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Home » Forbidden Lands’ Gods & Religions – The Omen of the Manticore

Forbidden Lands’ Gods & Religions – The Omen of the Manticore

I love how realistic the religions and beliefs about gods seem in the Forbidden Lands setting.
I love how realistic the religions and beliefs about gods seem in the Forbidden Lands setting. | Image by Matthias Grießhammer from Pixabay

So it wasn’t long ago (speaking about game-time, it was two years on the blog x.x) when the Trio escaped the grave (sic!) consequences of their greed in the tomb of Count Nepola. After a few weeks of recovery, they finally decided to face what emerged as the campaign’s main goal. Retrieval of a powerful artifact from the sorcerous monastery they agreed to undertake for Grulf. The story about Forbidden Lands’ gods and religions added a lot to this ultimate chapter – thanks to the presentation, I haven’t come by in any other RPG.

Forbidden Lands’ proper place of gods and religion in RPG

What’s so unique about the Forbidden Lands’ description of its pantheon? And why do I think it’s important and valuable? There are a few factors. First, there’s this paradox about detailed descriptions of fantasy worlds that strips them of their fantastical element. Similar to that, it’s a problem about reducing the supernatural (like gods or miracles or myths) to just fancy decorations.Players may interact with them like anything else in the game, so the divine isn’t really special. In the same way, if the gods of the Forbidden Lands were just powerful “wizards”, they wouldn’t present the world-shaping power they are – which is a problem of many RPGs.

The Leap of Faith

While I personally don’t think that all faith has to be blind, I do believe it has to leave room for doubt. And, leaving the real world’s religious discussion outside this article, an adequately described fantasy religion should make uncertainty possible. What I don’t buy in many RPG’s worldbuilding is that their gods act explicitly and unambiguously. What remains for their followers is weighing these clear acts, not following any beliefs.

The power struggle in the “heavens” is palarell to ones in the human world. Conflicts and allegiances are clear, and their consequences for mortals are spelled out precisely. It might seem compelling to build and present such a world. For its inhabitants, the acts of gods are a reality after all. But in fact, it contradicts even the ancient pagan worldviews. Various gods and goddesses of the ancient world were said to interact with the mortals or even intervene directly in their affairs. Still, the divines and their doings were almost always somehow beyond the human grasp.

With the gods or against them – the heroes act as they will
(even more so in RPG!)

You can read in, e.g., The Illiad, how the goddesses Thetis or Athene take on shapes of their champion’s relatives or friends or whisper next to them, appearing as the mortal’s own thoughts taking form. Thus, dilemmas arise. Discerning who speaks to them, what to do with the words being heard, and – most importantly – the consequences of these decisions are the mortal’s own to deal with. Decisions and responsibility for them is, after all, where the agency and importance of the story’s characters live!

The Ravenland’s gods and their deeds, as described in the Gamemaster’s Guide, are very cryptic and sometimes contradictory. They seem deliberately left as such, and that’s great. These descriptions served me, the GM, very well in describing the world’s beliefs to my players. And in turn, were very convincing to them. Albeit, to the latter, they might have been also a source of uncertainty and tension. Oh well, poor them.

Supernatural, not very natural

These implied or concluded actions of the gods of the Forbidden Lands not only leave room for tension and player agency. Such a way of telling about the world’s divine aspect also leaves that aspect unambiguously on the metaphysical level. Which means the same as “supernatural level”, that is, “being over the natural (physical) world.” Conversely, detailed, history handbook-like reports of the deities’ actions, personalities, etc., make them appear very much like characters of the mundane, physical world.

So that’s why I think the Forbidden Lands’ take on the gods and religion is spot-on and very unique among the RPGs I’ve played. But why exactly was it so important for my campaign? Let’s get back to the actual story now.

Consulting and supplicating the gods of an RPG

Hrod, Buri, and Mara were getting ready to raid the abode of the mysterious cult in the Thynde mountains. They had seen its entrance and met two of the cult members (one dead and one still being in their custody). Grulf told them the cult unmistakably held the ancient relic he’d been looking for that’d help him overthrow the Rust Brotherhood back in his homeland. And even more importantly, he was paying well, so his credibility went without saying. But one vital thing remained uncertain.

Forces behind the Cult

So far, the party haven’t met any magic users beyond the captive Rust Brother and the midwife Nirvea. The latter saved their lives just a session ago, while the latter, more alramingly, took down the dwarven warrior with just one magical attack. Understanding what to expect from the sect seemed like a vital part of preparation to the adventure. And so, the trio of adventurers went out to search for anybody who might help them. Those of you familiar with The Hollows from the core books (GMG, p. 194) probably are guessing already, where did the party end up.

Sister Nirvea categorically refused to know anything about secret cults and any gods whatsoever. It was the old drunkard and village’s alleged spiritual leader, the Rust Brother Sturkas that was said to be the best person to ask about such things. Buying him a drink and turning a deaf ear to a few chauvinistic remarks was enough to make him talk. To the party’s surprise, he not only knew what did the lion head symbol meant but seemed quite moved by it.

The Omen of the Manticore

Although – as fit for an old man drowning his failures as a threatening prophet of Rust – Sturkas didn’t tell any grand tale, he did touched on many details, rambling-like. Also, the tone in which he was speaking, drew on the complex tapestry of the Forbidden Lands’ RPG religions. Namingly, he referred to the cultists as “venerable hermits” and spoke not about the manticore but used the phrase “blessed envoy of Heme.” He even mentioned about “making pilgrimage” to the withered tree once. Thus, I was able to introduce a deep background with some practical in-game implications for the party.

Given the affectionate manner of the Turkas’ tale, the players quickly deduced that they’d better watch their tongues. Second, they tried to reconstruct the stories about the Demon Flood they had already known. Third, the religion of Rust and Heme – quite prevalent in our RPG’s world – pointed towards possible nature of the cult. With human sacrifices and oppressive laws on the side of the Heme’s hermits, the grave-robbing trio of ruffians was suddenly given a chance to fight the Good Fight. Though we were playing on a video call, I sensed the sudden change of the whole party’s attitude. Besides, few down-looking, racist comments from the old clergyman helped making this fight also a personal thing for them.

But gathering the arms and riding laden with them into the sunset is a story for the next post.

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