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Religious Horror in NWoD: have you done it?

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  • Religious Horror in NWoD: have you done it?

    Let's be honest; it's not presented as the primary source of horror in any of its lines, but ultimately, the World of Darkness has a plethora of options for religious horrors. It doesn't necessarily have to end with the victim losing their faith, in-game or out - look at the "Armageddon" cycle in Spawn. Grandma Simmons gets to meet God Himself... and learns he's a petty, tyrannical, vicious, evil-hearted bastard no different to his brother Satan in his indifference to humanity. She refuses to be broken, spitting her denials after the Apocalypse is undone that the monster she met was NOT the God she believed in, but let's face it: that's a pretty good example of religious horror right there. But there's all kinds of possibilities for mixing religion and horror, or the horrors that stem specifically from religion.

    For the iconic "cults to mad/evil gods", you have Belial's Brood, the Pure, certain kinds of Spirit-Claimed, the Arisen...

    The "mainstream religion perverted" gets plenty of licks in, too; the Lancea et Sanctum, for example, is a perversion of Christianity created by vampires, for vampires.

    Even the "nightmarish atheism" brand of religious horror that infused Lovecraft's Yog-sothothic Cycle gets woven into the setting's foundations - the nature of the Spirit World, the existence and nature of the Principle and the God-Machine, the dubious origins of the Benedictions; all of these touch upon the subtle "humans are not special, there is no higher power that favors them; humanity are but motes of dust, beneath the notice of the higher powers of the universe" horror that undercut Lovecraft's work.

    But I'm curious; has anyone ever made use of this in their games? Or is this a taboo you generally consider "don't touch"?

  • #2
    I've played around a lot with the notion of faith and belief and truths in Mage, to be specific. Mage lends itself well towards raising interesting questions of faith.

    Is a pagan mythology that's based on a choir of incredibly powerful spirits of the Shadow (all of them creatures of the Fallen World, without any Supernal power or backing) true or false?

    Are religions that have sprung out of sleeper ideas, without any trace of Awakened influence, that nevertheless touch on aspects of the Supernal, true or false?

    If a couple servants of the Exarch known as the "Father" find some carpenter, make him their servant and fabricate an apocalyptic cult, are the cult's belief true or false? What if, five hundred years after the fact, a Bodhisattva forges a Supernal law that empowers and immortalizes the existence of the carpenter religion, the one based on Paternoster lies? Is that religion, no longer a minor apocalyptic cult, true or false, then?

    That sort of thing.

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    • #3
      A major feature of my first Vampire: The Requiem Second Edition chronicle was a conflict between a sincere believer in the Lancea et Sanctum and a power-hungry opportunist Cardinal, with various other fringe cults also involved. Since vampire religions are generally a bit suspect from a human perspective, it was a good way to comment on the possible corruption of religion when it has political power at one remove.


      Craig Oxbrow
      The Trinity Continuum freelancer

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      • #4
        It's not something I've done more on than make a couple of pages of notes, but I've got a homebrew line idea I would call Bodhisattva: the Stranded that deals primarily with these concepts.
        The basic idea is that the World of Darkness is just a world, and that there are others out there that are not so dark. This one, however, is cut off from all the rest for some reason. Now everywhere else, saints and bodhisattva and other people that have done life well step back into time to help everyone else along and they're guided by some greater good force that imbues everything and makes it better. Or something. The intention is to leave it vague because that's not how it works in the World of Darkness. The Stranded are called that because they were supposed to be stepping back into a world ready to recieve them and be made better, but instead find themselves cut off from the very thing they mean to be leading everyone else to. They're disaster relief workers and civil engineers and doctors and maybe soldiers that have lost communication with their home base.
        It's about remembering the good that could be and believing in it enough to muddle through the crap that is now.
        It's about believing in the work, even if you don't honestly know if it will ultimately do any good.
        It's about keeping your secrets to yourself because sometimes the truth doesn't help.
        It's about feeling far from home.

        Instead of dealing with themes of religion as it is or how bad it could be, it deals with life in the face of being both sure and unsure that your faith is true, and the sorts of personal horrors that tension can bring to life.

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        • #5
          I dont think anyone would say that the subject is in anyway "taboo". In a game where the majority of stories involves death, murder and what is significantly worse, I dont honestly anything can be considered "taboo", unless you participate in some pretty heavy double-think.
          No, I think its just hard to capitalize on meaningfully, and you sorta need your players to be on-point with where you're wanting to go, if you're gonna do it effectively. You cant really invoke religious horror without first invoking a sense of religion, and if your players are incapable or unwilling to follow, you're gonna have a hard time.

          That said, you can always bring up elements how religion. I have a Krewe in my Geist game, thats led by a Sin-Eater who basically uses the church he has created as a means of personal gain. He is more or less only in it for personal gain, both financially, socially and supernaturally. His followers on the other hand, buys into every damn word he says, and reads occult meaning and significance into it, far beyond what he ideally wishes. As the story progresses, I am planning on slowly letting the members grow more and more fanatical, untill even the Sin-Eater who is their suposed leader has had enough and a schism developes.
          Its not exactly a subtle critique of organized religion, but I think it works.

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          • #6
            I've been an atheist all my life and it's clearly had an impact on this kind of thing. Generally in games I run there is no god. This makes the religious folks like the Lancea et Sanctum flat out wrong. There are things out there, of course, things like Belial and Luna, but they would never claim to be god, the creator of the universe.

            By your example I'm thinking you mean religious horror as in, religion is accurate and twisted. I don't really have that, though I do enjoy things that are twisted to a religious bent as someone forces their more chaotic philosophy into a more understandable method, such as the beshilu in Shadows of the UK, who believe that there will be a beshilu Messiah that will guide them all back into joining the Plague King as they all become one again in some sort of weird rat rapture. A Rature? And with folks like the Fire-Touched you get to explore some of the dangerous aspects of religion, as they were somewhat ahead of the game when it came to linking disease with religion.

            And just for clarification's sake, I'd like to point out that in the Forsaken and Pure dynamic, the Forsaken are the ones who serve Luna, the Mad Queen of the Spirit.

            All this said I actually find religion a pretty interesting concept and while I haven't managed it in World of Darkness yet, I've always wanted to play a zealot. Some of my favorite characters in other games were just ultra religious.
            Last edited by nofather; 04-13-2015, 02:56 PM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by nofather View Post
              I've been an atheist all my life and it's clearly had an impact on this kind of thing. Generally in games I run there is no god. This makes the religious folks like the Lancea et Sanctum flat out wrong. There are things out there, of course, things like Belial and Luna, but they would never claim to be god, the creator of the universe.
              That was kinda what I tried to hint at before. Pretty much everyone here in Denmark is Atheist and those who are religious aren't really into roleplaying, so finding people who are willing and able to engage in religious themes is kinda tough.
              Personally, I've also been an Atheist my entire life, but finds religious themes immensely interesting, so I like to implement God into my stories (queue the cultural appropriation motherfuckers, right?), but I often think the people I play with takes a sorta defacto atheism to their characters, partly because of the culture we live in, and because the baseline of the WoD doesn't really bring up God at all. Which is kinda funny, given the fact that God is very real in my stories...

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Krobeles View Post
                (queue the cultural appropriation motherfuckers, right?)
                Those "cultural appropriation motherfuckers" are in fact real people, and insulting them is a violation of rule 1.


                Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

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                • #9
                  I like to treat religious beliefs as they are in my World of Darkness games. Whether Theban Sorcery or the Benedictions come from God or something else has no real bearing on the idea that a God exists, since if it doesn't involve that God, it can't really be used as a strike in his favor or against it.

                  What I mean by treating them as they are is to engage with them not from an empirical standpoint, as I don't really feel being religious is about objective rightness or empirical proof of your version of the truth. It's about faith, and what religious belief can do for us as both a source of inner strength and communal binding as much as it can lead us astray. It's not about whether the Lancea et Sanctum is right or wrong, it's about what those beliefs do for vampires to help them make it through their Requiems, and how they internalize their ideas.

                  I think getting into "God doesn't exist" or "God is really an asshole" are sort of heavy handed approaches to tackling religious faith. IMO the most interesting games about religion aren't going to involve God, but rather followers, faith and what can happen as a consequence of faith.

                  I feel like this deviates from the idea of religious horror, admittedly.


                  I am no longer participating in the community. Please do not contact me about my previous work.

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                  • #10
                    I really don't see how you can involve the Paternoster and not invoke elements of religious horror. Dogma and faith twisted into tools of oppression and control is kind of thier thing.

                    Also, remember that their "ideal believer" is an individuality-less shell they can easily reprogram.


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                    • #11
                      Every time I've played Descent.


                      Sean K.I.W./Kelly R.A. Steele, Freelance Writer(Feel free to call me Sean, Kelly, Arcane, or Arc)
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                      • #12
                        I haven't touched religious horror much, partly because I've never figured out to refuse my players stuff without causing a lengthy argument. It's hard to make them concerned about the validity of their religious beliefs when they can just say, "Well, I can kill this guy, so he's probably not the actual God." Well, that and they play a lot of JRPGs, so they don't really blink at most "evil God" stuff.

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                        • #13
                          What about lower-level religious horror? I find that a LOT of that in the World of Darkness. It doesn't matter what God is or isn't, but if there's a charismatic snake-handler who is spinning a community around it's head and turning normal well-meaning people into people who will literally kill and eat their own children because God told them to, that's pretty damn horrible. I find the most fascinating religious horror isn't necessarily ones in which God is Real and He's not on your side (Demon I find is amazing for this, by default), but my favourite religious horror is contrasting the terrible things religion can make people do with the legitimate need for faith in many people's lives, and the good effects of religion on society (y'know, charity and all that).

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                          • #14
                            I am a christain turned deist turned pantheist (also known as the Ben Franklin spiritual path), so I am not really sure what form of religious horror would work on me.
                            Last edited by The young man in the cafe; 04-13-2015, 06:51 PM.


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                            • #15
                              Not sure if this is quite what you mean, but:

                              1. I had a Demon of the Outer Darkness (from Second Sight or Antagonists, I can't recall) with a cult formed around it in the hopes of resurrecting the leader's dead wife. All it managed to make was a small-scale zombie infestation before the Hunter PCs wiped it out (at the cost of half the party dying in the fight or immediately after). So that's a religion. Didn't get a lot of focus, though. Moreso the investigation.

                              2. A while later, in a non-mortal crossover game, I revealed that the creature from #1 was more or less the servant/offspring of a Flaw in Reality that allowed for undeath in general. The cult this time sacrificed an NPC that the PCs were buddies with (kinda, they kidnapped her once and grilled her for info regularly) in order for the cult leader to become a progenitor vampire as per oWoD Caine. Another cult. More investigation/politics focus still.

                              3. The same non-mortal crossover game had the party venture into the Underworld and explore a domain (I forget the name) themed after Mexican flavors of Catholicism. It was set in a giant, city-sized Cathedral. I had a blast describing all the rites and rituals that had to be performed and obeyed, and that was probably my most direct usage of religious influences in any of my games.

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