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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: clehrich on January 17, 2003, 10:52:00 PM



Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: clehrich on January 17, 2003, 10:52:00 PM
In Ron's new article, he raises a fascinating historical issue.  I'll quote at length, because I'd like to take it as the starting point for discussion.
Quote
My biggest criticism concerns some thematic content. I'm really starting to wonder about the god-lists and religion in general in Fantasy Heartbreakers. It's a unique phenomenon; I don't think it's possible to imagine anything less like religion in any sense. It includes a lot of highly-imitative or downright dumb names, direct correspondence with player-character options (as opposed to societies or organizations), and lots of un-fun strictures. The best of the bunch is Forge: out of Chaos, probably (as I read it) because this material was taken the least seriously and written for fun imaginative-background rather than as a personal fantasy opus.

What's odd is that most Fantasy Heartbreakers take great pride in their world-settings: maps, elaborate histories, wars, borders, economies, cataclysms, wilderness areas, and more. I'd think that religion, as such a major feature of culture, would get a bit more intellectual consideration beyond "what must a cleric avoid doing in order to get his healing spells back" or when a character gets a minor bonus.

So the question is: why?  Ron hits the nail on the head when he points out that setting is very often the centerpiece of these games; the designers have clearly gone to a lot of trouble, and had a lot of fun, designing these worlds.  So how come religion gets such short shrift?

Since my professional career is devoted to studying the ins-and-outs of the history of religions, I have a few suggestions here, but I don't think they do more than scratch the surface.

1. It may be an unfair stereotype, but I associate this sort of fantasy world with science-engineering types.  I know that when I first started playing AD&D (just after it appeared, actually), I considered myself part of this group.  (Funny old thing, life.)  And my experience as a teacher is that many people who align themselves very strongly to a scientific mindset are uncomfortable with religion in the real world, sometimes going so far as to see it all as idiotic superstition and whatnot.  (Lately, Penn and Teller would be excellent examples of this perspective.)  So I wonder whether part of the failure of such games to deal with any of the more interesting possibilities of fantasy religions have to do with this fundamental discomfort.

2. These games tend to be mechanistic in one sense or another.  What I mean is that if you have Trolls in your world, what you want to know is how much damage they can do, and how hard they are to kill (and how much they're worth).  Remember Deities and Demigods?  It included detailed information on, you guessed it, how much damage each god could do, and how hard he or she was to kill.  The same was true of the senior Demons and Devils.  By extension, I wonder if part of the problem is that if you have gods in the world, you want to know what they do, because if they're just there, what's the point?

3. In such games, the tendency for the various gods is to have a brief mythological "back-story" arising from a kind of set canon, often described in essentially historical terms.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of religious conflict going on at an intellectual level; rather, the worshipers of A hate the worshipers of B because the rules say so.  It seems to me that this points to a dislike of things like theology, liturgy, and so forth.  Not that these things always cause fights, but the idea that people might take them very seriously indeed seems glossed over.  I think this may be a projection of the designers' concerns: they don't take these things seriously, so neither does anyone in their universe.

4. Finally, I think Ron picks up something interesting when he uses the word "culture."  As a rule, these games describe culture in a few terms: economics, military and political history, and some material culture (at least implicitly).  But just about all of what I would focus on as primary for "culture" --- art, literature, music, stories (not big-ass myths, but just plain old stories), family life, social structures, and of course religion --- gets hand-waved away.  So I sort of wonder whether the total failure with respect to religion isn't really part and parcel of an unwillingness or inability to deal with culture more broadly.

Okay, that's me for a start.  Anyone else have ideas about this?  I would rather not get into what religion ought to be in these or any other games; there are several threads running to discuss aspects of that question.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 18, 2003, 02:05:14 AM
Hi.

You've nailed it for me, as far as I'm concerned.  While I'm not trying to get into a discussion of what religion "ought" to be in your examples, the "negative space" of most RPG religions is, to a great extent, what I'm trying to introduce on the other threads.

Thanks,
Christopher


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Maurice Forrester on January 18, 2003, 03:58:17 AM
Excellent observations, clehrich.  I think you're right on target.  Remembering my own attempts at writing this sort of game long ago, I think that these games generally start with a map and some lists.  It's rather like designing a software program: here's the system architecture, here's the list of features.

Myth and culture don't really lend themselves to that sort of quantification.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 18, 2003, 08:32:54 AM
I have a theory about this, and like all good theories it is unlikely to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt nor likewise disproven.

I think that when Gygax was writing the original D&D, he really had no idea what he was doing. This makes sense because it was never done before. He didn't know what it needed or not.

Now he probably decided to add deities to D&D for two reasons.
1) he himself at least has some kind of interest in them. I believe he's credited with adding Clerics to the game and holy men imply rather strongly deities, especially if you give them powers that imply that such deities are real.
2) Fantasy from the time had gods in them. Conan was always saying "by Crom" and things like that. Not to mention Mythology which is also a source of inspiration.

The problem was how to represent these gods in game terms. I'll bet he had no idea, really but he looked at the monster list and it seemed to make sense. This became one of the assumptions that D&D fantasy heartbreakers are built upon. Supreme beings are just like any other monster.

I had a rather interesting discussion once, I forget who about gods in RPG and I was of a mind that you really didn't need stats for gods because, well, they're gods. Cthulhu is a huge being. He rolls over in his sleep and whole races are wiped out. How can you rate that on 3d6 or whatever? ANd the guy says, well, yeah, but I still like to see his stats. I still like to see what he's capable of.

You know there's thinking inside the box and there's sealing it shut and covering it with cement and then dumping it in the lake.


Title: Re: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: John Kim on January 18, 2003, 09:49:30 AM
Quote from: clehrich
So how come religion gets such short shrift?

1.  ...I associate this sort of fantasy world with science-engineering types....

2. These games tend to be mechanistic in one sense or another...  

3.  ...a dislike of things like theology, liturgy, and so forth.  

4.  ...an unwillingness or inability to deal with culture more broadly.


I think that this is actually somewhat unfair to RPGs.  Now, I'm not that widely read in fantasy literature, but it seems to me that religion is given short shrift in modern fantasy literature in general.  Certainly it is largely overlooked in seminal works like Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ursula Le Guin, and others.  

In Edgar Rice Burroughs, which is close to the foundation of the genre, you can see the genuine attack on religion.  On Barsoom, the religions are explicitly shown to be self-destructive, false views which have lead thousands to their deaths over centuries.  Even in other works, religion shows up most often as evil cults such as the occaisional mention of cults of Sauron in Tolkien, or the cult at the Tombs of Ataun in Le Guin.  

Now, I'm sure that people more well-read than me can come up with examples of positive, deeply thought-out religion in modern fantasy works.  But it seems to me that RPGs are simply following the leaders in the genre.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 18, 2003, 10:18:38 AM
Hi there,

John, that's a damned interesting point. One of the issues I raised in Sorcerer & Sword was to identify that the source material (a much narrower range than you're pegging) is essentially existential, with the Void as a real and awful element of insight, and with churches or religion only being defined in terms of societal and political entities.

My take on this discussion so far is to agree with Clehrich about the general issue, but to ask, let's please avoid the use of the term "scientific mind-set," as the attitude that it's usually applied to is rabidly nonscientific. Contrast Scully and Mulder in the first season of the X-Files - one of them is a classic scientist, and it ain't Scully.

Any discussion about that should probably go off-forum, though. Let's stick with RPGs, religion, source literature, and so on.

Best,
Ron


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: clehrich on January 18, 2003, 11:24:01 AM
Ron wrote:
Quote
let's please avoid the use of the term "scientific mind-set," as the attitude that it's usually applied to is rabidly nonscientific.

I agree entirely.  That wasn't worded well in the original post.  Unless someone has a better suggestion, I propose substituting "scientistic" which seems to be standard in academic discourse about this sort of perspective.  I do think that some sort of term or category is required, or else nobody is going to discuss this aspect of the lack of serious religions in fantasy RPGs.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: clehrich on January 18, 2003, 11:32:02 AM
In reference to John's comment, I think you're dead on.  The problem for us, though, is that either we shift over to a discussion of why fantasy literature is like that, or the whole thread sort of collapses.

As a solution, I think that RPGs have been out there long enough that they have had a significant impact on fantasy literature.  One only has to look at the various RPG-based (usually AD&D-based, I think) fantasy novels that have been bestsellers, and that's just the really obvious stuff.  I read somewhere that Raymond Feist started his fantasy-world as an RPG, for example.  Further, I suspect that the designers, consumers, and primary audience of these fantasy RPGs are fairly avid consumers of fantasy literature, and that entails that such literature caters to their interests -- that's how genre-publishing consumerism works.  In short, while these RPG fantasies certainly imitate the vast genre-fantasy literature, the reverse is also true.

So the question returns: why does this audience have such trouble with, lack of interest in, dislike of, or confusion about religion?


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: erithromycin on January 18, 2003, 04:19:19 PM
Perhaps because, in their real lives, they have trouble with, a lack of interest in, a dislike of, or confusion about religion.

I say that not to be facetious, but becuase it's probably true. As you've said, there's a large overlap between consumers and producers of fantasy literature and roleplayers.

What parts of religion are they most likely to be familiar with?
What parts of their hobby is religion most likely to be familiar with?

For many, religion is an alien thing [in that it is not part of their everyday life], and treating them as monsters makes them make sense. Ron's point about The Void and religion as a social club reflects many peoples views from that era, when people started to question the existence of gods where other people could see them. The horrors of the Great and Second World Wars did a lot to turn people against the idea of earthly paradises, and this grittiness is reflected in fantastic literature. Throw in years of lazy thematic plagiarism and the rise of the 'new age' movement [who plundered early fantasy work and were plundered in return] and bob's your proverbial half-elf.

- drew


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: talysman on January 18, 2003, 07:22:23 PM
I partially agree and partially disagree with some of the theories being presented so far. here's my take on it: I think the "scientific mindset" theory, although flawed, may be truer than we think. fantasy RPGs, as we know, are heavily influenced by '40s-'60s fantasy, much of which was written by science fiction writers rather than folklorists and mythologists. people like poul anderson and l. sprague de camp influenced fantasy by simply writing more of it than tolkein or lord dunsany.

and these guy were engineers and scientists. dunno if they really had a "scientific mindset" or not (I take it you mean scientific positivism,) but a survey of some of their writing suggest that most of the writers were agnostics, atheists, or humanists that didn't feel strongly about religion or actively disliked it. poul anderson's "operation chaos" has a big long rant against gnosticism ... was there a gnostic revival back then that the history books overlooked? l sprague de camp and fletcher pratt wrote about the norse and finnish gods in the "incompleat enchanter" series as if they were just guys in fur coats. zelazney's dilvish series has him killing petty gods, although there is a detailed description of his ancestor killing a major deity.

and other than the engineers, we have a few fantasists who weren't sci-fi writers at all -- tolkein, dunsany, c. s. lewis, and so on -- who were inspired by literature rather than the pulps. these people seem to be mostly devout christians of one kind or another, which you would think would have a good effect on their portrayal of religion, but it doesn't look that way at all. instead, their devoutness seems to have prompted them to hide all religious details (tolkein) or to practically proselytize for christianity (lewis).

when it came time to make fantasy rpgs, most of the solutions seem to revolve around avoiding getting into the religion issue:

[list=1]
  • don't have "working" gods at all (the fantasy trip);
  • have distant gods who only act indirectly through their priests (gygax's D&D);
  • assume the gods aren't "the real god", just souped up monsters you can stat out (post-eldritch wizardry D&D);
  • [/list:o]

    a couple games -- Harn and EPT, for example -- attempted to flesh out religions more without turning it into another monster manual, but I dunno if they really succeeded.

    and, frankly, maybe they shouldn't try. I think games should suggest a religion and a culture, rather than simulate it, and it's probably best to leave the fleshing-out to the players, unless a writer is going to create a coherent religion and culture that fit into a setting derived from a personal vision.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 18, 2003, 08:03:54 PM
Quote from: clehrich
So the question returns: why does this audience have such trouble with, lack of interest in, dislike of, or confusion about religion?

I stand by my original post in this thread and suggest that you may be reading too much into it. Religion isn't done very well in these games so therefore these people must have a lack of interest in, dislike of, or confusion about religion? I don't think so. I think that for a decent chunk of them it is this way because that's how D&D did it and it's as etched in stone as rolling 3d6 for your stats. So I doubt it's a lack of interest per se as thinking that they're doing it right according to the model they are basing averthing else on.

I really doubt if it's anything like this "scientific mindset" or whatever it is you're saying. It's not lack of interest. I read an essay by Ken St Andre in the book Heric Worlds about how he wrote Tunnels & Trolls, which probably would be a Heartbreaker if it hadn't've come out in 1976. He wrote T&T as a direct response to D&D. St Andre really didn't have any interest in religion personally, so he simply removed it, clerics and such from his game. Show me a heartbreaker that does absolutely nothing with religion, then I will concede that it's disinterest because that seems logical compared to what I have seen.

I had just re-read the paragraph in the article where Ron talks about religion in these Heartbreakers and you know what it sounds like? Alignments:
"direct correspondence with player-character options "
"lots of un-fun strictures"

That's what a religion is in these games. It's like an alignment which is just a way to limit or inhibit the spiraling ever upwards character power.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: clehrich on January 18, 2003, 09:01:33 PM
Jack Spencer wrote:
Quote
I think that for a decent chunk of them it is this way because that's how D&D did it and it's as etched in stone as rolling 3d6 for your stats.

What I took Ron to be saying was slightly different.  If I get him right, and certainly I would tend to agree on this (although I sure as hell haven't read as many of these games as he has), every one of these "Heartbreakers" in fact has one significant and interesting change from the way D&D did things.  That's what makes them heartbreakers: they seem as though they have the potential to break out of the D&D et al. thing, but ultimately can't seem to resist the vortex.

The question for me, then, is why religion is never one of the things that seems to break free.  Mechanics, races (species, really), world politics, technology, magic, you name it --- there are Heartbreakers out there that play with these things.  But religion seems always to be a set of god-lists and clerics, or else it just doesn't exist significantly.  I agree with an earlier poster that Harn took a shot at it, although I don't think it was terribly successful.

So I don't think it's fair to say that "they're just emulating the model."  The point of the Heartbreaker concept is that these are games which try to break out of the model.

Jack further remarks:
Quote
That's what a religion is in these games. It's like an alignment which is just a way to limit or inhibit the spiraling ever upwards character power.

Precisely.  Religion is entirely a mechanic.  What a strange way of representing it, when you think about it!  

I guess what interests me is the disjuncture within these fantasy universes.  You have a world in which all sorts of supposedly "mythic" elements are present --- heroes, monsters, quests, whatever.  Furthermore, these things look back on both modern fantasy and also older heroic literature (from Beowulf to Malory to Homer to whatever).  In fact, a fair number of these games make a big point of using phrases like "high fantasy" or "epic" to describe what they're doing.  When you think about it, even the alignment system is attempt to simulate or force a certain type of heroic mindset: Paladins can whomp on orcs because orcs are bad, and we don't have to do a whole lot of modern angst and tolerance and whatnot, because this is an "epic" world, and monsters are bad, and that's that.

But the sources for this kind of thing tend to be rather heavily invested in various religious discourses, because mythology is generally pretty tightly bound up in whatever it is we mean by "religion."  In a way, this was Lewis's point in the Narnia series.  So it seems as though it would be fairly relevant for this sort of fantasy game to consider the issue of religion.  But they don't.

To end this rant, I did think of one other possibility.  Since many of these games still adhere to what Ron calls the Myth of RPG publishing, i.e. they have grand dreams of writing the new AD&D which will sell like hotcakes and whatnot, I wonder whether some designers avoid religion because they think it will make their products controversial.  After all, a lot of the really vicious and paranoid attacks on D&D and other fantasy RPGs came from the religious right-wing.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: talysman on January 19, 2003, 01:00:24 AM
Quote from: clehrich
To end this rant, I did think of one other possibility.  Since many of these games still adhere to what Ron calls the Myth of RPG publishing, i.e. they have grand dreams of writing the new AD&D which will sell like hotcakes and whatnot, I wonder whether some designers avoid religion because they think it will make their products controversial.  After all, a lot of the really vicious and paranoid attacks on D&D and other fantasy RPGs came from the religious right-wing.


actually, that's part of what I meant to imply when I talked about game designers avoiding religion, but I realized after posting that I didn't make that clear. I should have added a summary of my theory: "fantasy heartbreaker" game designers were drawing inspiration from fantasy writers who avoided religion for one reason (anti-religious sentiment) or another (avoidance of what they felt was blasphemy); the designers were also either too uncomfortable writing about a topic they didn't see in the source literature or too frightened to risk a controversial topic.

I should note also that isaac bonewits -- the neopagan magical theorist and author of the applied thaumaturgy game suppliment -- expressed a very strong opinion that  rpgs should never ever describe religions that have/had real worshippers who might be offended. I don't think I agree with this, but I imagine there are some gamers who do agree, who prefer frivolous, shallow, fictional religions to avoid violating anyone's religious beliefs.


Title: Re: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: M. J. Young on January 19, 2003, 01:12:56 AM
I noticed yesterday that John Kim was the newest member of the forums, and wanted to welcome him; but I was otherwise occupied, so overlooked it. Welcome to the Forge, John. I look forward to your comments.

Quote from: John Kim
I think that this is actually somewhat unfair to RPGs.  Now, I'm not that widely read in fantasy literature, but it seems to me that religion is given short shrift in modern fantasy literature in general.  Certainly it is largely overlooked in seminal works like Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ursula Le Guin, and others.


I'm not convinced that Tolkien really belongs on this list. With the success of the Lord of the Rings films, there has been an explosion of articles discussing his work. One thing that emerges is that he was partly motivated by a desire to create an English mythology, a sort of replacement for what was lost to the Roman and Norman invasions. Much of this appears in subsequently published materials, notably The Silmarilion, but the stories are clearly informed by the mythology, and the mythos is very much involved in the stories. Getting the backstory clear, it seems that Sauron and the wizards (Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast are identified as part of a larger group) are minor deities themselves, supernatural beings some have likened to angels, involved in the affairs of mortals. The others, particularly Aragorn, would be mythic heroes, akin in some ways to the likes of Peracles and Heracles. Lord of the Rings also includes religious references, such as the mention periodically of the greater deity Elbereth; at one point, a group of elves are heard singing praises as they walk through the woods. The religion of middle earth is integrated into the story at many levels. (Much of the imagery is also religious, notably the several allusions to death/resurrection which is a common theme in many myths.)

It's easy to read the books and miss the religious elements precisely because they are the story. It's not about people who know the myths and have that affect their lives so much as about those who are the myths who affect the lives of others.

I've got a stack of links awaiting my attention to try to sort out which ones are worth posting, and at the moment don't have time to figure out which ones I was reading on this, but if anyone is interested I'll try to prioritize that.

--M. J. Young


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 19, 2003, 10:22:43 AM
Hi,

I wrote this, and then read M.J.'s post, so it covers some of the same ground.

****

Just some thoughts about context here.

When I hear someone say Tolkien's work wasn't religious my ears prick up, cause it seems to me something's been lost in the translation.

A work does not have to mention religious institutions to be religious.  I need only point to the book of Genesis to make this clear.  No praying, no temple, no hierarchy of religious folk.  But clearly a religious tale.

I suggest that The Lord of the Rings was written in this kind of context: a world so shot-through with religion that we don't need even worry about having a Sunday Sabbath.

The point here (once again) is that one does not need to "model" human standards and conditions of the "real" world to make a religious tale.  Tolkien may not have anything mapping Christianity in the world of Middle Earth in a one to one ratio.  But Gandalf does die and rises, a "heavenly" creature with a mission on earth; the enemy is one who hardens hearts and engenders selfishness; the heroes are characters who submit to missions that are beyond their understanding but follow through anyway.  The world he created is so religious it does not need religious institutions.

As for the supposed post-modern criticism of religious institutions in 20th century fiction, I need only refer anyone willing to actually read the texts to the four gospels of the Christian Testament.  There you will find the Son of God working without a religious institution and constantly criticizing the current leaders of the religious institutions.  

(I've noticed that every generation seems to think it's discovered sex for the first time; I'm beginning to think that every generation thinks they've discovered cynicism for the first time, too.)

In the tale of the Gospels, Jesus is led to his death by religious leaders out of fear and jealousy.

The point here is that suspicion of religious institutions can be found in the most religious of texts.

Remember I am still dealing with stories here, not the recreation of how humans operate in societies.

In Homer, the gods are obviously present, as are priests.  But, for example, what is the most significant act of a priest in The Illiad?  Simply this: because of his love for his daughter he asks for her safety.  His desire to get her back sets in motion the rest of the story.  He is a priest, but his function in the tale is all about love, vengeance and keeping the story going.  

In AD&D religions are treated with a certain contempt: the contempt of those who know they are better than faith.  Bureaucracies of faith are built to offer bennies to the PCs who behave a certain way.  There is a kind of dispassionate capitalism to the whole process, like Babbits showing up to nine-to-five jobs to their steady salary and perhaps a gold watch at the end.

Truly religious tales, like the Iliad, where the passion of the characters are reflected in the gods, and the gods reflect the joy and pain of mortals, all spun into situations beyond any characters true comprehension, are in direct contrast to such thinking.

The point of all of this: First, let's be sure when we're speaking of religion, we're making a distinction between religious institutions and a religious sensibility.  Jesus did just fine without one, but definitely had the other.

Let's make sure not to look at religions with what amounts to the AD&D religious mindset: religion is religious institutions; religion is found in the begging of gifts from powerful creatures; religion is found in the utterly mundane and surface manifestation of buildings, symbols and holy orders.

That last one is the really important one.  Those are clues pointing toward a religious sensibility.  Typical RPGs religion typically has all the clues, but none of the sensibity.

Take care,
Christopher

PS Yes, I know the Homer's tales are different than the Christian gospels.  I'm trying to make a point that what these stories have in common is very interesting, especially when compared against the typtical RPG religious set up.  I am also, explicitely, using the texts as tales, not as source materials for religion.


Title: Re: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: John Kim on January 19, 2003, 01:59:37 PM
Quote from: M. J. Young
I noticed yesterday that John Kim was the newest member of the forums, and wanted to welcome him; but I was otherwise occupied, so overlooked it. Welcome to the Forge, John. I look forward to your comments.


Thanks.  I finally joined after talking to my friend Chris Lehrich who had started in discussions here.  

Quote from: M. J. Young

Quote from: John Kim
It seems to me that religion is given short shrift in modern fantasy literature in general.  Certainly it is largely overlooked in seminal works like Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Ursula Le Guin, and others.


I'm not convinced that Tolkien really belongs on this list.

...

It seems that Sauron and the wizards (Gandalf, Saruman, and Radagast are identified as part of a larger group) are minor deities themselves, supernatural beings some have likened to angels, involved in the affairs of mortals. The others, particularly Aragorn, would be mythic heroes, akin in some ways to the likes of Peracles and Heracles. Lord of the Rings also includes religious references, such as the mention periodically of the greater deity Elbereth ...


I think this is true of nearly all of the authors I cited, actually.  However, this "mythological" flavor is different than religion per se.  RPGs certainly do have deities as figures in them.  Indeed, the original Deities & Demigods was cited as mishandling of religion by making minor deities into characters which can be fought and killed.  Now, obviously the mythology in most RPGs is not as good or detailed as Tolkien's, but they are doing essentially the same thing.  

I think this is one of the keys of fantasy.  The fantasy genre tends to avoid what it considers "mundane" details such as economics, sociology, democratic politics, theology, and organized religion.  Instead, the characters and plots themselves are mythological.  Rather than a church with theology, holy texts, canon, etc. -- gods are personal figures which appear and can be talked to or fought.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: John Kim on January 19, 2003, 03:04:14 PM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
In AD&D religions are treated with a certain contempt: the contempt of those who know they are better than faith.  Bureaucracies of faith are built to offer bennies to the PCs who behave a certain way.  There is a kind of dispassionate capitalism to the whole process, like Babbits showing up to nine-to-five jobs to their steady salary and perhaps a gold watch at the end.

Truly religious tales, like the Iliad, where the passion of the characters are reflected in the gods, and the gods reflect the joy and pain of mortals, all spun into situations beyond any characters true comprehension, are in direct contrast to such thinking.


Well, I don't really want to defend AD&D particularly, but I don't think that this is a fair comparison.  You are comparing game mechanics to among the best of stories from history.  While I detest AD&D mechanics, no game mechanics will simply generate the passion of the Iliad.  Passion comes from stories and characters, not from mechanics.  

As I understand it, the basic problem cited with the "fantasy heartbreaker" RPGs was that they reduced religion to a list of gods.  Characters choose a god to worship, and may get benefits from that god.   At least at this level, I think this is actually a fair reflection of modern fantasy as well as much of mythology.  

I think the problem is more in implementation: who the gods are, and what sort of benefits they give.  The countable, rechargable spell slots of AD&D clerics does feel rather capitalistic, for example.  On the other hand, the holiness of a paladin who is immune to fear due to the blessings of his goddess is at least better at retaining some mythical feeling.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 19, 2003, 04:14:18 PM
Hi John (and welcome!),

That's a fair cop: comparing D&D to Homer is, of course, ridiculous -- and you're right to point that out.  

However, what's at stake for me is how do we raise the quality of group storytelling?  That is, how do we end up comparing an evening's storytelling to Homer's storytelling, instead of game mechanics to storytelling?  Since I prefer Narrativist play, this is a priority for me.

In fact, I'd say that this thread, as so many running rampant across The Forge right now, might well tangle themselves up as different priorities of how to use gods get all confused with different desires on the parts of players.  For some folks, using gods to get favors and magic items, issues of faith be damned, are the whole point.  For folks like me, using gods as anything short of stirring emotion and narrative are a waste of time.

Since religion is even more slippery an issue than RPG mechanics (imagine such a thing!), the assumptions of what makes a good use of religion in an RPG is probably more difficult to nail down than how crunchy a comabat system should be.  Like GNS, a lot of it comes down to priorities -- which are different for different people.

As for ancient mythology being about worshipping from a list of gods and getting benefits from that god...  Yes, but... And that "but" includes: the raw coldness of the gods and their own agendas; the torment they rain down unwitting mortals who, despite their best efforts, can't get pez candies out of them by pushing the right buttons; and the terror, mystery and true cosmological implicatations the Greek, say, pantheon can inspire as compared to the "I've signed on for you buddy, we're in this together" recruiting energy of D&D games.

On another thread on religion someone pointed out its the "Why" of the behavoir of mortals and gods that are really going to distinguish the "feel" of something really mythological.  And that being said, some of us at the Forge feel that certain rules will engender "passion" from "stories and characters" better than other rules -- and certain rules will hobble such endevors.  In this view, the rules are at the stake of a lot of this.  But, as stated above, this only matters if that kind of storytelling is something you're after.

Take care,
Christopher


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: M. J. Young on January 19, 2003, 05:49:18 PM
I apologize if I'm out of phase with the topic at all. I've not yet read the article (I fully intend to do so, but it's been a crazy week started with a son breaking an ankle and ending with a wife sick home from work complaining about every second I spend trying to get to things online--and I figure that the article will still be there when I have time, but the forum threads will move away from me so fast I'll never catch up).

If the problem is that games do not engender an appropriate attitude toward the gods they incorporate, I have in fact recognized that problem. My monthly series at the Christian Gamers Guild site talked about why that problem existed and what could be done about it in Faith and Gaming: Awe, posted at the beginning of this month. I suggest that a lot of it has to do with the rather casual way we toss around gods in our games, and that the answer lies really in trying to portray a sort of awe for the supernatural that is to some degree lacking in modern life.

But as I say I'm working from what's been said in the thread. (I really do want to read the article, but already people are trying to drag me away to be part of everything they're doing.)

--M. J. Young


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: John Kim on January 19, 2003, 06:54:42 PM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik
That's a fair cop: comparing D&D to Homer is, of course, ridiculous -- and you're right to point that out.  

However, what's at stake for me is how do we raise the quality of group storytelling?  That is, how do we end up comparing an evening's storytelling to Homer's storytelling, instead of game mechanics to storytelling?


Well, I am definitely interested in this and am willing to discuss it -- but first I want to do a quick topic check.  The original topic proposed by Chris was:  why is religion seemingly neglected by traditional RPG designs -- along with other aspects of culture like art, literature, and music?  

The most direct answer is that it is following the tradition of fantasy authors like Tolkien, Moorcock, and others.  D&D is an extremely pale imitation of Tolkien, but it at least shares the features like (1) only shallow signs of organized religion; and (2) having divine beings as characters and opponents in the story rather than the theological depth that occurs in real world religions.  I think this is what makes it fantasy -- that it skims over things which are mundane and murky in real world history, and substitutes grand conflicts and personalities.  

It is a logical next step to then say -- OK, why is D&D a pale imitation of Tolkien?  However, I want to check whether we agree about the earlier steps first.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Henry Fitch on January 19, 2003, 07:39:26 PM
I was looking at an old D&D book the other day -- the D&D Adventure Game from the early 90s, I believe -- and was struck by how completely absent religion seemed to be. The cleric class was there, of course, but was described as someone who "gains special powers because of the strength of their belief in some cause or principle", or something like that. Gods didn't really come up at all.

Just thought I should mention.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 19, 2003, 07:46:50 PM
Hi John,

I think that first of all we need to drop discussing the source literature because A) it seems that some people dispute whether or not, say, Tolkien has any religion in it and B) It's really a side-issue we do need to address, really. We're talking about the games, not the inspirational literature, right? Bringing it up is bringing up a useless (to this topic IMO) side debate. That's all I'm saying.

Second your comment about D&D being a "pale imitation of Tolkien" is wrong to me. D&D is not Tolkien or Moorcock or Vance or Anderson or high fantasy or heroic fantasy. It's "D&D Fantasy" a version of fantasy that has been identified and discussed here. (http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4243&highlight=d+d+fantasy) (Feel free to read, but please start a new thread if you have something to add since that thread is pretty old)


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on January 19, 2003, 08:22:34 PM
Let me throw out an idea here.

Religion is hard to create.

These games - Fantasy Heartbreakers - were made as a reaction to d&d.  D&d, originally, may have had its reasons for presenting religion as it did.  That's not an issue.
I present the idea that Heartbreakers put their energy into "correcting problems" that they saw as correctable.  I argue that The Religion Problem lies far in uncorrectability territory.

Why?

Real religion has many aspects, including but not limited to: rituals, belief systems, mythologies, specific customs, attitudes, architecture, and maybe even manifestations (this depends on how you feel about your religion).  Religions create ripples in the cultures around them, influencing art, cuisine, manners of speech and dress.  Religion is everywhere.  Just the mythologies of real religions fill large, heavy books.  Who has time to write that kind of thing for a game?

So, the pervasiveness of religion makes it difficult to present, compactly and respectfully, in an RPG.  I can imagine three reactions to this - stereotyping and game-statting out religion, making the cultural elements implicit or absent (what most games did), or make a religious game (which was apparently not among the goals of Heartbreaker designers), or simply crib real-world religions, leaving it to the players to fill in the details that makes that work.  It's part of the larger Culture Problem.  Deep, convincing, complex game cultures are rare because it takes uncommon knowledge and time to even concieve of one, let alone several, and still rarer skill to communicate those cultures to the game, making them into equally complex entities in the minds of the players as they are in the writer's.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: John Kim on January 19, 2003, 08:27:36 PM
In reply to Jack Spencer Jr --

Well, the topic was why do D&D and the "heartbreaking" fantasy RPGs neglect religion?  If you want to probe why they are the way they are, I think you need to look at their influences.  I certainly agree that D&D is quite distinct from Tolkien, but I don't think you can deny that it had a major influence on D&D.  

Ultimately, I think it might be more productive to start a different topic: asking "How should religion be done right in RPGs?"  In fact, I'm going to do that myself.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 19, 2003, 08:37:47 PM
Quote from: Henry Fitch
I was looking at an old D&D book the other day -- the D&D Adventure Game from the early 90s, I believe -- and was struck by how completely absent religion seemed to be. The cleric class was there, of course, but was described as someone who "gains special powers because of the strength of their belief in some cause or principle", or something like that. Gods didn't really come up at all.

That's pretty funny. I dug out my copy of the original set of D&D (3 books white box suppliments and Chainmail) And I found no refernce to gods at all for Clerics. They were a human-only class that was meant to be between Fighting Men and Magic-Users and it then goes intoweapon restrictions and how much it cost to build a castle when a Cleric reaches the proper level. The cloest thing to religion is aptly in the Gods, Demigods and Heroes suppliment. The bulk of the book presents various mythologies in Monster Manual form, but in the Foreward is this:
Quote
This is the mertest of outlines [of various Mythologies], presented in D&D terms

He goes on:
Quote
This volume is something else, also: our last attempt to reach the "Monty Hall" DM's

The editor, Timothy J. Kask, seems to disapprove of good old dungeon bashing calling it "foolish." The purpose of God Demigods and Heroes was not to add mythologies and religion in the sense we all seem to be thinking but to put riduculously large monsters into the game so that a 44th level Fighting Man will still pale compared to Odin's 300 hit points.

This is actually in FUDGE with the Legendary level for people so there can always be someone better out there. Problem is I don't think this tactic worked very well.

Maybe most of this belongs in another thread?


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Rob MacDougall on January 19, 2003, 08:54:51 PM
Hi folks:

My first thought on reading this thread was: by definition, the Fantasy Heartbreakers are apples that do not fall far from the tree. That is, they reproduce most of D&D’s core systems and assumptions, each one making only a handful of changes—and those changes they do make are pretty obvious outcomes of drift (like new skill systems) or just the creative process that a long-running campaign inevitably produces (like elaborate settings).

So why should we expect the Heartbreakers to change the religious system when they change so few of the other basic aspects and concerns of D&D? In other words, is there a answer to the question: “why so little innovation in Heartbreaker religions?” that is any different than the answer to the question “why so little innovation in Heartbreaker race and class systems, in combat, in levels and skills?” My guess is no, and searching, say, the religious content of Tolkien or other fantasy literature is probably a red herring. (Especially considering the points made elsewhere about how little the Heartbreakers seem to be influenced by anything outside of a) D&D as written and b) the experiences people have playing D&D.)

I’m struck by Ron’s observation in the first Heartbreakers essay that one area where the Heartbreakers show a lot of effort and originality is their magic systems. They don’t resemble D&D’s traditional magic system at all. The conclusion we can draw from this is that D&D’s magic system is very, very bad. Bad not only from the point of view of a Forge-reading Sorceror player who gave up on D&D ten years ago and is all about heavy Premise Narrativism, but also from the point of view of a Heartbreaker author, a guy who has kept playing D&D for years and years and years, who clearly loves D&D, and obviously finds something in it that scratches (almost) all his GNS itches.

But since the Heartbreakers almost never alter the presentation of gods and religions in D&D, doesn’t it stand to reason that the people who are writing Heartbreakers, the people who pretty much like D&D as written and aren’t driven to seek out other games, simply like the way gods and religions work in D&D?

(This happens to coincide with my memories of playing D&D as a twelve-year old. It never occurred to me to design my own version of D&D, but I know I could never get the magic system right -- memorizing spells, praying for spells, spells in spell books but not memorized, spells on scrolls... But I never had any problem with Deities & Demigods.)

My understanding of the GNS system is that no way of playing is intrinsically better than any other. The only great failing is GNS incoherence – to express one goal and have rules push another, or to have parts of the system at odds with other parts  (and D&D seems a great offender in this regard).

Now, they may not be to your taste or to mine, but from the point of view of the Heartbreaker authors, religion must have been one of the things that D&D really did very well! From the laboratory of years of devoted D&D play that coughed up these Fantasy Heartbreakers, the evidence seems to be that the D&D religious system works; it is ideal for the style of play that D&D promotes (whatever that is). Unlike the magic system which everybody feels the need to tinker with, D&D’s deities – dumb names, colorless lists, un-fun strictures and all – appear to be a strikingly successful part of the game’s design.

Rob


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: clehrich on January 19, 2003, 09:32:16 PM
Several important points have been made recently, and I’d like to highlight and respond to them.

four willows weeping wrote:
Quote
D&d...had its reasons for presenting religion as it did. That's not an issue....Heartbreakers put their energy into "correcting problems" that they saw as correctable. I argue that The Religion Problem lies far in uncorrectability territory.

I think this is correct as far as the early history of the hobby is concerned.  I do, however, think it is interesting to ask why D&D presented religion as it did, and it looks like John Kim and Jack Spencer are debating the relevance of source literature for this.  For myself, I suspect that such examination will be helpful, but not sufficient, as an explanation.

four willows weeping continued:
Quote
Real religion has many aspects, including but not limited to: rituals, belief systems, mythologies, specific customs, attitudes, architecture, and maybe even manifestations (this depends on how you feel about your religion). Religions create ripples in the cultures around them, influencing art, cuisine, manners of speech and dress. Religion is everywhere. Just the mythologies of real religions fill large, heavy books. Who has time to write that kind of thing for a game?

I’ve quoted this paragraph in full because, first of all, it presents a serious attempt at recognizing the complex contours of actual religions, and I think these bits and pieces really need to be on the table, not only for this discussion, but also for any future threads about how religion ought to be done.

But the logic here is problematic.  Real political and military histories are also long and detailed, yet Heartbreakers go on and on about these.  Why do they consider that reasonable, but not the construction of plausible religions?  Four willows weeping in fact makes an excellent case for doing so: religions affect every other aspect of the culture, so if you create a plausible religion, your cultures will seem more “realistic.”

As to the difficulty, during the 1970s college professors all over America were teaching Mircea Eliade.  You don’t need to be an expert; if you’ve read The Sacred and the Profane, for example, which my freshmen generally not only find comprehensible but also enjoy very much, you’ve got ample fodder for constructing fantasy religions.  Myth will play an important role, but will be formulated in terms of how religious people re-live myths, through ritual, to sacralize their lives.  This doesn’t take “uncommon knowledge and time”; after all, Joseph Campbell (commonly cited in RPG bibliographies) is a rather watered-down Eliade with a more explicit theological agenda.  My point is that I think it’s a myth, if you will, that religion is too hard to create.

This raises an additional issue, one that I’ve been somewhat hesitant to bring up here.  I’ll just lay it out briefly, and cover my head in asbestos.

Classic fantasy RPGs present a certain kind of nostalgia.  They construct worlds where men are men, and their actions are “epic”: they slay foul monsters, discover lost treasures, and so forth.  In that kind of fantasy, contact with gods is not mediated by some sort of church organization, with theology and ritual and whatnot; rather, the heroes talk to their gods directly.  They have a set of basic principles, and they interpret them personally, not allowing weedy cloistered types to tell them what the gods want.  In short, such fantasies want direct contact with divinity, instead of a church hierarchy.  They want personal interpretation, instead of dogma or handed-down theology.  They want myths instead of rituals, and when rituals happen, they’re called magic.

All this is in line with traditional Protestant critiques of Catholicism; these are some of the same charges leveled during the Reformation.  Like the American mainstream, fantasy RPGs take for granted a basically Protestant perspective on the nature of religion, but then extend it into an essentially secular-humanist perspective, such that the basic question of faith, which makes these critiques coherent in Protestant thought, is simply eliminated.  The end result is that you have incoherent, impossible religions, in which every aspect of actual human religious behavior has been removed or so altered as to be unrecognizable.

For me, the remaining questions are:
1. When and where did New Age and especially NeoPagan perspectives on religion enter RPGs?  Why has that been so successful?
2. Has this kind of facile presentation of religions run its course, in the sense that those gamers interested in detailed fantasy settings might be seriously interested in new approaches?
3. To what extent is there a continuing antagonism to religion in the RPG community, perhaps fueled by some right-wing religious groups’ denunciations of gaming?  
4. Are there other, more interesting  reasons for such antagonism?  To put it differently, why is it the case that, as Rob put it,
Quote
the people who pretty much like D&D as written and aren’t driven to seek out other games, simply like the way gods and religions work in D&D

5. Is it worth trying to “solve” the problem, and what would that entail?


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 19, 2003, 10:08:01 PM
Hi John,

Good point on the topic's focus.  I look forward to your new thread.  (It seems to be where the many threads have been heading.)

However, I think the last few posts have come up with what I consider to be the valid answer: religious is neglected in these games because the people who wrote and played them just don't care about religion.

I think that's just it.  For if we were to assume that the source material was the cause, we'd have to assume they'd look deeper into the source material.  But instead, we find Tolkien reproduced with the depth of Colorform set.  So that's not it.  What it is, hauling out Ockman's razor, must plainly be a lack of interest on the parts of the players.

As others have pointed out, that's fine. It's their game, and they're clearly happy with it.  

But some of us haven't been.  We've got the questions brewing.  Now, for those who want to give it a whirl, let's see what happens.

Take care,
Christopher


Title: Re: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: b_bankhead on January 19, 2003, 10:10:25 PM
Quote from: clehrich
.


Since my professional career is devoted to studying the ins-and-outs of the history of religions, I have a few suggestions here, but I don't think they do more than scratch the surface.

1. It may be an unfair stereotype, but I associate this sort of fantasy world with science-engineering types.  I know that when I first started playing AD&D (just after it appeared, actually), I considered myself part of this group.  (Funny old thing, life.)  And my experience as a teacher is that many people who align themselves very strongly to a scientific mindset are uncomfortable with religion in the real world, sometimes going so far as to see it all as idiotic superstition and whatnot.  (Lately, Penn and Teller would be excellent examples of this perspective.)  So I wonder whether part of the failure of such games to deal with any of the more interesting possibilities of fantasy religions have to do with this fundamental discomfort..

4. Finally, I think Ron picks up something interesting when he uses the word "culture."  As a rule, these games describe culture in a few terms: economics, military and political history, and some material culture (at least implicitly).  But just about all of what I would focus on as primary for "culture" --- art, literature, music, stories (not big-ass myths, but just plain old stories), family life, social structures, and of course religion --- gets hand-waved away.  So I sort of wonder whether the total failure with respect to religion isn't really part and parcel of an unwillingness or inability to deal with culture more broadly.



  Sci-tech types are usually brigth and well trained but are often quite narrowly educated.  Their world design tends to reflect that narrow education, which is often lacking in formal training in the cultura; things listed above.  They don't know about the importance of these things in human history so they don't write about them in their game worlds.  Many of the hard-sci types are actually quite contemptuous of soft-sci areas like sociology,history,or psychology and even more so of non scientific areas like literary criticism, or actual scholarly study of mythology as opposed to the Ray Harryhausen type. The barreness of their game worlds in these areas reflects their own intellectuall limitations.

  This tendency doesnt just crop up in heroic fantasy.  One of the things I always disliked about most Traveler fans was the really lousy job they did at presenting the feel of different human cultures.  World after world just felt like 1980's earth style cardboard backdrops to fire their fusion guns in front of.  Part and parcel of this feeling of sameness is lack of creativity in presenting and even visualising a different material culture.

  Typically the traveler crowd has done a much better idea of figuring out the weight of a laser gun than even presenting what the dominant culture of the Imprerium is really like.  This reflects the intellectual set of the sci-tech mentality that dominates role playing,partially due to the nature of the dominant rpg paradigms...(right brain types are mostly chased away by all those numbers).....


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Johannes on January 20, 2003, 01:15:23 AM
Hi,

I have come up with some possible explanations of the poor representation of religion in D&D and its wannabes. First is realted directly the games themselves and the other is related to the backrground of the designers.

1. The game focus is on teamwork and monster bashing. Religion is treated only as far as it helps these goals. Ethics (alignement etc.) tell who you can bash. Ethics is a list of do nots, not a philosophical system for assessing right or wrong. If PCs started questioning things it would be threat to the game. Players don’t want to think if its right to go into a dungeon and kill and rob its inhabitants. Moral reasoning would kill most dungeon crawls at the beginning. Deeper consideration of moral issues could also lead to undesirable quarrels between team memebers which is another threat to the goals.

Cleric spells are an important part of D&D-style religion because they add firepower and a medic to the team. The matter of cleric‘s faith is dangerous because its too introvert and personal. Introversion is not good for teamwork. Hell if a cleric was too religious he could even give up adventuring and start prosetylizing! The game focus is on extrovert action and not introvert contemplation.

2. Why is political history presented so much better than religion or the arts for example? Heartbreaker history is mainly a story about things that have happened. There are usually no structural historical approaches. My theory is that all people have some skill as story tellers – it comes to us naturally. Treatment of religion and other culture is about writing the mythology (stories) but it is also about interpreting the mythology in the terms of the believers and describing their religious setting systematically.

Interpretation and systematic description are somtheing that is – unlike the telling of stories – not easy and natural to us. They are learned over time. As a high school teacher I know how poorly most of the students interpret literary texts or understand culuture even after I have tried to teach them something for three years so I’m not surprised by engineers’ generally poor text skills. High school is likely to be their only training for the interpretation of texts. They just don’t know how to do religion. People are also often hostile to things they don’t understand – like academic treatement of matter they consider simple and every day. This is of course an unfair generalization: I know engineers who are brilliant interpreters of texts, but it gives some insight to the problem.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: contracycle on January 20, 2003, 04:24:56 AM
Quote

Let's make sure not to look at religions with what amounts to the AD&D religious mindset: religion is religious institutions; religion is found in the begging of gifts from powerful creatures; religion is found in the utterly mundane and surface manifestation of buildings, symbols and holy orders.


I could make a cogent case that all RW religion was exactly that, and by duplicating that sort of approach a good modelling of religious sensibility could be constructed.  But D&D didnt do it, because as far institutions and architecture went, exposition of material culture was thin on the ground.  Tghus, yopu could not interact with the churches in terms of the spiritual or temporal agendas, you could not engage with a herteical analysis because there were none, etc etc.

What D&D did was use magic as a power-ups in a totally gamist contract, IMO.  And as niche proetction and whatnot; they were achieving game goals that had nothing to do with exposition of culture or mindset, whtehr cynical or otherwise.

So I'd like to throw out a thought that struck me during this debate and which had been quiet fermenting based on some of my current reading: howcome alternative medicine has never really been done?  We have a tendency to automatically, even in fantasy games, see the body as constituted by our RW  knowledge; bones, arteries, upper and lower intestines, etc etc.  And yet, certainly something like the theory of the Four Humours would be more appropriate for most fantasy settings, and the "healing magic" or whatrever is implemented (even theories of rest-healing) should be articulated in terms of the Four Humours.  You don't exert Mind Control, you artificially shift the disposition of their humours, and that does the trick.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Rob MacDougall on January 20, 2003, 06:36:40 AM
Quote
And yet, certainly something like the theory of the Four Humours would be more appropriate for most fantasy settings, and the "healing magic" or whatrever is implemented (even theories of rest-healing) should be articulated in terms of the Four Humours.


I haven't read the game, but I gather from the thread "FVLMINATA Prep Questions" over in Actual Play that it does in fact use a system of Humors in its recreation of Ancient Rome.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: contracycle on January 20, 2003, 06:47:57 AM
Indeed, and I kicked myself when reminded.
Point is tho, despite the frequencty with which we have healing as a part of character functionality, becuase of the common presence of violence, its seldom tackled as anything more than resource-management.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on January 20, 2003, 07:03:19 AM
I think that this, again, is a symptom stemming from a much larger source - the separation of color from mechanics.  Very ancestral issue, and seemingly limited wholly to the D&D family of games (where I use family in Ron's sense of "games descended from" rather than "products associated with"); Everway, L5R, nearly every game I see coming out of the Forge, none of them share this trait.

This could have something to do with the Religion issue, too: religion is color.  "Color does not belong" in the Fantasy Heartbreaker school of design (except in the special category of magic, which seems to break every observation that applies to the whole.)  So, it can't be written about or incorporated in the game directly; it would violate a firm guiding principle.

Quote from: clehrich
But the logic here is problematic. Real political and military histories are also long and detailed, yet Heartbreakers go on and on about these. Why do they consider that reasonable, but not the construction of plausible religions? Four willows weeping in fact makes an excellent case for doing so: religions affect every other aspect of the culture, so if you create a plausible religion, your cultures will seem more “realistic.”


I promise to reply to this once I've digested it and composed a coherent response; right now my thoughts are scattered all over composing my own mock-Heartbreaker.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Shreyas Sampat on January 20, 2003, 07:36:42 AM
Okay.

You postulated that fantasy RPGs are intended to create characters whose actions are "epic"; they are the mythology, in more than just a maner of speaking.  This makes religious considerations metaphysical or personal, rather than societal: we want to know how to interact with the Divine, and how it will act with relation to us, rather than how the whole (unimportant, mundane, non-epic) mortal world interacts with it.  I agree that this answers why societal religious issues were not dealt with, but it still leaves a different question unanswered for me:

Why aren't we given a portrait of divinity that allows us to interact with it meaningfully, in the mythic way that we intend?

I'm tempted to guess that this is an outgrowth of the design; how do you Simulate that??  The model of the Fantasy Heartbreaker makes certain assumptions about the world, I believe, that make it nigh-impossible to present a way to interact with things mythically:
1. The universe is controlled by immutable, scientific laws having to do with such things as the behaviors of matter and energy.  These laws may not be the same as those of our world - they often include "magic", which can be analyzed scientifically (scientistically?) if desired, and constitutes the manipulation of some "exotic force" to produce non-exotic effects.
2. Emergent qualities of complex things - mental states, spiritual attributes, etc., are only relevant in their reduction to their matter-and-energy effects.

Once we have to look at mythic beings in terms of m-e causality (because the system does not look outside of that), they lose their main thrust of effectiveness - the emotional elements that make them mythic.


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: Walt Freitag on January 20, 2003, 10:59:16 AM
Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

Quote from: Shreyas
This makes religious considerations metaphysical or personal, rather than societal: we want to know how to interact with the Divine, and how it will act with relation to us, rather than how the whole (unimportant, mundane, non-epic) mortal world interacts with it. I agree that this answers why societal religious issues were not dealt with, but it still leaves a different question unanswered for me:

Why aren't we given a portrait of divinity that allows us to interact with it meaningfully, in the mythic way that we intend?


Shreyas, I think you and clehrich (who I believe is the "you" you're addressing in your post) have hit on an approach that works for me. If I want stories about the impact of religion at the societal level, I can turn on CNN; furthermore unless I invent religions so odd as to be nearly unrecognizable as such, I might not be able to base too much play on issues of religion in society without being seen as either prostelytizing or bashing some analogous real-world religion, perhaps even both at once. Which is too bad, because I can invent more interesting religions than any pulp SF writer ever did.

But mythic personal interaction between the player-characters and the divine and/or metaphysical elements of the world is an element I've frequently attempted to capture using free-form invention in my vanilla fantasy role playing games, with (I believe) frequent success.

You ask, why aren't we given a portrait of divinity that allows us to interact with it meaningfully, in the mythic way that we intend?

I can't answer the question, but I can point out that in role playing game texts we usually aren't given a portrait of anything that allows us to interact with it meaningfully in the mythic way that we intend. Take your question, substitute "monsters," "magic," "combat," "warfare," "quests," "heroism," "royalty," "civilization," "outlawry," "wounds," "jumping over chasms," or any of hundreds of other concepts instead of "divinity" and it's still a valid question.

Look to indie narrativist games for the exceptions. The closest thing to what you're looking for, vis a vis player-characters and divinity on a personal level, is probably Sorcerer's demons. However, even in those cases the game text is not so much giving participants a portrait as giving them some sort of template for drawing their own portraits, some more detailed and some more flexible than others. For example, the same systems that let you flesh out a character with descriptors like "3 points of 'Can't be kept in or out'" would also make it possible to describe a divine being or force in the same way, but they won't provide much guidance for doing so or for how to play out the interactions.

Given the current state of game texts, the best advice right now for those who want to explore mythic interactions with the divine is to do it within the framwork of pervy Narrativist play.

I believe it's possible to get the kind of mythic results you're looking for in more GM-driven styles of play, and could be made easier if the right kind of tools were developed. Fantasy GMs invent new monsters all the time, for all kinds of reasons, including to develop or enhance a mood, to introduce a particular type of challenge, or to address a particular theme important to a player-character's protagonism -- and yet there are no systems I'm aware of that cover the invention of new monsters (or even the selection of existing monsters) using the purpose the monster is intented to serve in the story as the starting point. Ditto for lots of other elements, including gods and religions, for which a story-context-sensitive creation system would be comparably difficult to design.

That such tools don't already exist is evidence that either: (1) I'm wrong and they're not actually practical; or (2) thinking about the process of authorship in conventional RPG design and play is still rudimentary. In any case, the possibility that the right tools haven't been invented yet (and the additional possibility that the sorts of less effective substitute tools that RPG texts do generally provide fall too noticeably short when attempting to handle the divine) account, in a way, for their absence in RPG texts.

- Walt


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: contracycle on January 20, 2003, 02:57:16 PM
Quote from: four willows weeping

This could have something to do with the Religion issue, too: religion is color.  "Color does not belong" in the Fantasy Heartbreaker school of design (except in the special category of magic, which seems to break every observation that applies to the whole.)  So, it can't be written about or incorporated in the game directly; it would violate a firm guiding principle.


A thought in this regard.  Inasmuch as there is some overlap with players of wargames, wargames often have it as an unstated principle that the reasons for conflict don't matter.  Nobody particularly minds if you play the Nazis, and play to win.  The points of difference between the parties is backstory for the conflict in the here and now, which is itself the subject of play.  Similarly, when addressing the crusades the personal faiths of the participants will only be discussed as colour and possibly elements strategy.  Interestingly, while wondering if there were any cases of implementation of magic as rules in wargames, the most prominent examples are those which are themselves of the derivative layer - the classic contrast of the dwarven bomb-slinger standing side-by-side with the Druid fresh out of the woods with twigs in his hair*.  Warcraft and its ilk are surely the epitome of this melange of cause and effect in the literal, physical and ideological senses.  In the purely gamist approach, "why" is not relevant.

I think this produces problems as soon as it contacts the first person perspective.  Going out and slinging your spells at the orcish shaman is not religion, but as the attempt is made to locate that first person perspective with an identity contextualised by setting, the omission becomes apparent.  The Heartbreaker solution is to turn the bad guys into foils such that their black hats render them obvious and unequivocal, and deny them as a locus for the first person perspective.  But this is not necessarily satisfying; the first person perspective seeks meaning in its exercise of action and conflict for its own sake is only IMO of limited entertainment value.  Also, its denied access to some of the colour which players wanted to enjoy; inevitably, sooner or later someone wants to play an orc, and with good story based precedent (using story in the loose sense of the open media).  Questions will be asked.

I think the solution to this problem, for me anyway, appeared in the next layer of games which answered the question of “why” by constructing a backstory that had a lot of pseudo-ideological nooks and crannies to wiggle down and which justified conflict through alternative perspective.  The also solved the us vs. them problem with tacit standing conflicts and by defining “us” more clearly.

* Although I do recall a LOTR game with fireballs at helms deep.  Interesting to speculate how much of the battlefield aspecty of magic can be laid at Tolkiens barbican.


Title: Music
Post by: M. J. Young on January 20, 2003, 03:27:18 PM
Quote from: John Kim
The original topic proposed by Chris was:  why is religion seemingly neglected by traditional RPG designs -- along with other aspects of culture like art, literature, and music?

I actually know something about music; I've written a fair amount of it over the years, and performed quite a bit more. I think perhaps what I know about music might apply laterally to these other areas.

One of the most difficult forms, for me, is the fugue. I've written a few over the years, and similar contrapuntal works, but it's always an effort of hammering out musical relationships, adjusting this to fit with that, making it work. Songs in a contemporary or modern form I can do extemporaneously, at least sometimes; but fugues require a great deal of, time, effort, and focus.

Johann Sebastian Bach use to sit down at the organ and improvise them, sometimes in five parts (four is the best I've ever done). He wrote hundreds. He wrote a collection which was basically "every way you can twist a melody to make it work as a fugue illustrated". O.K., Bach was a genius particularly talented in composition. But what interests me is that he was not recognized as all that much of a genius in his time, and he participated in fugue improvisation contests. That means that there were a lot of other musicians at the time who thought nothing of sitting down at a keyboard and improvising a fugue. What takes me hours to do they could do extemporaneously.

I'm quite happy to concede that Bach was a greater composer than I. I am not so ready to concede that all of these forgotten competitors were also greater composers than I. I suspect that they could do this because they were immersed in their culture, and so the fugue was the natural form of musical expression for them, as contemporary and modern forms are for me.

I note that very few modern composers are able to seriously reproduce the kinds of music of an earlier age; those who can are usually music historians who have studied them in great depth. I think it is also somewhat true of certain periods of art and literature, that efforts to copy them tend to become parodies or echoes, never equaling the works they model. I think this is because the art, music, and literature of a period is entirely informed by the mindset of the period, and that mindset cannot be perfectly captured by anyone who is not so fully immersed in that period.

This would be the more true, perhaps, with religion. Religion is often one of the critical influences informing that mindset, while at the same time being informed by it. To bring a real representation of a religion--even an imaginary religion--into a game, you would have to find a way to enable players to think and feel as people of that world, and not as people playing characters from that world.

I think I've more to say, but I think it's going to wind up over on John's new thread, so I'll pause this here.

Footnote:
Quote from: Walt Freitag
[T]here are no systems I'm aware of that cover the invention of new monsters (or even the selection of existing monsters) using the purpose the monster is intented to serve in the story as the starting point.

Although I'm not certain quite how clear it is in the text, Multiverser's approach to creating creatures is to begin with the purpose of the creature, imagine what it needs to be, and then stat it accordingly. I don't know how close this is to what you've stated. Obviously, your statement makes it specifically narrativist, and mine makes it more general. That is, if the idea is "I need a realistic representation of a horse", I begin with what I think a horse can do and stat out the horse, a simulationist construction. If the idea is "I need a dragon with enough stopping power to prevent the characters from getting through the pass", I imagine what it would take to stop the characters and stat my monster appropriately, a gamist construction. If the point is "I need a wizard who has been threatening the kingdom and blackmailing its royal family, and has so far been untouchable", I'm going figure out how that could be done, and detail a character who fits what I've imagined, a more narrativist creation. If what you mean is go from what you need to make it, that's the Multiverser approach in general. If what you mean is that creation of creatures is specifically story-based in all cases (never simulationist or gamist), that's narrower than Multiverser's focus.

--M. J. Young


Title: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion
Post by: contracycle on January 21, 2003, 04:23:10 AM
I'd be interested to know if it is possible to produce a disussion of the use of monsters; and construct play mechanics based on the narrative purposes of a beasty or NPC or whatever.

Mostnplayers are not, and will not become, familiar with literary theory.  No three act play structure, etc etc.  So, how then are players to produce dramatically valuable motion in play?  I think this is a large part of the problem.

Best idea I've found oin these lines so far is to sort through the 36 daramtic situations finding NPC's to fill the roles of the dramatis personnae.  But, a caveat was the interesting Dramatica discussion on character which pointed out that siometimes character functional roles do not have 1:1 identities with actual characters.

I think it should be possible to build a mechanical system which explicitly generates story components, rather than by generating world facts.