Religion and faith are deeply associated with our modern view of the Middle Ages, and with good reasons. In the span of nearly a millennia, we saw the rapid spread of Christianity across Europe, the Islamic conquests, the rise to power of the Roman Catholic church, and the emergence of many famous religious institutions such as monastic orders, clerical hierarchy, and canon laws.
Religious figures had deep and profound impacts on the world, their role often overlapping with the ones of leaders, scholars, and lawmakers. The distinction between the world of faith and the physical realm wasn’t as clear as it can be in our modern days, the divine playing a much bigger role in the social order and the daily life of the inhabitants of these times. From philosophy to political power, religion was key in the Middle Ages, and its presence influenced countless artists, inspired by the feats of saints, holy figures, and the great tales of their faith.
Religious institutions such as seminars, universities, and monasteries were the curators of ancient lore as well as the source of most scholarly inquiries in the Middle Ages. The divine was intrinsically related to the pursuit of knowledge, and higher learning was often seen as a worthy religious cause, particularly in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, faith could also be the source of sectarian divisions, religious persecutions, and even large-scale conflicts. Faith was deeply intertwined with politics after all, with clergymen often being born in the aristocracy or owning lands and wealth of their own. Superstition, illiteracy, and decentralization were also the perfect breeding grounds for sects and cults, and the Middle Ages saw more than a few of these offshoots of major religions spread through the peasantry and common folks, often driven by charismatic leaders with radical ideas.
Organized religion, like any spiritual belief, also brings its own mythos. There are a lot of mythical beings, creatures, and concepts that come from the divine as seen in Abrahamic faiths. Angels, saints, prophets, holy texts, chosen people, immortal souls, heaven, and the fear of hell and its demons, all come from the beliefs and practices of many religious groups over the centuries.
Fantasy has been influenced by this idea of an era of faith, and the divine is largely present in most fictional worlds set in medieval times. It is not surprising to see many divine and religious archetypes being adapted into role playing, nor is it to see many fantasy character classes in LARP expanding from these historical roots. Most settings include a few forms of spirituality that are loosely inspired from existing religions, or at least replicate some of the most iconic elements of organized faith.
Many divine characters in LARP are often part of some form of religious organization. They are more than simple worshippers, for faith is often as much an occupation as it is a belief system. For instance, the priest is more than a mere believer, for anyone who wears the mantle of priesthood is also expected to provide spiritual guidance and leadership to their community, and to spread the words of their faith to the world.
Priests can be foreign missionary, inspiring preachers, quiet counselors, or zealous fanatics wiping their flock toward extremist views. Many may balance their spiritual fonctions with concerns for politics, war, or justice for their people, for the message of faith can be a powerful force for change, or to maintain power.
Monks, on the other hand, are piety manifested through practice, their faith guiding their actions and often asking them to relinquish some earthly pleasures and comforts in hope of acting as exemplars of virtue. More often than not, they are pursuing a path to perfection, often dedicating themselves to a craft, a scholarly function, or martial prowess. In many ways, the fantasy icon of the paladin, with all its vows and tenets, is a knightly variant of this same idea.
Monastic brewers, patient scribes, mighty warrior monks, holy knights in shining armors, ascetic beggars, and methodic healers are all monastic archetypes that any LARPer can adapt from history into a character.
However, the divine doesn’t have to always involve clerics. In fantasy, the divine can come into play more directly than through faith and religion. Angels and their offsprings can inhabit the world, and some mortals can be directly imbued by divine power through life-changing experiences. These characters can be exalted heroes, divine avatars, ascended visionaries, or cryptic prophets. They often lack the more hierarchical elements of clerical believers, led more by their judgment and insight than canon law and dogmas. Still, they can often be seen as heretics by religion and may suffer under the influence of their patron divinity, their mind and body wrecked by such proximity.
Plate armors are common among Paladins and other holy warriors. Made of stainless or regular steel, as well as aluminum, these armors are designed specifically for LARPs. They are created to be light, comfortable and safe. Affordable and robust, LARP metal armors will give you great protection against all kinds of monsters and creatures from the underworld.
Cleric and Priest Robes
Whether his devotion is to a god of light or darkness, one instantly recognizes a divine character by his neutral robe. Sometimes a central element, sometimes accompanied by armor pieces or clerical accessories, it is a perfect piece of clothing for clerics, nuns and monks!
Religious characters are expected to distinguish themselves from the masses through particular clothing, their outfit acting as a status symbol or even a uniform for their function. If you want to take inspiration from history, your LARP priest or monk could opt for a toga or robes. Monastic gowns also often included a hood, which came useful to keep one’s modesty and protect pilgrims and missionaries from the elements during their travels. Religious accessories like holy necklaces, stoles, and hats can also be added, especially for priests and higher ranking religious leaders, which were often toe to toe with the nobility in terms of influence and wealth.
Accessories that are displaying a religious symbol or even sacred passages from the holy scriptures are probably a good pick for your character’s outfit. Don’t hesitate to customise clothes, belts, and pouches with that kind of details. Divine characters are seldom subtle about their beliefs.
In terms of weapons, many divine characters are not very combat-oriented and may simply pick a pilgrim staff, a good self-defense tool in many situations. After all, they may prefer to carry medical supplies in a large bandolier bag and serve as healers and medics.
For those that are more willing to fight for their faith, such as paladins, warrior monks, and combat clerics, any weapon can certainly be used, but popular culture has long popularized bludgeoning weapons as the iconic armament for holy warriors. Maces and two-handed hammers are now a classic of fantasy clerics, and can certainly reinforce the theme of any warrior priest or battle pilgrim. If a divine character wears armor, it is often shining plate mail that evokes purity and holiness, like the mythical white knight.