Religious Text
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Basic Information

Most religions have a body of lore that grow up around it; stories, statements of doctrine, liturgy, prayers, teachings; the amassed wisdom of the faith. In pre-literate societies, this wisdom is transmitted orally, from generation to generation; but eventually somebody is going to write it down in religious texts.

Depending upon the religion, these texts may be considered the wisdom of revered teachers to be studied or divine revelation or someplace between.

Common content of religious texts will include:

  • (Alleged) direct divine revelations dictated to a specific person.
  • Myth, history and legend from the earliest days of the religion, often poorly attributed.
  • More contemporary histories with better attribution which may include:
  • Hagiography of significant religious figures.
  • Collected sayings, decrees and judgements of significant figures.
  • Books of parables, proverbs and koans, sometimes known as 'wisdom literature'.
  • Books of religious law and specifications for sacred objects and rituals.
  • Religious poetry and songs.
  • Religious art.

Not all works will include all aspects and art usually loses out due to the effort involved in reproducing it.
The scriptures of fantasy religions may include spells, either encoded or in plain text … or may not. Several Ancient Egyptian religious texts very explicitly included supposedly magical (or at least theurgical) rituals intended to manipulate the gods and their servants (e.g. The Book of the Dead, which was meant to contain the cheat codes for most of the post-death trials to which the dead were subjected before entering the afterlife).

Some religions will happily translate religious texts into any and all languages for evangelical purposes (or even just for convenience) whilst others will insist on maintaining them in a given language for one reason or another. Sometimes this is the language in which they were written (and the non-translation is meant to maintian "purity" of the text) and sometimes it isn't…

List of sacred texts of various religions

  • Islam
    • Qur'an (Islamic holy books, Al-Quran, 'the Recitation')
    • Hadith (sayings and actions of Muhammad)
      • Siras (Arabic plural is actually siyar) - biographies of Muhammed (e.g. Imam Ibn Kathir's al-sīra al-nabawiyya - "Life of the Prophet")
    • Various, denomination specific collections of tafsir (interpretations of the Quran and Hadiths) and fiqh (Sharia jurisprudence) - notably the Umdat as-Salik wa 'Uddat an-Nasik - "Reliance of the Traveller and tools of the Worshipper", commonly known simply as the Reliance of the Traveller.
  • Jainism
    • Svetambara
      • 11 Angas
        • Secondary
          • 12 Upangas, 4 Mula-sutras, 6 Cheda-sutras, 2 Culika-sutras, 10 Prakirnakas
    • Digambara
    • Nonsectarian/Nonspecific
      • Jina Vijaya
      • Tattvartha Sutra
      • GandhaHasti Mahabhashya (authoratative and oldest commentary on the Tattvartha Sutra)


1. Wikipedia entry - the list of religious texts above was taken from there.

Game and Story Use

  • Existing religious texts may be used as models for the religious writings of an invented gameworld.
  • Stories in religious texts may be used as a source of plots or plot devices.
    • A campaign may be set in the world in which these stories took place
    • If you're feeling particularly blasphemous, a time travel campaign can take the PC's to the events of the text and have them interact with the religious figures of the past and find out what really happened.
      • Or, become responsible for the stories! "Okay, Joshua's army is in place; now hit the walls of Jericho with the sonic blasters!"
    • More generally some players - either those with time travelling characters or those joining the second campaign in a given setting - may find historical religious figures oddly familiar (or not …). For example their (previous) PCs might appear as supporting characters (or antagonists) in a hagiography. One of them might even find their character has been declared a saint…
      • See, for example, several Bernard Cornwell novels (notably the Warlord and Last Kingdom cycles) in which the long lived protagonist and narrator muses on the beatification of various individuals that he knew personally and how few of them were actually models of good conduct even from a Christian point of view.
  • If the players enjoy thinking as well as killing things, religious texts can provide ideas for themes that can run through the campaign, such as the nature of Good and Evil, the creation of the world, life after death, is taking a life ever justified, what is the virtuous life, etc.
    • Even if the players aren't interested in such matters, a philosopher/holy man who quotes from scriptures might make a good NPC.
  • Forget the content. A rare copy of a religious text, such as the Book of Kells or the Dead Sea Scrolls, might make a good MacGuffin.
  • Religious texts define the fundamental memes of religions - groups of people which are sometimes more numerous and influential than many nations. Thus, any aspiring theocratic ruler had better write up or find a few good texts to keep his followers in line.
    • Hilarity may ensue if an apparently authentic religious text appears that contradicts the current understanding of the religion. Demonstrating that authenticity might be a challenge.
    • GM to determine which - if any - of the interpretations is correct.
  • Some religious texts might be encoded with spells and similar mystic knowledge, making them Tomes of Eldritch Lore.
  • Religious texts may make good relics - or even just treasure given the financial value of a medieval bible - with originals or copies owned by specific individuals (with annotations?) being worth more. Even if they have difficulty selling them, PCs may gain immense prestige and owed favour by donating such works to an appropriate religious house.
  • In some cultures, the written scriptures may have significant occult significance just because they record the matters of faith - in medieval Europe a page from a bible was commonly held to defend against hostile magic, ward off faries and generally act as a protective charm.
    • An oath which is "sworn on the Bible" is regarded as having more weight than a promise made on the person's honor.
  • History books in a religious text may turn out to be coded myth - or at least a heavily distorted version - of actual history. This is a popular idea with hidden history and ancient astronauts theorists.
    • World builders may be concerned with how their actual creation story appears in the religious texts of various cultures in their world - what is correctly communicated, what is filtered through interpretation and allegory, what is "aggressively spun" and what (if anything) is entirely made up.
  • Correct handling of religious texts may be a significant issue - Jews have strict rules about the disposal of anything on which the tetragrammaton is written and Muslims have even stricter rules concerning the handling of a Quran. Amongst the Sikhs one of their key texts - the Guru Granth Sahib - is considered a person, entitled to all appropriate dignities. Even high church Christians can be touchy about appropriate handling of a Bible. By contrast a protestant Christian is likely to be far more utlilitarian1 and a Discordian actively repelled by the idea of reverencing a book. Borrowing any of these traditions for your campaign should help add cultural verisimilitude to in-world religions2.
    • For example: in Treasure Island, there is a scene where the pirates vote to reject Long John Silver as their leader, and to formally deliver their verdict they give him a blackend piece of paper, ("The Black Spot"). The only paper they have is a page torn out of a Bible. Silver warns them that "sp'iling a Bible" is bound to bring them bad luck.
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