I will once again pimp Iron Kingdoms because...well, it's what I do. I'm also starting to get into Burning Empires where the religion is made incredibly important to the society but left fairly vague so that players and gms can fill in the nitty-gritty as they see fit. It's a very interesting design solution as it means you don't have to load in a bunch of terminology and doctrine but rather, you can let players do a lot of the legwork and design a faith that seems interesting to them and usually that will spill over for the rest of the team. I really recommend checking it out. rockin' as always, mr. kolar. -leeman
Without taking issue with anything in this excellent article, let me make three observations.
The first is merely to commend you for recognizing the need for "evil" characters to believe that they are right. C. S. Lewis somewhere commented that "evil" people do not act from a desire to get "evil" things, but are trying to get "good" things in a "bad" way. There are no desireable evils, only desireable goods misused.
You raised the question of what the world would be like if the gods were self-evident. I think the answer to that can be found in our own ancient history. Argue all you like about whether God or gods are real, or "were real" then, the fact is that to the average person the gods were quite real and self-evident. Although I've not seen it, I understand the game Testament plays this way.
You also asked why the average religious believer takes the word of the typical cleric. One answer is training. OAD&D clerics started a bit older than fighters or thieves because it was assumed that they had been schooled in the basics of their faith. In connection with your discussion of rabbis some time back, it was observed that a rabbi, in modern Judaism, is ordained by his school and recognized as a capable and authoritative teacher by virtue of his education. In Roman Catholicism, monks and nuns are not clergy, but are respected as teachers of the faith because they are immersed in learning for a good part of their time.
This of course is not the only basis for recognition. Your example of passing the mantle (drawn no doubt from Elijah choosing Elisha) is good in this regard. Also recalling the previous article about types of clergy, there is within many faiths the identification and recognition of "calling", that this individual was chosen by the god. That works well in a close community in which everyone can know that Brother Simon has been so recognized, but of course it does not work so well if Brother Simon takes to the road, in which case he will need something from his local congregation to identify him as the genuine article--and we must hope that whatever so identifies him cannot be easily forged.
It might also be the case that identification of someone with a true calling follows from that individual's ability to perform the miracles. Paul and Barnabas were generally recognized as messengers of God (by those who so recognized them) because of the healings and miracles they performed in the name of Jesus. Obviously there were still those who doubted whether these were miracles, or whether accepting that they were miracles they were actually from God (as opposed to some competing supernatural power), but certification of the cleric to other believers can be based on the performance of "signs".
Anyway, thanks for continuing the series, and I look forward to your thoughts in the future.
On the subject of the Nephandi and their "Shut it down forever" motivation, I was wondering if you had read Steven Aylett's Shamanspace. To put it in terms so much duller than the novel, humanity finds a way to kill God. This creates an argument not as to whether it should be done, but if doing so will end the universe and if so, if it's worth it to get back at Him.