Hey there! I’m Nate Wright and I’d like to welcome you to the first outing of Eldritch Excursion, a blog where I ruminate on fun ways to mix mechanics and flavor, often with a pinch of the monstrous and the unusual. I also offer tips to help you achieve that glorious feeling you get when your character does exactly what you want it to do in exactly the style you wanted it.
And what better way to kick off my inclusion into a fine organization than to help you make a character who’s the enemy of theirs? Let’s get heretical.
The world of Golarion has a rich and detailed pantheon, from the core twenty deities to the faiths of distant nations and even the stars beyond, so there’s no shortage of materials to sample when you want to create a character who’s heavily influenced by one or more divine beings. Divine casters are a classic way to express this, and no one would be surprised to see a monk in service to Irori or a fighter whose devotion lies with Gorum.
But what if you wanted to try something different, or something a bit more unusual? What if you wanted to play a character whose fate is entwined with a particular god or goddess, but from a more antagonistic perspective? Someone who is seen as a criminal, an exile, or an outright heretic in the eyes of their religion? This raises a lot of questions that can be fun to answer as you create your character and it also creates a deep well of story hooks for a creative GM to tap into. And among those questions and hooks, one thing you’ll want to determine is exactly how your character came to be an outcast from their religion. There are many ways to do so, but here are three you may want to consider.
Let’s start with a classic. The stories told through Pathfinder adventures (especially the recently released Wrath of the Righteous CRPG) are rife with examples of people who have some kind of crisis of faith and end up changing affiliations. Sure, anyone can favor a new church after a moment of self-realization, but the spice that gives it that delicious heretical flavor is when the change happens between two warring faiths. A worshipper of Zon-Kuthon is inspired by the beauty of Shelyn and seeks redemption. A student of Irori, unable to set aside their past grievances, embraces vengeance and eventually becomes an assassin in service of Calistria.
These characters are very grounded in just about any setting’s lore, and they’re a great place to start if you want to explore the general concept. Kick-starting your character can be as simple as examining the relations and rivalries between the various deities and letting your imagination run wild. Classes that match the theme of your previous religion can help express your previous affiliations. If you can afford the feats, consider taking a dedication or archetype to express your new direction in life.
Sometimes a heretic is condemned through no fault of their own. Instead, these pour souls were the victim of unusual circumstances. Perhaps they made enemies of a scheming noble who’s corrupting influence has infected the local chapter. Or maybe they stumbled upon evidence of corruption within the church and become a great risk to the hierarchy. Regardless of the reason, they’ve cut ties with their local church (if not the entirety of the established clergy) and may even adventure to find a way to clear their name.
These characters have a conflict that puts an emphasis on their relationship with the church, but it has little to do with the relationship between them and their deity. Because of that, the character still has the potential to gain divine power through their unwavering faith during these troubled times. Backgrounds such as Criminal and Prisoner can be adapted to work for you, especially if your character had to make unsavory friends just to find a place to lay low for a while.
So, it’s easy enough to imagine someone abandoning their faith, and betrayal is a common enough story element. But what if someone is exiled by their church simply because others find them misguided or absolutely insufferable? It’s possible to play a character who has their own interpretation of their deity’s will, or one who considers themselves above the other follows in some way. Perhaps a follower of Urgathoa enjoys the decadence offered by her faith but detests the idea of spending eternity in an undead form and considers it to be the “fool’s gold” of immortality. Maybe a seasoned warrior who prays to Gorum for victory openly criticizes his betters for their overreliance on brute force, especially in situations where magic seems more practical.
These characters allow you to defy expectations and play as someone who may not appear to be your typical follower. While there are countless ways to build your own brand of heretic, playing as one who initiates the conflict that gets them evicted from their church means you’re likely not going to receive your patron’s favor in the form of granted spells. Of course, that isn’t stopping you from playing as a spellcaster (such as a sorcerer or a witch) who believes they’re getting spells from their god.
Playing as a heretic can be a refreshing change of pace for someone who enjoys the setting’s lore but doesn’t want to make yet another cleric or paladin. Just make sure you discuss your character concept with your GM before you make any hard commitments. After all, there’s little to gain from being in trouble with a church that will never actually appear in the campaign. And you may not want to earn the enmity of the church if a key NPC or even a PC happens to be a member in good standing.
So, have you considered embracing your inner heretic? Do you already have an upside-down holy symbol hanging on your wall? Feel free to drop a comment with character concepts or stories of religious shenanigans from games past. I’d love to hear about it! You can also reach me on my twitter as Rosc Man, where I mostly retweet pixel art and talk about how great summoners are.