Storytelling, Tabletop and Pop Culture
Next up in our series on building out a robust fantasy faith is history. We tend to treat D&D religions like they’ve always existed and always been a certain way. But every religion comes from somewhere and they all change over time. So let's give your faith some important historical figures and events. They can differ a lot but tend to come in these big categories (sometimes overlapping):
Important Figures table:
1. Founders. These folks started it. They might be the divinity or object of worship themselves. They might just be an intermediary or fall into another of these categories. But they're always going to hold a special place in the faith and be considered at least somewhat authoritative on how it should be practiced. Often the faith will relate stories of their life or preserve their sayings.
2. Prophets, Oracles and Envoys. These figures claim to speak for the divinity. Whether its through literal direct speech, conveying visions and dreams or divinely guided insight, they are a direct line to the divine. Interpreting their visions can be a huge task and a great plot hook to hang over your party.
3. Reformers. These folks came and shook everything up. Through revelation, charisma, intellect or force, they took the faith and sent it in an entirely different direction. Often they fail to move the entire faith and you end up with branching traditions, sometimes in direct antagonism with each other. Reformers can be conservatives who return things to an old status quo, innovators who bring about a new era or moralists who clean up the ethics of the faith. Either way they can create great drama and roleplay opportunities for your PC's to get torn between competing versions of the faith.
4. Iconoclasts. Often closely related to reformers, these folks come in and break stuff. They believe that there is something fundamentally wrong in the faith that must be torn down or destroyed before it can move forward. They might be focused on complex institutions, bad doctrine or moral failures. They usually get censured, denounced or otherwise punished in their era even if later generations see their merit.
Historical Event Table
1. Founding. Your faith or sect was founded in a particularly dramatic way. What happened? Who were the founding figures? Why did it convince people to join the faith? How long ago was it? Are the accounts consistent or are there differing versions of the story?
2. Conversion. An ancient ruler or other powerful figure famously converted to your faith. Who were they? Why did they convert? How did it change them? How did it change the faith? Was their influence positive, negative or mixed?
3. Conflict. Your faith or sect was at the center of a violent conflict centuries ago. Who was the conflict between? What started it? How was it fought? How does it factor into the legacy and perception of your faith?
4. Quest. An adventurer of your faith saved the world in a previous era. What did they do? What were they like? Are they widely regarded or mostly forgotten? Are they venerated by members of your faith?
And these things don’t just exist in a vacuum! These founding stories point to certain practices, traditions and worldviews for that religion. If the founding figure of your faith was a warrior who conquered evil, pacifism is probably not going to be a big ethical draw for those followers. If your faith was persecuted they might still be somewhat secretive or insular and distrustful of outsiders. You can also work backwards! Pick a major trait of the faith and then think about what might have caused them to become that way. Depending on how old your faith is these figures and events might have even reoccurred over the centuries, each time sending the beliefs and institutions off in a new direction.
These two pieces will help add some history to your faith. These will be the backdrop that help us come back next time and add realistic and engaging practices and beliefs!
So what are the religions in your campaign like? What historical things helped make them the way they are? Drop your story in the comments!
Hi! I'm Colby. DM, Nerd, IRL Cleric and Writer.