Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Gilded shells: state religion in the Wicked City.

Luis Royo.:

Before the rise of the Wicked King, a dozen faiths competed for believers in the streets of what is now the Wicked City; but the state religion was a faith called the Way of Light. The common people favoured it because of the emphasis it placed on the practise of charity. The professional classes favoured it because it asserted that knowledge and wisdom were holy, and great respect were due to those who possessed them. The kings favoured it because it taught the duty of submission to worldly authority. Cheap little idols of its deified founder-prophet, the Full Moon Sage, could be found in the majority of the city's homes and businesses. The priests of the Way of Light grew rich upon the donations lavished upon them by rich and poor alike, and their temples increased steadily in magnificence and splendour.

The Way of Light remains the city's state religion today; but, like so much else within the domains of the Wicked King, it is now little more than a hollow shell of what it once was. The priests still preach loudly of the importance of charity, and collect regular 'charitable' tithes from the people, but none of the funds ever seem to go anywhere except into their temple coffers. They sermonise interminably on the holy duty of submission to worldly authority, no matter how tyrannical that authority may happen to be. They are still very keen on the sacred importance of knowledge, especially the kind of highly technical knowledge which might assist the city's government in the development of new weapons systems. The importance of wisdom seems to have been forgotten somewhere along the way.

Barely anyone keeps idols of the Full Moon Sage in their homes any more. For them, her image has been irrevocably tainted by its association with the hated regime which rules over them: a regime which has turned her church into simply another system for indoctrination and the extraction of taxes. Regular purges of the clergy by the Secret Police have served to eliminate almost all the real believers, ensuring that her current priesthood consists largely of people who bought their way in because they thought that the embezzlement opportunities offered by their new clerical ranks looked like a sound financial investment. Their huge, gaudy temples stand empty, abandoned by the crowds that once flocked to them on every feast day and fast day. The idea that anyone might go to them for actual spiritual guidance would be viewed by most of the city's inhabitants as little more than a bad joke.

A Mosque in Samarkand, Uzbekistan:

With their distinctive white robes and ritual talismans, priests of the Way of Light are a highly visible presence in the city, rich in wealth and influence despite their total lack of moral authority. Most of them have accepted, willingly or otherwise, that their only real role is to serve the city's government, and to provide a show of spiritual authority to support its rule; those who still maintain an interest in actual religion are heavily encouraged to lose themselves in abstruse theological speculation, which the elders of the church consider to be a harmless, if pointless, form of recreation. The priests do a very good line in spectacular displays, and they are excellent at staging processions, rituals, grand public ceremonies, acts of penance, 'miracles', and the occasional auto da fe. They have splendid costumes, sonorous chants, stately ritual dramas, and stirring sacred music suitable for any occasion. It just doesn't really mean anything any more.

To find out what the priests are up to in the local temple, roll 1d20:
  1. Preaching to an audience of bored dignitaries about how obedience to the state is their sacred duty, because earthly rulers are appointed by the will of heaven.
  2. Arguing with one another about whether it was the substance or the essence of the Full Moon Sage which was altered when she attained divinity.
  3. Taking advantage of the fact that this is a holy day, when every respectable citizen in this part of the city needs to show their face in the temple, to harvest 'donations' from their captive audience. 
  4. Frantically denouncing one another's doctrinal irregularities in front of a masked and impassive squadron of visiting secret policemen.
  5. Doing their accounts.
  6. Staging a magnificent ritual drama, involving complex music, dance, and use of spectacular masks and constumes. (2d3 Murder Harlots are in the audience taking notes, as they intend to stage an obscene and blasphemous version of the same drama the following night.)
  7. Embezzling the charitable donations.
  8. Ritually scourging and humiliating a terrified 'blasphemer' as a public demonstration of their power.
  9. Engaging in theological debate with a priest of a rival religion, and losing badly.
  10. Communicating to one another, in hushed whispers, the esoteric doctrine of the Four Eclipsed Sisters, who died so that the Full Moon Sage might attain enlightenment, and will one day return in secret to judge the world for its crimes.
  11. Seeking 'visionary revelations' (i.e. getting stoned) with the assistance of an impressive array of opiates.
  12. Carrying out creepy rituals designed to terrify new initiates into obedience. Darkness, masks, flames, blades, blood, chanting men in black robes - the works. 
  13. Drumming up custom for the miracle-working shrine inside the temple.
  14. Plotting how to frame someone they don't like for blasphemy so that they can confiscate his estate.
  15. Dabbling in dangerous occult practises. 
  16. Engaging in half-hearted acts of meditation and asceticism.
  17. Weeping quietly.
  18. Trying to persuade passers-by to buy their cheap talismans and idols of the Full Moon Sage for good luck.
  19. Actually reading the scriptures for once, and getting increasingly worried by what they find in them.
  20. Secretly running an illicit school for local children, teaching them the actual doctrines of the Way of Light in order to keep some remnant of the true faith alive for future generations.

Masjed Jamed, Herat, Afghanistan:


  1. "Actually reading the scriptures for once" sounds like a good PC motivation. Maybe a Trickster.

    1. Yeah, it'd be a good origin story. And I assume that if any of the city's priests have class levels, it'll be as tricksters: it's hard to imagine any of them having the dedication to become Renunciates or Disciples of the Word...