Monday, February 29, 2016

Sleeping Priests

The Hesayan Church is huge and baroque.  It's monotheism spans the continent of Centerra, and it's language (gospeltongue) is the common tongue of the land.

One reason it has been so successful in monopolizing faith is its explicit willingness to annex other religions and incorporate them into itself.  Syncretism is not a side-effect, but the intended result.  There is room in the church for everyone and everything.

One visible symbol of this success is their ability to convert monsters and beasts.  A country church might have an ox that has found enlightenment, and kneels with the rest of the congregation during prayer.  (The ox does not have intelligence, but it has faith, and that is sufficient.)  Or there may be a cockatrice that prays daily and guards the cemetery.

There are also the slave gods--the gods of conquered people.  Their holy places are transported to the Holy City of Coramont, where they are reassembled stone by stone.  Their priests are kidnapped and held hostage within their temples.  They control the faith, and so they control the people.  These conquered gods become slave gods, and they kneel at the throne of Zulin, like the rest of Centerra.  Their history is overwritten with new mythologies that incorporate them into the story of Zulin.  It becomes very important to control books and regulate who is able to teach children.  This is not a lie--in a very real sense, it becomes truth.

In this way, LAW is maintained.

by Jakub Rozalski
There are things that the church cannot absorb nor destroy.  These things must be locked away and the key must be destroyed.

Ideas are easy to bury.  There is an entire arm of the church dedicated to destroying and controlling information.

But immaterial creatures are much more difficult.  Foreign angels, demon dragons, spirits of unborn antichrists, violent nature spirits, incompatible or redundant godlings. . . The church has hunted down all of these things and imprisoned them.  (In most cases, this is not a bodily hunt but a metaphysical one).

They do these great feats by incinerating the souls of the (willing) devout, summoning angels, summoning devils, and employing autistic paladins who are actually really good at resisting the more weaponized aspects of faith.  Centerra is infested with minor godlings.  You couldn't flip over a rock without pissing off a nature spirit who lived beneath it.  Or at least, it used to be infested.  Things have quieted down now that the Church has been systematically exterminating and assimilating everything they come across.

They also use summoning circles, because you need to get a god to manifest before you kick its ass.  Some of these summoning circles are huuuuuuuuge.  You will find them scattered across Centerra.

<digression>The church actually summons a lot of bound devils, usually for very dangerous missions.  They are powerful and blessedly expendable.  But yeah, don't fuck with a Hesayan demon-binder.  They know their stuff better than the demon-binders they are employed to fight.  Sort of like how the government uses hackers to fight hackers, and sometimes recruits especially talented criminals.  Except the Hesayan church has all sorts of ways to control a persons actions and thoughts.  A person who has undergone all of these restrictions is called an Incorruptible.

The church doesn't care if the person they hire is trustworthy, because they have ways of making them trustworthy.</digression>

And once these rogue godlings are caught, they are given over to the sleeping priests, who then become responsible for keeping the prisoner asleep.

Sleeping priests are priests that sleep.  When they are acolytes, they will use drugs to sleep for over 20 hours a day.  When they are full priests, they will sleep 24 hours a day.  If you want to contact them, you must do so in a dream.  They are tended to by the youngest monks, who only sleep 6 hours a night because they are so busy spitting pre-chewed food into the mouths of sleeping old men.  (So little sleep now will make it easier to sleep more later, it is said.)

In the most remote and isolated places, you will sometimes find tiny monasteries hidden in the earth.  These places are filled with sleepy-eyed boys, holy books, and lots of opiates.  There will also be one or three old men sleeping in some hidden room, where they have been sleeping continuously for the last few decades.  Although their bodies are on a stone slab, their minds dwell in paradise.

At least, sometimes.  They also have a very important job to do, and that is to keep horrible monsters sleeping so that they don't wake up and spoil the rule of LAW.  They do this by crafting dreams and inserting them into the mind of the sleeping god.  Dream labyrinths--mindscapes that draw you in and never let you out.

And if you were to creep in there and slit their throats (it would be easy--so very easy) something terrible would wake up from where it was buried three miles below you.

These old guys inhabit the Floating Realm, the world of dreams.  They are strong with sleep magic and dream magic.  But most importantly, they are also the telegraph in Centerra.

There are no teleportation spells.  (Well, the true elves have some.  And humans technically have some as well, but no sane person would cast them.  That's how a wizard ends up dispersed as a fine, bloody mist across 40 acres of tundra.)  There is no sending.  The only way to get a message across the continent is to put a dude on a horse and give them a really good map.

That is, unless you have a sleeping priest.  Distance is immaterial to them.  They can contact each other in dreams and pass messages instantly.  The only difficulty is getting access to them, since the Church controls (nearly) all of them.  Sleeping priests don't wake up to dictate--you just shove a pen in their hand and they'll write out the message in their sleep.  See also: automatic writing.

In a way, the epitomize the power of the church even better than paladins.  Sleeping priests control information, and that is the real root of the Church's power.

Sleeping Priests as PCs

It's a great idea.  Let's do it.

They're just clerics with sleep spells.  I'd also give them some stuff like suggestion and illusion.  But really focus on the sleep stuff.  Control dreams, implant suggestions. trap people in comas, give them phobias (via nightmare).

Sleeping priests occupy two very specific roles within the church, and neither of them are very likely to become an adventurer.

You could be a sleeping priest out on a mission for the church.  You could be a sleeping priest who developed insomnia and become unsuitable for their job.  You could be trying to recapture the escaped godling after you fucked up and let is escape.  (After spending the last decade asleep, I bet your knees are pretty stiff.)

You could also be a runaway, someone who escaped from the Church after learning just enough of its secrets to be dangerous.  Or, heck, you could even be someone who learned the ways of the sleeping priests in order to fight them.  After all, you need to wake your god back up.


  1. This post, like so many of yours, makes me want to quit my job and dedicate myself to fulltime RPGing. Awesome concept, has that "you need to play this NOW" vibe.

  2. Very evocative! Shades of the Cabin in the Woods movie and the SCP Foundation. I also get a bit of a feeling here like you're setting your world up to head in the direction of a sort of Warhammer Imperium business (although I know very little about the Warhammer universe). Is that on purpose on your part, or are you just letting the world grow in your head and see where it goes?

    One issue with Sleeping Priests in the party that I wonder about is the Shadowrun-hacker problem. That is, if they (and only they) have all these powers that only work when they're asleep, how do you let them use those powers while keeping the whole group engaged? Can they bring other people into dreams with them? Would you play side-sessions for their dream missions, perhaps by email, or would you just make the dream-side stuff into a mechanic rather than running it with normal play?

    1. I get more of a Dragon Age vibe than Warhammer. Though both are similar in many ways

    2. Confanity:

      It's tough to make a powerful organization based on the Catholic church without making it feel like Warhammer. I'm okay with that. Warhammer is awesome. One thing I do want to do differently, though, is have the Hesayan Church be involved in all sorts of stuff (like communication) instead of being pointed directly at a well-structured demon threat.

      I'd run PC sleeping priests differently than NPC sleeping priests. They'd just be a cleric with sleep spells and a few other tweaks (see other people's dreams, etc), perhaps in exchange for armor proficiency. The shadowrun hacker problem is real, and sort of shitty to experience in play.

    3. The Warhammer church has these psychics called astropaths who do all the interstellar communication, as it happens. Not asleep though.

  3. How do I play in your world? Amazing, as always. Could/would a Sleeping Priest PC also be an opiate addict?

    1. Live near Santa Rosa.

      I'd imagine that novice priests require a lot of opiates. Higher level priests don't rely on such crude tools to stay asleep (they have divine access to better methods).

  4. Love this idea. There's a striking parallel to "The Buried Giant" by Kazuo Ishiguro, here. I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it, but the take away here is that the sleeping semideus is not only a prisoner, but also being used for its power.

    For example, a slumbering fertility god is fed a diet of pleasant dreams to keep the surrounding agricultural lands prosperous. No one in the surrounding village can explain why they have so very many twins born each year.

    The ever-present, impenetrable mist in the mountain pass that turned the once safe assault point for goblins into a graveyard for their vicious little souls is perpetuated by an ancient storm god, tormented by morose and languid dreams of forever unrequited love.

    Perhaps the Church could have killed them, but chose instead to use them. A fire god used to power the Mithril Forges, a god of knowledge slumbering to hide a secret, or a history...

  5. I like this idea. I would modify it slightly for the sake of Gygaxian naturalism to better explain away the necessities of bodily funciton.

    The baby birding from lesser monks to feed them is a nice touch, but swallowing presents problems. Likewise bowel movements aren't addressed.

    Training themselves to sleepwalk for a few moments at the first light of dawn and dark edge of dusk would help explain this. They shift their constant dreaming from the torpor of deep REM sleep, to the "waking" state of lucid dreaming, just long enough to compel their physical forms to move in a rehersed sleepwalking routine (like a kata or ritual procession) to evacuate the bowels into a chamber pot at dusk, or rise to a sitting pose and swallow food at dawn.

    The younger priests know exactly when the sun will peek over the horizon at dawn, because the sleeping priests all sit up in unison and assume their poses moments before the light crests over the horizon. Ditto for dusk, as they rise at twilight and squat over their chamber pots at exactly the moment the sun slips under for the night.