Faith-based characters like clerics, priest and monks wield holy might, but often treat their miracles like bullets in a gun. There is no wonder from these minor miracles, only the expectation of more miracles on demand. The miraculous is now mundane. Players forget about the rigors of faith because of the flashy powers, but faith is an integral part of these character, often overlooked. I did not really think about it until I read a book that gave me some perspective on faith.
Robert B. Cialdini authored the excellent “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials).” In it he discusses the various ways to influence people, for both reasons good and ill. As part of the discussion, he delves into how groups influence individuals. One of his examples is a small religious sect. The sect’s beliefs involved an impending apocalypse (another great flood) and the need to get ready for a UFO rescue. The group’s prophet predicted a date and time for the cataclysmic swim party (at midnight, of course. Prophets needs to pick a more convenient time for the end of the world. How about after lunch?) After gathering the cult on the chosen day, praying, reading the secret lessons and cutting all the metal out of their clothes. (This last part actually took place because it interferes with the rescue. ) Tensions high, midnight drew close, the praying reached a fever pitch. Rescue by aliens was at hand!
Then nothing happened.
In an act of rhetorical dexterity, the prophet announced that the group of believers stopped the flood through their faith and the world survived! This buoyed the group and dissolution of the sect did not occur, though the UFOs did not come. This did not satisfy everyone and this next sentence provoked this post.
“after hearing it, one member simply rose, put on his hat and coat, and left.”
Many believers said goodbye to their worldly friends, family and goods, such as houses and money in preparation for their ascension. This man, this believer, lost his faith. His deity failed him. Imagine the pain, the loss, the sense of utter abandonment. Now that is a role-playing opportunity! Perhaps it is time to remind clerics and the like that they wield powers at the whim of a deity. A deity that is not an abstract concept, but an in-the-flesh, bad attitude, demanding, fickle and slightly vain deity. RPG deities are not a distant, benevolent force (if they are in your campaign, you are missing a great opportunity to challenge your players.)
Losing faith in a god that performs miracles daily is difficult, but not impossible. Gods often ask believers for sacrifices and sacrifice by its nature is a painful experience. Demanding bloody, beating hearts is a dull cliché in gaming. No, the sacrifice should be truly cruel and vicious. Asking the PC to disown a beloved relative or to let an ally/friend non-believer die from a horrible disease that the PC can cure. Here is a good one; demand the PC take a vow of poverty. Most gamers are greedy like Midas, especially about their equipment or magic items. Make the PC choose between faith and poverty. Make it hurt!
Why all the abuse? Because many player forget that they signed a contract at cleric school; immense power in return for total loyalty. There is no such thing as a partially committed zealot. When you enter the cleric club, you are in. If the PC fails to uphold his side of the bargain, he needs to find a new line of work or go through a lot of introspection. Both are great story hooks for your campaign.
Let the test of faith begin!
Trask, The Last Tyromancer