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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 02:42:21 AM



Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 02:42:21 AM
Greetings All,

I see the debate about religion is still raging.  So, if I may, my 2 cents here to offer...

What is religion?

Is it merely a set of mores, thus a code of ethics as expressed in a theological morality?

There is a difference between religion and morality.  The portrayal of religion is based upon the assumption of a grouping of cultural mores and traditons that have been, or are capable of being, adopted by a diverse group of peoples.  Morality intimates conformity to the rules of the land, be those rules theocratic in origin or secular.

The use of religions within the context and framework of any fictional work, be that work a novel or roleplaying game, must begin from an examination of the basics.  That means learning what the term "religion" not only means and implies, but looking beyond what we "think" it means.  Not easy since we all come pre-rolled with our own unique set of preconceptions.  But, unlike in a roleplaying game, we have a choice of whether to let these preconceptions be disadvantages or to turn them to our advantage.

The first step is recognising them and deciding to looking beyond what we have learned, and thus learn yet more about religion as a whole.

Since we are online let us see what sort of information we can find.  Here are a few informational links:

World Religions: Religion, History and Literature (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/1699/)

Religions, Faith Groups, & Ethical systems (http://www.religioustolerance.org/var_rel.htm)

Approaching the Study of Religion (http://religions.myztek.com/home.php3)

Within the framework of religion there exist many modes of thought.  Some deal with practical matters, others with abstracts.  These range from deism to spirituality, philosophy of thought to philosophy of theurgy, and then there are religious ethics.

Most roleplaying games distill religion down to templates of good or evil, with appropriate advantages or disadvantages to apply to a character.  Yet there are some characters, which while on the surface appear to be religious in nature, often aren't.  Thus how to reconcile the Witches, Diviners, Wizards, Necromancers, and other denizens of the fey realm of fantasy that may be allowed to wield preternatural power? Especially when that power is all too often divorced from what little concept of religion and deity that a game world applies?

This is part of world building.  Something every game designer, be they a green Game Master or veteran author, must face at one time or another if they plan to create a game world in which religion plays even a background role.  Yet, as we all know, religion is no bit play.  Not by far.  Irregardless of whether in a fantasy or future world, religion is often part of the world building process.

But where to begin in researching this?

Luckily there are many who have already touched upon this very topic!

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions (http://www.sfwa.org/writing/worldbuilding1.htm)

World Building links page (http://hobgoblin.net/resources/createlink1.asp)

Religion and Roleplaying (http://www.aquela.com/roleplaying/r&r/)

It's not much, to be sure, but perhaps enough to provide some food for thought.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Nick the Nevermet on January 21, 2003, 07:53:10 AM
I think that what religion is will be answered differently in every game.  In D&D, for example, you have a multitude of godlings who dole out divine magic on essentially a contractual basis.  Pendragon, on the other hand, talks less about religion and more about what it means to be religious (different personality traits for different religions, etc.)

What is religion, what is its role in the setting, and what (if any) mechanics allow religion affect play are all questions each individual game (and even every individual campaign) needs to address, implicitly or explicitly.

Please understand, I agree religion can be important, and its often handled... questionably.  However, I think every game has a different answer for the question "what is religion."


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 21, 2003, 08:05:02 AM
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
What is religion?

Religion is a security blanket.

Let me try again. Religion is a mode of thought or a vision of the world around us and it includes things that can help those who believe feel more secure in their lives in general. This goes back to ancient peoples with their myths that explain things. Primative men heard the thunderstorm and were frightened. They didn't know what it was. Then someone said it was the gods and they are angry, let us pray that they spare us from their wrath. And it work, they prayed and before too long, the storm ended. Now thunderstorms were no longer so scary. Instead of being a complete unknown, it was the gods and they could be appeased with prayer.

So it is the source of security. It makes people feel safe, like the line in the movie Signs "for better or worse they know there is someone there to help them." Which is why people as so touchy about it because when you mess with religion you are messing with a nice safe, comfortable feeling. If you're going to criticize someone's religion, you might as well rip their clothes off outside in January. You'll have a similar effect and they'll have the same sense of humor about it.

Now, I'm not knocking religions here. I mean, the alternative isn't better in any way shape or form. But this is what religion is. How do you work this into an RPG?


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: greyorm on January 21, 2003, 10:06:59 AM
Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Religion is a mode of thought or a vision of the world around us and it includes things that can help those who believe feel more secure in their lives in general.

But this is what religion is.

I completely, totally and utterly dissent.

The above "example" is one of the most oft-repeated bits of "explanation of religion" and "why people do this" given out and absorbed voraciously by those who don't get religion. It's also one of the worst explanations possible due its simplicity and lack of insight.

I submit that the "religion as a security blanket" theory is, in fact (and rather ironically), a security blanket for the non-religious that helps them explain this big unknown of religion, to understand why anyone would want to devote themselves to something the questioner cannot grasp; hence why it continues to perpetuate itself.

The explanation is overly simplistic, unsupportable via evidence, and (due the first) provides no actual answer that can be mapped to anything real and examinable.

My own religious beliefs, for example, do not provide answers, in fact, they raise more questions than they answer. If the function of religion is to provide answers, then it has failed (and this applies to both my former Christian beliefs and my current Pagan beliefs).

Now it is true that my beliefs do provide some measure of security -- in the belief that there is something out there and it is looking out for you -- but that is less than half the whole of it, and definitely not the usually important part.

If we look at Bhuddism, in fact, there is nothing out there looking out for you. Yet, Bhuddism is a religion, and like a few others with similar qualities, contains no elements of supernatural beings or intelligent forces.

Religion is a guiding, moral foundation for thought and behavior. If you want to know what religion is, this is far more accurate a description than an explanation of it as a security blanket.

Even ancient religions are all about this: they do not explain, they provide guidance to the worshippers in actual, real, physical life.

I dare anyone to find and provide any empirical evidence of what cave-men did when they saw a thunderstorm and became scared. The whole scenario bothers me because it makes cave-men as "suddenly intelligent" rather than increasingly aware.

The example provides cave-men as steeped in culture which had not yet arisen -- that of prayer and faith, of belief in the supernatural and supernatural power -- in order to explain the foundations of that very thing (supernatural power, prayer and belief).

Certainly men (and the proto-humans and apes they came from) would have noticed thunderstorms a long, long, long time before they had any words to pray with. But apparently they weren't scared enough to pray at that point?

Of course, this misses the heart of the issue: why would they pray? What were they praying to? If they did not previously have the concept of gods-in-nature or external-spirits, then why would they speak to them and ask them for help or safety, or for the storm to end?

Obviously, religious beliefs and notions about the spirit-world would have to arise prior to praying to a storm to get it to go away -- either by invoking the power of some external agency or by talking to the storm itself -- non-human consciousness, and inhuman consciousness...all pretty advanced concepts for guys still scared of storms, IMO.

Long before this, before they even knew to pray, their ancestors would have noticed that storms come and storms go.

If you want to know where religion comes from, you must look into shamanism -- all surviving practiced forms of which are remarkably similar to one another. "It" has rightly been called the oldest surviving religion on the planet...Shamanism, however, is proto-religion, and far from being a "security blanket" to explain things, it was a tool with which to control and explore the universe.

In fact, in shamanistic cultures, the practice of shamanistic techniques does not explain things, myths explain things -- or rather, if we are thinking as does the ancient, history, because what we call myths today are real history to the ancient man.

So, does history make you feel safer? Is history a security blanket? Usually not, because it is simply what happened. Same here -- the myth may explain why the sky is unreachable, but it isn't expressly for that purpose, rather it relates simply what is and what came before.

As well, is control a security blanket? Well, let me ask you, does your hammer make you feel safer? Do street-lights? What about oil refining plants or rubber tennis shoes? Tools.

Tools are used to control and influence the universe according to our whims. Often enough, that whim is safety...no big surprise there. You get your flu shots to ward off the flu (hopefully)...but it isn't because you FEAR the flu (usually), you're merely attempting to exert control over the universe for a specific reason.

So, given all that, I think trying to use the "security blanket" angle to design game religions that reflect the depth and personal meaning of actual religions is the wrong way to go about it.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 21, 2003, 10:09:05 AM
Hello,

I didn't get to this thread in time. Jack and Raven, the topic at hand is not what is religion at a personal and real-world level - it's what is religion in role-playing. Some of that will necessarily reference real religion, practices, and social roles, but let's keep the judgmental issues surrounding other, real persons out of the discussion.

Best,
Ron


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: greyorm on January 21, 2003, 11:22:47 AM
Ron's right, we're way off-topic. Jack and I have already spoken in private, and neither one of us meant to deride/judge/insult the other, so we're all good, I believe.

To drag my above spaz kicking-and-screaming back on-topic for moderation's sake, the issue Jack and I are arguing about and attempting to answer is really thus:
Ok, what is a religion? What does it DO for a person that it would make them devote themselves to it? And how can we make it do that for a character and a society in a game?

Would that be a correct interpretation of your question, Kester?


Title: Hope this clarifies matters a bit
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 12:12:52 PM
Greetings greyorm,

Merry meet and merry greet, as some folk say.

Quote from: greyorm
Ron's right, we're way off-topic.  

...

To drag my above spaz kicking-and-screaming back on-topic for moderation's sake, the issue Jack and I are arguing about and attempting to answer is really thus:

Ok, what is a religion? What does it DO for a person that it would make them devote themselves to it? And how can we make it do that for a character and a society in a game?

Would that be a correct interpretation of your question, Kester?


It could be distilled thus, more or less, yes.

I had in mind the larger picture of religion's relationship to the the underlying game and world mechanic, its relation to the world building process, religions influene upon the roleplaying environment, and how our own preconceptions-- and those of others-- influence our views of the subject.  And how we, as game players and wouldbe game designers, think such issues should be tackled.

Thus, by extension, we could ask:

What constitutes a fair representation of religion and religious institutions in a roleplaying game?

Should religions be portrayed in depth, or merely reduced to reference statistics?
 


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius



Addendum:  Ok, I've gone through my paper backs and think I have found a rather diverse selection of how religion(s) and belief systems have been portrayed by various authors.


The Rakehells of Heaven; John Boyd, Bantam Books, 1971;  Two astronauts land on an alien planet, a planet with no conception of sin or religion.  Trouble ensues when one of the astronauts interacts with the local population against their mission directives.


Mutineer's Moon; David Weber, Baen;  First book in a trilogly following an astronaut who, during a mission, gets pulled aboard an large alien space vessel.  Which happens to be the Moon!  Learns that the vessel came into the system thousands of years ago, and that a secret fight has been going on behind the seens between two groups using politics and religion.  Sequels are "The Armageddon Inheritance" and "Heirs of Empire".  Full text of the first book can be found online at the baen.com (http://www.baen.com/library/) web site in HTLM, Pocketbook, and RTF formats.


Hegira; Greg Bear, TOR;  No astronauts this time, only a world with large towering obelisks stretching into the heavens.  Obelisks upon which all the knowledge of mankind, including the "truths" of most belief systems, have been written.  But by who?  For what purpose?  An interesting read.


Dune; Frank Herbert.  Religion, or rather the use of belief systems by some agencies, plays a very central role to the novel throughout.  A must read, IMHO.  Most should be familiar with this book.  Usually also always in stock in most new and used bookstores.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 21, 2003, 01:08:27 PM
Quote from: greyorm
Ron's right, we're way off-topic. Jack and I have already spoken in private, and neither one of us meant to deride/judge/insult the other, so we're all good, I believe.

Agreed.
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Should religions be portrayed in depth, or merely reduced to reference statistics?

This is a problematic question and one that cannot be answered here but is only answerable by the individual game designer or GM for the individual game. That is, religion has been reduced to mere statistics and it has been more in-depth and it has worked both way albeit in different games for different people. There is no "should" here, I think.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 21, 2003, 05:46:01 PM
Hi all,

This might sound like I'm dismissing this whole subject out of hand.  I'm not.  I'm trying to make sure we're aware of what we're doing here.

Ron has summed up the topic at hand:  "What is religion in role-playing?"

But if we were to address the same "template" for the question for more mundane matters ("What is combat in roleplaying?"  "What is story in Roleplaying?") I believed we'd find either 1) people talking past each other, or 2) a group consensus on the answer forged by a lot of people walking out of the discussion, so that a small group remained to reach a consensus.

In other words, Ron defines story in part from idea that story is a series of event focused on theme.  

Some people would say that this is the worst way to go about answering this question.  (Re: Dungeon Crawlers who think their telling a story.)  But for Ron and Sorcerer, this doesn't matter, because the people who have wildly different ideas about Story are over at RPG.net, and the few who have triffling disagreements are willing to give the game a try and enjoy it because it's closer to what they like.

One need only read combat threads about RPGs to see, again, that people bring wildly divergent arguments to the topic and either take off or hang around and think they've "found it" as new friendships form.

My point?  How can religion, of all things, be any different?

"What is religion in roleplaying?"  It's what a group of like-minded people decide, for the sake of coherence, expedience and interest in the subject.

The interest part is very imporant.  The gun collector is going to have a very different view of what combat in RPGs is than the guy who's enjoyed action movies, but never threw a punch in his life.  The guy who thinks a dungeon crawl is a story is going to have a very different idea of what a story is than someone who pulls a book like Egri's off the shelf.

Religion is no different.  How to "model" religion, I don't think, can be raised independent of the experience and interest of those engaged.  No matter how well meaning, the various views on the last several threads reveal an almost maniacal difference in logic and assumption.  

What matters is that these people might not get along at all simply because of what they bring to the discussion a priori.  (Again, imagine chat board discussions of "story" in RPGs.  Agreement is not usually not based on changing minds, but different mindsets forming their own, comfortable subgroups.)

In my original thread I asked what is the responsibility of players to think in new ways, toward a view of the story or world different than the one they carry around every day.  This is exactly why I brought that up: Are people willing to not play a role of a man in a different time, but to imaginatively engage in a world view completely contrary to their own, making it up as they go along.  (Not so alien as to be incomprehensible, I remind you, because some human beings, even on this board, have world views contrary to each other.  So it's clearly not alien -- just different form some folks, and everything is different to somebody.)

So, if Ron can bring in works by Egri, I'll tap two seminal acting teachers to illustrate my distinction:

The acting text of "To Actors" by Michael Chekhov, exonerates actors to stop thinking they can play Hamlet by thinking "Hamlet is a guy just like me," and really open their imaginations discover what thoughts and actions they might take if they moved toward Hamlet, his world, his situation.  

On the other hand we have the currently predominate acting style of Stanislovski, who suggested we are, essentially, limited in our work to play a part before we even begin working on it because of what I have experienced.  I can only play Hamlet by what *I* know about fathers know about dying, about the betrayal of mothers.  Chekhov would say poppycock and that you're imagination is larger than your experience of life.

I suspect, for a lot of reasons, most people are closer to Stanislovsky in their style of play.

This is, in fact, a fundemental issue about religion itself: Some people are always striving each day to live toward something incomprehesibly larger than he or she has already lived.  Others live by the logic of: I live by the logic of what has occurred before.

Can completely contrary views on religion be reconciled by people who simply prioritize religion in different ways?

Can you say incoherence?

Maybe, maybe not.  But I don't think this can be resolved until the question of how far people are willing to move toward other, contrary points of view is answered.

Take care,
Christopher


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: talysman on January 21, 2003, 07:55:46 PM
here is my take on the issues of religion in roleplaying: I pretty much agree with christopher on the point that different people have different experiences and approaches to religion, so there should likewise be different roleplaying approaches to religion. you have complete anti-religionists (who are not cynics, just people opposed to religion,) you have nonpractitioners (who don't believe in religion, but don't care what other people believe,) you have "apostates" (who believe somewhat in religion but don't practice it regularly,) you have "the faithful" (who work diligently to advance the causes of a religion.)

you just can't satisfy all of these people with one approach to religion in an RPG. I would think most people would leave this implimentation to the level of social contract rather than worrying about how to "force" people to behave in-game in a religiously-appropriate way.

however, what I think could be safely added to most rpg settings, yet I find strangely missing, is references to religion. it's an argument that used to be leveled against television: most people practice some kind of religion, if irregularly, yet religious activity is almost completely absent from most sitcom and dramatic television series -- and also most rpgs. as an example to the contrary, consider "the simpsons": at least a fourth of the episodes involve the family in church, on the way to church, or on the way home from church at some point, even if the storyline has nothing to do with religion. in other television series, you find a bunch of people who might be atheists, might be true believers, but you have no indication one way or the other. it's a curious taboo.

although not every rpg is going to address religious issues, there should be some basic outlines on religious customs, like mjor seasonal festivals, placement of shrines, and so on, if nothing more than for color. instead, religion only surfaces as part of a plot: the evil cult is going to practice a dark ritual at their next ceremony, even though we never knew they had regular ceremonies before... the abandoned temple contains a mysterious treasure ... a shrine has been defiled by salamanders ... and so on.

this is the true horror of the endless god-lists in fantasy heartbreakers: the designers did think about religion, but only in terms of deity names and bonuses/penalties for particular sects. a smaller list of gods with a list of feast days, religious symbols, and a couple customs would provider much better color to flesh out the gameworld as well as a jumping-off point for those who want to expand the details of the religion and play it out.

the AD&D version of deities and demigods was actually a pretty good attempt, in this regard, because of the god-list in the back of the book that listed symbols, sacred animals, and prefered sacrifices for the various deities. it gave you a few clues to weave into the illusion of a religion without providing mountains of detail you might not want to even use.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: clehrich on January 21, 2003, 09:47:53 PM
At the risk of starting a firestorm of debate, a few comments from the academic study of religion.

1. Religion in the real world (yes, Ron, I was listening --- wait for it!) is made up of a lot of elements of disparate kinds.  Elements include (but are hardly limited to) ethics, ritual, myth, "sacred spaces," social constructs, identity claims, and numerous others.

2. There does not seem to be valid data to support the notion that any one of these elements is necessarily dominant or more fundamental.  Thus to say that religion is a set of beliefs or morals or whatever is extremely dangerous.  The logical conclusion (rarely intentional) is: Your religion does not seem to be founded on a set of morals, and therefore your religion is bad, or you are not really religious.  [As a thought-provoker which I'd prefer not to argue about here (hopefully Ron would squelch it anyway), does the fact that from nearly everyone's perspective the actions of Osama Bin Laden or Jim Jones were immoral necessarily mean that neither is/was religious?  In fact lots of politicians would like to claim that neither was really religious, because we all know religion is a Good Thing so it couldn't produce something bad.  Cf. the Crusades and the Inquisition.]

3. Mainstream Anglo-American public rhetoric and public education about religion focuses on ethics, myths (but only in alien and usually old religions), and perhaps social construction; these days identity sometimes arises.  Ritual is generally entirely suppressed, and ethics is predominant.  This perspective arises from mainstream Anglo-American liberal Protestantism; it has nothing whatever to do with the majority of people around the world, in history.

Okay, so religion in RPGs (at last)?

1. On the "successful approaches" thread, I've proposed a beginning for imagining a fantasy religion.  That one starts with everyday life and its relationship to public ritual (festivals).  I think it's the third post in the thread.

The problem with this approach (almost totally ignored) is that it proposes a type of religion quite alien to mainstream Anglo-American sensibilities; it seems too "alien" to play.  This touches on the comments about Stanislavsky and so forth: if it's too far from one's own experience, can one really imagine oneself into the character at all?  [BTW I question, personally, whether RPG players really need to go quite as far as Stanislavsky, given that they have a very tolerant audience; I'd say go with Lawrence Olivier's comment to Dustin Hoffman (a method actor) when they were doing Marathon Man:  "My dear boy, why not just act it?"]

2. Suppose, then, that we want to start closer to home.  Let's start with the notion of ethics as fundamental, and let's have some gods to believe in.  Fine: now start thinking about ordinary people living their daily lives in such a way that they regularly interact with sacrality.  That is, they want to make daily events --- such as planting, harvesting, hunting, building, crafting, screwing, child-rearing, whatever --- have divine parallels.  These parallels give them a sense of how they're supposed to act, but more importantly they give their actions divine precedent.  As a modern Christian example, WWJD [What Would Jesus Do?], but the idea of following in the gods' footsteps is VERY old.  So when you act as Jesus did, for example, your actions are bigger than just you.  Periodically, people renew this contact formally, through ritual of many kinds.  In all these endeavors to give larger-than-self meaning to their daily toil, they are guided and assisted by those few people here and there who feel this connection with the sacred more deeply, who are racked and bound by it; some of these are priests, some are merely "that guru guy down the street."

----------------------
In conclusion, I'd like to stress the following:  Religion in RPGs needn't necessarily be different from that in the real world.  The central issue, regardless, is what the people do.  The rest is, from a design perspective, icing on the cake.  All you have to do is get your various communities of NPCs actually doing religious things and you're home free.  The PCs will do the same, or start investigating why.

One warning from the academic peanut gallery:

Do yourself a favor.  Don't get into the "where did religion really come from?" debate.  It's not worth it.  Scholars fought about this for about 150 years, with no end in sight, and more theories proposed than you could shake a stick at.  Finally we dropped the thing, because we realized that probably there were some pretty specific cultural and social reasons that something or other vaguely religious arose.  But in order to find out what those were, we'd have to have excellent data about those communities.  And we have essentially zip.  So we'll never know, we'll never have the vaguest clue, it's simply not possible, period.  Live with it --- it's the way the world is.  (Unless you invent a time machine.)


Title: random header #42
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 10:38:12 PM
Greetings Jack,

I suppose it's rather moot to say I tried to be brief, eh?  *smiles*

Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Should religions be portrayed in depth, or merely reduced to reference statistics?


This is a problematic question and one that cannot be answered here but is only answerable by the individual game designer or GM for the individual game. That is, religion has been reduced to mere statistics and it has been more in-depth and it has worked both way albeit in different games for different people. There is no "should" here, I think.


Sorry, have to say I disagree with you on this one Jack.  The "should" is a matter of basic approach, from a developmental standpoint, though where established RPGs are concerned, I'll grant you, the question perhaps does not apply.  Least not as much.

Yet where certain systems are concerned there may be an over abundance of information *about* the nature of everything, while skimping on (basic) statistical lists.  Of corse the reverse also holds true.  For instance many of our earlier games provided little more than a brief outline about deities, a list, and statistics.  Thus leaving much to the GM.  

In the Lords of Creation (1984) game the creators appear to have taken the AD&D approach, giving the GM a Book of Foes with statistics and a few sentences about the creatures.   However they also lumped "deities" here.  Thus the section on "Olympus, The Gods Of" opens with a mere sampling of six Olympians, their stats, and rounds the entry out with eight short paragraphs of information.

While that is far more than most Foes get for an entry, it still only covers the crunchy essentials.  Note:  There are more than six Olympians.  There are twelve.  Even discluding all minor deities and demi-gods, that still means the entry isn't quite complete.  Yet it does provide the GM with *just* enough detail to flesh the pantheon out.

Alas many GMs will find, as they develop their campaign, that they require far more details about the pantheons, cults, and machinations of the deities in their game world.  Often far more detail that most GMs feel they are able to provide on their own, considering school work, the job, yada yada yada.

But do the details really need to be wholly fleshed out in advance?

Of course published games have used both approaches, usually by presenting a core rule set and supplementing it with details about the deities, their cults, and pantheons.  Having all the information ready at a Game Master's fingertips can be a boon.

However, from a beginning design POV, does a RPG really need to include anything more than a name, essential statistics, and list of equipment with explanations for how the items work?




Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 11:12:07 PM
Greetings Christopher Kubasik,

To try to approach something resemble a answer to your questions, let me begin by saying, IMO, I think the matter isn't so much about how religion is percieved or even what constitutes a belief system.  Rather it is in part how religion is codified within the context of the rules of play.

Why is this important?

Because many early games considered only "Priests" or "Clerics" to have any religious connotation while others treat a far wider range of characters as belonging to this seemingly elite class.  (And some may continue to do so.)  Yet there might exist within a game Witches, Necromancers, Kabbalistic Mages, Diviners, Mystics, Hermeticists, and all manner of other "arcane" character archetypes.

Too often they do not seem to be religious figures even though some, like the Witch, retain their archetypal connotations as religious heretics.

Does that not seem odd?

Unless a game's rules of play clearly defines matters theurgical, thus clearly including or discluding such character types, what ew have is a vast gray.  And gray areas can get confusing.    Especially since many systems seperate Wizardy, usually termed "Magic", from matters of the Divine, sometimes still called magic but somehow not the same as what Wizards do.  Then again there are systems that clearly provide specific terms to seperate the two, thus Divine Magic requires Piety while Wizardy requires Manna.

Alas, too often, once we look under the hood we discover that both systems are virtually identical.  Only the names of the "points" used have been changed.

Am I the only one who found that frustratingly confusing?

Now, Mr. Kubasik, your suggestion that we might as well ask what combat is actually, to my mind, can perhaps help shed light on this problem.  Since defining combat in relation to a RPG might be far more simple let's see what we can make of it...  

Combat.  It would seem to be mostly a matter of capturing the feel and flavor of the setting.  Providing the proper texture to fit the setting.  Thus, in a bronze age culture, we probably would not expect rules for ripostes of the sort that we might find in a 17th century world.   The Bronze Age, after all, is not the sort of place where swashbuckling is part of the game setting.  Rather, in that bronze age world, what we might expect is something brutal and bloody.

So, that said, does that mean that, where religion is concerned, that setting is of primary important to help define it within the rules of play?

True, it is important for the game system to provide rules of play that are consistant and coherent.   That means defining basic paramaters.  Like what combat and religion are.  Or at least how the Game Master is to set them up within the game environment, right?

Thus, as with combat, does this mean we have to rely upon the established setting?  If so then what about generic systems?

Of course we can say that, if a setting allows for Greek deities, then it will need to reflect different rules of play than a game that has a Byzantine flavor.  Still, how to go about establishing those rules?  What does the game designer need to provide to make it less confusing?

Something, most definitely.  Alas, it seems, we become too easily lost in the gross weight of details.

Religion.  How to model it, how to present a facsimile of it, how to present it within a game context, it seems some are saying, is intrisically too difficult.  There are too many variables, too many people think too many different things about it, but is it really so?

I'd like to say no, that it shouldn't be.

Yet we are still here talking *about* it, aren't we?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 21, 2003, 11:27:09 PM
Greetings All,

Quote from: Kester Pelagius
What is religion?


In "Fantasy" game terms:

A religion is a hierarchical body, usually within a organisation, which provides for a fundamental establishment of a service structure.  The service structure has numerous eschelons of servitors, conscripts, personell, all under the direction of a defined leadership.  Religions may also be known as "cults"; each cult following a set of beliefs as set out in a specified system of laws governing mores.  Mores which usually also serve to establish the culture of the group organisation in total.


What is a service structure?

In relation to religion within RPGs the service is directly related to the deity, or group of deities, to which the members of the cult hold fealty, or to whom they owe allegiance.  Thus the followers of a deity may be referred to as their "servants".


Ok that's a start.  Grab your forks and knives and feel free to pick it apart, or just roll it around your plate till the dog comes around.



Kind Regards,


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: clehrich on January 21, 2003, 11:32:00 PM
Kester Pelagius wrote:
Quote
A religion is a hierarchical body, usually within a organisation, which provides for a fundamental establishment of a service structure

Agreed that this is very often part of religion, in RPGs and otherwise, why is it necessarily identical with religion?  Are the other components (faith, ethics, ritual, myth, identity, community, etc.) irrelevant, or incidental?


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Nick the Nevermet on January 22, 2003, 06:03:57 AM
I have to agree with clehrich.  I don't think this is necessarily how religion is defined in "fantasy" rpgs.

I'm not saying it is impossible to find commonalities between religions in different games.  What I am saying is that trying to explicitly define those commonalities will run into problems.  Even within the same game, one may have very radically different religions (Tribalism and a bureacratized church, for example).


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 22, 2003, 07:14:47 AM
Greetings Nick,

Ah, the weather.  Such weather, eh?

Quote from: Nick Pagnucco
I have to agree with clehrich.  I don't think this is necessarily how religion is defined in "fantasy" rpgs.


Quite right, to a point.  Then religion really (too often) isn't defined in role-playing games at all, which is the problem.(*)

Worse, when such "definitions" are made what they are (to often) are romanticized views of how someone "thinks" a myth or legend might translate into a religious exprience.  That, I think, is key to much of the point Mr. Kubasick and Mr. Edwards are trying to make.

Namely, that much hinges upon perception.  I am saying that it is more than that, it's about not realizing we "think" we know something, thus giving us preconceptions and modes of thoughts we may not even be aware we possess.



Quote from: Nick Pagnucco
I'm not saying it is impossible to find commonalities between religions in different games.  What I am saying is that trying to explicitly define those commonalities will run into problems.  Even within the same game, one may have very radically different religions (Tribalism and a bureacratized church, for example).


Actually it's defining those commonalities that should help the game designer create (in game) religions.  The mistake that is too often made is to dwell upon the perceived "belief system" of a cult.  Beliefs, codes of eithics, mores, these are but constituants of what help define the nature and personality of religion.  Religion, thus, should perhaps be thought of as a gem.  The traditions, rituals, expressed beliefs, thus are but facets.

Turn the gem this way, you see the glitter of one or two facets, turn it the other, and what you see are the glitter of wholly other facets; yet this does not change the larger whole.  Though it may appear that way.

In terms of game mechanics these are but background detail.  The Flavor from which one generates the window dressing, the polish we use to put the lustre in our work shoes, the towering obelisk of metaphor that...

To put it another way:

Tradition, over time, becomes ritual.  Ritual becomes shrouded in myth.  Myth helps to shape the identity of the community to which it is relevant.

However beliefs do not a religion make.  Why?  Because a belief is not merely the accepting of a set of truths as fact, but rather the acknowledgement of certain truisms as codefied facts.  It is a very subtle difference.  Which is why we could just as easily try to compare Scientific "belief" with Relgious "belief", and spiral into a similar set of arguments.

The point?

That perhps all this is merely fluff, setting, stage dressing, the facets of what a religion is.  Every religion has its facets after all, right?

Yet, just like every polished gem, no two facets will be cut at quite the identical angle or catch the eye in quite the same way.  Perhaps THAT is what sets one religion apart from another, the subtle differences in organization and expressed mores?


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius

  • AddendumHere's some trivia for everyone:

    In the old I.C.E. MERP (Middle Earth Role-Playing game) the section detailing "religion" occupies a single column, 5 paragraphs in total, in chapter "4.0 The World System - The Gamemaster's Task".

    In Chaosium's Stormbringer RPG "religion" is discussed only siderally as relates to 'membership in a cult'.  (section 2.3.7.1 of the 1st ED boxed set rules)  Yet membership in a cult, indeed how the various "cults" relate to the world, are rather intrinsic to both the game world and world mechanic as a  whole.

    In 1st ED AD&D, despite the rule books literally being immersed in medieval based cultural ideologues, religion, as such, is really not addressed.  Or rather it wasn't deemed of import to rate a index entry in the DMG. Not important enough  to point to any section of the rules where it might be discussed?  Says alot, that.  Of course as we all know TSR put out Deities & Demigods, which more or less covered religion, right?


Title: Re: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Nick the Nevermet on January 22, 2003, 07:42:38 AM
Hey Kester,

I'm wary about generalizing to a genre how religion could or should be represented.  I'd be willing to make some cautious generalizations about how religion works in specific RPGS.  Maybe generalizations about 1 gaming group's preferences across time and different RPGs also.  And thats about it.  

Everything else, IMHO, is up in the air, including whether or not it needs to be defined at all.  If it needs to be defined, I am sure there are some games that are well suited to have religion play a minor or a one-dimensional role.  Others may require detailed accounts on political ramifications, or on the effects on everyday life, or on the cosmology.

The subtle differences in organization and expressed mores COULD be the difference between religions in an RPG.  Or it may not.  It could be that the two religions follow two very different deities with different machinations in the world.  Or it could be something else.  

Tradition could over time become ritual.  And myth could work to create identity in a community.  But the setting of the world doesn't need to work according to that sociology.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 22, 2003, 08:01:43 AM
Hello,

Great post, Kester. I'm liking this family of threads very much.

I'd like to establish, or begin a discussion to establish, some breakdown of the concepts and issues that the term "religion" parses into. Sometimes they get mixed up in the heat of discussion.

None of the following terms are made-up, but rather gleaned from a scarily liberal-arts exposure across many years. Please bear in mind that I'm not a specialist in this matter, and I'm drawing on some very different academic disciplines, so if any of these hit your hot-button, cut me some slack and step back for the big picture. Similarly, if anyone with the training and background can provide any further parsing or perhaps a different framework, please chime in.

None of these "families" contain internal alternatives or exclusives, but rather just a set of vocabulary for the same things (or different stuff about the same things) within each.

Terms family #1
Religiosity: ascribing non-material causes to (and relationships among) perceived events and objects. Think of religiosity as a verbal, cognitive behavior by an individual.

The Numinous Experience: directly perceiving theme and meaning in reality; especially in a "direct insight" manner. Sometimes called Faith, but confusingly, sometimes referred to as a refutation of (dogmatic) Faith. Think of the NE as a personal experience.

Vitalism/Spiritualism: a combination of the above two things; Vital Inquiry refers to arriving at insights about non-material causes (and goals) in a rigorous fashion. "Spiritual" is here used in the largest sense, not in the narrower sense of individualized entities flitting about. Think of V/S as a discourse or discussion aimed at high-certainty agreement.

Terms family #2
Religion (narrow sense): a set of prescribed and socially-reinforced behaviors and customs; often integrated with education.

Religious institution: an economic, social, societal organization.

Church/Sect/Cult: degrees of institution, in terms of wealth, influence, and integration with other existing power structures (e.g. politics, government, education).

Terms family #3
Mores/Values: sets of priorities as expressed through real behaviors; also, confusingly, sometimes called Faith. One can distinguish between majority vs. minority mores.

Cultural standards: The practices of child-rearing and education, as well as various reward and punishment oriented customs for dealing with people relative to mores and values; highly differentiated by socioeconomic class.

Mythologies I: the stories and alleged events that illustrate or are said to have originated specific mores and values.

Mythologies II: the signs, symbols, and cultural reinforcement-mechanisms for specific mores and values; highly stratified along socioeconomic lines and political alliances (all you academics out there will recognize Roland Barthes).

I think everyone can see without trouble that the families both are and are not related causally. (1) Arguably, one does not get a church established in a society without some religiosity going on, but clearly, churches, once-established, may not reflect the religiosity/numinous experience at all. (2) Although institutions reflect values, they also reflect power structures. Since societies contain internal conflicts for a number of reasons, and different churches/sects/cults may reflect the power struggles involved in terms of mores/values without really addressing vital/spiritual stuff at all. (3) Durkheim's "cultural effervescence" is allegedly both a cultural practice and a numinous experience. (4) The term "ritual" means very different things within each family.

And so on. We could go on about how they all inter-relate (or don't) for quite a while. I beg of everyone to stick with the RPG context of this discussion and the site as a whole, and let's take it to different aspects of play and game design.

Best,
Ron


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 10:18:43 AM
Quote from: Kester Pelagius

Unless a game's rules of play clearly defines matters theurgical, thus clearly including or discluding such character types, what you have is a vast gray.  And gray areas can get confusing.  

[Re: "arcane" and "divine" magic]
Alas, too often, once we look under the hood we discover that both systems are virtually identical.  Only the names of the "points" used have been changed.


Based on my experiences, I feel that game mechanics are not especially important with regards to religion.  If anything, making theurgical matters into cut-and-dried mechanics might impede what I consider successful portrayal of religion.  

For example, I don't consider the similarity of arcane and divine to be a problem per se.  In history and folklore, magic is frequently thought to have religious implications (good or bad), even if done by non-priests.  Thus, I see nothing wrong with a game where arcane magic is a close parallel to divine magic.  

What I consider lacking in most fantasy games is a sensible background for a religious character's point-of-view.  i.e. If arcane and divine magic are similar, what does a religious character think about arcane magic and its implications?


Title: It Needs to be Said
Post by: Le Joueur on January 22, 2003, 11:08:06 AM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Unless a game's rules of play clearly defines matters theurgical, thus clearly including or discluding such character types, what you have is a vast gray.  And gray areas can get confusing.  

[Re: "arcane" and "divine" magic]
Alas, too often, once we look under the hood we discover that both systems are virtually identical.  Only the names of the "points" used have been changed.

Based on my experiences, I feel that game mechanics are not especially important with regards to religion.  If anything, making theurgical matters into cut-and-dried mechanics might impede what I consider successful portrayal of religion.  

For example, I don't consider the similarity of arcane and divine to be a problem per se....

What I consider lacking in most fantasy games is a sensible background for a religious character's point-of-view....

I think one factor being severely overlooked here is a game design's purposes.  I think this has been hamstringing this whole discussion from the get go.  John almost says it with "successful portrayal of religion."  When designing a game, the question being begged (and ignored mostly) is 'do we want to portray religion?'  Original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons keeps getting batted around as a game either successful at this portrayal or not doing a very good job.  Why do you suppose both opinions are offered?  It's because of how the readers have interpreted the design goals of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

And that's a mistake.

Y'see, OAD&D isn't meant to portray religion, that was never the point.  The Deities and Demigods book isn't supplemental religious information, it is supplemental Cleric class information.  I think it clear that religion in OAD&D is actually subsumed under a specific class.  The absence of 'how to present these religions' information pretty much says that the book is for use 'with your Cleric.'  That means that it isn't meant to be a portrayal of religion, but an augmentation of a class.  Therefore the game isn't about portrayal of religion.  Therefore, if you want a game that portrays religion, you must look elsewhere.

And this brings us to the problem at hand.

There is no 'right way' to portray religion in role-playing games, because religion is not required.  A game can be created expressly for portrayal of religion, but that does not make it necessary for all games.  It isn't even that simple.  I think the OAD&D example underscore the fact that some games can and will have religion in them without portraying it.  That's an important point; while it may be important for some people to, not just evangelize their religion, but religiousness in general, it is vital to remember that it is not necessary for all games to do so.

Are games that absent religion broken?  No, they simply don't prioritize it.  Are games that have 'some religion' broken?  Not necessarily, they may be insulting to people who have the beliefs depicted, but if religion isn’t the point of the game it can't be the criteria that 'breaks' them.  You may easily discuss how religion is handled in a game that prioritizes religion, but if you want to, please take a moment and disclaim such.  I've been having to sit here and swallow a really big pill and accept that this is the intent; others haven't and thus a lot of controversy.  Sans disclaimer, this discussion gets dangerously close to 'all games should portray religion' and 'all games should portray religion thus...."

I'm not an atheist or agnostic, but I don't subscribe to any of the popular religions either.  Because of minority status I'm frequently expected to stand up as a representative of my beliefs, as much as a minister for Christians; this has forced me to learn a lot of comparative religion and how to deal with controversy.  I have to say that a lot is being taken for granted about how much people want religion to be stressed in role-playing games and what is or is not an acceptably respectful way of doing it.

I feel that until we establish how much religion should represented and how respectfully, especially in terms of the priorities of specific game's designs, I don't think that talking in broad 'this is right, this is wrong' statements have any meaning whatsoever.  I mean, what is the point in saying that Shadowrun should have an accurate portrayal of Catholicism?  Should Toon give full details on Islamic holidays?  Admittedly a game based upon the priesthood most definitely should, but this is not common.

I can't say how much it has bothered me that all of these conversations carry on as though religion is necessary, much less requires a high minimum of respect.  I don't think they do and would like at least some acknowledgement that games should and do exist without any need of religious portrayal whatsoever.  Such as most of them.

Fang Langford

p. s. Phew, I think that's been needing to be said for some time.


Title: Re: It Needs to be Said
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 12:06:59 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Are games that absent religion broken?  No, they simply don't prioritize it.  Are games that have 'some religion' broken?  Not necessarily, they may be insulting to people who have the beliefs depicted, but if religion isnít the point of the game it can't be the criteria that 'breaks' them.  You may easily discuss how religion is handled in a game that prioritizes religion, but if you want to, please take a moment and disclaim such.  I've been having to sit here and swallow a really big pill and accept that this is the intent; others haven't and thus a lot of controversy.  Sans disclaimer, this discussion gets dangerously close to 'all games should portray religion' and 'all games should portray religion thus...."


Do we really need to constantly put legal-like disclaimers on every post?  I certainly agree that not every game needs to prioritize religion.  I also agree that there are multiple ways of approaching religion (hence I started a thread on "Successful approaches to religion").  However, I find it tiresome to constantly write in "in my opinion" and "within the context of this discussion" onto every post.  

That said, I don't think that something being "not the point of the game" automatically excuses a game from any criticism.  Many of the fantasy heartbreaker games specifically bring religion in as part of the game, and make priests a core, expected PC type.  If you don't want to portray religion, then this seems like a mistake.  If you require or encourage active priests as PCs, then your game can and should be judged on its portrayal of religion.  

Now, not all portrayals of religion need to be serious, deep, and respectful.  For example,  GURPS Goblins includes religion -- but largely mocks it along with all other aspects of Georgian society.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Valamir on January 22, 2003, 01:35:53 PM
If nothing else this thread serves to identify WHY there are so many different faiths (and lack thereof) and so many different approaches to the same.  For thousands of years man has not agreed on religion: its validity, or its purpose.  How then can we expect to have a thread arrive at anything approaching consensus.  It can sometimes be useful though to get all of the many perspectives and points of departure on the table.

I offer the following two thoughts:
1) Religion in the game should be judged by the same standards as any other setting element...this is after all a game and not a hidden attempt to proselytize.  If there are mechanics related to the religion than they should be judged by the same standard as any other mechanic.  Namely:  What was the purpose of adding this setting element or mechanic to the game.  What function does it serve, what effect on the game world or how the game is meant to be played did it have.  Did the supporting text accomplish these things?  Was the accomplishment significant?  If so, it was effective.  If not it wasn't.  Simple.  It's no different than judgeing whether or not elves were portrayed effectively.

2) If the purpose of the game is include as part of its creative agenda (to happily use a newly coined term) the effective portrayal of religion during play, than we have an entirely new set of priorities that are quite distinct from #1.  I think much of these religion threads have confounded these two things.  "Effective use of religion in a game" is NOT the same thing as "Effective portrayal of religion within a game".

What would be required for an effective portrayal of religion in a game?  It really depends.  Religion took many different forms throughout the ages.  Modern religions center on questions of faith.  Personal struggles between ones self and the ideal and so on (to oversimplify).   However, this is not always the role that religion played.  Throughout much of history religion was far more mechanical.  The Aztecs sacrificed people to gods to save the world.  It was pretty much a simple turn key operation for them.  If X then Y.  

So one of the first questions to be answered about our hypothetical game world religion I would pose as follows:  "Is the religion to be portrayed predominately mechanical or philosophical in nature".  The answer will have a profound effect on the portrayal.

In a mechanical religion sacrificing a pigeon on ones birthday, spilling a little wine on the floor when a new bottle is opened, or leaving a serving of food outside the door on certain feast days may very well be important aspects of religious observance not so much in what they represent from a philosophical stand point but simply the mechanics of their observation.  In the real world such actions are an outward expression of belief.  In a game world there very well may be a empirical reason behind them.  If you don't sacrifice the first ounce of a bottle of wine the god of wine will spoil the rest of your vintage...

To portray this effectively in a game world, one must identify the various mechanical aspects of the religion from saying "praise be to him" whenever a particular diety's name is mentioned, to sacrificing virgins to ensure the rains will fall.  One must then ensure that these aspects become illustrated in the game both within the actions of the NPCs and being carried out by PCs.  It would certainly be possible to do this from purely a setting aspect, but being a proponent of tieing important setting features mechanically to the characters there could be mechanics behind these things as well.  For instance each attribute and skill might be embodied by a particular god.  Improving a skill or attribute might require a character being in good standing with the god, or becoming obligated fulfill greater responsibilities thereof "Now that Rork had become a master smith he was careful to never offend the god of the forge and was certain each feast day to quench the fires of his forge with a tun of the best dwarven ale"  I think a system where a player can't increase his sailing skill until he's earned enough favor with Manahann god of the Sea would be a pretty interesting one.

On the other hand if the religion is actually a measure of individual morality against a divine ideal, and the principal embodiment of the religion involves the inner struggle of practitioners with themselves and their sins, then another approach is necessary.  Such purely mechanical actions like the above might actually represent the corruption of the church or a lack of faith.  This too can be represented mechanically.  Paladin offers a good idea as to what a portrayal of such a religion in a game might represent.

Now I've broken it down into two types of religions...one could probably expand the list, but I think the gist is there.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 02:26:04 PM
Quote from: Valamir
1) ... What was the purpose of adding this setting element or mechanic to the game.  What function does it serve, what effect on the game world or how the game is meant to be played did it have.  Did the supporting text accomplish these things?  Was the accomplishment significant?  If so, it was effective.  If not it wasn't.  Simple.  It's no different than judgeing whether or not elves were portrayed effectively.

2) If the purpose of the game is include as part of its creative agenda (to happily use a newly coined term) the effective portrayal of religion during play, than we have an entirely new set of priorities that are quite distinct from #1.  I think much of these religion threads have confounded these two things. "Effective use of religion in a game" is NOT the same thing as "Effective portrayal of religion within a game".


I certainly accept this.  Indeed, I am curious what people see as the alternate purposes of religion in games which seemingly don't try to portray it.  What do people see as the purpose of religion in the various fantasy heartbreaker games mentioned -- as compared to other fantasy games which don't feature religion per se (like Sovereign Stone or Exalted, for example).  

Quote from: Valamir
Modern religions center on questions of faith.  Personal struggles between ones self and the ideal and so on (to oversimplify).   However, this is not always the role that religion played.  Throughout much of history religion was far more mechanical.  The Aztecs sacrificed people to gods to save the world.  It was pretty much a simple turn key operation for them.  If X then Y.  


I don't agree with this at all.  Modern religion is simply less central to most people's lives than religion historically was.  However, the fundamentals are pretty universal.  I'm not an Aztec expert, but as far as I know they were quite serious about their faith.  Many of their rituals are things still commonly practiced today: like baptism of newborns and confession of sins.  

There is a tendency to imagine that historical people who didn't write down their thoughts simply didn't have the complex thoughts that literate people did.  For example, we know that the stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius had deep crises of faith because we have his writings on the subject.  But because the Aztec emperor didn't leave a written journal of his thoughts, it is easy to imagine that he just thought of religion as a push-button affair.  While we can't know for sure, I highly doubt it.  


Quote from: Valamir
In a mechanical religion sacrificing a pigeon on ones birthday, spilling a little wine on the floor when a new bottle is opened, or leaving a serving of food outside the door on certain feast days may very well be important aspects of religious observance not so much in what they represent from a philosophical stand point but simply the mechanics of their observation.
...
To portray this effectively in a game world, one must identify the various mechanical aspects of the religion from saying "praise be to him" whenever a particular diety's name is mentioned, to sacrificing virgins to ensure the rains will fall.  


Here again I'm going to disagree.  It is true that many religions have mechanical aspects like the ceremonial drinking of wine, the splashing of water on a baby, the wearing of rings among married couples, etc.  However, all of these have philosophical and symbolic meaning beyond the physical act of performing them.  I don't think it makes sense to decouple the philosophical aspects of religion with the mechanical rituals.


Title: Re: It Needs to be Said
Post by: Le Joueur on January 22, 2003, 02:54:52 PM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Le Joueur
Are games that absent religion broken?  No, they simply don't prioritize it.  Are games that have 'some religion' broken?  Not necessarily, they may be insulting to people who have the beliefs depicted, but if religion isn’t the point of the game it can't be the criteria that 'breaks' them.  You may easily discuss how religion is handled in a game that prioritizes religion, but if you want to, please take a moment and disclaim such.  I've been having to sit here and swallow a really big pill and accept that this is the intent; others haven't and thus a lot of controversy.  Sans disclaimer, this discussion gets dangerously close to 'all games should portray religion' and 'all games should portray religion thus...."

Do we really need to constantly put legal-like disclaimers on every post?

I'm not saying that every post must carry some kind of disclaimer, more like in the start every thread.  I mean this one starts out with Kester claiming that "Most roleplaying games distill religion down..." (arguable at best) and "every game designer...must face at one time or another if they plan to create a game world in which religion plays even a background role."  This reads dangerously like 'nearly ever game has religion in it' and that they should unfailingly be treated as fundamental to the design.

Nick Pagnucco seems on page with me with "I agree religion can be important, and its often handled... questionably. However, I think every game has a different answer."  The problem is, by having to say it, he illustrates that it doesn't seem to be central to the thread's topic.  I think it should be.

Jack and Raven treat us to two arguments over the actual identity of religion, further exemplifying the absence of context that I am asking for.  Kester follows by reiterating his question as, "What constitutes a fair representation of religion and religious institutions in a role-playing game?"  This again carries zero disclaimer; ambiguity is the darkness of comprehension and therefore the dusk of communication.

Jack brings up what I've said as, "cannot be answered here but is only answerable by the individual game designer" with the sage, "There is no 'should' here, I think."  Christopher Kubasik brings it home with, "Can completely contrary views on religion be reconciled by people who simply prioritize religion in different ways?  Can you say incoherence?"  This is amplified by John Laviolette, "You just can't satisfy all of these people with one approach to religion in an RPG."

The fact that this is stated again and again suggests to me that a disclaimer is not only necessary, but completely absent from this thread.

Clehrich on the other hand completely skips this point and begins to discuss the formations of religion.  Possibly on topic, possibly not, I'll get into why later.  Worse Kester invalidates all the supplemental disclaimers by responding to Jack's "There is no 'should' here, I think," with "I disagree with you on this one Jack;" he may not have meant to contradict the disclaimer, but that's how it reads.  Further he seems to imply that a game ought to be "fleshed out" and therefore portrayal of religion "can be a boon."  His use of the infinitive indicates (however unintentionally) that he believes it is a boon to every game.  Even in response to Christopher Kubasik, Kester seems to be saying that religion in gaming cannot be that difficult; thus implying that something so easy should be omnipresent (again regardless of his intent to say).

The funny thing is, in replying to Nick, Kester lists three different games that I would argue don't prioritize religion and in doing so suggests that, to me, it can't even be as simple as 'we are only discussing games that have religions in them.'  It suggests that different games require different treatments, right down to 'meager references.'  Kester heavily implies that 'meager references' is necessarily a bad thing (arguable with cults, but still applicable).

Nick, of course, doesn't see it that way (nor do I), but doesn't put it that well.  He gets caught up defending presentations of religion, rather than the value of universal presentation minimums.  (As a side note, Ron levies an awesome breakdown of terminology that would be greatly valuable in parsing out role-playing game components of religion, were it not for the fact that the argument seems to be breaking down over the 'should be' issue in regards to universal usage of religion in gaming.  This would make Clehrich's information highly valuable in the right kinds of games.)

The response of yours that got me started was so remarkably "one doesn't need to go into great detail for religions in gaming" that I saw another potential argument in the offing about the impact, value, and place of religion, not in a specific game, but in all gaming.  I know I jumped in a bit prematurely, but I'm getting a little tired of people who believe religiosity is valuable in all venues (notice I'm not saying they are pushing their religion, but just religion in general) pressing the idea that games should have honest, fair, and robust portrayals of religion (implying all games) where I think that a remarkable few should.  This argument usually has the religious hiding behind "but that's unfair" kinds of shields regarding treatment of religion, while pressing for its universal inclusion; that fails to take into account times when religion doesn't matter.  (Hint: if it doesn't matter, then ignoring it is not unfair treatment.)

Quote from: John Kim
I certainly agree that not every game needs to prioritize religion.  I also agree that there are multiple ways of approaching religion (hence I started a thread on "Successful approaches to religion").  However, I find it tiresome to constantly write in "in my opinion" and "within the context of this discussion" onto every post.

You never made the slant that Kester is maintaining (however unintentionally), that's why I never said anything in your thread.  I've noted above why it was conspicuous in this thread and how I think it is impeding the discussion.  If Kester would narrow the focus of the thread to games that 'use a lot of religion' and furthermore realize that these are few (not judging M.E.R.P., Stormbringer, and OAD&D amoung them) then I'd have no basis to make this claim.

Trying to judge all games based upon criteria that should hold for only a few is 'drawing fire' from people who (however unconsciously) agree with me.  Furthermore, defending these kinds of arguments with 'this is the only fair way to respect other people's religions' only turns it into an argument of religion rather than gaming (not that that has started here...yet).

Quote from: John Kim
That said, I don't think that something being "not the point of the game" automatically excuses a game from any criticism.  Many of the fantasy heartbreaker games specifically bring religion in as part of the game, and make priests a core, expected PC type.  If you don't want to portray religion, then this seems like a mistake.  If you require or encourage active priests as PCs, then your game can and should be judged on its portrayal of religion.

I disagree.  If taken from the OAD&D model, I argue that that is exactly not making religion a part of the game.  It subordinates religion to a particular (if peculiar) class; that's indicator one that 'religion is not a priority.'  Furthermore, treating 'dead religions' superficially is the second indicator, especially when such treatment includes religions not precisely 'dead.'  Both of these indicators carry the strong suggestion, in my mind, that religion is not being portrayed, but simply used as 'color' in the background.  If you require non-priests player characters to interact with religion, then you are making religion more of a priority.  No matter how much paper is dedicated to religion, if it is only available to a small portion of the character choices (and not the most attractive), that argues that something else is the priority.

Quote from: John Kim
Now, not all portrayals of religion need to be serious, deep, and respectful.  For example,  GURPS Goblins includes religion -- but largely mocks it along with all other aspects of Georgian society.

Here I agree, but we need to be a bit more careful about how and who we are saying 'do it wrong' and consider what criteria make 'religion a priority' before we start saying that 'just the presence of clerics prioritizes it.'  The presence of Elizabethan dueling doesn't make the hundreds of types of rapiers a priority, the presence of combat rules doesn't make combat a priority (mostly, as Mike points out, because it's often there merely out of tradition), and so on.

Just because religion gets some ink doesn't make it a priority.  If religion isn't a priority, I don't think anything in this thread applies to it.  (I think you can have religion in a game just as color, even lots of it.)  This hasn't been said well enough in this thread, so I felt a need to chime in.  We don't need to put it in every post, but we need to watch out when the originator of the thread contradicts exactly this kind of disclaimer, because it seems to be drawing attention away from 'the handling of religion in role-playing games' conversation into a 'religion must be handled both in detail and respectfully' area.

Not somewhere I think we want to go.

Fang Langford


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 22, 2003, 03:06:15 PM
Hi everyone,

Gently, gently. I think everyone is reading everyone else (i.e., no one's being ignored or passed over), but that the nature of the topic makes it easy to fail to acknowledge one another's points. So then people feel "not heard," and then things go kerflooey, maybe.

So ... take a bit of time to paraphrase one another's points, let everyone know he's being listened to, etc. And recognize that this is one of those questions in which The Answer is perhaps less important than merely arriving at a common ground from which to approach it.

Thanks,
Ron


Title: Re: It Needs to be Said
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 04:30:38 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Quote from: John Kim
That said, I don't think that something being "not the point of the game" automatically excuses a game from any criticism.  Many of the fantasy heartbreaker games specifically bring religion in as part of the game, and make priests a core, expected PC type.  If you don't want to portray religion, then this seems like a mistake.  If you require or encourage active priests as PCs, then your game can and should be judged on its portrayal of religion.

I disagree.  If taken from the OAD&D model, I argue that that is exactly not making religion a part of the game.  It subordinates religion to a particular (if peculiar) class; that's indicator one that 'religion is not a priority.'  Furthermore, treating 'dead religions' superficially is the second indicator, especially when such treatment includes religions not precisely 'dead.'  Both of these indicators carry the strong suggestion, in my mind, that religion is not being portrayed, but simply used as 'color' in the background.  If you require non-priests player characters to interact with religion, then you are making religion more of a priority.  No matter how much paper is dedicated to religion, if it is only available to a small portion of the character choices (and not the most attractive), that argues that something else is the priority.


You seem to be implying here that each game has only one topic (i.e. the priority) as its focus, and that anything except for that single topic is out of bounds and immune from criticism.  That strikes me as being peculiarly defensive.  Now, obviously I would not judge D&D primarily on how it portrayed religion.  But that doesn't make it beyond comment.  Heck, since only a fraction of characters are going to play wizards, does that mean that the arcane magic system is beyond criticism?!?  

Now, this doesn't mean that I am going to demand that D&D has to be a realistic, respectful portrayal of real-world religion.  It is, after all, a fantasy game.  However, it has made roughly 1/4 of the characters priests -- and insofar as it encourages roleplaying at all, it urges that priests should roleplay their cause.  

Basically, if I publish a 150-page hardback manual on religion for my game, and expect that roughly a quarter of the PCs will be active priests -- then that at least puts religion on the map.  And at least in third edition D&D, all characters have the option of religion.  "Religion" is one of the eight or so basic sections for describing each race and each class (i.e.  "Physical Description", "Alignment", "Religion", ...).  
[/list]


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 04:53:24 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Just because religion gets some ink doesn't make it a priority.  If religion isn't a priority, I don't think anything in this thread applies to it.  (I think you can have religion in a game just as color, even lots of it.)


A bit of additional explanation: I consider pure "color" to be things that do not effect PC actions, such as NPCs or background that are not part of the plot.  Religion in D&D may be partly color, but it also has a real effect.  The rules actively encourage the player to roleplay her duty to her god, and suggest to the GM to remove clerical powers if this is not done.  

In contrast, say, Rune has religion more as pure color since it never effects PC action.  Technically the god's grant power, but there is no suggestion that PC's should roleplay devotion and the "god-given" powers cannot be taken away.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Walt Freitag on January 22, 2003, 05:02:40 PM
I'm thinking about food. In a pastoral society, nothing's more important than food. Most people would be expected to spend most of their time dealing with the production, distribution, safekeeping, and preparation of food. And the stakes should be high: any lapses in performing any of these functions could cause the death of individuals, families, or whole communities by starvation, poisoning, or disease.

Granted, player-characters are usually exceptional individuals and as such, they themselves might not be personally involved in the prevailing social structure organized around food. Nonetheless, since most of them are depicted as having grown up in that society, one might expect that concerns about food would be an ingrained (so to speak) aspect of their world views and personalities. Without understanding their personal attitudes and relationships toward food, one could barely be said to be role-playing them at all.

So I think I'm justified in saying that few if any fantasy role-playing games include an adequate depiction of the importance of food. Usually, all we're told are trivial details like the price of a meal at a tavern, or the weight of a day's "rations." Perhaps there's some superficial mechanism for the effect of hunger on performance or the number of days it takes to starve to death. But nothing about crop rotation, fertilizers, pest control (except when the pests have at least one hit point each), grain storage technology, livestock diseases, plow harness repair, or irrigation engineering. No details on the many and varied recipes favored among the different races, classes, and societies across the land. (Hackmaster is the only system that even bothers to tell us which parts of which monsters are edible!) Nothing that really helps us understand the characters' personal experiences of true hunger or of the kind of satiety that a chronically undernourished person might experience after a three-day winter solstice feast.

Or, one might instead conclude that the systematic treatment of food is not necessary (and, at the level of the individual character's personal feelings about the subject, barely even possible), even if food is represented as existing and as important in the societies depicted in the setting.

Of course, that all has nothing to do with the topic at hand, which is religion in role playing games. Sorry about that.

So, back on topic. Following Ron's schema, I have a few comments about possibilites for systematic handling of religion:

Religiosity (terms family #1): If I wanted to encourage this aspect of religion in a game, I think I'd choose an "effects first" approach a la Christoffer (Pale Fire). That is, instead of causing the world to react tangibly to a character's religiosity (which tends to represent premature resolution of what are supposed to be deep mysteries), I'd ask the player to define the spiritual direction the character's religiousity should be going in (affirming of faith, doubt leading to a crisis of faith, seeking faith, acquiring new faith, or whatever). Then I'd reward the player for depicting the character's interpretation or interpolation of events in accordance with that direction. This would fit best with fortune-in-the-middle resoluton, where the player's narration is allowed to be the character's personal interpretation rather than omniscient history. This would allow a player to narrate things like "I would certainly have been killed, but Belittog guided my hand, allowing me to strike a fatal counterblow my own strength would never have been adequate for."

This would allow a character's religiosity (and especially, any changes in same) to be treated as an interpreted effect of in-game-world events, rather than one of their causes (as in, my faith gives me two extra dice to roll). Likewise, the reward would not translate into effectiveness, but perhaps into spotlight time in which a part of the story revolves around bringing the current phase of the character's spiritual trajectory to a resolution.

I think this would also work for opposite facets of religiosity, such as guilt and doubt.

Shifting gears, let me also comment that the reason personal religiosity isn't typically an issue for "clerics" in a typical fantasy system, is that by the time a "cleric" is able to cast "cure light wounds" (which is at the very start of the game), the story of that character's spiritual quest is already over. After all, that character has already been sufficiently inspired to be able to perform miracles. This doesn't mean the character is no longer spiritual, any more than the couple who "married and lived happily ever after" are no longer in love; it just means there's no more "romance story" (in the case of the lovers) or "inspiration story" (in the case of the cleric) left to tell. Unless crises of faith are to be part of the ongoing tale, which is usually not the case for a fantasy cleric advancing to greater abilities, the focus of the story to come must lie elsewhere.

Religious customs and insititutions (terms family #2) is the only group that seems amenable to objective treatment in a world background. But as such, it's also not usually necessary to deal with unless the plot is to address it specifically. This is where the food analogy applies. We don't have to depict the player-characters' practice of religious customs any more than we have to describe what recipes they cook. But we can if we want to, and doing so is not particularly difficult. It's not at all clear how a rule system could help with this.

Culture and values (terms family #3) goes back to being a part of individual characters' protagonism. This is where "alignment" might apply if it made any sense or had demonstrated any usefulness in play, which in my opinion it hasn't. For player characters, religious culture can be invented or invoked to explain a character's moral codes or taboos or values (whether or not the character actually still practices the associated practices) and can also be the backdrop for a character's guilt, doubt, affirmation-seeking, or other internal conflicts feeding back into stories in #1.

Besides background for individual characters, concepts from #3 can be part of a setting if prevailing practices and standards and values come into conflict with the player-characters'. This is straightforward. But the depth of treatment again has to be commensurate with the importance of the conflict to the story.

Food for thought, I hope. Sorry for the rambling.

- Walt


Title: Who Prioritizes Minor Details (in an Argument)?
Post by: Le Joueur on January 22, 2003, 07:37:40 PM
Quote from: John Kim
You seem to be implying here that each game has only one topic (i.e. the priority) as its focus, and that anything except for that single topic is out of bounds and immune from criticism.

Fair enough, but I would argue that as much as I imply an oversimplified outlook so too has Kester's responses.  That is my central point.  Zeroing in on 'the priority issue' neatly skirts whether or not games can require different degrees of 'religious attention.'

Quote from: John Kim
Now, obviously I would not judge D&D primarily on how it portrayed religion.  But that doesn't make it beyond comment.

Yet another side topic I hadn't intended to be so simplistic about.  No, I don't mean that it is beyond comment, merely that with it's degree of prioritization (that's neither all or nothing nor 'one topic focus') it does not deserve the degree of criticism made against it.

Quote from: John Kim
Now, this doesn't mean that I am going to demand that D&D has to be a realistic, respectful portrayal of real-world religion.  It is, after all, a fantasy game.  However, it has made roughly 1/4 of the characters priests -- and insofar as it encourages role-playing at all, it urges that priests should role-play their cause.

However...nothing.  Thieves guilds are mentioned in several places throughout first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, are we then to criticize the game for an inadequate portrayal of crime, organized crime, or historical organized crime?  No, I argue that 'urging Clerics to role-play their denomination' should be no more rigorously criticized than Paladins their equestrianism, Thieves their guilds, or anyone the 'level training.'

OAD&D does nothing to encourage other classes to obey religious doctrines.  That, I think, would place at least measurable priority on religion.  Really, I see Deities and Demigods as little more than a way to individualize your Cleric.  'You can't use these spells,' 'you get these bonuses,' these things merely place filters on the 'powers' of the Cleric.  That they have names like Norse, Chinese, or mythos was just color.  The first and foremost priority in the game was monster bashing.

Quote from: John Kim
Basically, if I publish a 150-page hardback manual on religion for my game, and expect that roughly a quarter of the PCs will be active priests -- then that at least puts religion on the map.

Now who's oversimplifying?  This is what I've been saying; it's on the map, nothing more.  It acts as little more than a filter, a way of individualizing, for nothing more than a subset of characters.  That places it squarely in middle of the priorities.  Published as a separate book (perhaps the first of the 'Complete Guide to...' books) it hardly counts as central to the game in any fashion (I don't know of anyone who considered it indispensable).  The kind of scrutiny it has been receiving is enormously out of scale.

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Le Joueur
Just because religion gets some ink doesn't make it a priority.  If religion isn't a priority, I don't think anything in this thread applies to it.  (I think you can have religion in a game just as color, even lots of it.)

A bit of additional explanation: I consider pure "color" to be things that do not effect PC actions, such as NPCs or background that are not part of the plot.  Religion in D&D may be partly color, but it also has a real effect.  The rules actively encourage the player to role-play her duty to her god, and suggest to the GM to remove clerical powers if this is not done.

True, the optional rules didn't quite mandate duty and only suggested consequences, perhaps not "pure color," but really not vital.  When I say "a priority" I mean as in "reassess your priorities."  Maslow tells us that air and food are the top of the hierarchy, but when you "reassess your priorities," you're talking about only the top few (below the vital).  That's where I am here.

I suppose I am remiss in not putting forth a disclaimer; let me do that here.

When I say something is "a priority," I don't mean "the top priority" but simply one of a few of those the game 'has time' to make structurally crucial allowances for.  If a set of rules can be ignored (as in, it was placed in a satellite product rather than the central core elements) it may be important to the 'whole package,' but it is not "a priority."

Really, focusing on "color" versus 'notable' versus 'crucial' (or using even more ranks of priority) misses the point I'm making about there needing to be ranks, that we cannot simply divide games into religious and exempt (or 'only as color').  Corollary to that, games like OAD&D simply don't need as stringent attention to religious presentation and detail because they're about something else.

Fang Langford


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 22, 2003, 08:11:34 PM
Guys,

The red lettering thing.  Let's watch that.

Christopher


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: John Kim on January 22, 2003, 09:18:45 PM
Quote from: wfreitag
Religiosity (terms family #1): If I wanted to encourage this aspect of religion in a game, I think I'd choose an "effects first" approach a la Christoffer (Pale Fire). That is, instead of causing the world to react tangibly to a character's religiosity (which tends to represent premature resolution of what are supposed to be deep mysteries), I'd ask the player to define the spiritual direction the character's religiousity should be going in (affirming of faith, doubt leading to a crisis of faith, seeking faith, acquiring new faith, or whatever). Then I'd reward the player for depicting the character's interpretation or interpolation of events in accordance with that direction.

... the reward would not translate into effectiveness, but perhaps into spotlight time in which a part of the story revolves around bringing the current phase of the character's spiritual trajectory to a resolution.


I like the idea of deriving religiosity from events rather than vice-versa.  The player can interpret critical results, or storypath card play, etc. as miracles or signs of favor and whatnot.  I have some doubts about the specific mechanic of pre-defining a spiritual direction -- which just seems a little dull to me -- and also with the reward -- which seems close to rewarding spotlight time with more spotlight time.  One alternate approach is taken by Pendragon, where a character's personality development develops randomly from events that test traits like Chaste, Forgiving, and Pious.

Quote from: wfreitag
the reason personal religiosity isn't typically an issue for "clerics" in a typical fantasy system, is that by the time a "cleric" is able to cast "cure light wounds" (which is at the very start of the game), the story of that character's spiritual quest is already over. After all, that character has already been sufficiently inspired to be able to perform miracles.  This doesn't mean the character is no longer spiritual, any more than the couple who "married and lived happily ever after" are no longer in love; it just means there's no more "romance story" (in the case of the lovers) or "inspiration story" (in the case of the cleric) left to tell.  Unless crises of faith are to be part of the ongoing tale, which is usually not the case for a fantasy cleric advancing to greater abilities, the focus of the story to come must lie elsewhere.


I'm a little doubtful of this.  It doesn't seem to me that the "inspiration story" of a layman is the sole or even primary story that involves religion.  As you say, the element missing is tests of faith -- which are part of many stories but not of the typical RPG story.  The cleric advances to greater religiously-derived powers without any corresponding development of faith.  

In my experience, test of faith don't have to be explicitly set up as such.  In general, having moral or ethical conflict will frequently produce situations where the PCs have to make difficult choices.  For religious PCs, these are inherently tests/explorations of faith.  

Quote from: wfreitag
Religious customs and insititutions (terms family #2) is the only group that seems amenable to objective treatment in a world background. But as such, it's also not usually necessary to deal with unless the plot is to address it specifically. This is where the food analogy applies. We don't have to depict the player-characters' practice of religious customs any more than we have to describe what recipes they cook. But we can if we want to, and doing so is not particularly difficult. It's not at all clear how a rule system could help with this.


Well, I don't think the discussion needs to be restricted to mechanics.  World and background design is an equally important issue, IMO.  The question here would be: what sort of religious institutions lend themselves to interesting RPG scenarios?


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 22, 2003, 10:26:50 PM
Greetings Mr. Kim,

Well, this one is not as long as it could have been.  (Why do I hear cheering?)  Still best bundle up, it's getting late, and there is a chill in the air.

Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: Valamir
Modern religions center on questions of faith.  Personal struggles between ones self and the ideal and so on (to oversimplify).   However, this is not always the role that religion played.  Throughout much of history religion was far more mechanical.  The Aztecs sacrificed people to gods to save the world.  It was pretty much a simple turn key operation for them.  If X then Y.  


I don't agree with this at all.  Modern religion is simply less central to most people's lives than religion historically was.  However, the fundamentals are pretty universal.  I'm not an Aztec expert, but as far as I know they were quite serious about their faith.  Many of their rituals are things still commonly practiced today: like baptism of newborns and confession of sins.  

There is a tendency to imagine that historical people who didn't write down their thoughts simply didn't have the complex thoughts that literate people did.  For example, we know that the stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius had deep crises of faith because we have his writings on the subject.  But because the Aztec emperor didn't leave a written journal of his thoughts, it is easy to imagine that he just thought of religion as a push-button affair.  While we can't know for sure, I highly doubt it.


Ah, the ever pervasion question of: What is religion?(*)

Continues to be a sour pickle, it seems.  One that has a tendancy to make our responses gravitate more toward the real world facet of religion as opposed to how it relates to the mechanics of the average role-playing game environment.  So, I think, it's time to type in a bit of something...


Religion

From the Latin religare ("to bind fast"), typically the term refers to an institution with a recognized body of communicants who gather together regularly for worship, and accept a set of doctrines offering some means of relating the individual to what is taken to be the ultimate nature of relatity.  --excerpted from the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, W.L. Reese, Humanities Press; sans the 24 example citations.


<...>


"Great controvoersy has raged over the differences between magic and religion, yet it seems certain that in the beginning there was no distinction and that it was only with the passage of time and the increasing specialization of activities within human communities that distinctions developed.  A religious sytem developed to provide a mythology for the general populace, while magic remained the domain of a few, to whim the rest turned in time of need"  --excertped from The Occult: A Sourcebook of Esoteric Wisdom", Nevill Drury & Gregory Tillett, Barnes & Noble; pages 9-11.




Course, for what it's worth, we might as well ask something like...

Why do people believe in God?

What is a human being?


We're likely to generate much the same response.  Nothing wrong with that, per se.  Yet for all the answers we might find there remains one truism, none of them are what religion is.  Yet religion can, might, and probably even does embrace all these answers as potentialities.

Sooner we recognize this the sooner we can collect these answers into a  tool box, a tool box that will allow the Game Master to grasp hold of the cornucopia of potentialities to help mould, shape, and better present a religion withint he context of the game world.

Religion.  It is a living organism, a meta-NPC of many parts.  And as with any NPC there are always other NPCs, all dressed differently, all coming from different regions of the game world, and not all necessarily at odds with one another.  Some NPCs are Theives, others altruisitic Rogues, but what defines the NPC?

Their statistics.  Their motivations and goals.  How they fit into the larger puzzle that is the game world.

So, too, it is with religions and Religion; is it not?




Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


  •  Not that I am bemoaning the posts addressing the question.  It has been most enlightening to read everyone's thoughts.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 22, 2003, 10:47:30 PM
Greetings wfreitag,

Quote from: wfreitag
I'm thinking about food. In a pastoral society, nothing's more important than food. Most people would be expected to spend most of their time dealing with the production, distribution, safekeeping, and preparation of food. And the stakes should be high: any lapses in performing any of these functions could cause the death of individuals, families, or whole communities by starvation, poisoning, or disease


Consider the relationship of Religion, meaning the organized Temple or Church, in relation to such a agrarian populace.

Many incorperated into their strictures the necessity of Tithing the best portions of crops, first fruits, sacrifices (all of which were likely only sacrificed to be eaten, despite what horror flicks would lead you to believe), and what would you say you have?

Keep in mind that this is precisely how most "religious" institutions functioned.  They were centralized, had a leadership, a body of the faithful (or "communicants" if you prefer), yet were often soley devoted to... Priestly duties.

Thus their community literally had to support them.  Fail the community, well, might mean the end of the Temple.  Then again might not.

Even into our modern era the names applied to religious communities reflect their origins.

Consider:  The Priest is called a "Shepherd".  The communicants, meaning the congregation of the Church, are the "flock".  Most see in this only the superficial meaning of "protector" and "protected".

Yet what is the Shepherds true role, to protect the flock?

They rod and thy staff protect me.  I believe is the pertinent bit of verse.  (Taken from memory.)

That is the simplex answer.

The shepherd watches over the flock so that their wool can be sheared in season and milk and meat be kept on his table.  Also a sheep might be worth X# of "hides" or "coin" in trade.

Then again remember that bit about the "rod" and the "staff"?

Take a close look at the two object which the Pharoah is holding.  These are the symbols of his power.  They are a "rod" and a "staff"  Or more precisely a "crook", or "shepherd's crook", which is still a staff.

What does it mean?

Well we could look into books, search the web, and come up with a answer.  However, where game design is concerned, the proper question that should be asked is:

"What do you (the game designer/game master) want it to mean?"

That is the beauty of fiction, be it fantasy or space opera, you can take bits and pieces from the real world, reshape them, and... well whatever you want to do that's what!

Thus you can establish that a cult or religion is either a protector of the people, or a parasite feeding off them.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Tony Irwin on January 23, 2003, 02:40:21 AM
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Consider the relationship of Religion, meaning the organized Temple or Church, in relation to such a agrarian populace.

Many incorperated into their strictures the necessity of Tithing the best portions of crops, first fruits, sacrifices (all of which were likely only sacrificed to be eaten, despite what horror flicks would lead you to believe), and what would you say you have?

Keep in mind that this is precisely how most "religious" institutions functioned.  They were centralized, had a leadership, a body of the faithful (or "communicants" if you prefer), yet were often soley devoted to... Priestly duties.

Thus their community literally had to support them.  Fail the community, well, might mean the end of the Temple.  Then again might not.

(highlights mine)

Kester I'm sure you'll agree that debating religion is difficult enough, much more so through an impersonal written forum dedicated to RPGs! Your personal understanding of the evolution of some religions is genuinely interesting, but obviously for a proper religious debate we'd need to see historical sources that support people's claims and interpretations.

So why bother?! What's much more interesting to me is the fascinating model you describe of a community evolving its own religion. I'd be interested on your opinion on this: In a game-world where the gods are real how likely is it that the religion would gel with the community as in the agrarian example you put forward?

For example:
I design a Viking game, and fill it with gods and demons of the sea. The eternal war they engage in is manifested through tide movements and storms. Worshiping a god is done in order to earn safe passage on the sea.

Now in a game where there are no gods, but communities evolve religions to meet their own needs, this seems very acceptable. It fits the kind of model that you described for an agrarian community's religion.

On the other hand, if I start from the idea that gods and demons will be real in my game, would they really be concerned about tides, storms, and sailing boats? If there are real gods then wouldn't they most likely force a system of worship upon the Vikings, one that doesn't even address the Viking's concerns about safety at sea.

I'm wondering if when a religion is tuned exactly to fit in with a community, that it implies that there is no supernatural basis to that religion, that the community has created their own gods on their own terms.

In a setting where the gods are real perhaps the challenge is to create a religion that is so very different in nature from what the community (and players) would want and expect, in order to show that it is a religion with a genuinely supernatural basis?

Quote

Even into our modern era the names applied to religious communities reflect their origins.

Consider:  The Priest is called a "Shepherd".  The communicants, meaning the congregation of the Church, are the "flock".  Most see in this only the superficial meaning of "protector" and "protected".

Yet what is the Shepherds true role, to protect the flock?

They rod and thy staff protect me.  I believe is the pertinent bit of verse.  (Taken from memory.)

That is the simplex answer.


I think the traditions you're referring to are based more on John 10, rather than Psalm 23, but I just know there are people out there who can easily trumph me on that (and are perhaps itching to do so) This  highlights the difficulties of religious discussion and interpretation in a forum that isn't set up for that.

Im much more interested in how would you apply your personal take on these verses to designing a game, you put it so nicely at the end of your post:

Quote
That is the beauty of fiction, be it fantasy or space opera, you can take bits and pieces from the real world, reshape them, and... well whatever you want to do that's what!

Thus you can establish that a cult or religion is either a protector of the people, or a parasite feeding off them.


Both the "protector" and "parasite" model assume that community and religion gel together succesfully. To what extent do you think that this implies that people have evolved their own religion rather than receiving it from gods that the designer intended to exist in the game world?

Tony


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 23, 2003, 08:32:53 AM
Hello,

It strikes me that The Riddle of Steel offers a fine solution to deciding between the "religiosity" and "values" of an effectiveness-increasing game mechanic.

A character may have the Spiritual Attribute "Faith." This is one of five SAs that a character must have in the game, rated from 0-5 and almost always changing in value rapidly during play (with no in-game correspondence - Faith 0 is not "lower faith" than Faith 5). The rating is used for dice bonuses.

Now here's the point: in this game, the fellow who gets 5 extra dice from "using his Faith" definitely has an in-game effect. But! Just what this represents in-game, in terms of #1 (religiosity; God literally lent me strength) or #3 (values; I am fighting for what I really care about, so I put my "all" into it to an extent I never dreamed possible), is deliberately left unspecified. The character is convinced it's #1. His cynical pal, fighting beside him with his utterly non-religious "Passion: Hates Bob" at 5, interprets that mighty strike or whatever as #3.

The game does not tell us which it is, at all. It doesn't have to.

Here are some other interesting nuances.

- Faith has no special features as an SA distinct from the other ones, such as "Passion" (which may be very selfish or very altruistic), Drive (ditto), and so on. Well, it's a wee bit easier to keep from losing than some, but no big deal.

- Faith, like all of the SAs, is completely up to the player in terms of the character keeping it or losing it. Right in the middle of play, with a bit of easy point-mongering, poof, it'd be gone and replaced by "Drive: deflower princess" or something else dubious or even reprehensible.

- Using Faith does not accord with any particular standards of niceness or goodness, just with defending the reputation, integrity, and base-line practices of that particular religion.

Looking over cinema and literature, I should like to point out that this ambiguity about #1 vs. #3 is a comfortable zone of drama and theme for the non-religious writer/reader/viewer and the religious one alike. One does not have to know which in order to understand, enjoy, and appreciate both the story itself and the larger issues involved.

Best,
Ron

P.S. Edited to fix a key typo, the "3" in boldface, which I originally mistyped as "2."


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Walt Freitag on January 23, 2003, 08:52:50 AM
Quote from: John Kim
Quote from: wfreitag

Religiosity (terms family #1): If I wanted to encourage this aspect of religion in a game, I think I'd choose an "effects first" approach a la Christoffer (Pale Fire). That is, instead of causing the world to react tangibly to a character's religiosity (which tends to represent premature resolution of what are supposed to be deep mysteries), I'd ask the player to define the spiritual direction the character's religiousity should be going in (affirming of faith, doubt leading to a crisis of faith, seeking faith, acquiring new faith, or whatever). Then I'd reward the player for depicting the character's interpretation or interpolation of events in accordance with that direction.

... the reward would not translate into effectiveness, but perhaps into spotlight time in which a part of the story revolves around bringing the current phase of the character's spiritual trajectory to a resolution.


I like the idea of deriving religiosity from events rather than vice-versa. The player can interpret critical results, or storypath card play, etc. as miracles or signs of favor and whatnot. I have some doubts about the specific mechanic of pre-defining a spiritual direction -- which just seems a little dull to me -- and also with the reward -- which seems close to rewarding spotlight time with more spotlight time. One alternate approach is taken by Pendragon, where a character's personality development develops randomly from events that test traits like Chaste, Forgiving, and Pious.


Yeah, those are good points. In some ways the pre-definition of a "spiritual trajectory" is akin to pre-defining "spiritual attributes." (The latter defines a present condition that by default will continue unless story events force a change; the former defines an expected course of change that by default will tend to occur unless the player resists it.) In other ways it's completely different. (The latter describes a character's present condition; the former describes a desire or expectation of change -- that is to say, a conflict. Yet both seem to be legitimate possible aspects of a character's protagonism.)

Game systems are currently more comfortable pre-specifying conditions than trajectories, which smack of "giving the story away" or "deciding what's going to happen in advance." But I think this could change. Predefinition of character trajectories is not as uncommon as it first might appear. In some game systems a pre-defined trajectory is shared by all player-characters (decreasing sanity in Call Of Cthulhu, increasing effectiveness in D&D and heartbreakers, decreasing humanity in Vampire).  In many individual games it's not part of the written system but it gets added to the social contract by agreement between the player and GM.

The desire to pre-specify comes about for a very simple reason. I would generally regard a character's religiosity (per Ron's meaning in terms group #1) as something the player should have full proprietorship over. Therefore, if the game system or social contract is to provide rewards for overt exploration of religiosity, then the GM and/or GM-full players have to know in advance what to reward.

As for the reward itself, perhaps there are alternatives to spotlight time. Effectiveness rewards could be carefully chosen to be noncommittal about the causality of the world. So instead of "my faith (or my guilt, or my doubt, or my commitment to open-minded seeking) gives me kewl powers"  you could opt for more ambiguous effects attributable to mental state alone, such as resistance to fatigue, ability to rest and recover easily, or greater self-assuredness in action. (I believe the latter is favored by the current U.S. administration, since they publically advocate "faith-based initiatives.") (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Kester, the deeper associations between religion and food in some cultures did occur to me. I was tempted to mention "daily bread" and so forth. But my point was that just as it's perfectly OK for most role playing game systems to lack a detailed focus on food, so it's also OK for them to lack a detailed focus on religion. Despite the importance of both elements to the societies depicted (and of course, to real-world societies as well).

Another factor to consider, of great importance in societies but deliberately underplayed in RPGs, is disease. And again, there's a direct connection with religion. People can say what they like about lightning bolts and volcanoes with regard to the hypothetical origins of religion, but lightning bolts and volcanoes kill a trivial number compared with disease, which in pre-technological societies kills a majority before their prime. And until very recently, no one had the slightest idea why unless they invented supernatural explanations. The long-term impact of the germ theory of disease on religion make Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin seem insignificant.

Tony, you have a great point about real-in-the-game-world gods, which I was planning to raise as well. The way I see it, there are two basic choices for how those gods behave. Either they behave in ways similar to the way the deities in real-world religions are depicted as behaving (in the "present day" world contemporary with the religion, not in the long-ago-time of the myths of that religion), or they don't. If they do, then they will tend to be elusive, working in mysterious ways, constrained by various rules and principles, rarely intervening directly and making it look like an accident when they do, speaking through prophets on the margins of society, providing holy scriptures in the same media (stone tablets, penned scrolls) that just happen to be accessible to human writers at the time, and so forth. In that case, the results might not be distinguishable from communities evolving religions to meet their own needs (or, at least for short historical time periods, being forced to practice an invader's religion that evolved to meet their needs).

But in the case of active gods who don't test faith by keeping all interventions ambiguous, you have two further choices. You can hypothesize gods who, out of affection for the comminity that worships them, decree exactly the same religions observances that the community might have developed itself to meet its own needs. Which makes the deity benign or beneficial, though perhaps a little superfluous. Or you can have the case you described, in which the deity forces practices that meet its own needs instead.

That last case, though, it problematic, because the results would probably not be much like most real-world religion, so the problem of alienness arises. Indeed, the closest scenario to that we're familiar with are things like Evil Overlords with godlike powers (Sauron, for instance) or the super-powerful computer masters Captain Kirk was always destroying by overloading them with illogic (or occasionally with phasers. In fact, Kirk also took out the actual Apollo, as I recall.) So instead of recognizable religions, we're verging back to evil cults and evil overlords. A god that's wrathful and occasionally wipes out half his worshippers with distasters or plagues is one thing. We all know that worshippers need to be wiped out from time to time because so many of them are just so gosh-darned sinful. But a god that appeared unconcerned with the community's concerns altogether would be indistinguishable from any other super-powered overlord ruling by might, except for the magnitude of the power.

This can be great for stories of moral dilemmas, but it can hardly avoid being a pretty unfavorable depiction of deities and religions. Twenty consecrated youths and maidens designated for sacred ritual torture and sacrifice have escaped. If they're not caught and brought back, the god(s) will rain fire upon the entire land. Do the player-characters accept this task? Interesting possibilities, but I think we've left the fantasy genre behind.

- Walt


Title: this is not random title #42
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 23, 2003, 11:35:08 AM
Greetings Tony,


Quote from: Tony Irwin
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Consider the relationship of Religion, meaning the organized Temple or Church, in relation to such a agrarian populace.

Many incorperated into their strictures the necessity of Tithing the best portions of crops, first fruits, sacrifices (all of which were likely only sacrificed to be eaten, despite what horror flicks would lead you to believe), and what would you say you have?

Keep in mind that this is precisely how most "religious" institutions functioned.  They were centralized, had a leadership, a body of the faithful (or "communicants" if you prefer), yet were often soley devoted to... Priestly duties.

Thus their community literally had to support them.  Fail the community, well, might mean the end of the Temple.  Then again might not.

(highlights mine)

Kester I'm sure you'll agree that debating religion is difficult enough, much more so through an impersonal written forum dedicated to RPGs! Your personal understanding of the evolution of some religions is genuinely interesting, but obviously for a proper religious debate we'd need to see historical sources that support people's claims and interpretations.

So why bother?! What's much more interesting to me is the fascinating model you describe of a community evolving its own religion. I'd be interested on your opinion on this: In a game-world where the gods are real how likely is it that the religion would gel with the community as in the agrarian example you put forward?


At this point I feel I should preface any futher comments by noted that, yes, there are, can be, even are in our own wonderful world many different ideas, models, approaches, and definition to what religion is, should be, and was.... Althought the "was" is usually based upon preconception of how things are in relation to how someone thinks they might have been and...

Earlier someone asked about the Aztecs.  (Mayans, Incas, all different peoples from the South Americas, yet usually lumped together.)  Case in point.  The view we have of them has evolved.  Once it was thought they were a peaceful agrarian peoples.  Many held their society up a ideolize gem.  For a long while, least in the old books on them, they seemed to do little wrong.  In fact, if my imp of memory serves, some even went so far as to equate them with the Utopian "Atlantean" ideal.

What's that have to do with anything?

Read on.


Quote from: Tony Irwin
For example:
I design a Viking game, and fill it with gods and demons of the sea. The eternal war they engage in is manifested through tide movements and storms. Worshiping a god is done in order to earn safe passage on the sea.

Now in a game where there are no gods, but communities evolve religions to meet their own needs, this seems very acceptable. It fits the kind of model that you described for an agrarian community's religion.

On the other hand, if I start from the idea that gods and demons will be real in my game, would they really be concerned about tides, storms, and sailing boats? If there are real gods then wouldn't they most likely force a system of worship upon the Vikings, one that doesn't even address the Viking's concerns about safety at sea.


Good quetion.

Simplex answer:  As game designer if you want the gods to do that, then, sure.  You write it up.  Flesh it out.  And so it is.

Most myths have gods that seem to be wanting to do just this, impose some form of subservient system upon humanity, or gods who just dislike us altogether (Enlil, Lilith) or seem to think we are playthings (Coyote, Puck) and may even want to be rid of us.


Slightly more convuluted answer:

In the Popul Vuh-- Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life--  being a book that supposidly details their myths, it is interesting to see that most deities seem to be even more directly associated with forces of nature than are the Greco-Roman deities.  Or are they?

(Did you really really want citations?  Honestly, they could fill pages.)

We have an imperfect understanding of these ancient cultures.  We have jiggsaw pieces, but no idea what the puzzle looks like yet, being human, we have tried to find a pattern in the bits and pieces we do have.  Though the same could be said of how religion function in the classical antiquity as well.  So what does that mean?

Nothing, unless you want it to.

You, as a game designer, are not constricted by any of this.  You are, quite literally, molding your world, and its inhabitants, out of clay.  Yes, you are casting yourself in the role of Prime Mover.  You are Proteus, your fingers the Angels of Heaven taking up the pen and keyboard to make real in black and white the thought-form in your mind.

Just don't let this all go to your head, and don't let your head (filled with all that wonderful trivia that our heads are) get to you.

Your example is a good start.  As is Mr. Edwards (and others) input about the nature of religions and Religion.  They are, at least, food for thought.

Just remeber that your need to take the time to digest your food.


Quote from: Tony Irwin
I'm wondering if when a religion is tuned exactly to fit in with a community, that it implies that there is no supernatural basis to that religion, that the community has created their own gods on their own terms.

In a setting where the gods are real perhaps the challenge is to create a religion that is so very different in nature from what the community (and players) would want and expect, in order to show that it is a religion with a genuinely supernatural basis?


Better question is is that what you want the religion and community to reflect within the context of the game world?

My suggestion would be to not worry about the why's and whatfore's until after you have written up your rough draft.  Then, once you have commited your ideas to paper, or the digital media, examine what you have written with a critical eye.  You already seem to know just the sorts of hard and probing questions to ask.  But, you may forget them, so write those down as they occur as well.



Quote from: Tony Irwin
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
Even into our modern era the names applied to religious communities reflect their origins.

Consider:  The Priest is called a "Shepherd".  The communicants, meaning the congregation of the Church, are the "flock".  Most see in this only the superficial meaning of "protector" and "protected".

Yet what is the Shepherds true role, to protect the flock?

Thy rod and thy staff protect me.  I believe is the pertinent bit of verse.  (Taken from memory.)

That is the simplex answer.


I think the traditions you're referring to are based more on John 10, rather than Psalm 23, but I just know there are people out there who can easily trumph me on that (and are perhaps itching to do so) This  highlights the difficulties of religious discussion and interpretation in a forum that isn't set up for that.

Im much more interested in how would you apply your personal take on these verses to designing a game, you put it so nicely at the end of your post:

Quote
That is the beauty of fiction, be it fantasy or space opera, you can take bits and pieces from the real world, reshape them, and... well whatever you want to do that's what!

Thus you can establish that a cult or religion is either a protector of the people, or a parasite feeding off them.


Both the "protector" and "parasite" model assume that community and religion gel together succesfully. To what extent do you think that this implies that people have evolved their own religion rather than receiving it from gods that the designer intended to exist in the game world?


the "recieving it from gods" and "intended to exist in the game world" might strike some as a bit of a oxymoron.

Obviously, if I say that the Lord Pterforoia Yah is the God of Blue Skies, but that he was given this position only after the Antecedant of Time decended upon the rude ball of clay that was the unshaped world to breath life into it, populated it, and gift mankind with it (in addition to providing mankind a set of mores) then that establishes the roots of a myth cycle.

Now, how we use that within a game world can vary.  It can just be a bit of background flavor, something we squirt on our shaved ice every once in a while to nibble on, or it can be meant literally.

Going with your idea that the gods are real that establishes, within the game world, a truism that applies to the world mechanic.  Namely that the "gods" are going to be walking-- or flitting about in their vimanas, sky chariots, magic clouds, or what have you-- around and interacting with the everyday PCs.  Now we all know that there are NPCs and then there are NPCs.  The portrayal of deities have perhaps always posed this problem to GMs, for we wonder what to do with them.

Not because we don't know, rather we relize that once we present them in a certain way that that becomes the expectations that our players will have for them.

Thus, perhaps, we should decide what expectation we want the players to have.  Once we decide that, I think, it may be a good idea to inform the Game Master in the "eyes only" section of the rules.

Also, and this is just my opinion, I don't really think everything needs to be explained.  While in the real world religious mysteries of the sort being discussed in the many threads at The Forge might make some anxious or confused, in the game world it is always good to leave a bit of mystery.  Not to counfound the players, per se, but because it is in those bits of mystery that the GM is given room to breathe and remold the world into something they can call their own.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: clehrich on January 23, 2003, 09:44:42 PM
Well, here I go again....

Clearly this discussion has split into numerous concurrent directions, and part of the difficulty is that some people are talking about one direction and others are responding about another.  I'm not going to try to divide it all up --- I'd fail, for one thing --- but I'd like to propose some possibilities for specifying and clarifying debate.

John Kim started this thread as "successful approaches to religion."  People have interpreted this numerous ways, and at this point it hardly matters what John Kim himself had in mind.  

1. I took this to mean, "How might we design religions, within the framework of the classic fantasy Heartbreaker-type world, that would 'feel' a bit more like real-world religions?"

2. Some have asked, "How can we design mechanics that will encourage religious behaviors from PCs?"

3. Some have asked, "Which RPGs do religion well?"

Now some have responded to much of this by saying, "Whatever you want, just don't tell others how to play their games."  This strikes me as unhelpful to the topic at hand.

Given this very rough breakdown, we really have a single question, upon which all the rest depends:

How will we judge whether a religion has been "done well" in a given RPG?

And this question has led to much debate about what religion is, what's the right sort of religion, what's the right emphasis, and so forth.

I stated before, somewhere, that scholars of religion have spent 150-odd years debating the origins of religion, and have mostly realized that there's no answer to the question.  I'd like to add a few additional points to that, and explain why they're helpful (yes, I really do think they're helpful):

1. The discipline of History of Religions, sometimes called Comparative Religions, has essentially determined (with very few remaining objectors) that religion is not definable.  To quote (I think --- it's from memory) Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion (1982), "there is no data for religion" (First page of Introduction).  What he means by this is that "religion" as a category of behaviors that every culture more or less participates in is an invention of the modern world.  There are behaviors that can be so categorized everywhere, by definition, but religion does not exist as an object "out there."  The point, for this discussion, is this: there is no possible correct definition or standard.

2. The same discipline, along with Anthropology and other pals, have come to recognize that ritual, myth, and faith are (1) not universal, (2) not consistent categories, and (3) have no intrinsic necessary relations to each other.  For example, friends of mine who study and teach the history of Buddhism always harp on one essential point for their students: classical Buddhism had nothing to do with faith --- it just ain't there.

So why is this helpful, rather than destructive, for talking about religion in RPGs?

The only way to talk about the topic is with respect to specific and stated standards and priorities.  If we agree to very rough senses of things like myth, ritual, theology, institutions, and so forth, those rough definitions and categories cannot contain inherent mutual relations, nor can they be inherently prioritized.  This results in an interesting effect:

X wants religion in her RPG to emphasize faith, downplay theology and ritual, and maybe have a smattering of myth.  The only question is how to achieve the goal --- there is no value in debating whether the goal is itself worthwhile, because there is no standard to compare it to.

So each of those 3 questions simply needs to add the phrase, "With respect to X."

1. How might we design RPG religions that are more successful with respect to real-world accuracy?  (My question --- change the comparative term as you like.)

2. How might we design RPG religion mechanics that are more successful with respect to encouraging X sort of behaviors?

3. Which RPGs have done religion well with respect to X explicit standard of measurement?

Sorry to go on so long, but I wanted to get this clear.  I don't think it's necessary to do RPG religion from an academic stance, but I promise you that as soon as you claim some one standard is actually the right one, you will be in the middle of a very nasty snarl.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Tony Irwin on January 24, 2003, 01:49:14 AM
Quote from: Walt
But in the case of active gods who don't test faith by keeping all interventions ambiguous, you have two further choices. You can hypothesize gods who, out of affection for the comminity that worships them, decree exactly the same religions observances that the community might have developed itself to meet its own needs. Which makes the deity benign or beneficial, though perhaps a little superfluous.


Thanks Walt, you raised a good point I missed - a religion with a supernatural basis need not be wholly alien to a gameworld culture. The benevolence (or animosity) of spiritual beings could encourage them to gel with the communities. So the Gods calm the seas because they love the vikings, and the demons stir the seas because they hate the vikings. And of course the other point you made, that the Gods have some kind of symbiotic relationship with the worshipers, like the God needs worship and in return calms the seas.

On in-game Gods creating a religion rather than communites evolving their own religion:
Quote from: Walt
That last case, though, it problematic, because the results would probably not be much like most real-world religion, so the problem of alienness arises. Indeed, the closest scenario to that we're familiar with are things like Evil Overlords with godlike powers (Sauron, for instance) or the super-powerful computer masters Captain Kirk was always destroying by overloading them with illogic (or occasionally with phasers. In fact, Kirk also took out the actual Apollo, as I recall.) So instead of recognizable religions, we're verging back to evil cults and evil overlords. A god that's wrathful and occasionally wipes out half his worshippers with distasters or plagues is one thing. We all know that worshippers need to be wiped out from time to time because so many of them are just so gosh-darned sinful. But a god that appeared unconcerned with the community's concerns altogether would be indistinguishable from any other super-powered overlord ruling by might, except for the magnitude of the power.


Well many real-world relgions today would claim that their belief and worship system has been wholly prescribed to them by God, and yet those beliefs and behaviours are often wholly alien to contemporary communities.

Using Kester's example of the Good Shepherd. Metaphors that draw upon sheep, fields, seeds, and fishing are wholly alien to me. If I was to create my own religion it would be about prayers being like emails, and the devil is like a traffic cop. Time for some anecdotal evidence I'm afraid - I have many close friends involved in different world religions; Sikhism, Islam, Christianity. A major source of anxiety for all of them is their inability to reconcile their religious practices and beliefs with the communities they live in. Whether it be modes of dress, contact between the sexes, alcohol and drug use, festival/celebration dates; they feel that their religion is alien to their community. Hell lets not stop there: sexuality, rpgs, international politics, you know the score. These are good examples of how a God (which they believe to be genuinely supernatural) can hand them a belief system instead of them evolving one appropriate to their communities. The result is not supernatural plagues and lightning bolts, but personal conflict.

Ultimately its a personal choice. The alien nature of religions compared to communities isn't a "fact", its just something I think I've observed in my own little circle, and so of course I'd be interested in seeing that represented in gameworld religions.

Tony


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: contracycle on January 24, 2003, 05:23:32 AM
Quote from: Tony Irwin

Ultimately its a personal choice. The alien nature of religions compared to communities isn't a "fact", its just something I think I've observed in my own little circle, and so of course I'd be interested in seeing that represented in gameworld religions.


One interesting aspect to consider is that religions often supercede cultural boundaries (in fact from my perspective, this is the feature that makes them distinct from soveriegnty cults).  That is, two states with a shared religion may well have other cultural mores which originate in their own particular histories, but both will exhibit cultural features relevant to the supra-national religion.  The very term "catholic", of course, is an attempt to include Everyone.  Under the mongol dynasty of china, certain cities had muslim quartees with their own mosques etc; there are many similar historical circumstances.  All of which is a long way of saying that the relationship between a religion and the broader society does often feature this Alien aspect, and I also think it would be an interesting thing to explore.


Title: The long winding road of ideas...
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 24, 2003, 11:36:45 AM
Greetings All,

First off, apologies, I've sort of lumped everything together here.  (I've edited the answers into a sort of sequence that is meant to be read as presented.)  Herein are answers to posts both old and new, so without boring you further here the missive is...


Is seperating the institution of "religion"-- as in a representative organization within the game world, viz. a cult or church or temple, with its associated hierarchy and individual set of standards-- from the expression of belief, morality, theology, and the associated ideological preconceptions impossible?

That seems to be the underlying question to much of what is being discussed.  Unless I have toally misread your posts.  (In which case I humbly apologize.)


Quote from: clehrich
1. How might we design RPG religions that are more successful with respect to real-world accuracy? (My question --- change the comparative term as you like.)

2. How might we design RPG religion mechanics that are more successful with respect to encouraging X sort of behaviors?

3. Which RPGs have done religion well with respect to X explicit standard of measurement?


Is the portrayal of "what is religion" merely a matter of approach to the subject matter?

Ah, but against whose ruler should one base their measure of what is, or is not, the standard for the subject matter?!?

And let us keep in mind that many will probably feel as Mr. Lanford does...


Quote from: Le Joueur
There is no 'right way' to portray religion in role-playing games, because religion is not required. A game can be created expressly for portrayal of religion, but that does not make it necessary for all games. It isn't even that simple. I think the OAD&D example underscore the fact that some games can and will have religion in them without portraying it. That's an important point; while it may be important for some people to, not just evangelize their religion, but religiousness in general, it is vital to remember that it is not necessary for all games to do so.


That is true.  However, though we may realize it or not, relgion is a pervasive part of our human experiance.(*)  I'm not saying it is the same for everyone, for obviously it is not.  However the dogma's and doctrines that cause so much debate all have two things in common:

1) They are man made.

2) They are attempting to express, in profile of words, that which most would probably agree is experiential.

Of course there will also be those who feel the need to argue the point, any point, because they feel such matters can NOT be easily codified in words, nor should they be.  Thus they may frown upon the attempt.

Luckily we are dealing with the wonder and joy of how to shape a fictional reality, not how to try to explain the complexities and foibles of our own!


Quote from: Tony Irwin
Well many real-world relgions today would claim that their belief and worship system has been wholly prescribed to them by God, and yet those beliefs and behaviours are often wholly alien to contemporary communities.


If we dwell soley upon aspects of ideology, whether or not a certain set of "beliefs" seem more <insert adjective here> than another set of beliefs; the game design process might become a non-starter, and thus stagnate.  (Remember it is these "differences" these "clashes" of ideas that lend a level of realism to the game.  Also, without them, there would not be much of a reason to adventure, would there?)  To avoid this we need to follow the usual design route.

Ah, but what's the usual design route?


First establish what you want/require of your game world's religion.  (IE: Identify and define the point and purpose of the game fixture.)  Is it a force for good, evil, or just background fluff?

That seems to be the basic starting point for most things.  Even the creation of NPCs.  Identify what you want, what role they are to play, then flesh out their motivations and goals.

Second, identify where the religion/cult is, how the religion/cult is organized, the deity (or pantheon of deities) to whom the religion owes fealty and thus, by extension, what myths and legends this religion is going to introduce to the game world, campaign setting, or the metaplot of your game.

If designing a game, and this religion/cult is an intrinsic part of the game, then how might it influence the system mechanics?  &tc..

For instance: are Clerics to be portrayed as merely "spell casters" that must follow strict codes of conduct?  Or will they be made to adhere to an "alignment", receive a certain set of advantages or disadvantages for belonging to a certain order, or something else altogether?

Third, define the rationale: Why does it matter how your fantasy religion is organized?

"Why, Kester?  It is always why with you!"

Simplex answer:  Because if it is Shamanic, that implies a Tribal organization; just as having a Priest character archetype would intimate someone who spends time in a Temple or Church.

By using standard archetypes, those derived from the "real world", within the context of a fantasy, horror, science fiction, or pulp action setting the game world will provide a level of 'familiarity' that allows the players to better exercise the suspension of disbelief.

That's always a good thing.


Quote from: contracycle
One interesting aspect to consider is that religions often supercede cultural boundaries ...  two states with a shared religion may well have other cultural mores ... but both will exhibit cultural features relevant to the supra-national religion.


Ethics, morality, the existance of sins or virtues; all that should be considered the spice in the soup of your created religion, the dressing on the cake of your carefully crafted cult.  These add flavor and taste to the design of your game world's religion.  However they are but one ingredient of what makes the in-game construct of religion what it is.

Take the eggs or sugar out of a cake and what will you get if you try to bake the mix?

Remove the ground beef from your favorite chili recipe, can what is cooked really still be called chili?


Quote from: Nick Pagnucco
I'm wary about generalizing to a genre how religion could or should be represented. I'd be willing to make some cautious generalizations about how religion works in specific RPGS. Maybe generalizations about 1 gaming group's preferences across time and different RPGs also. And thats about it.

Everything else, IMHO, is up in the air, including whether or not it needs to be defined at all. If it needs to be defined, I am sure there are some games that are well suited to have religion play a minor or a one-dimensional role. Others may require detailed accounts on political ramifications, or on the effects on everyday life, or on the cosmology.


Concerned, and well you should be.  But how concerned?

(read on please)


Quote from: John Kim
Based on my experiences, I feel that game mechanics are not especially important with regards to religion. If anything, making theurgical matters into cut-and-dried mechanics might impede what I consider successful portrayal of religion.


There are Priests, Witches, Diviners, Clerics, Magicians, Witch Hunters, and etcetera ad nauseum ad infinitim cluttering our role playing games.  Do we really need to know the how, or the why, of their existance and the manner in which they have come to fill these roles?

Granted: Considering the philosophical ideologues of a religion without taking the game world, the rule system, or even the use to which such a organization is to be put is, in my opinion, getting ahead of ourselves.  Of course it can help us suss the manner in which we want to portray religion, or even *if* we want to use the term, but the hard facts are the average player really isn't going to care about the long hours that have been spent anguishing over their sensibilities.  (Or even realize that many a game desinger does!!!)

They will either take offense or not, they will either take an interest in the stage dressing of the game or not... I know, we spend hours crafting rationales for why Kobolds are in that Cave of Doom guarding the Silver Onyx Stone of Incredible Sorcery; but does the average player really care about the why's and whatfor's?

Not really, unless of course such matters directly impact the rules, or somehow explain why the in-game metaphysics or magic is how it is.  Which, when you come to think of it, is really one of the tools that religion can serve as; a means of dispensing explanations of the rationale to the players.  *shakes head*

So why bother tip toeing around or walking on splinters and broken glass when it comes to just slapping down a cult, religion, religious institution, or facsimile for play?

Here is a cult.  It has a temple.  The goals are... yada yada yada.


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


  • Addendum:  In order to stem the tide of confusion let me clarify.  Based upon our overall human history, to say nothing of current events portrayed in the daily news, matters and issues of "religion" is pervasive in the sense it surrounds us.  Whether we call ourselves atheist, agnostic, or George religion is a wall of rose bushes all about us.  Whether we choose to smell those roses or not, however, is another matter all together.  Just remember, every rose has its thorns, so handle with care.  Peace!


Title: Only One Problem
Post by: Le Joueur on January 24, 2003, 12:20:33 PM
It's all good Kester except this part:
Quote from: Kester Pelagius
However, though we may realize it or not, religion is a pervasive part of our human experience.

Sorry, the 'pervasiveness' of religion is purely a subjective measure.  I have many days were there would be no religion in my human experience, save for those I've trained myself to have.  I must assume that an atheist has these not at all; I'd hardly call that "pervasive."

Fang Langford


Title: Re: Only One Problem
Post by: contracycle on January 24, 2003, 12:28:01 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur

Sorry, the 'pervasiveness' of religion is purely a subjective measure.  I have many days were there would be no religion in my human experience, save for those I've trained myself to have.  I must assume that an atheist has these not at all; I'd hardly call that "pervasive."


Yes and no.  I never have "religious experiences" in daily life; but I know people who do.  I also cannot dfeny te prevalence of cult material in archeology (and thats even granting that some presumed cult material is not that at all).  It is a pervasive property of [pre-industrial] human culture and even as an atheist, its exploration is interesting - in fact, arguably even more so than for the contemporary theist.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: clehrich on January 25, 2003, 10:36:51 AM
Kester,

I think you have missed my point, at least.

Quote
clehrich wrote:
Quote
1. How might we design RPG religions that are more successful with respect to real-world accuracy? (My question --- change the comparative term as you like.)

2. How might we design RPG religion mechanics that are more successful with respect to encouraging X sort of behaviors?

3. Which RPGs have done religion well with respect to X explicit standard of measurement?  


Is the portrayal of "what is religion" merely a matter of approach to the subject matter?

Ah, but against whose ruler should one base their measure of what is, or is not, the standard for the subject matter?!?


My impression here is that you are concerned about the notion of an explicit standard.  Presumably, you worry that I'm suggesting we should formulate a "correct way" to do things.  This is precisely the opposite of my argument.

My point is this:
1. Religion is not definable, except as a heuristic device or an ideological claim.  There is, and can be, no right answer (barring revelation).  Thus in answer to your question, "Is the portrayal of "what is religion" merely a matter of approach to the subject matter?" I would reply, No: the portrayal of "what is religion" is merely a matter of battling ideologies among definers, and cannot have a valid conclusion.
2. Therefore, there can be no correct standards of comparison or measurement.
3. Therefore, when we evaluate and compare approaches to religion in RPGs, we must always make explicit what we are comparing to, i.e. what standard we are formulating for the purpose.  There is minimal value in debating such standards; the only question is whether a given approach meets a given standard.

For example:
Quote
Is seperating the institution of "religion"-- as in a representative organization within the game world, viz. a cult or church or temple, with its associated hierarchy and individual set of standards-- from the expression of belief, morality, theology, and the associated ideological preconceptions impossible?

1. No, it's not impossible.  How could it be --- you've just done so.  And since there is no way to say whether such a division is absolutely correct or incorrect, the only remaining question is, What is gained or lost by doing so?

2. The division you propose implies three categories: institutional religious things (churches, etc.), non-institutional religious things (beliefs, etc.) connected with individual persons, and non-religious things.  Apparently that last category includes myth, symbol, and ritual.  I realize that this was not your point --- I'm not trying to skewer you on a sin of omission.  But what's proposed here simply in formulating the question is an implicit standard of comparison, which is then grafted onto an explicit standard of division.  That division probably has value in certain contexts, but without knowing what it implies and requires, it is very difficult to assess.


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: Kester Pelagius on January 25, 2003, 01:40:17 PM
Greetings clehrich,

Religion *could* encompass a myriad number of possibilities, yet not every religion need necessarily portray every possibility.  Just read some of the other Threads here at Forge touching upon this topic.   The ideas expressed in them show the vivid diverisity of human thought, and that is, when you get right down to it, what most religions are all about.  The diversity of human thought.

A religion could be a-political, or the core of a realms political intrigue.  The Monarch could be both the head of State and the de facto head of the Religion of State; but does that necessarily make such a kingdom a Theocracy?

And what about a Theocracy?  A Theocracy could exist where there is a de facto secular head of State, while the real power is wielded by a Hierophant or High Priestess!

That is how religions within the evivronment of the RPG should be thought of as.  They are, for lack of a better term, a Meta-NPC.  Yet so too are they background fixtures, but fixtures that can be installed or uninstalled at the Game Masters discretion.  And as with every NPC they have motivations and goals.


Quote from: clehrich
I think you have missed my point, at least.

<...>

My impression here is that you are concerned about the notion of an explicit standard.  Presumably, you worry that I'm suggesting we should formulate a "correct way" to do things.  This is precisely the opposite of my argument.


I wont argue with you there, seems like we're looking at the same page, but reading differing implied meanings out of the same sentences.



Quote from: clehrich
My point is this:
1. Religion is not definable, except as a heuristic device or an ideological claim.  There is, and can be, no right answer (barring revelation).  Thus in answer to your question, "Is the portrayal of "what is religion" merely a matter of approach to the subject matter?" I would reply, No: the portrayal of "what is religion" is merely a matter of battling ideologies among definers, and cannot have a valid conclusion.


Exactly.  Ergo the question: against whose ruler.

As to the rest.  Nope, not really.

Mysticism.  The Supernatural.  Magic.  Religion.  They are seperate words, yet often intertwined conceptually.  As to the "battling ideologies", that is a fine point, but it has to do only with the philosophy, or if you prefer theology, of religion.  Which, in the game world, is merely a minor facet of the Meta-NPC that could be a religion.

Why is the evil cult evil?

Why might Priestesses of Athena get to wield Spears?

Why might Necromancy be allowed to followers of Anubis?

The answer, pure and simple, is merely part of the explanitory 'flavor' that supplies the motivations and goals of the Meta-NPC construct, and those who follow it.


Quote from: clehrich
2. Therefore, there can be no correct standards of comparison or measurement.


That's a fine arguement, in theory.

However it establishes a absolute truism.  But how long can one remain true to the arguement that no correct standard exists?

Not long.

Game worlds need shades of gray.

Religion, within the context of any game world or novel should, by design, afford lots of shades of gray.  (Game designers can't provide answers for everything after all!)  Of course, in real life, we assume that everything is  perfectly clear to a religions communicants.  Problem is this basic assumption isn't correct.  Witness all the conflict between various sects.

Conflict, not necessarily as combat, but conflict in the room for disagreement; even dissention.  That is, after all, how we get splinter sects in real life.  But that is not necessarily what I mean here.   Unless you are using a Religion construct, as opposed to many smaller cults and religions within your fictional environment.


Quote from: clehrich
3. Therefore, when we evaluate and compare approaches to religion in RPGs, we must always make explicit what we are comparing to, i.e. what standard we are formulating for the purpose.  There is minimal value in debating such standards; the only question is whether a given approach meets a given standard.


Ah, but remember that 'truism'?  The one that established this was a moot point?

If we establish that 'religion is not definable' then that is the case.   In fact if it can't be defined then there can be no standard for comparison.  If we can not compare then...  *shrug*

If I may humbly suggest: Perhaps we should think of religions more as Meta-NPCs rather than distillates of absolute belief systems?

After all is not an expression of a standard of belief but one possible facet of what a religion might add to the game world?

Of course the interaction between Meta-NPCs with different stards is where conflict can, and often is, generated.  And a good thing too.  Else our game worlds would be very dull!

Quote from: clehrich
For example:
Quote
Is seperating the institution of "religion"-- as in a representative organization within the game world, viz. a cult or church or temple, with its associated hierarchy and individual set of standards-- from the expression of belief, morality, theology, and the associated ideological preconceptions impossible?

1. No, it's not impossible.  How could it be --- you've just done so.


So I did.  *smiles*

As for the division break down into categories, not really.  Not that your examples aren't accurate.  In fact if they could work, and if you like them then I say use them!

However what I was saying is that we should perhaps think of religion as the end product of a recipe.  It is a cake, brownies, a soup, the fruit cake you inherited from your great great great aunt that you keep in the back of your freezer.  In other words a "religion" is the sum of its parts.  Remove any one of the ingrediants from the mix and it ceases to be what it was and becomes something else altogether.

Or, if you prefer, religion is a gem with many facets.  And, like any gem, you can only see so many facets at any given time.  But that does not mean that the facets cease to be, nor that every gem stone need be cut in quite the same way.
Which is what makes recipes such wonderful things.  You can always subtitute one spice for another, or increase one spice to overpower or subdue another spice that your pallate doesn't not particularlly care for.

So, too, it is with how a religion can be created for use in a fictionaly environment.

Why the splitting of hairs?

Because without conflict there can be no adventure.  Without obstacles to overcome there is no reason for players to roll up a character, much less explore the game world.  Problem is, what we aren't taking into account, is that much of the adventures are driven by the behind the scenes machinations of Meta-NPCs.  Or usually are.

Thus if the evil cult is evil because that is what the player character's in party Priest says it is then, for most, that is good enough reason to start an campaign to (insert adventure goal here) from/against said cult.

Of course it's all in the detail.

So, do we really need a in-game explanation of what is good and evil, right and wrong, and etcetera?

After all we *could* substitute many other words here: superstition, preternatural, magic, mysticism, and etcetera...  However what is at issue here seems to really be the conception of religion.
 

Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius


Title: Is religion really that much of a mystery?
Post by: clehrich on January 25, 2003, 02:34:58 PM
Kester,

I think I'm not making myself clear.  When I say that religion is not definable, I mean that we, now, here, outside of a game, cannot formulate a fully successful and comprehensive definition of religion, unless we make arbitrary decisions about which forms of religious behavior are more and less important.  In order to compare and evaluate forms of religion within a game world (or the real world, for that matter), we must make such arbitrary decisions, and that should be done explicitly.  If, for example, you want to construct religions within a given game-world such that institutions are primary, then the only question for the rest of us to deal with is whether your constructions (rules, history, background, whatever) successfully prioritize institutions.  There's no value in debating whether you have made a good choice, because there's no standard to compare such choices against.

For example:
Quote
when you get right down to it, what most religions are all about [is] The diversity of human thought.

You have now made a decision about your standards of comparison.  But that is not a "correct" decision, by definition.  If you want to formulate religiosity in your game-world such that "diversity of human thought" is the central issue, go for it --- but don't think that your choice is either correct (by any standard other than your own vision) or unobjectionable.  Suppose I argued, hypothetically, that my definition of religion is based on a specific religion which has an exclusive perspective; that is, I say that accepting Jesus as one's personal Savior is religion, and anything that does not do this is not religion.  You may well think this is a bigoted definition, but it is not an invalid one just because it is limited.

Quote

clehrich wrote:
Quote
My point is this:
1. Religion is not definable, except as a heuristic device or an ideological claim. There is, and can be, no right answer (barring revelation). Thus in answer to your question, "Is the portrayal of "what is religion" merely a matter of approach to the subject matter?" I would reply, No: the portrayal of "what is religion" is merely a matter of battling ideologies among definers, and cannot have a valid conclusion.

Exactly. Ergo the question: against whose ruler.

Exactly.  You have to construct the ruler --- each one of us does.  And in order to debate the issue, we have to make clear that we're constructing such rulers, and furthermore we have to recognize that these rulers limit the possibilities arbitrarily.

Quote
As to the "battling ideologies", that is a fine point, but it has to do only with the philosophy, or if you prefer theology, of religion. Which, in the game world, is merely a minor facet of the Meta-NPC that could be a religion.

What I mean about battling ideologies is our battling ideologies, not those in the game, or of the religions we construct.  If I say that religion is basically about faith, for example, and you say that religion is basically about social structure, then we have formulated two different ideologies with respect to religion.  There isn't any way to settle who's right; the only thing to do is to debate whether your construction has or has not adequately represented your ideology.

For example, when you say that battling ideologies (now in the game-world, not ours) "is merely a minor facet," you have just formulated an ideological statement about what religion is or should be.  And I'm saying that such a statement is not "accurate" or "correct" or obvious --- it's just the way you have chosen to do things.  For you to claim that your de-prioritization of ideological conflict is necessarily accurate is, for example, to say that any Marxist interpretation of religion is necessarily stupid from the outset.


Quote

clehrich wrote:
Quote

3. Therefore, when we evaluate and compare approaches to religion in RPGs, we must always make explicit what we are comparing to, i.e. what standard we are formulating for the purpose. There is minimal value in debating such standards; the only question is whether a given approach meets a given standard.

If we establish that 'religion is not definable' then that is the case. In fact if it can't be defined then there can be no standard for comparison. If we can not compare then... *shrug*

I'm not saying we can't compare religions.  We can't help it --- when I say "Chinese religion" I am making a comparison, because the English word "religion" does not exist among non-English speakers.  So what I'm doing is saying, "These behaviors that I observe among this group of Chinese people seem a lot like what I think religion is, so I'm going to call it Chinese religion."

What is essential about comparison, though, is that it has a third term.  If I say X is like Y, or X is not-like Y, I have just said a truism, almost a tautology.  For example, "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is like Hamlet" is a truism.  You can always find something similar (and different).  Go to an extreme: "Hamlet is like DNA."  Well, sure --- they both exist on Earth, for example.  

So what we always have to say is X is/isn't like Y with respect to Z.  The result is that you have to make Z explicit; you can't leave it implicit, and you have to recognize that there isn't a "correct" Z.  I can happily say, "Shi'ite Islam is/isn't like Thai Buddhism," but I can only say something meaningful if I say that the one is or is not like the other with respect to something explicit.

Quote
However what I was saying is that we should perhaps think of religion as the end product of a recipe. It is a cake, brownies, a soup, the fruit cake you inherited from your great great great aunt that you keep in the back of your freezer. In other words a "religion" is the sum of its parts. Remove any one of the ingrediants from the mix and it ceases to be what it was and becomes something else altogether.

Yes, of course you can define it so; I suspect that in some sense you probably should, for the purpose of constructing something that will "feel" like religion to your players.  But when you say "sum of its parts," I really don't think you're going to sit down and lay out every one of the possible parts, even in general terms.  I think you will begin prioritizing, perhaps unconsciously, such that some potential facets (to use your gem analogy) will be emphasized and others will be downplayed, possibly eliminated.  Are you going to lay out some gods, some basic moral precepts, some institutions, and so forth?  Sounds like it.  Are you going to lay out the details of a textual-analytical tradition based on fine-grained interpretation of some core text in an alien language?  I doubt it --- but why not?  This is not a particularly uncommon facet of religion.  How did you decide that this was not important?

And that's what I'm trying to get at.  You're making priority choices, decisions about what is and is not important for religion in an RPG.  To do so, you presumably have (1) some goal in mind, and (2) some set of prioritized elements.  What I want to know is what 1 and 2 are.  There's no point in debating whether they are good lists or bad, unless we want to agree on some particular comparative standard.  

But I think most RPGs work with both 1 and 2 deeply submerged, not at all conscious.  I think most RPG designers of religions (I'm talking about classic fantasy, mostly, but it could be expanded) have a certain set of fairly unexamined notions of what religion is "really like," and what effect they'd like that set of notions to have in their game world.  And they think that this set of notions is so obvious, they never really examine them, nor are they willing (when challenged) to consider the possibility that they have just made arbitrary ideological choices.

Think of it this way: In these various threads about religion, one question that has come up is whether it is appropriate to simulate (in some sense or other) religion in an RPG, since after all to do so is likely to tick off some of the potential readership.  I agree totally, but I don't think this is a problem with a solution.  You can't represent the vast totality of human religiosity in an RPG --- there simply isn't space.  So you have to make choices about what sort of religion you want to create.  And when you make those choices, you automatically exclude people.  

The only possible solution, it seems to me, is to say, "We have chosen to make the following entirely debatable choices about what religion is in this game-world.  If that set of choices offends you, we apologize, and we suggest you try another game --- you won't like this one."  But in order to do this, you have to recognize the choices, and that recognition seems to me largely lacking in most RPGs.

Quote
After all we *could* substitute many other words here: superstition, preternatural, magic, mysticism, and etcetera... However what is at issue here seems to really be the conception of religion.

Yes, I'm afraid that it is.  If you have a specific conception of religion, and stick to it, you have an ideology which you are putting forward.  If you believe that the ideology you put forth is not ideology but truth, then you are evangelizing.  I don't think anyone here wants to be in that position.  There is certainly a potential place for proselytizing in RPGs, as M.J. has pointed out, but it needs to be explicit.  If you start out by saying, "This is an explicitly Christian game, with the following basic theological positions; like it or lump it," then you're fine with me.  But if you say, "We're not evangelizing at all, because in our game religion can be anything, but the central part of it is faith (or whatever)," then you're either honestly confused or a hypocrite.  That's what I want to avoid.


Title: Re: Only One Problem
Post by: M. J. Young on January 26, 2003, 08:17:40 PM
Quote from: Fang 'Le Joueur' Langford
Sorry, the 'pervasiveness' of religion is purely a subjective measure.  I have many days were there would be no religion in my human experience, save for those I've trained myself to have.  I must assume that an atheist has these not at all; I'd hardly call that "pervasive."


Perhaps my definition of "religion" is too broad to fit the RPG use of the term; however, it may also shed some light on the disagreement here.

As I understand the term, "religion" is that fundamental set of beliefs by which you attempt to understand the essential meaning of life--whether it has such meaning or not, as you understand it. Note that this is not about religious experience or religious practice. I see the former as influencing religion and the latter as stemming from it.

By this definition, religion is inherently pervasive. Also, atheism is a religion. It is the belief in a specific understanding of reality which is inherently unprovable (the non-existence of God), and so taken on faith as a foundation for understanding the nature of reality and the meaning of life. In that sense, the atheist's religion is as pervasive as anyone else's.

It might be that the ordinary agnostic (the one who maintains that he himself does not know whether God exists, not the one whose religion asserts that such a thing is inherently undiscoverable by any means) does not find religion pervading his life; on the other hand, he might be agnostic precisely because he does find religion pervading his life and does not know how to interpret that.

I would also note that the difference between supernatural religions and atheism is merely the supernatural factor, but when we say that religion pervades the lives of the believers, it is not generally the supernatural aspects of the religion that do so--that is, most believers in supernatural religions do not experience the supernatural aspects thereof constantly. It is more the belief structure that pervades their lives, including its ethical and moral influences, its ritual demands, and its personal obligations. For the atheist these are less demanding, but it must be conceded that an atheist's moral and ethical views and practices are built on a foundation that denies supernatural certification and so has some other basis for any restrictions on conduct, such as social contract or self-interest.

Religious experience is not pervasive, even among religious people; nor is religious practice, in the ritual sense.

Yes, I recognize that there is a certain degree to which my definition of religion is a truism, that if the statement "everyone is religious" only means "everyone has unproved fundamental beliefs about reality" then it's obviously true and not terribly useful. But I think if we're going to say that religion is or is not pervasive, we need to know what we mean by that.

--M. J. Young


Title: Re: Only One Problem
Post by: Le Joueur on January 26, 2003, 09:46:56 PM
Okay, M. J. and everyone,

Before I respond to this mess, I need to clarify a few things.

First, I was responding to the following sentence: "However, though we may realize it or not, religion is a pervasive part of our human experience."  Let me decode what I hear; 'even if you don't realize [blank], you experience [blank].'  To me, that's oxymoronic; you can't experience something unrealized.

Second, and much more complicated, some time after I posted what is quoted here, Kester added an addendum with the intention of obviating confusion.  I believe it has only had the opposite effect.

There are some fundamental misunderstandings attached to what I wrote that further the difficulty; I'm somewhat leery of dumping quips all over a long quote, I don't have any other way of revealing that this isn't an argument but two people speaking past one and another.

Onward...

Quote from: M. J. Young
Quote from: Fang 'Le Joueur' Langford
Sorry, the 'pervasiveness' of religion is purely a subjective measure.  I have many days were there would be no religion in my human experience, save for those I've trained myself to have.  I must assume that an atheist has these not at all; I'd hardly call that "pervasive."

Perhaps my definition of "religion" is too broad to fit the RPG use of the term; however, it may also shed some light on the disagreement here.

As I understand the term, "religion" is that fundamental set of beliefs by which you attempt to understand the essential meaning of life--whether it has such meaning or not, as you understand it. Note that this is not about religious experience or religious practice. I see the former as influencing religion and the latter as stemming from it.

I'm not sure why this comes up both here and in private messages, but I've never said anything about religious experiences.  I spoke of human experiences of religion only.  I see a church, I have an experience of someone else's religion.  This has little to do with "religious experiences."  It has everything to do with the oxymoron I listed; sometimes to me 'the cross' is just two lines that intersect (if no one points out that it has religious connotations, there is no religion in my human experience).

Quote from: M. J. Young
By this definition, religion is inherently pervasive. Also, atheism is a religion. It is the belief in a specific understanding of reality which is inherently unprovable (the non-existence of God), and so taken on faith as a foundation for understanding the nature of reality and the meaning of life. In that sense, the atheist's religion is as pervasive as anyone else's.

It might be that the ordinary agnostic (the one who maintains that he himself does not know whether God exists, not the one whose religion asserts that such a thing is inherently undiscoverable by any means) does not find religion pervading his life; on the other hand, he might be agnostic precisely because he does find religion pervading his life and does not know how to interpret that.

I'm sorry, but this kind of reasoning as much says that sex and food are more pervasive.  Religion I can wholly be ignorant of, thus it is outside of my experience, my human experience, like this agnostic.

There seems to be this idea that I said religion is only there if you look for it.  I don't see it so black and white; what I am saying is that I can go for days without being reminded that religion is there.  "Pervasive," as I read it, means this is not possible.

Quote from: M. J. Young
I would also note that the difference between supernatural religions and atheism is merely the supernatural factor, but when we say that religion pervades the lives of the believers, it is not generally the supernatural aspects of the religion that do so--that is, most believers in supernatural religions do not experience the supernatural aspects thereof constantly. It is more the belief structure that pervades their lives, including its ethical and moral influences, its ritual demands, and its personal obligations. For the atheist these are less demanding, but it must be conceded that an atheist's moral and ethical views and practices are built on a foundation that denies supernatural certification and so has some other basis for any restrictions on conduct, such as social contract or self-interest.

Religious experience is not pervasive, even among religious people; nor is religious practice, in the ritual sense.

Yes, I recognize that there is a certain degree to which my definition of religion is a truism, that if the statement "everyone is religious" only means "everyone has unproved fundamental beliefs about reality" then it's obviously true and not terribly useful. But I think if we're going to say that religion is or is not pervasive, we need to know what we mean by that.

And what I "mean by that" is that religion is not necessary in every game; little else is relevant in this forum.  Even more importantly, I've been suggesting that religion can be handled as a secondary concern, less important than being influential in most character's activities, yet more than just color.

Okay, what about the 'argument?'  What I'm saying is that religions don't 'stick their noses' into every one of the experiences I have; therefore it doesn't pervade all of my human experiences.  I think I'm hearing that M. J. believes that religious orientation (according to his rather easy standards) occurs in most people's perceptions.  The reason this isn't an argument is that I'm speaking objectively about things presented to a person's view and he's talking about how the person views things.  That's why I said the perception of religion in things was subjective; subjectively you could see religion in everything, but you don't have to.

Bringing this back to the realm of role-playing gaming is a little more difficult, because, like many of these threads, we've gotten mired down in concerns relative to the real world.  (These aren't game characters we're talking about after all are they?)  I've seen many of these thread run all over the place, but the one things I haven't really seen is an underlying disagreement spoken.

We disagree about the importance of presentation of religion in games.

Be very careful reading that statement; I'm not talking about how important it is to present religion in games correctly, but how important it is to present them at all.  On the one hand, if it is important to present them, then it almost goes without saying that they should be presented well.  On the other, if it isn't important, then it doesn't really matter how poorly OAD&D presents Wotan.  I personally believe that there is no 'universal truth' about this importance; I believe it is highly relative and should be different in each game.

I'm tired of people using an 'either-or' mentality tripping over people who argue that in some games, some presentation is enough.  I've even been chewed out for seeming to imply that every post on a thread about religion in games should disclaim that it is about games that center on religious themes.  That isn't what I've been saying; I've been arguing against the implication that 'there is only one way to do religion in gaming.'  Even if you accept that you must start the thread with a disclaimer, I should think that people could preface their opinions with what 'degree of importance' their supposition is targeted for, especially if it isn't in line with the threads disclaimer.  (Like how a game about monster-bashing doesn't really need a serious treatment of the religion that functions mostly as color or legitimization of 'more power to the healers.')

Without this focus on the discussion, you basically get five pages of people stating their subjective opinions both on religion in general (like how pervasive it is) and what rankles them in presentations of religion in gaming (and argument over 'what is the right way').

The real mystery to me is why we can't just disagree.

Fang Langford