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Author Topic: Fantasy Heartbreakers and Religion  (Read 15192 times)
contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #30 on: January 20, 2003, 04:24:56 AM »

Quote

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


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

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

So I'd like to throw out a thought that struck me during this debate and which had been quiet fermenting based on some of my current reading: howcome alternative medicine has never really been done?  We have a tendency to automatically, even in fantasy games, see the body as constituted by our RW  knowledge; bones, arteries, upper and lower intestines, etc etc.  And yet, certainly something like the theory of the Four Humours would be more appropriate for most fantasy settings, and the "healing magic" or whatrever is implemented (even theories of rest-healing) should be articulated in terms of the Four Humours.  You don't exert Mind Control, you artificially shift the disposition of their humours, and that does the trick.
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Rob MacDougall
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« Reply #31 on: January 20, 2003, 06:36:40 AM »

Quote
And yet, certainly something like the theory of the Four Humours would be more appropriate for most fantasy settings, and the "healing magic" or whatrever is implemented (even theories of rest-healing) should be articulated in terms of the Four Humours.


I haven't read the game, but I gather from the thread "FVLMINATA Prep Questions" over in Actual Play that it does in fact use a system of Humors in its recreation of Ancient Rome.
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contracycle
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« Reply #32 on: January 20, 2003, 06:47:57 AM »

Indeed, and I kicked myself when reminded.
Point is tho, despite the frequencty with which we have healing as a part of character functionality, becuase of the common presence of violence, its seldom tackled as anything more than resource-management.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #33 on: January 20, 2003, 07:03:19 AM »

I think that this, again, is a symptom stemming from a much larger source - the separation of color from mechanics.  Very ancestral issue, and seemingly limited wholly to the D&D family of games (where I use family in Ron's sense of "games descended from" rather than "products associated with"); Everway, L5R, nearly every game I see coming out of the Forge, none of them share this trait.

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

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


I promise to reply to this once I've digested it and composed a coherent response; right now my thoughts are scattered all over composing my own mock-Heartbreaker.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #34 on: January 20, 2003, 07:36:42 AM »

Okay.

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

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

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

Once we have to look at mythic beings in terms of m-e causality (because the system does not look outside of that), they lose their main thrust of effectiveness - the emotional elements that make them mythic.
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #35 on: January 20, 2003, 10:59:16 AM »

Ah, now we're getting somewhere.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Walt
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #36 on: January 20, 2003, 02:57:16 PM »

Quote from: four willows weeping

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


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

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

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

* Although I do recall a LOTR game with fireballs at helms deep.  Interesting to speculate how much of the battlefield aspecty of magic can be laid at Tolkiens barbican.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #37 on: January 20, 2003, 03:27:18 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
The original topic proposed by Chris was:  why is religion seemingly neglected by traditional RPG designs -- along with other aspects of culture like art, literature, and music?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--M. J. Young
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contracycle
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« Reply #38 on: January 21, 2003, 04:23:10 AM »

I'd be interested to know if it is possible to produce a disussion of the use of monsters; and construct play mechanics based on the narrative purposes of a beasty or NPC or whatever.

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

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

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