One of the questions I often get is, “How can I incorporate Christianity into my game?”
Including real-world religion in a fantasy RPG like Dungeons & Dragons has its own set of risks and rewards. For the moment though, I’m going to leave off going into those for future posts and instead get right down to practical suggestions.
First of all, there’s lots of ways to go about mixing Christianity (or any real-world religion) into your play. It’s not so much an on-off switch as it is a dial you can adjust to suit your own stylistic preferences. Here are four different settings for that dial.
Setting 1: In the Bible.
The first way to incorporate faith into your game would be to run a game directly inspired by the Bible. Have the players pick Bible characters to base their PCs on, put the PCs directly into the events of a major Bible story, or do both! You can either plop them right into a Bible story.
One of my favorite stories to play out is the Sons of Sceva from Acts 19. A bunch of stuffed-shirts getting in over their heads and getting possessed. Have the PCs just happen to be in Ephesus while that is going on, then play that out! What do they do with the possessed folks? Are they strong enough to defeat the demons?
There’s a lot of places in Scripture like this that make for good campaign hooks. And there’s lots of great people described in the Bible who would make really interesting characters to explore as a PC.
Setting 2: Out of the Bible
The second approach is a lot like the first, with just a minor change. In this approach, you still take inspiration for the characters or the adventure from Scripture, but then you reskin them and plop them into whatever D&D world you want.
For example, take the Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5. Now here’s a character rich with possibilities. A possessed strong-man hanging out in a graveyard has D&D encounter written all over it. You can put that graveyard wherever you want.
Another approach that’s similar to this is to change some other aspect of an otherwise clearly Biblical story. Maybe that small change needs to be fixed and the story set right to avoid some major trouble. For instance what if Goliath had been wearing a fancy helmet that covered his forehead and the boy’s sling stone just bounced off? Or what if there hadn’t been a ram in the bush when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac?
Setting 3: The Narnia Route – Strong Allegory
You could also go the Narnia route and play a game that’s strongly allegorical. I call it the Narnia route because this is how CS Lewis approached fantasy. You make the heroes and the enemies stand for something specific. The evil sorcereress isn’t just an evil sorcereress, but the very thinly veiled incarnations of the devil. The lion isn’t just a lion, but an obvious stand-in for Jesus.
You can play a lot with allegory. Take an evil, maybe one of the seven deadly sins for example, and make the enemies a physical representation of that vice. That hill giant isn’t just a hill giant, but the embodiment of gluttony, for example.
Setting 4: The Tolkien Route – ideals and themes
The final way to think about how to incorporate Christianity into your game is to go the Tolkien route. This is what we see in The Lord of the Rings. The story happens in the fantasy setting, and the themes and ideals of the Christian faith are major players in the story, but religion as such is often left off-screen.
In this method you resist the temptation to go for direct Biblical allegory but see the ideals and themes of Christian faith as universal truths that are at play in any environment.
Repentance. Redemption. Love. Humility. Truth. Friendship. Kindness. Trust. Self-sacrifice. Endurance in the face of suffering. These ideals are some of those that color the faith of Jesus. Meaning, these are things not about Jesus, but the ways of living that Jesus valued and tried to teach to others.
On reskinning game mechanics:
Though the standard religious lore of Dungeons & Dragons involves a pantheon of various deities spread across a multiverse of fairly well-defined planes of existence, there’s not much in the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons that gets lost if you want to strip all that out. The game itself is lore-agnostic, and nothing is lost if the lore of your game looks a little different. The Dungeon Master’s Guide specifically gives you permission to tell your stories in whatever world you want, including with whatever conceptions of deity and supernatural forces you want.
Concerning player characters:
You can substitute almost anything for the “power source” of more fantastical and magical powers pretty simply. I’ve used lots of different versions of this in my games.
For example, in games that I’ve run that are set in the world of Biblical events, I’ve reskinned many of the D&D classes and made God the power source for everything. Different classes access God in different ways, with the various class flavors coming from how people emphasize different aspects of God. I emphasized these changes by reskinning some of the character classes with new names.
Here is the class list as I present it to my players for creating characters in a game world with a more Biblical lore.
- High STRENGTH
- Fighter – a trained warrior. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
- Zealot (Barbarian) – an emotional warrior. A fierce warrior who fights with their emotions and can enter a battle rage.
- Paladin – a holy warrior. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
- Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is a bruiser with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
- High DEXTERITY
- Rogue – a daring and sly opponent. A scoundrel who uses stealth and trickery to overcome obstacles.
- Fighter – a precision sharpshooter. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
- Monk – a martial artist. A master of martial arts, harnessing the power of the body in pursuit of spiritual perfection.
- Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is light on the feet with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
- High INTELLIGENCE
- Scribe (Wizard) – accesses great power through academic study. A scholar who wields supernatural power that is capable of manipulating the structures of reality.
- Artificer – accesses power through an understanding of the connections between the physical and the metaphysical. A master of unlocking hidden power in everyday objects, artificers are supreme inventors.
- High WISDOM
- Cleric – accesses great power through prayer to God. A priestly champion who wields divine force in service of a higher power.
- Druid – accesses great power through becoming one with the natural world. A priest of the old faith, wielding the powers of nature—moonlight and plant growth, fire and lightning—and adopting animal forms.
- High CHARISMA
- Bard – accesses great power through personality and creativity
- Paladin – accesses great power through willpower and spiritual disciplines. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
- Chosen (Sorcerer) – accesses great power through natural ability. A blessed individual who draws on inherent ability to do supernatural things.
- Prophet (Warlock) – accesses great power through supernatural relationships and bargains. A charismatic agent of God who wields power through a supernatural agreement.
One last thing before I wrap this post up. I recently created a tool that will help you add a more Biblical flavor to your D&D games called Biblical Verbal Components. It’s a collection of Bible verses that you can use as the verbal components for any of the officially published spells in D&D 5th Edition. It has components for over 500 spells, which means over 1100 different Bible verses mapped to match the unique effects of each spell. It’s available over on the DMs Guild, and proceeds from the sale of Biblical Verbal Components will go to directly supporting those in need through our local Emergency Needs Fund.
4 thoughts on “Incorporating Christianity into Dungeons & Dragons”
Regarding the high INT classes, doesn’t the Bible (both Old and New Testaments) explicitly forbid sorcery, effectively disqualifying all “wizard” spells? Also the Druid is decidedly pagan.
Sorcery means drugs not magic look it up. Sorcery in a biblical sense doesn’t mean magic.
Hi! I don’t know if this blog is still active and OP reads this stuff (I hope they do).
I’m trying to run a game where the basic idea of the setting is that it’s like two sides of a coin: in one hand you have the “normal” world which is like our world except all types of magic (arcane, divine and natural) has existed for a long time but is kept a secret from the general public. Then there’s the other world which for simplicity it’s the forgotten realms.
Now I won’t get into detail on how these two interact because it isn’t relevant. However I’ve reached an impasse when trying to incorporate religions of our world, which I’d very much love to include. Specifically with Christianity and its various branches (Catholicism, Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodox being the main ones cuz most of the story in the “real” world takes place in Europe). So here are my questions I really hope you can help me out:
Clerics have different domains they can pick as a subclass. Now this isn’t a problem with polytheistic religions since there’s probably a god for everyone of them. But when it comes to Christianity it’d have to be aspects of its single concept of God. So I don’t understand how a, say, Catholic cleric with the Light Domain wouldn’t be able to one day swap over to the Life Domain. Now, I think a better solution would be to use Angels and Archangels. As I understand each one of these is a symbol for a different virtue. However I don’t know a lot about this aspect of Christianity so I’d appreciate it if you could help me link the angels and archangels to the various cleric domains and obviously hear any other ideas you have to overcome the wall I’ve hit.
My other issue is that from my understanding the various branches of Christianity only differ in some aspects but are fundamentally the same: they all believe in the same God. So would clerics differ a lot depending on what church they belong to? I mean mechanically two clerics of the same domain would be the same. However I’d like to give them some flavourful differences if one is Eastern Orthodox and the other Anglican for example. How could I do that?
Now my final question is about Saints. What exactly is a Saint? Would a Saint be a cleric? Or would it be like a super powerful cleric? I’d like to incorporate saints in my game but once more idk much about them to do so.
If it helps the “real” world aspect of my game takes place in the 19th century. The “main” location is Victorian England.
In my homebrew world I incorporated a cosmology similar to Christian theology. In pure mystical worship of the wholeness of God, yes clerics and paladins might be of any domain or oath. Others might worship God by connecting more with one of the three persons of the Trinity, and each person of the Parent/Child/Spirit trinity has suggested oaths and domains that would be appropriate. You could go further and use different denominations to demarcate domains and oaths, or in the case of big tent denominations like Catholicism you could demarcate domains by the holy orders, which often draw identity from the saints. So worship and faith in the style of St. Francis looks different than that of St. Benedict. Angels, Archangels, Virtues, they all offer ways to split up domains and oaths.
To your question about culture and mechanics – cultural differences don’t necessarily need in-game mechanics to be important. Sometimes stuff is just flavor. Look at the PHB entry on humans, there’s a variety of cultural suggestions that make no real mechanical difference. Encourage players to explore those flavor differences by inviting them to describe the uniqueness of their character’s actions.
Saints are people who are exemplars of the faith for one reason or another. Living saints might show up as a high level cleric or paladin. Dead saints might be present as the founders of holy orders, the progenitors of particular faith practices, stuff like that.