My daughter's wedding is just two days away, Saturday, so things are scattered and far too busy to do any real work this week . . . so I am relaxing by kicking out a few things in the wiki. I've finished the changes I intend to make to medicine at this time (I have no one above authority level in my games), so now I am working on a paladin skill, piety, chosen by a 6th level paladin in my game by the name of Zephan.
This surprised me a little, as the player who operates Zephan (my son-in-law as of this Saturday) is something of a munchkin. Zephan is a phenomenal character, generated with four naturally rolled 17s, placed under strength, wisdom, dexterity and charisma. It is particularly funny since, in more than 8 years of play, the fellow has never rolled an 18 for a character stat, not once.
However, reasoning that piety would be a way to round out the natural power of the character and produce opportunities, the player opted out of increasing power in favour of status. I really respect that. I have made a point of telling him so.
This brings us to the problem of how to create piety in a game setting without travelling down the road of telling players how to have their characters behave, something I simply don't do. From the beginning I have allowed paladins to act as they will, trusting the terrific amount of experience needed to go up a level to restrain their awesome power ~ that, and not rushing to give them +5 holy swords any time before the 20th level. In fact, I've only given one holy sword away in a campaign, to a 7th level; it was not in a campaign I am running now and the sword was merely +1, +2 against malevolent creatures. The player was very happy and it did not upset the apple cart of the campaign.
As such, any sage ability the paladin possesses must fit two criteria: it must not function in a way that undermines the struggle of the players vs. their environment and it must allow for total free action and agency for the player running the paladin.
With this in mind, I have three new skills with which I will try to thread that needle. I'll try to talk about the value and limitation of each.
Prostration is an act of demonstrating humility ~ which might mean any number of physical positions, depending on the part of the world and, of course, the religion of the paladin. It is not an act of submission, but rather something like a proof of credit. The paladin, through body language, tells witnesses that "I am to be trusted, my goals are your goals, my motives are pure."
The difficulty, of course, is that without the restriction of telling the paladin that they must actually BE pure, there's every opportunity for the paladin to gain the trust of others and then subvert that trust for cruel, unjust and certainly impious purposes.
Or is that really the case? The issue here is not that the skill can be used to dupe a trusting official into freely giving information into the hands of an unworthy paladin ~ I argue that it can and that this is a legitimate use for the skill. This issue is how does this define the paladin with respect to the paladin's deity? It is sadly always assumed that paladins must obey the commands of "good" deities. Why? Is there no evil in the world equally in need of a warrior pious for their causes? And does it not stand to reason that the paladin that is ready to exploit a skill for the benefit of malevolence is rightly to be found in that camp? Naturally, it would mean that the forces of good would quickly drop said paladin from their good books, meaning that the paladin's natural +2 bonus against malevolence would have to be reworked ~ not revoked, but merely differently directed. A paladin makes enemies like any other character . . . this doesn't mean losing their paladinhood.
So I'm fine with prostration being used for evil, along with the consequences of a character who unwittingly or wittingly finds themselves in that camp, potentially to their dismay. It's not something I would punish a player for but it isn't as easy getting along with evil people as it is with good. They tend to be, well, evil.
Propitiation is the act of standing in on behalf of someone else that has sinned, acted against the faith, seeks divine atonement or divine recognition. Like Lancelot acting as the moral center for King Arthur or Baby Doll sacrificing herself in order for Sweet Pea to get away. In Christianity, the obvious example is Christ himself, who died so that everyone else could be saved. We don't need to expect a character to go that far ~ a quest or two is probably enough.
I like this particular skill. It fits right into the D&D paladin character and is full of rich adventure opportunity, self-sacrifice and empathic role-playing. The principal drawback is, I think, how much is needed for propitiation to occur? There's no standard I can think of creating, meaning that I'll just have to deal with this one on a case by case basis. As well, for the most part the ability requires that I think of situations in which a non-player character needs some kind of help. Yes, from time to time, an actual PC might get themselves into a situation where the party paladin needs to step in and handle this one, but I don't see that happening often enough to make the paladin feel like this is a hugely important sage ability. For it to have verve, the campaign is going to have to occasionally inject some poor soul in need of having their excommunication dropped or getting one of their seven deadly sins forgiven.
That's great fodder for a railroaded campaign, but I don't run like that. Sadly, I think this one might get shelved a lot of the time, which means one less thing the paladin can do having gained the authority level of knowledge. I find that disappointing. Still, perhaps the character will think of some way to actively seek out such persons, acting on their agenda and not mine, making the ability work.
Prayer is an act that serves to create a rapport between worshipper and deity, requesting knowledge and seeking divine intervention. I don't doubt that most campaigns have played with having both clerics and paladins pray, since it is "in character" . . . but we all know that there is a serious lack of guidelines for how much intervention a character can expect in exchange for getting on their knees for less than sixty seconds of game time. I've even played with the concept of the player actually having to get on their knees, using the institution of public shame (players are notoriously sensitive to looking foolish) in order to control the seeking of boons and benefits, both of which were failed rule ideas (pre-sage era) that I threw out decades ago.
I'm not sure how to solve this one. It isn't good enough to go on a case by case basis. There has to be a solid guideline both for what can be adjusted and what can be learned . . . and neither can have the power or influence of a spell of any variety, as this is knowledge, not magical power. Still, the ability belongs here, in this category and at this level. I will just have to think of something in the next few days to make it work.
Hah. The next few days. Yes, so simple.
Anyway, there's a few thoughts on the subject. I'll be working on this wiki page in the days ahead, in bits and drabs, as this has lately been the most solid work I seem to be able to do at any one time.