Over on the Paradigm forums, heathd666 posed an inquiry from one of his players:
One of my players asked me if they could not play such a “holy” person for the game. I scanned through the book but didn’t find a answer for her. On a side note she usually plays the slutty thief/assassin type of character from our group. So my question is does someone choose to be a witch hunter or is it where “God” or the deity in question chooses you to be a witch hunter whether you want to be one or not. I kind of think of it like Sanya from Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” novels. He carries one of the swords from god and has the powers of them but he is a Atheist.
I suspect this is not an uncommon issue with Witch Hunter. It sure was one of mine when I first read the original edition back in 2008. The concept of God is so baked into the mix, so inexplicably tied into the characters, that even to someone who is a non-practicing Christian like myself, it can feel a bit heavy handed. Every single one of the Orders of Solomon has some basis in religion (Christianity or Native American spiritualism). I’m sure the emphasis on faith in the game has cost it a couple of players. After all, some gamers (myself included) can be twitchy when it comes to religion.
What’s a person who doesn’t want to spend a fun evening spouting bible verses while they roll dice to smite the wicked to do?
Then the second edition came along and I gave the orders a much closer look.
Now, first things first, let’s take into consideration what the role of Faith was in the 17th Century. Unlike our modern era, it would have been really hard to be an atheist or an agnostic during that period. For one thing, the Church held a LOT of power. It was the center of the community in rural, pastoral communities, especially in the colonies. But if we are honest, there were probably a lot of folks who slipped through the cracks and were pretty hostile to religion then too. They just didn’t write history books or get mentioned in seminary schools. Others (like the nobility) had the luxury of only paying lip service to Church and faith. And it’s not like the Church of Rome was above reproach during this period.
According to the in-game fiction, witch hunters receive special powers from a higher power. These aren’t just granted to you because of your birth, or your faith. They are awakened within after your (background) character survives a brush with the supernatural (catalyst). It’s kind of Buffy-esque. One slayer dies, another’s power awakens and a Watcher seeks her out. In the World of Witch Hunter, when a werewolf eats everyone in your family but somehow you escape, the experience might awaken supernatural powers in you. The Orders of Solomon find a lot of these awakened souls, but many slip through the cracks and go rogue, or join tiny cells of other awakened individuals. The Orders of Solomon are simply the big umbrella organizations operating throughout Europe, the New World, or even the East. It’s not as though an angel of God visits you and says, “Congratulations! Tell him what he’s won!” You’re still traumatized by your catalyst. All of a sudden, you can do things others cannot. Now here comes some guy in a fancy suit who tells you this is a gift from God and introduces you to your own catalyst surviving support group. Who WOULDN’T want to believe that? And, in the case of the Crusaders Inviolate, the poor fellow who starts asking too many questions is probably going to be ruled a liability and kicked off the island in a bloody and discreet fashion.
While the core rulebook focuses mostly on Europe and the Colonies of the New World, it makes one thing very clear: Witch Hunters exits in all faiths, Christian and otherwise. The Ghost People and Dreamwalkers are Native American orders that have no relation to the European orders and are certainly not Christian. Yet they possess all the powers and benefits of witch hunters. This is expanded on in other sourcebooks. We have orders of Witch Hunters among the Jews (Seekers of Emet) and Islam (the Falcons of God — and you can bet Sunni Islam probably hosts two or three orders alone!). Most witch hunters are pragmatic enough to believe there is some symmetry to faith, that the Great Spirit of the Native Americans is just another reflection of the Christian or Islamic God.
But you can always count on the Aztecs to screw everything up.
In the Aztec Empire sourcebook it is revealed that even the Aztecs have orders of witch hunters among them, and that the Spanish witch hunters have no idea how that’s possible given the gods the Aztecs worship. But considering there might be witch hunters among the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, this makes total sense. So obviously the relationship between witch hunters and faith is a lot more complicated. Perhaps, depending on your perspective (here’s a gimmick for your Lightbringer character), there IS NO relationship between faith and witch hunterdom. Perhaps the power exists in all mankind, dormant and forgotten. Cue the Order of Judas!
So with that established, let’s look at a couple of Orders that offer plenty of wiggle room for those players who might feel dirty when they start talking about God, or those who just like to do things differently. Each of these are pulled right from the religion descriptions of each order.
The Crusaders Inviolate are devout; however, their understanding of the word of God is unique to the brotherhood. It approximates Catholicism, but includes aspects of animism, pagan religions, and other more exotic rites. The Crusaders Inviolate would simply refer to themselves as soldiers of God.
Subtext: No one else observes Christianity the way the Crusaders do. They may as well be a sect onto themselves. Any right-minded Christian would accuse the typical Crusader of any number of sins against God (heresy, idolatry, you name it). In other words, your character is devout, but to what? Remember, the Crusaders are descended from Knights Templar and for whom Freemasonry is a front. A creative player (or GM) can half all manner of fun defining what Crusaders actually believe.
The Lightbringers are distinctly humanist. Religion can be a substantial part of that belief system, but only if it embraces human potential and free will. Most Lightbringers, for in- stance, embrace Christianity for its philosophy of the elevation of man. Lightbringers disdain any theology or sect, however, like the Puritans’ that proposes predestination or original sin.
Subtext: The Lightbringers are Christians the way we often interpret the United States founding fathers these days: as deists. That is, their brand of Christianity is a weird mix of philosophy, legal thinking, and erudite thought. Your average modern born again Christian would be aghast.
The Stalkers of the Unseen Hunt tend not to put complete trust in such religious trappings. Perhaps this is because the priests of their homelands, worshippers of pagan gods and nature spirits, failed to protect them so long ago. To them, the wilds are battlegrounds, places to which they venture out of necessity. Nature itself, if it has any sort of divinity, is no more caring than the Christian god who has failed the Stalkers time and again.
Subtext: Well actually, you really can’t get any more overt than that. The Stalkers don’t care. You say their powers are given to them by a higher power? “Sure,” they say, “but what higher power? Your’s?” You can easily envision a stalker brandishing a weapon and saying in her best action hero voice: “This is my faith.” The Stalkers are always going to be the ones who question the blind faith of others. “If God is love, why is there suffering? If he made man in his image, why are we such a murderous lot? Satan, eh? Well he can kiss my ass, too.” Of course, you can also have a completely faithful Puritan style Stalker standing next to her arguing the opposite.
Also noteworthy, the introduction to the Stalkers includes: “All that matters to its members, regardless of the faiths they pray to, is the hunt.” [Emphasis Mine]
The Order of Rose and Cross tend to be Christian, except for those few members who are American Indian (see above). The philosophy set down by ancient texts in which the use of magic and ascendancy of reason is married to the Christian Faith is also followed; though this aspect of the Order is kept quiet for fear that the Church may view it as signs of corruption and heresy.
Subtext: I’m careful about what I say about my faith because I don’t want the Inquisition on my back.
So there you go. Four different orders that could easily accommodate a non-religious (or pagan) witch hunter.
But wait! Faced with the absolute proof of the existence of Adversary, why would any witch hunter not fall in line behind a belief in a higher power, God or otherwise? Well, most do. But that doesn’t always have to be the case. Let’s turn to those pesky Winchester brothers of Supernatural, a show I think should be a substantial influence on any witch hunter campaign. When faced with absolute proof of the existence of a benevolent God (they hang with an angel of the Lord for crying out loud), those two knuckleheads come to the conclusion that God is an omnipotent jerk. That’s pretty much how things operate through a lot of the Dresden Files series (at least up until Skin Game – that’s as far as I’ve read so far), which is another good source of inspiration. I think this point of view can work very well in the world of Witch Hunter. After all, an omnipotent, all powerful God relies on human emissaries to do his dirty work for him, and people still die horrible miserable deaths even without the help of the Adversary. It’s easy to see how any witch hunter could be jaded and lose faith.
It’s easy matter to accommodate a “faith-less” or agnostic witch hunter in almost any core Orders of Solomon. There are exceptions, though. The Ashen Cross is tied into Catholicism. The Sunwise Circle is likewise tied into the Russian Orthodoxy, but are open to working with those of other faiths.
So as you can see, players have a lot of latitude where it comes to their characters and matters of faith.