Sunday, February 9, 2014

Alignment and Religion in Empire of the Petal Throne

Two Skull-Priests of Sárku, the Five-Headed Lord of Worms, are seen
calling forth the Fire Demon, Jnékshaa. (Art by Karen J. Englesen)

The first step in creating a character for Empire of the Petal Throne is to “choose between two 'alignments':  Good or Evil.”  (In fact, it is in the section on Alignment that Barker explains how to use dice.)  Barker explains that
For convenience's sake (and not to reflect reality necessarily), all characters are divided into two basic types:  those serving the Good Gods and their Cohorts, and those serving their Evil counterparts.  There are no “neutrals” on Tékumel...
Barker provides details about the Gods much later in the rules, but in the five paragraph section on Alignment he describes the behaviors to which good and evil characters are expected to conform.  Good characters do “not consort with” evil characters.  Good characters do not attack non-humans that are not hostile and they do not attack one another except in a mutually acceptable duel after an “honourable challenge.”  Barker states that “evil characters never attack each other within their own party.”  [Original emphasis]  “A party,” Barker explains, “is...a body of two or more players sharing an adventure together.”  (One assumes they are “sharing an adventure” via their characters.)  “Once a group has disbanded,” Barker continues, “evil characters may indeed state their intentions to begin hostilities with one or more ex-members of the group at the start of the following adventure.”

How do people of disparate alignments peacefully co-exist in society?  Barker explains that...
Most worshippers live out their lives without ever experiencing a God directly:  they go to the temples, celebrate the rituals, pay the tithes, and give lip-service – yet never face any real demands upon the depth and strength of their faiths.
Additionally, there is the notion of “noble” versus “ignoble” action – a concept of social etiquette that transcends alignment.

The last paragraph of the Alignment section says that a character can change his or her alignment by going to a temple of one of the Gods of the desired 'side' and rolling 60 or greater on percentile dice.  Later in the book, a more detailed procedure is provided.  Each character can be devoted to a single God or Cohort.  If a character wants to start worshiping a different God – even one of the same alignment – that character, “at the beginning of the adventure,” must make an offering to the appropriate temple and secure an “Agreeable” (or better) reaction from the priests by rolling on the NPC reaction table.  (Technically, this is a roll of 61 or better, not '60' as indicated in the Alignment section.)  The offering must consist of a number of Káitars equal to 1d100 × 1d10 × 1,000 (i.e., from one thousand to one million Káitars – good luck with that).

There are five “good” Gods (the Tlomítlanyal) and five “evil” Gods (the Tlokiriqáluyal).  For each God, there is a Cohort; collectively the Cohorts are the Hlimékluyal.  Thus, there are twenty 'deities':  5 “good” Gods along with 5 Cohorts and 5 “evil” Gods along with their 5 Cohorts.  However, deities tend to have Aspects, “particular facets of...identity...not separate deities but only specific manifestations...”  As an example, “Avánthe [Mistress of Heaven] has 93 Aspects, one of which is the personification of maiden beauty, another a fierce Aridáni warrioress, another a mother with a child in her arms, another an old woman wise in her years, etc.”

In a later supplement, Barker refines the Good/Evil dichotomy of the Gods – “the deities of Tékumel are only peripherally involved with 'ethics' or 'morality.'”  The “good” Gods  are actually the 'Lords of Stability' while the “evil” Gods are actually the 'Lords of Change.'  According to Barker:
These deities are really vastly powerful inter-dimensional beings, but for all practical purposes they are “gods” to such a limited and tiny being as man.  The Gods express not so much human objectives as their own viewpoints of existence and the eventual destiny of the cosmos.  The Lords of Stability urge a slow and gentle progress towards a final glorious stasis which will endure for all time to come.  The Lords of Change preach violent and constant mutability, unceasing, always ephemeral, and resulting only in ever more change.  The Gods are immanent and omnipresent.  There are innumerable documented instances of “miracles” and “manifestations,” and only a fool is an atheist in Tékumel.
Speaking of miracles, player characters can seek divine intervention.  If successful, “the player has obtained the ear of his or her deity, and then the referee then considers the request and responds accordingly (but not to such an extent that the game becomes unbalanced).”  Seeking divine intervention is not without risks.  Percentile dice are rolled with three possible outcomes:  successful intervention, “no effect,” and retribution.  Retribution means that the character sustains 1d6 of damage for each of his or her experience levels.  However, characters with higher levels of experience have a greater chance of success.  A second or third level character (first level characters cannot seek divine intervention at all) has a 70% chance of retribution and only a 5% chance of successful intervention; a fourth or fifth level character has only a 50% chance of retribution but a 20% chance of successful intervention.  It is easier to obtain intervention (as well as avoid retribution) from Cohorts than with A-list Gods.  Magic-users get a +3 modifier and priests get a +5.  Offerings of money (in 5,000 Káitar increments) and magic items also provide a bonus.  Sacrifices can also improve the odds.  The good Gods and Cohorts accept sacrifices of an undead being, Underworld creature, “or other large, dangerous, and inimical being” but “the evil Gods and Cohorts accept only human sacrifices.”  Finally, divine intervention is successful no more frequently than once per week; further attempts within a week result in automatic retribution.

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