Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Great Awakening

As something of a joke I proposed an RPG set in 1834 at the tail-end of the Second Great Awakening in the US of A. It slowly became less of a joke as I thought about it. Hell, why shouldn't the strange and unpleasant politics and theology of the '20s and '30s that so shaped our nation in the century to come be the subject of an interesting roleplaying game? Why, we could add in some self-righteous preachers and sly con-artists and perhaps a few magical folk as to make the whole thing seem like a new American fantasy.

After positing this setting, I decided to think about what its mechanics would look like. An hour of thought later, I had the idea for Purity ratings and the Manichean division of the world into gross material stuff and pure spiritual matter. This forms the basics of the metaphysics of the Great Awakening and is strongly based on the Protestantism that was sweeping the nation at the time. It's important to the system that you understand that the material isn't necessarily "evil" and the spiritual necessarily "good," though they are certainly couched in those terms by the preachers and other Righteous.

Purity is a status that all people have. An individual's Purity rating is located along a spectrum of -100 (most profane) to +100 (most righteous). Purity, unless your soul is blackened with Sin, tends to slide back to 0 from either side of the scale. Most people are expected to maintain a Purity rating of 20 in polite society, which requires constant attention to religious experience—purging, fasting, praying, going to church, etc. lest the Pure slide back to become Unclean (at 0).

Actions can Purify you, but they can also make you Impure; for example, drinking or whoring tends to lower your Purity and will dip you down into the realm of the Impure—these are Sins, not because they are morally wrong, but because they are grossly material. The same goes for overeating, or killing with your hands. One of the most Impure things you can do is perform sorcery (known as "that Deviltry" or simply the Lie to the Righteous). These deviltries send you plunging into Impurity, tainting you with the realm of the material world. Why? Because sorcery is the manipulation of physical matter. It is power over fire and smoke, lightning and thunder, blood and stone. The more Impure a sorcerer becomes, the stronger his sorcery. However, the more Impure he is, the more dangerous other material things are to him: bullets, knives, poisons, and other such earthly things are the sorcerer's anathema.

Smoking and chatting with other men casually? You BET that lowers Purity.

On the other side lie the Righteous: those with high Purity scores are spiritually powerful and can enact major Graces such as healing by touch, walking on water, and other such airy stuff. They are less susceptible to earthly danger like guns and knives (though Righteous of other denominations can combat them easily). Sinners (sorcerers) and Righteous find it difficult to injure each other directly because their powers cancel each other out.

Within places sacred to the Pure (or Impure) the powers of the other are lowered—this is a passive effect, since merely setting foot in a church removes some Impurity (thus, lowering a sorcerer's affinity with his magic). The reverse is true of walking into a red light district or whorehouse.

The last major thought I had were the Doubts. As a sort of social mechanic it is possible to give one of the flock a Doubt as to the Plan of God (or whatever other thing they believe in). By clever oratory and pointing out the flaws in the logic of the Faithful, the Doubt takes root. They are allowed a chance to Rationalize (roll their Purity or lower on a d100) which prevents the Doubt from growing. However, if they fail at this attempt, the Doubt lowers their Purity. It comes in the form of a red d10. The reverse might be true for the Sinner and Inspiration, though those would be a white d10. Inspiration maybe can work on the Faithful as well as the Sinners in a similar way to further increase Purity of someone already pure.

Natural events can also implant Doubts; Sinners witnessing miracles and Righteous witnessing awful tragedies come to mind.

Note that there are NO OTHER MECHANICS yet. I just thought this was interesting.

LATE NIGHT EDIT: I made... I dunno what to call it. A sermon? A pitch? Something. I can't stop thinking about this concept, which is bad because I have other important things to write like a novel and a boxed AD&D set.


  1. So Inspiration gave me this white d10... now what do I do with it? :-)

    1. Why, roll it sir, roll it to improve your Purity rating! Either now, or at some future date when you truly need its strength!

  2. Excellent idea - do post more.