Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Heretic

The folk of the region have learned to avoid the Crag Woman. They say she's mad. Dangerous. Touched by the gods, or whispered to by devils, no one can seem to agree on. But when someone gets ill, or hurt, or there is danger too great to be dealt with, someone always climbs the mountain to beg her for aid. Sometimes she even gives it, coming down from the peaks and bringing a healing touch, or smiting those who stand in her path. Those who've seen her claims she has a birthmark in the shape of their god's symbol... but others say she was branded for her wickedness.

Oddly, most of those in the latter camp seem to be part of the church. But as much as they may deny the Crag Woman serves their god, they cannot deny the power she wields.

She comes like a storm... when she wants, rather than when you are ready.

The Separation of Cleric and Church

Clerics, as we all know, are granted powers by the gods. They have personal relationships with these deities, and they are granted magic, as well as other powers, by their patrons. More importantly, though, if a cleric steps too far outside the bounds of what their god deems acceptable, they can have their powers stripped from them.

What is not required, though, is for clerics to be members of the church. While we typically associate clerics with organized religion, in much the same way we associate paladins with knightly orders, that is not a requirement of the class, nor a feature they're granted mechanically. As I said in my article 5 Tips For Playing Better Clerics, while you can play a cleric who is also a priest, the two are not necessarily the same thing.

This leaves some interesting doors open for roleplay purposes. Because what happens when the official position of a religion differs from the one espoused by someone who has literally been chosen by that god? Does the church choose to listen to the wielder of divine power? Or would they ostracize someone who doesn't toe the line on doctrine, because their example could loosen the power of an organized church? Regardless of whether or not the person in question is, or was, once an official member of the clergy?

How Did You Step Out Of Line?

A heretic stands out in some way from the general views other followers accept as true. For example, if you follow a god of war, what happens when you seek peaceful solutions to problems in a way everyone else can see? What if you were just a common soldier, a miller, or a woodsman, and you were chosen to wield divine power instead of a priest who dedicated their lives to the worship and glory of a god? What if you were ex-communicated by the church for breaking an oath, or a vow, but rather than abandoning you, your god chose to leave their power in your hands.

Any one of these situations could be a PR nightmare for a church.

Or are you just part of a sect the wider church tries not to associate with?
This concept allows players to step outside the typical bounds we see clerics being played with. You don't necessarily have to go through seminary, or be anointed by an organization to gain the favor of a god. But when you lack the ceremony associated with that faith, that could lead to serious butting of heads between yourself and people who consider themselves higher authorities than you.

Common people may mistrust that you truly represent their god, ostracizing you unless they need your aid. A church may turn you out if your reputation is known. If an area is particularly religious, it could even lead to torch-wielding mobs who blame you for the fact they've been abandoned by their god, when in fact it was the god in question who sent you to make things right.

That's a lot to overcome, but it can lead to a lot of plot. And someone being cast out like that would need powerful allies... which could conveniently result in joining a party! Also, for those who want to see more with this concept, it's the cornerstone of the character of Mustafa, who showed up in the Clerical Errors episode of Mythconceptions over on Dungeon Keeper Radio!

That's all for this week's Unusual Character Concept post. Sorry it's so late getting out, but I've had a hell of a busy weekend and didn't find time till today. If you want to stay on top of all my latest releases, then follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter so you never miss one. Oh, and if you want to help support Improved Initiative, stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to make a pledge today. As little as $1 a month can make a big difference to me, and it will guarantee you some sweet swag.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very late on this, but I just wanted to mention that I've been playing one of these in my current 5e campaign and, as a veteran cleric player, he's by far one of the best characters I've run. Excommunicated, blacklisted, pretty much forced into The Adventuring Life, all because he had the gall to bring up some inconsistencies in his church's theology in an argument that soon spiralled out of control.

    I honestly don't know if I can go back to by-the-numbers enfranchised clerics now.