virtue or sinfulness of one's deeds and the Gods' areas of interest and spheres of influence. Still, I think most players would shun the whole concept. Just look at the recent poll here for why: “Screw Alignment!” wins handily at 32%! The (relatively) innocuous treatment of alignment in 0E/B&X/1st Edition D&D seems already onerous and freedom constricting to many. I've never played 2nd edition, but in light of this I can see why the experience point penalties outlined in that edition's rules for changing alignment might have been met with skepticism.
I’m no fan of alignment in D&D (don’t get me started on alignment languages!) and find the even stricter moral and ethical decision tracking and punishment in HLFW to be just another impediment to actual roleplaying. But who knows? Maybe this kind of mechanic would be helpful in moving the game narrative forward in a more precise and predictable fashion - something I don't want or need but that other DMs might appreciate depending on the type of campaign they’ve devised.