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Itinerant Exorcists

EDIT: It looks like the game I'm describing is pretty much Dogs in the Vineyard, with an emphasis on the supernatural and a setting in the ancient world (real or fantasy). Oh well, guess I should've posted the idea last year, when I started thinking about it.

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

Acts 18:13-16

This passage has intrigued me for a while; in particular, the idea of "itinerant exorcists." It's popular in both fantasy fiction and fantasy RPGs to give demons and devils physical form, and usually the threat they represent is one of physical death and destruction. Possession and spiritual corruption from within don't seem to come up very much. Neither does the role of exorcist; sure, your priests/clerics/wizards/sorcerors often have some spells relating to summoning or banishing demons, but I'm not aware of a game that includes the specific role of exorcist, let alone centers around that. (Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.)

You could definitely build a campaign, in D&D/d20 or your system of choice, around a group of itinerant exorcists. Given the way d20 is set up, you'd probably have to design a custom class and spell list, as the spells for dealing with demons are typically higher level, and that wouldn't really fit the setting. (It's worth noting that historically in the Catholic Church, exorcist was a minor order, below that of priest.) That begs the question, is there a new game to be built around this idea, either adapting an existing system or inventing a new one?

  • There are evil spirits, or demons, that possess people.
  • Possessed people are violent, irrational, and a danger to themselves and to the community.
  • Itinerant exorcists travel the land, using prayers and incantations to cast out the demons.
  • If the faith or knowledge of the exorcists isn't strong enough, the possessed person can overpower the exorcists.
  • Perhaps demons can jump into an overpowered exorcist and do greater harm there?
  • Perhaps over time casting out demons takes a spiritual toll on the exorcist and weakens them against demon attack?

The game would need a goal. You could go around casting out demons until all the players get bored, but it'd be better to have an endgame situation. The game could also use some form of complication: the obvious one, of course, is determining whether a person is possessed or just sick (psychologically or physically), but that's a modern viewpoint. Better to go with the ancient concept that people can be clearly possessed, and locate the complication elsewhere. One suggestion I've made is that demons may be able to jump into the exorcists. Another might be competing groups of exorcists, possibly representing different gods (or different views) - the quote above takes place after the followers of Christ have first started being called "Christians" rather than Jews. Another might be that some possessed people are valuable in some way to the community, such as being oracles.

Finally, I apologize in advance for any evangelist spam, or contrariwise any anti-Christian/anti-Semitic spam, this post might generate.

I wrote a game similar to this except that you were playing the demons, and trying to corrupt the innocent. It was good mechanically but played AWFUL, probably due to the age and maturity level of the players. It was supposed to be dark and cathartic, but instead was just kind of silly.
The premise is good though, what kind of time frame were you considering? Dark ages? middle ages? rennaisance? earlier?

My initial idea was to go with the ancient world / Biblical times, as you still have a lot of competing religions and variety of demons. For many groups, it might work better in a wholly fictional setting so as to avoid real-world issues with depicting real-world religions. However, the general concept should work in most time frames up to the modern world; once you hit the late 19th century when people start figuring out diseases and psychological disorders and so forth, you're almost bound to add in the extra complications of discerning a true possession apart from diseases/disorders, and also diminishing belief in possession among the general populace.

hmm... I could almost see a setting combining ancient world and Greek mythology with the middle books of the Old Testament. You could stick in some cool Zoarastrian myth too.

Dogs in the Vineyard bears some striking resemblences to your proposed game.

I suspected as much, but as I haven't read DitV, I was hoping someone else would chime in about that. I thought, though, that DitV was more about people and moral choices - are there actually demons and mechanics for possession and exorcism in Dogs, or is it just that people believe in demonic possession and it's really about the choices they make?

Also, let me add that I started thinking up this idea over a year ago, before I had heard of or seen a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard. So it's not an intentional similarity, though it won't surprise me if there are "striking resemblences."

Perhaps one could simply take Dogs and run it in an ancient world setting.

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