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Author Topic: Is religion really that much of a mystery?  (Read 20711 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #30 on: January 22, 2003, 08:11:34 PM »

Guys,

The red lettering thing.  Let's watch that.

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
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John Kim
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« Reply #31 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?
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- John
Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #32 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.
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Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #33 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
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Tony Irwin
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Posts: 333


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« Reply #34 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
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #35 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."
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Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #36 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
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
Kester Pelagius
Member

Posts: 508


« Reply #37 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
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clehrich
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« Reply #38 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.
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Tony Irwin
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« Reply #39 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
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contracycle
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« Reply #40 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.
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Kester Pelagius
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« Reply #41 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!
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #42 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
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contracycle
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« Reply #43 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.
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clehrich
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« Reply #44 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.
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