Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Seven

This series began here.

I couldn't find an appropriate image,
so I just went with the default.
Religion! The occupation of the finest medieval minds and the source of all intellectual thought in Europe for centuries, or even millennia. Fantasy Wargaming ties it tightly to the magic system, which only makes sense, as magic is the way the world works in the world simulated by the game. There are three religions that are covered in the rules, two of which are mirrors of each other (or, accurately, one of which is a mirror image of the first). In this sense, a "religion" is an Ethereal hierarchy, a temporal hierarchy, and a set of religious customs (ceremonies, rules of piety, and so forth).

The most obvious way in which religion manifests in fantasy adventure gaming is through miraculous events and divine intercession. These are, of course, covered in the game. A character determines his Divine Grace or Devil's Favor by adding his religious level, his Religious Rank, and his Piety or Impiety (called "(Piety)" in the game) level. It is not made clear whether one should subtract Impiety or Piety from its opposite Grace/Favor, treat it as zero, or deny characters in the wrong Piety category from Appealing to those powers at all. I incline toward treating it as zero, but other Referees might choose another option. After calculating this, there are other factors to apply in an Appeal to an Ethereal Power, which are then applied to a table. This gives four possible results, success or failure, either with or without a penalty to the number of Piety points the character possesses.

If successful, the Power to whom the Appeal is made will then either Intercede with another Power or execute the miracle directly. A "miracle" can refer to either a magical operation or certain other types of action, such as giving information, forgiveness (which affects Piety level), a personal appearance by the Power, or even the resurrection of the dead (which is not possible by magic). Really, anything can be attempted.

That matter of Divine Grace and Devil's Favor brings us to the character of the first two religions covered in the game: the Christian Church and Devil Worship. Each has a hierarchy, with Ranks ranging from 1 (unordained clergy, monastic novices, or the members of a witch coven) to 10 (the Pope or the Devil's Anti-Pope). There are rules for promotion within a hierarchy, which for the Christian Church are strongly affected by Social Class, but the Devil is apparently more egalitarian.

Piety and Impiety are calculated by tracking a number of Piety Points. 10 points is PB 1, 40 is PB 2, 80 makes the character PB 3, and so on, each Band increasing in width by 10 points from the last. Below zero, the character tracks Impiety, or (Piety) (rated as (PB)), though PB 0 is the same either way. Piety Points are lost by committing Sins, which are classed from 1 through 7, with Class 1 Sins being the worst (murder, acts of worship to other gods or the Devil, denying God), and the least being 7 (laziness, lying to strangers, gluttony, drunkenness). There is a table showing the amount of Piety Points that are lost by each category, with more Pious characters losing much more, as God expects more from them. For instance, a character with PB 2 will lose between 8 and 15 PP for a Class 3 Sin, while a character in PB 6 would lose between 22 and 28. To gain Piety Points, there are two ways: a free and automatic increase of 30 points per day (but only for days that are actually played out), to cover "all the times [that the character was presented] the opportunity to Sin but didn't"; and also by the commission of Virtues, also rated in Classes 1 through 7, gaining fewer PP for characters in a higher PB and more for those in low PBs or in (PB)s. I do dislike the abbreviations, but they may actually be the clearest way to present the information. Virtues range from Class 1 (defending God or His interest against His enemies) through Class 7 (moderation in food and drink, activity (i.e., not laziness)). Going back to the rules on Temptation, resisting Temptations can gain Piety Points.

There is a discussion of the dangers of Impiety, which mainly opens one to the depredations of Devils and the censure of the Church.

After a character dies, there is a calculation of the state of his soul. Whether he goes to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory (and how long for that last) are discovered by the addition of factors. By this means, actually, a character may become a Saint or Demon, and so may be Appealed to by his former compatriots!

The clergy gain the ability to perform ceremonies, such as holding Mass or Ordaining a new priest. Confession can help with the state of a character's Piety, or Maledictions and Excommunications can be directed at a character's opponents. Each ceremony also transfers an amount of mana to the appropriate Power, at a rate of ¼ the amount gained through magical preparation (so, a preacher might gain mana for his God by the process of Incantation & ululation). Each ceremony also gives religious XP to the celebrants. Diabolical ceremonies are parodies of the Christian ones, but the Devil also retains some ceremonies from the Pagan forerunners of his anti-Church, such as the Feast or Sacrifice. A ceremony also creates a chance that the celebrants might become Inspired. Inspiration is a powerful state that increases the character's Piety Points and morale level, improves many of the character's characteristics temporarily, and gives bonuses to self-control in the face of Temptations and the anger of Berserk states. In addition, an Inspired character gets a bonus in Appeals. In addition to ceremonies, there are circumstances where a character may become spontaneously Inspired, or Inspiration can happen by Appeal to an Ethereal Power.

The next section is one of the most lampooned in other reviews. It is where the various Ethereal Powers are given statistics for use in the game. People claim that this table gives combat stats for Jesus, but this is not entirely true. While "God" (as the Trinity) is given a combat level (24, for those without access to the book), His other characteristics are pretty much infinite. As a result, there is no way to actually "kill" Jesus, and any strike by Him would be transcendentally effective. Of course, any Referee who used God in that capacity is probably not worthy of the office. The Ethereal Powers are not intended for use in that way, but are given appropriate characteristics because players are given authority to make decisions for their characters, which might include swinging a sword at a Saint, or more likely a Demon. The fact is, though, that most such entities are beyond the ability of most characters, and it is only the least of them (say, the Cherubim or Demon warriors) that might be interacted with in that way - or an Appeal for appearance might cause a clash of Demon and Saint! From a character's perspective, though, the most important characteristics of the Ethereal Powers are their Rank in Host, Resistance to Appeals, and Areas of Interest and Disfavor.

Religious XP are given for successful Appeals, ceremonies (as mentioned), resisting Temptations (to a certain limit), and Correct behavior (characters in good standing with their religion gain ⅓ of their total Piety Point gain for the day, rounded up, in XP).

Medieval Europe of the period had at least one other religion, though (and, yes, it is true that Devil Worship as presented never existed in reality), which was the Norse religion. This gets covered in some detail, showing the differences between the monotheism of the Church and the polytheism of the native religions. Many of these differences are subtle, but create significant differences when applied. For instance, there is no, strictly speaking, Impiety level for the Norse (however, it is noted that the Devil will take an interest in a Norseman whose Piety drops toward Impiety, and from then on his Sins in a Christian sense will affect his level of Impiety). The Virtues and Sins of a Norse (or Anglo-Saxon) pagan are different, and are enumerated in Classes from 1 to 7. The daily bonus of 30 PP applies, as well. Intercession in the Norse hierarchy is slightly different, involving factors covering the spouses, offspring, and siblings of various gods and goddesses, as well as their personal feelings toward one another. Do not ask Heimdall to intervene with Loki!

There is a calculation for the state of a Norseman's soul after death, as well, but it is affected strongly by the specific circumstances of death, with the drowned going to a particular place, for instance. It is possible to become a minor god or a Valkyrie, and even to rise in stature in the Afterlife. This implies a possible game of life after death for those involved, say, in a TPK, but this is not really explored deeply in the rules presented.

The hierarchies of Norse religious figures is quite different, as any man (or woman) may perform ceremonies. There are specialist religious, but any free man or woman has a Rank of 1 or more. Ceremonies and Inspiration are detailed in the ways they differ from those of Church or Coven. Finally, there is a listing of the Ethereal Powers in the Norse host, similar to the listing of Christian and Diabolic Powers.

Though the Celts (Irish, Scots, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, and so on) are referred to fairly extensively in the background material, there is no attempt to present their religion. It would not be too different than the Norse, however, and so could be easily modeled.

Next time comes the last entry discussing the rules, which will cover the monsters and magical beings, along with other animals, and sum up my thoughts on the game.


  1. All of the Celts had been Christian for centuries by the time of this book's assumed Viking Age setting. There are lots of Pagans in the Baltic and still some in eastern Europe though.

    1. That is the official story, yes. However, there are signs of heathen practices in Ireland up into the 14th century (such as the law of 1297 prohibiting English colonists from wearing their hair in an Irish style called "cúlán", which was associated with certain types of heathen warriors in Irish law texts). To be sure, the last fairly clear reference to those heathen warriors dates to 847 (in the Annals of Ulster), but that is also within the time frame set by Fantasy Wargaming. (See Katharine Simms, "Gaelic Warfare in the Middle Ages", in A Military History of Ireland, Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery, eds.)

    2. I guess you learn something new every day, eh? I was aware of a caste of half-breed Irish/Norse that rejected the Christianity of their Irish mothers and adopted the Heathen faith of their Norse Fathers. Since the church had already adopted infant baptism this technically made them apostate, and the Irish chroniclers really hated them worse then the Norse, because they were twice traitors, once to their Irish heritage and second, more importantly, to their Christian faith.

    3. That's interesting! Where could I find more information on this group (that is to say, what did the chroniclers call them)?

  2. They were known as the Gall-Gaedhil (foreign Gaels) or the Gille Gall (sons of the foreigners), the Chroniclers, particularly in Ireland, despised them worse than the Norsemen. Eventually they became an ethnic group unto themselves and a political/military force that fought for or against the Irish or the Norse or both as it suited them. There was a parallel tribe in Scotland, for whom Galloway is apparently named.

    1. Ah, of course! Thank you. I still don't know as much about the Gall-Gaedhil as I would like, but they hadn't really been a priority of mine. I look forward to finding out more about them.