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I am trying to marry two concepts:

  • The world is conquered by the traditionally villainous creatures. One country is dominated by vampire nobility, the other is ruled by fiends/devils (dukes of hell), another by an extended family of liches, yet another by Fey lords.
  • The majority of humanity is part of a church that actively decries these creatures. The priesthood sees undead as abomination, devils are literally the adversary, Fey are pagan relicts. This is a religion that existed for a while in the world, before the conquest by the "baddies".

How can I make the latter exist and still somewhat (not necessarily perfectly) function? I don't mean just random priests waging guerilla warfare, but having active knight orders, inquisition, monasteries, cathedrals, regular worship, whole shebang.

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    $\begingroup$ Seems like you're asking us to brainstorm about a church in your world. That's too broad and opinion based to be a good fit for this site. We're not here to brainstorm or generate ideas for you. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ It was seven years ago, not long after the site came into being. The rules have tightened quite a bit since then. We often get this issue of people assuming that things haven't changed. I would vote to close the old question, but it was protected by a mod (who's no longer a member), and site-policy at present isn't to bulk-close questions from back then. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings -1, this is a perfectly reasonable question for this site as the answers show! $\endgroup$
    – deep64blue
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ I can't think of a single western billiinaire who hasn't done things the christian denominations and catholicism condemn, yet so many christians worship some of them as if those billionaires were above Christ. So there. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 14:59
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    $\begingroup$ outside a few movements (mostly in the US, and spread from there) most forms of Christianity condemn the hoarding of wealth (to varying extents) and yet the rich have overwhelmingly more representation in government in all majority Christian countries $\endgroup$
    – Tristan
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 9:24

14 Answers 14

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The Church Has Real Power

(Just not enough to throw off the yoke of the monsters.)

Churches are actually holy ground, untouchable by those unholy fiends. Crosses (or whatever symbol), when properly consecrated, hold vampires at bay (etc).

The monstrous have been unable to destroy the bastions of the Church. But the power of the Church, while unassailable in its strongholds, is not able to protect everyone, all the time. So an awkward balance has formed between the vampire nobles (for example) and the Church elders. Neither can wipe the others out (though they try to with varying intensity over time), so at times and within bounds, they sort of cooperate, have truces, etc.

Because the Holy powers are weakened by the treachery of those wielding them, and strengthened by the adherents' faithfulness, as long as the Church honors truces, the infernal powers (usually) cannot double cross the Church when an agreement has been struck.

The infernal powers are always on the watch, though, for a chance to corrupt the Priests or Bishops, and weaken the protections of their goodness. And the Church, likewise, looks for chances to wage open war, if they can do it without losing too many men, or collapsing the agreements which shelter the common people...

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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty good, thanks. I will contemplate this. $\endgroup$
    – gruszczy
    Commented Oct 23, 2022 at 3:21
  • $\begingroup$ Seems inspired by reality - just replace „crosses“ by „Jesus Christ“ and „churches“ by „the church“. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ Part of this balance would naturally include rivalries between major powers. Maybe the church isn't a major power, but let's say the family of liches and vampire nobility have a conflict. Easy enough to picture power structures where each seeks to convince The Church they are the "lesser evil" that should be helped to tip the balance. $\endgroup$
    – Frikster
    Commented Oct 26, 2022 at 4:12
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The Church is controlled by the Villainous Powers

Why would the Powers allow and even promote such dogma against themselves? Because by doing so they can keep the population docile while capturing any potential threats into an organization they secretly control.

Most of the Church is oblivious and earnest, while the upper echelon is corrupt or even occupied by members of the Powers themselves. Vampire Pope! (Needless to say, all the hooey about vampires being afraid of the cross is just that - propaganda spread to convince everyone that a vampire couldn't possibly be in the Church, let alone the Pope!) Anybody who starts to suspect too much just happens to have an unfortunate encounter...

Sure, the Church will make a lot of noise and sometimes even actions like inquisitions. But those are outlets more than anything, and never get too close to anything important.

Ultimately, by controlling the Church and having them behave the way they do, the Powers ensure that challenges to their power are impotent and the status quo remains very stable.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmmmm, this reminds me of a similar situation in the real world... $\endgroup$
    – frIT
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ The inquisitions are actually totally real and waged by earnest holy warriors. They just don't realize that their targets are always enemies of the Vampire Pope (who is also supreme ruler of the vampire nation), who uses the inquisition to wipe out any opposition he has within the vampires. ("Vladmir did not like my budget proposal. Well, time to tell the inquisition where he sleeps.") $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 15:26
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Conquest is a tricky thing. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) won the Chinese Civil War in 1947, and lays claim to the island of Taiwan (ROC). The people of Taiwan have had none of that nonsense for the past 70 years. Taiwan is considered a rogue province by the PRC, and the PRC diplomatically retaliates against any country that recognizes ROC sovereignty. Despite this the ROC is by all reasonable measures a sovereign state, with its own internal policies and foreign relations.

The geography is helpful to the ROC, as the island of Taiwan is mountainous and the distance from mainland China is enough that the PLAN has a reasonable fear of being intercepted and defeated by the USN.

Your church could work the same way. There could be many areas in the world that are comparable to Taiwan, in that they are “officially” conquered but due to local geography and politics (maybe infighting between the monsters?) it is not a reality on the ground so the church uses that as its power base for a more concerted rebellion in the future. It could be a North Vietnam and Viet Cong type scenario.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why did you not explain that part of the reason your church decried those creatures was that as Undead, they were seen as abominations? Why did you not explain that devils were the adversary or Fey were pagan relicts. If this is a religion that existed for a while in the world, before the conquest by the "baddies", when and where and how was that? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 20:45
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The Church preaches justice and the rule of Good…

…in the afterlife. God is all-powerful! If the mortal plane is ruled by the forces of evil, it’s certainly not because they are stronger than God. It is all part of His ineffable plan - it must be, because (see above) He’s all-powerful.

See, suffering is actually good for you. This life is but a test to prove your faith. The demons, the vampires - and those who choose to serve them - think they’ve got a sweet deal. How sorry they will be, when the trumpets of the Second Coming sound across the land and they are cast unto the abyss, while those who suffered their usurpations with faith and humility are exalted for eternity!

The Church’s preaching are excoriating against the demonic elites, but their promise of divine retribution after death keeps their followers (somewhat) content in this life and discourages direct action. This suits the demonic elites just fine, and they, while claiming to disavow and oppose the Church’s teaching, are actually well connected with influential figures at the top of the Church hierarchy to make sure that the self-flagellating, spiritually-focussed orthodoxy remains dominant.

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    $\begingroup$ Render unto Satan that which is Satans, which is obviously this moral world... $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Commented Oct 25, 2022 at 3:21
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Supernatural monsters are bad at population control

If left alone to do what they want, supernatural monsters will rapidly consume all their food sources. New vampires will eat humans and turn humans and run out of humans, demons will take everyone's souls, liches will make skeletal hordes, fey will wrap everyone up in deals and leave them to starve to death or become new fey.

The church has been destroyed in a lot of places. The result is that those places quickly had the villainous races go extinct. Almost the humans were consumed and soon the remaining monsters fought among themselves for the last few humans.

The church kills 'feral' monsters

The official diplomatic line is that the church exterminates anyone who goes too far. Any vampire who decides to mass convert people, any fey who makes deals with every peasant they can fine, any demon who guzzles souls like a drug abuser locked in a room of cocaine.

This helps the villainous factions purge rebellious and excess population. Anyone who dissents from the official dogma is kicked out, and is killed by the church.

This ensures religious sites have official protection. The leaders of the factions will stop any large scale effort to attack them because they know they need them.

Both sides would like to break the deadlock

Both sides would like to purge the other. The religious faction would like to exterminate all the villains, but if they go too far they get slapped down. The monsters would like to purge the religious people, but if they go too far they go extinct. It's a delicate balancing act that could break at any time.

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  1. The population is very religious. Actually exterminating the religion would come close to exterminating the population. Most of the eldritch creatures would rather have a population to work for them, not do the work themselves. Ever seen a Vampire Lord muck the stables?
  2. The status of the eldritch creatures is arguable, at least if you squint at it enough. A vampire, or a conscientious noble who works to the wee hours of the morning? A lich king, or a saint blessed with a long life in return for an ascetic life?
  3. Senior religious bureaucrats who have been captured by "the system." Pious priests don't get promoted. And by the time an ambitious schemer becomes a bishop or an abbot/abbess, he or she owes too much to other power-grabbers, and made enemies who will topple him or her without a patronage network.
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"This is what Rebellion Looks Like"

The Church is opposed to the Evil Powers. However it is tolerated because it is (a) very popular and (b) largely ineffective.

The Evil Powers know full well they are outnumbered. If the people of the land united against them they could easily kick out the vampires and liches and devils and faries.

One of the only things that might unite the people like that is destroying the Church.

If you can't beat em then join em. The Evil powers officially recognize the Church and worm their own agents inside.

The Church provides a safe way for any potential rebels to get out their rebellious impulses. They go to church and give long sermons on moral virtue. They decry their evil overlords. They sing booming songs and put their hands in the air like you just don't care. Then afterwards they go home feeling like they have made a difference.

After all that exertion they are less likely to take up arms and tear the nearest Human Processing Facility.

The Church has several sects which spend their time arguing with each other over interpretations of the sacred text rather than kicking the devils back to where they came from. More effort lost.

The Church is an important part of the Evil PR machine. By recognizing the Church, they make themselves seem more balanced and reasonable. You are allowed to decry us and say anything bad you want. Freedom of speech y'all.

It is hard for an oppressed people to swallow "No rebellion in thought or deed will be permitted" without realizing they are oppressed. It is easier to swallow "Some types of rebellion are allowed. See the Church. But other kinds have no place in any civilized society."

This is the case in the real world. Spreading anti-government sentiment is allowed. Peaceful protests are allowed. You are allowed to stand around in a large group, in a place you would not usually stand. But if you stand around for too long or touch the wrong thing you will be arrested for obstructing traffic or damaging private property. Do it too much and the whole group will be attack and/or locked up. Attacking government buildings with a truck and firebombs? No way.

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The Monsters don't care!

In fact it amuses them! It may even be why they're here!

The monsters delight in mayhem and tormenting the normal God-fearing people. They get their jollies from watching the Church going crazy with their pompous and puritanical condemnation and then running in and spreading chaos - like a cruel child kicking over a well-ordered ant-hill.

Thus, they have no interest in destroying the church or even seeing it going into decline. OK, the odd demon gets killed by a pitchfork wielding mob, but that's all part of the fun!

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The Forces of Evil have a principle: A victory is only a victory if you beat someone with their own weapons.

The weapon of states is violence, so the forces of evil beat them in war. Now all governments are destroyed or subjugated by the forces of evil.

The weapon of the economy is money, so the forces of evil beat them in commerce. Now all the companies are either bankrupt or owned by Evil Corp.

But what's the weapon of religion? Convincing people that your faith is the true one. So that's how the forces of evil fight organized religions. Not by killing preachers or demolishing places of worship. That would be too easy. Enforcing their religion with violence wouldn't prove the theological superiority of evilness. Only when every mortal turned their back on their former religious leaders and embraced Evil out of their own volition will Evil be able to claim that they truly conquered all the world religions.

So the Forces of Evil form their own Church of Evil. Then they compete with the established religions on equal footing: By proselytizing. Will they succeed? That's a story left for you to write.

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  • $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the rise of naturalism IRL. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 15:15
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To show no fear

It is better than that peasants think there is nothing they can really do, that the Church's powers can't really save them, than to demonstrate by your actions that you are really afraid of the Church.

Nothing creates faith in the Church's power to protect like acting as if the Church can protect them.

To what extent this is hubris as opposed to actual psychological effect is up to the world-building. Especially if the underlings are too afraid to tell the monsters the truth.

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Your church could also operate as a network of secret societies, informal groups, etc.

Compare

Many historical examples abound of religions that have survived despite being formally outlawed. From a storytelling perspective, decide how easy it is to recognize the dominant monsters and their agents, and how much emphasis you want to put on the religion being driven "underground". What tone do you want? Is the conflict between religious and secular / monstrous authorities important to your plot? To what extent have the religious groups been co-opted by the nominal conquerors? Is the current situation a temporary or a long-term one? If it's only temporary, how do you want it to change over the course of the story / campaign?

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The Humans Rule in the Daylight

The vampires burn in the daylight. The liches become inanimate during the day. The Fey lords are much weaker during the day. The Dukes of Hell are equally powerful during the day and night, but there aren't enough of them to protect and dominate all four evil nations during the day.

However, because of a small number of scrying experts among all four evil groups, humans who destroy vampires, liches, and Fey lords during the day can be detected often enough to deter most daylight assassins. The penalty for human daylight attacks is transformation into hideous creatures that live in constant agony that can be temporarily relieved only by killing and eating former fellow humans. The price of this respite from pain is moral guilt too profound for human beings to comprehend.

But since the majority of humans follow the Great Religion, the vampires (who need blood), the liches (who need human flesh), the Fey lords (who need human life force) and the dukes of Hell (who seek human souls) can't afford to stamp it out. A few evil mages are trying to solve this problem by searching to a magical spell that creates homunculi to satisfy the evil nations' appetites. If the evil mages succeed, the evil nations will destroy the Great Religion by destroying humanity.

Until that day, humans can create as many cells of resistance and as many churches as they like between dawn and dusk.

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Going to start this out by avoiding modern politics for obvious reasons, and stick with ancient politics.

The church is just as corrupt as the demons, vampires, and lich's. The higher ranks within the church have an uneasy alliance with the other factions. This alliance allows them to have churches in ... most ... area's. This gives their followers a false hope, and easy control. Anyone swayed or out of alignment with the church can be branded as a heretic and killed or used as a sacrifice to feed any of the other three main factions. They were allowed to build their churches on the sacred grounds of they fey. Pushing them further and further away. The church established holidays on days that were also revered by the fey. All in an attempt to wipe any pagan foothold. This worked well for the vampires, liches, and dukes of hell. Without the old gods and powerful spells to stand in their way, all they had to do was contend with the weakness of the christian followers.

Except for the fey, which they all fear, and for good reason.

With spells and incantations to destroy phylacteries, walk different planes of existence, and blood that is poison to vampires; it's no wonder they are feared and hated by all. It was the fey after all who exposed the lies and hypocrisy of the church.

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The church is monstrous

It has an "inner" and "outer" church. The outer church is a security blanket for the people. It dispenses platitudes and appears to have a degree if influence over the monsters.

The inner church is completely corrupt, and in league with the monsters.

I'm thinking of several cults I have read about, the pigs in Orwell's "Animal Farm", and in today's world, the Russian Orthodox Church.

You can dial this up past 11 and have a "church" that is even more monstrous than the "monsters", who really aren't as evil as the people are led to believe by this church. In fiction, Dan Simmond's "Endymion" comes to mind.

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