I wrote an extensive example of this system in use, if you’re curious!
What This System Tries To Do
- Provide possibility for emergent storytelling through progress. Starting a real-life religion is probably pretty tricky (I never tried it), but just as Adventurers are capable in combat, I’m assuming that player characters setting out to spread the good word are also remarkably capable. I find it far more interesting that their efforts to start/spread a religion fail (and grow out of control?) rather than fizzle out.
- Integrating gameplay decisions (resources, skills, luck) into the system. Skill helps, choices help, money certainly helps, but at some point, you’re gonna need that prophet-like charisma.
Gain interested followers, convert them to believers and into devotees for profit and fun, all while managing your reputation.
- Reputation is good for your religion. It generates new Interested followers, but ‘decays’ over time when left alone.
- Interested followers don’t really do anything for you. They’re just kind of there, ready to be drawn in deeper.
- Believers partially self-propogate, generating new Believers over time.
- Devotees grant you gold and more Devotees.
Reputation of Belief
The player(s) promoting a particular belief are tied to the reputation of the belief they promote. Grand deeds done by the players will reflect positively on the religion, bad acts done by the players will reflect negatively on the religion. However, the positive societal influence of a religion will rub off on those proclaiming it, too.
Timed Elements of Reputation
Every 14 days you gain or lose a number of Interested followers equal to your Reputation.
Every 14 days your Reputation adjusts by 1 in the direction of 0.
Reputation is the wheel that keeps your religion spinning, or grinds it to a halt.
People tend to forget your Reputation over time – for better or worse.
- Reputation can be gained through charity or completing quests in the name of your religion.
- A small good deed gains you 1 Reputation.
- Completing a major good deed for your religion gains you 5 Reputation.
- Charity: 100 gp donated to a charity of your choice gains you 10 Reputation.
- Reputation is lost through embarrassing public activities, crime, violence and failure connected to the religion.
- An awkward public display removes 1 Reputation.
- A big public failure removes 5 Reputation.
Spreading the Word
To get people Interested, you’ll need to spread the word somehow.
For 2gp a day, you can spread posters and flyers proclaiming the good word. This leads to 1d6 new Interested people per day.
Get on that soap box! Publicly evangelizing your religion is a good way to get people to notice your religion – for better or worse. For every 8 hours of speaking, make a Persuasion Check. The DC is 25 – Player Level.
- On a success, you gain 2d6 Interested followers.
- On a failure, you lose 1d4 Reputation.
Aiding the Poor
For 6gp a day, you provide help to the city’s poor and downtrodden. This grants you 1d4 Interested followers and +1 Reputation.
Now I’m A Believer
To convert those Interested into Believers, you’ll need to organize events and gatherings.
Timed Elements of Believers
Every 14 days, 10 Believers convert 1 Interested follower into a Believer – unless you have a negative Reputation.
Every 14 days, you lose 1d6 Believers for every 10 negative Reputation (-10 = 1d6, -20 = 2d6 etc.)
For 10 gp, you can organize a gathering at a local park, plaza or bar. A Sermon will attract 1d6 or Xd6 (X being your current Reputation) Interested followers, whichever is higher.
During a Sermon, you display the glory of your religion through an impressive feat. This can be done through a skill check of choice – player creativity is encouraged! The DC is 25-Reputation.
- On a success, you convert 1d6 (if your Reputation is equal or smaller than 1) or Xd6 (X being your Reputation) Interested followers to Believers.
- On a failure, you lose 1d6 (if your Reputation is equal or smaller than 1) or Xd6 (X being your Reputation) Interested followers. You also lose 1d6 Reputation.
Impressive Feats of Faith
Effectively every skill can be used to display the glory of your faith. For example:
Athletics can show the strength granted by your faith.
Constitution can show the supernatural fortitude granted by your faith.
Insight can show the degree to which your faith understands the problems plaguing your followers.
History can place the importance of your faith in an historical context.
You can spend a day with 1d4 Interested followers, discussing your religion in-depth. Make a DC 20 Persuasion, Insight or Deception check.
- On a success, the Interested followers become Believers.
- On a failure, you lose the Interested followers.
You can spend 20 gp to straight up “convert”an Interested follower into a Believer.
A sermon is a risk for your reputation, but a quick way to convert the masses. Debates are a more personal approach and more likely to succeed, and far less public if they fail. Simply giving someone a heap of cash is likely for them to see the benefits of your religion.
This is the level where followers are truly on your side, willing to fight and die for you.
Timed Elements of Devotees
Every 14 days, you gain 1gp per Devotee. You can demand more, but for every 1gp you raise the tithe, you lose in Reputation per two weeks.
The Faith of the One has 20 Devotees. They donate 1 gp each per week, for a total of 20 gp total per week. The Grand Master demands they pay 5 gp per week instead – this raises the income to 20*5=100 gp per week, but creates a Reputation loss of 4 per week.
Every 14 days, 10 Devotees convert 1 Believer into a Devotee.
Converting a Believer into a Devotee is an intense process. You host a session of intense debate, meditation and prayer that lasts 3 continuous days. This costs 20 gp to organize. You can invite a number of Believers equal to your level. It takes 3 successful skill checks before you reach 2 failures. The nature of these skill checks are up to the player; see Impressive Feats of Faith. The DC here is a flat 20. This is about gaining true devotees – your reputation won’t help you now. Failing twice results in the Believers leaving your religion/cult due to lack of faith and -1 Reputation per lost Believer.
Go Forth, and (insert command)
Your Devotees will follow your commands.
- Charitable and kind commands (“help the poor”) can contribute a positive Reputation over time.
- Slightly disruptive commands (in the realm of protests or civil disobedience) require a DC 15 Persuasion Check to ‘spin’ to the outside world, losing some Reputation as a consequence.
- Violent or criminal commands will cause a penalty to Reputation of -10 per Devotee that gets arrested, -20 per Devotee that gets killed and -30 per person killed by Devotees.
The End Game
How does this all end?
- Reputation decays over time when left alone, causing your source of Interested Followers to dry up and your Believers to run out of Interested Followers to convert. Your Believers are relatively passive, only leaving your faith if your Reputation gets really bad.
- Devotees effectively passed the point of no return. They will not leave the religion unless arrested or dead. Someone with ill intent could grow their religion to contain a sizeable amount of Devotees, to then unleash a wave of terror on the city or country.
- The law might come hard on religions with particularly low Reputation.
A special type of endgame is the religious schism. When your number of Devotees is larger than your Level x10, one of your Devotees will argue that they are the leaders of the true faith, and split off. They’ll take 2d4*10 percent of your Believers and Devotees with them and go do crusade stuff.
Cover: Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423