One of the things that has always been a part of my campaign in - the Church.
Out of habit, let's talk about me for a minute.
I was raised what is now called "unchurched". My parents took me to a church once or twice, and that was for weddings of cousins. While we had a lot of books about religion in the house, we had lots of books about everything else in the house, too. I grew up in what my mother called 'the buckle of the bible belt' and was surrounded by Protestant churches but only knew one Catholic and only knew she was Catholic because of the ashes on the forehead thing, as I called it then.
But if you are reading the Matter of France, Ivanhoe, etc., the Catholic Church is the very background of the plot. I didn't know very much about Catholicism in any way but everything from Ogier Danske to Holger Carlson (see what I did there?) told me the Church was critical.
So when I made my 1e campaign, which I call Seaward, it had - the Church.
As I got older I learned a great deal more about the real world Church and I developed the Church in my campaign more fully, although it was from the distance of non-religious books and fiction. When I 'rebooted' Seaward in the late '80's I introduced a pantheon of multiple good deities, the Bright Gods, and tried them out for a few months, but the players hated the idea. Later I used the Bright Gods again in 3e and, once more, my players (entirely different people) preferred the Church.
I also encountered a lot of other GMs, too. Bill had the Valar from LotRs, who are (of course) more akin to archangels than gods and explicitly report to a monotheistic deity. Lew Pulsipher, game theorist and atheist, had God. Singular. And the Church. Singular. Oddly similar to what I had done. As a matter of fact, a whole lot of the GMs I met between '78 and '88 just had "the Church", whatever it might be called,
And this makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons!
First off, the real details of religion are, well, not that important since we are playing games. Thieves' Guilds, Assassins' Guilds, whatever organization Rangers belong to, Druidic circles, Monk's groups - they are all rather vague and up to the GM and, well, why paint yourself into a corner? Leave it vague until you have to make a ruling, write that down, move on, right?
Second, old school 1e AD&D is very, very, obviously based on European history and folklore. And you cannot separate European history and folklore from Catholicism. Well, you could but it seems really odd and why would you?
Third, the book smostly tell us there is a church based on the Church.
Yeah, they do.
Paladins. I mean, the word essentially means 'Catholic knight'.
Cleric level titles.
Art like this:
See the cleric? He's wearing the tabard of a Militant Holy Order, like the Knights of St. John or the Templars.
BTW, that image is the first thing I saw the first time I flipped open a PHB and I will never forget that moment.
Holy Water. And fonts.
I mean, I can obviously go on and on, but the fact remains that the rather religious, observant Protestant Mr. Gygax had the Catholic Church firmly in mind while he was typing.
Another aside: EGG was seemingly so Protestant that he did not celebrate Christmas as it was not in the bible. I have not confirmed this as true on my own, but if he had no problem with a faux Catholic Church trappings in his game why would you?
So there is this sort of vague Hollywood version of the Catholic Church floating around as part of the foundation of AD&D and I, like many others, sorta' dropped that into our own campaigns. Yes, things changed over time. After the various Gods of the Demi-Humans, Gods of the Suloise, Greyhawk/Forgotten Realms stuff, not to mention the Deities and Demigods release, there were all sorts of pantheons floating around. Many people tacked on things, or they were dragged in during character creation, and in general by the time 3e assumed pantheons, so did most players.
But I didn't.
A few things happened between 1985 and today that caused me to really cement the Church in my campaign.
Let's talk about me some more.
First, I joined the army and became an intelligence type focused on the Middle East, so I ended up studying Islam a great deal as an academic subject.
Then, after I got out, I majored in the Middle Eastern Studies and, because of my background, ended up studying Judaism academically to better understand the region.
Finally, I transferred to a Catholic university and took the mandatory theology class. Within a year I had: Converted to Catholicism, and; changed my major to Catholic Theology.
So as a Catholic theologian is might not surprise you that my campaign has the Church. But remember! It always did!
I can hear you now,
"OK, sheesh, thanks for the bio! Can we get on to religion in your campaign, please?"
From the point of view of the rulesyou can use the Church to explain some otherwise - puzzling - things about D&D;
1) Demi-humans vs. Humanoids: Some non-human creatures that resembles people are called demi-humans. All the rest are called humanoids. In my campaign demi-humans are those races that are mostly part of or allied with the Church.
2) Shamans vs. Clerics: Why do demi-humans get to be (NPC) clerics but humanoids are the lower-powered shamans? In the Church or out of it.
3) The Nine Alignment System: As I have mentioned previously, having read Three Hearts and Three Lions as well as the tales of Charlemagne's Paladins the AD&D alignment system was never confusing to me. And, naturally, this is because both are about the Church, in very interesting ways.
4) How must Paladins act?: Related to the above, when you understand where paladins come from grasping their required outlooks and action are rather simple.
Another aside: Lew Pulsipher and his wife "get" paladins like almost no one else I have ever met.
From the point of view of world building at the 30,000 ft view the Church allows me to do a few more things, too;
1) Binding the Human/Demi-human races together culturally: Why the heck are races as wildly different as elves, dwarves, and humans chummy? Because they share a religion! Sure, this doesn't prevent political strife, misunderstandings, personal animosity, etc. but when a human peasant can receive Last Rites from a dwarven priest or an elven Religious Brother (an NPC class from my campaign) can Baptize a dwarven infant this binds these races together in a very real way that reflects the Real World.
2) Explaining a lot more about racial alignments in the Monster Manual, Part One: No, orcs are not 'inherently evil'. Then why does the MM list them as 'Lawful Evil" - they're devil worshipers! Culturally, orcs belong to a number of devil-worshiping cults (thus, the clan names/banners) which is why they tend to hate each other in the absence of an outside threat. Same with goblins, etc. Gnolls? Demon worshipers. This also explains the much more limited powers of shamans.
3) Explaining a lot more about racial alignments in the Monster Manual, Part Two: No, dwarves are not 'inherently good', they are listed as Lawful Good because the Church is widespread and they practice a traditional form of religion. Elves are Chaotic Good, you say? Schism! Think Catholic and Orthodox - the elves had a falling out with the top levels of Church hierarchy and, while still "valid" they do not follow the authority of the Church is all things. This is also a handy way of explaining why dwarves and elves get along, are Good, yet are leery of each other; doctrinal clashes. Oh, not to the level of warfare, but there is a bit of uncomfortable difference.
And world building at a 'closer level' lets me plug in a few more things,
1) An ecclesial language: The Church in my campaign uses an otherwise 'dead' language as it's own, internal, tongue. I also have an arcane tongue used by mages. The ecclesial language is used in church records, birth and death registries, on old tombs, etc. Learning it also allows pretty broad communication with clerics and scholars, too.
2) Lots of background color for the campaign: By now the players know that their characters will know that they can always seek help in a church at 3 am. Yes, really. Because of Lauds, the prayers said about 3 am every morning by clerics, paladins, and religious brothers who are not sick or otherwise constrained. The Divine Office (a series of prayers throughout the day), religious festivals, etc. in the background add a lot to the campaign feeling 'real'. See a guy in robes that has been tonsured? Well, he''s a low-level cleric or religious brother!
3) Cool items: Aspergillums, scapulars, zuchettos, birettas, biers, catafalques, umbraculum, thuribles, navicula, etc., etc., etc. All Real World things and all ready to be found in treasure hoards or rescued from thieves.
4) Cool Imagery: You can use stuff we recognize from the Real World to inject a solid impact onto the players.
I have no idea how many times i've seen this sued for bad guys;
So why not this for a different impact?
And we all know how useful Latin Chanting is!
At a very 'hits them in day to day play' level I have a few mechanics introduced into the campaign based upon religion.
1) Religious Brothers and Sisters: I covered the reasons I added NPC-only classes into my game in a long series of posts that talks about them in particular a bit here. Details are here. These are religious monks, parish priests, nuns, etc. They are not capable of competing with Clerics, but they do have unique spells. 9 times out of 10 the village priest is a Religious Brother.
2) Restrictions on Divine Magic: Unless you 'opt out' at character creation any non-Druid is assumed to have been born a member of the Church (i.e., had the proper Ceremony spell cast on them by a Religious Brother). If someone has NOT been joined to the Church the following Cleric spells will not work on them;
Protection from Evil
Protection from Evil, 10' radius
*a cleric can cast Commune and seek permission for these spells to work
Similar spells from Shamans, Druids, etc. will not work on people that are not part of that particular religion/cult, either.
3) Ecclesial Penalties: The party is on an adventure and meets a patrol; the patrol, thinking they are a groups of bandits that have been raiding outlying farms, orders them to throw down their weapons and come with them so the local baron can determine if they are guilty. The party, on a timetable to recover a vast treasure, refuses. The patrol attacks and the party fights back. The fighting is desperate enough that magic-user casts Monster Summoning IV and brings forth...
The undead shadows kill 3 of the guardsmen, transforming them into shadows, too. The surviving members of the patrol flee and the party goes on to the dungeon, grabs a vast fortune, and heads back to the city.
Just another random encounter?
No. The surviving guardsmen tell the local baron what happened. The baron sends out strong patrols (the party dodges them) and asks questions about the strangers. After a week or so he knows the names of the party members.
The local parishes request help as people begin to vanish from the local villages. A cleric, paladin, and their henchmen find and destroy the shadows that were left behind by the summoned monsters, as well as the new shadows they have created. They report this to the baron, who tells the local bishop.
"So?" say the players, "We're 12th-14th level. What is a 9th level cleric going to do to us? Besides, we're in a completely different kingdom, now!"
This is what that bishop is going to do
Or, within the game mechanics, the bishop used divinations to confirm the identities of the party as well as their guilt, then cast the ceremony Excommunication; now the party cannot benefit from the spells listed above, nor receive the benefits of any Cure spells from the Church. Clerics, etc., that are excommunicated can memorize no spell except Atonement, if they are high enough level for it. And until the party members receive the Atonement spell the effects are permanent.
This sort of thing tends to catch the attention of players.
4) Cosmology: The Church speaks openly that it came from missionaries from 'another world' who spread the faith thousands of years ago and that the Pope of the game world is just 'the local leader' and that he reports back to Pope of the central Church.
When Spelljammer came out I was delighted for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the image of Dominicans on a little ship in the Phlogiston saying the Liturgy of the Hours as they approached a crystal sphere.
5) Saints and Relics: The local Church has local Saints, too. Like St. Thorn, missionary to the elves, or St. Aeldreda, the maiden saint of the dwarves. This is a short trip from saintly relics, holy wells, etc.
Overall the response from players, religious or otherwise, has been very positive. An atheist I played with for years was maybe the biggest fan. We had some talks about it [before I was religious, mind you] and we realized that in movies when there is some great evil or cosmic horror, or Satan coming, or whatever the heroes go to the Catholic Church. He argued it is because the imagery and hierarchy of the Catholic Church is so big, so well-known, so old, and so stable that everyone knows enough about it to be able to not need exposition about who they are and what they are doing.
I can't argue with that.
Heck, that's why I used it 35+ years ago and, arguably, why Gary did, too.
So, there it is. The tip of the iceberg of religion in my AD&D 1e campaign.