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For context: recently one of my players asked me if a mechanic could be created to evolve his relationship with his deity (Eldath), like he had seen in another game.

I suspect this request was made because he regretted his character idea and doesn't want to go back. I've asked several times if he was enjoying it, but I forced myself to believe he did since he always insists on that.

His character is a shepherd druid 4, cleric of life 1 devotee of Eldath, stout halfling and the main thing is his trait/flaw: not being able to damage an enemy. This makes his presence at the table basically geared towards creating auras on the combat field with his totems, healing, buffing allies, and using spells to annoy enemies, like rooting them.

Now to get straight to the point: he asked me to make a deity affinity mechanic that scales with level or some action based on the tenets of religion. I tried to create a generic one (in case some other player also wanted to use it) that was based on following the deity's tenets or risking his life in a very dangerous situation to fulfil a dogma or similar. With that the player could earn points in what I called of "Acts of Faith", which would be used to move up in stages and which have level prerequisites as well as "Acts of Faith".

However, I couldn't come up with a good idea. Does anyone have any ideas on how I can make a mechanic to help him with this?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What is your player expecting to get as they 'level up' this relationship? It sounds like they are after a buff or more power, which is risky because other players may want similar. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 16 at 16:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Aug 16 at 17:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I still haven't worked on interactions with the group's deities in any way, so I think he wants to work on that part of his character's story because it's based on devotion and that "no violence" trait. \$\endgroup\$
    – É o Gabs
    Aug 16 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I always figured my cleric level was the "relationship with my deity" mechanic... \$\endgroup\$ Aug 16 at 18:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DarthPseudonym I agree with you to a certain extent. The problem with this is when being a cleric is all about taking levels and doing what the abilities say, without there being any interactions in favor of your religion. In the end, if you do nice things for her, at least by following the normal rules, you get nothing in return. What I mean is that being a faithful devotee doesn't make you any different from an ordinary devotee who only does the bare minimum to keep class. \$\endgroup\$
    – É o Gabs
    Aug 16 at 18:43

4 Answers 4

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Theros' Piety Mechanic

The official sourcebook, Mythic Odyssey of Theros has a ruleset that reflects what you're describing. I have used it multiple times in my games to help my players have a closer relationship with a deity.

It is relatively easy to tune to the personality and affixations of whatever deity you choose. Here is a brief overview of how the mechanic works.

  1. When a worshipper meets a requirement (like performing an act of faith), they earn a "piety point."
  2. Every deity in Theros (and you can add boons for your own deities) has certain rewards at certain thresholds of piety points (3, 10, 25, 50).
  3. Theros has magic items that increase in power with piety (although this isn't necessary for an adapted usage of the system).

When I have used this system in the past, I find that pacing piety points out to a limit of one per session (although not guaranteeing one each session) is a good pace to keep up with other player scaling.

I recommend looking at the options presented in Theros and see if one fits the deity in question. Then tune the bonuses to fit better without increasing the power level.

The Other Players

All this said, giving your player a new toy without considering the other players can be problematic at some tables. When I have used this system in the past, every character was contending with deities, so they all had the option to gain piety.

If you are providing a bonus to this character for his righteousness in the eyes of his deity, I would consider providing a similar bonus to other characters connected to whatever powerful entity or organization they belong too.

For example, you can easily reskin piety to be connected to a warlock pact, a druid circle, or a mercenary group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was writing this answer when you posted it. I’ve both reskinned and just dropped the system into a game without modification. It works great. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 16 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ravnica has a similar patron mechanic that can work for some characters instead of piety and effectively does the same thing. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Aug 16 at 19:55
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Cleric levels

In my honest opinion, cleric level (as proxied by XP) in most cases are just a reflection of power gained by a better connection to the channeled deity, so the reflection of that relationship is already there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While that was also my first thought, the question asks for an additional mechanic showing more explicitely the relation between player and deity, outside of the simple "you get more abilities from them" part of leveling up, which this is not. I do agree with that statement, but simply wish to point out that it does not answer the question. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Aug 17 at 13:13
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Basically I wouldn't.

An explicit, gameable system that adds presumably power and new capability to the character for what is a series of hard to track and complex choices (faith) is incredibly hard to design.

Even a system of static bonuses (or uses for points) that you give the player points in by your own judgement (aka fiat) is problematic for metagaming reasons.

A much simpler and better answer is to give this player plot content related to their god.

Spend a bit of time researching historical saints and the circumstances of their lives - specifically, deific intervention in their lives, or supposed deific intervention in their lives (people writing about them long after their deaths made some assertions that are heavily contested by eg. respected theologians). There's all kinds of altered perceptions, predictions, warnings, direct contact by means of signs and portents, other people being given signs and portents related to the individual, etc that come up in many different religions.

You can use those as inspiration for the way in which this character's faith, and the resulting interest of their god, affects them. This will naturally be interesting to the player and interest is just as good as power bump most of the time. Perhaps flowers grow when they walk barefoot on soil, or water they bathe in becomes a sacred spring after they defy the followers of a god of death in a situation where they expect that to kill them (standing up to them while a prisoner, for example, where they are likely to just execute an uppity prisoner).

In effect, award faith points for his actions, and grant boons, but keep the entire process opaque - he does not know when his faith is going to be rewarded, or in what measure. Make the rewards semirandom if you have trouble deciding on them, roll a dice on a table or something - the god is granting boons but not necessarily deus ex machina style 'get out of jail' cards, which just reads as the DM wanting to help the party out, but rather random deific style things which the party can potentially make use of or not make use of. Perhaps they decide to lure the evil vampire to the sacred spring, and the barbarian tackles him into it and the water dissolves him like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. Etc.

Likewise, allow things sometimes when he prays for them and they are in the sphere of his god. Perhaps he prays for a community's crops to recover from a blight and they do after he spends all night out there, but not immediately, so at first it's uncertain etc etc.

So effectively, just expand it narratively in scope and give mechanical bonuses but not explicit ones and ones that require potentially a bit of work from the party to make use of. That will likely be far more satisfying for the player, and the rest of the table, and for you.

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I run Index Card RPG, which is more or less an OSR game. At the start of each session, I have my clerics roll 1D6. That die is a counter representing the number of prayers (spells) they can use "for free" that session. When they do something that pleases their deity, they can increment the counter. Conversely, if they anger their deity, it drops. When they cast a spell, it also drops. Depending on the conditions, a spell may cause it to drop more than 1 point (for example, healing a thief whose action the deity doesn't like, or casting a huge spell like Resurrect).

When the counter goes to zero or below, the deity makes a demand on the cleric ("Fine, you can cast Heal Serious Wounds, but you must return the amulet the thief stole from the king's advisor"). Depending on the demand, the player might roll a new counter die immediately, or once the demand has been met. The cleric in question can't use spells until the counter goes positive once more.

A system like this provides much grist for role-playing and plenty of hooks for future adventures. It also doesn't inspire jealousy in other players because it's not providing additional benefits to the cleric. If you feel it's punitive, you can always add a feature, such as "if the player can max out the counter, the entire party gains a boon" (e.g., Protection from evil for 24 hours).

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