In the City of (name blotted out), so it is said, the people worship the bronze bull god, Moloch the King. Moloch apparently demands heavy sacrifices and particularly likes children when petitioners come to him asking for big favors (although he will accept adults in a pinch). The usual method of offering to Moloch is to take the child to the temple and place it in the bronze hands of the furnace-like idol. The priests intone their prayers and pull on hidden chains, and, with a creak and a snap of iron gears and the clanging of brass gongs, the mechanical idol will open it’s mouth and the child will be tossed alive into the roaring furnace within. A large orchestra of brass and percussion instruments plays at ear-shattering volume during this performance in order to drown out the screams of the sacrificed (most older priests of Moloch are usually quite deaf; the loud volume of the orchestra is widely believed to be the cause). When the supply of sacrificeable children runs low or the cause to be addressed by the Bull King is less urgent or important, the still beating hearts of humans or animals removed with surgical expertise by priests can be substituted, although Moloch apparently gets quite petulant over these menu substitutions.
For less important requests, various animals, artworks, plants, food, or even gold or silver or jewels may be offered. Some valuables are not tossed into the fire directly but instead accepted by the priesthood and then (we promise) sacrificed in ceremonies open only to members of the priesthood. Somehow, the temples and rectories of Moloch are magnifently opulent places that rival even the palace of the King of M even though the tithes are quite reasonable — another Moloch miracle. There is some speculation that not every item offered in sacrifice makes it into the flames, but somehow Moloch seems to understand. Perhaps the Bull King feels that his priests should live like lords.
The children for sacrifice are usually selected by lottery… a lottery to which no family in the city other than the current royal family is immune. However, even in the City of (name blotted out), wealth has it’s priveledges. The wealthy and powerful are rumored to purchase ‘substitute’ children on the black market in order to protect their own progeny from Moloch’s sacrifice. Since Moloch usually demands the youngest member of a household, the ‘substitute’ is then sacrificed in his place and the child who has been spared will be provided with a new name and a forged certificate of birth. Rather than risk having to scurry about procuring sacrifice substitutions at the 11th hour (a stressful and difficult activity), the most powerful and wealthy routinely simply have a substitute child ‘on deck’ in case their house is chosen in Moloch’s lottery. The kidnapping of infants for sale on the black market and forgery are booming industries in (name blotted out) and it is suggested that if visitors plan on spending any time there, one should be sure not to be the youngest person in any family group.
Theologically speaking, there is no express prohibition in Moloch’s church from providing a substitute, although openly speaking of the fraud in public is considered impolite. The poor deal with this inequality the way that the poor deal with inequality everywhere: they moan and cry and shed impotent tears.
It is thought that the city of (name blotted out) is crazy for lotteries, since the succeeding ‘royal family’ is chosen at random from a dozen noble families upon each king’s death. When the king dies, ivory plaques bearing the seal of all twelve royal families are placed in a sacred bag made from bull’s hide. The high priest chooses one plaque at random and that family becomes the new ruling family, with the eldest male becoming king, the eldest female becoming queen, etc. Other positions are filled by members of the family as the new king sees fit. Unfortunately, this means there is very little continuity in the governance of the city except in the unlikely occurance that the same family is picked twice in a row (in which case the throne goes to the next eldest surviving male member of the family and other positions are usually retained from the previous administration). Some claim that all families once took part in the lottery but a cabal of the wealthy and powerful passed a series of laws limiting the drawing to the smaller number of families of means and station. Even speaking aloud the possibility that this might indeed be the case is considered a capital crime, and the speaker is likely to find himself tied down on the altar and his still beating heart dissapearing into the fiery god’s idol before he can say, “Ba’al Hammon.”
While looking for something else on the information superhighway, I found this AWESOME picture:
Who would not want to hang with such an awesome Satan dude? Anyone out there know who the artist is? I want to see more!
On January 3rd, Pat Robertson announced that God had told him who the next president would be and that the US was headed towards economic collapse.
I’d like to point out that if Pat Robertson needed God to tell him that the US economy would likely continue to be in trouble, then Pat Robertson is pretty damn stupid. Are his followers going to wake up tomorrow, turn on the news, hear the talking heads talk about layoffs, more unemployment, etc., and say, “Holy Cow, Pat was right!”?
I, too, have a method for divining the future:
I’m not big on bible stuff, but isn’t the good book pretty specific on telling the reader that people who claim to be prophets are liars? (2 Chronicles 18:22): “Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil against thee.”
I don’t generally find myself perturbed when other people believe or don’t believe in a god (or any sort). I only mind when other people insist that I have to live my life according to the values presented by them by their god. If I ate bacon, I wouldn’t mind that people who kept kosher didn’t eat bacon. And if I were to be at their home for a meal, I would eat whatever they were serving and be grateful for it. And if they uttered a prayer or lit candles or spilled some mead on the floor for Thor, I wouldn’t object or interfere. And if they wanted me to hold hands or sing Kumbaya or shout ‘Amen,’ I would do so. When in Rome and all that. But I wouldn’t tell them, “Yes, I believe in your god.” And I would find it rude if the devout insisted that I HAD to believe in their god or accept being proselytized to.
Similarly, I have to admit that I get kind of sick of some of my atheist friends who feel the need to respond with snark and mockery whenever they encounter someone else who believes. Some people’s certainty that there is no god can be as irritating and smug as some people’s certainty that there is a god and everyone who does not believe in THEIR god is gonna fry.
I find talking about religion with both militant atheists and militant believers to be exhausting and boring. I don’t know if there is a god, nor do I care. I think if there is a god and I am going to go to some sort of punishment after I die for not having managed to pick the right god out of the thousands available to believe in, then it is probably just another lottery that I didn’t win. Besides, I wouldn’t like a god that plays such a rigged game with his/her/its followers.
The D&D games I have been involved in never seem to have taken religion terribly seriously (which might be ironic since I learned to play D&D while going to Catholic school). Priests of Thor and Mitra always rubbed shoulders with other faiths; individual priests might not have been happy with the arrangement, but players were unconcerned with the finer points of theology and just wanted to get on with their tomb-robbing. Most ‘priest’ characters were pretty much interchangeable. And it was fine.
The real world, however, is much more complicated (as posts and replies on Grognardia, LotFP and other places will show). Up until a few years ago, if you had told me that pantheism involved the worship of cooking pans and polytheists believed that god was made of plastic, I might have believed you. What a strange hobby this is — it constantly forces me to learn new and weird things. But, cruising around the blogs, I learn that some people take religion in the fantasy world pretty seriously and ponder the questions of, well, “how do all those gods get along?”
I’ve written about my own take on religion in the fantasy world before. The people of Aldeboran worship a hodge–podge of gods and goddesses including some drawn from/inspired by real world religions and some yanked from the zany and pretentious art-psychobabble of the Church of the Subgenius… as well as a few made up ones just tossed into the mix. I respond pretty positively to Stuart Robertson’s premise that the game really is “a cultural Borg … that rolled around borrowing from just about every source it encountered.” (sourced from Grognardia), so the ‘buffet style’ of religion doesn’t bother me anymore than having Scandinavian/Germanic gnomes/dwarves occupying the same world as Javanese Naga. However, some folks really seem to want to understand how having a bunch of competing deities might work, though, which could be a fun project for the philosophically and theologically inclined.
The notable exception to this rule are two religions modeled on real world religions. The Aldeboranian ‘Church of the Allfather‘ is fashioned after the medieval Catholic church in some of it’s less than admirable moments (what with the burning or heretics, inquisitions and all). They consider elves to be corrupt monsters (and will attempt to kill them on sight) and dwarves as ‘subhumans’ worthy only of being slaves. They have a highly organized hierarchy of priests, bishops, etc., and are always going off on crusades.
Another exception is the Church of Jeebus, in which the members practive all sorts of speaking in tongues, exorcism and other strange practices. Although less hierachical than the Church of the Allfather, there are several competeing sects in The Church of Jeebus and a few of the charismatic leaders are extremely influential. One of the most famous is James The Baker, a former owner of a bakery who saw the face of Jeebus in a griddlecake one morning and set off to create his very popular ministry. Baker and his wife ride around decked out in jewels and furs in a golden carriage, preaching the gospel of buying shares in their ministry in order to assure yourself a place in the afterlife.
Some people might find the inclusion of these two parody religions offensive (I don’t really think they are, since my mockery is reserved for the misbehavior of the human agents of these faiths — I don’t care if people want to beleive or go to shurch, but I also don’t think the misbehavior of the clergy should be above mention). I’m not running any games on Aldeboran right now so it doesn’t really come up.
A to Z: P is for Priests
Apr 18, 2011
Those who don’t know me might assume that, given the nature in which I portray religion and priests in this post that I am an atheist or a cynic or something similar. I will admit a distatse for organized religions… mostly due to how …
Welcome To Aldeboran
Feb 28, 2010
After discarding the rather pompous and unoriginal pantheon of my highschool years, I just toss in any and every god of religion I can think of, with Cthulhu cults rubbing elbows with pagans of every stripe, authoritarian churches and …
My Favorite Adventures
Mar 13, 2011
4) The Haunted Monastery: In my own homebrew world, I have a religion I call “The Allfather.” The Allfather’s followers are somewhat like the medieval Catholic Church; basically lawful but inclined to an excess of zeal and dogma. …
The AD&D books recommend that in order to avoid offending anyone, “real world & modern day” religions be avoided in game play (although, bizarrely, Hindu, Native American and Shinto religious figures were included in the Deities & Demigods book— I guess to TSR, “real” meant Christian and Jewish).
I wouldn’t care if a player wanted to pretend his PC was a ‘Christian’ or not. Back in the day one of the guys I played with had a cleric he named, “Father Francis the Franciscan.” An NPC cleric in my first game was a cleric at the Church of Saint Alphonzo (named after the church in a Frank Zappa Song). Another player wrote “Yahweh” at the top of his character sheet and when I asked him why, he said because that was the god his character worshipped. Half of our cleric minis had little crosses in their hands or hanging around their little lead necks (see image of the ‘Dungeon Dwellers” clerics at above right; I think three out of four are carrying or wearing crosses and the other one has an ankh — I still have most of those little guys. They also made an “evil cleric” mini and you could tell he was evil because he had a grimace on his face and was holding his cross upside down! Just like a satanist from a horror movie!). We didn’t delve too deeply into what form their prayers or observances took (no, we did not try to really cast spells beyond saying, “My character will cast Magic Missile at the troll!” and the like).
In the first version of the rules I owned, the price list included things like “wooden cross, silver cross,” etc., until it was later replaced in the newer editions by the more P.C. term, “holy symbol.” There was holy water in the rules and a reference to killing a vampire by filling it’s mouth with holy wafers and the pictures of clerics in the books sometimes looked like Friar Tuck or was wearing a cassock, surplice or mitre or swinging incense censers or holding chalices (admittedly, I now know the mitre was also worn by Babylonian priests)… so, to this former altar boy, much of the trappings of ‘make believe’ D&D religion came from the real world Christianity and it didn’t bother me (and I considered myself an observant Catholic at that time). I just didn’t see the harm in having the references to real world religions in fantasy, and, honestly, I still don’t — I think most of that stuff was excised to be more P.C. in the wake of “D&D is devil worship!” scandals and Geraldo Rivera style “journalism.”
I’ve mentioned before that a large number of the deities for Aldeboran are stolen directly from “The Church of the Subgenius” (and thus will prevent me from ever legally publishing a ‘canon’ version of this world). Others are taken from mythology, other source books, etc., and still others have been included simply to satisfy some urge or include a reference to some other item or allow me to include an NPC or a published adventure.
For example, if I were to want to include Jacquay’s “Dark Tower” adventure, I would toss Set and Mitra into the mix. Of course, references to the Cthulhu Mythos would be scattered about so I could take advantage of Goblinoid Game’s excellent “Realms of Crawling Chaos” book. And since players who read Conan would want to say, “Crom!” I better have Crom in there as well… The more the merrier!
I’m also not above placing references to ‘real world’ religions and belief systems. I’ve considered (but not yet used) a cult of people who preach that “dragons don’t exist” because one of their holy books has a passage that could be interpreted as saying so… so if a dragon attacks the village, the priest has anyone who dares mention the “dragon problem” burned at the stake as a heretic. They have statues of four saints in their churches — one who covers his eyes, one who covers his ears, one who covers his mouth and the last one holds shut his nose… “Don’t be fooled by the heretics who would have you believe in dragons my people… the good book says they don’t exist… (blast of flame from dragons mouth hits the priest) aiiiighhhh! There are no dragons… there are no dragons…”
One of my Aldeboran favorites is the hermaphroditic god Dormammu and his/her Sister/Brother Ummamarod. Both gods are often confused, but Dormammu is male/female and evil while Ummamarod is female/male and good.
I’d love to steal a page out of the book of Rotted Moon and/or PoleandRope and come up with custom spell lists for each god. including a ‘sleep’ type spell for priests of Hypnos, the god of sleep and dreams, for example… I did some custom ‘domain’ lists for 3e but I don’t know how that helps me (yet) since I really don’t want to DM d20/3e. As of this writing, I’m leaning towards Labyrinth Lord and/or OD&D, either with a pack of house rules.
Those who don’t know me might assume that, given the nature in which I portray religion and priests in this post that I am an atheist or a cynic or something similar. I will admit a distatse for organized religions… mostly due to how so many of the people who belong to organized religions behave, especially those who parade their faith in public (like Lynn Westmoreland from Georgia’s 8th District who wants The Ten Commandments displayed in the State Capitol even though, when Stephen Colbert asked him to name a single commandment, he failed). Didn’t Jesus have some pretty harsh words for those who made great show of the outward signs of faith without honoring the commitments in their hearts?
This from a post over at Dragonsfoot got me thinking:
[quote=”xyzchyx”]The biggest problem I would see with playing a catholic priest in AD&D is …[/quote]
[quote=”prespos”]Technically, according to [u]Modern Monsters[/u] ([b]Best of Dragon, Vol. V[/b]),
I would think that Catholic priests (or Rabbis, or Imams)…[/quote]
[quote=”xyzchyx”]By the book, yes… but that ruling would be incompatible with the notion of the judeo christian god, who maintains that *NO* supernatural power is good other than that which comes directly from him…[/quote]
Jeez Louise, when people start debating real life religions in D&D, it makes me want to give up on RPGs entirely.
I think it’s perfectly alright to use popular culture, movies, fables, etc., as source materials and not worry so much about what is considered truth or gospel or dogma in the real world churches (which don’t all agree, anyway — ask a religious question of a Protestant, a Catholic and a Mormon and you will get three different answers(all three would self identify as “Christians” — although I understand that some Christians say that the Mormons are NOT christians… whatever)).
In the bible, there is the story of the pharaoh’s priests tuning sticks to snakes and then Moses’ snake swallowing the pharaoh’s priests snakes — it’s not clear to me if this was supposed to indicate that the Egyptian gods had power to to turn sticks into snakes but the Hebrew God was more powerful, so the Hebrew stick-snake swallowed the Egyptian stick-snakes… or did the Hebrew God “allow” the worshipers of false gods to turn their sticks into snakes or does the story have some other meaning? And if the God of Abraham is the source of all power, both natural law and “less than natural” magic or miracles, then why would anyone be worried about occult influences from D&D books? If I could cast any spells as a result of playing D&D, wouldn’t those spells have to be ‘powered’ or ‘allowed’ by the Hebrew God?
It’s things like this that make me just want to say, “Nevermind all that” when someone gets too insistent that a game of fantasy be fueled by either historical truth or run according to someone’s real religion.
In my game, the ‘basic’ cleric can’t use swords because he is forbidden to use edged weapons. That might be based on a misunderstanding/assumption by the 19th century historians looking at the Bayeux Tapestry, but I like it so in it stays. I don’t believe in vampires… but they make great villains so in they go. I’ll base NPCs and organizations in the fantasy world on real world people and organizations like “The Spanish Inquisition” but I will also play fast and loose with the truth — and ‘Van Helsing’ types straight out of a Hammer Film or ‘Aliens’ with acid for blood are all fair game.
I don’t view D&D as a good historical recreation vehicle — it’s more fun as a pop-culture, folklore and history mash-up with an emphasis on the game itself.