Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Fixing Religion: Augury, Blasphemy, and Oaths

So I've read three things that have each been extremely instrumental in reforming how I think about religion.  None are short, all are excellent.

There's a lot of intriguing aromas wafting up from this stew.  There's also the stench of an idea: that I've been doing religions wrong this whole time.  And perhaps, so have you.

If you are like me, dear reader, then most of your knowledge of religion is firmly rooted in Christianity and Greek Myth (and probably a smattering of Norse).  These retelling are themselves repackaged by the hands of European Christianity, and by the time we crack open the DMG and hear Gary's infectious categorizing, we're all groomed to treat religion as if it were a cohesive system of gods and domains that all grew out of common mythological origin.

Which is almost entirely all backwards.

Relgions emerge from societal needs.  They reinforce a society and are in turn reinforced by it.  They  justify behaviors that can't be explained any other way.  And importantly, religions can emerge as behaviors before they become beliefs.  

Why do we grow crops for two years on a field and then let it rest on the third?  Because Obrieda the Earthmother had three children, but the third one died in infancy, so we let the field rest on the third year to honor her.

Farmers that follow this practice will have better yields than farmers who don't.  This is proof of Obrieda, and it is proof that she is pleased by our sacrifice (every third year) since it acknowledges her loss.  The crops grow and spread--so do stories of Obrieda.

Gods grow from the dirt between a farmer's toes, not the peaks of Mt. Olympus.

Gods become something that needs to be placated.  What behaviors please them?  What behaviors anger them?  More babies are born during the full moon because this pleases the goddess of motherhood.  Drinking stagnant water angers Ogoria, the god of mosquitos, who curses your intestines.  You can learn a lot about the spirits this way.

Square yurts fall down faster than round ones.  This is proof that the Envalys, who is the sun, favors things that are round like her.  Squares are bad luck.

These things don't work because they're magic or divine.  They just work.  How do chickens make eggs?  Same thing.

Later, much later, comes the cosmology and the stories told around the campfire.  Later on, religion is co-opted into supporting a societal structure, through the invention of religious morality.  Only then does Obrieda the Earthmother start caring whether or not wives commit adultery.  

Religions rise and fall with their practitioners, who must necessarily make compromises as they interact with other religions.  Gods are merged, inconsistencies smoothed over.  By the time Plutarch shows up to write about the local religion, the divine wilderness has been tamed, caged, and organized as a zoo.  (The mistake is to think that from the zoo, the wilderness was created.)

Priests are the people who know how to best keep the gods happy--when to hold the festivals that guarantee good harvests.  Priests are not pushing a divine agenda.  Athena is the goddess of wisdom become she is wise, not because she wants people to read more books.

by Andrew Kuzinsky
How I Will Use This

First off, I'm getting rid of clerics (at least in the traditional sense).  You can still be a wizard attached to a church (just as you can be a fighter attached to a church), but you aren't a cleric.  (Because why wouldn't a religion employ wizards?  It almost implies that wizards are the secular counterparts of the religious priests, when historically magic was very, very closely interwoven with religion.)

I'd really like to blend the boundaries between non-magical, the arcane, and the divine.  Why does it work?  How do chickens make eggs?  

Clerics are the guys that perform weddings and funerals.  They're no more of an adventuring class than "merchant", "scribe", or "pope".

Bottom line: There's very little difference between a typical D&D Cleric and a Wizard of the Red Temple.  I already gave my wizards weird observances, boons, and banes anyway.  You could also view this as a merging of the cleric and wizard class--common people probably see them the same, and any wizard is going to be religious (because everyone is religious).  

Instead, faith is something for the whole party to practice--not just one member.  Let's talk about how to do that.


Augury isn't a spell.  It's something that anyone can do.  Just go to a temple (or shrine) and make a sacrifice.

The important thing to know here is that you aren't asking a deity to tell you the future, you're asking the deity if they will be pleased or displeased by something.  You aren't asking if you will win the battle, you're asking if it will please Dendari if you go into battle tomorrow.

The trick is that you can still sort of tailor the question by choosing the god carefully.  Different gods want different things.  (See Three Gods that Every Adventurer Knows, below.)

Performing Augury

This requires either a shrine or a temple.

1. A divine intelligence will tell you whether they approve of the thing you name.  You can name a course of action ("Setting out to recapture the Traitor Horse.") or a noun ("The city of Mondaloa.")

2. Make a sacrifice and roll a d100.  Consult the chart.

3. Receive the answer: auspicious, ill, or terrible.

If you get it under a certain value, the augury will be accurate.  Otherwise it will be random (odds = inauspicious, even = auspicious).  If the augury fails and the dice show double odd numbers (e.g. 99) then this is a terrible omen and you must do something drastic (very possibly this is many sacrifices) in order to avert a horrible fate.  If you were asking about a possible plan of action--and I must stress this--you must not do it.

If you ask "Will it please Phosmora if I rob the tomb of Godo the Heretic?", receive a terrible omen in return, and persist in robbing the tomb of Godo the Heretic anyway, the DM is well within her rights to collapse the entrance, trapping you in the tomb.  Because fuck you, you were warned.

The Augury Chart

Bottle of Wine (1s): Base 40% success rate.
Three Chickens (10s): Base 50% success rate.
Cow (100s): Base 60% success rate.
But bear in mind that you can literally sacrifice anything.

Favored sacrifice: +20%
Rare, favored sacrifice: Automatic success.

Tip the Clerics: +X%, where X is the square root of the money donated.  X is also the X-in-20 chance that the high clerics will take an interest in you, and will want to talk to you personally.  Clerics are found at temples, but not shrines (and yes, some of them are wizards).

Remember that everything you sacrifice must be in pairs.  One for your deity of interest, one for Zulin.  There will be someone at every temple who will take your second cow.

If you don't have either a shrine or a temple, you can do it yourself at a -10% penalty.

If you don't have a sacrifice, you can still attempt it at a -10% penalty, based on what you promise to deliver.  ("Great Dendari!  Have mercy on those who are lost!  I swear to you on my hope of heaven, I will sacrifice 100 chickens to you when I return.")  Failure to immediately repay this debt incurs a curse.

I haven't mentioned it yet, but all of this must be accompanied by proclamations and praise.

Three Gods Every Adventurer Knows

Phosmora, Goddess of Gold, Darkness, Domestic Violence, and the Underworld
Favorite Offerings: black goats, black wine, black pearls
Rare Offering: A black goat, born under a new moon, ritualistically blinded and consecrated at birth.
Augury: A parent buries a gold coin in dirt on a new moon.  A child digs it up on the next new moon.  Afterwards it is kept in a bag filled with soil, and no light is allowed to touch it.  This is a consecrated coin.  The consecrated coin is flipped in a perfectly black room, then a torch is lit and coin is consulted.  (Coin balancing on edge = terrible omen).
Approves: When you find gold underground, but especially when you go deeper underground.
Curse: Curse of the Sun.  You are blind.  However, if you are underground and carry a lit torch and a wavy sword, you can temporarily see normally.  Gold burns your flesh.

Dendari, Goddess of Survivorship, Fear, Tea, Acrobats, and Friendship
Favorite Offerings: A tool that has helped you survive, specific types of tea, a white rooster.
Rare Offering: A tool that saved your life, against all odds.
Augury: A four-hour ceremony where three liquids are ritualistically presented, refused, implored, then accepted.  The four liquids can be anything, but are traditionally four types of tea.  Requires a teacup and tea leaves, which are examined at the ceremony's end.  (The teacup spills = terrible omen).
Approves: When you escape to safety, but especially when you meet interesting people.
Curse: The Curse of Bravery.  Whenever you see a monster, you must Save or yell a challenge.  At the start of every combat, you must Save or place yourself in the most dangerous position (e.g. jumping off a boat to stab the sharks, etc), with another Save on subsequent rounds to end this effect.  Immune to fear.

Cembric, The Second Holy Emperor, God of Crossroads, Pilgrims, Amputees, and Wolves
Favorite Offerings: Cattle
Rare Offering: A carnivore that has eaten your hand.
Augury: Haruspecy.  An animal is killed.  The heart is thrown to the West.  The stomach is thrown to the East.  The kidneys are thrown to the North.  And the genitals are thrown to the South (because fuck the South Wind).  Finally the liver is removed, examined, and burned.  (Malformed organs or unknown pregnancy = terrible omen).
Approves: When you reach your destination, but especially when you get lost.
Curse: The Blackheart Curse.  Your hands become bent and your thumb becomes warped--you can no longer use tools or weapons correctly.  The Authority rescinds the gift of Language.  You run on all fours.  Your teeth snaggle.  You gain a natural attack (clawing and biting) that deals 1d6 damage.  You are tormented by fleas.

And of course, all gods will encourage you to kill orcs.  (But not underground.  Orcs are invisible to gods underground, except Phosmora (who they hate) and the monstrous, ancient gods that only orcs know of (who they hate).

Beware, since gods tend to enjoy more than one thing.  For example, if the Third Emperor approves when you ask about travelling down the subterranean river, does that mean that the river will bring you closer to your objective?  Or that the river will get you lost?


Whenever you blaspheme, or make light of a god, you have a X-in-20 chance of being cursed, where X is your level + your Charisma.  Gods are more likely to notice important people.  And honestly, if you've made it past level 1, it's probably because some god thought you were worth keeping alive.  Show some gratitude.

This rule is negated if both the player and the character whisper their blasphemies, very quietly.

The rule is also negated if you are very clearly doing something in service of one god, against an enemy god (such as destroying their temple and massacring their priesthood).

This also applies to players who blaspheme against your gods.  If they want to make fun of Dendari, they can do it away from the table.


An Oath is entered into by one or multiple parties.  

They must loudly state:
1. Which god they are binding themselves to.
2. What they promise to do.
3. What their penalty is if they renege.

Then, if they break their promise, they suffer the god's curse (see above).  If they die with a divine curse on them, they go directly to hell.  For example, if you swear on the Second Emperor that you are telling the truth, and then you lie and your teeth go all fucky, everyone will know that you were lying.

To determine the odds of this happening, use the Augury Chart above, with the following addition.

No Sacrifice (0s): Base 10% success rate.
Touching the Vulgate (Bible): +10%
Touching a relic: +20%.

Once you make this check (in secret), you'll never make it a second time.  For example, if you swear on the Second Emperor that you are telling the truth, and then you speak and you don't suffer a horrible curse, then it isn't clear if you were telling the truth or if the Oath check failed.

Bear in mind that questgivers will sometimes make you swear an Oath that you will perform the quest as described.  The upside is that the patron will usually be forced to bind themselves according to the same Oath (so they won't backstab you either).

If a group makes an Oath together, then they will suffer the effects together (if any).  One roll per Oath.

This replaces geas, which was always an ungraceful spell.

Desperate Prayers

A party can attempt a desperate prayer once per session.

The character must loudly state:
1. What they want from the god.
2. What they promise to do if they get it.

The default chance of success is 0%.  The god will only intercede once, and in the smallest way possible.  These rolls are made in secret, and at the last possible moment.

If the player requests something small, that could possibly be explained away by coincidence, they get up to coincidence, they get up to +5%.

If the player promises something generous that they have the capacity to give, they get up to 5%.

Example 1 - Goren Kriegod wants to know which path leads to the surface, and so he cries "Phosmora, who was once as slave as I am a slave, guide me out of your embrace!  I must find again the sky, or be swallowed up by these black walls!  Rescue me and I will sacrifice a fine bull for your!".  +5% for a tiny, deniable action.  +3% for a decent offer.  There is an 8% chance that a black rat crawls out from a crack and then flees, showing Goren the correct way out.

Example 2 - Goren Kriegod asks Dendari to help him survive this battle.  If he survives, he promises to build her a temple.  +3% for an action that difficult to hide as coincidence.  +1% for an unlikely promise (Goren is too poor to build a temple to Dendari).  If Goren would take lethal damage in this fight, there is a 4% chance that some coincident prevents it, leaving Goren at 0 HP but otherwise unhurt.

Up Next

Religion is not something that one party member (the cleric) has.  Religion is something that the whole party enters into together.  Religion something for the party to put on their party sheet.

I haven't got the prototype off the ground yet, but it will work a bit like the guardian angel concept that I wrote about before.

Essentially, the party declares that they want to worship Esuna, the goddess of serpents and healing.  The party works together to raise their Devotion to Esuna.  The party gains magic dice (that they all share) that they can use to cast heal on each other through exhortation.  The party has no cleric, and  yet they all still have access to healing magic.  (Bonus: no one has to be the healbot.)