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View Full Version : Roleplaying Founding a church in a post-apocalyptic setting



LokiRagnarok
2016-02-11, 06:43 AM
Hey, we are playing a free-form roleplaying sandbox custom setting where a major nuclear apocalypse wiped out most of humanity as we know it some time ago. My party and I have set it into our minds to found a church, for kicks and giggles (and as a money-making scheme). Now I am here to look for ideas how to make such a church attractive to the community.

Some indeterminate time ago (a few decades, perhaps), some major nuclear scenario wiped out most of humanity. What is left is a lot of wasteland covered by ruins and a bunch of pockets of civilization not quite destroyed by the explosions or the fallout (bunkers, very small communities and the like). This is where most of the action happens, since these provide safety and a market place for the people bartering old "curiosities", like music boxes, books, and miscellaneous trinkets found in the ruins. If it is something you could buy for a few dimes in a garage sale or flea market in our time, chances are it has at least some value in the setting. The knowledge of the initial purposes of these items has been lost to all but the most literate characters, who are few and far between. Electricity is almost not-existent and whatever sources are left are used to power systems to protect the inhabitants from whatever maladies lurk in the wastelands (madmen, mutants, etc.) Magic or gods do not exist in the setting. Scientific apparatus is also unavailable to the wide masses.

There are several factions that people have gathered together to, such as mercenaries, bounty hunters, medics, traders, and the like. As far as I know, there are no competing religious factions - yet.

As I do not feel comfortable emulating a Christian church for personal reasons, we have gone with the idea that there are spirits and ghosts roaming the world which only a few "gifted" people can see. To the observer, such people would appeal as snake oil sellers, and it is not clear whether they, indeed, themselves do believe in what they claim they are seeing.

There are some people in the setting who earn their money as fortunetellers, mostly by hand-reading or card-reading. One of our immediate goals is going to be recruiting these people into our church.

Now, people would obviously not just flock to somebody who claims they can see ghosts while no ghosts are known to exist. So obviously the church needs to provide some benefits to its members, and to the community at large (the latter for a "small" symbolical fee :nale:). I am wondering what those could be in this setting. What I am thinking of must be not immediately identifiable as plain charlatanism. Ideas I have gathered so far include:



for the members, a community to rely on
psychological counseling for the people who have trouble recovering from the horrors of the world outside
absolution of sins
notary services - having a member of a church as a witness might lend extra weight to a deal
connecting with the deceased
rituals such as marriages, burials, and the like
showy exorcisms
even more showy blessings (of items, people, places, etc)
selling blessed/"ghost-touched" amulets to protect from the ghosts and dangers of the outside world
appraisal of items as "magical" - surely some of the traders would see the benefit of someone affirming their wares have additional magical value, even if they do not believe it themselves
a caravan might take on a priest or priestess for good luck, which means safer passage for the priest(ess) if they were going into that direction anyway



Can you think of anything else that might be helpful?

Ashtagon
2016-02-11, 07:02 AM
The thing that sets religions (yes, even scientology, and yes, even Heinlein's Martian" faith) apart from anything else is that they generally either have or claim to have an insight into the future, eschatology, and how humanity fits into the greater scheme of things.

Without that, you can put on the showiest exorcism you like, absolve any number of sins, bless anything and everything, but people will ask "yes, but how does it work?"

In short, religions don't exist first to provide services. They exist first to provide answers.

Asimov had one such take on it in his novel Nightfall. The religion's public face predicted that one day night would fall on a planet that had six suns. The faithless - including scientists - of course considered it nonsense, right up until night actually fell. The tomato twist of course was that the religion was founded by scientists from the last time it happened, it was a predictable astronomical phenomenon, and the religion's founders aeons ago determined that a religion would be the best way to quickly restore order after the event.

lacco36
2016-02-11, 07:14 AM
Now, people would obviously not just flock to somebody who claims they can see ghosts while no ghosts are known to exist. So obviously the church needs to provide some benefits to its members, and to the community at large (the latter for a "small" symbolical fee :nale:). I am wondering what those could be in this setting. What I am thinking of must be not immediately identifiable as plain charlatanism. Ideas I have gathered so far include:



for the members, a community to rely on
psychological counseling for the people who have trouble recovering from the horrors of the world outside
absolution of sins
notary services - having a member of a church as a witness might lend extra weight to a deal
connecting with the deceased
rituals such as marriages, burials, and the like
showy exorcisms
even more showy blessings (of items, people, places, etc)
selling blessed/"ghost-touched" amulets to protect from the ghosts and dangers of the outside world
appraisal of items as "magical" - surely some of the traders would see the benefit of someone affirming their wares have additional magical value, even if they do not believe it themselves
a caravan might take on a priest or priestess for good luck, which means safer passage for the priest(ess) if they were going into that direction anyway



Can you think of anything else that might be helpful?

I would start with the "high" payoff - usually a religion provides something special the other ones can not. E.g. different paradises, life after death, complete calmness, nirvana, meeting the flying spaghetti monster in person, etc.

For post-apocalypse, a paradise is the best thing to go for I think. People are already in hell (or they see it as such), so why not tell them they are really only in hell's waiting room and if they don't join, let themselves be cleansed (of radiation, dirt and sins), give away their dirty and contamined (by radiation AND sin) property and drink in the water of Baa (...while reciting the incantation "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep..."), they will be taken to hell after death. However, if they do all these things, they will return to "normal life" a.k.a. paradise...

I would suggest you read Alamut by Bartol - and show some people the paradise. For quick info, read spolier below. However, the book is really good, so go for it if you have the chance (Assassins Creed was based on Alamut).

Create a small place, that looks like the pre-catastrophe Earth (studio backlots would be the best possibility). With electricity, clean clothes, smiling clean people, nice girls, friendly boys... it doesn't have to be complete, just illusion (e.g. the electricity can be only provided somewhere, big screen TVs can be done as holes in walls with the "shows" working behind... well, people only heard about those things, so they don't know how they really look, do they?). Kudos if you make it look like a TV show. Sedate a person, telling them they drink the water of Baa, but will be in Paradise Falls only shortly...and put them there. Everyone will care for them, and after an hour they receive another sedation (stronger this time) and you take them away and roll them in mud/make them ugly again. And now you have a witness...

Second thing - provide "mystical cure for radiation illness". Take a geiger counter, scan someone. Lay hands or anything, in the meantime replace geiger counter by a false one (which does only the low ticking/noise) and YOU JUST CURED A PERSON! :biggrin:. Use false witnesses.

...oh, and of course, you can provide the people with messages from hell/paradise! Let them talk with dead grammas, parents, siblings! It's easy, but they have to be at least partially cleansed (members of outer circle, but not outsiders). They have to talk about their sins and you can get info you need.

...should I try more? :smallsmile:

FlumphPaladin
2016-02-11, 08:08 AM
I would suggest you read Alamut by Bartol - and show some people the paradise. For quick info, read spolier below. However, the book is really good, so go for it if you have the chance (Assassins Creed was based on Alamut).
And that idea itself is more or less lifted (or at least shows similarities right down to the place the story is set in) from The Travels of Marco Polo, so check that book out too. PD translations are free on Gutenberg.

TheYell
2016-02-11, 12:02 PM
After the Black Death there were cults that said it was a punishment for sins and the way out was to join a brotherhood, live communally and share all your property together. And share the property of people you meet.

This leaves the leader in control of how the property is used. Also tended to have a lot of free love.

Also, you are too mocking and proud of your skepticism. If you run into witch women who claim to see ghosts, you would seriously say "Shaddap they aint no such thing"? Sideshows like that are good for business. Collect as many freaks of useless fervor as you can. The essence of your fraud has to be 0+0+0+0+0= something more than 0. Hit them with so much they begin believing some of it must be true.

Let us know how you make out because Id like to borrow your cult for a paladin campaign :p

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-02-12, 02:34 PM
I'd found a church based on the only surviving documents, buried clay tablets from the bronze age.

It's not like any of your followers can read them.

Or carbon date them, for that matter.

Tetsubo 57
2016-02-12, 03:56 PM
Way back when I ran a 3rd edition Gamma World campaign set on an alien planet. These are some of the main religions and philosophical groups that I used. I thought they might be used as inspiration.

Cult of Seraph, worship the moon Seraph, consider it Heaven
Temple of the Endless Pantheon, religion based on Deities and Demigods
Church of the Infinite, worships Infinity and Eternity
Ancient Interdenominational Faiths, trying to create "One True Religion"
from fragments of past faiths
Temple of Chaos, worships total disorder and anarchy, possible ties to the
terrorist group Red Death
Open Air Worshippers, loose sky based worshippers, heavy recreational drug
use
Temple of the Grandmasters, properly trained *all* people are gods
Temple of Bot, tree worshippers
The Followers of Burgundy, Wardents racial ancestor faith
Temple of Flight, keepers of aviation knowledge and flying mutants
Temple of the Everlasting Image, worship photographs and holograms
Mosites, awaiting the return of Moses and the journey to paradise
EVIL, practical jokers, performance artist and insane people
Philosophers Guild, considered by some to be an open insane asylum
Meta-Physics Journeymen, quiet quacks seeking the "higher" planes
Peoples Pagan Temple, Socialist Pagans
Wiccan League, open to all witches, shamans, brujo, etc.
Temple of the Triple Goddess, worshipping the three aspects of the feminine
Flatlander Coalition, heaven is two dimensional
The Dreamtime, based on the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime
Handlers Temple, theft is holy for all things belong to all people
Psychic Mutations Front, those with mental mutation should rule the world,
Alliance Affiliated
Darwinists, mutations are the next evolutionary step
Mutant Buddhists, Buddha's latest incarnation was a mutant hippo
Temple of the Yeoman, archery is the purist form of prayer
Church of Steel, worship the Battemaster (Mecha), warrior cult
Spider Sect, worship spiders as the weavers of reality, all worshippers own
spiders

Cluedrew
2016-02-14, 08:56 AM
I would start with the "high" payoff - usually a religion provides something special the other ones can not. E.g. different paradises, life after death, complete calmness, nirvana, meeting the flying spaghetti monster in person, etc.This is actually a relatively recent development in religion (as I understand it). There were some exceptions of course, like the Egyptians, but most ancient religions were very much focused on this life. It very much focused on this life because the gods where seen as the ultimate powers who influenced every aspect of daily life.

I'm not sure if that is what you want to go for, but it is another possibility. Although the general point remains. What is the main selling point of this church? Paradise, life after death, special powers, secret knowledge, supernatural protection or some combination of those?

LokiRagnarok
2016-02-14, 04:20 PM
The thing that sets religions (yes, even scientology, and yes, even Heinlein's Martian" faith) apart from anything else is that they generally either have or claim to have an insight into the future, eschatology, and how humanity fits into the greater scheme of things.

Without that, you can put on the showiest exorcism you like, absolve any number of sins, bless anything and everything, but people will ask "yes, but how does it work?"

In short, religions don't exist first to provide services. They exist first to provide answers.


Now that is an interesting thought. Guess I have some myths to come up with.


I would start with the "high" payoff - usually a religion provides something special the other ones can not. E.g. different paradises, life after death, complete calmness, nirvana, meeting the flying spaghetti monster in person, etc.

For post-apocalypse, a paradise is the best thing to go for I think. People are already in hell (or they see it as such), so why not tell them they are really only in hell's waiting room and if they don't join, let themselves be cleansed (of radiation, dirt and sins), give away their dirty and contamined (by radiation AND sin) property and drink in the water of Baa (...while reciting the incantation "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep..."), they will be taken to hell after death. However, if they do all these things, they will return to "normal life" a.k.a. paradise...
[...]
...should I try more? :smallsmile:
I like this. Please do.


Sideshows like that are good for business. Collect as many freaks of useless fervor as you can. The essence of your fraud has to be 0+0+0+0+0= something more than 0. Hit them with so much they begin believing some of it must be true.

Let us know how you make out because Id like to borrow your cult for a paladin campaign :p

Recruiting sideshows is already going to be our first step. I can message you if you like, but we only play once a month at most, so it is going to be some time until we can set this in motion.


I'd found a church based on the only surviving documents, buried clay tablets from the bronze age.

It's not like any of your followers can read them.

Or carbon date them, for that matter.
Now that is an interesting idea.

By all means, keep your ideas coming.

lacco36
2016-02-15, 02:54 AM
This is actually a relatively recent development in religion (as I understand it). There were some exceptions of course, like the Egyptians, but most ancient religions were very much focused on this life. It very much focused on this life because the gods where seen as the ultimate powers who influenced every aspect of daily life.

I'm not sure if that is what you want to go for, but it is another possibility. Although the general point remains. What is the main selling point of this church? Paradise, life after death, special powers, secret knowledge, supernatural protection or some combination of those?

I think you are correct about this being recent development. I took the "apocalypse wiped out humanity as we know it" as "our world, close future" - something like Fallout if the event happened this year.

The best "answer" to apocalypse is "god(s) are angry with you because you sinned/didn't pray enough/didn't wash your hands". Or - if you take the 'Dune' version - "God(s) test us by doing this to us so we are stronger".... well ...this could also be used. Theoretically - of course.

And yes, your second paragraph question is good - this needs to be answered.


I'd found a church based on the only surviving documents, buried clay tablets from the bronze age.

It's not like any of your followers can read them.

Or carbon date them, for that matter.

:smallbiggrin: I would base it on a holy scripture - a book with a strange mystical statue with gems instead of eyes, full of strange writings, tables and pictures...

Now for the whole issue to be interesting for the masses:

you need levels (acolyte, proselyte...budlite?:smallbiggrin:) - people want to level up... only if you reach the highest level you can see the holy scripture - if you are not ready to read it, it will make you blind and fracture your mind...
you need rituals (I think it was in "Good Omens" - can't remember it exactly, but something like 'people like to play in costumes - wear white robes and burn other people, wear flowers and sing, wear green and shoot people - offer them a new costume and game and they are yours)
you need charismatic leader with a miracle (he has to be "special" in some kind)
you need clear boundaries between levels (newbs eat only vegetables and have to work, inner circle members can eat meat and have fun) so they feel envious and want to achieve the next level...

...and a screening process.

My suggestion would be - pick an interesting book/item as your "scripture" - and base things on it.

It can be the Harry Potter books, it can be an old wall street journal, or issue of some lady magazine - anything that tickles your fancy :smallsmile:. It doesn't have to be a bronze age tablets - it could be the only working tablet with some RPG game :smallbiggrin:.

Remember how the guys in Planet of Apes 2 (? don't remember exactly) worshipped the bomb? Why not worship the magic 8 ball, last working computer with word parser and long list of pre-defined answers, or - go for the straight parody and take a sci-fi book :smallbiggrin:.

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-02-15, 03:33 AM
it could be the only working tablet with some RPG game

A partly translated D&D source book. I like it. People would be encouraged to follow the way of one of the "classes", representations of perfection in one of the aspects of the world. If you do well enough you will be rewarded with gifts from above, called "feats".

Obviously with that many feats fighter is the best class, so only for the most pure of heart.

lacco36
2016-02-15, 03:43 AM
A partly translated D&D source book. I like it. People would be encouraged to follow the way of one of the "classes", representations of perfection in one of the aspects of the world. If you do well enough you will be rewarded with gifts from above, called "feats".

Obviously with that many feats fighter is the best class, so only for the most pure of heart.

Heh...

I was aiming exactly at that with the demon picture from old D&D books, however, I don't remember how it looked like...

But the fighter is a class of the "lowest tier path" (highest?...no idea how the tiers work, but I'm sure someone more knowledgeable about D&D can fix this) - if you want to become optimized, or even OP, you need to select a path of prestige (class)! But only after you achieve enough! :smallsmile:

I wonder... what would this make of paladins? :smallbiggrin:

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-02-15, 06:14 AM
Tiers are not in the source books. To have those you need to base your religion on something much worse, partly translated forum posts. I don't think anyone wants to go there. :smallbiggrin:

lacco36
2016-02-15, 06:22 AM
Tiers are not in the source books. To have those you need to base your religion on something much worse, partly translated forum posts. I don't think anyone wants to go there. :smallbiggrin:

Now a religion based on what could be found in a server room that hosts the GitP forum...? How evil does the GM feel today? :smallbiggrin:

goto124
2016-02-15, 06:25 AM
Who got the electricity and the still-functioning server room to run and use?

Or... just make everything up! The horror!

Cluedrew
2016-02-15, 08:30 AM
And yes, your second paragraph question is good - this needs to be answered.Yes, although I realized it is little more than a generalization of what you said.

By the way getting the old post from Giant in the Playground would be almost impossible (just turning the binary into text could be an insurmountable challenge if the format has been forgotten)... but sounds so much fun I would hand-wave it.

Although what happens when the get to this thread?

lacco36
2016-02-15, 09:39 AM
Yes, although I realized it is little more than a generalization of what you said.

By the way getting the old post from Giant in the Playground would be almost impossible (just turning the binary into text could be an insurmountable challenge if the format has been forgotten)... but sounds so much fun I would hand-wave it.

Although what happens when the get to this thread?

It's simple - they get an idea to found a church in post-apocalyptic setting based on the posts within the forum :smallbiggrin:

Lvl 2 Expert
2016-02-15, 12:55 PM
I think at that point the whole thing turns into a metareligion.

I have no idea what that is.