Monotheistic religions in roleplaying

Usually most roleplaying game backgrounds feature polytheistic religions like the classic D&D pantheon. You have several gods that are responsible for certain domains like war, trade, luck, you name it. Monotheistic religions resembling real life religions are usually avoided in high-fantasy games. In my opinion monotheistic religions are much more interesting from a roleplaying standpoint.

In most fantasy settings gods are real and the interact with their followers in a direct way. In D&D for example the gods grant their clerics power in form of spells. And it is not unheard of gods walking the earth in the guise of mortals or by using avatars. Gods can be challenged and even slain. Although there are clerics and temples of certain gods it’s not unthinkable that a larger temple of Pelor perhaps includes a shrine of Bahamut. And even good people pray to the more sinister gods from time to time in hope they get spared from their wrath. Even the most devoted member of one god will not deny the existence of any other god.

“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.”
That’s a whole different story with monotheistic religion. The followers of monotheistic religions usually deny the existence of other gods and fight their followers rigorously. And there may be even crusades against people who worship the same god, but who are seen as heretics. From a roleplaying standpoint monotheistic religions add a lot of conflict to a setting. In the classic D&D world which uses the standard pantheon, religion is not much of an issue. Now imagine a roleplaying game set into the time of the crusades and one member of the party is a Christian and another is a Muslim.

Of course you can mix and match the two concepts and have strictly monotheistic religions and several polytheistic ones. One good example for such a world is shown in David Eddings’ Elenium saga. The Elene church in the trilogy is modelled after the Catholic church and there are also the gods of Styricum and several elder gods. The most interesting aspect is that the Elene god is quite distant and doesn’t seem to affect the world at all, but the gods of Styricum and the Elder Gods take active part in the affairs of man.

In my homebrew setting Asecia, I have chosen to have three major religions that are monotheistic and the gods do not show themselves in any way. Since Asecia was modelled after Victorian Europe, I didn’t want gods walk on the world or even have clerics using divine magic. The Brotherhood of the Three Sisters is as monotheistic as the rest of them, as the Three Sisters are more or less three aspects of one single god. There is noone who prays only to one of the sisters exclusively for example. The Brotherhood is the oldest still existing religion and the Sisters are vengeful and jealous. There are a lot of rules and commandments the believers have to follow and failure to do so is punished by the priesthood and the inquisition of the Brotherhood.

The Holy Cerynian Church of the Great Architect and the Church of St. Michael are modelled after the Catholic Church and the Protestants. The Great Architect is a more compassionate and forgiving god than the Three Sisters and his followers should strive to better themselves and their fellow men. But even these churches are not without taint. Both the Cerynian Church and the Michaelites have special groups that hunt down heretics and members of the Brotherhood. And high members of the church actively influence worldy politics.

In my opinion focussing on a few religions with strong monotheistic concepts make for better roleplaying opportunities. But this doesn’t force anyone to be a devout follower of one or the other religion. Since the gods are distant there is still enough space for atheists or agnostics and even minor religions. In a world where gods walk the earth or where you can witness clerics using divine spells on a daily basis, atheism has no place.

As always I am interested in your comments on this post, so please speak your mind in the comment section below!

This post is my entry into this month’s Blog Carnival.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

8 thoughts on “Monotheistic religions in roleplaying”

  1. That's what I've done in my campaign setting. I have a Islamic and Christian-like religions that vie for the hearts and souls of men. Some of the monetheistic religions have taken hold among humanoid groups as well!

  2. That sounds rather interesting. In my own homebrew world I decided for the exact opposite approach, going away from "western" religion entirely. Also, I would feel sort of uncomfortable with the concepts of a crusade in the tabletop, not really for myself (I couldn't care less) but because of the players. The muslim player and christian player analogues, for example. It seems like it would provoke party conflict.

    <abbr><abbr>Wyatts last blog post..Fleurian Pact Warlock</abbr></abbr>

  3. I've thought about doing things like that. It would be interesting. Sadly, none of my current games can support such a thing, unless I create a whole new game world. Something I'm not looking at doing anytime soon.

    I think even in a polytheistic society, there usually is one god that stand outs for a group. Hell I've always been surprised that for a pantheon the deities' clerics don't fight between themselves. I think sometimes, we think that all the clerics with deities in a pantheon all get along. I don't even think different orders for the same deity would agree on everything and there could be friction there.

    <abbr><abbr>Bonemasters last blog post..The Spell Utility Belt</abbr></abbr>

  4. Eight years late, but it’s worth noting that in a world where there are wizards and sorcerers doing magic that comes from a completely a religious source, there’s no reason that clerical miracles should disqualify atheism.

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