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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Arrows of Indra: Priests and Virakshatriya

In our Arrows of Indra playtest campaign, we didn't actually have an ongoing Priest.  There was a Priest character in the first adventure and that was it.  In fact, I was very interested in testing out just how necessary or unnecessary the Priest class is.

As it turns out, not a lot, particularly IF you have a Virakshatriya.  They are the real "clerics" of the setting, godly men who go out adventuring.

You see, in the Epic Indian world, priests just didn't go out adventuring.  I included them as a PC class, I will surely admit, solely because OSR gamers would expect there to be a playable "priest" class. 
As it stands, the requirement to be Brahmin in order to even be a priest makes it very difficult to play a priest, UNLESS you're a non-human.  I think that's a feature, not a bug, because one can imagine that while human priests live in temples and don't go out doing great heroic deeds, maybe Yaksha or Gandharva priests do!

And the way the system works, Priests are not really vital as PCs.  They make great NPCs, for sure.  But the healing and herbalism rules, plus the fact that the Siddhi (magic-user) and Priest magic overlap so that the vast majority of magic can be had by either, ends up meaning that priests are not as vital in an AoI party as clerics are in a D&D party.

Now of course, herbalism only goes so far.  And Siddhis may very well get healing powers, but powers are determined randomly so there's no guarantee (though I plan to write a blog entry sometime suggesting an alternative to that).  So what would be great to have in a party is a Virakshatriya.

Virakshatriya are the real holy adventurers of the setting.  I should note that Virakshatriya (heroic warrior) is not really a term from the Epic Indian world, but its what I've used as a catch-all term to represent all of those who are champions, chosen-ones, and sometimes even distant-descendents of specific Gods.

The Virakshatriya should be in all likelihood the only character in a party to be really into just one deity.  Even they will give all due reverence and worship to every other god too, its just that they feel they have a really intense personal relationship (a devotional relationship, termed "bhakti") with their one specific patron.  And of course, in relation to healing, they get the power to heal through their god, not as impressively as the ritual of priests or the enlightened power of siddhis, but in a much more reliable way indicative of someone who actually talks to their god.

And there's the rub: it is precisely in the time of the Mahabharata that we see a change going on in Bharata society.  A new age is about to begin, there is a new Avatara around, and people are not very happy with mainstream religion as it operates.  The Bhagavad Gita and other such texts bring with them a strong implication of criticism of priestly mentality, a mentality that was focused just on the rote practice of rituals, of technical focus on performance of ancient rites very distant from just about anyone.  Non-Brahmins (which was practically all of the population) were very divorced from this kind of religion. Thus the setting of AoI is right on the verge of what would only be the first of many radical reformations of religious thought in those varied plethora of religious teachings we collectively call Hinduism today.

So if you DO allow players to play the Priest class, you may want to make this point in your game, to have the priesthood feeling very insecure; deeply stagnant and stuck in their ways, unwilling and maybe unable to change, and threatened by strange cults and by the Avatara candidates, all of whom seem to be suggesting the priesthood has actually got it wrong.

Meanwhile, if you have a Virakshatriya player, you should try to emphasize to the player that being a Virakshatriya is not a lot like the typical "paladin" concept in D&D, though similar on the surface.  The Virakshatriya is not necessarily "nice", or even "good" in any sense of what we define it.   The Mahabharata and other epics have all kinds of stories of great warrior-devotees of Vishnu, Rama, Shiva, Surya, Indra, etc. who are presented as the "bad guys" of the tale, or who are violent and dangerous, or who are oppressive rulers (the Maghadan Emperor; the big bad guy of the whole first part of the Mahabharata, is a Virakshatriya of Shiva).
So they are not necessarily nice or good or gentle or caring; what they are is simply Holy. They follow the rules of Holy alignment, and they are fanatically dedicated to their patron god.   If you play a Virakshatriya you aren't a do-gooder, you're a champion and a zealot.


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