Sunday, January 29, 2012

System Shopped: The Cult of the Machine God - Path Finder

The Cult of the Machine God uploads itself....
System Shopped: Pathfinder
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

In the new World of Darkness main book, a repeatedly referenced concept is that of the Cult of the Machine God.  In what I feel is a nod to the role-playing game Kult and the video game Silent Hill, the Cult of the Machine God is an esoteric faith founded on the existence of clockwork angels and other seemingly mechanical divine entities that are broken or lost in the world.   In one art piece, a man is shown having a massive gear tattoo on his back as a computer feed speaks of how the world is coming to an end.

I found the concept exciting and thought it would be a great one to try and adapt to other games as well.  So here, allow me to present the Cult of the Machine God, uploaded into the well-acclaimed Pathfinder game.

The Cult of the Machine God
for Pathfinder RPG
They are among us, joining us on quests, and fighting along-side us to plumb the depths of dungeons, liberate villages and defeat tyrants.  There are many, embracing whatever class they value or show interest in:  Fighters, Monks, Wizards... I have heard of even Barbarians who happened to be followers of this obscure cult.  


The Cult of the Machine God.  


They believe that the world we live in is but a toy.  A box of mechanisms and systems that function all around us invisibly, ensuring that the very events of our lives explore the furthest reaches of adventure and drama.  They believe we are all just tools.  Toys.   Parts of a massive system.  Cogs of an eternal machine.


And they believe if they prove it enough to their unheard of deity, they will be permitted to transcend "beyond the game" they say, and become actual living people.


by Larry Elmore
Yes, it is insane, isn't it.  Why would anyone think that we're just puppets... characters created for a tale meant to amuse great beings beyond the realms of our perception?  Madness.


That is one META concept!
It is, which I feel makes it work so awesome in a Pathfinder game.  A quasi-religious belief held by some NPCs who tell the players they know they are just non-player characters in a story intended to make the players stand as heroes.  They speak of these glimpses the way an oracle talks of fate and destiny.  They think their lives are worthless, unless they find a way to ingrain themselves into the goals of the Player Characters.

Are they really crazy?
Of course they are! After all, why would a 8th level Cleric believe that his powers are limited only by the very systems the Machine God has set upon him.  Surely such limitations are a reflection of his devotion and faith to his deity, right?  And why would the Wizard who quietly whispers prayers to the Machine God talk to himself about how he hates how Saving Throws have all these modifiers now.  What on earth are saving throws anyway?

So the concept is meant to be funny?
No.  It can be.  But no.  Think of it as how conspiracy theorists here in the real world honestly believe that Obama is the anti-Christ who will doom the world.  Or how some people honestly believe gay marriage will bring about the Apocalypse.  As insane as their thoughts are, the reality does exist that there are people who believe such things to be real.  The trick is presenting this to the game with a straight face at all times.  When your Bard NPC who is part of the cult starts talking about how, "We don't really even have any true songs.  Just the ideas of songs.  Our songs have no true melody.  No true lyrics.  Nothing."  The players might in character jest about how the Bard is being stupid.  Throw it back at them and challenge them, "Very well.  Sing me a popular song then.  Sing me the nursery rhyme your mother used to hum to you."  And suddenly, they might find themselves forced to be more creative.

Once the players are getting the hang of such insane people existing in the game, it would then be time to reveal there is a system behind this cult.  For players, once there is a *system* involved, they realize it isn't just some gag or in-joke in the game.  It suddenly becomes even more real.


Cult of the Machine God Domain
Only followers of this Cult can gain access to this Domain.  New members who are inducted must add a level of Cleric class to their character.  Such have one Domain (any appropriate) to represent how they masquerade as, and this as their second Domain.

Deities: The Machine God
Granted Powers:  You see glimpses of the "system" behind the world.   While most of the time these glimpses make no sense, occasionally you grasp enough to utilize this knowledge.

Whispers of the Machine (ex): While this has no real game breaking effects, you can with a with a Knowledge skill check look at another person and determine his "importance" to the game.  You can tell which NPCs have a major story arc unfolding, or which NPCs have no true role to play in the game.  Information can range between "He's just a passing person" to "He holds the clues we need" or even "He's more than just what we see.  The Machine God favors him."

The System is All (sp): After intoning to the Machine God, the follower can petition to see the truth in the events that are unfolding around him.  Starting at 8th level, you can use True Seeming as a spell-like ability for a number of rounds per day equal to you cleric level.  These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Domain spells: 1st - Sanctuary, 2nd - Augury, 3rd - Locate Object, 4th - Discern Lies, 5th - Commune, 6th - Find the Path, 7th - Symbol of Stunning, 8th - Discern Location, 9th - Miracle

Note:  Members of the Cult of the Machine God are OBSESSED with a certain Magical Treasure:  The Portable Hole.  When word of a Portable Hole having been found reaches members of the Cult, its followers immediately do what they can to try to get their hands on it.  They would bribe, steal, offer to purchase, or even challenge the Portable Hole's owners if in the end they can get their hands on the treasure.  They believe that the Portable Hole, when used correctly, can open a rift to the real world where the Machine God exists.  Some say this is achieved by placing a Portable Hole inside ANOTHER Portable Hole.

Kinda makes you wonder, eh?

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