OSR: Class: Book Exorcist

Retrieved from here. Original source unknown.

Base Exorcist class.

Starting Equipment: holy symbol
Starting Skill: Law

The Church has chosen you to fight Possessive Undead. You are most effective against spirits that inhabit the bodies of the living. You might be a priest who stumbled into the practice of exorcism by necessity or fate. You might be a holy healer, outside the normal doctrines of the Church. You might be a monk exiled for some grievous sin, seeking redemption, or a callous and grizzled combatant in a hidden spiritual war.

To most people, demons and evil spirits are the same - everyone knows that demons sent by the Adversary plague the living. The truth is more complicated. Demons were created by the Authority to tempt the living from the path of righteousness. They have no power over the devout and cannot harm the innocent. Demons aren't even malicious. They are probably more religious and open-minded than most people, even if their profession makes them deeply cynical. However, as natural rule-breakers and order-corrupters, some demons seek to escape their role and live a different life. These rogue demons are the ones the Church hunts. Proper orthodox demons who do their task are left alone, but they aren't the ones possessing the faithful.

Similarly, the souls of wicked men and women seek to avoid judgement and hide inside the bodies of the living. An excommunicated soul knows there is only one fate waiting for it. If it can sneak into the body of a living person and either meld or overpower their soul, it can live again, free of consequence and worry. Most cases of possession are not demons at all, but corrupt ancestors and old ghosts.

Finally, some diseases are caused by evil spirits of one form or another, and can be exorcised. Diseases caused by living creatures, poison, foul air, inheritance, or self-inflicted spiritual harm cannot be cured by an exorcist. 


A: Rite of Exorcism, Literacy, Keen Eye
B: Doctrinal Skill, Soul of Iron
C: Brandish
D: Doctrinal Mastery

Rite of Exorcism
Through ritual and prayer, you invoke the Authority's power and restore the natural order of Creation. Make an opposed Charisma check against a spirit, demon, or disease inside a living creature. You must be within 10' of the creature to make this check, and the creature must be able to see and hear you. If you pass, the spirit is banished. If you fail, you take the creature's [HD] in damage. You can attempt this test once per hour. Multiple failed attempts may lead you to doubt your own faith or abilities (see below).
Bonuses+1 per Book Exorcist template. Up to two Book Exorcists can work on the same exorcism, adding their templates together. If a regular priest of the Authority or a very devout lay person assists instead, they add +1.
+1 per hour spent in uninterrupted ritual before attempting the test.  
Penalties-1 per HD of the spirit
-2 if the spirit has possessed the target for more than a day, a week, a month, or a year (so a year = -8)
-some number, determined by the GM, if you doubt your own faith, abilities, or cause, or if you are in poor standing with the Church.

The minimum requirements to begin an exorcism are a holy book and a holy symbol. The spirit may attempt to interrupt the ritual several times, requiring Saves vs Fear, Saves to Dodge, etc. Restraints may be required.

You can read and write. A surprising number of people could do both in the middle ages, but you can really write. Your letters can allow for Charisma tests at a distance. You can roll to see the intentions of an author, the delicate themes of a poem, and the inconsistencies in a complex text. To most people this is a kind of sorcery.

Keen Eye
You know the signs of possession well, and can determine if a creature is afflicted or not by a few simple tests. You can also diagnose diseases (as the Medicine skill) but not assign treatments or offer advice. You can separate the mad, the attention-seeking, and the injured from the truly possessed. 

Doctrinal Skill
You are an unparalleled expert on the holy books. You can find a passage or an appropriate phrase instantly. If you choose to challenge a point of canon law, you can always find relevant precedents, counterexamples, and devastating flaws. For example, you could challenge the appointment of a bishop, the fitness of a village priest, the validity of a marriage, or the interpretation of a command from the Archpriest. Listeners do not have to believe you, but they will admit there is a possibility you are correct, and either allow a court case or have you silenced by force.

Soul of Iron
You can spend 1 HP to gain a +2 bonus to any Save against Fear, a direct demonic attack (such as hellfire or soul drain),  or any soul-altering effect (such as a curse, a compulsion, or any other personal enchantment). You can spend as many HP as you would like, including inflicting Lethal Damage on yourself. Wounds you take appear as stigmata or premature aging. You only gain this ability after performing a successful exorcism. Additionally, if you ever roll a natural 1 (critical success) on a Save vs Fear, all allies who can see you automatically pass their Saves vs Fear (or rally if already fleeing).

If you suddenly raise your holy symbol, you can cause any undead (not just possessive undead), spirit, or spell to turn aside. They must Save to approach within 10' of you. Creatures get a bonus to Save equal to their HD. Spells get a bonus equal to the number of magic dice used to cast them. Some spells might be deflected and seek a new target. Very minor undead creatures or spirits (1 HD or less) must Save or be banished.

As long as you keep the symbol raised (Save vs. Constitution every hour as your arm gets tired), the creatures or spells first affected by this spell cannot approach you. If you attempt to use this ability while in doubt over your own faith or abilities, nothing happens.

Doctrinal Mastery
Your expertise has reached nearly supernatural levels. Any issue of canon, secular, or natural law you challenge is likely to be decided in your favour, no matter what the case is, although there may still be arguments (or attempts on your life). You can also argue directly against ancient courts, Angels, Demons, the Adversary, or the Authority and, often, win. If an angel turns up to kill your friends, you can probably convince it to go away.

Le Pater, Alphonse Mucha

Mechanical Notes on the Book Exorcist

Again, this is a highly specialized class. You're more likely to encounter embodied undead than possessive undead in any given game, so without the GM customizing certain portions of a pre-existing module, this class may not seem that useful at first. However, the Exorcism ability also works on curses and some diseases. Both turn up on a regular basis. The Brandish ability works on a wide variety of targets. Deflecting spells is not to be underestimated.

But the major secondary feature of this class comes from the Law skill, the Religion skill, and the Doctrinal and Literacy abilities. This class is effectively a ghost-fighting lawyer. The descriptions of just what a PC can do to dispute "canon, secular, or natural law" are left vague. I want to see what kind of nonsense people get up to with this ability. Paladins might be able to command the sea to part, but a Book Exorcist could convince it to divide as a point of order.

Also, if you choose to be an ordained member of the First Estate, you can hear confessions, officiate at weddings, sell indulgences, and generally interfere with the workings of all three Estates.


OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings, Session 10

Continued from here. In which the party buys more things, fights goblins, flees from goblins,, encounters a very strange lion (but no witches or wardrobes), and makes poor decisions.

There are also illustrations.

OSR: Class: Bell Exorcists

Ideas stolen wholesale from here.

Base Exorcist class.

Starting Equipment:
The Seven Bells.

The Church has chosen you to fight the Embodied Undead. You are most effective against spirits that inhabit dead bodies. Graveyards and catacombs are your battleground; gravedust is your incense and your mark. You carry the most powerful tools the Church can forge against such enemies, but every necromancer in Creation also desires your weapons.

You may belong to a small monastic order, or you may be a specially trained priest, or you may be something else entirely. Exorcists are both rare and mysterious. Some people will mistake you for a heretic, a charlatan, or a necromancer. Speak little of your past and conceal your intentions and abilities.

A: Bell Casting, 4 Bell Dice
B: Undead Sense, 4 Bell Dice
C: Name Them, 3 Bell Dice
D: Dual Bells, 2 Bell Dice

Bell Casting

You start with 4 Bell Dice (BD), but lose them as you gain templates in this Role. Bell Dice are d6s.  Whenever you start using a Bell, or change a Bell's effects, roll all your Bell Dice, plus any extra dice specified by the Bell. Bell Dice always return to your pool. If you roll doubles, roll on the Mishaps table. If you roll triples, roll on the Disasters table.

You can use your Bells any number of times per day. You can use one Bell per combat round. If anyone untrained in the bells uses them, they automatically roll on the Disasters table, and the bell's usual effects do not occur. The entire set of bells is worth 1,000gp if sold in a major city, but the authorities of the Church will arrive within 24hrs and start burning and torturing anyone involved. If you die while carrying the bells, your companions should bring them to a pious bishop or abbot. You are encouraged to inform your most trustworthy companions of this requirement.

The range listed on the bells assumed clear air above ground. The range can be reduced if muffled by walls or other sounds. Bells affect the closest targets first, but subsequent uses will affect targets further out. They do not affect the Exorcist. You must stop ringing a Bell for 1 round to change effects, or to change Bells. If an effect lists a Save, targets must Save each round the bell is rung.

Ancient undead who have faced Exorcists before may gain a bonus to their Saves, at the GM's discretion.

Undead Sense
You can sense embodied undead up to 50' away, even in total darkness. You can sense the approximate number and strength, either as a smell, a sense of pressure, or with an inexplicable Second Sight.

Name Them
You automatically know the name of any undead of 7 HD or more. If they are truly ancient and notorious, or if they have returned more than once, you may know their deeds, disposition, and weaknesses. The name may not be their true name; it's the name the Church knows them by. At the at the GM's discretion, you can test Religion to learn details.

Dual Bells
You can use two Bells per round. Roll once, using the largest bell's dice pool + 1 BD. You also lose 1 HP each round you use two Bells.

The Seven Bells

These will be printed on the back of an Exorcist character sheet or given as a handout. Each bell can make a range of musical notes, unlike a conventional handbell.

Rana, the Sleeper
The size of a thimble. High, but soft, like a lullaby's first notes.
Adds: -1 BD
Range: 50'
Effect: Choose one.
a) A number of embodied undead up, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4 or less, must Save or become docile and passive for 1d10 minutes. They will not attack unless attacked. After 10 minutes of ringing Rana, any embodied undead of 1 HD or less are banished.
b) A number of living creatures, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4 or less, must Save or fall asleep. They sleep for 8 hours, and cannot be awoken by anything less vigorous than a slap.

Mosrael, the Waker
The size of a strawberry. Harsh, tinny, flat.
Adds: 0 BD
Range: 50'
Effect: Choose one.
a) Cancel the effect of Rana.
b) Wake up all sleeping living creatures.
c) Draw the soul of someone who recently died back to their body. The soul is allowed a Save, with a +1 bonus for each day since death, and a penalty (GM's discretion) if  the death was particularly gruesome, tragic, or unexpected. The corpse cannot move (without the use of Kibeth) or speak (without the use of Dyrim). It is essentially a paralyzed zombie, capable of moving its eyes but nothing else. This effect persists after Mosrael stops ringing.

Kibeth, the Walker
The size of a child's teacup. Many sounds. A merry bell.
Adds: +1 BD
Range: 100'
Effect: Choose one.
a) A number of embodied undead, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4 or less, must Save or move 10' in a direction you chose. You can move them into danger, over cliffs, etc. If you raised them using Mosrael, you can cause them to crudely attack living creatures they encounter.
b) A number of number of living creatures, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4 or less, must Save or move 10' in a direction you chose. If they would move into danger, they get a new Save to resist the effect and stop just before.
c) All living creatures with 2 HD or less must Save or move by skipping, hopping, waltzing, etc. They can otherwise move freely, but the unnatural dance imposes a -2 penalty to their Defense.
d) All embodied undead gain the ability to walk and move their limbs. This effect persists after Kibeth stops ringing.

Dyrim, the Speaker
The size of a pear. Clear, sharp ring.
Range: 200'
Adds: 0 BD
Effects: Choose one.
a) All sound is muffled within the range of the bell, except for the Dyrim's sound. Speech must be shouted beyond 10' and cannot be heard beyond 20'.
b) A number of noise-making targets = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] are silenced and muted. Unwilling creatures or very noisy targets (bell towers, volcanoes) get a Save. If the target is an embodied undead, it is permanently rendered mute.
c) Target embodied undead gains the ability to speak. It does not have to answer your questions, but it may volunteer information, scream, rant, or require the aid of Saraneth to bind. You can typically get 1d6 coherent answers out of any given corpse of a 1 or 2 HD creature. This effect persists after Dyrim stops ringing.

Belager, the Thinker
The size of a clenched fist. A rattling, leaden bell. The sound is selective, rising and falling differently for each listener.
Range: 200'
Adds: +1 BD
Effects: Choose one.
a) All living creatures gain +2 Intelligence, but their thoughts will be morbid and clouded with the cold clarity of death. No romantic poetry, no dangerous schemes, but decent accounting, math, and translation.
b) A number of living creatures, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4, must Save or forget the details of the last 5 minutes. If you Save vs Intelligence, you can select targets for this spell (instead of selecting the closest targets). Each round you ring Belager, you can chose to affect more targets or erase another 5 minutes from targets who failed their previous Save.
c) Save vs Intelligence and choose a single target. If you fail, lose 1 HP and take 2 temporary Intelligence damage. If you pass, the target must Save or forget a specific thing or event of your choosing. This can be broad (a child, a crime) or specific (a single poem, a person's face), a but not universal (gravity, the need for food). Very intelligent creatures can Save again if confronted with evidence that they have forgotten something to remember it again.
d) Save vs Intelligence and choose a single corporeal undead target. If you fail, lose 1 HP and take 2 temporary Intelligence damage. If you pass, the undead regains full memories of its life, along with its former Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma (for the purposes of Saves, etc.).  It may despair at its new condition, it may seek power, it may act as a general or a necromancer. Raise nothing you cannot put down.

Saraneth, the Binder
The size of a mug. A deep, low bell. Funereal.
Range: 300'
Adds: +2 BD
Effects: choose one.
a) When you begin ringing Saraneth, chose an amount of HP. Your maximum HP is reduced by that amount. A number of embodied undead (of any HD) equal to that number are bound to your will, and will obey your commands as loyal servants. Powerful undead may Save to negate. This effect persists after you stop ringing Saraneth. If an embodied undead bound in this way is banished or destroyed, you gain the point of maximum HP back (but do not heal any HP).
b) Inflict [number of Bell Exorcist templates]xd6 damage to embodied undead, starting with the closest undead. You must banish the closest embodied undead before assigning any damage to the next undead.
c) A number of living creatures, with total HD = [number of Bell Exorcist templates] x4, must Save or obey the single-word command you speak when you stop ringing Saraneth. The command must be an immediate and feasible action ("run" and "drop" work, "explode" and "die" probably won't).
d) A single target must Save or answer your questions, telling only the truth, for [number of Bell Exorcist templates] questions after you stop ringing Saraneth.

Astarael, the Bringer of Sorrows
The size of a skull. So deep it can only be felt, not heard. A bass thump with a cold edge.
Range: 300'
Adds: N/A. Do not roll if you use this bell. The effect automatically occurs.
All undead, embodied or not, are banished. All living creatures capable of blocking their ears must Save or Die. The Exorcist automatically dies (no Save, no tricks). All spells are cancelled, all enchantments broken, all magical effects ended. Creatures that cannot hear gain a +10 bonus to their Save but must still Save. This bell is rarely, if ever, used. It is the final desperate measure, the one tool an Exorcist is trained to use but hopes never to wield.
Justin Cherry
Mishaps (on a double)
1. Harsh clap. The Exorcist loses 1 HP.
2. Sour ring. All Saves against the Bell's effect are made with a +4 bonus.
3. Slip. The Exorcist chooses another effect of the same bell. That effect occurs instead. The Exorcist selects the target or targets.
4. Slide. The GM chooses another effect of the same bell. That effect occurs instead. The GM selects the target or targets.
5. Upswing. The Exorcist loses control of the bell for a split second and must Save vs Wisdom or stop ringing.
6. Clatter. The bell's effects do not occur this round. The Exorcists loses 1 HP.

Disasters (on a triple)
1. Freedom. The Exorcist loses control of the bell. The GM may choose to have a secondary effect of the bell occur, or alter the bell's current effect in an unpleasant way (to target allies instead of enemies, or empower enemies, or raise something the Exorcist intended to banish). The Exorcist stops ringing.
2. Sympathy. A randomly determined (1d6, for bells 1-6) bell rings as well, with a randomly determined effect. Could be the same bell with the same effect. The Exorcist loses 1 HP.
3. Dissonance. The Exorist takes [number of Bell Exorcist templates]xd6 damage and must Save or stop ringing.
4. Overpowering. The Exorcist cannot stop ringing. The bell's effect becomes more serious and disconcerting. After 1d6 rounds, they can Save each round to stop ringing with a +1 bonus per HP they choose to spend.
5. Call to the Dead. All undead, embodied or not, within 1 mile are aware of the Exorcist, their position, and their goals. The Exorcist also loses 1 HP.
6. Rejected. The bell refuses to obey the Exorcist and remains silent. The Exorcist cannot use this bell for 1d6 days. After that, they must Save. If they fail, they can never use the bell again. Rituals of atonement, soul-searching, or desperation can provide a very significant bonus to this Save. The Exorcist also loses 1 HP.

Mechanical Notes on the Bell Exorcist

Rather than gaining access slowly, like a Wizard, the Bell Exorcist gets all the abilities right from day one. They also get all the corresponding dangers. The goal is to use the bells very, very sparingly until you get all 4 templates up to speed, and even then, to rarely use the most powerful bells. The risks of a catastrophic failure is simply too high.

This class is also complicated. To use it effectively, a player needs to be inventive with the use of their abilities, but fully aware of the potential dangers. It's no more complicated than a wizard with 6 detailed spells, but the interaction between them is the main driver of interesting play.

Outside of the Bells, this class relies on the Religion skill and their Undead Sense to act as a scout, tracker, and knowledge source for the party. The bells are a huge and diverse toolkit; giving this class more tools seems excessive. You might have noticed that there's no cool background table. I want to leave Exorcists and their place in society in the hands of the player. Rather than defining tropes and categories, I want the player to tell me how they see Exorcists, or this particular Exorcist, in the setting.

Multiclassing Monk/Bell Exorcist could work well; this class is potentially quite powerful, but also quite unstable with just one Bell Exorcist template. I'm not sure how a multiclassed Bell Exorcist/Necromancer would look yet because I haven't finished my version of the Necromancer wizard school. I suspect it would be... worrying.


OSR: Class: Exorcist

The Body and the Soul

In my setting, spells and souls belong in the same category. If someone curses you, they stick a parasite-thing on your soul. If you are enchanted, your soul might be altered or edited. The soul drives the body and not the other way around. Very powerful and willful creatures like dragons don't need a body the same way more fragile creatures do.

Angels, demons, summoned entities, creatures created by spells, and some other spirits are pure spell-stuff. Their bodies are just an extension or aspect of their souls.

Elementals are slightly different. As far as anyone can tell, their matter is their soul.

Source Unknown


An abomination is defined as "that which offends the Authority". The Church recognizes three major categories Abomination as particularly dangerous and, over the centuries, has created special orders and rites to combat them. Not all the examples listed below are abominated by the Church; anything listed as "Also Affects" is just incidental stuff that behaves in the same way, effectively, but which the Church has not specifically abominated. These edge cases might lead to some very weird interactions between Exorcist abilities and the things they encounter. This is intentional.

Embodied Undead: Skeletons, zombies, wights, liches, and vampires. Creatures whose bodies died, but whose souls lived on, driving the body. Corpses possessed by a spell or spirit. Also Affects: enchanted weapons, wands, armour, spellbooks, golems and constructs.

Incorporeal Undead: Ghosts, banshees, spectres, and shadows. Creatures whose bodies died, but whose souls lived on and roam freely. Also Affects: spells, angels, summoned demons, summoned entities.

Possessive Undead: Demons, powerful ghosts, and some diseases. Creatures whose  original bodies died but whose souls live on in the body of other living creatures. Two souls in the same flesh. Also Affects: persistent spells that affect a living target, curses.

Mademoiselle Charlotte, Maxim Verehin

Class: Exorcist

Starting Equipment: traveling robes, ceremonial robes. Other equipment varies by Role.
Starting Skill: Religion.

You gain +1 Save vs Fear for each Exorcist template you possess.

You are either a member of the First Estate or an Outlaw. In either case, you need to think like a member of the First Estate. You are part of an elite order, a very small group of men and women outside the usual demands of the Church. Your profession is so dangerous and so necessary that dogmatic rules are bent or broken for you. You roam Creation seeking neither fame nor riches nor glory, but only to do your duty, or to perish in the attempt. And if, along the way, you should acquire wealth and help the poor or live comfortably for a time, who could blame you?

And if you fall...

Role: (separate posts, coming soon)

1. Bell
2. Book
3. Sword

Your templates vary by your Role. You can only choose templates from one Role. Effectively, the Exorcist class is three classes in one, similar to how Wizards have schools.

If you are using the Estate system, Bell Exorcists are commonly monastic members of the First Estate, Book exorcists are commonly ordained members of the First Estate, and Sword exorcists are commonly Outlaws.

Source Unknown
Mechanical Notes on the Exorcist
This is a very mechanics-heavy class. It's for advanced players who like that sort of thing. The class has a very powerful set of tools, but the tools do not nessesarily work on all enemies. This is not a healing, buffing, miracle-working cleric class. Each of the Exorcist roles is a toolkit made of very strange parts. It is up to the player to use them effectively. I wouldn't recommend this class to new or inexperienced players. The class also uses HP as fuel for many abilities.

And it's also a work in progress, so, you know, be careful with it.

Most campaigns include stuff the Exorcist can interact with at their full potential, or can trivially be adapted to include undead of some description.

OSR: 1d50 Goblin Warlords

Apparently these are supposed to be action figure names, but they are much better as goblin warlords. Post in the comments how far you made it without laughing. These might also work as post-apocalyptic warlords... but the goblin mental images are much funnier to me.

Goblins by Scrap Princess.
1. Stanker
2. Action Bun
3. Sanesaur
4. Bull-Bat
5. Stenky
6. Slorp
7. Stan Bad
8. Bluck-ing Ding Tark
9. Slimetrat
10. Princess Backing Punch
11. Flarg
12. Princess Pow
13. Shy Moat
14. Stank Spenker
15. Pumble Cat
16. Catrain
17. Fracken
18. Narkle
19. Alter Pant
20. Danky
21. Stalking Spanking Narlo-tie Dere
22. Shark Troll
23. Storm Shrek
24. Treed Trooper
25. Arnon Prombot
26. Rotercomming Pingaling
27. Mama
28. Mindlick
29. Claw Wind
30. Strong Boot
31. Potter Stank
32. Sharkstorm
33. Head Snarp
34. Blue Man
35. Casthean Cuttlebat
36. Disky Thik Topping Toth Ottamus Prime
37. Sewer Man with Slagg Light
38. Battle Command Master Cramp
39. Viperlord
40. Crustillar
41. Blaster with Man Dreads
42. Rench Beast
43. Cobra Funk
44. Headstank
45. Burble Beast
46. Battle Battle Action Master Growl Teom
47. Strawberry Shorttake with Burdball
48. Battle Bong
49. Snack Blast
50. Spocky Man

I considered writing little descriptions and even doing art, but the names alone are enough., 


OSR: Dear Abbey, my sister has this habit...

(For those of you who don't get the reference.)

In my games, being a member of an Estate is important. Anyone* can start the game as a member of the First Estate. Being a priest or a monk or a nun isn't a class, really**. It's just a thing you can do on top of being something else. It doesn't give you any special skills or options. It's more like picking a political affiliation or career advancement track. This post covers some details about being a monk or a nun. To learn how to think like one, read these posts.

Not very useful specialized terms (can be ignored)
Cathedrals were served by canons secular, who were sort of like monks, but not quite.
Convents housed mendicant nuns but the term was also used for a house of friars, except...
Friaries house friars.
Monasteries house monks.
Nunneries house monastic nuns.
Priories were small satellite communities attached to a main monastery.
Cloisters are just another term for this type of community in general.
It's all very complicated and highly variable and, from a gaming point of view, not very useful. Let's move on at top speed.

Useful Terms

A religious community, isolated from the rest of the world. Usually walled, often built on a regular plan, and controlled by a set of rules. I'm going to use "monastery" and "monastic" interchangeably with "abbey", mostly because there's no good adjective form of "abbey".

The leader of this religious community. Sometimes equivalent in rank and prestige to a Bishop, but not an ordained member of the Church. Also has limited religious authority, and usually defers to the local Bishop in most matters. They are elected by members of the monastery rather than being appointed from above. Some abbots were ordained and could perform services, but most of the time, the community relied on the local priest.

A respected member of a monastic community. There might be dozens of degrees of monk-ness within one order. We're not going to cover them. Monks and nuns refer to each other, and are referred to, as "Brother" or "Sister", to emphasize the nature of the community and to deliberately show their lack of concern for familial bonds or the vanity of rank.

A provisional member of a monastic community. Usually there's a waiting and training period of several years between entering the community and becoming a monk or a nun. Initiates have different tasks and fewer restrictions.

Holy Orders
Rather than the near-feudal obligation a parish priest owes his bishop, members of a monastic community instead take solemn vows to the divine presence alone. The vows almost always included celibacy, isolation and immobility, a renunciation of worldly things (wealth, vanity, comfort, etc.), and a strict duty to obey. Over and over monastic rules stress the duty to obey both God, the Church, and other monks. Monastic saints tales always stress their obedience (especially in Russia, where obedience to the duties of monastic life is contrasted with disobedience to duties to your parents). This obedience could sometimes go to supernatural lengths. 
I was told a story of Father Bede Jarrett, the great Dominican provincial who died not very long ago, which illustrates that. I have been told that when he fell into his last illness, Father Bernard Delany went to see him, and said, "Well, Father, of course you know that you've got to get well; we can't possibly spare you". And about a fortnight later, when Father Bernard went to see him again, Father Bede said, "Oh, Father, I'm so dreadfully tired; do you think you could let me want to die after all, or must I go on under obedience wanting to live?" And he naturally said, "Oh, of course I never meant to put you under obedience". And Father Bede said, "Thank you so much", and died about half an hour afterwards. 
-The Creed in Slow Motion, Ronald Knox
Yet it was an obedience without authority. You didn't obey your peers because of their rank. You obeyed them because it was a joy to obey. The usual order of the feudal world was inverted; to seek authority was a sin, and to glorify in your power was a very dangerous sin indeed. Most tales of saintly abbots and abbesses have them reject the choice of their peers several times. Abbots who were sent away to become bishops often fled back in tears.
Holy orders also stressed humility, poverty, and simplicity. Some orders required manual labour, others focused solely on the spiritual labour of prayer. Everyone had a daily routine.

The distinctive haircut of a monk, meant to be deliberately weird-looking and unfashionable.

The distinctive clothing of a member of a monastic order. Varied widely between orders and centuries. For men, usually a black or brown robe with a hood. The hood is not always worn. For women, a black and white robe with a hood or head-covering, sometimes quite elaborate, which is almost always worn. All the different parts have specialized names. It's not relevant here.

*Except Knights and Wizards and obviously unsuitable people.
**I've written an official Monk class if you want to play a character who is only monastic. The First Estate is open to most characters.

Initiate Options for Level 1 Characters

If you want to start as a monk or a nun, start as a monk or a nun, adapting the background from your class as needed. Here are a few ideas.

Fighter: A former soldier, seeking to escape their past. A persecuted mercenary, hiding from their enemies. A secret order, devoted to fighting a mortal threat. A bloodthirsty warrior-monk.

Thief: A spy for the Church. A penitent trying to mend their ways. A dissolute noble, forcibly imprisoned. A sanctioned relic-stealer (if you can steal a relic, that means the saint wanted it stolen).

Barbarian: A distant monk from Foreign Parts, sent to instruct the locals. Someone fleeing persecution. A new convert, fanatical and naive.

Summoner: A secret cultist with a holy facade. A holy order, kept secret and deployed for emergencies. Someone who read the wrong kind of book.

Paladins: N/A. With a direct connection to the Authority, Paladins are Outcasts; the structure of medieval society is like a stage set made from twigs and wax paper.

Knights: N/A, part of the Second Estate

Wizards: N/A, being a Wizard prevents you from taking Holy Orders.

Cats. Assholes then, assholes now.
The Narrow Path 
Aside from the spiritual labour of prayer, monks and nuns often worked to copy manuscripts, write new commentaries, maintain hospitals (which were both places of healing and houses of rest for travelers and the poor), grow herbs, translate manuscripts, advise kings, and generally "do good works." Some orders were required to maintain schools. Education in the middle ages was dominated by the monastic orders, and their ideas, drawn from ancient books of law, lore, and poetry, informed countless generations. Many monks and nuns were a comfort to the sick and the dying, counselors in disordered times, sharp critics of the powerful, and true to their vows.

There was also some joy in monastic life. Monks and nuns belonged to community with minimal opportunity for strife and trouble compared to the outside world. An abbey could also serve as a shelter for the persecuted, the widowed, the orphaned, or people simply unsuited for life elsewhere. 

The Sin, Heinrich Lossow.
 The image isn't NSFW. That helpful man is just assisting a poor nun stuck in a gate. Shame on you.
The Other Path
Monastic orders follow a very predictable arc. They are founded by a visionary leader disgusted by other monastic orders, the Church, or the world in general. The visionary acquires a small group of followers, all of whom live in peace and equality. Then more people arrive, and some kind of structure is needed. The visionary introduces one and then dies. The successors try to keep the tradition going.

By this point, the order's fame has spread. Nobles donate vast sums, because the order is so humble and pure and therefore much better than  the other, older, and more corrupt orders. The Church interferes and tweaks the less dogmatically sound rules. The order expands, creates new branches, invents new rules, acquires a few less scrupulous followers, and gradually becomes no better or worse than the other orders. The appearance of new orders alone would be testament to the less-than-devout state of many monasteries. Peasants and Popes constantly complained of drunken, lecherous, ignorant, and idle monks - idleness being the main concern. If the monks weren't performing spiritual labour, they weren't much use. Abbots became as proud as princes. If the First Estate, the moral guides of the other Estates, failed to act properly, of what use was the entire system?|

Monastic life was not easy, and not all initiates were willing. Unwanted children, marriageable daughters, wilful, spiteful, or mad heirs, or potentially dangerous claimants were shipped off to abbeys wholesale. They could not leave; breaking a sacred vow meant excommunication and pursuit by both Church and State. Under the circumstances it is hardly surprising that many men and women rebelled against vows they did not choose to take, and a life whose monotony, isolation, and discomfort could crush the soul rather than purify it.
The whole monastic ideal is, however, bound up with the vow of chastity, and had only women with a vocation entered the nunneries, the danger of the situation would have been small. Unfortunately, a large number of the girls who became nuns had no vocation at all. They were given over to the life by their family, sometimes from childhood, because it was a reputable career for daughters who could not be dowered for marriage in a manner befitting their estate. They were often totally unsuited for it, by the weakness of their religious as well as the strength of their sexual  impulses.
The ancient house of Amesbury fell into evil ways in the 12th century. In 1177 its abbess was said to have borne three children and its nuns were notorious for their evil lives, whereupon the convent was dissolved... Later still the papal benevolence was exerted on behalf of Margaret Greenfield, nun of Amesbury, who had borne a child after her profession (1398) and Cecil Marmyll, who "after having lived laudably for some time in the said monastery, allowed herself to be carnally known by two secular priests and had offspring with each of them." (1424).
-Nuns and Nunneries: Sketches Compiled Entirely from Romish Authorities, Lewis Tonna
We don't know much about the specific details of many alleged offenses because the Church, to protect its own interests, always fought to hide any scandals.

Structure of an Abbey

This article covers the basics. An abbey is a simple, enclosed structure. Most had outbuildings, farms, and secondary structures, but the core of the complex was a closed and walled community. Draw a square and stick a church on one side.

Abbeys could sometimes serve as minor fortresses and shelters for local villages during times of war, but they were rarely designed as defensive structures. They relied on isolation, the power of the Church, and the protection of local feudal overlords and sponsors. In disordered times, many monasteries were plundered by enemies and allies alike. They were also very vulnerable to raids. An isolated location meant protection from passing armies, but small forces from the sea, rivers, or overland could easily surprise and ransack an essentially defenseless community.

The elaborate Mont Saint-Michel
The imposing and ancient Sacra di San Michel

Further Reading

This website covers everything I've left out, ignored, or simplified. It's well worth a look.

OSR: Class: Monk

Not these guys.

 These guys.
Noted Breviary, Getty Museum, MS 24. ~1500

This class is brought to you by Trappist Rochefort (which is delicious) and Aleksei German's Hard to be a God (which is...less appetizing).

This class is kind of a joke. Taking holy orders is something any character can do, at any time. Making a specific class does allow a character to be a monk or a nun and nothing else, undiluted by the demands of the world. Arnold K. described the base adventurer as "Indiana Jones without the archeology skill". This class is a significant downgrade in that sense.

The Exorcist class I'm working on should fill a different niche. A post on abbeys will be along shortly.

Class: Monk (or Nun)

Starting Equipment: robes, holy book
Starting Skill: see below

A: Unarmed Strike, Literacy, Restrictions of Your Order
B: Stunning Fist
C: Evasion, Obscure Knowledge
D: Pronouncement, Improved Dodge

Unarmed Strike

You are not trained in the use of weapons. Even a cudgel is foreign to you. On a successful Attack roll you deal a maximum of 1 damage.
If you want to play a warrior-monk, go with a Fighter and start in the First Estate.


You can read and write. A surprising number of people could do both in the middle ages, but you can really write. Your letters can allow for Charisma tests at a distance. You can roll to see the intentions of an author, the delicate themes of a poem, and the inconsistencies in a complex text. To most people this is a kind of sorcery.

Restrictions of Your Order

You do not start trained in the use of any weapons (-4 to Attack until you land 8 successful hits in combat). You can wear armour, but its encumbrance is doubled for you. You are also expected to avoid the use of magic, from wands to enchantments to spell cast on you for your own protection. In practice, do what you want, but expect angry letters from your Abbot or Abbess if word gets around that you've broken your vows or publicly disgraced your Order. You also have a -2 to Save vs Fear. Make up at least 3 other restrictions or demands.

Stunning Fist

If you strike someone (even with a weapon) and they weren't expecting it, you deal normal damage (1+Strength Bonus for a punch, 1d6+Strength Bonus for a dagger, etc.) on the first round of combat. If the target really wasn't expecting it, and had total trust in your non-violent ways, they must also Save or be stunned for 1 round.


You can never be pinned in a corner by difficult theological topics or arguments. You can always retreat to authority, throw up textual obstacles, or deploy dogma. No one can make you admit something in conversation that you did not intend to admit;  any accidental disclosures are retroactively fixed, if possible.

Obscure Knowledge

Once per session, you can declare something is to be true because you read it in a book. The base chance of the thing actually being true is 50%. There has to be a plausible way you could know about it from reading books (new discoveries, minor details, and personal secrets are unlikely). You don't know whether or not it is true right away; the GM will roll when it matters. You might only be partially correct, but you will never be catastrophically wrong. If you declare that bugbears fear albino goats, they will either fear albino goats or be indifferent to albino goats. They won't be driven into a murderous rage by them. If you have access to a library of 50 books, the base chance increases to 80%.

You can speak for up to 3 hours without pause on a given topic. No tests required. Peasants, nobles, and other sensible people will hear you out politely, unless they've got something better to do. Monsters will still devour you, dragons might argue with you, and you don't impose a supernatural charm effect on anyone. Still, your audience might take up a cause or change their ways.

Improved Dodge

Once per session, you can declare that an attack that hit you missed instead. You can do this after damage has been rolled but before anything else happened. This won't save you from falling off a cliff or a collapsing cavern, but spells will turn away, sword thrusts will miss, and traps will mysteriously fail.

Monk sneaking a drink, source unknown.

Mechanical Notes on the Monk

This class is astoundingly weak in combat. It's not a glass cannon, it's a glass thimble. But it also has access to some very powerful and very broad out-of-combat abilities. You can invent truths to save the party, write letters to important people, support a cause, calm or raise a mob, and generally meddle with the course of history. You can also get filthy rich by several methods.

Romance of Alexander, ~1400. Yes, you are interpreting this image correctly. It is an illustration of medieval monks and nuns playing baseball (as a humorous parody, but still!) Who said the middle ages were grim all the time?

Who Are You?

You can be either male or female. You are a member of the First Estate and you must think like a member of the First Estate. You start at the rank of Initiate. You answer to an Abbot or Abbess, and they answer to a Bishop or Archbishop. You don't have to be pious or devout to be a monk or a nun. You don't even need much religious knowledge. However, you are expected to retreat from the world to a life of spiritual labour. Prayer, devotion, instruction, and solitude are your only goals. For some reason you have left your holy retreat, perhaps permanently, and now wander the rest of the world. You are not ordained, and cannot sell indulgences, perform services, hear confession, or preach. You can become ordained (if you are male) without too much difficulty, if you are in the good graces of your overlord the Bishop.

Starting Skill

1. History, 2. Literature, 3. Medicine, 4. Religion.


1. You have read about fallen empires, lost kingdoms, and ancient cultures long extinct. Things were much better in the past. You are able to speak 2 extra languages, but you also have a sense of nostalgia.
2. You keenly understand the recent history of the local area, as your abbey was persecuted by the current rulers' ancestors. Start with a wildly inaccurate map (draw it yourself) and a distrust of the Second Estate.
3. You read a book from Foreign Parts, translated badly, but with many interesting comments. The desire to travel gnaws at you. Start with a leather bag full of dried peas.
4. You read about an ancient hero of the Church and modeled your life after theirs. Once per session, you can reroll a critical failure if you tell a story about your patron saint, martyr, or theologian, and how they were once in a similar situation. The story can be allegorical.

5. Your study of the history's endless churn has left you melancholy. You know all about famous local defeats, deaths, and tragedies. Start with a stout walking stick (as a quarterstaff).
6. You paid very close attention to the accounts of treasure-hauls and plunder in your book. You can evaluate the approximate value of treasure and loot (as a Thief).

1. You memorized large chunks of beautiful prose. You are poetic and sentimental. Start with a basket of flowers.

2. You memorized endless passages of invective, abuse, and slander. You are sarcastic and bitter. Start with a wheelbarrow.
3. You memorized large chunks of poetry. Start with 1 Camp Follower. They are a reminder of you embarrassing love (directly or indirectly).
4. You read a very controversial piece of courtly literature. You either hate it completely and will denounce it at every opportunity, or you will defend it as a work of unrivaled genius and beauty. Either way,  you can make easily find common ground with people who share your view.
5. You have remarkable handwriting. Your script is used as the model for other initiates in your order. Start with 1sp, a quill, and a small pot of ink.
6. You have aspirations to write a great book, poem, commentary, or letter. You have been practicing. Start with 2d10 unfinished drafts on small parchment scraps, stored in a leather bag.

Note: you cannot use this skill to remove Fatal Wounds. This skill is more suited to long-term care and the treatment of disease. You cannot perform surgery, but you might be able to advise a barber-surgeon or a butcher.
1. You tended to the mad. Start with unshakable patience and an iron bell.
2. You were often at the bedside of the dying, ready with words of comfort. You always know the right thing to say to someone in pain or in the last moments of life. Start with a white cloth.

3. You studied herbs, poultices, and infusions. Few of your remedies have any measurable effect by modern standards, but they are (sometimes) better than nothing. You can name most plants.
4. You have read all the books of medicine written by the ancient authorities. Your treatments might be dangerous or impossible under the circumstances, but you will never fail to recommend a treatment or supply a diagnosis (even if you fail a skill test).

5. Your abbey sheltered many wounded soldiers during the last War. You can determine the number of Fatal Wounds and Current Injuries any person has just by looking at them, and triage appropriately.
6. You have read books of unorthodox medicine from Foreign Parts. If you roll an unmodified 20 on your Medicine skill check, your treatment is instantly and profoundly successful. If you roll an unmodified 1, your treatment makes you a laughingstock and possibly a criminal, provided it is publicized.


1. You have absolutely unshakable faith. You might be a monomaniacal fanatic or a humble and devout teacher. You gain a +10 to Save vs Demons, mind-altering effects, and despair (but not fear). If you ever lose faith or commit an act you cannot reconcile, you instead take a -10 penalty to Save (not just vs. demons, all Saves) until you atone or find peace.
2. You are an expert on doctrine and ritual. Start with a gold icon worth 1gp.

3. You studied the lives of the Saints extensively, and have gained some of their natural fortitude and patience. You start with +2 HP and bare feet.
4. You know where to find the most obscure information or greatest living experts, and have spent years cultivating your contacts. You can write a letter to them asking for guidance and receive an answer in 10+1d6 days, exploding on a 6 (if you roll a 6, add another d6, etc.). The answer may not be accurate, but it will be an answer.
5. You personally experienced a miracle. If you recount the miracle in a serious and moving way, you automatically succeed on your next Charisma test, provided your target would appreciate the story.
6. You either cannot abide luxury and vanity or you are utterly profligate and dissolute. You must Save each day if you have over 10gp or spend all but 10gp on luxuries, alms, etc. Remember, money spent on purely frivolous things nets a +10% XP bonus. If you have no way to spend the money without giving it to another PC, you don't need to Save.

Source unknown

Special Secret Note: When you reach level 5, instead of retiring your character or continuing to adventure, you can perform a miracle. You must be in absolutely untarnished standing with the Authority. You may have sinned, but you must be properly, fully, and faithfully atoned. Your GM will only inform you of this option if it is relevant. Under some circumstances, this option may be available earlier. Once the miracle is performed, your character becomes an NPC.

Further Reading

More on Nuns
The Rule of St. Benedict (and source text).