So far, I’ve looked at what all Modern Priest PCs have in common, and what made one Priest different to another, This third part, and the fourth to follow, are all about casual encounters to highlight these character features…
Photo courtesy tome213 (Elvis Santana)
Introduction to part 3
At first glance, encounters for priests can seem easy to create. If there is one thing that the first two parts of this trilogy make clear, it’s that there’s a lot of potential. Once you actually start, though, it soon becomes apparent that it’s not quite so easy. The one encounter can tick so many boxes that it can stifle creativity, and it is very easy to end up in a situation in which too many of the resulting encounters are simple variations on a theme.
In other words, Barbarians (who were featured in the first of this series) and Priests suffer from the same problem: a stereotyped encounter set. The reasons may be different, but the results are the same.
I’ve tried hard to combat this by employing those clichés sparingly and looking for more original variations on themes within these encounters. Of course, that’s also made it slower to write, but you can’t have everything…
As usual, these encounters are divided into two groups: encounters that reflect the differences between a generic priest and your run-of-the-mill adventurer (the common encounters), and encounters that highlight the differences between one variation on the standard priest and another.
The Common Encounters
Because Priest characters have such wide variations open to them, it is extremely difficult to define a “generic priest” character. Nevertheless, part one managed to do so, and these encounters are designed to highlight those common features. Each may need some tweaking to individual variations before being suitable for use.
All Priests have faith in a higher power of some sort…
1.Faith: What You Need
Look ahead to a future adventure, and pick a skill or area of knowledge that none of the PCs have. Then contrive an encounter in which an expert in that skill or subject features prominently in a professional capacity, making sure to emphasize an element of improbable coincidence.
The player will hopefully pick up on these signals and at the very least have the PC pick up a general layman’s understanding of the subject – and, of course, if more detailed expertise is required, this mini-encounter gives the PC a contact in the subject.
2. Faith: The Calling
When a Priest first decides to join the Faith and commit himself to a lifetime of Service (at least for the immediate future), it is described as Hearing The Call, or The Calling, or finding your Calling. Many priests use a discussion of their Calling as a way of introducing themselves. This encounter poses the question of what the Priest’s life would/might have been like had he not heeded The Call, and by extension, how his profession and training has changed him as a person.
While individual cases may vary, it’s my expectation that the NPC encountered in this plotline should not have amounted to anything noteworthy in any way – not especially poor, not especially successful. He should be mediocre in every way, having squandered any ‘gifts’ that he may have been born with, and having no noteworthy talents. He should be neither saint nor villain.
Such a nobody needs one or two redeeming features to reveal the potential for what he might have been, had he taken the other turn at some obscure crossroads in life. Perhaps he is fiercely loyal to his friends, is the person they all turn to for advice (no matter how mediocre and untrained that advice might be), and is the captain of a middle-of-the-road bowling league. Think…. Howard Cunningham (Happy Days) or Fred Flintsone.
This encounter preserves the moral fiber of the Priest and his innate capacities but discards the drive and determination, and perhaps the good- or ill-fortune that shaped their lives.
3. Faith: Calling Collect
This is an obvious variation on “The Calling” – an encounter in which the NPC was also once just like the PC, but who has taken every gift and talent and innate ability and used them for their own gain in power, prestige, and wealth. The head of a charity who is on a five-figure salary (1930s), six-figure salary (1970s-1980s), or seven-figure salary (1990s-now). The head of a powerful and corrupt union. The CEO of a business with a reputation for being squeaky-clean – and utterly ruthless.
This encounter removes the moral fiber of the Priest while retaining his innate capacities, drive, and determination. And with enough of that, you don’t need good- or ill-fortune to shape a life, you are quite capable of manufacturing your own fate.
This can also be a great choice for a Priest’s Arch-Enemy in a Pulp Campaign (every Pulp PC needs an Arch-enemy!)
4. Faith: The Pragmatist
One of the primary differences between Priests and other characters is that they have Faith in Something – and that this Something will always offer the pathway to a solution to any problem if it is not part of his plan that the Priest endure and learn from his experience.
I’ve described this encounter as “The Pragmatist” but in comparison with the Priest, we’re talking an outright Pessimist. “Always think the best of people but prepare in case they let you down”, “everybody has something to hide”, that sort of thing.
GMs have two tacks they can take with this encounter: the Pragmatist can be an antagonist in a situation that permits the NPC to debate philosophy and ethics with the Priest, or he and the Priest can form a short-lived “buddy cop” team with the Priest. The key requirement is for the NPC and the Priest to have lots of room for interaction.
5. Faith: The Subversive
A Priesthood tends to be conservative, while the ideals to which a Priesthood is usually supposed to aspire are progressive at the very least. This inherent conflict can be thrown into sharp relief by pitching the Priest into an encounter with The Subversive – a character who is seeking to undermine and overthrow an Authority because it has performed actions or made choices that conflict with his ‘Progressive’ ideology. This puts the Priest into an interesting situation in which the Subversive can be either Antagonist or Ally – or both at the same time. Careful choice as to the nature of the conflict can ensure full scope to explore the complex relationship between the Subversive and the Priest.
In some eras, like the 1960s, these encounters are very easy to engineer; in other eras, it may be more difficult, but they are practical in any era; it’s only a question of identifying the right moral problem.
Encounters with The Subversive tend to fall into two distinct patterns: “The End Justifies The Means” and “Foolish Idealism”. Both assume that the Priest will have some level of sympathy for the cause of the Subversive; the distinction lies in the practicality of the Subversive’s objective. But there is a third option that should not be ignored: “In Too Deep”, in which less idealistic forces are using The Subversive to do their dirty work. Sometimes, the Priest will have to convince The Subversive of the reality of his situation, and sometimes he will figure it out on his own and go to The Priest for help.
There is a strong temptation to make these more than mini-encounters, because it is so easy to make a featured plot out of them; the problem is that there may not be enough activity for any other PCs in the resulting plotline. I find that it helps to think of these encounters as episodes of Knight Rider or MacGyver – a small town setting, a small and strictly local problem, the Priest blows into the middle of the situation with the wind, has his encounter, then blows out again. Keep it small scale and local – unless you can solve the “something for everyone” problem. So, “The Subversive” tends to be either a very small mini-encounter or a vast, sweeping plotline – there is very little scope for middle ground.
6. Faith: The Criminal
It would be nice if a Priesthood could always weed out the weak and the criminal before they assumed positions within the Clergy. Like all man-made institutions, however, these make mistakes; and they are often loathe to admit them when they occur, because those who make the decisions are generally supposed to be guided by “a higher power”. Undermining this reputation for infallibility is perceived as undermining the faith of the congregation, which is bad for business, whether that business is saving souls (the idealist position) or profiting from them (the cynical position). This doctrine has led to the (admitted) sheltering of everything from pedophiles to war criminals within the ranks of the clergy. Exacerbating the problem is the perception held by some that infidelities by the Clergy are not subjects for judgment by fallible mortal men; that in joining the Faith, the Priest is now subject to a Higher Court. To be frank, many members of many clergies seem to perceive themselves as old-style Aristocracy.
All of which led me to ask what would happen if a Criminal sought to shelter himself from the Law by hiding behind a Cossick? Might not The Priest be asked to investigate the situation on behalf of the Church? Or, if the criminal were recognized by chance, might not the person who recognized him come to the Priest for help?
When I initially listed this encounter, that was as far as my thinking went; but, as I wrote the above, I realized that there was still more potential in this plotline.
In theory, provided that he confessed his sins to another Priest, repented them, and performed whatever Penance was required by Church Doctrine, The Criminal would be free to commit whatever acts he wanted. He could be a full-on Gangland Boss in the old-school Chicago Mob sense; murder, extortion, the whole nine yards. And, to the outside world, this character would simply appear to be more devout than most Priests because he was praying all the time. What’s more, the confessional would offer an excellent source of intelligence to such a Criminal. If he were to volunteer his to hear the confessions of criminals in the local Prison, he could easily recruit amongst the prisoners, and be in a position to advance the early release of those under his sway while delaying that of their rivals.
It would be very easy to craft a string of mini-encounters out of this concept – first, the Priest meets the Criminal while both are working on a charity drive or something similar; second, the Priest stumbles into a minor encounter with a gang; third, the Priest hears about a local business being extorted by a gang looking to muscle in on someone else’s territory; fourth, another local business suffers an “accidental” fire; fifth, the priest reads newspaper reports of a new gang war that’s blown up, with two gangs each accusing the other of invading each other’s turf; sixth, some charitable business leads the Priest to drop in on the congregation of The Criminal and (because it’s his business as an adventurer to notice these things) recognizes, from past newspaper articles, a large number of the ‘faithful’ as criminals who were incarcerated for their crimes; seventh, the Priest investigates – either by asking the Criminal about it directly, or by asking the Police about it, or by going to the Newspapers or the Courts and looking at their records, and discovers that The Criminal also ministers part-time to the Prison population and has been known to advocate for the release of reformed prisoners to the Parole Board; eighth, the Gang War escalates, and word begins to circulate about a new Ganglord moving in on the territories of several others; tenth, The Criminal asks The Priest to join him (and others) in a public call for an end to the violence…. Ten mini-encounters, and – if the GM has done his job right – the Priest still has only vague suspicions as to the identity of the guilty party. But a secret can only be held for so long before it begins to leak.
Eleventh, the church of The Criminal is targeted by a rival gang in apparent retribution for that public broadcast, and The Criminal asks the Priest for help in fundraising for repairs; Twelfth, while carrying out such fundraising, The Priest learns that most of the local businesses around the church of The Criminal are paying protection to the new Gang Boss, who is known as The Bishop, reportedly because he has a holier-than-thou attitude; Thirteenth, the Priest meets a couple attending his church for the first time, having traveled some distance to do so, because they no longer felt safe attending their old church, so many of the other parishioners seemed to be armed, or were so rough-looking. By now, the Priest should be starting to suspect that one of those Parishioners of being “The Bishop”. He may even elicit the aid of The Criminal in identifying “The Bishop”! At the same time, the gang violence should start to die down, according to newspaper headlines and police reports. The Fourteenth mini-encounter should finally reveal the true identity of “The Bishop” to The Priest, and lead to a confrontation between the two. The Criminal can, in this confrontation, even transform himself into The Subversive (see the preceding encounter) by claiming that by taking over the Gang, he is eroding the criminal organizations that control the underworld of the city from the inside, controlling and managing the violence. All this leads to the fifteenth mini-encounter, in which The Priest has to decide what to do about The Criminal, and then act on his decision. Finally, in a sixteenth mini-encounter, the Priest has to deal with the repercussions of that decision: Renewed gang violence and professional censure, or a nagging conscience that can then be exploited when a criminal who said all the right things to The Criminal slips the leash. This final part might in fact be big enough to bring in the other PCs and be the featured adventure of the day.
Dropping these mini-encounters one at a time into other adventures weaves them into a broader tapestry – and none of it would have happened within the game if the Priest were just another adventurer. Which is what these Casual Opportunities encounter ideas are all about…
7. Faith: The Reformed
While this encounter can occur anytime, it would be most effective if it followed – or was even inserted into – “The Criminal”. In it, a criminal who has served his time and been paroled, and who has sincerely seen the light and heard The Call, approaches the Priest and asks for his guidance in becoming a Priest. This works on its own, or it might serve as the mechanism by which The Priest learns the identity of “The Bishop” in mini-encounter Fourteen.
8. Faith: A Priest And His Deity
It’s hard to be very specific about this idea because it is so subject to the variations available in terms of Priests of different faiths. It will be somewhat different for a Rabbi, for example. This is a two-part mini-encounter, though the second can be ignored if the GM doesn’t find sufficient inspiration. In the first, the Priest is nominated for some award, honorific, or position – anything that can justify a reporter or committee member coming to do an in-depth profile of the character. In that profile, the key question is asking the Priest to describe his relationship with his deity, first in a single word, and then amplifying on that word by citing specific incidents from his past. (Note that it isn’t necessary for the Priest to actually receive the award or whatever; you can even use a second mini-encounter to convey the news – good or bad – on that front. And, if you decide to actually grant the award, a third mini-encounter when he actually receives it.)
In the official second part, the Priest encounters a character who has a very different relationship with the same deity. It’s that simple – but it can be profound.
If I were to actually use it in-game, I would give the player some advance warning to spend a bit of time thinking about the subject in advance of the question.
9. Faith: At The Crossroads
This mini-encounter is all about fateful decisions. The Priest can either be the subject, or can serve as counselor to the subject, who has reached some sort of major crossroads in their lives. More commonly, it will be the latter – if the Priest is the subject, it deserves to be central to a larger adventure. After all, we’re talking about potentially causing the retirement of a PC here. In fact, I don’t recommend the first option unless there is an inbuilt way for the player to continue to play the character, no matter what decision he makes.
What’s more important is that this mini-encounter more or less forces the character to relive some of the crossroads that he has reached in his past, what they were, whether he made the right decisions, and how his Faith saw him through – it’s an opportunity to publicly affirm his Faith and to put some flesh on the bones of that faith.
If the player has produced a character background, this is a great way to communicate parts of it to the other players and make it relevant to the game; if the player hasn’t, a little advance notice should enable them to add some more depth to their character.
10. Faith: Sign of the times
One of the Priest’s parishioners thinks he is seeing signs of the imminent end of the world. How flaky these signs and portents are is up to the GM and whether or not the players are actually going to be facing a situation that can be described in apocalyptic terms in the near future, or if the emergencies are somewhat smaller in scale.
The less reasonable it is to use these signs and portents to amp up the tension and drama of an imminent situation in the game’s main plotline, the more unreasonable the signs and interpretations should be, and the more the NPC parishioner should be prone to some unreasonable action in consequence. He might want to donate his life savings to the Church, he might want forgiveness for some deep dark secret impropriety, he might be suicidal, he might talk about killing his family while they are in a state of grace to ensure that they get into Heaven, he might want to start a new Holy War against “the infidels” (whoever fits that description within his own mind), he might have decided that a neighbor’s child is the Antichrist and want help in killing and exorcising him. There are a great many possibilities, and each can function as a metaphor or parable for whatever the PCs are to encounter in the main adventure. In terms of the mini-encounter, the Priest has to decide how to handle the immediate situation – since the parishioner is clearly wrong.
You can even pull a double-bluff on the Priest character by having the main adventure after the one which includes the casual encounter as a prequel be the more apocalyptic plotline. That enables the Priest to dismiss the likelihood of the accuracy of the prophecy of potential doom – only to be confronted with the possibility that he might have been premature in his dismissal. Handled correctly, he might even come to the conclusion that the GMs were trying to give his character an advance hint of what was to come, and send the entire second adventure trying to work out what they were trying to hint at, in terms of a solution or a required action!
Doctrine – in this context – is the collected “official” interpretations of religious writing and the church policies that supposedly reflect these interpretations.
11. Doctrine: Social Conscience
It’s always useful to have a casual encounter up your sleeve that places the contemporary attitudes about something in conflict with the attitudes that are contemporary to the game. First, it can be a way of educating the players about those attitudes and their ramifications, and secondly, it puts a character who is required by profession to be a “social conscience” on the hot seat. It could be paranoia about Middle Eastern terrorists, which was everywhere in the early 90s – partially reasonably and partially unreasonably – or segregation, or women’s rights, or well, just about anything that’s been controversial in the last 100-plus years, or that the GM can make controversial over the next hundred-plus in a sci-fi/superhero campaign.
This is one lesson from history that we never seem to learn. Persecute someone now, and their children have a greater likelihood to become radicalized in the future. A few years later, some of these radicals fall under the sway of some zealot who uses them to further his own ideological or political agenda, and which unleashes a new round of persecutions. This is a hard cycle to break, and that’s why backwoods communities in the US are such easy targets for humor aimed at their attitudes to African Americans – and personal hygiene – and, well, anything else that’s hopelessly out of date. I am quite sure that 99.99% of those jokes are unwarranted – well, 99% of them, anyway – and that the odd hold-out is tolerated more than welcomed. Sure, there’s always a vocal minority, but it should never be overlooked that they are the minority, right or wrong.
That’s right – the vocal minority don’t have to be wrong all the time. They probably are, they usually are, but that doesn’t mean they always are. There was a time when the American Civil Rights movement consisted of a vocal minority. There was a time when those opposed to Slavery in the United States were a vocal minority. There was a time when women couldn’t vote, and only a vocal minority complained. All social evolution has to start somewhere, and there are usually some growing pains.
The Priest is a plump target for a great many of these social growing pains. All it takes is for him or her to come across a situation in which one side or both are being extremist – his Social Conscience then requires him to get involved.
12. Doctrine: Defender Of The Faith
Similarly, the Priest is required to defend and sustain the Church, even when it does something he disagrees with. These encounters are more easily written and played when the Player and the Character both disagree with the Doctrine in question; they become far more difficult when the Character has to adopt an attitude that the player disagrees with. But they can also become more interesting and challenging at the same time.
Of course, as noted in previous parts of this series, no organized faith has ever done nothing with which every member of that faith agrees (excluding single-leader cults). Most, in fact, have one or more controversial skeletons in their closets. It’s always fun to require the Priest character having to defend one of these skeletons.
13. Doctrine: Oliver Twisted
The treatment of the poor and underprivileged has always been an issue where ideals war with practicality. There are all sorts of casual encounters that can be derived from this – everything from the Priest doing some volunteer work in a soup kitchen to sorting donated clothes to organizing a food drive for disaster relief somewhere to helping a poor person in some sort of trouble by employing his Priestly connections. It’s also worth remembering that a single charity dinner at which the social elite pay $X a plate can raise as much money for the poor in a single night as an entire year of soliciting donations, and can throw a Priest into an entirely different social situation.
But there’s one more idea under this heading, and that’s the one that inspired the section title. A character who grows so desperate to help a group of needy people that he does something he shouldn’t. That’s the e of the Robin Hood myth, but modern-day Robin Hoods would be about as welcome as the Sheriff Of Nottingham at a charity auction. All that’s needed is to connect the Robin Hood to the Priest – and the easiest way is for the Robin Hood to be inspired by some interview or newsreel (or TV or whatever) footage of the Priest doing some fundraising or talking about the plight of the poor. As soon as that connection comes to light, the Priest should feel that catching the Robin Hood – or, at least, stopping him – is his responsibility. The sense of duty comes with the collar.
14. Doctrine: The Interview
I’ve already commented on controversies and the Priest PC. This is another case where the Priest gets asked about something controversial. It should generally come “out of the blue” so far as the player and character are concerned – he quite literally gets buttonholed on the street, in front of the cameras.
15. Doctrine: Controversy
Doctrine can also require the priest, from time to time, to do something he would not normally do. This can be as much because most organized religions are political bodies as much as they are religious, as for any other reason. So this mini-encounter can be anything from the Priest delivering a message he does not agree with to a political body to appearing as a trial witness in support of someone the Priest doesn’t like because of political favors, to being an unwilling back-channel for diplomatic overtures, to acting as an unwilling intelligence operative.
But I have to admit that what I had in mind when I named this category was the situation from the first episode of the West Wing, in which a moderate Priest is required to stand shoulder to shoulder with a rabble rouser for the sake of preserving political authority, and in turn being taken to account for failing to admonish a radical group for what amounts to acts of domestic terrorism committed in the name of religion.
Morality always makes great encounters – if you don’t preach at the players. What is`right and what is wrong? Shades Of Gray are not Permitted…
16. Morality: Public Citizen
It’s general doctrine for most religions for Priests to be Good Citizens whenever possible (except when contravened by Doctrine, of course). That means cooperating with the police and the authorities, reporting incidents of crime, etc – no matter who those police and authorities happen to be. The next time our PC Priest is in a fascist nation, we might put him on the spot by having him witness a smash and grab, or get stopped by a policeman to ask if he has seen this person (show a photograph) who is wanted for questioning about a murder, or something of that sort. Equally, sometime when he’s at home, we can have a similar incident occur – actually, that’s a really good way of emphasizing the difference between the two countries – and the difference between the Priest and another PC who would under no circumstances cooperate with a Nazi.
17. Morality: Leader Of The Pack
The Priest is also supposed to be a Civic leader, a solid member of the community. That gave me the idea for this encounter, in which a superstitious mob comes to the Priest and demands that he lead them when they go out to burn the local witch… Sure, the Priest can attempt to get the mob to convince him that the allegation of witchcraft is genuine, but he should be world-wise enough to realize that if he simply dismisses their allegations out of hand, the mob will simply go without him – and may even decide that he’s in league with her! No, he will need to be more convincing than that – and more convincing than a mere die roll, he’s going to have to actually roleplay the encounter.
18. Morality: Good Charity
Priests are supposed to be model citizens, at least in general. That makes them prized members of community organizations, charities, and committees of all sorts. There are not many things that could push a Priest so far that he would consider breaking the law unless he already suffers from some sort of moral turpitude – a Priest might kill to cover up a crime, might blackmail someone if the opportunity arose, but I doubt these acts would be considered by a Priest who is also a PC.
One of the things that might be enough to sen a Priest over the edge is busting a gut working to raise money for a charity only for the treasurer to skip town with the proceeds… or get conned out of it… or for the entire charity to turn out to be a Con…
19. Morality: When Pets Collide
This is one that I highlighted as an example in part one of this trilogy. A man approaches the Priest for guidance, and wants to know if it’s wrong to poison the neighbor’s cat, which continually threatens his poor helpless canary…
20. Morality: Of Dubious Character
And another from the opening salvo: A churchgoer suspects his neighbor of impropriety. Maybe he’s a married man who keeps bringing a blond home when the wife is away, or vice-versa, or maybe he suspects something more sinister. He wants to know what to do about it. The problem is that he has a police record and doesn’t think they will believe him. That means it’s up to the Priest… again!
21. Morality: Good Deal Gone Bad
“Father, I sold him my cat painting in exchange for a rare coin to complete my collection, but it was an almost-worthless fake, worth only half what he said it was. I want him to pay me the rest of what he owes me, but he won’t do it. I don’t want to go to court, I want someone to mediate.”
Enemy Of The Supernatural
This is what the Priest character is (generally) all about. But not all fiends from Hell can be Mephistopheles…
22. Enemy Of The Supernatural: The Rat Pack
There’s a pack of rats running loose in the city. Solitary citizens have been attacked, one killed outright, and several more have serious diseases inflicted by infected rat bites. A six-month old child has gone missing, and there’s some evidence that the rats dragged the child and its blanket away. Everyone is searching for the missing child, and the Priest has been persuaded to join the hunt. Besides, there’s something unnatural about the idea of rats coordinating their efforts enough to do something like that…
23. Enemy Of The Supernatural: A Spoonful of Sugar
A spirit with a sweet tooth steals a teaspoon of sugar from the bowl every night. No cake or sweet can be left safely unattended. Cups of tea or coffee are mysteriously sweetened if the consumer is distracted. And in the basement, a bee’s nest is growing, uncontrollably. Any attempt to disturb the nest rouses the ire of the spirit…
24. Enemy Of The Supernatural: Sock Demon
A middle-aged man in prominently mis-matching socks approaches the Priest and claims that he has a demon who likes to steal one sock from every pair haunting his apartment…
25. Enemy Of The Supernatural: The Penny-Pincher
The ghost of a grasping and greedy former owner haunts a small suburban home, pinching every penny until it bleeds.
26. Enemy Of The Supernatural: Living In The Icebox
Inspired directly by the Weird Al Yankovic song, “Living In The Fridge” (a parody of the Aerosmith song, “Livin’ On The Edge”) – lyrics Here, clip excerpt from the Weird Al Show
here, unofficial clip for the whole song here.
Some mold or something has spontaneously come to life within the icebox (this idea works best if set before domestic refrigerators became common), and now consumes any food that is placed there (think Audrey II in “Little Shop Of Horrors”).
Ghostbreaker plots differ from “Enemy Of The Supernatural” in that they are either (1) dismissable as hoaxes or misinterpretations of events; or (2) attract enough public attention that the Priest will need to find a way to publicly debunk them – refer “So who is the Priest, anyway?” and “Ghostbreaker” in Casual Opportunities For Priests: Analysis and Commonalities. The cover-up and clean-up are just as important as the battle, when there are Things Man is not Meant to be Sure Of – never mind things he is not meant to Know…
27. Ghostbreaker: Book Of Lost Toys
A minor demon/imp is stealing children’s toys and hiding them as images in sales catalogs or advertising, replacing the original printed image (but not the text) because it grows stronger by feeding off the anxieties of upset children. Best set in a children’s hospital or similar (a never-ending flow of victims) in an age when catalogs showing toys are routinely included in daily newspapers – 1970s on, let’s say.
28. Ghostbreaker: The Dead Poet’s Society
The Dead Poet’s Society takes place in a library in a school or university somewhere, where a ghost or spirit comes up behind people and whispers poetry to them when they are trying to concentrate. Whenever the person hearing the poetry turns around, there is no-one there. I would steal part of the “Librarian” sequence from “Ghostbusters” for the confrontation with the Priest. The obvious debunk here is “student prank”, with the Priest refusing to name the perpetrators, saying he has handled the disciplining of those responsible personally. But the Priest’s player may have other ideas. Old pipes can make strange noises…
29. Ghostbreaker: Grandmother of Pearl
A lovely young woman, Pearl, wants to marry her fiancée, but the clan Matriarch disapproves of the young man – a reporter – in question for reasons of social class or race or religion. The family are quite wealthy, “old-money” types. The only problem is that the Matriarch has been dead for decades…
Pearl’s Grandmother spent a lifetime arranging marriages – or perhaps, disarranging them might be a better term – when she lived, and has not stopped. Pearl’s older brothers, mother, uncles, and aunts, have all had to endure a scathing review of their prospective husbands and wives before condescending approval was given, and several have had to learn to live with their first choices being rejected. None of the resulting marriages are especially unhappy ones, but none of them are especially happy ones, either. She now abides in a painting of herself, and the first indication of her opinion is always a change of expression of the painting. She also weighs in on the cleanliness of the household, the deportment of the servants, and just about anything else you can think of.
In desperation, Pearl has sought out the Priest for help. His big problem is not going to be simply persuading Pearl’s Grandmother that it’s time to let go and move on, it’s going to be explaining events in such a way that the reporter fiancée doesn’t learn the truth and try to publish it. The most obvious tactic would be to invent a “distant cousin” whose inheritance was threatened by the marriage, and who concocted an elaborate hoax to persuade the family to forbid it.
This adventure works best in the late 19th or early 20th centuries – steampunk or pulp eras. Pearl (and the rest of the household) should have very stuffy Victorian values in everything from mode of address to choice of clothing, a hint as to the effect that the Grandmother has had on the family.
30. Ghostbreaker: The Librarian’s Curse
Another idea set in a Library – because the Player of the Priest character in the Adventurer’s Club campaign is a librarian in real life. In this mini-adventure, a ghost keeps rearranging the books in the library out of the order they are supposed to be in. This is somewhat less important before the invention of the Dewey-decimal system in 1876, though it can work in pre-System eras as well – refer to
the second paragraph of this section on the subject for information on the general approach prior to adoption of the Dewey Classification. This idea works better if set in a public library, so that “student prank” is not a likely answer. Setting it in The Library Of Congress is probably going too far, though.
The GM needs three things to make this work as a Ghostbreaker encounter:
- Existing publicity for the problem, to make the cover-up a bit more challenging;
- A way for the Priest to get involved; and
- The reason why the ghost responsible is constantly rearranging the shelves.
There are multiple answers to all of these, so I’ll leave it to individual GMs to come up with their own.
31. Ghostbreaker: Candlesticks In The Dark
A ghost who is afraid of the dark keeps relighting any candles placed in the candlesticks that it haunts. There are several possible reasons why this might be the case – perhaps it died when its nightdress caught fire on a candle it had left burning while alive, for example. It also makes life slightly miserable for anyone who tries – glasses of water knocked over into their laps, food over-cooked, etc. As a result, the candlesticks in question are usually sold very quickly – to someone else who offloads them in a hurry. Now, they have made their way to a wedding reception – but the hotelier who bought them is a religious man, and rather than making them someone else’s problem, he has called on the Priest for help. The candlesticks are needed for a reception this evening, having been purchased to replace some silverware stolen in a burglary yesterday.
In this encounter, the Ghostbreaker has a willing conspirator in the cover-up – the hotelier – though his staff are not so open-minded and have to be kept from suspecting anything – but there is an obvious deadline for the Priest to worry about instead.
I got the idea from those “trick candles” that won’t go out, like those used at this child’s birthday party (I looked for a clip of some in candlesticks but didn’t find one).
32. Ghostbreaker: The Patriot
In this encounter, a block of apartments are continually being woken by someone Bugling at Dawn. The residents all deny any involvement. Worn out by lack of sleep over the past several weeks, one finally goes to the Priest for help. What is happening is that a group of men are planning to do something against the government; depending on the era of the encounter, this could be anything from defrauding it to an act of terrorism. At one point they made the understandable mistake of hiding out in a building that was haunted by a Patriotic Ghost, who has followed them ever since, attempting to warn those around them of the trouble – but he has no voice, he can only play his bugle, so no-one has understood. The bad guys have relocated a number of times in an effort to evade their ghostly alarm clock, without success…
This encounter inverts the basic premise of the Ghosthunter, and so is best used after there have been several other opportunities to establish the standard pattern. The Ghost is trying to attract attention, and is basically a good guy; the victims of the ghost are the bad guys. The Priest is still required by Doctrine to send the Ghost to its final rest. And the ghost will resist being sent with all its might until the threat posed by the Bad Guys is resolved. And there is still the small problem of the cover-up, afterwards.
33. Ghostbreaker: The Con Man
This is an encounter in three parts.
Twenty years ago, there was a bank robbery, in the course of which a guard was killed – but not before snatching the mask from the robber’s face. The criminal had time to hide the proceeds before he was captured. Despite an intensive search prompted by a substantial reward, the proceeds from the robbery were never found, and the robber never told anyone where the loot was hidden. With a little over five years before becoming eligible for parole, the robber has just been killed as a result of an argument between himself and another prisoner. The drama and mystery of this story means that the death makes the front page of a newspaper that the Priest reads regularly.
Some weeks later, perhaps as much as a month, a middle-aged woman approaches the Priest and tells him she thinks her house is haunted. She can’t think why God is doing this to her, she’s always tried to lead a good life, she works on behalf of all the right charities, she goes to Church every Sunday. Can the Priest advise her? (Notice that she hasn’t explained why she thinks the house is haunted, yet). When pressed on this point, she will describe strange noises in the night, unexpected blasts of cold air, food vanishing from the cupboards, doors unlocking themselves, etc.
When the Priest investigates, he will (eventually) discover that the son of the bank robber left a cryptic message in his last will and testament that, when decoded, seems to say that the money is hidden somewhere in the house now owned by the old woman. The son, a notorious con man, is attempting to persuade her to sell, or at least vacate, the premises. He would prefer the first, because then he can buy her silence by returning her purchase to her, but he’ll settle for the second. NB: The GM will have to come up with the cryptic clue. It is also up to the individual GM whether or not the money is really hidden there. Or perhaps the Con Man will succeed, only to discover that rats have gnawed on the money and it is now worthless.
Representative Of The Faith
The Priest is always the visible face of his Religion. Sometimes, his Church Elders will take advantage of that – and sometimes, it just makes the Priest a target…
34.-36. Representative Of The Faith: Dignitary
Fame comes in degrees to a Priest character. At first, he will be relatively unknown, and the perfect person to appear as a representative of the faith at some official soirée because he is not in a position to comment on Church Policy. He’s a safe choice for a diplomatically unsafe environment.
Then he will be a local celebrity, and perhaps famous amongst a small number of specialists and experts. He can then be asked to appear at functions as a legitimate dignitary in his own right, though he may have to seek the permission of his church to do so – and sometimes, they may say no. At this stage, he is also someone who can be sent to represent the Church on more serious and formal occasions without giving offense – and once again, he is a safe choice because he has no authority within the Church.
In time, he may become a genuine celebrity, someone whose opinions carry social or political weight, and a factor of which his Church’s administration must take into account. He can no longer be sent on missions where he may be provoked into making some social statement of which the Church does not approve; but at the same time, he becomes someone who is capable of representing the Church at the highest level. Indeed, his fame can make him a more flattering representative than the official face of the faith. He is now dangerously unsafe, if provoked; but at the same time, his celebrity makes him a more powerful representative – if he is likely to stick to the script.
When the Priest travels to a strange country, he may find his social status regressed to an earlier state, so it is not the case that this sort of encounter loses its utility as the priest becomes more famous; instead, new opportunities arise for variations on this type of encounter.
37. Representative Of The Faith: Peacemaker
Two warring factions request that the Priest – who has accidentally found himself in the middle of the conflict – negotiate a peaceful settlement.
We can be talking about anything from the Hatfields and McCoys to a couple of Mafia Dons.
This encounter doesn’t work as well in a modern setting, though it can still function – perhaps the younger generation feel their families’ decades-long blood feud has made them the laughing stock of their community, and is a relic of a less socially-aware era – and they need a Priest to arbitrate because there is no-one else who both sides will listen to.
38. Representative Of The Faith: Peacemaker 2
But, in the more modern context, a new opportunity arises for the Priest to play Peacemaker. A man takes his family hostage, producing a tense stand-off with police. He demands to speak to a Priest…
39. Representative Of The Faith: The Wedding Plan
The Priest is called upon to officiate at a wedding. Things go badly wrong with the wedding plan… It could be that neither family approves of the marriage, or perhaps you can steal a series of encounters from Father Of The Bride, one of Steve Martin’s funniest movies.
40. Representative Of The Faith: The Blessing-Bringer
What sort of things get blessed? Children, yes. Ships. Hospitals. Bridges. Motorsport events. Parks. Governments. Presidents. Mayors. Governors. Competitive Games, such as the Olympics? Railroads? Commuter Aircraft? Starships? Buildings? Tunnels? Police Stations? Busses? Pets? Statues?
Every one of these is an opportunity to have the priest being somewhere, doing something that directly relates to his archetype.
41. Representative Of The Faith: The Sermon
The Priest gets a message from the minister of another religion, who has always been friendly with him. He is unwell and would like the Priest to write and deliver a Sermon on his behalf. He doesn’t trust the only other member of his clergy in easy reach, and in fact suspects him of poisoning him in an attempt to gain a transfer to his (more desirable) parish…
The Power To Fight Evil
Having the power to go toe-to-toe with the Supernatural is all well and good, but how does the Priest recieve it, and how does it manifest? In the case of the Priest in The Adventurer’s Club campaign, Father O’Malley, at least part of his powers stem from a reinterpretation of the Guardian Angel concept. And the Guardian Angel deserves his share of the spotlight…
42. The Power To Fight Evil: Unfinished Business
The source of the Priest’s power to fight evil has some unfinished business from his former life, something to put right. Since he can’t do it himself, he has to use the Priest as a proxy – whether the Priest wants to be or not.
43. The Power To Fight Evil: Take A Chance
The source of the Priest’s power had an enemy, and the source wants justice. The source has no compunction about putting the Priest at risk in order to get it.
44. The Power To Fight Evil: The Old Enemy
The source of the Priest’s power had a vice, a source of temptation that he struggled for part or all of his life to overcome. A chance circumstance places the Priest in a location where he is exposed to that temptation, and finds that – in lesser degree – the source’s failings have now become the Priest’s.
I initially had in mind a gambler and a casino setting, but it might just as easily be an alcoholic and a bar, or a stripper and a nightclub, or any of a dozen other possibilities…
Which brings me to the end of the Common Encounters, and to the end of the third part of this sub-series. In the next part, which may be ready for later this week or may have to wait a week longer, I will look at encounters that stem from the things that make one Priest Character different from another…
About the Casual Opportunities series:
This series seeks to offer opportunities for PCs to reflect their primary role within a campaign. Opportunities for heroes to be heroes, for villains to be villains, for geeks to be geeks. It’s easy to become so focused on the primary plot, or on the things that the PCs are contributing to it, that it’s easy to overlook these touchstones that remind players of who their characters really are when the chips are down.
Each part focuses on one particular character archetype and list at least half-a-dozen or more minor encounters for that major type of character that showcase an essential characteristic of the archetype, explain the significance to that character type, and make some attempt to get under the skin of the archetype and examine what makes it tick.
The series itself will be an irregular one, appearing every now and then – don’t look for it every week. And while it might have started with a D&D / Pathfinder character class, I intend to cover superhero, sci-fi, and pulp archetypes along the way – all in no particular order. In fact, I’m going to deliberately mix it up…
I found out with the first entry in this series that they are just too big to write as a single post…