The Problem With Beliefs

The section previously called “Beliefs” now falls under the name “Oaths”. While much of the intent remains the same, the concept of Oaths fits much better with the world Alatha is attempting to portray. Part of the problem with stated beliefs, both in playing Alatha as well as real life, is that it is easy for beliefs to remain in the abstract, divorced from the identity revealed through action. Such an issue is easily noticed amongst the hypocrisy of contemporary beliefs. When a person publicly proclaims a belief such as “People Should Love Others”, “Life Is Precious”, or “We Need To Save The Environment”, but act hatefully, violently, or destructively, we roll our eyes. Likewise, I could care less if your character sheet says your elf thinks they are better than others or your priest believes that all beings deserve care if you do nothing to play them that way. But that isn’t necessarily your fault. The game mechanics often make such intentions irrelevant or even counterproductive. Beliefs in Alatha only served as loose guides at best, often stating something the player wanted to be an aspect of the game, but seldom coming into it. They were just the bumper stickers on the character’s car.

Oaths on the other hand, are tied deeper than mere cognitive assent. Much in the same way that the category of Devotions now attempts to anchor character concept at a level of attachment, affiliation, and desire, Oaths serve to anchor beliefs to story and action, while also better conveying a sense of Alatha’s setting. Oaths are a sworn declaration of action

Oaths In Their Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Context

Although there are certainly other elements, much of the feel of the world of Alatha is influenced by the cultures of the Mediterranean and Ancient Near East in the bronze and iron ages. Here, the concept of oaths often figure significantly in cultural foundations and myths. They are not merely a declaration of intent or a promise, but an invocation to a greater power. In this way, they bind the oath-taker to the oath, while anchoring that promise within the powers and values of the culture, often with drastic consequences. It makes the statement larger than the life of the individual, even the larger-than-life characters of myths. HaShem’s oaths to Noah and Abraham become the foundation for Jewish covenant relations. The oaths sworn by the gods of the Enuma Elish become the basis for the divine hierarchy. The Ephebic Oath tied Athenian citizens to defense of land and civic duty. Hannibal makes a blood oath to his dying father that he will be no friend of Rome and the Punic Wars bring Rome to her knees. Oaths taken by the river Styx which were broken were cause for Greek Gods to be banished from Olympus. In short, in the “Cradle of Civilization”, oaths become one of the central means for both social cohesion and demonstration of character.

Oaths In The Contemporary Context: Trauma And The Narrative Framework Of Identity Formation

Although in contemporary culture we often relegate oaths to taking office and legal proceedings, much of our identity comes from the promises we make to ourselves and others. However, many of these remain unspoken. Relationships frequently hinge on such unspoken expectations though, and when broken, become the justification for severing the relationship, violence, or even legal action. Even more significantly, our sense of identity is tied to the vows we make to ourselves. Usually these deal with our core motivations such as hope, shame, and trauma, frequently intertwined. These oaths become the mantras by which we shape our own stories, and make our decisions. What we tell ourselves about who we are and what we will do or never do becomes the framework for our understanding of ourselves. The success-driven over achiever vows to herself that she will always be the best in whatever task she undertakes. The guy who gets his heart broken tells himself that he will never let anyone hurt him in that way again. The boy who sees his family suffer economically swears that the man is out to get his people. However accurate any of these may seem as beliefs is largely irrelevant. What is important is the degree to which the character perceives herself in light of these oaths and thus responds to the world around her out of a self informed by these understandings.

The Intent Of Oaths As A Game Mechanic In Alatha

Oaths in Alatha anchor the character concept and motivations in with the plot and character actions. Acting in accordance with such oaths ought to be some of the more significant actions of the game. Not only do they give a framework and overview for what actions and character may take and why, they are reinforced with game mechanics. When a character fulfills, breaks, or strongly aligns with one of their oaths, they earn a Hero Stone. While this will often be a significant plot point, it is also of of the largest rewards as it allows a character to raise an entire attribute. In addition, a character can attempt to “tempt fate” by playing into one of their oaths. If they succeed in doing so while undertaking a challenging action of a moderate level, they gain an extra die to use at any point of their choosing in that game. If they fail, the gods have taken notice and that die comes back as a cursed bad omen, used against them in the same session.

Don’t worry about coming up with everything right away. Maybe choose one and play a couple sessions. You can always change them as stuff comes up in the story, just talk it over with your GM. Oaths can be what you want them to be. As a helpful template, one starts out “I am/will” which might tie into your character’s core concept or motivation. The second starts out “(I) always/never” and might give a clue into instincts or fears. The third is left blank, so you can make it up, but you can cross everything out in the first two also. It is up to you. Just think about what drives your character and makes him or her willing to engage conflict on a level beyond the average villager.

So how does your character understand herself and her place in the world? What do you intend to do? When were you hurt in the past and what do you vow to do about it? What pacts have you made in real life? I, for one, will never consume dairy before a swim meet. Don’t ask…


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