Belief is an interesting thing. In the name of religion, countless conflicts have occurred across the ages. The Forged Front asserts that you don’t even need to look that deeply to name conflicts or cultures that were shaped to a large extent by religion. For instance, take a look at the Vikings or better yet, look at the Crusades. (Wikipedia notes that they were seven major Crusades between 1096 and 1291.)
In addition to the real world though, belief has been an intergral part to various settings. A few settings are driven by belief; Planescape and Mage: The Ascension come to mind. Additionally, the various campaign settings put out for D&D usually include a mythology of deities for the setting. (And D&D isn’t alone in that, there are plenty of other RPG systems that belief plays a very important part of the world.) Religions typically get set up as part of the tapestry that makes up a world, some more than others. However, it seems to usually fade to the background except for rare appearances by the GM as an adversary for the players.
Looking at D&D, it has clerics and druids for player classes. One would think that religion would be more a noticeable thing in these campaigns. However, it seems like they generally are played in one of two ways … either the character is on a hell-bent campaign to convert unbelievers at all costs … or they come off as just another class that has a different sort of spellcasting abilities.
That seems like a shame though. It would be so easy to take a different route with a religious character. Have them try to live and breathe their ideals as living example of what people should aspire to be. Perhaps they can’t quite achieve those ideals either so they have a ready source of personal conflict they bring to any story as they strive to live their ideals. As they live, so does the religion they believe in. Everything they do in the campaign is colored by their belief – from greetings, to prayers said throughout the day, or even in midst of battle. If you live and breathe a religion, you don’t need to convince people that they should believe as well, they’ll see it being rewarded in what you do.
I recall a character that I had that believed his deity directly ordered him to kill people. While he was way out of line with his own religion, he fervently believed it with all his being and it made him exceptionally hard to stop once he got going. See, when his god commanded him to kill, it was also a commandment to make an example out of it. The character ended up being a great villain for the campaign he was in.
So my question to all of you out there, how does belief and religion show up in your campaigns? Until the next time, never stop believing … you don’t know where it might lead.