*
*
Home
Help
Login
Register
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
August 08, 2022, 09:26:35 PM

Login with username, password and session length
Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.
Search:     Advanced search
275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 83 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
Pages: 1 [2] 3 4
Print
Author Topic: Is religion really that much of a mystery?  (Read 20365 times)
Nick the Nevermet
Member

Posts: 352


« Reply #15 on: January 22, 2003, 06:03:57 AM »

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

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

Posts: 508


« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2003, 07:14:47 AM »

Greetings Nick,

Ah, the weather.  Such weather, eh?

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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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

To put it another way:

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

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

The point?

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

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


Kind Regards,

Kester Pelagius

[*]AddendumHere's some trivia for everyone:

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

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

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

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

Posts: 352


« Reply #17 on: January 22, 2003, 07:42:38 AM »

Hey Kester,

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

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

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

Tradition could over time become ritual.  And myth could work to create identity in a community.  But the setting of the world doesn't need to work according to that sociology.
Logged
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #18 on: January 22, 2003, 08:01:43 AM »

Hello,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Religious institution: an economic, social, societal organization.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Ron
Logged
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #19 on: January 22, 2003, 10:18:43 AM »

Quote from: Kester Pelagius

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

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


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

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

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

- John
Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #20 on: January 22, 2003, 11:08:06 AM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that's a mistake.

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

And this brings us to the problem at hand.

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

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

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

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

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

Fang Langford

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

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #21 on: January 22, 2003, 12:06:59 PM »

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


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

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

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

- John
Valamir
Member

Posts: 5574


WWW
« Reply #22 on: January 22, 2003, 01:35:53 PM »

If nothing else this thread serves to identify WHY there are so many different faiths (and lack thereof) and so many different approaches to the same.  For thousands of years man has not agreed on religion: its validity, or its purpose.  How then can we expect to have a thread arrive at anything approaching consensus.  It can sometimes be useful though to get all of the many perspectives and points of departure on the table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #23 on: January 22, 2003, 02:26:04 PM »

Quote from: Valamir
1) ... What was the purpose of adding this setting element or mechanic to the game.  What function does it serve, what effect on the game world or how the game is meant to be played did it have.  Did the supporting text accomplish these things?  Was the accomplishment significant?  If so, it was effective.  If not it wasn't.  Simple.  It's no different than judgeing whether or not elves were portrayed effectively.

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

- John
Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #24 on: January 22, 2003, 02:54:52 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not somewhere I think we want to go.

Fang Langford
Logged

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Member
*
Posts: 16490


WWW
« Reply #25 on: January 22, 2003, 03:06:15 PM »

Hi everyone,

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

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

Thanks,
Ron
Logged
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #26 on: January 22, 2003, 04:30:38 PM »

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

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


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

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

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

- John
John Kim
Member

Posts: 1805


WWW
« Reply #27 on: January 22, 2003, 04:53:24 PM »

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


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

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

- John
Walt Freitag
Member

Posts: 1039


« Reply #28 on: January 22, 2003, 05:02:40 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Walt
Logged

Wandering in the diasporosphere
Le Joueur
Member

Posts: 1367


WWW
« Reply #29 on: January 22, 2003, 07:37:40 PM »

Quote from: John Kim
You seem to be implying here that each game has only one topic (i.e. the priority) as its focus, and that anything except for that single topic is out of bounds and immune from criticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fang Langford
Logged

Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Pages: 1 [2] 3 4
Print
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.11 | SMF © 2006-2009, Simple Machines LLC
Oxygen design by Bloc
Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!