Sunday, March 23, 2014

GURPS Social Academy: A non-fantasy model for religions

This post is the fourth in the series GURPS Social Academy exploring the use in practice of ideas from GURPS Social Engineering (with some personal twists). These articles relate to my new campaign The Empress of India. This article is not expanding on ideas from Social Engineering but instead contains an original way to represent religions in a way that is realistic and respectful to theists, atheists and agnostic players (I hope).

The later posts are the following:
  1. The Reaction Roll
  2. The Unassisted Influence Check 
  3. PCs as targets of Influence Checks
  4. A non-fantasy model for religions
  5. Mitigating the reaction Roll
  6. Reward structure in social-oriented campaigns.


Religions are defining factors for theists, yet they are a matter of personal experience. In other words, a two friends of different religions can can find solace and resolve while being equally sincere in their Faith. The experience is real and tangible at the personal level. Faith provides strength of the mind when the worshipper believes to be in grace, and a weakness of mind when it believes to be impure or a sinner.

Theism and Atheism

Theism [5] is an advantage whereby the Will of a character is increased by 1 when the character believes to be pure or in good grace. The counter to this perk is that the belief of being impure or with unforgiven sins incurs a penalty of -1 on Will. 

Theists must either select the religious [-5] or devout [-10] code of conduct that defines the rites and behaviours prescribed in order to be pure/in good grace.  Devouts must abide by a much more severe code of conduct, but in return are subject to a +2 or -2 modifier on their Will.

Atheism [5] is an advantage that is not bound to any code of conduct. Because atheists have an equal conviction that there are no supernatural interventions over the world, their presence undermines and disturbs the conviction of theists. This abnegating effect takes place only if the atheist is known to be this way: there is no magic or invisible aura around an atheist. As a result, they benefit of a bonus of +1 on Will-based check to resist influence checks made by theists. Additionally, the presence of atheists incurs a -1 penalty to prayers if they are involved in anyway in the request for divine intervention. However, known atheists suffer -1 reaction penalty with theists. 

Agnostic characters are neither theist nor atheist. They may believe in something, it just doesn't have an in-game effect. 

Interactions with chauvinism/intolerance

Chauvinistic and intolerant characters must overcome their disadvantages when dealing with characters of other Faiths. Atheists, however, are consistently bothering all theists as if all theists were consistently failing their Will checks against chauvinism/intolerance.

Codes of conducts

Here follows the code of conducts for a cross section of faiths that are relevant to historical gaming. The devout codes also include the terms under religious.

Religious [-5]
Devout [-10]
Catholic (-1 prayers)
Orthodox (-1 prayers)
Attend service weekly, no swearing, honour parents, no killing, no stealing, no adultery, no “coveting”
No alcohol, No gambling, Respect the Day of rest, save the souls of the sinners

+1 prayers
Non-violence, truthfulness, chastity, patience, resolve, compassion, modesty, moderation, cleanliness, observance to regular holidays (CR6).
Contentment, giving, worshiping, keeping various vows, austerity.

Humble, pure/clean, honest, Pray 5 times a day
Truthful, unselfish, patient, courage, modest, kind, cheerful
-2 prayers
Altruism, truthfulness, gender equality, no discrimination, contentment, compassion, humility, love, no magic/prayers
Wake 3h before dawn for bath and rituals
-1 prayers
No killing, no stealing, no sensual misconduct, truthfulness, sobriety.
Celibacy, Fasting, avoid vanity, sleep on the ground.

 I built these codes of conducts from easily available information online. I used sources that come from within the Faiths themselves and are focussing on positive values. I ascribe that negative traits attributed to religions are largely due to misperceptions or cultural biases, and are certainly not part of what a character of Faith fundamentally strives for.

Interaction between Codes of conduct and disadvantages

Devout muslims are bound to be truthful, this doesn't mean that they have the truthfulness disadvantage. With truthfulness, the PC must resist against Will or be compelled to tell the truth. Under the code of conduct alone, the PC is free to lie, but the consequence is that the PC would be in sin for violating the code of conduct (and thus vulnerable at Will-1 or Will-2 until the PC feels sincerely atoned).  

Praying in a non-fantasy setting

Tybalt's 9mm rapier from Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet
A prayer is a request for divine intervention: some kind of nudge on reality. Anyone may pray to whichever higher entities using Prayer (Will/H) that defaults at Will-5 as long as the faith is sincere. Some religions are more or less prone to this type of request. For some religion, it is best to ask someone else to pray such as a contact with a decent level in Prayer. 

A prayer check is made in secret by the GM and takes the form of an intangible benefit: mainly the shift of odds in a specific situation. The check on which the odds may be shifted must be rolled in secret by the GM. As a result, recognizing the influence of the divine over the world must remain a matter of faith.

After a prayer, successful or not, the character is considered in debt to the entity until proper measures are taken to return in good grace. Consider the character to be in sin. Characters in sin either can't pray at all, or do so at -4 (if you want to keep hope alive).

Leonie Harrow convinces the deacon to pray for her husband’s survival after falling prey to sepsis. The deacon passes his prayer check in secret. The husband’s next HT check to recover from the infection will be at HT-1 instead of HT-2: A possibly life-saving intervention.
Amir is desperately running the gauntlet through a volley of British rifles. He invokes the grace of Allah that he may survive this challenge. The GM rolls in secret and determines a success of the prayer. Amir’s non-atheist enemies are going to shoot at -1. He makes it through the ordeal after the GM resolve all the shot against him: a proof that Allah was with him on that day. Amir will believe himself to be in debt with Allah until he gets to worship again (Will -1).

Prayers don’t stack

Prayers do not compound on the same check. Different prayers may affect different check that are related, but never stack together. If a bunch of people all pray together, it takes only one to succeed to take effect.

Miracles and conversions

For flavour, if an event with a target number of 6 or less (before prayers) takes place, consider this event to be a miracle. Anyone aware that prayers were influencing the event must make a Will check. Upon failure, Atheists lose their advantage (and the points), religious people of the same faith become devouts. Agnostics convert to the faith and people of different faith shift one level of faith or become agnostic themselves.

Worshipping false idols

Optionally, a GM may secretly decide that the higher entity of some religions cannot influence reality. This doesn't affect theism as the game effect of theism regards personal resolve. However, all prayers are quietly resolved as failure. This is a bit of a cruel trick that makes sense only if the narrative calls for favouring the followers of one Faith over others.

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