Of all the rules of Mythras,the chapter on Theism has the potential to provide the greatest contention, because it covers the topic of the player characters' religion.
Devotion is one of two non-mundane skills used by theists. The other skill, Exhort, is used to invoke Theistic Miracles.
But what exactly is Devotion about, anyway?
Can people really measure someone's holiness by a number? Could a religion's Pontiff really throw down some badass righteous smiting from on high? The Mythras Core Rulebook would seem to maintain that it is so.
Mythras Core Rulebook says this about Devotion:-
The ‘skill’ is more accurately a relationship the theist has with an individual god, a small faction or family of divine beings, or indeed an entire pantheon.
This makes Devotion a little different to the magical skills such as Folk Magic or Invocation. It also makes Devotion very different to the skills used by the closest thing to Theism, namely Animism. With Animism, the two magical skills are Trance and Binding - neither skill involves a relationship with the spirits, and animists are obligated to make their own relationships.
There is one class of rated traits which does resemble Devotion, and it is not skills.
It's Passions. Devotion, in the end, is a form of Passion.
Like a Passion, Devotion can be used as a resistance roll - Devotion is a measure of one's faith to withstand psychological or physical torture or coercion, according to Mythras Core Rulebook:-
Devotion can potentially be used to resist various psychological attacks, tests of faith or contests of competing passions.
A character who has Devotion can draw upon their Faith to look at the worst the world has to hold, and come through their trials "bloody, but unbowed," to paraphrase Henley's poem "Invictus." This is true, even if they do not possess the other Theist skill of Exhort, which is used to call upon the deity's portfolio of Miracles.
The Core Rulebook describes Devotional Pools of Magic Points, offered up by the Theist (who spends their Magic Points, but who can recover them) to power their Miracles. Theists must keep these Pools topped up in order to pay for the Miracles.
This is where one of the Laws of Games Mastery comes in, and it is this.
There is no such thing as a Law of Conservation of Magic Points.
Exactly where those points come from is irrelevant. They can come from the Theists themselves (who may fill up their Devotional Pools before retiring to bed), from other Adventurers who donate their Magic Points ("Hey, guys, I know we're trapped in this dungeon, but I can call upon my god to help out, so can we have a quick Black Mass to my Dark God before we go on? I can find a small animal to sacrifice, so nobody needs to cut their wrists much, but ... where are you going? Guys?") or they can come from a congregation at a site sacred to the deity, such as a shrine or a Temple. This, by the way, is where the rule comes from that the Theist must return to a place of worship to "top up the tank" (which makes it sound crass and tawdry, like returning to their bank's ATM to withdraw cash to fill up their wallet).
It is so much easier to hold a Mass in a Temple, surrounded by light and incense, and the echoing choral music from the nave, than trying to slit a rat's throat in the middle of a foetid midden. This is where it's far more advantageous to worship light gods than Dark Maggot or Demon Ganglion or whatever: such gods provide greater societal acceptability, and greater access to Devotional Magic Points donated by the much larger congregation (when you have 150 lay congregants donating 1 Magic Point each to the deity, your Theist's Devotional Pool can get filled up very quickly. Consider it like receiving a 10% commission on sales).
The box text on page 179 of the Core Rulebook, Acting Like Your God, is an optional rule which ties the Theist more closely to their deity. As Devotion increases, a combination of peer pressure and society's expectations demand that Theists with high Devotion act more and more like their deities, somehow. The inspiration for this comes from a book, Thomas Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, which basically stated that Christians should become more like Christ to show their devotion to the Faith. Again, it is very difficult to imagine Theists rising very high in Devotion to Dark Maggot if that were the case.
An alternative mechanism to Devotional Magic Points pools, outlined in Fioracitta, the Heart of Power, is Divine Grace Points. These represent divine favour, and they are bestowed by the deity (for which, read "the Games Master") to followers who make sacrifices and perform devotional acts pleasing to the gods, ranging from attending regular Masses, donating to charities, giving one's time and energies to helping patients in hospitals and so on.
The higher one's Devotion, the greater the Divine Grace Points bestowed - though a deity who is particularly pleased by their human child may well bestow a full load of Divine Grace Points to a barefoot lay member who just crawled up to the altar, while bestowing a mere 1 Grace Point to the dazzlingly-vested High Priest looking down upon the ragged beggar at his feet. Such are the ways of deities.
Behavioural changes can take the form of new Passions, as the Devoted follower begins to acquire traits favourable to their deity such as Charity, Honesty, Lust, Humour, Honour, Wisdom, or Courage. I avoided counting Chastity as a virtue, because seriously, Chastity gets you nowhere.
The Mundane In Service to The Numinous
Theists could work their mundane Standard and Professional Skills in service to their deities. A deity of strategic warfare might reward leaders who advance in Lore (Tactics & Strategy), and a god of commerce could bless a follower with a high skill in Commerce and Bureaucracy.
A Goddess of Wealth (such as Harnworld's Halea) could reward Theists who invest their own money (rather than Church money) in local businesses. This reward could take the form of increased opportunities for Commerce and Bureaucracy, and even the occasional (somewhat hot) Behold Miracle to show the Goddess' favour.
In contrast, the god Agrik (a war god from Harnworld) could show his favour to a Devoted priestess, before a battle with the uptight goddess Larani, with a (really hot) Behold Miracle to show the priestess the throne room and battle room which await her in the fiery fortress of Balgashang, in the Agrikan Harnic afterlife, if she wins. You don't want to know what he shows her if she loses.
If a Player of a Theist declares that they are performing a Church-approved mundane skill as an act of dedication to the deity (for instance, a Theist of a God of Labour using Crafts (Tailoring) to create a priestly vestment to donate to their Church, or (for example in Fioracitta) a worshipper of Verdia who goes off to the forests in the foothills of the Millagra Mountains to use Locale to look for forage to feed the homeless people of Outer Gioconda), they are likely to fulfil the deity's demands on their time, the payment for the Divine Grace Points (or Devotional Magic Points Pools, if you are using the Theism rules from the Mythras Core Rulebook).
The key is selflessness. The gods favour selfless Devotion. Deities depend on their congregations believing in them and showing virtuous behaviour (which depends on the deity - what is virtuous to a goddess of wisdom, knowledge, industry, and war is very different to a goddess of love, lust, hedonism, and commerce), so grand acts which benefit the congregation (such as defending a village of the faithful, or leading a congregation of the Goddess of Lust through some rite of mad abandon) will benefit the Theist far more than selfish behaviour.
Politics versus The Divine
This is the part that Mythras Core Rulebook tends to get dead wrong. More often than not, in any organised religion the fancier robes are not always worn by the most Devoted or pious. More powerful even than market forces are the forces of politics, and Churches are hotbeds of politics, cowboy diplomacy, corruption, and betrayal.
Devotion has little room at the upper echelons of ecclesiastical power. It is highly likely that the highest Masses are little more than an exercise in Oratory and Customs, the greatest charitable acts are mere exercises in Courtesy, and the wealth of the Church is nothing more than the exercise of Commerce skill as the supposedly-holy shrine skims 10% off the top of the proceeds of sales of all the tawdry trinkets and "holy water" flasks being sold by all the vendor stalls surrounding the entrance to the shrine.
In truth, the Devotees with the strongest visions, or the more powerful miracles, are not often well-regarded by their Churches. A Devoted Theist who has access to some powerful Miracle such as Propitiation can be useful to the Church - but if they begin to rail against institutional systemic injustice, or protest that the Mother Church is exacting too high a financial toll on the peasantry, the Church is often likely to arrange for the martyrdom and beatification of the Devoted Theist and the construction of a shrine to draw the pilgrims, and their money.
I have to make a personal pitch for Fioracitta, The Heart of Power here, because part of the heart of the book and setting is Faith. Tamaggia, Venea, and Tazar all meet in Fioracitta, along with Ellah, Schiova, Vecsu, Hirouar, Isaa, Shai-Hebul and so many others. The city is bustling with so many different Faiths, and this was a deliberate choice on my part because Fioracitta, as it is, is a kind of Renaissance-like Babylon for Adventurers. The city's setting, and its rules, are aimed towards sandbox play, meaning that Adventurers can explore whatever their Faith means for them, and for those who surround them.
One Adventurer's pious Tamaggian Theist might find it difficult to get along with their wild, Pagan Venean counterpart, but she might learn to accept the Venean's less-inhibited attitude to life, as the Venean might also pick up some restraint and propriety from her Tamaggian friend. This would not affect either Adventurer's Devotion in the slightest - but both could grow during the campaign as their characters mature and become more tolerant.
Faith In The Game
In the end, Theism is about each Adventurer's Faith in their deity. That Faith can help them to progress within their Church's hierarchy, but it is more likely that Adventurers will encounter politics and Machiavellian shenanigans within their Church, meaning that in the end, the Adventurers' Faith is entirely personal. Not that it makes their Miracles any less powerful - but when an Adventurer's life contains an element of Faith, their story arc is going to be about how much meaning that Faith gives them - and whether or not their Faith Manages.
Edited by Alex Greene