If you play a cleric, your character should have a well-defined relationship between your character and their god. Let’s explore this relationship by providing a foundation for cleric characters born with a divine purpose woven into their background.
If this is new to you, go to the archive to catch up!
So far, this series has looked at creating a system for simulating how a cleric might slowly uncover their divine purpose through events during gameplay.
With the basics established, it’s time to introduce self-doubt, skepticism, and the internal obstacles people throw in their own way. Crank up the drama by adding contradictions that challenge a cleric’s understanding of their divine purpose.
The road to faith isn’t always straight. Challenges and hypocrisies force a cleric to question their purpose. These complications root themselves in the inherent disconnect between mortals and deities. In a fantasy setting, gods know more of the mysteries, control more of the narrative, and face concerns beyond what most fragile, short-lived mortals who exist only in the present tense.
Since gods are so different from mortals and exist within a different concept of time and reality, they might view mortals as fickle, whimsical, callous, and unreliable. Meanwhile, mortals might see gods as aloof, uncaring, or self-absorbed.
In light of this, a cleric might reach a point in their relationship with their deity where following the path creates conflict. A given task or outcome might seem unfair, unethical, contradictory to the tenets of the faith, or just plain wrong. Conversely, the cleric might express their religion in ways that rankle fellow followers, divine creatures, or even their deity.
Either way, this dramatic event shakes the cleric’s faith. Overcoming a faith-shaking challenge leads clerics closer to understanding, while failure drives them farther away.
Loss of Faith
Loss of faith occurs when a cleric experiences an event that challenges assumptions about their deity or the tenets of their faith. The experience causes the cleric to question their divine purpose. Examples include:
- Encountering corruption among the high-ranking clergy of one’s church (unless you serve a god of corruption).
- Uncovering a lost religious text that describes ancient rites and rituals which radically contradict contemporary teachings.
- Learning the historical role your church or followers played in a war or genocide.
- Reckoning with a traditional religious structure built on a strong cultural bias.
A cleric restores lost faith by correcting the injustice or reestablishing their commitment by completing an Act of Faith (see Divine Purpose 2 for more on that.)
Transgression occurs when a cleric commits an act that directly contradicts their divine purpose. Examples include:
- A hard decision forces you to choose between following your faith or aiding a friend or loved one.
- You commit an act contrary to your faith’s teaching. For example, lawful or good faiths may oppose acts of adultery, violence, or vengeance. On the other hand, chaotic or evil faiths may oppose acts of compassion, mercy, or temperance.
- You give your support to a heretic, outlaw, or enemy of your church. Similarly, you fraternize with a member of a religion or sect that your deity or church despises.
- You continually and consciously look the other way when an ally engages in activities that oppose your faith’s ethics.
Moment of Weakness
When faced with a decision that would force a transgression, a player may use an optional Wisdom ability check to determine whether the character resists participating in a transgressive act. The difficulty of the check depends on factors in play.
|A close friend, lover, or mentor is involved||12|
|Other ranking clergy are involved||13|
|Significant financial benefit is at stake||14|
|Position within the faith is at stake||15|
|Resolution threatens the cleric’s or an ally’s life||18|
GM Note. Players only undertake acts of transgression through roleplay. Since a transgression might well bestow an in-game negative consequence for failure, you can incentivize choosing the struggle by giving inspiration or access to a new resource in-game for the duration of the challenge.
Clerics that stray too far from their divine purpose risk breaking their connection to their deity. Depending on the severity of the transgression, the cleric may lose access to certain spells or divine powers, requiring atonement.
Clerics that accept the consequences of their actions and seek to make reparations can perform atonements. A successful atonement removes a penalty from a transgression. An atonement is relative to the severity of the transgression. For example, the cleric must:
- perform an atonement ritual requiring oils, incense, and other materials worth at least 50 gp.
- provide services for the church such as spending one month officiating worship, running church functions, or overseeing outreach or charity programs.
- make an offering or sacrifice worth at least 250 gp.
- convert at least one individual to the faith.
- make an offering or sacrifice worth at least 500 gp.
- found a holy site, altar, shrine, or similar place of worship. The cleric must provide for the upkeep and operation of the site and serve as its primary benefactor for at least one year.
This occurs when the cleric challenges an existing tenet or beliefs held by members of their faith that do not accurately represent the will of the deity. For example, followers of a sun god might make blood offerings, however the god they worship doesn’t require blood offerings. The practice of bloodletting is actually a cultural tradition, not directly associated with the religion. The violent and dangerous practice challenges the cleric, who responds by reforming the belief system, convincing them to retire the old ways and move forward.
The Next Step
Epiphany—the moment of realization that changes everything. Again.
Discover more about your character—of any class—by gazing into the Tome of Heroes. Use this book of character options to make your character special, with new backgrounds, subclasses for every class, unusual races, tons of new equipment, and much more!