There exists a belief among Jewish mystics in a group of 36 humble righteous men for whom God permits the world to continue to exist. There are many names for these men. One is ‘lamedvavniks’. Their profound goodness, even in the face of a degenerate world, shows God that the world is worth perpetuating. For their sake, He refrains from destroying us all.
The lamedvavniks are humble, pious Jews. They are hidden in Jewish communities throughout the diaspora. Often, they are among the lowest, poorest, and least-respected: water-carriers, peasants, poor tailors. They don’t know each other. There is no global network of lamedvavniks. In many stories, they don’t even know they are lamedvavniks. They’re too humble to make that presumption. And – thanks to their unshakeable piety – in some stories they can work miracles.
The lamedvavniks get a brief mention in the Talmud. In later Kabbalistic stories, the lamedvavniks come out of hiding when they are needed, then return to their anonymous lives. Someday, one of them might be the Messiah.
There’s a lot of gameable material here. Men and women inspired by the lamedvavniks can be inserted into almost any fictional religion. It’s also not something you have to plan. The belief is esoteric and it centers around hidden people – it’s absolutely something you can decide six months in that you want to insert into your campaign, then spring on your players as a surprise.
- Give a favorite recurring NPC some spotlight time by making her a lamedvavnik-analogue.
- Throw an anonymous lamedvavnik-inspired NPC at the party as a complication to their plans. He’s an unremarkable, humble man trying to quietly do the right thing. He’s protected by miracles and invisible archangels. And he’s in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time.
- No matter what calamities befall the area, this one Jewish enclave always seems to survive, if only by the skin of their teeth. The FBI’s X-Files unit is curious and wants the PCs to investigate. The real reason the community survives is that its poorest resident – a man so poor all he owns is a sack with three citrons inside for Sukkot – is a lamedvavnik.
- One of the PCs dreams of darkened skies, false prophets, and the legions of the damned stirring in the abyss. Her god is sending her a message: one of your setting’s lamedvavnik-analogues is missing. He isn’t dead, for when one lamedvavnik dies, he is replaced. But neither is he present to demonstrate the world is worth saving. What evil force has abducted one of the 36 anonymous lamedvavniks? How did it overcome the holy man’s miracles? And can the PCs rescue him before it’s too late?