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  • [New Medieval Merit] Church Status

    I'm helping to write a Dark Era for Genius: The Transgression that's based on the so-called "Dark Ages" of medieval European history. As such, the Church and its clergy will be a big deal in this setting. Would anyone with a background in medieval studies be willing to take a look and tell me if I've missed anything? I appreciate your feedback and suggestions for making this Merit more playable and more historically accurate.

    Status (Church) (●+)

    Special thanks to @monteparnas

    You have some official position of power within the Church. In addition to handling money (of which the Church possesses obscene amounts) or requisitioning goods, services, and servants, you may also have the ability to bless, receive confession and offer absolution, conduct Mass, and even censure or excommunicate, depending on your rank and function within the vast and literally Byzantine hierarchy of the Long Defeat’s greatest – some would say only – institution of consequence.

    Each dot in Status (Church) grants you a +1 bonus to all Mental dice pools aimed at navigating the complexities of Canon Law and interacting with Church officials (such as knowing who to bribe for a special dispensation or a private audience with an archbishop) and reduces by one the number of Doors you must open when using Social Maneuvering against your fellow Christians whom you outrank; this bonus does not apply against individuals who have more dots in Church Status than you do.

    A character need not purchase dots in this Merit to rise to a new station within the Church, this Merit only reflects the amount of influence one has. An ordinary but charismatic priest might have many dots in this Merit to reflect being the figurehead of a powerful social movement (e.g. St Francis of Assisi, or Savonarola), while a weak-willed pope who won his office by being a compromise candidate might only have a couple dots in this Merit. Likewise, females can have more influence than their status as mere nuns or Mothers Superior would normally confer, to represent being secretary to a powerful archbishop or having some other form of official power which does not confer spiritual authority (e.g. being in charge of Church finances while still a mere deaconess).

    Gaining a second dot in Church Status has an additional requirement: the character must have a dot in either Language (Latin) or Language (Greek), While not a prerequisite, a dot in Language (French) might also be useful.

    ●: You are either lay officer of the Church (such as deacon or deaconess, vicar, cleric, sacristan, presbyter, etc) or a seminarian training for the clergy. Though you cannot perform any of the Holy Sacraments, you have limited access to Church grounds, buildings, records, relics, and personnel.
    ●●: You are an ordained minister of the Church (e.g. priest, friar, chaplain, nun, monk, scribe, or other ). Males can perform the Holy Sacraments: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, holy orders, and anointing the sick or last rites, but cannot enter female-only grounds without being specifically authorized by the Mother Superior. You may live and eat on church grounds for free, although you may and will be required to work. Females cannot perform any of the Holy Sacraments, and cannot personally (but may indirectly) gain more dots in Church Status than this… at least officially. In early Christian Ireland, there are tales of female priests and bishops like St Brigid of Kildare who give communion, take confession, and even celebrate mass – a practice which is considered heretical by the Church proper, and will be stamped out just as soon as the continental bishops get wind of it.
    ●●●: You are the main priest of a single parish or abbey, or the Mother Superior of a nunnery. You have administrative control over church properties within it, direct authority over its clerical body, and spiritual authority over its populace. Alternatively you may be a priest directly working for a Bishop, holding greater influence but less authority, or an Auxiliary Bishop (a direct secretary to a Bishop) with minor influence.
    ●●●●: You are a bishop, exert control over a diocese (a collection of parishes), and may perform the most restrict sacraments, the ordaining of priests and the excommunication. Under Canon Law you're now fully equal to an apostle in spiritual authority, being able to settle theological matters for your jurisdiction. In areas where secular authorities are absent you may also assume their role, and even where they're present you usually have the power to indicate judges for both religious and secular disputes. Alternatively you may be an Auxiliary Bishop with great influence or auxiliary to an Archbishop, or you may be an Archbishop with little real influence despite the title.
    ●●●●●: You are an Archbishop. While it is technically only a title of prestige, your archdiocese (a collection of adjacent dioceses, or a single metropolitan diocese). is of exceptional importance and serves as center of an ecclesiastical province, a big collection of dioceses. At the very least those other bishops pay you a huge amount of respect, but in practical terms you have considerable oversight on them. Alternatively you may be a part of the high administration of the Holy See and still be called an Archbishop even without a diocese under you. The Cardinals, the Roman Curia and the Pope are all Archbishops.
    Last edited by Super_Dave; 11-15-2021, 01:11 PM. Reason: Raised "official" limit on female status from ●● to ●●●.


    Author of Motor City Breakdown, [New Seeming] Mechanicals, and [Entitlement] Divers of the Cerulean Pearl
    Accuracy Consultant on Ashes of the Motor City, Author of Devil's Night in the D
    Editor, Compiler, and Senior Contributor to Tenebrous Seas
    Current Project(s): Late Antiquity/Early Medieval Dark Era for Genius: The Transgression

  • #2
    It depends when your game is set; like the Medieval era is a long time and things change quite radically over it. For example:

    in an era where religious education and heterodoxy is paramount, holding unorthodox opinions can be very dangerous.
    For much of the Medieval era this isn't right, and isn't even really possible. Lots and lots of people have all kinds of weird and wacky ideas; it's only really a problem if you're an academic theologian whose publishing stuff (for want of a better phrase). I'm not saying it's not potentially dangerous but that tends to be reserved for mass groups of people, not individuals.

    Best of all, you are infallible: nothing that you say or do can be incorrect or contrary to God’s plan, because He would not allow His most trusted and important servant to behave in any way other than the correct way. Your word is more than law, your word is God’s law.
    From what I understand that's not really how Papal infallibility works, and it's an idea from a much later period. Plenty of popes get in theological arguments with other theologians, and they don't necessarily win simply by being pope.


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    • #3
      The Long Defeat takes place during the Early Middle Ages: roughly from the fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest. The setting is centered on France and the British Isles, but we're trying to include at least a little material from everywhere, even outside Europe.

      Originally posted by Michael View Post
      Lots and lots of people have all kinds of weird and wacky ideas; it's only really a problem if you're an academic theologian whose publishing stuff (for want of a better phrase). I'm not saying it's not potentially dangerous but that tends to be reserved for mass groups of people, not individuals.
      That's true for the average person who just goes to church and pays their tithes, but for Geniuses of this era, they're almost guaranteed to come into conflict with the Church and its teachings, one way or another. The average peasant will be educated and corrected: mad scientists can expect a more torches-and-pitchforks type of response.

      Originally posted by Michael View Post
      From what I understand that's not really how Papal infallibility works, and it's an idea from a much later period.
      Huh, I did not know that. Guess I've still got research to do, huh? Thanks for letting me know though. How much authority would the pope have excercised in this period if his authority wasn't absolute?

      On a related note, did medieval bishops have to visit Rome regularly? How often?


      Author of Motor City Breakdown, [New Seeming] Mechanicals, and [Entitlement] Divers of the Cerulean Pearl
      Accuracy Consultant on Ashes of the Motor City, Author of Devil's Night in the D
      Editor, Compiler, and Senior Contributor to Tenebrous Seas
      Current Project(s): Late Antiquity/Early Medieval Dark Era for Genius: The Transgression

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Super_Dave View Post
        That's true for the average person who just goes to church and pays their tithes, but for Geniuses of this era, they're almost guaranteed to come into conflict with the Church and its teachings, one way or another. The average peasant will be educated and corrected: mad scientists can expect a more torches-and-pitchforks type of response.
        That's my point though, for a genius it'd be more that the local synod of bishops demands your presence to answer some questions about something you've written. It's a very involved process that could drag on for years. Plus, it's kinda after the era; like the first universities haven't been formed yet, so the theology of the time isn't necessarily terribly sophisticated, which you really need in order to enforce an orthodoxy.

        I suspect a Genius is probably more likely to just get in trouble for doing something, rather than what they believe or claim.

        How much authority would the pope have excercised in this period if his authority wasn't absolute?
        To clarify, papal infallibility isn't as powerful as it first seems. The problem is that there have been a lot of popes. Papal infallibility would give a huge amount of precedent that the present pope wouldn't be able to overturn.

        That said, he's still very powerful. He's a secular ruler with the nominal power to excommunicate anyone, and with pretentions to being the ruler of Christendom.

        On a related note, did medieval bishops have to visit Rome regularly? How often?
        Almost certainly not. It's a long trip, and there's not really much need to unless there's specific business.


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        • #5
          Papal infallibility was not a thing until the 1870s. Before that the Pope was only first among equals.

          Gotta go have ice cream. Bye!

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Super_Dave View Post
            The Long Defeat takes place during the Early Middle Ages: roughly from the fall of Rome to the Norman Conquest. The setting is centered on France and the British Isles, but we're trying to include at least a little material from everywhere, even outside Europe.
            All those ideas about the church as extremely unified and powerful, the fires of inquisition and deep control of what's acceptable belief is just not a thing in the whole of early Middle Ages. The church of the time is pretty much adapting to survive instead of being a huge player.

            Our "classical" idea of the Dark Ages is actually mostly from the very end of the Late Middle Ages. As an example, the Inquisitions are mostly a 15th century phenomena, and even then it isn't the Church that actually order the executions.

            The church says you're a bad Christian. The local leaders say that not being a good Christian is treason. The fire was just the common penalty for treason for women, while men were hanged. Things got a lot more complicated, but that was the core from where it evolved.


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            • #7
              Originally posted by Super_Dave View Post
              How much authority would the pope have excercised in this period if his authority wasn't absolute?
              What is often colloquially referred to as "the Dark Ages" is right smack dab in the middle of the period where popes and Franco-German Emperors are in a constant struggle to determine what their respective powers are and who takes precedent. The Emperor says that the pope is a subject, afforded Rome and land around it by royal assent, and while the Holy See has a lot of spiritual authority the final decision making on matters such as appointment of bishops and abbots should rest with the crown (hence placing that hierarchy under royal authority). The pope says that he is God's representative on Earth, charged among other things to have ultimate decision making over who even is a king (an investment that he can withdraw, theoretically liberating subjects from oaths of fidelity to kings), and that through the power to appoint bishops and abbots the Church functions as a hierarchy parallel to but separate from princes and nobles (and hence should get to do things like run its own law courts).

              Hashing out this dispute takes the form of legal argument, diplomatic wrangling, and even proxy war (popes might support people rebelling against emperors) across centuries, and the manner of the divisions is very complicated. Like, you can have an emperor who is fighting tooth and nail to assert dominance over the papacy, and yet when the pope enacts some kind of official condemnation, walks barefoot in a hairshirt for miles to Rome in order to beg forgiveness.

              Clerics of the Church are not quite evenly divided in their loyalties; that is to say, it's not quite as simple as some bishops and priests siding with the pope and some with the crown. There are plenty who are kind of walking the middle ground.

              And you do get some outlying parts of Christendom such as Ireland where a lot of the churches are nominally under the authority of the pope but do a lot of their own things.

              (Also to note, the early Medieval Church was actually the institution that preserved a lot of technical knowledge from Rome and Greece, and had a lot of academia. This kind of thing helped fuel the Frankish Renaissance, the sort of topic which is why modern historians don't really employ the term "Dark Ages". Which, to be clear, was always a reference in the first place to being in the dark about the period due to reduced record keeping from lowered literacy and less widespread bureaucracy more than any suggestion of it as particularly grim and ignorant.)


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              • #8
                The term "Dark Ages" was coined during the Renaissance, along with their bigoted fabrications about the Middle Ages. Today it is completely rejected in academia.

                I only see it being used nowadays for the Greek Dark Ages, that is an unrelated period in ancient Greek history, the centuries between the fall of Linear B and rise of Greek writing, and is strictly defined by the lack of written records in Greece.

                Church history is messy, and extremely complex during the Middle Ages. Without the Western Empire to give it legitimacy, the church had to make a lot of complex moves to "exchange" legitimacy with the "barbarian kings", and had still a lot of internal conflicts that interacted with those external ones.

                Not to say that the very definition of who's the Pope isn't that clear-cut, and Anti-Popes abounded.


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                • #9
                  I want to point out that levels of authority varied from pope to pope based on things like their force of personality and administrative skill, but I'm not sure how useful that is to translating as a Status Merit...

                  On the other hand, the actual mechanical function of the Status Merit is bonuses to relevant Social rolls. So a character who's not very impressive could be highly ranked and still leverage that a bit, but to only generally average results when they're not experiencing a penalty.

                  Otherwise, Medieval popes are a lot like kings; there's theoretically a lot of power, but in practice it tends to take an enormous amount of wrangling to actually use it. The typical objectives of such popes are maintaining their prestige among the royalty of Europe, securing territorial sovereignty, and trying to enforce standardised rites and sacraments (that last one being the kind of thing that ultimately leads to the Great Schism).


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                  • #10
                    For the merit itself, I'd maybe consider making archbishop the 5th dot. As far as I can tell, cardinals, whilst already established at this point, aren't as important as they will become, and you generally won't see them outside of Rome.


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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Michael View Post
                      For the merit itself, I'd maybe consider making archbishop the 5th dot. As far as I can tell, cardinals, whilst already established at this point, aren't as important as they will become, and you generally won't see them outside of Rome.
                      Agreed. I'd add the Diocesans, Abbots and Abbesses at Rank 3, that was a glaring hole to me.

                      In practice, the structure at the time would be roughly something like that:

                      1 - Lay members. They come in a number of official and non-official roles, but are vital to the running of a parish and maintenance of most churches.

                      2 - Members in training. They also have a number of titles and role, and can already perform certain rituals.

                      3 - Priests. Monks, Nuns and Fathers. They can conduct any ritual with a very few exceptions.

                      4 - "Chiefs". You can have several priests in a single place, but only one is the boss and this matters a lot. They are higher in practical hierarchy and command the actual material resources of the church at a local level.

                      5 - Bishops. They control several churches and abbeys, mainly as an administrative role, but also have a few key decisions like organizing those who conduct specialized rituals like Exorcisms, and they can conduct the rite of Excommunication, that is off-limits below them.

                      6 - Archbishops. Administration of a greater territory, roughly equal to a duchy or a small country. Sometimes more, sometimes less, some have the rank but not oversight over any particular territory, serving internal duties.

                      7 - Cardinals. They are Archbishops with vote on the College of Cardinals, which is the church's Senate of sorts. Nominally their only added role is to vote on the Pope, in practice they have all the influence that comes with that.

                      8 - The Pope. The Patriarch of the Church, whose power is debatable. As in practice he have a lot to navigate, dealing with external negotiations and internal negotiations given the power of the College of Cardinals when it is even stable, which isn't always.

                      One interesting note: at the time there's no rule on who can be the Pope except for the decision of the College. The Pope could be selected from anywhere in the Christendom, ordained or lay. On more than one occasion a noble with no previous ties to the church was selected for political reasons.

                      The best way to deal with this merit depends a lot on the role the church will have in the game. It may even be a good idea to break it in other merits to cover different aspects: political influence, control over resources, access to rites, political clout to act without oversight, there are many possibilities.

                      Some Cardinal may have a lot of political influence and yet no control of church resources whatsoever. Some Bishops can Excommunicate local nobility without questions, while some Archbishops Excommunicate a peasant only with Papal approval.

                      Not to mention religious orders, that would require their own Status Merits within the Church.


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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
                        Agreed. I'd add the Diocesans, Abbots and Abbesses at Rank 3, that was a glaring hole to me.

                        In practice, the structure at the time would be roughly something like that:

                        1 - Lay members. They come in a number of official and non-official roles, but are vital to the running of a parish and maintenance of most churches.

                        2 - Members in training. They also have a number of titles and role, and can already perform certain rituals.

                        3 - Priests. Monks, Nuns and Fathers. They can conduct any ritual with a very few exceptions.

                        4 - "Chiefs". You can have several priests in a single place, but only one is the boss and this matters a lot. They are higher in practical hierarchy and command the actual material resources of the church at a local level.

                        5 - Bishops. They control several churches and abbeys, mainly as an administrative role, but also have a few key decisions like organizing those who conduct specialized rituals like Exorcisms, and they can conduct the rite of Excommunication, that is off-limits below them.

                        6 - Archbishops. Administration of a greater territory, roughly equal to a duchy or a small country. Sometimes more, sometimes less, some have the rank but not oversight over any particular territory, serving internal duties.

                        7 - Cardinals. They are Archbishops with vote on the College of Cardinals, which is the church's Senate of sorts. Nominally their only added role is to vote on the Pope, in practice they have all the influence that comes with that.

                        8 - The Pope. The Patriarch of the Church, whose power is debatable. As in practice he have a lot to navigate, dealing with external negotiations and internal negotiations given the power of the College of Cardinals when it is even stable, which isn't always.

                        One interesting note: at the time there's no rule on who can be the Pope except for the decision of the College. The Pope could be selected from anywhere in the Christendom, ordained or lay. On more than one occasion a noble with no previous ties to the church was selected for political reasons.

                        The best way to deal with this merit depends a lot on the role the church will have in the game. It may even be a good idea to break it in other merits to cover different aspects: political influence, control over resources, access to rites, political clout to act without oversight, there are many possibilities.

                        Some Cardinal may have a lot of political influence and yet no control of church resources whatsoever. Some Bishops can Excommunicate local nobility without questions, while some Archbishops Excommunicate a peasant only with Papal approval.

                        Not to mention religious orders, that would require their own Status Merits within the Church.
                        Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borja) actually had legitimate children before he was elected Pope.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Amethyst View Post
                          Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borja) actually had legitimate children before he was elected Pope.
                          I know, but he wasn't the only one. And some Popes made more children they freely recognized while being Popes.

                          Then you get schisms in the College and two Popes being elected, so to speak, what is called an Anti-Pope.

                          And sometimes the schism is so big that two Colleges are formed and each declare their own Pope.

                          Finally, that time when the papacy was in France, but not.


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                          • #14
                            My notes:

                            1. I'm suspicious of using Status dots to indicate access to wealth. This basically makes it impossible to have high-status low-wealth individuals. Access to places, especially after hours, certainly. An amount of authority and the permission to legally conduct rites, absolutely. But wealth per se, I kinda look askance at.

                            2. I'm a little weirded out by Status being granted via blackmail over an actual official. Like, okay, I find pictures of the Pope doing the nasty with a courtesan, and suddenly I have 6 new dots? Buh? It's one thing to be able to ask a high-Status individual to do your bidding, but quite another to have the Status for yourself.

                            3. I was gonna bring up Abbot/Abbess, but others have already. Monastic Orders are pretty important, overall, as they're essentially the "fringe" elements of the Church that remain explicitly faithful. They're probably more important than the Curia, in terms of how a Genius would interact with the Church. (The Curia is probably better suited to being modeled as a setting element and subsystem than buyable dots.)


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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Errol216 View Post
                              My notes:
                              1 - I agree that Status can't be confused with wealth, especially because some of those High Status church members have vows of poverty.

                              But it is relevant to bear in mind when they have control over church assets. It isn't the same as being wealthy, but is a thing. An Abbot/Abbess have administrative power over the Abbey and its material resources. You can easily decide that those with sufficient clout to use those resources as they please should represent this by the Resources Merit, but even without that they have command over the Abbey itself, so deciding how the Abbey applies those is clearly within their powers.

                              2 - I don't think blackmail should be the most effective way to have "higher than your place" Status, yet personal influence is a huge thing and it is even greater at the church of the time. Depending on personal alliances and how much respect you command from a big number of people or from key important characters, it is totally reasonable to have a higher effective Status Merit than your position in church hierarchy.

                              This was especially true at the higher levels, as the political power became more blurred from Bishop up. But even at lower status things could get "interesting" within 1 level of difference. If the Diocesan fancies a lay member more than his direct subordinates, then here we are.

                              3 - Agreed, although I'm not sure if Monastic Orders are so "fringe".


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