The more I think about such a world, the more profoundly unsatisfying it appears, as a place to imagine and adventure in. I'm not even talking about limitations on the cleric player's actions, which I criticized last post.
I'm talking about a world that lacks:
- Dissension on moral issues within a religion
- Venal, self-interested priests
- Bad priests hiding within a good religion
- Outsider prophets who are persecuted by their own religion's conventions
- Uncertainty and debate about the ultimate nature of the universe
- People who act immorally in the here and now because there may not be an ultimate reward or punishment.
Because of the oppressive obviousness of Truth in such a world, faith is not really faith, any more than believing in maple trees is faith. Evil now needs an extra sales pitch - a devil convincing you that if you sin really flamboyantly, you'll get in on the ground floor of Hell's Fun Times.
You may as well cut these passages out from the scriptures of a less transparent world:
- Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 1:11)
- But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils. (Matthew 9:34)
- And he sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, Why doth this generation seek after a sign? verily I say unto you, There shall no sign be given unto this generation. (Mark 8:12)
On the contrary, in my world, clerical magic is a mystery. It uses the standard invocations and rites of religion, but not every ordained minister who uses those invocations and rites will get the magical effect, and not every time - it is prophetic, not priestly. Regardless of whether the magic is reliable or ineffable, though, it ultimately does not depend on keeping up a certain standard of behavior. This is because:
1. The Mind of (a) God is vast, and contains many contradictions. A certain level of dissension in the Church reflects this, and reflects nothing more than the divine totality weighing arguments and coming to decisions. Almost all acts that are not inherently unholy - merciful or strict, generous or stingy - can be justified as a reflection of the Divine. Sufficient will, and the belief that one is holy, are enough to fuel prophetic magic.
2. A prophet sometimes has to break with conventional morality in order to send a lesson to the flock. What appears to be sin, violence, looting, lust ... can instead be a rebuke to a world consumed by these sins on a much higher level.
3. The above justifications come handily to those who cross the line into the foul and unholy. The Devil is a great deceiver; he will gladly step in to duplicate the healing miracles and exorcisms of one who has strayed from the path. If the player keeps their in-game benefits, what matter where they come from? Any discomfort at the slight stench of sulfur attending those miracle cures is entirely a matter of role-playing. Live for today, for there is no game after your character dies!
Monte Cook, as usual, can't be satisfied with a pat answer either. In the middle of Ptolus - a setting where clerics, by the book, dwell in every temple, and magic and the gods appear obvious and real - he leaves open this possibility:
The people here have come to listen to a new elf philosopher named Waeven Iosanil (male expert8), who is telling everyone who will listen that the gods are not truly divine, but only powerful entities, not unlike great wyrm dragons or powerful angels. The only true divine being is the world itself, this radical speaker claims. (p. 337)Even if this elf is completely in the wrong, he opens up a strong breeze of freedom in the metaphysics of the setting. He allows for the possibility that the self-evident is actually false - and with this come the free will and uncertainty that makes for an interesting and complex game.