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COVER:
     This article describes a confidence man with a religious modus operandi. He can lead and inspire people, set them on a path of self-discovery, and within a year, fakes his own death. Un/fortunately, this character can fit in any setting from prehistoric times to fantasy to Islam to Traveller; in any time period where there are people who value spirituality there will be individuals ready to exploit it. Game statistics for the character are provided for GURPS, Fourth Edition, and for two variants in In Nomine. The word count is approximately 2,600.
Falling Prophets
or
Of False Profits and Falling Prophets
or
Of False Profits and Falling Stars
- By Eric Funk

ARTICLE:

Whenever and wherever people value spirituality, there will be some ready to exploit it. To the outsider, such a personality seems to push doctrine of questionable origin, run people dry, and ruin their lives when he leaves. To those "inside," he brings a path to self-improvement, self-reliance, and enlightenment. His departure brings closure to a chapter of their lives. This featured individual adds the extra step of faking his own death.

Un/fortunately, this character can fit in any setting from prehistoric times to fantasy to Islam to Traveller.

What Everybody Knows About "Reverend Peter Smith"

Soon after "the Reverend" arrived in town, he quietly assessed churches and community circles, all the time gathering a loyal circle of "friends." By talking to his companions, he discovered what the town was spiritually hungry for. At this, he drafted and "enlightened" his inner circle, teaching that he would lead the town in a spiritual revolution. He began to hold larger and larger discussion and "extra-church" religious studies... Some of his acolytes refer to him as "the Teacher."

Ask an acolyte, and you may hear:

Peter Smith was once part of mainstream religion, but became disillusioned with the pomp and dogma. He then researched and studied religions and now has found this way to enlightenment. This town is the first in which he has revealed this information, and they are blessed in that. He has only begun to preach this year. The Teacher has established a religious base as a median of most local religions, with an emphasis of meditation and self-expression.

Reverend Smith leads with a contagious zeal. He and his followers value those who volunteer their personal time, and help others. The Teacher also advocates physical fitness as a method to discipline one's self. Many find the exhilaration of fitness picks up after the initial zeal of joining wears off... In particular, forms of recreational martial arts are gaining popularity as exercise.

Ask a local skeptic and you might hear:

The heroes will likely seek to debunk any evidence of "miracles" at this "spiritual supermarket." Unbelievers will not be allowed to examine the stage, but the after effects of these "miracles" are quite real, and the people are doing well...

Answers to Some Obvious Questions About Reverend Smith

- No one remembers seeing the Reverend show photo id, not even a driver's license. Since he doesn't drive, this doesn't cause him a problem. ("It's better for the environment not to have a car," he will say if asked directly).
- He lives in spartan quarters. When asked, he has replied "I only sleep here, how can I enjoy more than the least of my people?"
- "Due to privacy issues," no recording devices of any kind are allowed during services.
- Reverend Smith has developed a small cadre of fanatical bodyguards and lieutenants. They receive non-monetary gains, such as missionary trips and exclusive use of "company" vehicles. Fortunately for adventurers, they are not very skilled, or unusually gifted. They are, however, well briefed in local ordinances on free speech, libel, slander, and property rights.

What Everyone Doesn't Know

At best, the man is a con artist and a manipulator. While he doesn't really care about the constituents, many of the charitable activities his organization undertakes are a smokescreen to keep authorities away. His birth name is certainly not "Peter Smith," although this name is part of his consciousness to the point that while he operates under it, he believes it to be his "true name." The other details depend on the origin of his "supernatural powers," if any.

This demagogue has prepared (and has been slowly releasing) texts of "prophecy" that will, in retrospect, describe his "death." A clue may be funeral arrangements subtly made beforehand. Upon his departure, his followers typically schism into various fanatical groups. Few are able to keep the fire and momentum of his religious zeal. Most dissolve quickly, some being absorbed by others. Unable to produce the same kind of "miracles," some blame and attack others...

In a mundane, modern day campaign, this man is a charlatan. He creates an illusion that is backed by those who honestly believe they had been healed. Perhaps he has removed a mental block caused by trauma! Mundane investigators will want to shut the "Reverend" down and stop him from bilking people with his phony religion. This applies even if he's a supernatural con artist! (Indeed, supernatural investigators may want to stop him even if he's just a mundane.) The adventurers may go the whole gamut without directly encountering the supernatural!

Adventure Seeds

"Stereotypical"

An NPC/loved one gets involved in a "cult," and the PCs must find how their friend became "brainwashed," and how to undo it.
Complication: This can also work with an NPC's friend or relation. This allows roaming PCs a chance to have a link to the adventure.
Foreshadowing: The NPC/Dependent tells the PCs that they have found a new group of friends, and now they:
- Need help at a charity banquet (A ride, help bringing/setting decorations).
- Ask the PCs for help in organizing a charity auction and keeping troublemakers out.

Break-in

Someone has been repeatedly breaking the largest windows of all the local religious institutions of the area... except Reverend Smith's. When the heroes investigate, they are approached by Peter or one of his inner circle, who are concerned that one of the flock might be overreacting. (In fact, the culprit is an atheist, jealous of the Reverend's success and fame, who is trying to frame his organization.)
Complication: Their contact is happy to explain Reverend Smith's belief that the culprit is a certain atheist who is jealous of the Reverend's fame. (Whether this theory is true is up to the GM.)

Pop Goes The Balloon

A famous debunker sets his sights on the Reverend. He would like help in getting the preacher to agree to a scientific test of ability and personality. Even if the PCs manage to trick or corner the Reverend into agreeing, it may be a simple task to advance his timetable to "death."
Complications: If it fails, and somehow the debunker reveals evidence that "magic" works, or is at least reproducible under controlled conditions. In an In Nomine campaign, it may be a weird plan of Heaven or Hell (or of some rogue element within either — or both) to bring magic to the world while preserving the secret of The War. Any of the In Nomine Superiors (or ethereal gods!) could have a reason to champion increased belief in the supernatural. Whether or not Peter Smith is part of their plan, their Servitors might try to use him to advance this agenda... whether or not he's sincere!

Operation: Shield

Because of the Reverend's overwhelming charisma, it can be dangerous to let ranking NPCs near him. The adventurers find that a Patron (or favorite celebrity) will be traveling through the area... This is a very different kind of operation... (see Reaction, below).

"Trust me. Besides, what choice do you have? Now sign!" -- Swan, Phantom of the Paradise

Reverend Smith secretly approaches the PCs! As seemingly trustworthy people, he wants them to find the motivation behind the animosity of a particular local group that refuses to meet with him or his lieutenants. If the adventurers press, he can get funding to pay them as private detectives. The opponents are worried about their former friends who are now members in good standing and refuse to return calls. Investigation reveals the friends are alive and simply busy in their new social calendar. Reuniting both will dissolve the problem.
Complications: Watchdogs, landlords, employers, and other intermediaries will resist attempts to track down the individuals with their aid.
Follow-Up: After this, the Reverend thanks them, and says he has another job. He would like them to have lunch with the local telephone repair men (/messengers/communication teams), to see what they think... Meanwhile, the previous troublemakers have become good members of the church...

Variants

Phoenix Ascendant

As presented, but he honestly believes he is helping people by freeing them from worldly possessions, and after a time they must be allowed to grow. The only way to do that is to leave...

In Nomine

The most likely candidate for this character is a demon of Factions who lures people from their friends and then lets them drop. He can perform a Song of Healing in private, then hypnotize the subject to make him only realize that he's been healed (and no longer in pain, can see, can walk, etc) after hearing a trigger phrase. The Celestial Song of Charm can weaken the target's will enough for this to be an easy task. A Shedite (either the Reverend or an accomplice) could accomplish this with a Sophisticated Use of Resonance (see the Infernal Player's Guide, p. 56). Sotto voce Songs of Healing could be performed "on stage" without Essence cost or disturbance, for impromptu healingsfor impromptu healings -- but with a chance someone might recognize the Song (see Liber Canticorum, p. 20, for advantages and disadvantages). As per Liber Canticorum, p. 36, a check digit of 6 on the Song of Healing can restore a temporary loss of Attribute (e.g., Corporeal: Strength/Agility).
Variant: In a strange variant, it may even be possible that, instead of a demon, the celestial is an angel! Serving Creation, Faith, or even Stone, its goal is the edification and rejuvenation of faith within individuals.

Traveller / Sci-Fi

The Reverend has a self-charging ancient relic that heals people. It is hidden inside 1/3 of a good-sized book, which he keeps with him. His high Charisma has attracted an incredible number of fanatically loyal Vargr followers (as Reaction modifiers are doubled toward them, see below for Peter's reaction modifiers).
Variant: It is not self-charging, but instead requires the sacrifice of another's energy to power it.
- Bright: The volunteers believe they are helping, and would have sacrificed the energy anyway.
- Dark: The "volunteers" are never heard from again.

Horror

Reverend Smith has a relic that heals a person's injuries now, but starting a year after the last healing, it slowly draws 100× as much of the person's life force as it restored. A GM need only add a few eldritch references and traces of Elder gods or undead...

Fantasy/Magic

This mage examines them secretly beforehand, and casts spells, with a Delay so they activate while on stage. (The spells of Major and Minor Healing are Instantaneous in effect, and this means that neither Analyze Magic nor Identify Spell could track them -- especially since one would not be permitted to cast spells during the service!)

Atomic Horror / Secret Aliens

Crafted to be a perfect agent, this man misleads the masses and keeps them from pondering real issues arising in their neighborhood. While congregated, the people may be subjected to experiments with waves or gasses. Other tactics may involve marking them for later retrieval and creation of proper alibis. (Wow, did time fly!)

Profiles

See also the "Confidence Man" template in GURPS Rogues, pp. 32-35, and the "Charlatan" template in GURPS Wizards, pp. 36-39.

"Reverend Peter Smith" [150] (GURPS, Fourth Edition)

Human male; impressively attractive; hair and clothes are always in the latest fashion, style, color, and length.

Primary Characteristics: ST 9 [-10]; DX 10; IQ 15 [100]; HT 10. Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d-4 thr 1d-3 sw; BL 12; HP 8; Will 15; Per 15; FP 10; Speed 5.25; Move 5; Dodge 8; Parry 9 (Judo).

Advantages: Appearance (Very Handsome; Impressive) +4 [16]; Charisma +5 [25]; Fashion Sense [5]; Honest Face [1]; Rank (Religious) [5]; Sanitized Metabolism [1]; Social Chameleon [5]; Talent (Smooth Operator +1 [15]); Voice [10].

Disadvantages: Bad Back 1 [-15]; Fanaticism (His Religion(s)) [-15]; Phobia (Reptiles) (12) [-10]; Quirks (Always carries a locally trusted Bible; Broad-Minded; Eats meager portions; Nosy; Prefers to be called "Reverend," and patiently corrects people on this point) [-5]; Secret (Con Man; Imprisonment or Exile) [-20].

Skills: Acting-15 (IQ‡ A) [1]; Administration-14 (IQ-1 A) [1]; Area Knowledge (City)-15 (IQ E) [1]; Body Language-14 (Per-1 A) [1]; Carousing-12 (HT+1‡ E) [1]; Current Affairs (Local)-15 (IQ E) [1]; Current Affairs (Religion)-15 (IQ E) [1]; Detect Lies-14 (Per-1‡ H) [1]; Diagnosis-13 (IQ-2 H) [1]; Diplomacy-21 (IQ+6†‡§ H) [1]; Enthrallment (Captivate)-13 (Will-2 H) [1]; Enthrallment (Persuade)-14 (Will-1 H) [2]; Enthrallment (Suggest)-14 (Will-1 H) [2]; Fast-talk-23 (IQ+7†‡§ A) [1]; Hypnotism-13 (IQ-2 H) [1]; Intimidation-21 (Will+5†‡ A) [1]; Judo-11 (DX+1 H) [8]; Leadership-20 (IQ+5†‡ A) [1]; Lip Reading-14 (Per-1 A) [1]; Politics-17 (IQ+2‡§ A) [1]; Performance-16 (IQ+1§ A) [1]; Propaganda-14 (IQ-1 A) [1]; Psychology-13 (IQ-2 H) [1]; Public Speaking-22 (IQ+7†‡§ A) [1]; Religious Ritual-14 (IQ-1 H) [2]; Research-14 (IQ-1 A) [1]; Savoir-Faire-21 (IQ+6†‡ E) [1]; Sociology-13 (IQ-2 H) [1]; Singing-13 (HT+2§ E) [1]; Swimming-11 (HT E) [1]; Theology-13 (IQ-2 H) [1]; Writing-14 (IQ-1 A) [1].

† Includes +5 for Charisma.
‡ Includes +2 for Talent: Smooth Operator.
§ Includes +2 for Voice.

Note that due to bonuses from Appearance (+4), Charisma (+5), Diplomacy 20+ (+2) (see p. B187), Fashion Sense (+1) Fast-Talk 20+ (+2) (see p. B195), and Voice (+2), a basic Reaction Roll is at +16! To some, this can increase by +2 for Smooth Operator, +1 for close meetings (Sanitized Metabolism) and +1 for Rank within his organization! This means that an otherwise unmodified Reaction Roll will always be "Excellent" (see p. B561), no matter the outcome of the dice. The Social Chameleon advantage means that Reaction Rolls are not worsened due to opponents' higher Status or Rank. This means that any NPC that meets this individual will think highly of him, no matter what! It may be a quest in itself to "protect" ranking individuals from this demagogue.

As presented, this is a balanced character at the starting power level for a "standard" game. Despite this, GMs are advised to reduce Appearance and Charisma by half and spending the ~20cp freed on background and campaign-specific skills. Doing so would reduce the net Reaction Roll modifier to +7 (because Diplomacy and Fast-Talk are below 20).


In Nomine

Calabite of Factions

Corporeal Forces - 2 Strength 3 Agility 5
Ethereal Forces - 3 Intelligence 8 Precision 4
Celestial Forces - 4 Will 10 Perception 6

Vessel: Human Male/6 (slender man wearing voluminous robes in the latest fashion appropriate to his station), Charisma +3.
Role: "Reverend Peter Smith," Roving Confidence Man/6, Status/1.
Skills: Detect Lies/1, Emote/5, Fast-talk/6, Fighting/2 (Judo), Knowledge (Area/5, Body Reading/4, Hypnotism*/6, Lip Reading/3, Politics/3, Psychology/4, Sociology/2, Theology/6), Medicine/1, Savoir-Faire/5, Singing/6, Swimming/1.
Songs: Attraction (Ethereal/1), Charm (Celestial/4), Entropy (All/1), Healing (Corporeal/6).
Special Rites: Cause a human to leave a "heavenly" faith.
Attunement: Calabite of Factions.
Discord: Crippled/2 (Bad Back - Agility).

* If using the sotto voce technique (from Liber Canticorum, p. 20), this skill are no longer required, nor are they required if used as a PC.

This character enjoys destroying previous relationships and leaving people in a crumbling circle.

Alternate Princes: Dark Humor, Media, and Fate.
Alternate Bands: Habbalite, Impudite, Lilim.

Variants: A Habbalite of the Media will not cause disturbance if they have a "front man" (In Nomine, p. 176). As a Lilim, some players may underestimate the Reverend -- and the Geases he holds.

Human Shyster

Corporeal Forces - 1 Strength 1 Agility 3
Ethereal Forces - 2 Intelligence 6 Precision 2
Celestial Forces - 2 Will 6 Perception 2

A mundane human would use the same modus operandi as above, with the same skills and disadvantages.

Variant: An Aware human could be built with an additional Celestial Force, and possess the Songs from the above template. This could make for a surprising opponent, especially for unprepared celestials.

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© June 2003 by Eric Funk

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