As we stride forth into Ordinary Time stronger in our faith, it is only natural that we should look for ways to incorporate one of God’s greatest creations, His Church, into Gygax’s greatest creation, role-playing games.
So you like the idea of incorporating a Christian analog faith into your fantasy campaign, but you aren’t sure how to do it. Not only is it easier than you think, doing so will give you a world that is richer, deeper, more detailed, and more creative than yet another pantheon knock-off. Better yet, you will get all of this with a lot less work than inventing your own whole cloth.
Rather than walk you through how to do this effectively, it would be way more efficient to present two master study cases drafter by far better writers than your old pal, TheConservativeDM.
For literary inspiration, one of the better works is Turtledove’s Videssos Cycle in which a Roman legion gets snatched from earth and plunked down into the heart of a fantasy version of tenth century(?) Byzantium. The central religion of the Videssos Empire is the worship of the good god Phos, who is opposed by the evil god Skotos. (Brief aside: Sometimes the Great Deceiver isn’t all that subtle. Skotos, in addition to being the Greek word for ‘darkness’, is also the company who owns a large purple political forum that sometimes includes talk of role-playing games – with an emphasis on how to use role-playing games as weapons in the cultural war, and on rare occasions even talk of playing them. ) The Church of Phos is pretty much Greek Orthodoxy with the serial numbers filed off, even down to the veneration of saints and icons. There are rival interpretations of the scriptures, giving a solid basis for religious and political factions within the One Holy Videssian and Apostolic Church. It’s a fun series and well worth a read, if you haven’t already burned out on Turtledove’s style of writing.
An even more nuanced fantasy version of Christianity can be found in a Cook book. Specifically, the Chaldarean Church presented in Glen Cook’s Instrumentalities of the Night series. Where Turtledove’s Church consisted of a pre-schism bureaucracy yet to encounter a Martin Luther analog, Cook’s Chaldarean Church is a few centuries past that unfortunate event, roughly on par with the twelfth century A.D., and includes all sorts of religious internecine conflict. A schism between the Chaldarean Episcopal Church and the splinter sect, the Brothens results in such things as anti-popes, excommunications, even crusades against heretics. And that’s just on the side of the Chaldareans – add in the Pramans (read: not-Muslims) and all of their in-fighting even amidst invasions by the Chaladareans and things get even crazier. Not only does this give Cook a detailed religious setting, it ties the religions deeply into the fabric of the politics and geography of the world. If verisimilitude is important to you, than this level of detail is hard to beat. If a master writer like Cook can generate an enormous fantasy playground with a thousand years of history and detail using a few simple name swaps, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.
Of course, both of these case studies give you highly developed and detailed religions that require quite of bit of tracking. If your campaign leaves out the high-level intrigue and focusses on the fight for survival inside dark holes in the ground, you don’t need that level of detail. You can simply identify “The Good God” whose message is spread by the One Church and whose clerics are differentiated by their Patron Saints. The One Church was founded by The Martyr Who Rose and the mantle of leadership has passed down unbroken from his named successor to the current patriarch. You’ve now got enough detail for a monotheistic faith suitable for any classic dungeon-delve style game.
To bring things more in line with real world faith, there are real precedents for including Christ himself in your game. Jesus his own self wasn’t above doing some curb-stomping when necessary. Consider his response to the moneychangers in the Temple (turns out Jesus took Non-weapon proficiency: Whip) and the hosts of demons he drove out of people and into pigs. But Jesus wasn’t the only warrior for God. His followers went about armed on at least one occasion explicitly referenced in the Good Book. Depending on which Gospel you look at, Simon Peter was a sword carrying man who wasn’t afraid to use it to protect Jesus. Can you imagine what old Malchus must have felt after Jesus cast heal in order to reattach his ear? Talk about suddenly being inspired to re-evaluate your life choices.
At some point we’ll go through the list of saints and pull out a bunch of guys that would make for great high-level NPCs or inspirational Patron Saints for your own clerics. If you can’t wait for analysis here, take a look at Blood of Prokopius. Father Dave runs a series called Saintly Saturday which uses the roll of Saints as inspiration for further adventure. We’ll take a slightly different tack, finding those heroic Saints who stood up to evil by punching it in the throat. The classic example is Saint George, shown left slaying a literal dragon, who would make a fine addition to any fantasy role-playing game.
The overall point here is that you shouldn’t be afraid to forgo yet another bland pantheon of cliché “gods” when you’ve got a dynamic and vibrant example of a diverse yet monotheistic faith right here in the real world just begging to be added to your game table.