Theocratic Society (3.5e Variant Rule)

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Theocratic Society[edit]

The effect of alignment on the shape of society has already been discussed. Most of these ideas carry over into theocratic societies — with the exception that theocracies have a tendency to be more zealous in their beliefs.

The citizens of a theocracy are more likely to share the alignment of their power center than those of a secular society — at least, assuming that the religion is a popular one, as opposed to being the church of an oppressive minority. This can have a few specific effects:

Good and Evil[edit]

Good and evil are serious concepts in a theocratic society, and their influence is usually far more visible than in a purely secular nation. On a small scale, good citizens may believe that they have a duty to help their neighbors, to be generous to those in need, and so on. A good theocracy can be a very pleasant place to live, if the citizens truly live up to these ideals. The down side is that theocracies can easily fall into crusader zeal. A good theocracy may feel obliged to spread the benevolent rule of its gods across the land (regardless of the wishes of those to be ruled), while an evil nation might believe that it has a divine right to take all that it can seize.


Lawful citizens are more likely to follow the rules of society than their secular counterparts. After all, this is the will of the gods, not some king’s crazy idea! Break the law and you could be looking at eternal damnation. A lawful evil theocracy may still be riddled with graft and corruption, or it may be an extremely organized society dedicated to the evil goals of its patron gods.


A citizen of a chaotic theocracy will be dedicated to the traditions of her gods, but she may feel that she is just as well suited to interpret the laws of the gods as any ordained priest. A chaotic theocracy is likely to be more stable than a secular chaotic society; at the very least, the people are bound together by shared beliefs. But that won’t necessarily result in a stable government. In a society dedicated to chaotic evil gods, the citizens may actually be encouraged to fight amongst themselves and assassinate their superiors; this sort of behavior is the way of determining who the gods wish to rule.


Needless to say, an omnipotent god is difficult to reflect in game terms; you could choose to give the priests of such a god access to all domains (as their god is all things) or you could limit domains to the most abstract concepts, like Good and Law for a benevolent divine overlord.

Society Models[edit]

A nation dedicated to the god of Strength and War would be an aggressive and militaristic nation. Justice would most likely involve trial by combat, and duels would be a common method of resolving disputes. Any theocracy dedicated to a War god is likely to try to spread its influence through conquest and crusade, to better display the power of the god.

The goddess of Water and Travel would inspire a nation to focus on trade and naval power. The people of such a nation might spend much of their lives on giant houseboats, or even create floating cities.

A god of Nature and Animals would result in a strongly agricultural nation; such a country might avoid the construction of large cities and other structures that come between the people and the land.

A realm devoted to the goddess of Knowledge and Magic would place a tremendous emphasis on education and learning. Physical violence would be abhorred, and any sort of aggressive behavior would be punished. Magic would be an integral part of law, both for determining guilt and enacting punishments.

In a nation that revered the god of Luck and Trickery, the only crime would be getting caught! A court of justice might literally involve the roll of a die or spinning of a wheel to determine the fate of the victim; alternately, the defendant might play a game with his accuser, or get to engage in a bluffing contest.

The Nature of Crime[edit]

In a nation dedicated to a goddess of War, murder may not be considered a crime as long as the target has a chance to defend himself. If the goddess is of good alignment, this rule may only apply to combat between equals; however, an evil goddess may see the weak as being unfit to live. In either nation, assassination would be considered a truly vile crime as it denies the warrior the chance to die in battle.

On the other had, in the nation of a god of Trickery and Evil, assassination may be perfectly acceptable; it could be that if no one sees the crime, the guard won’t even investigate. But outright street violence goes against the teachings of the god and must be punished. Likewise, in the realm of a god of Trickery, crimes like fraud and theft are unlikely to be investigated; however, a criminal caught in the act will be punished for her incompetence.

The Role of Magic[edit]

In a high magic setting, most representatives of the church will be clerics or paladins. An acolyte may only have one or two levels, but nonetheless, the representatives of the gods have the ability to use magic. If arcane magic is uncommon in the society, the spellcasting power of the church may be one reason that it’s a theocratic society in the first place; the mystical power of the clerics may give them a stranglehold on society.

In a typical setting, only high officials will be paladins or clerics. Divine magic is accepted and recognized as the power of the gods, but it’s something that must be gained through years of pious devotion. Other religious officials will simply be dedicated experts with levels in Knowledge (religion).

In a low magic setting, actual spellcasters are an anomaly — saints, avatars, or others who have been touched by the gods in some way. Church officials are skilled orators and dedicated to the teachings of their gods, but cannot call on magical powers. An actual divine spellcaster would be seen as a miracle-worker — or a heretical witch, depending on the circumstances.

Your GM will need to decide how a society views arcane magic. As a general rule, you should be able to obtain this information with a successful check with any of the following skills or abilities: Bardic Lore (DC 10), Gather Information (DC 15), Knowledge (geography) (DC 20) Knowledge (local) (DC 10), Knowledge (religion) (DC 15). If the nation in question is your homeland or if you are a follower of the god of the land, you should be able to obtain this information without making a die roll.

High Magic[edit]

In a theocratic society, magic is a gift from the gods. As a result, spells like zone of truth and light of truth are almost always used during any sort of serious trial.

Typical Magic[edit]

A justice may still have a few levels of cleric or inquisitor, and he only needs to be 3rd level to gain access to zone of truth or painful truth. In a typical theocratic court, the justice will reserve the more powerful spells of verification for difficult cases; in most situations she will rely on her own instincts, possibly using read the guilty face to enhance her natural talents. With that said, if she has any doubts, she will use truth-telling magic or call for a truthreader to be brought in.

Low Magic[edit]

In a lawful evil society, an inquisitor may use his powers and determine that a victim is innocent — and lie about his findings in favour of his own personal agenda. A chaotic good priest may choose to suppress the truth in order to protect a community from emotional trauma.

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