This is Faith in Play #73: Pilgrimage, for December 2023.
Referees are frequently looking for adventure ideas, and there are a lot of stock options–tip from a stranger, retrieval or rescue mission, strange map. Among the ones commonly used is the caravan guards, that the player characters are hired to travel with a merchant and his goods to another city through dangerous lands to protect him and his property. However, it struck me that there is another sort of caravan that could make for a good adventure that I, at least, have never seen: a pilgrimage.
What distinguishes a pilgrimage from other types of caravans is that the people on pilgrimage have a religious motivation. They are going somewhere because it is connected to their faith. They might be going to some holy site connected to the history of their beliefs, or to some shrine or oracle to gain answers to questions, or to some temple to make a sacrifice or offer prayers. Wherever they are going, they have a faith-based reason to go.
That incidentally means these are people of faith. Their religion is serious to them; they believe it strongly enough to undertake an arduous journey to a distant place through potentially dangerous territory. They also have some means of financing the journey, so they may have enough money to hire someone to protect them, possibly to guide them, to make sure they reach their destination. Between wild animals and wild villains along the way, protection is undoubtedly necessary. It is thought that Jesus sent His students out in pairs because lone travelers were likely to wind up as the first person in His story of the Good Samaritan, set upon by thieves. So we have an opportunity for the player characters to be hired as protectors of a group of people plying their way to a holy destination, something a little different from guarding a stingy merchant on the same road.
And it is those differences that catch my attention. These people are naturally going to be focused on their faith, their prayers, their beliefs. They are going to be trying to live their religion, and they are undoubtedly going to talk about it, with each other, and when possible with the player characters. Conversations about religion become the most natural things in the world when you’re traveling with religious pilgrims. They will ask what their guards believe, and share what they believe. It needn’t be the gospel; it needn’t even be a very good or credible religion. What it needs to do is get people thinking and talking about religion.
That’s a good start, at least.