Storytelling, Tabletop and Pop Culture
We’re back at it this week to talk two of people’s favorite things: religion and politics! Any two important aspects of life are inevitably bound to overlap and religion and politics in your fantasy world is no exception. These two elements are a huge part of forming a worldview (both IRL and in your game) and they’re not easy to separate from a whole person. If deities or divine principles or cosmic forces are involved in the humanoid world they are going to get tangled up in the way those beings organize and go about their lives.
Stances and Issues
It’ll be helpful to break this down into two connected categories. First, there are going to be topics where a religious character interacts with the world differently specifically out of their faith. A Druid is going to have a lot to say about industrialization and pollution (and don’t think pre-modern cultures didn’t have their share!). The followers of a deity of fortune or luck might religiously advocate for laissez-faire economics and minimum political intervention in the market. The followers of war gods and peace gods will certainly have thoughts on military action. Your divine principle might even be tied directly to a political force like Liberation or Nationalism or Order.
I’m actually going to encourage you NOT to roll on a table here. Really think about the traits you’ve come up with so far and try to extend them logically. If your character believes in XYZ what follows in how they act in the world? Based on what is important to them, how would they respond to different cultural situations? (If you need help brainstorming drop a comment!)
King and Country
And second, this is going to nudge these characters and the institutions they are a part of towards actual political mechanisms. Just like in the real world, these characters are going to interact with things like elections, bureaucracies, monarchs, guilds, unions etc. In fact these are often great drivers of plot and drama for a campaign. How would your faith try to influence the world? Who would they ally with? Who would they come into conflict with? What is their role in their culture?
1. Persecuted Minority. Your faith is a persecuted minority within a hostile majority culture. Why is this? Is it a historical event or a clashing of worldview? What form does this persecution take? Is your faith somehow affiliated with a people or place considered disreputable or even hostile? Do they go underground, visibly resist or try to fit in? How?
2. Open Rebellion. Members of your faith are openly resisting the legal and political institutions around you. Is it the entire faith or only a small group? Is it for explicitly religious reasons or tied to other factors? How do they resist? Do others outside the faith support or resent them? Who are the leaders? What would success look like? Does it seem possible?
3. Influential Elite. Your faith is largely composed of an influential elite in your culture. What is the source of their influence? Wealth, magic, political sway? How do they use that influence? What groups are they allied with and who opposes them? Are there factions outside of this elite?
4. National Religion. Your religion is not just a powerful majority but officially propped up through the institutions of the kingdom or state. What form does this support take? Is it national cathedrals or religious taxes? How did this arrangement originate? Is it antagonizing some other party or faction?
5. Competitive Pluralism. Your religion is just one among many, competing for followers, attention and political influence. How do they advocate for issues that are important to them? Do they ally with other faiths on certain topics or always work in opposition to one another? Why is religious life so diverse in their setting? Is it caused by a specific policy or historical event?
6. Fallen Faction. Your religion used to be powerful and influential in their setting. How did they lose their influence? Was it a quick process or slow? Are they considered disgraced or fading from history? Was their fall the result of an internal issue or some outside force? Are any of them working to reverse their fortunes?
This is the real core of how a religious character is going to get tangled up in classic TTRPG shenanigans. These issues and institutional forces will drive characters the same as any other background choice. A good PC/DM dynamic can find unique threads created by the content of the faith and the way it interacts with the world.
A Paladin whose fallen order puts them on a collision course with the empire that slandered them. A Cleric of Peace who has to decide where their allegiances fall when the country that supports them declares war. A secretive religious practitioner who has to discover who is blackmailing them for their taboo faith.
All of these really add some flavorful and PC specific intrigue to your world. Try to imagine Critical Role without the workings of the Cobalt Soul or NADDPod without the Green Teens and their complex relationship with their own kingdom.
Hopefully these two new pieces of background will be great assets for your fantasy religions. So where does your faith fit into the cultures and kingdoms around it? And how is it pulling your PC's into the lore and action of your world? Let us know in the comments!
Hi! I'm Colby. DM, Nerd, IRL Cleric and Writer.