A Guide to Penance
Many are those who believe that sin is inevitable; that no person can live a life perfectly in accordance with their cultural or religious ideals from start to finish, and that all must at one point betray themselves, their people, or their gods. It is an acknowledged truth then that all, at one time or another, bear the stain of Depravity. Yet, this is neither the end nor a sign of defeat, for to sin is merely to stray from the path of righteousness, not to lose sight of it completely.
Forgiveness is always within reach for all but the foulest of souls. No matter what religion is followed or which culture one is a part of, there is always a way to make oneself right with the world, and to correct transgressions. In all cases, the guilty must bare their soul to a cultist of their faith and express how they have offended. From that point on, however, the journeys are unique.
In Aa’boran, reprieve only comes to the guilty when they reflect on how their actions are different in this life from the life their ideal self would have chosen. It is in this reflection, when guilt is transformed into disappointment and confrontation in oneself, that their soul is freed. Even then, they must make great strides towards completing their goals to fully convince themselves they are on the righteous path again.
Vecatrans see depravity as a much more palpable thing, something you can almost touch, and that twists through an individual. Depending upon the face of Vecatra the druid follows, the transgressor may admit their moral failing, display the wrong and hold it up to the light, and accept the harsh punishment of the mother. Or the druid may take the burden of the sins of their whole circle onto themselves, eating the admissions of the wrongdoers, and carrying the weight of their people until it can no longer be borne and must be passed on to the creatures of the Night.
Both the Benalian faith and the various Spirit cults view sin as a wrong that must be righted, though there is considerable diversity in how that rectification must occur. The Spirit cults tend to view guilt as a sign that one has transgressed and angered one of the spirits concerned with their area of malfeasance, or violated the covenant of their cult and the mores of their society if they are less likely to recognize outside forces. The Tribunals held to decide the task that will correct the transgression most often result in some form of trial dedicated to one of the Spirits, which come in as many forms as there are spirits and sins.
Likewise, Benalians undergo atonements that either literally or symbolically balance the scales of right and wrong. While a Spirit cult Tribunal might result in a charge to appease a specific spirit in some way, Benalians must address the specific situation. The goal in this case is to make the world as if the sin had never happened or, failing that, attain forgiveness from the wronged and undo as much of the damage as possible. If scars are expected to remain that cannot be reversed, the sinner must perform acts of goodness that equal or outweigh the damage their sin has caused.
In both these cases, the severity of the offense is measured by the Cultist and a task is issued based on their judgement. In a Tribunal the other members of the cult make their voices known, and might refuse a punishment they deem too light to truly repair the wrong. For an Atonement though, the fellows stand merely as witnesses, and the correctness of the atonement’s severity is between the Cultist and god.
Due to the subjective nature of these instances, a guide is provided below as examples of what might be considered acceptable atonements or trials in various situations. These stand merely as a guideline and specific situations may merit a heavier or lighter hand in their judgement based on the details of the case. Particularly in the Benalian faith there is allowance for mercy given proper context, though that is a blade with two edges. Brutal, and perhaps even cruel atonements might be placed at the feet of those who transgress in the same manner repeatedly, or in cases of extreme depravity. When in doubt it is always best for the cultist to lean into a more harsh penance than one too light, for a debt underpaid remains a debt.
Assembled below are a variety of situations that might occur during the course of play. The sin and severity involved in the situation will be identified along with factors a cultist might take into account when rendering their judgement.
Example 1 – The Hidden Tryst
Sins: Venial Degradation and Venial Sloth
Halfgrin and Thick are a pair of Gothics trying to make their way outside the walls of Sauberhin. On a particularly cold winter night after several weeks of flirting, the pair take comfort in each others’ arms, despite the fact that they’re not wed. Threefoot, Thick’s wife, notices in the following days that he’s been acting a little strange around her, and after talking to her friend Clipper decides he’s probably cheated on her. She confronts Thick, who lies to Threefoot and says he’s always been faithful to her and their marriage. Clipper finds out that Halfgrin has been bragging about sleeping with Thick and brings the news to Threefoot, who confronts Thick again. This time he confesses and agrees to atone for his sins with a priest, though Halfgrin remains defiant.
When Thick approaches a priest and confesses his sins in the rite of Atonement, the priest instructs him to apologize to his wife, re-swear his matrimonial vows, and to publicly confront Halfgrin with Threefoot in tow, denouncing their indiscretion and Halfgrin’s unrepentant heart.
As Thick confessed to two transgressions, and was appropriately assigned atonement activities for each, should he fail to perform the entirety of the atonement, the atonement fails. Thus, if he only apologized to his wife and re-swore his vows but found himself unable to publicly confront Halfgrin, the entirety of the atonement ritual fails.
Example 2 – The Convert from Darkness
Sins: Deadly Blasphemy & Mortal Violence
Zakurash, a Kuarlite who has spent her entire life with the cult of Kuarl, is captured by a warband dedicated to a Totem of Might during a raid in the Outlands. They respect her strength and treat her as an equal, something she rarely experienced as a relatively young and inexperienced Triumverati. Over several months of captivity she comes to respect them as well. After speaking to their spiritual leader, she comes to believe that Kuarl’s gifts are a cheap pathway to strength, one that keeps her dependent on the whims of a fickle god and limits her from discovering her true potential. She chooses to convert from Kuarl’s grasp to the Totemic faith instead, but must first face a Tribunal for the actions of her past. She confesses not only to converting to the Kuarlite faith, but to murder on a grand scale as well.
When the warband’s spiritual leader guides Zakurash through the Tribunal, they propose the following Trial. She must tear from her body any enhancements Kuarl has gifted her, forsaking the coward’s path to might. Then she must travel to the Kuarlite who mentored her in the faith and physically best him. Finally, she must bring him back to the warband for them to punish. There are no dissenting voices in the warband, and the Trial is set.
Example 3 – A Crime of Passion
Sins: Deadly Passion
Emma Hunter is a Seravian monster hunter by trade, and often spends many weeks at a time out in the wilds tracking beasts for coin. After a particularly easy hunt she makes her way home, far earlier than her wife Kate expected. When Emma returns to find Kate in bed with Alice, a milkmaid from the village over, her vision goes red. Acting in the heat of her rage she barges into the room, screaming and berating both of them as she chops the bed to bits with her silvered axe, terrorizing both women. By the time she recovers her senses, their house is in shambles, and her wife fears for her life. Emma is a member of a secret Cordelian sect in the local area, and so is able to approach a Benalian priest for atonement.
When Emma approaches a priest and confesses her sin of Passion in the rite of Atonement, the priest first instructs her to find Kate, apologize to her, and bring her to the priest so that she may have her own opportunity to atone for her infidelity.
For Emma, the priest instructs her to give up all weapons she owns to the church. He further instructs her to swear to meet with him at least once every market to discuss her life and stressors that might tempt her to violence. Once she relinquishes her weapons and this oath is sworn, she will be absolved of her sin. Should she ever break her vow, however, she will be subject to the sin of Deadly Sloth.
Example 4 – A Simple Trade
Sins: Mortal Defilement & Mortal Blasphemy
Herman Primo Forgia felia Lukas hates his third cousin once removed, Abigail Prima Forgia felia Hilda, beyond the point of reason. He hates her so much that, when his father announced they were arranged to be married, he started seeking any way out of the marriage available to him. He met a man who said he could teach Herman a damn that would destroy her, if only he could sneak the bones of a Saint out of Fenristadt to trade. Herman obtained bones rightfully in the custody of his family and approached the man again to complete the trade. The man identified himself as a Lazarine, and informed Herman the damn he sought would draw upon Lazorolth’s power to kill Abigail. Still he accepted, and traded the bones for the damn. When he was in the middle of performing the damn, his mother stumbled upon him and embarrassed him so badly he confessed to everything. She dragged him to a priest, to whom he repeated his confession.
When Herman approaches a priest and confesses his sins in the rite of Atonement, the priest instructs him to abase himself before Abigail and beg her for forgiveness, then find her another man of higher status than he to marry. Then he must spend a month in direct servitude to the priest, during which time he will spend all idle time in prayer and study of the scripture, until he can recite all the Testimonium’s passages regarding the Triumvirate by heart. Finally he must burn all records of the damn, before venturing out of Fenristadt to track down the Lazarine, from whom he must retrieve the artifact without stealing it. Should the artifact be corrupted or destroyed, he must instead recover a yet undiscovered artifact and return with that instead.
It is safe to say that this harsh atonement would take several months to complete, and Herman’s sins are not absolved until he has accomplished everything assigned to him.
Example 5 – The Cringing Cook
Sins: Venial Blasphemy
Fabien Nicolini a Red Tide seeks out a new ship to sail on after the Red Tide ran aground and lost much of its crew to the coastal storms. Skilled as a ship’s cook and a journeyman carpenter, his skills are in high demand, but his short name does him little credit and leaves him with few options to make a living. Running low on coin and fearing he will become destitute he signs on with The Mute Witness, captained by the infamous Duchess Hamiah Veladria a Mute Witness, Admiral of the Gloria’s Lament, the Cruelest Tongue, Lover of Fortune, Mother of Teeth, Sharksmile, the Beacon Upon the Blackwater. Replacing a cook who made the poor decision of putting cilantro in the Duchess’ soup, and so paid the price by being force fed ten kilograms of soap, Fabien served upon the Mute Witness for a year. During that time he served the Duchess her meals in person, and out of fear for his life never broke a single one of her vicious laws or did so much as raise a pinky against her. Escaping the ship in port and losing himself in the city, he feels the taint of the Duchess’ presence still on his soul, and goes to a Benalian priest to atone.
When Fabien approaches a priest and confesses his sins in the rite of Atonement, the priest instructs him to convince another to leave the service of any Triumverati, and evangelize the Benalian faith to them whilst denouncing the Triumverate.
Example 6 – A Tragedy in Three Parts
Example 6a. – A Beginning in Bronze
Sins: Venial Bias
Dannis Bellows Smoke Firebird is a young adult of the Firebird Clan that acts as a trader and intermediary between settlements of the Blight and his clan’s leadership. After several years visiting the same village for trade and information, despite his better judgement he becomes infatuated with one of the townspeople there: a young man near his own age named Alexander. This would not be a problem on its surface, if not for the fact that when Dannis next visits the village, Alexander tells him of an impending attack by a fire magician warlord, seeking a bronze tablet Alexander has in his possession. Alexander asks Dannis to take and hide the tablet which, in a flurry of conflicted emotions, Dannis agrees to do. When he returns to the Firebirds and shows the strange tablet to his clan elders, he is reminded that he has violated the edict of bias, having taken a position in a fight that was not his. Chastened, he submits to the rite of Reconciliation.
When Dannis approaches a druid of the Female Face and confesses his sin in the rite of Reconciliation, she instructs him to spend a season in service to one of the Skalds their clan keeps instead of doing his usual trading route. He is to clean their clothes, hunt and cook their food, and join them for all tellings of tales until he is released from his obligations. He agrees, and spends the next season immersed in the cultural history of his people. At the end of the season, he feels the weight of his sin lift, and he is absolved.
Example 6b. – Explosive Interaction
Sins: Mortal Bias
Having become reconciled, Dannis is allowed to return to his duties. He seeks one among his clan who can translate the tablet the mages sought. The Skald he served admits he can read the runes, identifying them as the marks of an ancient race of men that dwelt in the mountains and had old magics of thunder and flame. He tells Dannis that the tablet is a set of instructions, supposedly leading to a cache of materials these people left behind in a hidden cave. Though warned not to seek out these dark powers, curiosity overcomes Dannis and he seeks to follow the tablet’s instructions. Arriving at the indicated cavern, he makes his way past a series of traps and discovers a substantial stockpile of gunpowder. Remembering his friend Alexander, who may still be in dire straits, he makes his way back to the village to assess the situation. Upon arriving, he finds that the warlord has dominated the town, and several homes have been burned to ash. Discovering Alexander as he awakens from death in the nearby woods, he tells him of the gunpowder and its location, encouraging him to use it to push out the invading band of magicians. Alexander and a few freedom fighters take him up on his offer, and later decimate the town hall, in which the warlord and his officers had taken up residence, by violent explosion in the middle of the night.
Dannis returns to his clan with a heavy heart, knowing he has once again transgressed, but feeling he had no choice. He had felt partially responsible for Alexander’s death by taking the tablet for him, and he feels he had needed to help his friend. He returns to his elders and seeks reconciliation.
When Dannis approaches a druid of the Female Face and confesses his sin in the rite of Reconciliation, she instructs him to put the tablet in the cavern and force a cave-in, burying its knowledge and all the corrupting trinkets that remain there, never to be found again. Then he must swear an oath never to speak with a Blight in peace again, forcing him to abandon his vocation and his place in society, and to accept a new vocation chosen for him by the Council, who will decide how he will best serve his people. Once the task is done and the oath is sworn, his sin is absolved. The punishment is more severe because it is both a more serious sin of Bias, and it is a repeat offense of the sin.
Example 6c. – Give Him a Hand
Sins: Deadly Bias
Having once again reconciled his actions with his faith, Dannis goes to the elders and impresses upon them the necessity of pushing out the mages. He argues that mustering a war party would not be an act of Bias because the fire magicians have begun to move into their lands in search of the tablet, which they will now likely never find. After a few days of tough debate, a scout’s testimony to seeing a warband wielding fire magics in a nearby valley makes the choice. The elders hesitantly agree to raise their own warbands. Dannis, with his knowledge of the situation and routes between here and the village, is roped into the war effort. After several months of raids on their camps and supply lines, the war party Dannis is a part of makes their way to the town in which the warlord remains based. Upon arriving, he discovers the corpse of Alexander, who appears to have been burned alive. The state of decay indicates he will not be returning to the world, and though he knows final rest is the natural order of the world, a murderous urge wells up in Dannis. After a long battle, Dannis eventually captures the warlord, who offers his surrender in exchange for his life. Dannis threatens him, asking if he had Alexander killed, to which the Warlord admits to giving the order. Furious, Dannis ignores the Warlord’s surrender, and severs both his hands, maiming him a that he may never cast magic again. Upon returning to his people, members of his warband tell the elders of his dire violation – the act of extreme violence was a blatant disregard of the warlord’s surrender. He is brought before them and admits to his crimes.
When Dannis confesses his sin to the Druid of the Female Face once more, she instructs that he must venture deep into the woods, far from the lands of his people and the settlements of others, into the place where the Other Face rules. He must wear bells upon him, so that no creature or denizen of the Other will be unaware of his passage. He must spend each evening thus in the darkest and most forbidding parts of the forest until he locates a druid of the Other Face. Should he survive the forest and the meeting, he must attempt to negotiate a deal with the druid that violates no other sins. By doing so, the lesson imparted is to be on the importance of negotiation and honor in times of conflict, and the punishment of fear and vulnerability is to remind him of his mortality. Until this is done, he may not speak or interact with his own people. Only after completing this task may he return to his people with his deadly sin washed away. Had the sin not been both repeated in quick succession and progressively worse, it is likely that the punishment would have been slightly less difficult or severe.
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