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Is religion really that much of a mystery?

Started by Kester Pelagius, January 21, 2003, 10:42:21 AM

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Kester Pelagius

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

Religions, Faith Groups, & Ethical systems

Approaching the Study of Religion

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

World Building links page

Religion and Roleplaying

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

Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri

Nick the Nevermet

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."

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: Kester PelagiusWhat 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?


Quote from: Jack Spencer JrReligion 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 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.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards


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.



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?
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Kester Pelagius

Greetings greyorm,

Merry meet and merry greet, as some folk say.

Quote from: greyormRon'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 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.
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri

Jack Spencer Jr

Quote from: greyormRon'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.
Quote from: Kester PelagiusShould 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.

Christopher Kubasik

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, 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,
"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield


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.
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:


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.)
Chris Lehrich

Kester Pelagius

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 PelagiusShould 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
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri

Kester Pelagius

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
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri

Kester Pelagius

Greetings All,

Quote from: Kester PelagiusWhat 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,
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis." -Dante Alighieri


Kester Pelagius wrote:
QuoteA 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?
Chris Lehrich