Monday, March 21, 2011

The Mysteries of a Religious Order

I've been buying old JG stuff on eBay again lately, and recently read Steve Marsh’s article in The Dungeoneer #15 (1980) entitled “Initiates of the White God”. He describes an initiation process where each level comes with its own expected sacrifices and rewards, as well the revealing of an esoteric mystery related to the order. Presumably these would vary widely from one order to another (although perhaps all expressing the same fundamental truths).

For example: “Level Four is the step to the first mystery. This mystery is that there is no mystery but that all mysteries are but common knowledge in the proper context. The Nach Lan is performed (similar to the Mithrian baptism of blood only with water) and one gains the responsibility to aid those in distress…” and “One becomes +1 vs. all evil creatures (both to offense and defense).”

I’m not so keen on introducing broad mechanical bonuses like this. I can see the temptation, especially if there are strict requirements that might take away some of the player’s freedom to choose their character’s actions. Instead, I’d prefer to introduce more flavorful rewards and restrictions with some restraint. For example, rather than a permanent +1 to attacks and AC, perhaps the order rewards a magic weapon. The PC might have one already, maybe even a better one, but still be expected to use it. Such a gift might also fail them, should they act in a manner unbefitting their level of initiation. It could also be lost or broken, and its recovery or mending become an adventure seed itself. An example of a minor reward might simply be an open invitation to the orgy pit of the high priestess at the main temple. Oh frabjous day! In any event, the symbolism of such a gift or reward should be of importance and relevant to the particular order.

I thought it would be a good idea to ready something similar for our own game. Below is a rough draft of Agnal’s potential initiation progression. He’s a cleric in our Dordogne campaign who somehow fell into worshipping the unlikely “Corrno, God of Thieves” (as found in JG’s “The Unknown Gods”). It seems odd having to devise an initiation progression like this for an order of a deity so explicitly connected to a class of character in the game, but that was what the player wanted.

Marsh’s progression starts at first level and completes at nine. Ours starts at second (since our clerics usually don’t have a deity or spells until then) and finishes at ten. Bear in mind that level progression in our Swords & Wizardry game is very slow.

Initiates of Corrno, God of Thieves

Level 2: Naivette
Level 3: True Membership
Level 4-6: Mysteries 1-3
Level 7: Questing
Level 8-10: Mysteries 4-6

Level Two: The naivette is expected to respect thieves above others. Their company should be sought out, and they should be the first to be healed should the occasion arise. Opportunities to steal should always be kept watch for - and brought to the attention of trusted confidant thieves. Theft should always be (prudently) encouraged, and Corrno brought to the attention of thieves as the proper choice of worship. In return, Corrno may enter the initiate’s dreams and provide clues to the existence of nearby wealth that’s ripe for plunder.

Level Three: At this level of initiation, the initiate will be visited by higher ranked members who will demand to know how he has thus far supported Corrno and his worshippers. They’ll present to him a gold offering plate (which is actually only gold plated) as a symbol of his recognition as a true member. At this level he’ll be magically bestowed the knowledge and use of Thieves Cant. He’s now expected to visit thieves guilds during his travels when the opportunity arises, in order to procure converts and donations and to provide various services.

Level Four: The First Mystery of the Order is revealed: Someone is always stealing from you, and you are always stealing from someone else. This is unavoidable truth - understanding it deeply is the first step in acquiring true wisdom. At this level, the initiate is expected to attempt to help imprisoned thieves - by acting as counselor, healing them of injuries sustained during capture, or even (occasionally) in forcibly liberating them. In recognition of attaining this level, the order symbolically gifts the initiate a Bag of Holding.

Level Five: The Second Mystery of the Order is revealed: Property is to be respected - It is best to take someone else’s property, that it might be better respected. The ability to pick locks and pockets as a first level thief is attained (though this ability will not improve). Along with their other regular duties, the cleric is now expected to occasionally travel and contact initiates of the third level for interrogation (and to steal from them).

Level Six: The Third Mystery of the Order is revealed: Everyone has property in his own person - his life. This too, shall be stolen. At this level a cleric of Corrno gains the back stabbing ability of low level thieves (it should be mentioned that clerics of Corrno are already allowed the use of edged weaponry). However, his charisma is lowered by one point as his continual connivance and scheming becomes written into his facial features and more difficult to hide.

Level Seven: Questing. At this stage of initiation, the Council of the Fifth Mystery will require the initiate to undertake a quest of its choosing. All worshippers of Corrno must give aid to a questing initiate of the order if so asked, else they risk the order’s confiscation of all their possessions and possible execution.

Level Eight: The Fourth Mystery of the Order is revealed: Property is Theft: There is no such thing as theft because there is no such thing as property. At this level the initiate is no longer allowed to possess coinage, non-magical jewelry, or gems. When obtained, these must all be given over to the Council of the Fifth Mystery and the Order as soon as practically possible. However, if large sums are money are required, the Council may be petitioned.

Level Nine: The Fifth Mystery of the Order is revealed: Truth is the property of no one.  All possessions other than ragged clothes, magic items, land, or structures are to be given away (but made to appear as though they’ve been stolen). An initiate of this level is a member of a council which dictates what quests are to be assigned and to whom, among other business.

Level Ten: The sixth mystery of Corrno is inexpressible in written language. These initiates no longer serve as council members. They’re said to take orders from Corrno himself.


Taketoshi said...

I like the way the power curve goes up and then back down for the church's benefits. Very, very nice!

Shieldhaven said...

Personally, I would be inclined to detach character level from mystery, but other than that, I really like what you've done here. Having later mysteries directly unravel earlier truths is especially good stuff.

Telecanter said...

First, the tents are fantastic: they have the slippery, memetastic feel to them that the best religious tenets do. And, as Shieldhaven says, it is great that they conflict with each other, or appear to, as someone learns the deeper mysteries.

Second, in a more abstract sense, the mysteries/questing schedule is exactly what I was looking for in my game, but with MU/fighter guilds.

ze bulette said...

Thanks for the feedback.

@Taketoshi: I did that unconsciously it seems. Glad you like it.

@Shieldhaven & Telecanter: I definitely was trying to include or evoke the sort of paradox that Zen uses with such precision and effectiveness. With regard to memetics - I've passed along some Locke, Proudhon, and Emerson here I'm sure. Maybe someone else too.

I was thinking a lot about various guilds too, while writing this up - it was hard not to considering how Corrno's devotees are mostly thieves.

squidman said...

Really cool.

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