In addition to reviewing Schism & Sacrilege, we’ve played the game and written up our experience with it. I hope you enjoy it!
There’s a small, rocky valley that a group of humans settled out of desperation. Their green, verdant land turned sour over the course of decades and death and illness were all they could reap from their fields. The caves in the valley offered shelter and safety for the first desperate people fleeing their homes. More importantly, however, they were as far as the people could reach before their meager supplies ran out. They could either settle here or face certain death pushing beyond the sheltered valley.
The religion of the valley wasn’t one of fecundity and life. The old gods of field and fortune were abandoned, and the only surviving god from the original pantheon was The Hooded One, a god of justice and death. The hooded one gave exactly what was needed and not an ounce more. It also took exactly what could be given, even though the price might at the time seem unpayable. The religion was confined to this small valley as the people had not the means or desire to spread their belief beyond the harsh land.
True followers of The Hooded One believed in seeing to the community’s needs before seeing to the individual’s needs. Displays of wealth or horded resources was a perversion. Crimes that threatened the community (intoxication, theft, etc.) were dealt with immediately, but democratically. In fact, any serious decision was put before the village as a whole and every person above the age of 15 had a vote. If everyone had to work to support the community, everyone should have their voices heard.
Although there was a flat hierarchy, there was one person put in charge of the temple to the Hooded One. The initial person was the village elder, Tratia the Seer, who lead her village into the valley all those years ago. Every night as the village made camp, she told stories of how the Hooded One would see them brought somewhere safe and that they would be cared for. She explained that life would be tough but only because the Hooded One needed them to be tough to face the world. As difficult as things were, they would not fall because they were righteous and their god was a god of justice.
Chapter 1: The War
Despite the harsh landscape, the people thrived and grew. Resources were stretched tight and every winter meant that bellies would be empty, but still they survived and grew strong. One year, the winter was particularly harsh and even the deepest caves were not immune to the freezing chill. For years, rangers reported lights in a valley to the south that seemed to grow with every passing season. The lowlands were green and lush, but what need had they of such overabundance? But the harshness of that winter changed many hearts and minds in the village. Seeing loved ones freeze and starve in numbers not seen before made them yearn for the easy lives of the valley folks.
A young, hotheaded man named Aranag who saw his husband grow sick and die over that long winter was the loudest proponent of leaving the valley. He preached about the villager’s great purpose and how this was a sign their time in the valley of suffering had come to an end. After all, why had the Hooded One hardened them so if not to use them against the soft belly of the world? And when the spring thaw freed the mountain passes, the people had decided to take what they needed.
The town in the green valley had four times the people that the village had, and yet the fell within a week. The followers of the Hooded One did not kill needlessly, nor did they raid and pillage. After all, they came not to destroy and steal but to settle. The people of the valley saw them as conquerors but, over the years, adopted many of their ways. The rich families were brought low and the poor raised out of destitution. The old town leaders were stripped of their power and the people give a voice. Though the people in the town saw their conquerors as rough and uncouth initially, they learned quickly that their unrefined neighbors were egalitarian and just. In time, the people intermarried and the religion of the Hooded One spread. The people of the town spread and thrived, and traders in the area loved to do business with them as they were known for being fair above all. Soon many of the merchants adopted the symbol of the Hooded One, a light gray cowl, as a symbol that they were fair traders. This is the primary way the belief spread beyond the borders of the town, which was now a city called Aranagan.
Chapter 2: The Black Hoods
As the religion spread and the people thrived, a small core of people rejected the bountiful land and the prosperity it brought. They saw the colorful clothes and ever-increasing wealth of the people as disgusting and a rejection of the truth of the Hooded One. If they had more than they needed to survive, they had too much and the wealth must be spent in another way. As one might imagine, their message wasn’t popular, but the small group of adherents were vocal and passionate. Their leader, called Serach, knew that if they couldn’t convince the people to give up their opulence voluntarily, they would have to take it from them for their own good.
Those That Remember, as they called themselves, began a terroristic movement that sought to destroy the wealth of the city by any means necessary. They set fire to the banks in the city and hanged money lenders in every square. Every person seen wearing what they considered ostentatious clothes was splashed with offal and beaten. Those That Remember wore deep black hoods and dark clothing to distinguish themselves from their neighbors, and soon the Black Hoods were a force feared throughout the districts.
Things came to a head when Serach was arrested and sentenced to death for their crimes against the community. A massive, bloody battle waged in the streets for weeks before the city’s guards prevailed and put as many Black Hoods to death as they could find. Still, many Black Hoods survived and remain hidden in cells throughout the city, and even more sympathizers in the town agreed with their message, if not their methods.
Their message spread and, over the decades, a more conservative branch of the church distinguished itself from the followers of Aranag the Giver. They revered Tratia the Seer and, in time, even Serach the Revealer’s crimes were considered little more than an unfortunate bump on the path to salvation. Today, many people can be seen wearing gray hoods and black hoods publicly, announcing their loyalties to every passerby.
Chapter 3: Unification
Years blended into decades and tumbled into years. Aside from a few battles between fringe groups of Aranagians and Rememberers, the two groups spread and grew alongside each other without issue. Still, one worshipper, a woman named Odeas, saw the divide as an afront to the Hooded One. If there is one god leading them both, how can there be two interpretations? A single truth cannot be divided and still be true.
Centuries had softened the hostilities between the two groups and Odeas’ message arrived at precisely the right time. The two sides came together in the spirit of unification and, over years of councils and debates regarding dogma, the Rememberers and the Aranagians agreed to elect a leader to guide the faith of the Hooded One.
Neither side was fully satisfied with the end result, however the majority agreed that the Established Principles were as close to the Truth as they could get. Every life was important and each person should have what they need to survive and thrive. Simple living was the best way to ensure everyone could have what they needed. The needs of the group outweighed the needs of the individual. Everyone contributing to the whole should have a say in how resources were allocated. Those that rejected the good of the community would be rejected by the community.
Odeas the Unifier, now an old woman, was elected as the Head of the Unified Church, and she named two hands, one Aranagian and one Remember, to help her. When she passed, the two hands and their subordinates (elected by the worshippers) would name a new Head of the Unified Church. Its power consolidated, the Unified Church spread further across the world than ever before, and hardline Aranagianism and Rememberism became less popular with every passing year.
Chapter 4: Spread
Word travelled to the lands of the Unified Church that a neighboring country was being attacked by an invader. This man, the Warlord Lisalo, destroyed what he took, anxious to wring out every last drop of wealth and power from his conquered lands before tossing the remainder aside to molder. The Head of the Church, Meig, delivered a sermon about the choices she and her people had in front of them. They could wait until this warlord came to their door before fighting and defeating him or they could join with their neighbors and drive him out of their lands entirely.
The faith of the Hooded One only asked that its followers protected their own, and that every believer had enough to survive. There was precious little in the holy books about interfering with the lives of outsiders. Still, the vote was given to the people, as was tradition, and they voted to wage holy war against the invader.
With the will and resources of the people marshalled against a common enemy, the Warlord was routed within a year. The neighboring country was thankful for their salvation but also utterly terrified that such a powerful nation was sitting on their border this whole time, capable of destroying them without much effort. The leader of this nation believed it was in his best interest to convert to the Unified Church and to inspire his people to do the same. Now that much of the neighboring country was part of the Unified Church, its people were given the resources they needed to rebuild and soon both nations were prospering.
But what of the Warlord’s people across the sea? Surely, they were suffering, and didn’t the Church have the burden of liberating them and teaching them correct living? After all, if the resources were there and the ability was there, then they were obligated to make sure those ignorant people saw the light. And so, they did. The Unified Church became liberators (or conquerors, depending on your view), spreading across the sea and bringing the Truth to those who needed it.
Chapter 5: Retraction
Though the war across the sea was successful and the people there were brought the truth, the Unified Church was not strong enough to help so many people. It promised success and uplifting but the land there was too broken and the people too beaten down for the teachings to take root. These conquered people were starving, abused, and were so used to scrabbling for every scrap that the idea of sharing what you had freely with whoever needed it was unthinkable. Bellies used to hunger never want to risk feeling that way again. The Church could not pump enough resources into that hurt land and her people to do what it had promised, and soon the “liberated” people grew resentful.
Though it took decades, the Church realized it could not maintain a presence here as the people would not or could not follow her ways. Regretfully, they withdrew back across the sea, leaving the people to decide their own fates for good or ill.
Back on their home continent, the people who had given so much to help wanted answers. Why had they suffered and sacrificed so much for nothing? What were they to do now that generations of wealth had been squandered? The Head preached staying the course, consolidating their power and maintaining order at home. The Hand representing the Aranagians wanted to go back across the sea and take back what they had given from the ungrateful hordes. The Hand representing the Rememberers said this was the Hooded One’s will and a hard lesson. The Hooded One gives only what each person needs and can handle. The Church sought out more than the Hooded One was willing to give by involving itself in the troubles of another people and, as a result, was now being punished for their hubris.
And this is where we stand today, with three factions representing one god trying to push for the future they most want to see. Meanwhile, a cold wind blows from a forgotten cave in a nameless valley to the north, whispering truths for whoever is wise enough to listen.