D&D General Temple vs temple rivalries (inspired by Kendrick vs Drake, and Ghost of Tsushima)

To put it briefly, I've got a very free-form element of my campaign I need to figure out, where the party wants to pit various temples against each other. How do I fit that into a D&D game?

Inspiration: Lately there has been a 'beef' between two musicians - Kendrick Lamar and Drake. I'll include the synopsis as I understand at the bottom of the post, but the TL;DR is that they traded songs insulting each other, and after a few months the public has mostly embraced Kendrick as the winner, and Drake's credibility has taken a big hit.

I want to draw inspiration from this recent beef for my campaign.

Setting: It's a Bronze Age world, inspired by Sumeria and Babylon, where a pantheon of different gods and their temples all are led by a high priest (called a Logos) whose power is focused on a great ziggurat in the main city, No-Ostalin. The party's long-term antagonist is that Logos, who is abusing her power like a tyrant, rewarding loyalty, punishing those who won't help her, and basically threatening to bring the whole nation down due to her ego. But before the party can go up against her directly, they need to erode her support from among the various temples (and then ideally find someone who can step in to run things who won't suck).

Her main base of support comes from 5 temples whose gods are respected and influential.

Beshel - goddess of the sea, also seen as an arbiter of law
Abgal - god of the wastes, also a protector of trade and travel
Allatu - god of war, whose temple has a lot of 'prisoners with jobs' which they took from conquered enemies
Ngasis - god/goddess of the sun and the moon, also an architect protecting the city with strong walls
Regkel - god of the dead, who ensures each family's ancestors are honored in the afterlife; the Logos primarily serves this god, and the implicit threat is that if you oppose her, she can punish the souls of your ancestors

There are many other minor gods with less political power (and I could invent some if you want), but I have established two temples which are powerful but aren't pledged to support the Logos.

Chebas - goddess of the river, also patron of agriculture, and thus revered by perhaps the greatest number of people, though most of them are farmers in rural areas, not in the city
Melendiel - god of hedonism and good fortune, like the 'cool uncle' who lets you drink beer before you're old enough and tells you not to trust your elders

Plot: The campaign's medium-term goal is stopping the Logos from getting her hands on what, basically, is Noah's ark - a big boat that was stranded in the mountains after a great flood, and which if she possesses it will let her conjure fantastical beasts to serve her. She's a few months away from assembling the manpower to get the thing out of the mountains, and once she does, the boat will be transported to No-Ostalin on the waters of the river that is named after the goddess Chebas. Before she transports her precious cargo down the river, the Logos wants the temple of Chebas on her side.

To that end, the Logos has taken a priestess of Chebas as an 'honored guest' (i.e., hostage) and is trying to figure out what she could offer the Chebasans.

The PCs already stole an artifact out from under the noses of the temple of Beshel (sea goddess) which will help them seize the boat while it's in transit down the river, and during that mission they learned that, oof, the Beshelans are still secretly practicing human sacrifices (which are officially forbidden), and all their high ranking priests gradually transform into fish-y people like something out of Lovecraft, which is why they have such fancy full-body robes.

The players have said that what they want to do is help the Chebasans get out from under the threat the Logos poses, and to get them on the party's side. They also want to pit the temples against each other so the Logos's supporters are fractious.

Sounds good, and if I were writing a novel I could figure this out. But how to do it in a game?

Designing Adventures That Amount to Political Intrigue: I recently played Ghost of Tsushima, which had four allied NPCs whom you could recruit for 'the big climax' if you helped them with their personal quests. Each of those quests had a handful of discrete objectives which you could achieve by doing all your samurai combat stuff.

One character would want you to rescue her blacksmith brother from the Mongol invaders, so you'd start by raiding a Mongol camp for information, then recruiting a sake merchant who had permission to travel in Mongol territory, then hiding in his wagon to infiltrate a Mongol fort, then busting out the brother, then liberating a forge so the brother could use his blacksmithing skills to make you a weapon you needed to breach the defenses of a castle.

Each stage was easy to wrap your head around, whereas if the game had just told the players, "Go find a way to break into the castle," you'd probably wander around confused.

So if the PCs want to provoke a rivalry between temples, what are some stages they could undertake?

1. They have an NPC ally who is a disgraced priest of Jetwan, a minor god of secrets, who can at least put them on the right track for where to start each of the plot lines. Maybe for each temple, there's one quest line, with 4 steps. Obviously I'll need to tweak things based on player choices, but having a framework would help get things rolling.

2. First they need to meet some of the key characters of each of the temples, and you don't want it to get boring, so those scenes should be a mix of action and mystery and socializing. Some might need help with legitimate goals, some might want help with crime, some might be traveling and in danger, some might be trying to investigate the party's activities.

3. I can't have everything be in the city, because dropping bodies will attract too much attention, and fighting only humans gets boring. So the stuff each temple is involved in needs to be a mix of local and rural, with some reason for there to be monsters involved.

4. It'd be nice to have some, like, mini-bosses established whom the party can see the danger of from afar at first, and eventually one plot arc or other will pit the party against them.

5. And maybe have one instance where the resolution of two temple's plots intersect in the same climax.


So, Kendrick vs Drake:
I had to be brought up to speed by my wife, because I don't normally listen to either of them, but the synopsis as I understand it:

1) many in the rap fan community were talking about Kendrick, Drake, and another artist (Cole) as being the current 'top three' in rap music.
2) Drake released a song where he said he was number 1 and scoffed at the idea that Kendrick or Cole deserved to be compared to him.
3) this kicked off a series of back and forth songs, released by Kendrick and Drake in the span of a few months, that contained lyrics denigrating each other.
3a) a few other artists joined in.
3b) Drake mostly made generic insults and proclaimed how cool he was.
3c) the verses targeting Drake were much more cutting and personal - accusing Drake of having a secret kid he wasn't raising, saying Drake was merely playing at being a 'gangster' whereas other rap artists actually had legitimately been criminals, other critiques of Drake's persona being illegitimate like pointing out he was Canadian and had grown up with an easy life, and - um, - accusing Drake of being a pedophile.
4) the community seemed to find Kendrick's disses were much more impressive and persuasive, and so collectively it was agreed he was the winner.
5) on July 4, Kendrick took a sort of victory lap by releasing a music video of his final diss track, which was well-received.

So maybe at least one of these temple vs temple plots should literally just involve performers in taverns or whatever performing songs that insult each other.

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B/X Known World
Check out Game Master's Handbook of Proactive Roleplaying. There's a lot about factions that is directly applicable.

Set each temple up as a faction. Give each one a "point person," aka the one NPC that represents the faction who the PCs will interact with the most. This doesn't need to be the head of the temple/faction, just the one the PCs interact with most often. Give the temple/faction goals the PCs can interfere with and try to have those goals directly come into conflict with the other temples/factions. This is where the PCs can push the easiest.

Plot ideas by temple:

Beshel, goddess of the sea
I kinda wanna make this the Drake in a diss battle, and Chebas can be Kendrick. You've got sea versus river, distant water versus local, a bunch of lawmakers doing human sacrifices versus old school farmers tilling their own land, monster fishfolk versus not-monster-fishfolk. Oh also, there was a wedding at the temple of Beshel recently, and a few days later the groom got murdered.

But how should the dissing play out? Do I need to establish some musicians? Venues for them to perform? City festivals where people would be gathered? What does the party do other than, like, feed dirt to the pro-Chebas bard?

Abgal, god of the wastes
Maybe the party wants Abgal on their side, so the goal could be to sow distrust with another god's temple. Rather than just trading diss tracks, maybe we get a full-on 90s-style "gangster rappers shooting each other" beef. The easiest badguy temple to target this way would be Allatu, as god of war, whose followers could raid some Abgalan caravans.

How does the party get involved? False flag by doing the raiding themselves? Beating some Allatuite raider and taking over his gang? Feeding rumors of really tempting treasure being transported and then going with the caravan to protect it? Or maybe there's already some genuine predation, and the party just steps up as guardians . . . and maybe fights some lion-y monsters: manticores or something?

Allatu, god of war
You could sap the power of this temple if you could liberate its slaves, maybe by leading a slave revolt, but how do you set that up? Who are all the VIPs in the power structure of Allatu, how are they protected? Maybe some of them are on a campaign right now against some other tribe, trying to get new prisoners? And yeah, the Allatuites could have scary warbeasts.

I don't want them to be slouches, so I should also create some NPC friends of the party whom the Allatuites can target when they get suspicious.

Ngasis, god/goddess of the sun/moon
The Logos has two kids, a son and a daughter. Maybe they each have a faction of Ngasians who think they should be in charge? What's the difference between them? What are their goals, and who are they struggling against?

Regkel, god of the dead
I'm not really sure what to do here? Maybe try to drive a wedge between some traditionalists in the temple and the Logos, because the traditionalists think she's harming the dead that should be revered? Would that entail some sort of adventure into the underworld? Maybe the traditionalist got sent away to the hinterlands to deal with some undead plague, and if the party can get him back, he'll be a useful ally?

Chebas, goddess of the river
Beyond simply rescuing a hostage priestess, what else could the party do to help the Chebasans resist pressure from the ziggurat and Logos? Maybe farmers are in trouble because of 'dangerous thing here'? Maybe there's grievances with the Allatuites, whose slave labor undercuts the prices of other farmers . . . and some cruel greedy guy who has a lot of land wants to take over his neighbors farms and enslave them?

Melendiel, god of fortune and hedonism
I've got an idea that a Lucifer-esque disgruntled angel is allied with this temple, and he's starting to shift from "the other gods are hypocrites" to "maybe we should just be evil." What's that angel up to, and how do you stop him?

Plot Threads and NPCs (much rambling, incomplete, mostly for my own edification)

A public beef between Beshel and Chebas, hoping to get the river goddess more support.

Bard for Beshel. More established.

Bard for Chebas. Former river pirate.

Bard for Lusar, a warrior god.

They should perform together once, a time of good feelings, but then things start to spiral because of the first guy's vanity. Then there can be piracy, brawls between followers, a mission to find Beshelan guy's dirt.

Monster Hunters
Help Abgalan caravans travel safely, and reveal that the Allatuites are responsible. Try to culminate in a paladin of each faith having a full on street fight one night.

Paladin for Abgal. Also his trusty steed who can get killed later on.

Paladin for Allatu. Also an underling or two.

Some monsters either of them can go after, and some innocent gnolls who get targeted by the Allatuite, which the Abgalan will stand up to protect, maybe?

Trophies of War
Learn that someone's brother has been made a slave by the Allatuites. Try to free him, but he's piously devoted to Lusar, a rival warrior god. He wants to stay in the slave camps and foment a rebellion with the party's help.

Sibling wants to ambush the guards of an Allatuite slave farm, who are protected by a manticore, in order to rescue the brother.

Lennon and McCartney
Ngasis is a beetle god, and the two children of the Logos both want to be high priest.

Zuqaqip is the son.

Dealing with Melendiel

DLC Campaign: The Mummy - The Curse of the Necro-Cats
Two weeks south of Ostalin, the arid grasslands turn to badlands of the Umut, and south of that the highland jungle of Catussala, seen as sacred by many of the bestial tribes of the land. The gnolls of the Umut vie with the tabaxi who control the Catussala, but the dominance of the catfolk may be coming to an end.

From the sandy deserts beyond the Catussala emerge the necro-cats - undead tabaxi in thrall to the dread pharaoh Skel-Ahten. To save her people, the sorceress Tigrexa has allied with the Logos, hoping a priestess of the god of the dead could overcome the pharaoh. Even more strangely, why does a gang of githyanki seek a source of high-quality copper to undercut the unscrupulous merchant Chee-tor?

But the key to defeat the undead may lie with an exiled princess, Dark Panthra - who secretly is Skel-Ahten's own daughter!!!

(One of my players made a silly character, and I'm yes-and'ing).

Voidrunner's Codex

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