Yes. Rosary Beads.
The kinds of beads that form chains used for Catholic prayers. Buit this could just as easily be extended to other forms of prayer beads, such as those used by Buddhists, Sikhs, Assorted Orthodox Christian denominations, and numerous other religions around the world.
I got the idea the other day when driving behind someone who had a sticker of rosary beads on the back window of their car.
To use Daniel Solis' coined phrase, they'd make a great "mechaphor" (a mechanically present metaphor) in games where faith is an issue. Especially if you wanted to make some kind of mechanism related to the vagaries of faith, rather than simply leaving these issues addressed by a fruitful void.
A quick look at Rosary Beads and Prayer Beads in Wikipedia shows that there are many different types and variations within the theme, so it would make sense to have some kind of balancing mechanisms present between different types of beads, or simply assume that each of the characters using the bead shares a common path of faith and therefore uses an equivalent string of beads.
Here's my 10 possible suggestions for using these in a mechanism within a game:
- The catholic rosary typically has 54 beads, and a string of that denotes it's start and end. There are 5 "decades" of ten beads, each separated by a distinct bead that is smaller, larger, or simply of a different colour, then the separation from start of the chain to the end comes from the string, which may be a cruciform.
If we assume that the rosary mechanisms is a generally ambivalent story tool. It should provide an equivalent number of positives as negatives. Each of the 50 standard beads might give a -1 to a roll, while each of the beads marking the change of decades (or the string at the start/end of the ring) provides a +10 bonus to a roll. Players simply progress through the rosary for each action they take....standard action (-1 to roll), standard action (-1 to roll)...continue for ten times...change of decade (+10 to roll). This would make most rolls more difficult, perhaps earning complications as a result of the adherent's faith, but every now and then the grace of a greater powers smiles down on the characters and makes something go really well.
- Perhaps the idea of trudging around the rosary one bead at a time is too slow. Maybe you could roll a die with each action. The player might choose to have their character make a test of faith. If the character doesn't test their faith, their position on the rosary remains the same. If they do test their faith, a d6 is rolled. For every bead they progress around the chain, they suffer a cumulative -1 to their roll...but if they pass a change of decade, they get to add +10 to their roll. This way, on average, every third test of faith will come with a benefit.
- Islamic prayer beads come in chains of 99 beads, or 33 beads that must be cycled 3 times. This represents the 99 true names of Allah. In each of these cases, the methods of progressing through the beads described above could be used, but instead of providing each skill attempt with a bonus or penalty, each bead would flavour the results of the task at hand by the name of Allah according to the character's current place on the chain...If Allah is known as "The Wise" during this action then the character might learn something useful...if Allah is known as "The Avenger" then the character might smite their enemy through the task at hand.
- Perhaps the beads could be used as a counting method for "spiritual hit points". A character might move both ways around the chain, improving their position through acts of faith, or falling through acts of hubris and sin. Each time a decade is passed, a new penalty might be achieved or overcome.
- Conversely, the beads could signify spiritual enlightenment. Where a character ascends around the chain, gaining a new power each time they pass one of the decade changes.
- In faiths where the prayer beads represent reminders for specific prayers or number of times a prayer must be incanted, the game significance might be a bit different. Perhaps the beads could form an analogy for the combat wheel in a game such as Exalted. Actions take a certain number of beads to occur. Quick actions count as 1 bead actions, typical actions might take 2 or 3 beads, while drawn-out effects might take 10 or more beads. Characters progress around the chain based on their actions and time cycles around it as well. This works well in faiths professing the belief in cycles or reincarnation.
- Perhaps the rosary could be used as a randomisation method in itself. Especially if it is marked into decades or smaller increments. The rosary might be tossed into the air and caught by a single bead. The position of the bead around the chain determines a value to be applied to the task at hand...or in the case of Islamic prayer beads it might signify which aspect of Allah is watching over the current situation.
- Another common form of symbolism within prayer beads is the completion of a journey. With this in mind it might be possible to make each bead a step that must be overcome on the path to completion. A single success on a roll might move a character (or a group) by a single bead, while multiple successes might move the character(s) further around the ring.
- Closely related (from a Greek point of view) are worry beads, and the progression around the chain could represent the amount of stress the character is currently suffering, rather than any kind of religious parallel.
- In Catholic Prayer, there are a number of "mysteries" that may be obtained through observance of the prayers associated with the rosary. In this manner, progression around the chain might symbolise improvement and development within a specific field of endeavour, a proxy experience system.
There are probably plenty of other ways that the symbolism and the beads of the rosary could be used in a game where faith is a component. But this time I had enough trouble trying to come up with 10.