The Piety Skill

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Prime_Evil
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The Piety Skill

Postby Prime_Evil » Fri Apr 06, 2012 3:03 pm

I've been thinking about possible ways of expanding the Piety skill from Blood Magic to simulate ancient attitudes to religion. I've been re-reading Walter Burkert's work on ancient Greek religion and was inspired by the Homeric ideas about impiety and divine wrath. I was wondering if a house rule like the one described below might be viable:

Piety and Sanctity

“The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the mysterium tremendum. In theological language, this fear is due to the in-compatibility between man's egotism and the divine purity, between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of God.”
- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

Adventurers may need to roll against Piety rather than Persistence or Resilience to resist certain manifestations of divine power, such as exposure to locations or objects that are numinous with the presence of the divine. Contact with such sacred things should be taken lightly, even by the mightiest hero. Indeed, merely touching the holy relics of a cult or entering the innermost sanctuary of a temple can have terrible consequences for the impious.

The GM may assign a Sanctity rating between 10 and 100 (or higher) to places or items, reflecting how sacred they are to a specific cult. Whenever an Adventurer comes into contact with a numinous item or place, its Sanctity can be then matched against the Piety of the character in an opposed test. If the character wins the opposed test, he suffers no consequences from contact with the divine presence (beyond a vague sense of awe). However, if the Adventurer loses the contest he suffers a penalty appropriate to the degree of Sanctity – the Condition table on p79 of the Legend rulebook may be used for inspiration.

Example: A character who touches the sacrificial altar of an enemy cult may be afflicted with leprosy (or a similar curse) unless they their own god protects them. Because the altar is the focus of the temple, it is assigned a Sanctity of 70 by the GM. The Adventurer must make an opposed roll between their Piety and the sanctity of the altar to avoid being cursed by the enemy deity. Note that the Adventurer cannot resist the power of the hostile god using his own Persistence or Resilience as mere mortals cannot oppose the wrath of the gods – the only defence that he has against the divine curse is the protection of his own goddess.

Adventurers may need to make Piety rolls to avoid consequences from exposure to manifestations of their own god's power as well as those of hostile cults – even the strongest mortals can be overwhelmed by the awesome presence of the divine in certain circumstances.

Example: During an important religious ceremony, a god appears before his gathered worshippers as a pillar of flame. All who witness this miracle must make a Piety roll or be struck blind by the sight. Even those who are not blinded will feel a sense of overwhelming dread in the presence of their god – albeit a very minor manifestation.

Characters might also need to make a Piety roll to gain any benefits from items holding sacred power. For example, an injured character who touches the relics of a cult hero (such as the bones of a medieval saint) might be miraculously healed of their wounds if they win an opposed test between their piety and the Sanctity of the relic.

“The Holy Thing is here again
Among us, brother, fast thou too and pray,
And tell thy brother knights to fast and pray,
That so perchance the vision may be seen
By thee and those, and all the world be healed.”

- Alfred Lord Tennyson
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby dreamer_prophet » Fri Apr 06, 2012 5:29 pm

What a good idea! This put me in mind of the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in which the Nazis get their faces melted by cherubim.

This could serve as a catalyst in any number of ways, for example imagine the potential consequences for gang of thieves, used to making money out of stealing bogus relics, suddenly coming across the real thing.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Nostrildamus » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:11 pm

This might be overcomplicating things, but a single Piety skill might not work well in worlds with more than one deity. The reason for this is that polytheistic worlds have religions with varying requirements in terms of behavior and thus what is sacred. Example:

Cult A: A cult that practices human sacrifice, holds war and combat sacred, holds pacifists in contempt and believes in cremation of mortal remains before passing to the afterlife.

Cult B: A cult that abhors violence except out of dire necessity, considers human sacrifice to be blasphemy and sacrilege, teaches healing and understanding and believes in ritualistic burial before passing to the afterlife.

A single Piety score would not apply correctly to the both Sanctity ratings, because what is pious to one deity is abhorrent to the other.

The idea itself is awesome, though, and I'm going to think about this more in terms of polytheism and how it might work...
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Rikki Tikki Traveller » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:18 pm

Could you make the Piety skill have specializations? Say, one for each God or Pantheon? That way you can account for praying to different Gods when necessary.

Take a setting like the Ancient Greeks after Alexander...

The Ptolemy dynasty worshipped the Olympian gods, but also worshiped the Egyptian gods. Therefore a follower of the Ptolemiac group could have Two Piety scores.

Few gods required their believers to denounce all other gods (Jehovah was the most notable exception). However, a Priest might wish to specialize in Piety (Apollo) rather than Piety (Olympian) and thus gain some situational benefit when worshiping Apollo, but not necessary lose anything when worshiping another Olympian god, such as Artemis.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Simulacrum » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:29 pm

It's very good Prime_Evil.

I don't buy the 'different cults = different notions of piety' - that's a very RQ/Glorantha way of looking at it, and really doesn't reflect how polytheistic religions work. Different cults may demand different specific behaviours, but so long as they are part of the same pantheon, the 'context' of those behaviours, the assumptions about what is the appropriate way to engage with the gods is the same - and typically you worship all of them in a general sense but maybe have special affection or devotion for one or two. If this were not the case they are not cults within the same religious tradition, but competing religions.

Piety as you describe reflects a whole culture's sense of respect for the divine and the required behaviours when in its presence.

My AoT setting has something similar in that each culture has its own 'Rites' skill; however I didn't in the end call it Piety because I didn't want to suggest that ideas like 'faith' play a part in the setting (which semantically Piety seems to do) - the gods are real, they are more powerful entities, and you 'do business' with them.

If I were directly replicating ancient european polytheistic religion, I'd run with a Piety skill, and find lots of ways to use it. This much is maybe obvious - but the notion of using Piety as something tested when you handle a certain artefact, unwittingly break a taboo, confront anything of sanctity:
Prime_Evil wrote:The GM may assign a Sanctity rating between 10 and 100 (or higher) to places or items, reflecting how sacred they are to a specific cult. Whenever an Adventurer comes into contact with a numinous item or place, its Sanctity can be then matched against the Piety of the character in an opposed test. If the character wins the opposed test, he suffers no consequences from contact with the divine presence (beyond a vague sense of awe). However, if the Adventurer loses the contest he suffers a penalty appropriate to the degree of Sanctity – the Condition table on p79 of the Legend rulebook may be used for inspiration.

Example: A character who touches the sacrificial altar of an enemy cult may be afflicted with leprosy (or a similar curse) unless they their own god protects them. Because the altar is the focus of the temple, it is assigned a Sanctity of 70 by the GM. The Adventurer must make an opposed roll between their Piety and the sanctity of the altar to avoid being cursed by the enemy deity. Note that the Adventurer cannot resist the power of the hostile god using his own Persistence or Resilience as mere mortals cannot oppose the wrath of the gods – the only defence that he has against the divine curse is the protection of his own goddess.
That's genius.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Nostrildamus » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:33 pm

That's more along the lines, I think. In terms of Piety vs. Sanctity as the OP suggested, it would also make sense. Having said that, real piety (however you might define it) is a sliding scale, based on a person's behavior, rather than a skill that is fixed, and in this case would vary all the more depending on which deity's Sanctity we're opposing... I guess I'm over-thinking it to the point that it becomes impossible, though. Specializations makes sense and I guess it could be held largely simplistic with special penalties or bonuses to the appropriate specialization in the event that the character's recent behavior/choices would technically increase or decrease their level of Piety in a particular deity's sight. Does that make sense?
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Nostrildamus » Thu Apr 19, 2012 8:40 pm

Simulacrum wrote:Piety as you describe reflects a whole culture's sense of respect for the divine and the required behaviours when in its presence.
That's a different spin and works well in any case. You're right, I'm thinking more in terms of opposed religions than cults of a given pantheon that more or less follow the same code.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Prime_Evil » Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:06 pm

Blood Magic presents Piety as an advanced skill that measures a person's commitment to a specific god or faith. It specifically states that "a character may be initiated to more than one god or church and thus have several concurrent Piety skills, providing they are not antithetical to each other".

According to Blood Magic, Piety can be improved just like any other Advanced skill. However, it also includes a Piety Improvement Chart (p.21) that allows a character to raise their Piety by performing quests on behalf of their religion.

I'm leaning towards a more fluid interpretation of Piety in which the Adventurer's Piety score rises and falls depending upon how well he or she performs the obligations associated with a cult. A character who fails to observe the major holy days of their religion might lose a few points of Piety, while a character who performs a sacrifice to the gods before undertaking a voyage might gain a few points of Piety. The emphasis is very much on measuring how well the character performs their religious duties. In many ways, I am looking at treating Piety like Elan from the older editions of Stormbringer - as a quality that measures the strength of a character's relationship with a god based upon their actions. This interpretation does place an emphasis on the notion that the interaction between gods and mortals is defined by correct behavior rather than correct belief - a notion which is grounded in the conception of Piety in the classical world.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby alex_greene » Fri Apr 20, 2012 10:16 am

Simulacrum wrote:I don't buy the 'different cults = different notions of piety' - that's a very RQ/Glorantha way of looking at it, and really doesn't reflect how polytheistic religions work. Different cults may demand different specific behaviours, but so long as they are part of the same pantheon, the 'context' of those behaviours, the assumptions about what is the appropriate way to engage with the gods is the same - and typically you worship all of them in a general sense but maybe have special affection or devotion for one or two. If this were not the case they are not cults within the same religious tradition, but competing religions.
Compare the rites of Apollo with the rites of Artemis, the rites of Cybele the Romans' Magna Mater with those of Dionysius, and those of Demeter. Sometimes the gods seemed to demand very different kinds of worship and very different kinds of sacrifice, even if they are all part of the same pantheon.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby rust » Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:31 am

In my view the deities of a specific pantheon are not necessarily
like a happy family. They often compete with each other, fight
each other, and sometimes even kill each other, and their rela-
tions are usually mirrored by the relations of their worshippers.
That Seth and Osiris were members of the same pantheon, even
brothers, did not mean that their followers had similar ideas about
proper religious conduct and would worship both gods, who in fact
were mortal enemies.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby DrBargle » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:31 pm

Of course, the other way to do something like this is to use a variant of the Pendragon/BRP/Dragonnewt personality trait system. This would involve a series of opposed 'skills', so a character with 80% in 'Generous' has 20% in 'Selfish' (or whatever). How this works in the context of a religion is that different religions/cults valorise different behaviours and ways of living - and this can be abstracted to, say, five personality traits. A character with, say, 80% in each of those personality traits receives bonuses appropraite to that god[s]/religion.

How you develop these personality traits is a question - could you do so with Improvement Rolls, or would it have to be via older BRP-like 'checks' against personality traits demonstrated in play (though remember, in play can be at the level of 'downtime' abstracted play if the character is faced with a meaningful choice)?

Whether you use these traits to 'inspire' character behaviour, or just reflect player-determined character behaviour, is another question again.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby Simulacrum » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:07 pm

alex_greene wrote:Compare the rites of Apollo with the rites of Artemis, the rites of Cybele the Romans' Magna Mater with those of Dionysius, and those of Demeter.
Go on, then.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby dreamer_prophet » Fri Apr 20, 2012 7:46 pm

comparetheogony.com/?

......

deo compare?


:oops:
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby DrBargle » Sat Apr 21, 2012 8:28 am

The latest episode of Horrible Histories has a spoof of the Go Compare opera singer, instead advertising God Compare, to help some Gauls choose the object of their devotion.
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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby dreamer_prophet » Sun Apr 22, 2012 3:00 pm

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Re: The Piety Skill

Postby RangerDan » Sun Apr 22, 2012 11:28 pm

In many ways the Piety skill could be considered a 'Passion' or 'Zeal'-type skill like those used in many supplements like Elric or Clockwork & Chivalry - with the added complication that it might determine your divine magical power. The various Passions for example can also be used to replace Persistance or Resilience where relevant in Elric.

Fully agree with Prime that the Piety skill should be rather fluid and affected by player actions. A very strong case could be made to disallow increases with Improvement Rolls: the character either follows the rites and dogma of his religion - and piously acts accordingly - or he does not.

In my particular homebrew there are two types of Divine magic skills:
Piety: Representing actual belief and faith - typically religious towards one or more gods.
Pact: Representing a transactional bargain with an otherworldy power - typically a demon.

Mechanically these skills work exactly the same (ie as per the Pact skill in MRQ), but the flavour is different.

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