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This is a follow-up to this post, using some of the problems with theism and religion in Mythras that I mentioned there as the basis for a post discussing my changes to theism. Thanks to the Raptors NBA finals run, the start of the new Dawnlands campaign has been pushed to July, so I have even more time to plan than I originally thought.
There are two proposals I'm going to advocate for here:
1) Opening up theism miracle lists by removing cult restrictions on miracles
2) Eliminating the High Priest rank of initiation and changing the size of the devotional pool of the "Priest"
My proposal here is basically to allow every cult access to almost every spell. It's worth creating a list of spells you don't want any cult to have access to (except maybe a bad guy cult) and then allowing everything else to whoever.
Theist miracle lists tend to be very similar at the best of times, and limiting the number of miracles available in a cult is the worst of both worlds. Allowing only a subset of miracles per cult emphasises the duplication problem - where there are some miracles that every cult needs to have (e.g. Consecrate, Dismiss Magic) and if you follow the rules-as-written about how many miracles a cult has, these semi-mandatory options mean that out of a total of nine maximum miracles, four or five will be identical across most cults.
Allowing every cult to offer every spell doesn't fix this problem per se, but it dissolves one level of ineffective differentiation (the cult-level restriction) but intensifies the second level of restriction: the individual's knowledge of miracles.
This is good because this is de facto the point at which restriction is going to be managed in the game anyhow. By clearing away layers that obscure that fact, we can consolidate our attention on what actually matters.
Doing this also has the advantage of lowering the overhead for creating new cults. Picking out miracles and then double-checking to make sure it's not a bad or near-useless list of miracles, is one of the more onerous elements of creating new cults, and making this faster and easier is an unmitigated good if you want lots of cults.
Finally, because most PCs only ever belong to one theist cult at a level beyond "Lay Member", the broader miracle list deepens cults' offerings and encourages PCs to stick with a single cult, rather than trying to jump around and learn from 3-5 cults (which mechanically, is a recipe for being mechanically terrible at doing the thing you want to do - be a priest - for long stretches of game time)
Here's my recommended list of miracles from the Mythras core to restrict: Awaken, Corruption, Harmonise, Heart Seizure, Obliterate, Raise Undead, Resurrect, Sever Spirit
From Monster Island: Ageing, Grimoire, Summon Dead, Wish
This list is mostly composed of the most deadly "zap" spells, as well as the ones most likely to be disruptive to a campaign in a PC's hands, and the ones that work best in villains' hands.
Another alternative is perhaps to create a universal theism miracle list which all cults have access to, and then to add on additional miracles to delineate a cult's theme. This is a more conservative solution, which may make it more appealing to others.
If you want to do this, here is my suggested list for universally accessible theist miracles::
From the Mythras core: Consecrate, Dismiss Magic, Excommunicate, Exorcism, Extension, Lay to Rest, Soul Sight, Spirit Block, Steadfast (I would either restrict Awaken to NPC-only cults, or make it universal and include it on this list - your choice)
From Monster Island: Foreboding, Omen, Sagacity
Eliminating the High Priest Rank
There are only three levels of theism spells in Mythras, but there are four levels of initiation (not counting lay members). Each level of initiation increases your devotion poll by a quarter of your POW. I think it makes more sense to make "High Priest" purely a roleplaying thing, and to reduce theism to three levels because as it stands, High Priest is unexciting to achieve.
e.g. A theist PC has 12 POW and becomes an initiate. They can cast 3 initiate spells (1 magic point each). They become an acolyte, and can cast 6 initiate spells, or 3 acolyte spells (2 magic points each) or some combination of them. They become a priest, and can cast 9 initiate spells, 4 acolyte spells, or 3 priest spells (at 3 magic points each) or some combination. Then they become a high priest, and they get a devotional pool equal to their POW which allows them to cast 12 initiate spells, 6 acolyte spells, or 4 priest spells.
Compared to the previous levels, High Priest doesn't grant a new level of miracle, and it grants only a marginal increase in # of miracles over priesthood.
I believe you're supposed to sweeten the pot by making the rank of High Priest also come with a bunch of Gifts that give it extra oomph, but this violates the otherwise straightforward progression up the ranks, and Mythras is a bit shaky on how you get Gifts (e.g. do you automatically get all the relevant gifts when you attain that rank, or do you have to spend experience points, etc.).
Another benefit is supposed to be that it's comparatively easy (only a Hard test of Devotion) to invoke divine intervention for a high priest compared to anyone else, but I've never actually seen anyone do it at the table. I'd alter it so initiates and acolytes make Formidable tests of Devotion (as opposed to RAW, where only priests can do this) and let priests make Hard tests. The drawbacks - burning your skill points - to pull it off are already adequate to prevent abuse of it, and this change doesn't affect those drawbacks.
So I propose reducing initiation to three levels, and having the rank of Priest allow access to a devotional pool equal to your POW and to make a Hard test of Devotion for divine intervention. "High Priest" ranks can still exist, but they are not sacrally distinct, rather they are functional roles within the hierarchy of the cult (perhaps accompanied and distinguished by acquiring Gifts from holding the office).
Since making these two changes in the design of the Dawnlands, I've found it much easier to create theist cults and characters. I'm going to be testing this out in the Dawnlands campaign when it finally gets going, and we'll see how it does there.