Religious / Magical System - How Does This Work?


Homebrew and House Rules


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Still experimenting to find the right thing for my world. Explaining the divine casters is the hardest thing, because I dislike classic Forgotten Realms/Golarion style cosmology. Historically, I would typically kill the gods off, but I've been taking a Philosophy class and it gave me the idea of leaving things more open ended and nebulous. How does this work (Humanity refers to any character race. An elf is a race of human, not a separate species.):

Divines

These are powerful beings that exist on a separate level from humanity (what this level is isn't clear, because nobody has ever seen the realm of the divines). Precisely what they are is also a matter of debate. They have powerful magics and wished worship from followers, but whether or not they created the world and why they wanted worship is a mystery. They were commonly called gods, though nowadays many scholars dispute the accuracy of such a term. There were once hundreds of them, who organized themselves into pantheons that looked over specific ethnic groups and organized religions among them. They had some sort of council among themselves to keep each other in some degree of check, but it didn't seem to work very well considering the wealth of conquerors this world has had. The council ended up completely fracturing during the Colonial Era, breaking out into some sort of cosmological war. The sky darkened around the world and the most horrendous storms in history raged amid the deafening cacophony of battle from the skies above, and when the clouds finally dispersed the divines were gone. That was over a century ago, and nobody knows what happened in the war, where the divines went, or how many are still alive (assuming they can die).

Divine Magic

A form of magic taught to humanity by the divines. It taps in to the power of Gaia or spirit realms, and requires a great deal of spiritual self discipline to use. For some reason, all the hundreds of divines worldwide had strict rules that only priests, shamans, holy warriors, druids, or other servants of the divines should ever be allowed to learn divine magic. As a result, the use of this magic has a strong relationship with religion, even though the magic itself does not come from the divines. The churches that await the return of the divines have tried to maintain control over who can learn divine magic, but they have lost their hold over Druidism and their support base is shrinking.

Witchcraft

Witchcraft is divine magic, since it taps into the power of Gaia or spirit realms, but most people distinguish if from divine magic in practice because the divines almost universally opposed witchcraft, seemingly because it existed outside the religious structures they had control over. Knowledge was passed via coven from master to apprentice, rather than through the clergy. It has historically been something of an underground movement as a result, with witches being hunted and killed, though modern day sensibilities generally oppose that now. Witchcraft is often still controversial, but now that you can openly practice it without being executed the number of practitioners is increasing. A lot of the old guard actually find this vexing, and don't like the way their traditions are changing and new witches don't always seem to fully appreciate those traditions.

Arcane Magic

Arcane magic is the manipulation of the magic of Aether, that which rests above Gaia. This is something humanity has understood how to do for less than a century (before this discovery, Sorcerers were a massive danger to themselves and others that nobody understood, and they couldn't much control their powers), but it was such a groundbreaking discovery that the world has changed massively. Industrialization, urbanization, mass communication, railroads, and the beginnings of global economic structures are revolutionizing how people live, all because humans now understand something of how Aether works. By far the most common arcane magic user is the alchemist (who are the single most common magic user in the world), as it is the easiest and safest way to use Aether, but Wizardry and the like are up and coming traditions and Sorcerers can learn to control their powers now.

Common Religions

People are fairly torn on whether the divines were or are actually gods or not. Some common religions believe:

They are gods, and left the world because humans deeply angered them by starting a gigantic cosmic war over colonialism and genocide. Humans have to be good and follow strict rules if they are to calm down and come back. These churches are the remnants of the original divine churches, and remain quite powerful, though they are slipping.

Whether they are gods is irrelevant. The divines started the cosmic war and inflamed colonial attitudes, were kind of jerks, they ruled over humans unfairly, and we are glad they are gone.

There is a supreme god who ruled over the divines, and the cosmic war the divines started over colonialism angered this god so much that it smote them. We should all pay homage to this god and avoid angering it.

The divines are now irrelevant. God is the energy that resides in all things.

The divines are now irrelevant. The spirits of the world and Gaia are much better allies, and we should honor them instead.

The divines were not gods, and they were killed by God. God is Aether, and to use arcane magic is to touch God.

There is no god, and the divines were oppressors. Humanity now controls its own destiny and must do so with benevolence towards all.

Atheism and Agnosticism are fairly common.


Not bad. Have you ever read any Gnostic works. Whether you know it or not, I sense a streak of Gnosticism in your set up. I like it. I think that you are onto a good idea here. And no, I'm not a Gnostic, I have just always found religion to be fascinating and the D&D and pathfinder pantheons to be weak. The campaign I am currently running uses the "official" pathfinder pantheons more out of convenience than out of fondness. Keep up with it, and I would love to see updates.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Why not just get rid of divine magic and the classes associated with it (maybe including a spell less Ranger archetype) altogether? Mine psionics for replacements for healing if you must.


LazarX wrote:
Why not just get rid of divine magic and the classes associated with it (maybe including a spell less Ranger archetype) altogether? Mine psionics for replacements for healing if you must.

That is one option, but I like her (I'm just guessing based on the Arwen part of the name) back story. I love good world setting back stories they give historical depth to the world. It's just like all of the seemingly unrelated back story material that Tolkien used in Middle Earth - it gives a sense of time as well as space. Not that there's anything wrong with your idea, it's a good idea, but so is hers.


LazarX wrote:
Why not just get rid of divine magic and the classes associated with it (maybe including a spell less Ranger archetype) altogether? Mine psionics for replacements for healing if you must.

I've toyed with that, and I've toyed with killing off the gods but retaining reflavored Clerics, but I think this actually works. The basic idea is that it provides more questions than it does answers, which is both interesting and versatile. Clerics still have close connections to the churches, despite not actually needing to belong to one, Inquisitors can remain agents of the churches, and the like, but the lack of actual concrete proof that any religion is correct makes things more interesting, in that Clerics are more likely to have crises of faith and it is easier for churches to become corrupt. It also provides the framework for making Witches something that I think well fits the flavor of the class. On the other hand, it also brings in some interesting religious ideas besides pantheons of divine beings. I like the idea of a Wizard who believes he touches God by casting magic, or a Monk who believes God is internal, or a Cleric of the church of the One True God, or a hardbitten mercenary who no longer believes in a God at all. All of these things and more can coexist comfortably, because of the fact that none of them can be proven true or false. It's delightfully diverse,.


Victor Von Fausten wrote:
Not bad. Have you ever read any Gnostic works. Whether you know it or not, I sense a streak of Gnosticism in your set up. I like it. I think that you are onto a good idea here. And no, I'm not a Gnostic, I have just always found religion to be fascinating and the D&D and pathfinder pantheons to be weak. The campaign I am currently running uses the "official" pathfinder pantheons more out of convenience than out of fondness. Keep up with it, and I would love to see updates.

I have not read Gnosticism. Thanks for the interest.

One thing that was suggested to me was to remove the reference to a council of divines and refer to it as a mysterious Celestial Bureaucracy instead. Sounds way, way better, I think, and Chinese elements are quite present in the setting.

In fact, the idea of a worldwide organization of divines, combined with mass communication (if something major happens in one place, the rest of the world will read about it in the paper the next morning), global trade structures, and the ability to travel anywhere in the world without insurmountable risk by train or ship, creates an interesting dichotomy. The world is big and diverse, but it is also small and connected. One the one hand, a Chinese inspired culture and a Vinland inspired culture are two rather different peoples. On the other hand, they are still both groups of people, and even if they don't know it they do have more in common than apart. When the divines did stuff, it effected the entire world, and when they disappeared, everybody noticed. For all the diversity of the world, it is actually very interconnected. Yet, there is still much that is unknown.


Your setting sounds really cool; I wish I could play in it. In particular I like the degree of separation you’ve introduced between the ability to use divine magic and the churches as human institutions and the fundamental uncertainty that introduces. I also really like that you’ve introduced witchcraft as a third flavor of spellcasting, albeit still divine in essence. Does druidic magic count as witchcraft then?


What are you doing with the Devils, Angels, and so on?


Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:


In fact, the idea of a worldwide organization of divines, combined with mass communication (if something major happens in one place, the rest of the world will read about it in the paper the next morning), global trade structures, and the ability to travel anywhere in the world without insurmountable risk by train or ship, creates an interesting dichotomy. The world is big and diverse, but it is also small and connected. One the one hand, a Chinese inspired culture and a Vinland inspired culture are two rather different peoples. On the other hand, they are still both groups of people, and even if they don't know it they do have more in common than apart. When the divines did stuff, it effected the entire world, and when they disappeared, everybody noticed. For all the diversity of the world, it is actually very interconnected. Yet, there is still much that is unknown.

Or how about: the world WAS very interconnected, under the rule of the divines. After/during the Big Sky War, the mass transport and communication systems were wrecked. So far-flung cultures know of each others existence, but can no longer easily interact, and their knowledge may be outdated. This provides many adventure seeds, e.g., the PCs must explore/clear/repair the tunnels of the Deep Tram that used to connect (Constantinople) to (Beijing).


fopalup wrote:
What are you doing with the Devils, Angels, and so on?

They exist, and are themselves powerful beings with their own agendas. Angels tend to be more benevolent (though they can be way overzealous or fall) and Demons more destructive (every one in a while a Demon rises, but that is incredibly rare). Making deals with a Demon is extremely dangerous, because they will give you power but screw you over. Angels rarely deal unless they need something very important, and as a result are much rarer to see than Demons. So, not really much different from standard Golarion, except nobody knows what the afterlife is or if Angels and Demons live there.

If something is a Good subtype Outsider, it is an Angel. If it is an Evil subtype Outsider, it is a Demon. All the Devils and Daemons in the Pathfinder Bestiaries exist, I just call them Demons because I vastly prefer that term.


Ebon Hand wrote:
Your setting sounds really cool; I wish I could play in it. In particular I like the degree of separation you’ve introduced between the ability to use divine magic and the churches as human institutions and the fundamental uncertainty that introduces. I also really like that you’ve introduced witchcraft as a third flavor of spellcasting, albeit still divine in essence. Does druidic magic count as witchcraft then?

No. Historically Druids have been grove based church movements focused on nature dieties, but in the last few decades they have broken from that hierarchy and focus more on the planet and Gaia itself.


Stormrunner wrote:
Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:


In fact, the idea of a worldwide organization of divines, combined with mass communication (if something major happens in one place, the rest of the world will read about it in the paper the next morning), global trade structures, and the ability to travel anywhere in the world without insurmountable risk by train or ship, creates an interesting dichotomy. The world is big and diverse, but it is also small and connected. One the one hand, a Chinese inspired culture and a Vinland inspired culture are two rather different peoples. On the other hand, they are still both groups of people, and even if they don't know it they do have more in common than apart. When the divines did stuff, it effected the entire world, and when they disappeared, everybody noticed. For all the diversity of the world, it is actually very interconnected. Yet, there is still much that is unknown.
Or how about: the world WAS very interconnected, under the rule of the divines. After/during the Big Sky War, the mass transport and communication systems were wrecked. So far-flung cultures know of each others existence, but can no longer easily interact, and their knowledge may be outdated. This provides many adventure seeds, e.g., the PCs must explore/clear/repair the tunnels of the Deep Tram that used to connect (Constantinople) to (Beijing).

I do like the way I have nations halfway across the world from each other able to interact through global trade lines and telegraphs and railroads and such. Combined with the way the churches are basically world spanning organizations and always were, and everybody knew of the divines, it shows that the world is as close as it is diverse. It does have plenty of places to explore, though.


Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:


Still experimenting to find the right thing for my world. Explaining the divine casters is the hardest thing, because I dislike classic Forgotten Realms/Golarion style cosmology. Historically, I would typically kill the gods off, but I've been taking a Philosophy class and it gave me the idea of leaving things more open ended and nebulous. How does this work (Humanity refers to any character race. An elf is a race of human, not a separate species.):

I think that it's important to consider why religion exists. Historically, deities and religion were able to answer questions that couldn't be answered: what causes weather? why does the sun rise and set? what happens after death? Once science started answering these questions, the divine no longer mattered as much. Unless a nation is ruled by some religious group, secular society tends to prevail in modern times, but it's important to remember that in the past people were deeply religious and that there are also deeply religious people still today. There have been attempts to remove religion in the past, and these always fail. Humans are built for spirituality, and where they gather is most often a form of community as much as worship.

Quote:

Divines

These are powerful beings that exist on a separate level from humanity (what this level is isn't clear, because nobody has ever seen the realm of the divines). Precisely what they are is also a matter of debate. They have powerful magics and wished worship from followers, but whether or not they created the world and why they wanted worship is a mystery. They were commonly called gods, though nowadays many scholars dispute the accuracy of such a term. There were once hundreds of them, who organized themselves into pantheons that looked over specific ethnic groups and organized religions among them. They had some sort of council among themselves to keep each other in some degree of check, but it didn't seem to work very well considering the wealth of conquerors this world has had. The council ended up completely fracturing during the Colonial Era, breaking out into some sort of cosmological war. The sky darkened around the world and the most horrendous storms in history raged amid the deafening cacophony of battle from the skies above, and when the clouds finally dispersed the divines were gone. That was over a century ago, and nobody knows what happened in the war, where the divines went, or how many are still alive (assuming they can die).

If you know what you want, go with it. If you want it to be mysterious, keep it mysterious. Overall I'd argue that at least you ought to know the real truth so if it ever comes up you are prepared.

Quote:

Divine Magic

A form of magic taught to humanity by the divines. It taps in to the power of Gaia or spirit realms, and requires a great deal of spiritual self discipline to use. For some reason, all the hundreds of divines worldwide had strict rules that only priests, shamans, holy warriors, druids, or other servants of the divines should ever be allowed to learn divine magic. As a result, the use of this magic has a strong relationship with religion, even though the magic itself does not come from the divines. The churches that await the return of the divines have tried to maintain control over who can learn divine magic, but they have lost their hold over Druidism and their support base is shrinking.

I tend to see divine magic as simply that magic approved by religious establishments and that there is no difference between arcane and divine. Once wizard academies started gaining strength, the religious ones started losing their stranglehold over magic, though that didn't make the wizard academies better than religious establishments, since they were just as subject to greed and corruption.

Quote:

Witchcraft

Witchcraft is divine magic, since it taps into the power of Gaia or spirit realms, but most people distinguish if from divine magic in practice because the divines almost universally opposed witchcraft, seemingly because it existed outside the religious structures they had control over. Knowledge was passed via coven from master to apprentice, rather than through the clergy. It has historically been something of an underground movement as a result, with witches being hunted and killed, though modern day sensibilities generally oppose that now. Witchcraft is often still controversial, but now that you can openly practice it without being executed the number of practitioners is increasing. A lot of the old guard actually find this vexing, and don't like the way their traditions are changing and new witches don't always seem to fully appreciate those traditions.

Much like you, I've often imagined witches as those who practice magic outside religious establishments, though they also get flack from places where wizards hold sway and want to control magic too. Witches simply can't win since they learn magic outside of normal establishments by traditions that have been passed down over the years. It doesn't help matters that they're often more effective than either clerics or wizards since their approach to magic is more holistic.

Quote:

Arcane Magic

Arcane magic is the manipulation of the magic of Aether, that which rests above Gaia. This is something humanity has understood how to do for less than a century (before this discovery, Sorcerers were a massive danger to themselves and others that nobody understood, and they couldn't much control their powers), but it was such a groundbreaking discovery that the world has changed massively. Industrialization, urbanization, mass communication, railroads, and the beginnings of global economic structures are revolutionizing how people live, all because humans now understand something of how Aether works. By far the most common arcane magic user is the alchemist (who are the single most common magic user in the world), as it is the easiest and safest way to use Aether, but Wizardry and the like are up and coming traditions and Sorcerers can learn to control their powers now.

I'm always leery of sorcerous bloodlines, but I would agree that sorcerers could fit into the mold of someone with magical talent and no way of knowing how to control it initially. In your scenario I could see them persecuted out of fear of their powers as much by the religious institutes for being a disturbance to their power hold.

Quote:

Common Religions

People are fairly torn on whether the divines were or are actually gods or not. Some common religions believe:

They are gods, and left the world because humans deeply angered them by starting a gigantic cosmic war over colonialism and genocide. Humans have to be good and follow strict rules if they are to calm down and come back. These churches are the remnants of the original divine churches, and remain quite powerful, though they are slipping.

Whether they are gods is irrelevant. The divines started the cosmic war and inflamed colonial attitudes, were kind of jerks, they ruled over humans unfairly, and we are glad they are gone.

There is a supreme god who ruled over the divines, and the cosmic war the divines started over colonialism angered this god so much that it smote them. We should all pay homage to this god and avoid angering it.

The divines are now irrelevant. God is the energy that resides in all things.

The divines are now irrelevant. The spirits of the world and Gaia are much better allies, and we should honor them instead.

The divines were not gods, and they were killed by God. God is Aether, and to use arcane magic is to touch God.

There is no god, and the divines were oppressors. Humanity now controls its own destiny and must do so with benevolence towards all.

Atheism and Agnosticism are fairly common.

Here are some things I've played around with as well:

One idea I had was that there were god territories. The gods were confined to these places by an overdeity after making a war that wrecked the world. They weren't allowed to fight one another anymore, but could fight indirectly through their worshipers. The losing deities had to accept these changes in territory and, if entirely conquered, had to be subject to the ruling deities (though they were allowed to inspire worshipers to fight back). Oftentimes, the losing deities were cast as demons to ensure no one would worship them and cause a turn around of fortunes.

Another idea I had was that deities were simply very powerful people who were akin to superheroes now. Certainly figures like Storm and Poison Ivy would have been goddesses in a different era. Much like superheroes, they somehow never ruled the world or caused any major changes in the day to day life of 'normal' people.

A third idea I had was that there are elemental spirits. These spirits can take the form of familiars at low levels and grow to things like kami or deities by gaining energy. They don't need worship to gain this energy, but it helps. Since they were born from the magical and elemental forces of the world, they have to be very careful when they interact with it or face severe consequences.


In Supernatural, God seemed to just vanish. Exorcism rites and prayers still work so the situation is similar.
1: God fractured. Every angel or devil is a part of god. Castiele(sp) is the angel of free will.
2: God's gone back to a higher plane. On the plane of inspiration, matter, emotions, and even coarse ideas cannot exist, so noone will ever find him, her, or it.
3: The mortal world has been quarantined. The adamant walls cannot be breached. Plane shifting to heaven will get you to the waiting area outside the gates where the angels still trying to help commute to.
4: All the gods died. Divine classes are still able to draw magic from dead gods. In a normal campaign you have to take a feat to draw power from Arowin(sp), but if all gods are dead then the feat is assumed, like literacy.
5: There never were gods. Divine magic is powered by belief and connecting to the 2 energy planes. It's more a philosophy then a form of worship.
6: Gods are monsters. They all went to a higher plane of existence. If a character gets above 20th level they can mutate into a god. Eventually they can rise so high they can create their own world, and cultivate the next generation of gods.


So I'm curious about the campaign setting. Are you going with a classic Pathfinder style setting which has only just recently gotten a handle on it's magical traditions and thus revolutionized its "technology" (based on Arcane Magic)? Or is it a modern setting ala Shadowrun, etc?


It is classic Pathfinder with a history of divine magic and a recent discovery of of arcane magic. Arcane magic has led to magitech fueled industrial revolution, so it's like Steampunk, but without the steam.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:
Ebon Hand wrote:
Your setting sounds really cool; I wish I could play in it. In particular I like the degree of separation you’ve introduced between the ability to use divine magic and the churches as human institutions and the fundamental uncertainty that introduces. I also really like that you’ve introduced witchcraft as a third flavor of spellcasting, albeit still divine in essence. Does druidic magic count as witchcraft then?
No. Historically Druids have been grove based church movements focused on nature dieties, but in the last few decades they have broken from that hierarchy and focus more on the planet and Gaia itself.

Once you say the word "Druid", you pretty much exhaust any relationship, resemblance, or connection between historical Druids, and the New Age crap that stole their name.


LazarX wrote:
Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:
Ebon Hand wrote:
Your setting sounds really cool; I wish I could play in it. In particular I like the degree of separation you’ve introduced between the ability to use divine magic and the churches as human institutions and the fundamental uncertainty that introduces. I also really like that you’ve introduced witchcraft as a third flavor of spellcasting, albeit still divine in essence. Does druidic magic count as witchcraft then?
No. Historically Druids have been grove based church movements focused on nature dieties, but in the last few decades they have broken from that hierarchy and focus more on the planet and Gaia itself.
Once you say the word "Druid", you pretty much exhaust any relationship, resemblance, or connection between historical Druids, and the New Age crap that stole their name.

Yes? D&D Druids have never once been anything close to historically accurate, and I do not pretend otherwise. In this context, historical refers to the role of a set of class features within the campaign setting.


LazarX wrote:
Kelsey Arwen MacAilbert wrote:
Ebon Hand wrote:
Your setting sounds really cool; I wish I could play in it. In particular I like the degree of separation you’ve introduced between the ability to use divine magic and the churches as human institutions and the fundamental uncertainty that introduces. I also really like that you’ve introduced witchcraft as a third flavor of spellcasting, albeit still divine in essence. Does druidic magic count as witchcraft then?
No. Historically Druids have been grove based church movements focused on nature dieties, but in the last few decades they have broken from that hierarchy and focus more on the planet and Gaia itself.
Once you say the word "Druid", you pretty much exhaust any relationship, resemblance, or connection between historical Druids, and the New Age crap that stole their name.

I think that "historically" was meant to be "in game world history", not anything about real world druids, modern or historical.

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