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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 73 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Priest Problems  (Read 5419 times)
talysman
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« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2004, 12:06:26 PM »

I think Ron has it right, but Jack has it right, too: priests are mainly a social or cultural distinction and do not necessarily need to have seperate game mechanics. historically, priests didn't have their own spells; saints might be able to pray for miracles (which is a matter of straight bargaining or social interation with the divine) and scholarly priests might know "secular" magic, but there is no seperate kind of priestly magic. heck, the archetype of the robed wizard comes from medieval belief that priests and monks, literate in latin and greek, had access to ancient magical learning. making the two traditions seperate but equal is unnecessarily confusing.

that fantasy games traditionally have a priest class is simply not true. of the oldest fantasy games (D&D, The Fantasy Trip, Tunnels & Trolls, and Runequest,) only two had divine magic distinct from other magic, and only D&D had a distinct priest class. Runequest aimed at being classless, while both Tunnels & Trolls and The Fantasy Trip based their classes on the two extremes of magic and combat. TFT even had non-magical priests in competition with sorceror-priests and no divine intervention at all.

so really, you have to ask "what is my setting like?" if you think people want a priest class, but don't want gods (or want to limit divine intervention,) then make priests a purely social roll, like a skill, feat, or advantage... or allow mages to choose whether they believe their powers to be divinely inspired or scholastically acquired, with no game effect outside of roleplaying.
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John Laviolette
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clehrich
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« Reply #16 on: January 25, 2004, 12:23:13 AM »

For another take, you could have all magic-using people be priests.  I mean, when it comes right down to it, if you have active, interventionist gods, why not make "magic" really mean supernatural?

If you like the model of mages and priests, it seems to me that you want to think about some sort of rough historical baseline to use as a parallel, or alternatively a fictional one.  Tolkien, you note, didn't bother with priests, but on the other hand his wizards were really angels in human-like flesh.  D&D followed a semi-European model, such that priests whacked people with a mace because using a blade was impure because extra-bloody (not that hitting someone with a mace is not bloody, of course).

I think you want priests to do something that isn't covered by other classes, if you have classes; this is the Prime Class thing, where there's some major niche filled by each Prime Class, and minor sub-niches filled by sub-classes.  In D&D, the biggies were healing and getting rid of the fundamentally impure, i.e. the undead.  If your mages already cover this, you don't need priests.

If you want priests to mediate between gods and people, as Andrew suggested, then you have them in a fundamentally social role [see Mircea Eliade, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy].  In that case, you need all the other characters to have a need for such mediation, and not just for magical/healing/undead sorts of purposes.  For example, when bad things happen, can priests make them better simply by praying and generally interceding?  To be very blunt, can they maybe change die rolls or their equivalents?

I say don't worry about originality, or being like other games, or whatever.  Come up with an important social role for priests, such that they exist for a good reason internal to the game-world.  Then see whether they also have a role in a PC party, or whether they will generally be NPCs.  In other words, you need to know:

1. What do the PC's usually do?  Remember, they're unusual.
2. What do priests usually do, if they're not PCs?  Most won't be PCs.
3. If priests were to be PCs, would they still be necessary?

One possible place to start on the "what do priests do?" question is to think about the issue of purity.  When someone is in a state of impurity, how does this negatively affect him or her in general?  Is purity binary, i.e. is one pure or impure, or are there gradations?  If someone is very pure indeed, does that translate into some sort of special power?  Is this like tabu in the classic Polynesian sense, where the very pure is also the very dangerous to be around (kings can't be touched, for the same reason that corpses can't, because both are tabu -- kings to the good, corpses to the bad, but tabu either way)?  

You might think about how what is pure is what is normal, in place, proper, accepted; then when things go haywire, they become impure.  For example, it could be seen as normal for women to hunt and men to defend the hearth.  If a man is forced to hunt, he becomes impure; if somebody attacks the home and a woman defends it, she becomes impure.  So then priests are needed, because they have to do rituals to return everybody to a state of ordinary purity.

Anyway, that's an anthro sort of take on it, as a starting-point.  Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger is one of the best and most readable books on the subject, and might be useful.

I don't know, but I think you need to think about the "normal" before you start thinking about the weird and extraordinary, i.e. what PCs do.  Build a cohesive world first, with a believable ordinary life.  Once you have that clear in your head, the rest will flow relatively naturally.

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
greyorm
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« Reply #17 on: January 25, 2004, 10:03:26 AM »

Quote from: talysman
historically, priests didn't have their own spells

Everyone keeps saying this, and I keep beating my head against the desk.
And Abzu goes and suggests doing research on the role of priests in history, but then comes out and says:
Quote from: abzu
A first and foremost, a priest is a promolgator of religion. What are the religions? Why are there religions? What morals do these religions enforce?

Until the rise of monotheistic traditions in the West, priests had little to nothing to do with the promolgation and spread of religion. Frex, the role of ancient Egyptian priests was not to preach to the masses or dispense religious advice, it was solely to perform the traditional magical rituals in the temple to keep the world ordered and in continued harmony.

In pagan Norway, what was between a man and the Gods was between a man and the Gods, the priest's function was purely one of social ceremony (frex, performing weddings, blessings, and such) and personal dedication to the Gods (or a specific God). They were not, however, the enforcers of Norse morality or beliefs, or a social anchor for society, as priests in fantasy games are so often portrayed.

In fact, ancient priests didn't need to convert or preach or deal with the masses: as if you were (frex) Egyptian, you accepted the Egyptian gods and the cosmology as true, just as you would accept the sky was blue -- no one needed to tell you it was true.

All the above holds true in nearly every other ancient culture.

Additionally, throughout history, the practictioners of magic and wizardry have been the priesthood of a given culture -- the two were (and, even today, are) insperable.

Any study of traditional magical practices of the real-world will show that there is no such thing as "aethistic" or "scientific" magic, which is what magic in most fantasy genres is portrayed as.

In fact, the whole division of "wizardly" magic and "divine" magic is, from a historical perspective, completely fictional and without precedent. The priests were the wizards and magic workers of a culture.

So, unless we're discussing medieval Europe here, the entire idea of what a priest is and what a priest does is completely different than typically portrayed in mass fantasy-culture.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2004, 12:25:29 PM »

greyorm:

Precisely why I'd like to see the magic-users act as priests, for this setting or any other. In the old, old days, priests were the mediators between the tribe and the Big, Bad Outside World. Having the magic-using class and the priest class be one and the same just makes more sense to me for some reason. But then, I'm weird. ;-)
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talysman
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« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2004, 01:24:40 PM »

Quote from: greyorm
Quote from: talysman
historically, priests didn't have their own spells

Everyone keeps saying this, and I keep beating my head against the desk.


I think you're confusing "priests didn't have their own spells" with "priests couldn't use spells" or even "priests didn't have magic". I'm not going to respond in full, because this thread is supposed to be about helping Kilor Di decide whether to have priests or not, but the short response is: most of the magic used historically and by contemporary cultures is not "spells" (words of magical power) but rather "inate magic", either of a substance (mandrake root, severed hand of a hanged man) or of a person (healing powers of a king, the witch-organ or evil eye of various cultures, second sight.) another large chunk is invocation, which despite being verbal is not a spell; the power lies in the god or spirit invoked, who can choose whether to heed the invoker.

magic was *never* solely the province of priests, at least from the perspective of the actual magic-believing cultures; there was always some suspected group of selfish non-religious users of magic. fighting these possibly imaginary outsiders was oftentimes one of the main duties of a priest, who in nomadic, pastoral, or rural cultures was usually the only sanctioned magical specialist. in early urban settings (Greece, Rome, medieval europe) other freelance specialists with no religious connection eventually appeared, although there was a constant conflict between the priesthood and the freelancers.

spells are mainly limited to cultures with a strong tradition of the priesthood as keepers of sacred texts, which was not a universal practice at all. however, spells were never limited to the priesthood, nor were there "priest-only" spells. concepts ofmagical words of power mainly derive from vedic, hebrew, egyptian, moslem, and medieval christian cultures and eventually turned into the "scientific" and "artistic" systems of the Golden Dawn or Austin Spare.

you are completely right about proselytizing being restricted to the "universal religions", beginning with zoroastrianism (or possibly Aten-worship, depending on how you interpret Akhenaten's actions.) the main and sometimes only way most religions added worshippers was through sexual activity.
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John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
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