OSR: Indulgences and Clerical Services

In theory the services of the Church should be provided for free. In practice, pressure from above forces many priests to sell services, even if they find the practice distasteful. The petitioner gives "alms" of a set amount. A portion is kept by the priest and the rest is sent up the chain. Theologically, indulgences work on a very simple system. There is a "Strongbox of Virtue" kept in Heaven. It is filled by the devotion of uncounted thousands of believers, the good deeds of the Church, and the Authority's limitless supply. The Church is authorized to remove small portions of merit and grant them to the faithful, to cancel out sins before the sinner's soul is judged in death. Anyone able to contact Hell will doubt the efficacy of these indulgences.

Given the widespread and almost unlimited sale of indulgences, is possible that the Strongbox of Virtue will one day be emptied. It is possible that this has already happened, and the world is growing more desperate and miserable as a result. Peasant luminaries think heretical thoughts such as this while they sit in church.

Side Note: This is not how actual indulgences work(ed) in the real world. Officially, they cancell(ed) years of penance (almost universally misunderstood, even by people who should know better, to be years in purgatory), they were not sold for specific sins at fixed prices, and require(d) some bewildering theological leaps of logic. The catholic.com website is very eager to leap right back and pretend a lot of things that they claimed, or allowed people to claim, never happened, but that's an entirely different article. In short, historically accurate indulgences are almost entirely useless for a game about tomb-robbing, dragons, and getting rich. This way is more fun.

Indulgences do not protect you from the secular consequences of your action. If you commit murder, you can purchase and indulgence to protect your soul, but you can't protect your neck from the hangman's noose.

Also, just in case, this article has nothing to do with my personal beliefs on any of the topics listed. I hope that's obvious. I'm trying to present a gameable medieval worldview, not lecture people.

A Question to a Mintmaker, Jörg Breu the Elder

Selling Indulgences

In order to raise revenue, an ordained member of the First Estate may sell any of the indulgences listed to anyone requiring their aid at fixed rates. Doctrine states that indulgences only apply to the person who purchases them (via a donation of "alms"), only apply to sins already committed, and require sincere contrition and confession to take effect. They get you out of wearing a hair shirt and fasting, not being sorry for what you did.

In practice, cunning, zealous, or ignorant priests promise that indulgences can forgive the sins of the dead or can be purchased for future sins. Adjusting the rates to the means of their purchaser is also possible. A player can choose any or all of these options. The rates in the table below are fairly arbitrary. I've based them on the Salic Law, the Rule of the Templars, and some completely made-up values. Currency uses this system. If your game has an alignment system, selling indulgences for some acts is probably evil. It might even be capital-E-Evil. Some devout priests avoid the controversy entirely.

During downtime, an ordained member of the First Estate can roll on the table below every week. Roll 1d50 per week. Also, roll [charisma bonus] d20s per week. Results of 1-10 and 21-35 are speculated sins;  thoughts or plans confessed to the seller. Committed sins actually occurred. Instead of receiving an indulgence, penitents can a) fast one day in three for 2d6 weeks or months, b) pray or visit a certain religious site, or c) perform some other penitent acts as specified by the PC.  A character may choose not to sell an indulgence. 

Adventurers are encouraged to purchase indulgences. Their souls are in dire peril.

This is also a useful list of sins for a GM. I'm sure there are other uses.

Table of Sins and Indulgences

 Roll Indulgence  Roll Indulgence
Offense d20 / d50 (Speculated) cont'd  (Committed)
Adultery 1 5cp 11 1gp / person / year
Fornication 2 - 12 1sp / act
Perversion (Heterosexual) 3 5cp / act 13 5sp / act
Perversion (Homosexual) 4 1sp / act 14 1gp / act
Perversion (Other) 5 5cp / act 15 5sp / act
Vanity (Mild) 6 5cp 16 1sp
Failing to Attend Service 7 1cp 17 5cp
Religious Holiday Exemption 8 - 18 1sp
Blasphemy 9 1cp 19 5cp
Slander (Third Estate) 10 - 20 5cp
Slander (Monarchy) 21 1sp 36 10gp
Slander (First Estate) 22 5cp 37 5gp
Slander (Second Estate) 23 5cp 38 5gp
Vanity (Extraordinary) 24 1sp 39 1gp
Concubinage 25 5cp 40 6gp  / person / year
Violence (First Estate) 26 5sp 41 5gp
Violence (Third Estate) 27 5cp 42 5sp
Murder (Outlaw) 28 2cp 43 5sp
Murder (Blood Relative) 29 5sp 44 10gp
Murder (Stranger) 30 2sp 45 1gp
Murder (for Profit) 31 5sp 46 10gp
Perversion (Astonishing) 32 1sp-1gp / act 47 1gp-10gp / act
Practicing Proscribed Magic 33 5cp / spell 48 5sp / spell
Perjury 34 5sp 49 10gp
Theft 35 1sp 50 1/10th value of the item 

The Calendar of Sins

Assault, tripping someone down the stairs, or whipping them with a knotted rope. For the Second Estate this is a right and a duty. For everyone else, hitting your neighbor with a bucket, or thinking about it excessively, is a sin.

All values listed are for members of the Third Estate murdering other members of the Third Estate. The values are cumulative (so if you murder your son, a blood relative, for profit, you need to pay 20gp). If you are selling an indulgence for the murder of anyone other than an outlaw or a stranger, chances are you are visiting someone in prison. If you conceal the crime you may also be punished. Murder of a noble, a rare occasion indeed, requires an indulgence of [difference between victim and murder's ranks]x100gp. If a peasant [Rank 0] murders a knight [Rank 2], the peasant would have to pay 200gp to have their sin cancelled by an indulgence.


For convenience, you can only commit adultery if you are married. If you're not married, it's Fornication (and possibly Perversion). You can still be punished for sleeping with someone's spouse. Some fairly astonishing papers put adultery rates in the 20-30% range for the medieval era. Feel free to roll for any given married couple in your setting. 

Second Estate (or Rich Third Estate) (Male) + Third Estate: in theory, still Adultery. In practice, Fornication at best, ignored completely at worst. Long-term mistresses are more or less acceptable, socially.

Second Estate (or Rich Third Estate) (Male) + Second Estate (or Rich Third Estate): Scandal. Counts as Adultery, grounds for divorce.

Second Estate (or Rich Third Estate) (Female) + Anyone: Scandal. Counts as Adultery, grounds for divorce. Possibility of execution and torture for all involved.

The First Estate is barred from marrying and can't therefore commit Adultery. Within the Third Estate, consequences and severity vary widely.  

In some areas, "sleeping with your spouse for pleasure and not for procreation" counts as Adultery, although only the exceedingly, cripplingly pious would be tormented enough to purchase an indulgence

Sleeping with someone you aren't married to. If you are married, it's Adultery. Thinking about Fornication is so common that it doesn't require a paid indulgence, only confession and prayer. Most priests are exasperated with young people. Priests often carry ticket-books with a half dozen indulgences for Fornication tied together, "the seventh one being free".

Living and presumably sleeping with someone you cannot, for whatever reason, marry. This might be because you are a member of the First Estate or because you are already married. The Second and Third Estates keep mistresses or lovers. The First Estate keeps concubines. In disordered times this is a common sin, even in monasteries. Publicly acknowledging your concubine is socially unacceptable.

Gossip, lies, and insults are all sins. Saying, "Duke Summerland is getting old. He's as bald as a stone and as bent as a bow," is insulting to the dignity of the Duke. While he might have you flogged or executed for it, you might also need to confess your sins and do penance, or purchase an indulgence to avoid penance.

In the medieval calendar of sins, "sodomy" covered a multitude of offenses, from acts that would barely raise concern in a Disney film to acts so unusual (and possibly mythical) they aren't even illustrated on the internet. Since the city of Sodom probably didn't exist in your setting, I've replaced it with a general "Perversion" category. Homosexuality thoughts or acts were common enough to warrant a separate category, though they were also heavily suppressed. 

I'm not going to list all the things that would qualify as a "perversion" to a medieval priest. There's no indication whatsoever that people were any less inventive or weird in the past than they are now. "Other" perversions cover acts that only involve one person, or aren't directly sexual in nature. "Astonishing" perversions are ones the priest hasn't heard of before.

Mild vanities include fancy dress, jewels, and paintings. Extraordinary vanities include jeweled decorations for your horse, shining mirrors, illustrated books, pies filled with songbirds, and other extravagances. As it is the function of the Second Estate to dazzle and impress, only the First and Third Estates are charged with this sin on a regular basis.

Religious Holiday Exemption
Your setting's dietary, social, and customary restrictions may vary. They certainly vary widely in the real world. This indulgence allows you to ignore the penance and penalty for eating meat during a fast day, fasting during a feast day, working on a holy day, or otherwise mildly disrupting the social order. Only the pious, or those who want to be seen to be pious, bother. Priests use this to shake down the other Estates.

Practicing Proscribed Magic
According to the doctrines of the Church, a baffling and contradictory number of spells, incantations, and practices are forbidden. For instance, wizards are forbidden to cast light-creating spells during the day (for this mocks the glory of the Authority's sun), mind-altering spells, spells that produce living creatures or appear to produce living creatures, and a thousand other mild restrictions. Some spells that kill outright are unrestricted. Some that merely produce flowers are banned (on certain days). Since wizards routinely ignore all these restrictions, priests use this sin to extract a few more coins from pious wizards, or harangue them for their sins. Necromancy, biomancy, and other truly forbidden magic result in automatic excommunication.

Very broadly applied and edited at the priest's discretion. Theft of rent (by becoming ill and unable to till your lord's field), theft of silver plate from a church, and theft of an entire province via forged documents are all treated differently. Severe theft might require a Bishop or even the Archpriest to authorize the indulgence.

Cursing the Authority's name, mocking the Church and the Saints, or otherwise saying things more severe than Slander. 

Failing to Attend Service
Despite many depictions of medieval life, most people in the Third Estate, as far as we can tell, attended church services once a week at best, and once a month at worst. Nonattendance was a constant source of complaint among village priests. The value listed is for the Second Estate (or members of the First Estate who are unable to perform a scheduled service due to travel, drunkenness, or other considerations).

Lying to your lord, or lying in court, or lying to your priest. Again, this does not shield you from secular punishment, only from penance. It also only applies retroactively (you can't buy clerical permission to lie). Minor lies about adultery, wealth, and illness do not require an indulgence. 

Dark Souls 3 Karla, BanishedShadow

Hey but what about...

If there's a sin listed here that you think is tasteless or pointless to include in your game or setting, remove it. Similarly, if there's a sin or crime that's not listed, but that you think should be included, feel free to add it.

Generic Services

The day-to-day activities of the First Estate can also be assigned fixed fees. "General Services" are a 2hr standard service, with singing or miracles, as per your setting. "Perpetual Services" are usually bought near death, and involve weekly services for the sake of a dead noble's soul.

Event or Service Cost
Baptism 1sp
Wedding (Second Estate) [Sum of noble Ranks]x10gp
Wedding (Third Estate) 1sp
Funeral (Second Estate) [Sum of noble Ranks]x15gp
Funeral (Third Estate) 3sp
General Service 5cp
Perpetual Service [noble Rank]x100gp


  1. Getting PCs to confess their sins seems like a good way to make role-playing happen. If carousing is worth bonus xp, then this should be too. Or if you give out xp for money spent instead of gained, then this is a good way to do that too.

    1. Giving XP for money spent is a very interesting idea I'd not heard before. Especially if it's restricted to non-adventure related purchases, io at least purchases not made with adventuring in mind. That might also handle some of the confusion with the taxes, as you could consider that gold as being 'spent' to maintain your feudal station and show totally.

  2. This is really great! Thanks for this! I'm going to use this in my game.