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CoT:Game Structure

A Threat to the Order

A Threat to the Order

About the Order of Tarscolis

There’s something wrong, of course. That’s what makes the game interesting, otherwise you’re just roleplaying being welcomed by the people and kissing their babies and shaking their hands. So when the PCs arrive, amidst all the baby kissing and being welcomed, some people are acting odd, or something bad has recently happened, or there’s something just not right. Your job as GM is to reveal the wrongness, in all its dirty little glory.

“Something wrong” falls into a tidy progression, which looks like this:

Pride (manifests as injustice). Pride leads to...

Sin (manifests as demons attacking from outside, in the form of famine, plague, raiding outlaw bands, or whatever). Sin leads to...

False Doctrine (manifests as corrupt religious practices and heresy). False Doctrine leads to ...

False Priesthood (manifests as demons within the congregation: sorcery, possession and active evil). False Priesthood leads to ...

Hate and murder.

When you create a town, you identify some key people in it, decide what’s wrong with it and how it affects the people you’ve identified, decide how people will react to the PCs’ arrival, and imagine what might happen if they never came.

Something’s Wrong


Pride means wanting something better, or more, or higher, than your fellows have. Pride doesn’t value a thing for itself: it isn’t Pride to say “I want that because it’s pretty.” Pride values a thing only by contrast to what others have: it’s Pride to say “I want that because I should have something prettier than yours.”

1. Stewardship

The Faith’s organization is made of nested domains of spiritual authority, called Stewardship. Stewardship forms a hierarchy of responsibility from each individual Faithful up to the Prophets and Ancients of the Faith, who derive their Stewardship from the King of Life. You’re responsible for anyone who falls within your Stewardship, and you’re responsible to whomever holds Stewardship over you. At the end, you’ll be judged for how you fulfilled your Stewardship.

The Faith overall looks like this, where “}” means “falls under the Stewardship of”:

Local Families } Local Officials } Regional Officials } Prophets & Ancients of the Faith

Families look like this:

Children, Elder Parents, Related Unmarried Adults in the House } Married Adults } Husband

Local Officials look like this:

Various Duty-specific Officials, if there are enough families to need specialized offices } Counselors, if there are enough families that one Steward can’t do it all } Steward.

Regional Officials look just the same. The duty-specific regional officials are to the local officials as the local officials are to the families:

Various Duty-specific Officials, if there are enough Branches in the region to need specialized offices } Counselors, if there are enough Branches that one Steward can’t oversee them all } Regional Steward.

And the Prophets and Ancients of the Faith have their own internal structure, but it’s not relevant. They speak and act as one, from our point of view here.

Now, the Dogs! The Dogs look like this:

Congregation } Dogs Assigned to it } Stewards at the Dogs’ Temple } Prophets & Ancients of the Faith

Notice that the branch Steward has Stewardship over the families in his congregation, while the Dogs assigned to that route have Stewardship over his congregation as a whole, including him in his official capacity. Dogs have no authority to solve the problems of families or individuals, that’s the Steward’s job, except as the problems spill over into the congregation as a whole. (Which they pretty much do, so that’s okay.)

Oh, and an individual person looks like this:

Day-to-day Behavior, Obedience, Destiny, Personal Relationships }You

You do not have Stewardship over your role in your family, your congregation, or the Faith! Those belong to your Steward.

What Stewardship means in practice is: the King of Life will talk to you about what you have Stewardship over, and expect you to keep it in order.

An example: Brother Zachary is a man in Brother Parley’s branch. He has a wife, six children (two of whom are unmarried adults), and his wife’s aging mother in his family. The King of Life does not talk to Brother Parley about Brother Zachary’s wife, kids, or mother in law. He talks to Brother Parley about Brother Zachary’s family: “Brother Zachary’s family is troubled,” He might say. “See what you can do about that.” Then Brother Parley goes to Brother Zachary and says, “The King of Life tells me your family is troubled; what’s up?” And Brother Zachary might answer: “well, He tells me that my oldest is impatient and bored, which would explain why he’s being so rude to his grandmother. I’m thinking I’ll send him to my brother’s out in Chapelton for a change of scenery.” That’s if Brother Zachary is lucky and on top of things. If he’s not, he might answer: “yeah, the Living King only knows what’s going on with them. Fight fight fight, and I can’t keep anyone under control.” Now Brother Parley has to say, “okay, well you’d better get right with the King and quick, so He’ll help you get your family in order.”

Stewardship applies to interpreting doctrine! The King of Life tells the Prophets and Ancients the Truth Immortal. The Prophets and Ancients derive from Truth Immortal specific doctrines, as It applies to the here and now, which they tell to the regional Stewards. The regional Stewards apply the doctrines to the circumstances of their regions, and tell their branch Stewards. The branch Stewards apply these interpretations to their own congregations, and tell the families. The husbands apply the interpretations to themselves and their wives, and with their wives apply them to their children and other family members. Responsibility for following doctrine goes back up the line: if family members don’t, the husband has to answer to the branch Steward; if a branch doesn’t, the branch Steward has to answer to the regional Steward; if a region doesn’t, the regional Steward has to answer to the Prophets and Ancients. Pride can enter into Stewardship when:

- You think that you’d do a better job with someone than that someone’s Steward, like if you think you know better what’s good for Brother Zachary’s wife than Brother Zachary does. - You think that your convenience is more important than your Stewardship, so you don’t attend to it. - You think that fulfilling your Stewardship obligations means you deserve recompense or special consideration. - You think that the person with Stewardship over you is doing a bad job or doesn’t deserve it, or you don’t have to listen to him. - You use your Stewardship over someone as though it were power, not responsibility. - You favor some of the people over whom you have Stewardship above the others, seeing to their needs preferentially.

Stewardship problems will generate conflict in the game by themselves pretty much only insofar as your group is interested in the Faith’s structure, order, and who has to obey whom. But it underlies everything that follows, so best to have a good grip on it.

2. Women’s vs. Men’s Roles

Girls are expected to: - be retiring, demure, quiet, polite, patient, and deferential. - do boring, repetitive, menial work without complaining. - be afraid of spiders, mice, guns, horses, climbing, falling, and swimming. - not be afraid of blood. - tend their younger siblings. - help make meals, keep the house clean, and keep the animals fed.

Boys are expected to: - be obedient, energetic, respectful, enthusiastic, smart, and confident. - do hard physical work without complaining. - not be afraid of anything. - take on increasingly adult male responsibilities. - not be too hard to clean up after.

Unmarried women are expected to: - keep to their families. - be receptive to courtship. - fight to keep their courtships proper. - overcome their girlish fears. - continue on essentially as girls, otherwise.

Unmarried men are expected to: - aggressively court multiple women (intending to marry only one of them, until called to marry another by the Faith, which may never happen). - travel. - work as men.

Married women are expected to: - bear and raise children. - serve their husbands. - keep house.

Married men are expected to: - provide for their families. - educate their wives and children. - defend their homes.

Old women are expected to: - help their daughters raise their grandchildren and keep their houses. - be sweet, patient, indulgent and wise.

Old men are expected to: - help educate their grandchildren. - be clear-spoken, opinionated, stern and wise.

Pride can enter into Gender Roles when: - you aren’t satisfied with the roles of your gender: you want more freedom, or the roles of the other gender. - you want someone of the other gender to act outside her or his roles. - you deny someone full access to her or his roles (by locking your unmarried adult daughter in the house or overprotecting your son, for instance).

People, especially women, who want to transcend their gender roles are sympathetic. Lots of good, interesting, very satisfying conflict possibilities there.

3. Love, Sex, & Marriage

Here’s the Faith’s position on love, sex and marriage: - Between husband and wife, all sex and all love is virtuous. - Between two men or two women, no romantic love is virtuous (although familial and comradely love can be) and sex is a sin (and, coincidentally, a crime). - Between two people married to others, no romantic love is virtuous and sex is a sin. - Between an unmarried man and a married woman, no romantic love is virtuous and sex is a sin. - Between a married man and an unmarried woman, romantic love might be virtuous, and sex is a sin. - Between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman, romantic love is virtuous, and sex is probably a sin.

Except in the unfortunate case of a husband and wife who don’t love one another, sex is never virtuous without love.

Now, see that “probably”? That’s because the King of Life is, occasionally, a realist. Sometimes, when it matters, He prefers a loving family to official recognition. Especially because getting married isn’t just a Faith thing. It’s also a Territorial Authority thing. Not all people who should marry are able to, legally, be it because of fees, corrupt Territorial representatives, or various other difficulties— all the result of the unrighteousness of the non-Faithful and the corruptness of the Territorial Authority and the other religions.

Pride can enter into love, sex & marriage when:

- you demand the love of, or impose your love upon, someone who doesn’t love you. - you act as though you love someone when you really don’t. - you consider your love to transcend sin and virtue, like when you’re in love with someone inappropriate. - you want sex, without considering love, virtue or sin. - you pursue marriage with someone who reflects well on you or who can advance you, not whom you love. - you buy the affection and loyalty of your intended spouse with money or prestige. - you demand that your suitor buy your affection.

And you know? That stuff’s all rare bloody story meat.

4. Polygamy

Polygamy (technically polygyny; polyandry isn’t allowed a’tall) is, in the Faith, a reward to men for long-term service and dedication. No man under, say, 30 has a second wife, and no man under 40 has a third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth...). To get official allowance to court a woman after your first wife, you must:

- have been called upon by the King of Life to do so, as confirmed by the person with Stewardship over you. - be fulfilling the Stewardship of your office in the Faith in an exemplary fashion (or have retired from a lifetime of doing so). - have a woman in mind. - be able to support the addition to your family, including the inevitable children and elder parents.

And pride can enter into Polygamy when:

- you consider polygamy to be your right, instead of a reward you have to deserve. - you think that you deserve polygamy when really you just want it. - you’re seeking a second or subsequent wife in order to display your worthiness and faith. - you’re a wife and you don’t welcome a righteous subsequent wife. - you’re a second or subsequent wife and you resent the wives before you. - you put your relationships with your fellow wives over your relationship with your husband. - you’re pursuing or part of a polygamous marriage unapproved by the Faith. - you’re a wife who wants an additional husband.

Polygamy is love, sex etc. times two. Or more. It puts people in complicated and high-pressure situations. Problematic polygamy can drive your game.

5. Money

Nobody in the Faith should be hungry when someone else is eating. The King of Life has said so, and it’s maybe the Faith’s most constant struggle. Pride can enter into money when:

- you think you deserve more than someone else. - you don’t want to give up what you have when someone else needs it more than you do. - you exploit the poor to buy community respect.

And that’s pretty good story stuff, but, well, it just ain’t sex.

Pride Creates Injustice.

When a person acts on pride, when a person’s pride influences the workings of a community, injustice inevitably results.

1. Money: Someone is hungry when someone else is eating. Someone is cold when someone else has clothing and shelter. 2. Role: Someone is prevented from fulfilling his or her role in the community. A mother can’t care for her child, a husband can’t protect his family, one laborer has to do the work of two, a young man can’t court a young woman. 3. Righteousness: Someone has to choose between sin and suffering. A person must steal food or else go hungry. A child must lie to his parents or else be beaten. A young woman must see her fiancé behind her father’s back, or not at all.


1. Violence. It’s a sin to harm or kill another person, unless you have just cause. Self defense and war are just causes; “he slept with my wife” is not. 2. Sex. It’s a sin to have sex with someone you aren’t married to, unless all of the following are true: your marriage is ordained in Heaven, you’re prevented from wedding by inescapable circumstances, and you wed as soon as you are able. 3. Deceit. It’s a sin to lie, cheat, steal, or break promises. 4. Disunity. It’s a sin to conspire against another person or to profit from another person’s misfortune. 5. Blasphemy. It’s a sin to call upon the King of Life in an unworshipful manner. 6. Apostasy. It’s a sin to worship the King of Life in any way not according to the dictates of the Faith, to call upon any god but the King of Life, or to turn to the demons for favors. 7. Worldliness. It’s a sin to dress immodestly, to smoke tobacco or drink hard liquor, to use vulgar language, to sleep in the same room as an unbeliever, to gamble for money, to work on a day set aside for worship, or to show comfort in the presence of sin. 8. Faithlessness. It’s a sin to neglect the duties of your office in the Faith. Sin allows Demonic Attacks.

The presence of sin opens a community to attacks from Demons. Since demons are non-corporeal, the demonic attacks take various material forms, some subtle, some overt. The demons will assess the character of the community and act on some or all of these goals: isolate the community, endanger the community’s survival, exacerbate the community’s injustices, prosper the community’s sinners, oppress the community’s faithful. The demons might see the PCs’ arrival as a threat or an opportunity.

Should the specifics of the demons’ attacks follow from the specifics of the sin? Maybe. Consider: Brother Zachary is having an affair with his neighbor’s daughter, Sister Alise. a) The demons are able to attack Brother Zach, Sister Alise, and nobody else. b) The demons are able to attack Brother Zach, Sister Alise, and both of their families, interests, and holdings. c) The demons are able to attack anybody in town, except the exceptionally righteous. d) The demons are able to attack anybody in town, including the exceptionally righteous.

And consider:

Brother Zachary is having an affair with his neighbor’s daughter, Sister Alise. a) The demons’ attacks are specifically sexual: inspiring lust, souring marital relations. b) The demons’ attacks have to do with, y’know, fertility: blighting crops or herds, making women barren or too fecund. c) The demons’ attacks are all about relationships: inspiring hate within families and between friends, inspiring distrust between spouses. d) The demons’ attacks might be anything.

Choose what’s best for this particular town. But you should know: what you choose now will constrain your choices later. Over time, your players will develop expectations about the rules the demons follow— and that’s good. Defy those expectations with caution.

False Doctrine

Sin causes guilt. If I’m a habitual sinner, adopting a false doctrine is a way to numb my conscience and justify the sin. Alternately, if I see someone else sinning but don’t see anyone stepping in to correct the problem, I might conclude that it’s my Steward at fault, or some other office holder of the Faith. I might further conclude that there’s some flaw in the Faith allowing the sin to continue. I might arrive at a false doctrine that way. False doctrines are always concrete. Here are some examples:

The King of Life allows a woman to have more than one husband. Brother Parley is not the true branch Steward. We should worship at the quarters of the moon, not on the Sabbath. The oldest son should not work with his brothers, he should serve as a second father. Marriage is a convenience; I need not marry my lover. God told me to kill him. The Book of Life isn’t scripture but merely human wisdom. The Mountain People hold the true keys to Heaven. False Doctrine manifests as Corrupt Religious Practices. The outward expression of false doctrine is false worship and corrupt ceremony. Holding to a false doctrine will corrupt your observances, even if— as in the case of “God told me to kill him”— the false doctrine isn’t especially related to them. As the GM, it’s your job to create and present the corrupt religious practices of your heretics.

False Priesthood

So far everything has been individual. One person is resentful of injustices, then commits sins, then adopts weird beliefs. False Priesthood is when the heretic develops a following. The followers may themselves be anywhere on the continuum— they might be heretics in their own right, they might just be sinners or proud, they might even be humble and decent but misled. The point is that now the heresy has the force of a (sub-)community behind it.

False Priesthood is Sorcery.

Organized worship has power. The power of an organized heresy is that the demons will serve it. The false priest is a sorcerer. He or she will have demonic attendants— overt or covert, noticed or not. Since the false priest necessarily wants, at heart, to bring the congregation to ruin, the demons will give up their own agenda and adopt the cult’s. Members of a cult are also vulnerable to demonic possession. The demons take control of the person’s will and act through the person directly.

Look ahead to the chapter on NPCs for more about sorcerers and possession.

Hate and Murder

And here I’m talking about something way more serious than passion and rage. Hate is an organized and deadly assault on the Faithful by the demonic, made wholly personal. Hate causes murder— and not the tidy “just a sin” murder that a love triangle or stolen cattle will cause. The murders that follow from false priesthood and sorcery have an entirely different tenor. They’re senseless, or ritualistic, or their victims are innocent, perhaps good people who threaten the cult. When you dig into those murders, you find occult significance, motives that don’t add up, dirt on the upstanding in the community. The murder is the tip of something big and sinister and it promises more murders to come or more murders already done and covered up. When the Faithful murder the Faithful, it means that things have gone as wrong as they can go.

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