When in Rome...Do What (Diety) Asks
Our heroic priest of the Goddess of the Hearth, having just arrived in a capitol city far from his home is invited to enjoy a feast... only to discover later that the feast is the annual rededication to the God of Hedonism! An in-depth look at holidays (HolyDays), the Gods that promote them, and religious characters.
Our heroic priest of the Goddess of the Hearth, having just arrived in a capitol city far from his home is invited to enjoy a feast that very evening. As his mission is diplomatic in nature, he determines that it would be unwise to decline. He attends the feast and has a wonderful time, eating, drinking, dancing, and much carrying on. Several young women approach him with offers of an adult nature, which he does decline for religious reasons. The next week he discovers that the feast is the annual rededication to the God of Hedonism.
In a polytheistic world this sort of scenario may be much more frequent than may be initially obvious. Taking the month of December as a real world example, Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, Yule, Chanukah and Christmas. Some Americans celebrate more than one of these and the actual days themselves are celebrated in a variety of ways. Many atheists and agnostics complain about having to do their Christmas shopping, baking, etc. despite their alleged lack of belief in the holiday itself. Few Jews and pagans demand the right to work on December 25th and businesses don't close for Chanukah. People actually have stated that Christmas would be great if it weren't for the religious aspects and implications of it. The season takes on a mishmash of tradition and spirit leaving people wishing each other Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays for fear of offending someone who doesn't share their religious outlook despite the disrespectful attitude toward their own belief.
What happens to our hero depends upon the relationship of the gods.
What happens then to our hero? This depends a great deal upon the relationship of the gods.
One god known by 2 different names
In this case, no actual infraction has occurred. A real world example would be a Catholic taking communion at a Methodist Church. Because no offense has occurred there would be no retribution or atonement, as it is just a difference of local tradition. When this is the case, though, the priest or follower will usually be aware that this is the case.
Two gods believed by their followers to be the one true god
This instance might be confused with the first case by a follower. Unfortunately this is the case most likely to lead to smiting (see below). Both gods have very devout believers. The concept that there might be another as powerful as their god is blasphemous and both gods are the jealous type. The followers' devotion should not be confused with knowledge. Devoted Christians do not always remember that Thanksgiving was named for giving thanks to god, but consider it secular.
Two related gods
This is the case of two gods within a religious grouping such as Athena and Ares. These gods are less likely to be offended by a follower or even a priest paying homage to another because both are willing to acknowledge the other exists as long as the transgression doesn't occur on the highest holy day of the other. For instance, Ares would be most displeased if on his highest holy day, his priest hung out at Athena's temple, of if the follower went to Athena's on her highest holy day. This would normally not be a smitable offense but some gods are testier than others and it might be a bad day. In this case, the two gods are likely to work out some arrangement regarding the punishment for the priest.
Two neighboring or rival gods
This is the toughest situation. The two deities belong to rival families. It's one thing to worship a different Greek God, but stay away from those Norse Gods. The character has embarrassed his god and his god's family. This is similar to the second case with 2 distinct monotheisms and again, it's smiting time.
The specifics will depend upon the deity...
Any or all of the following things might happen to the erring priest. The specifics will depend upon the deity and the track record of the priest.
1) Nothing. The patron is forgiving of ignorance and the fact that the follower did not intend to pay homage to the other god is sufficient reason to ignore the infraction. But it should also be clear, to the follower that a repeat of the same infraction will not result in the same consequence. That is, forgiveness of a specific ignorance only occurs once. Even if the priest becomes involved in a ritual of a third god, he had better be thinking about the significance of the event.
2) Some temporary loss of god given powers. The patron deity might choose to strip the priest of some or all god-given abilities or decrease in power the magnitude of miracles. This approach is more of the "I made you what you are" statement. Depending upon the deity atonement may be necessary or just behaving oneself until the next holy day or ritual.
3) A permanent loss of powers. The god's way of saying, "If you can't stay loyal to me, you are of no service to me. The player does not need to know that this is a permanent loss of powers (no one is going to tell him) so he or she may act in a more pious manner hoping to regain the powers.
4) Ostracization: His religion is the sort that will not deal with non-believers and the priest's dalliance with some not-our-god divinity will cause them to treat the follower as an unwashed heathen. The defrocked priest will be unable to purchase services or wares from the congregation, receive healing or other ritual at the temple. The people will try their best to ignore him. If this occurs within a campaign, clergy of the offended god will almost always recognize the individual as one to be shunned and will inform the congregation as quickly as possible.
5) Physical ailments. The original god may cause physical pain or disability on the disloyal priest. The affliction could range from acne to leprosy, or indigestion to arthritis. The ailment will most likely be appropriate to the god or to the crime. A follower of Aphrodite might develop shingles or become lame if the transgression was worshipping Hermes. Medical science and healing magic will prove fruitless against the symptoms, although the ailment may become healed once proper atonement has occurred or they severity of the ailment may decrease.
6) Punishment of followers. Some priests might take a divine-inflicted frailty upon themselves to be the work of a rival deity and play up the martyrdom, but if their friends and companions are disabled or alienated, this will be hard for the priest to play off. If it is caused by a rival deity, the priest should be able to cure the problem, so everyone knows where the problem lies. Seeing ones friends suffer for ones own transgressions is a horrid fate.
7) Smiting. This seldom occurs, but should not be ruled out. Especially if the priest is a repeat offender or deliberately disobeyed the laws of his God. Smiting can take many forms, but are almost always near miraculous in their occurrence. Being struck by lightning is a common mode of smiting, but a sand worm appearing in the Arctic Circle, swallowing the priest and burrowing off is equally effective. Also, for those playing with rule lawyers, the smiting ALWAYS has enough power and plusses to ensure the effectiveness of the strike. Smiting usually occurs promptly after the offense and with followers of the offended deity around as witnesses.
Furthermore he may or may not be noticed by the inadvertently worshipped deity and several possibilities could manifest:
1) Nothing. Worship of the deity means nothing if one doesn't intend to worship the deity.
2) Bestowal of some powers. A demonstration of what this god can do for the priest if the priest is willing to join this team. A character that worships a god of healing and discovers that he can heal might worship again hoping for more power or ability. This is called conversion.
3) Smiting. The god might be so offended by this priest of another god mocking this ceremony that he cannot be allowed to live. Smiting in this instance will always be of a nature appropriate to the second deity, but might be countered by the initial deity. Counter-smites occur very rarely, if ever.
Whatever the result, the priest and priestly characters should consider their actions carefully before committing some potential offense and even less pious PCs might want to consider the effects of supporting some quaint tradition without due reflection.