When deciding what kind of character to play, or even trying to improve your character after the initial roll, one of the most interesting factors to consider is the faith based PC. Faith based PCs do not always have to be of a certain class, but can cover the full gamut of class mixtures since it is really more a basis for morals, ideals, and purposes RP wise, that has little to do with your feats, your abilities, or your skills. It is the canvas to the painting that makes up the personality of your character, and you will find many examples of such on the Narfell server. These can be anything from the sailor that tosses a coin to the sea to keep Umberlee from destroying his ship, to the wizard who gathers scrolls religiously in Azuth's name.
These are what we would normally term lay followers. A lay follower receives no "direct" benefits from their deity choice. Nor do they incur a penalty for switching gods, giving praise to another god, or from acting against the ideals of their patron deity.
In a classic FR sense, everyone is a lay follower of some sort. You must keep in mind that even in modern times, seeing is believing, and in Narfell you -see- the gods hands in things, even if you never see an avatar or direct manifestation. Clerics are healing with prayers, bringing forth miracles everyday, and even though the gods themselves most certainly have a "hands off" approach to things in that they will rarely if ever concern themselves with such a trivial backwater place as Narfell, they are VERY much interacting with mortals on a daily basis.
Your local temple is not just the hospital down the street. They bring people who are dead back to life. They sell potions that heal the body, and offer words to balm the soul. That coin you pay is not just the hospital bill, it is a donation that you are giving in return for the miracle you just witnessed.
So when do lay followers cross that line and become a true faith based PC? There are certain casting classes that receive direct benefits from their patrons. These benefits come in the form of spells and/or abilities that are gifts to those deemed worthy of them, and come with a price.
These gifts are akin to going to your boss and asking for something. Your boss is going to review that request and allow or deny it based on whether it is for the benefit of the company, whether the requestor is in good standing with the company, and how the media will view favorably or not on the request. It may be granted, it may not. And certainly requesting or acting in ways detrimental to the company and its purpose will eventually get you fired from the job.
Think of a police officer. They are given a gun and a badge because they are required for the position of protecting and enforcing the law. Every day that officer goes to the gun cage and picks up his firearm before going on patrol that day. He is requesting such for his job, it is granted, along with the kevlar jacket, and a vehicle. He does his eight hours, and returns them at the end of the day.
The next day he isn't working, but decides to go hunting instead. He goes to the cage, and asks if he can borrow his gun for hunting. That is an odd request, but this is a long standing officer, so the gun is issued, but the jacket and vehicle is withheld. It's not needed, and he is only given what is necessary. At the end of the day, the officer returns the gun.
The following day after checking out his equipment, he goes out, and decides the best way to protect and serve is to run people he thinks are criminals over with his car. After he runs someone over, he's just made someone angry. His gun, jacket, and vehicle are taken from him. He is put on suspension and his case is on review. He can ask for them back all he wants, he's getting nothing until they decide whether he's fit for duty anymore.
Direct divine casters are these officers. They are given certain direct benefits to serve specific purposes, and these can be revoked if those purposes are not served. They are on the clock 24/7 and are judged on every action, every word, and every use of their benefits. Minor infractions might be looked over, but major ones are not tolerated.
What does that mean for you as a player? If you take any of the faith based classes (Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger, Champion as a PrC, Blackguard as a PrC) you've made an agreement with a deity, that you have faith that particular deity's view of the way things should be are the ways that things should be, and you are now an instrument of change on the prime. The Forgotten Realms has a very rich mythology and multiple pantheons of interacting and often conflicting gods/godesses/wanna-bes. They are often referred to as Dieties, Gods, Goddesses, or Powers.
On Narfell it is not required that you know every little aspect or nuance of your chosen deity, there is no one cookie cutter concept for any of the above classes any more then there is one cookie cutter concept for every class. Of these, probably Paladin is the most cookie cutter since there is only a small list of dieties that even allow paladins, and the paladin code on top of that list reduces possibilities for variation down even more. Ranger, in my opinion, is the one most often looked over, since its implementation in NWN makes the lower levels seem more of a specialized fighter/tracker class then anything else really.
Our server is based on RP, and so we expect that, even if perfection is not achieved, that a very very good attempt is at the bare minimum made. For the above listed classes, that attempt should be doubled, in the instance of a cleric especially.
In the framework of FR and Narfell, a cleric is the hand of their patron. I do not expect players to judge another players roleplay, but as a DM we will most certainly intervene if we are finding gross breaks and/or ignoring of base precepts and key points of dogma.
These interventions come in the form of fallen tokens. A fallen character receives no benefits, and is cut off from their patron. Fallen characters are not just "picked up" by another deity, I mean, honestly who would want a divine follower who can't manage to follow their own patron. Even diametrically opposed dieties would be loathe to do so, since once fallen, what's to keep them from doing the same again. Broken trust with the gods, tends to be a very difficult thing to mend.
So what does Narfell expect from faith based classes? Each DM will look at it in different ways, and I am far more lenient in some ways then others. I expect the following:
Not everyone is a walking encyclopedia of FR lore, and that is understandable. What we will not accept is a lack of effort.
I don't expect everyone to be able to suddenly debate the highest moral and theological stances of their chosen deity. However, you should be able to carry on a convincing debate about your characters faith without resulting in a... "I'll just walk away". You do not have to pick fights over things, you can fall back on the "I will pray for guidance on these questions you ask" response, but then actually go and attempt to research proper responses.
Do not act in a fashion unbecoming of the dogma. Ever. That is hard to do, very hard. Often OOC beckons in many ways. Sometimes I find myself stopping and just... feel there is a DM sitting there with fallen token already chosen from the chooser... mouse hovering over my PC... waiting.
That is not always the case (remember, minor infractions may be ignored, major infractions would get the insta-fall). Also remember that classically, taking the fall is something that many clerics don't even realize for a few days, it starts with unexplainable chills. They keep praying, but no answers come back. A lot of times they are not even sure exactly what they did wrong.
If you do receive a fallen token, the first instinct is to think you've received a token for bad RP. That is not the case, you've received a fallen token for actions taken IC that just happen to conflict against a third party. No other classes are judged this way.
None of this should keep you from attempting to play any of the faith based classes, they are great fun in many cases, and a constant challenge in many ways. Nor is this a way of saying, if you worship this deity, you must play in this fashion with no deviation. If you do a little research you will see that every one of the dieties has multiple ways of being played still within the belief system of the religion, some even have odd ways of mixing things that almost seem to make no sense at all. Such as Paladins of Sune.
Some dieties allow for more variety then others, some are more stringent, some even require little but acknowledge their existence to gain spells. Variety amongst clerics, even within the same faith can be great, and debate is often encouraged. Understanding and acceptance growing with time.
With any faith based PC, always remember, research and effort is the two most important things and stick to your guns IG!