Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Way Shrines and Holy Sites as "Civilization"

The White Stone
By Nicholas Roerich c. 1933
I have an idea I am tinkering with that I wanted to share with my readers.

I am currently running (mostly) a by-the-book AD&D one-to-one game with my wife that draws a lot of inspiration from the game Path of Exile and from Divinity: Original Sin II. And that will draw more than a few ideas from the OSR game Delve 2e. Specifically, the PC will begin exiled on an island controlled by a cruel Lich who uses crystal hypnosis balls to turn powerful heroes into his brainwashed minions, then makes them bring him slaves to serve in her city.

The campaign will entail a lot of wilderness adventuring on a ruin-strewn island, often spending weeks at a time in hiding away from "town."

Normally, I give PCs XP for monsters when they have had a chance to rest in a civilized place after an adventure, and give them XP for treasure when that treasure is returned to civilization. But in this campaign, that might be difficult.

So I had a great idea that adds a little flavor to clerics:

  • Have them gain XP as if they had returned to civilization when they offer up prayers at remote shrines to their god.
  • The PC must have been initiated into that god's worship.
  • The Party cleric counts as an initiate and may initiate others who are of an appropriate alignment.
  • Any treasure left or burned as offerings are counted as "returned to civilization."
  • Taking back treasure from the shrine once it is offered not only takes away the ability to pray in the future, but causes the PC to become cursed with unluck until the treasure is returned and an atonement made.

This will have a handful of logical upshots to the game.

  • I can place shrines at places near where the PCs are likely to be, so that they can still gain xp between adventures while survivng in the wilds.
  • It will incentivize exploration, as they will be able to find the shrines mostly by scouring the hexes I place them in.
  • It makes sacrifice and offerings meaningful.
  • The PCs have an incentive to convert to one of the party's clerics' deities.
  • I have a reason to build an interesting pantheon.
  • The Cleric has an incentive to seek converts and recruit hirelings and henchmen of their faith.


  1. I like the treasures given as offerings. I've been messing around with ways to do that in my S&W game. I'd like to remove clerics as they exist from my games entirely and replace them with a more pagan mindset. Making sacrifices would be a way to use up treasure for classes that require characters to give away their treasure.

    1. I have been considering creating a reserve of divine power generated by Treasure offerings and HD of sacrifices in shrines. In a world w/o Clerics having a battery for divine magic at shrines that has to be recharged by sacrifice seems like a good way to siphon off treasure and keep spells like Atonement and Remove Curse available.

    2. I've messed around with giving bonuses and luck points to players to spend when they make offerings. Those have worked mechanically but I'm not sure I like the implications. I need more experience with it.

    3. What about offering them Charms like in 3e's Complete Mage or 5e? The get the ability to cast a single divine spell once in the next 28 days. More times or higher level spells for better offerings.

      The content of the PC's prayer (role-played) could determine which spell is granted to them.

      So they ask for aid in slaying a demon, make a big offering, and get a one-shot use of protection from evil. They ask for aid in leading a troop to victory and make a big offering, they get one use of chant, etc...

    4. The Piety system in HarnMaster might be really well suited for this. Summarizing:

      Players can do things to gain piety points (PP). Spending an hour in prayer on consecrated ground has a 20% chance of yielding 1PP, going to monthly high mass 80% of 2PP, a couple of days of mundane service 90% of 3PP, appropriate sacrifices might give 1PP for 1% of net wealth, quests requiring travel 10-30PP depending on length & hazard.

      Divine intervention (free-form miracles) cost at least 5-20PP for a base 10-20% chance of success, boosted by spending more PP. Then each church hierarchy has access to six or eight defined game-relevant rituals - e.g. the good warrior goddess teaches Blessing, Courage, and Weapon Charm to regular priests, then Cure and Truthsense for high priests, up to an archbishop knowing Awe and Endurance and Summoning. These are much more likely to succeed (if the priest has a good score in Ritual skill) and cost 3-40 PP.

  2. So, player characters leave treasure at the shrines to their gods, and plunder the shrines of other gods? Sounds like a way to naturally build up tensions!

    1. Right? I have a couple of "Old" faiths being pushed out by a "New" imported religion and an Evil cult. Pillaging each other holy treasures for power & profit alike adds quite a fun dimension to the game.

      It also explains why there are piles of new treasure left sitting in ancient ruins.