My Supplement Far Realms - which can be purchased here - is derived from the house rules of my campaign, called Seaward. This is the first in a series of posts where I will describe where the ideas in Far Realms came from and how I use them.
When I began my campaign, 1978, religion in AD&D was really nebulous. While a lot of people did a vague 'Law v. Chaos' thing similar to Moorcock, my knowledge of Three Hearts and Three Lions made me, frankly, contemptuous of Moorcock's ham-handedness of the same topic.A huge fan of the tales of Charlemagne's Paladins, I knew that clerics were like Archbishop Turpin, paladins were like Roland, and magic-users were like Malagigi, etc.
So, since I loved the tales of Charlemagne my campaign had a decidedly European Catholic flavor to it. Funny considering I didn't even know any Catholics at the time.
I wanted to create an experience, set up religion in the game that reflected how religion looks and seems in Real Life. So, I tried this:
The Church: A monotheistic church with saints, essentially a branch of the Catholic Church. It has been spread all around the world. The Church is the source of spells for clerics and paladins, it is in the villages, the towns, and the cities. The Church is a large part of what unites humans with the other races called 'demi-human' and separates them from the other races called 'humanoids'.
Druids: Druids have no gods, they derive their spell power from a combination of mystical connection to nature and powers (spells) granted by elemental powers [. This both explains why they are so different and their requirement to remain Neutral.
Cults: A general term for groups where at least some had access to cleric-like spells. While some are associated with elemental forces, most gain their power from pacts with devils and/or demons.
With this general structure I went on and set it up so that clerics of the Church had access to the 'standard list; of cleric spells and druids were, well, druids. Cultists had a mix of cleric and druid spells that reflected their source of power. Cultists had limited lists of spells and usually only up to 4th level spells. On the other hand, they often had 'dark gifts' from their power source: the ability to See Invisible, or to regenerate (but not damage from silver), or an imp familiar, or bonus charisma with other orcs, or something similar.
Combined this was a pretty simple set of mechanics to create an interesting "us vs. them" feel between demi-humans and humanoids and provide a reason for evil clerics to have surprises up their sleeves.
This also was part of what led me to create the Religious Brother/Sister NPC class. I envisioned the cleric as someone who fought the enemies of the Church, who opposed evil cultists face to face on the field of battle. They aren't pastors, or nuns, or even evangelists. So the NPC-only Religious Brother/Sister class was added to my campaign to be the pastors, evangelists, nuns, etc. of Seaward (although there is a bit more detail about how and why I developed NPC classes to read about on this blog).
But as well as it was working I was looking for a bit more. Some sort of method of separating not just the clerics but the rank and file members of various religions.I remember, very clearly, having a long talk with my friend David, who was running his own world, about some sort of spell that differentiated the members from each other. It was just before Christmas, 1981.
Two months later he was laughing at me as I was reading the Ceremony spells in Dragon Magazine. I grabbed the idea and ran with it.
I honestly can't remember the details of the official Ceremony spells anymore because my custom ones have been my go-to for over 30 years.
So the mechanics of religion are more concrete in my campaign. Here is how it works for most NPCs and characters:
-As a child they are Baptized into the Church. This spell/ceremony allows them to receive the full benefits of other spells. Unless Baptized a person cannot be affected by other ceremonies, won't get the benefits of Bless, Prayer, or similar spells, and have their chances or being Raised lowered.
-When they turn 16 they are Confirmed. Now they are members of the Church and recognized as adults. This also has other benefits.
-As they go through life other spells/ceremonies have other effects: Holy Orders grants new priests the ability to learn spells as a cleric or religious brother; Special Vows is what makes a paladin; Consecration is used to make objects holy (and is what makes crossbow bolts deadly to rakshasa instead of Bless!).
These spells have real in-game effects. For example, until a cleric receives the Ordination spell he can't attract followers.
Now, these various spells are only available to religious brothers, not clerics. This reflects the differing roles of the two classes (and makes PCs want to have religious brother henchmen).
Druids and cultists have similar spells and others for things like gaining dark gifts.
So a small handful of spells, an NPC class, and boom! I have all sorts of interplay between different 'religions', the ability to surprise my players with oddly-powered bad guys, and all without needed tons and tons of writeups about gods, avatars, etc.