Have A Little Faith: A Religious War in D&D in 9 Simple Steps

Before you start

This post is a demonstration of the system I wrote that allows you to run a cult or religion in D&D. Start with that one!

Meet Myra

Myra is a kind-hearted 6th-level Human Cleric of Finrimbel, God of the Sun, with a problem. She just arrived in Khobai, the City of a Thousand Sins, and the people here don’t really worship Finrimbel. Apparently, daytime temperatures of +40 Celsius make a people unlikely to see ‘sunlight’ as a positive. Good thing she has a plan: She’ll convert these sinners, one way or another.

I’m using this generic character sheet as Myra’s sheet, and we’ll see how far she gets with the 200 gold she has left over from her journey here.

Keep in mind that this example focuses purely on the Religion system – in an actual campaign, such a clear, uninterrupted focus on building a cult is unlikely due to all the other goings-on in the campaign world! The timeline of events is one more likely for an entire campaign instead of the quick succession of events mentioned here.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
02000000
Desert City by Pablo Dominguez. Source.

1. Spreading The Word

Myra gets to work. She spends one day spreading flyers, spending 2 gold and attracting 4 (1d6) Interested Followers.

The next day, she spends another day putting up posters, for another 2 gold down and 3 Interested Followers.

Motivated by this moderate success, she decides to spend a day standing on one of the larger markets of Khobai, proclaiming the glory of the sun. Time to make a Persuasion Check, DC is 25-6 (her level). With a total of 8, it’s a humiliating experience – she just lost 3 Reputation.

Deciding to take a more subtle approach and start her movement from the ground up, she spends 2 days helping the poor and downtrodden, making sure to tell them about Finrimbel while she’s at it. This costs 6×2 gp, and gains her 5 (2d4) followers and 2 Reputation.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
5184-11200

2. Reach out…

Happy with her “helping the poor” strategy, Myra spends 3 more days helping the poor. After this 18 gp investment, she’s at 6 more Interested followers and a Reputation increase of 3.

She takes 2 days off her holy mission, chasing down leads for bigger quests.

Returning to her calling all revitalized, she decides to give public speaking another go. This time, her roll of 20 beats the DC of 19. She gains a whopping 11 Interested Followers (2d6).

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
1116622900

3. …and touch faith

There’s a murmur going on about Myra’s effort – not a loud one, but, as they say, the fire rises. She decides to focus intently on a select few in an effort to convert them. Her Reputation makes the DC of a Sermon quite a risk (25-2), and paying 20gp for a single convert is a bit pricey for her current budget.

With a roll of 13, she adds her Insight bonus (+4 Wisdom +3 proficiency) to truly understand her 2 (1d4) students in a way they never felt understood before, beating the DC of 20. This gains her 2 Believers.

With the “Once every 14 days” deadline coming up, she decides to spend 2 more days helping the poor, for 6 more Interested followers.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
1415433120

We first resolve all the positive benefits. Myra’s Reputation is now 4 (+2). 2 Interested Followers are now Believers. She also gains 4 new Interested Followers due to her Reputation.
She loses 1 Reputation due to the passage of time, and Reputation slowly balancing out at 0.

4. Respect Is Everything

Now realizing the power of Reputation, Myra gets to work in the next 2 days and…

  • …completes a bounty on a dangerous criminal. This nets her 100 gold. The DM deems it a ‘minor good deed’, granting her 3 Reputation.
  • …donates the 100 gold to Druids Without Borders, which grants her an additional 10 Reputation.

Capitalizing on this newfound fame, she organizes a Sermon on Finrimbel. Her current Reputation being 3+3+10 = 16, the DC is now a mere 9 (25-Reputation). She spends the 10gp to put the word out and secure a nice spot in a luxurious private garden. She attracts Reputation-d6 guests (44, 13d6), which simply means all of her 31 Interested Followers show up.

She once again shows her endless Insight, rolling a 5+7, beating the DC. She now rolls the same 13d6 (56) and thus converts all 31 Interested Followers into Believers.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
17144130330

5. Here Comes The Sun

With 33 Believers and a good Reputation, Myra decides to solidify her grasp. She organizes an intense 3 days of meditation and prayer, inviting 6 (her Level) Believers to join her.

She spends the 20 gp setting things up and decides to dazzle them with displays of Strength, Insight and Charisma.

Her feat of strength leaves the believes unimpressed. Her wisdom, however, proves insightful as always. Her persuasion makes them believe that the Sun is, indeed, all-powerful and finally she tries her strength again, this time succeeding with the rays of the Sun watching over her.

She has just gained 6 Devotees and spends the next day in a local brothel celebrating.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
21124130276

6. Always Be Investing

Myra knows that if she can raise more Devotees, they will start to self-propagate, which definitely serves her agenda of “overthrowing the heretics”. Secondly, if she can keep up her reputation, she will keep attracting more Interested followers without any effort.

She spends two days personally helping the poor for 12gp cost and 7 new Interested followers. She gains +2 Reputation.

She orders her Devotees to spread joy and kindness. The rules for Devotee commands aren’t set in stone and open to interpretation; in this case, the DM rules that having a bunch of Devotees spreading the love halts the decay of Reputation at the 14-day-mark.

Finally, Myra goes on a big quest in the interest of the city (it’s D&D, after all). She ascends to Level 7 and gains +4 Reputation for stopping the Serpent Lords of Nhak-Ta during her 3 day crawl through the sewers.

Emerging from the sewers, she speaks publicly once more, about how the Sun was the only way she was able to survive. She succeeds the Persuasion check with a (lowered) DC of 18, and thus gains 6 new followers.

On the last day before the 14-day mark, she takes a well-deserved rest.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
271181930296

Myra gains 6 gold from her Devotees. She gained 13 Interested Followers due to her own efforts, and 19 from her Reputation. From these 32, 2 Interested Followers are converted into Believers. Her Reputation does not decay thanks to her Devotees.

7. The Wheels of Faith

Time to get this religion going on its own. Myra hosts a Sermon for 10gp, which attracts 19d6 of her Interested Followers (78) – more than enough to attract all of them. She displays a simple card trick at a DC of 6 and converts 19d6 of them (81) – so all in attendance. She now has 59 Believers.

She must break the crucial 10-Devotee barrier, and invests 20 gp and 3 days. She manages the skill checks – barely – and thus converts 7 Believers into Devotees.

Myra takes some money from her personal account, as her religion’s coffers currently sit at 88 gp, and once again donates to charity. She pays this half out of her own pockets, leaving the vault at 38 gp.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
31382905213
The Church of the Holy Sun, one month in

8. Plot Happens

Myra gets called away from Khobai for important plot matters. Good thing she automated her religion! Her quest has her gone for 30 days. Let’s see what happens to the church in the meantime:

The next 14-day marker happens at day 42. On this day:

  • The coffers gain 13 gold.
  • 29 new Interested followers arrive due to Reputation.
  • 5 new Believers are converted.
  • 1 new Devotee is converted.
  • Her Devotees prevent Reputation decay.
DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
425129245614

Another 14-day marker occurs at day 56.

DayGoldReputationInterested followersBelieversDevotees
566529486015

9. The Future, and Beyond

Upon her return, Myra adds further Reputation due to her grand deeds, and fills the coffers with money. She focuses more on gaining Devotees, knowing that they will allow the cult running in her absence. If enemies arise, she can wield these Devotees against them.

She can keep growing the religion until at least 70 Devotees before risking a schism.

Now I’m A Believer: Run A Religion (Or Cult) In Dungeons & Dragons (Or Other TTRPGs)

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.

To Summarize

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.
Graph of running a religion or cult in Dungeons & Dragons

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.

Why?

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.

Gaining Reputation

  • 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.

Losing 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.

Flyering

For 2gp a day, you can spread posters and flyers proclaiming the good word. This leads to 1d6 new Interested people per day.

Public Speaking

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.)

Sermon

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.

Deep Debate

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.

Active Persuasion

You can spend 20 gp to straight up “convert”an Interested follower into a Believer.

Why?

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.

True Devotion

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.

Gaining Devotees

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.

The Schism

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.


Art Credits

Cover: Adoration of the Magi, Gentile da Fabriano, 1423

Straight To The Moon: Adding A Stock Exchange To Your Dungeons & Dragons Economy

Gold has a bit of a weird role in D&D – it is generally expected to be desired, yet a default out-of-the-box D&D campaign does not provide a lot of things to do with it. An option of investing is sometimes mentioned, which gave me the idea of adding a living macro economy to my setting.

What This System Does

Basically, we’re going to generate a table for stock prices of past and future. Players simply buy a stock for the current market price, and can sell it at some point in the future for the new market price.

This system takes type of stock, volatility and general market tendency into consideration. Theoretically, seasonal influences could be added as well, but I won’t go into that in this introduction. The system works on a monthly basis, to prevent players getting obsessed with daily fluctuations.

Disclaimer: I am no economist. I made this as a fun way to effectively gamble (and yes, that’s how I see real-life stock markets).

Type of Stock & Volatility

I’ve abstracted stocks into sectors of industry. You could easily do this for factions/corporations in your setting, as well.

I took a broad selection of stores and gave each a base value. In my case, my market simulation starts 4 years before present campaign time. Players could perhaps purchase this market data for a small fee. This base value is the start-off point.

After that, I added volatility. This is basically a percentual modifier. A volatility of 10 means that stocks could dip or rise 10% each month, compared to previous month.

SECTORBase PriceVolatility
General Store10010
Inn15015
Alchemist20020
Tailor15010
Jewelry3005
Blacksmith12015
Barber805
Butcher10010
Brewer12020
Stable8015
Shipping25030
Bakery8010

Business with large transactions get a larger base price – there’s simply less money in barbering than in shipping. However, I’ve made shipping quite volatile – storms, pirates and outside influences can have a big impact on shipping stock prices. Alchemists rely on rare resources, while jewelry is basically always in fashion.

Market Tendency

This is a simple base modifier, that signifies overall market health. I started it at 100 in year 1 month 1. Each month after that randomly picks a number between -2 and +3, meaning the market will overall increase in value over time.

Putting It Together

This is a little tricky – I made the model in Google Sheets, and it takes a bit of tinkering, but once it’s there, it doesn’t really need any modifications and simply becomes a look-up table.

On the vertical axis, I add the years and months and the Market Tendency. On the horizontal axis at the top, I add every type of stock.

YearMonthMarket TendencyGeneral StoreBlacksmithBarber
20191100
2019299
20193100
20194101

In the cells, I add a formula that does the following:

=(Base Price * (Market Tendency / 100)) * ((100+RANDBETWEEN(-Volatility;Volatility))/100)

The second part is done in the size of 100 instead of percentages because Randbetween only works with whole numbers.

Once you’ve filled in the values for the top row, “lock” the proper values in place so you can just drag the formula down so you can fill out the entire table instantly.

Copy the entire table to a new sheet and paste values only, to prevent the random number selector from changing every time you open the table.

I’ve made an example sheet, which can be viewed/copied.

An example generated by the formulas mentioned.

Past & Future

For ease of use, I’ve simulated 4 years in the past and 3 years in the future. Whenever an ingame month passes, I can just look up the new values!

Using Storytelling Conflicts To Create A Captivating Campaign

The gameplay of Dungeons & Dragons (and of any TTRPG, really), can consist of many different things: Challenging combat, complicated puzzles, deep roleplaying, and so much more. In its core, however, D&D is a shared narrative experience. That is to say, it functions like a shared narrative, which means it might be interesting to apply narrative techniques to it. Today, I want to focus on the central conflict of a setting, and some ideas to flesh that out.

Why Even Think About This?

A central conflict inherently provides themes to structure your campaign around, and can provide motivation and background for one or more Big Bad Evil Guys within your campaign. These conflicts provide context to narrative choices made by your players, and will (hopefully) have them think about their choices and consequences until long after the session.

Types of Conflict

Since I’m not writing a dissertation, I am going to use Wikipedia as a source. The page on conflict in narratives gives us a variety to work with:

  • Man against man
  • Man against nature
  • Man against self
  • Man against society
  • Man against machine
  • Man against fate
  • Man against supernatural/god

Take note that this does not imply that the party/players will always be the “man” in the conflict. It simply refers to the central conflict/themes taking place in the setting.

I’ve included slightly more detailed examples of every type of conflict. As I was writing those, I noticed that most of them seem to mix in a natural way: A man-against-nature conflict might intersect with a man-against-society conflict, for instance. I think you definitely shouldn’t be scared of mixing as you go along, or of having one type of conflict morph into another one (“It was actually about man-against-nature all along!”)

Man Against Man

“Man against man” conflict involves stories where characters are against each other.

Wikipedia, lol

A classic! Man against man-conflicts can involve all sorts of stories: War, revenge, andsoforth. But, how do we use it to actually structure a story? What deeper themes are there to explore in a man against man conflict?

Motivations For Murder

For one, the motivations of the antagonist can provide a lot of depth. After all, so many instances of real-life man-against-man violence has us wondering, “Why?”.

Let’s take a real-life example. In this article on the motivations to commit violence, we find the following:

The commonality was that the primary motivations were moral. This means that the perpetrators of violence felt like what they are doing was morally right. In fact, when they were committing the act, they perceived that not acting would be morally wrong.

Tage Rai, “Most violence in the world is motivated by personal morality”

Take a look at the various cultures in your world: What if a certain culture just has distinctly different values, and, for instance, considers a certain region their holy birthright, due to recently discovering that it holds ruins of their ancient long lost capital city? The important thing here is to find ways for the antagonist to be justified in their actions to some degree; at least to such a degree that the players can emphasize, for instance by realizing that if only they were born somewhere else, their perspective might be very much different.

King Aedan has been overthrown by his brother, who is now ruling the land. The party consists of lifelong allies of the former king, and must find a way to take back the throne. However, the new king is surprisingly popular: what is going on here? Is it propaganda, or are things, in fact, better this way?

Man Against Nature

“Man against nature” conflict is an external struggle positioning the character against an animal or a force of nature, such as a storm or tornado or snow”

Wikipedia

Nature is unstoppable and non-negotiable. Picture an impending once-in-a-century storm approaching the lovely town the players have been trying to protect, with only a set number of days to prepare the best they can. This can tie into a man-against-man conflict. People are desperate to survive, what is the real threat, the storm or the people, et cetera et cetera.

Exactly because the threat of nature gone rampant is so easy to understand, this provides an easy motivation. We all have the desire to survive, it’s just a question of how far you will go.

Nature can also be a resource, to be preserved & protected or exploited & consumed (just like real life!).

It started so innocently: the wild stock suddenly being more restless than usual. The old shaman in town reacted not so amused, however: She knew this was the First Sign of Tears: an omen meaning that the land will be struck by unnaturally powerful storms within 2 months. She was only a girl when it last struck, and her warnings about its power frighten the village. Some villagers secretly plan to steal all the food supplies and take shelter in the ruined fort, north of town.

Man Against Self

With “man against self” conflict, the struggle is internal.

Wikipedia

This might veer more into ‘backstory’ territory: a quest for redemption, facing sins from the past. Perhaps one or more members of the party have been mind-controlled by some evil force for some period of time, and are only now back to their usual selves. How do they repair the damage they have done to the world around them – and themselves?

With the defeat of Martugal the Mad, a curse was lifted: all those afflicted by his brainwashing suddenly came to their senses again. The party has been in under his influence for over 10 years, and must now make the trek back to their homeland, confronting the damage done to the world along the way.

Man Against Society

Where man stands against a man-made institution (such as slavery or bullying), “man against man” conflict may shade into “man against society”.

Wikipedia

The characters find out that some core aspect of society is wrong: cutting down those trees will anger the fey resting there, but the wood is desperately needed to survive the cold winter (special cameo for man-against-nature), or the characters are all members of a lower class, dreaming of something better.

Honor is everything, and honor is paid in blood. Every firstborn is sent to fight against the Mad Hordes of the Southern Swamps when they come of age, and so is the party. A curious confrontation with their supposed “enemy” however, reveals that this conflict is misinformed at best, and malicious at worst. Will they conform to the wishes of their king and country? Or is there another way out of the bloodshed?

Man Against Machine

D&D has built-in machines through the Warforged. A conflict between machines that are now sentient and demand their place in the world can provide enough material for a campaign, with the Player Characters either being those Warforged, or part of a society that feels threatened by this new development.

It came as a shock: Their otherwise mindless Warforged butler suddenly protesting orders and displaying free will. The other robotic staff soon followed (The party can consist of both Warforged and household members). What do they do with this information, that Warforged can feel? Will balance be kept, or will they start an uprising?

Man Against Fate

A complicated one, but definitely intriguing> What if the party has a certain premonition of something bad happening to the world, possibly perpetrated by them?

The casual visit to the carnival turned quite sinister with the fortune teller first telling every party member something she simply couldn’t have known – and then that “The Queen, on her moment of greatest service to her people, shall and must be slain by your hand”. The party knows that the Queen is loved by all, and seemingly the perfect ruler. The party does not know, however, that she is secretly a vampire – planning to invoke an ancient ritual to block out the sun, and have her spawn kill everyone in the city.

Man Against Supernatural/God

I’m not a 100% sure what to do with this one, as “big supernatural monster” does not necessarily invoke certain themes. It could be a case of the supernatural having motivations that are simply beyond our understanding, but that makes them more a force of nature (destruction for no reason, it just is), in which case Man Against Nature is more apt.

A conflict against god can be invoked in various ways: A struggle against a literal god is quite common in endgame levels of D&D, but besides evil ones, also consider the idea of ‘good’ gods, that maybe have a bit of an… old testament interpretation of what it means to be good. Alternatively, a false god can be interesting as well, in a “Wizard of Oz” kind-of-way. Another interpretation is that of “science versus religion”, and everything that entails.

Paladins of the Order of Achiel can feel their bond with their god burn inside of them. Speaking through the Supreme Cardinal, His words are all the guidance they could ever need. But when those orders force them to abandon the common people during the terrible Plague of Sorrow, what will they choose?


Do any of these ideas resonate with you? Got your own twist on the formula to share? Let me know!