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Author Topic: Building Religions  (Read 10564 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2003, 09:31:41 AM »

Actually, I don't think I disagree with you.  I don't know yet what religious elements I would want in rules yet... I'm working on that.... but you're right. There'd be rules.

But this way of looking at things, building as you go, is what I would want the rules to be about.  Remember, in almost all my posts I've been pushing not for "modelling" religions, but for cracking out heads out of dry presumptions of the way things are.  (I pushed for Puppetland, for cryin' out loud.)  So yes, at this point, it's just color.  But give me some time, pelase. ; )  This is the best entry point I've seen so far, and what I want to build on.

Christophe
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clehrich
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« Reply #16 on: January 23, 2003, 10:07:17 PM »

One problem that worries Christopher is, if I understand correctly, that PCs have a nasty habit of wandering away from the stuff we GMs have spent days working up.  On a related note, there is the point that if we GMs write up enormous tomes on how a given religion actually works (in whatever sense), the players won't read it or internalize it.

I think the number of complex and at times heated debates about religion here strongly indicate that "taking religion seriously" in an RPG is something that will take a lot of emotional and creative energy, from players and GMs.  If your players don't give a damn, and don't want to deal with religion in their characters, then devoting enormous effort to designing the things is indeed wasted effort.  And if that's the case, you might as well come up with a more-or-less elegant "color" way to represent religion, since the players won't look terribly closely at the details.

At the same time, the fact that so many of us are willing to argue at great length about religion in RPGs suggests to me that there are players out there who would be interested in taking it seriously.  For those players, a game-world in which religion was an extremely important factor, even a dominant one, would not be out of line.  You would certainly have to tell them this in advance, and give them lots of good material to work with, but then the game contract would include their really trying to play their religous characters as religious.

Seems to me as though such a game-world would be well worth exploring.  You could spend enormous amounts of time developing really complex and plausible religions (which is not as hard as it sounds --- no really), and then let the PCs run wild.  They would stumble across things, think of things, and agonize about things, and this would lead to you to make those same religions even more sophisticated and intricate.  And eventually you'd have a world in which the religions were absolutely 100% fantasy, but they would also be entirely "real" in whatever sense.

If you ask me, mechanizing any of this is just going to drag things away from what matters.  Let the players decide what sort of activities are sinful (within some relatively clear code), and encourage them to agonize about them.  What're the mechanics for?  If they want to play religious characters, because the game-world and the campaign highlights that and they have agreed to give it a go, then they'll do all the encouraging and incentive-work that's necessary.  

Surely this is a big principle at the Forge: if you are up-front and direct about religion being central to the Premise, and the players are totally cool with that, then you can to a significant degree leave it to them to keep it so.  If you have to force people to be religious, it's probably not worth it, as it'll only get into fights about "real" religion.
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Chris Lehrich
Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #17 on: January 23, 2003, 11:14:44 PM »

Hi chleric,

Just so no one gets confused about what I'm concerned about, I delight in players wandering away from what the GM planned.  (In essence, I don't think the GM should "plan" that much -- prep, yes, plan, no.) You can see this in my writing from the Interactive Toolkit, and everything I write here.

So, in responding to Mike above, it wasn't a concern about the player wandering away, it was, "How do we help the players wander more?"

This has been one of the thrusts of this whole discussion for me across all the threads.

To answer your point about "mechanics" -- which you touched on elegantly in the other thread about your Ars Magica game -- I too share your reluctance to turn every "religious" element into a die modifier...  But that's not been my focus. My focus has been on the act of Fabulist Imagination.  The rules I'm talking about (or, being asked to consider by the Forge's actual designers, of which I don't think I am), are the mechanics of rewards for Fabulist play.  That's what matters to me.  Faith, whatever.  Yes faith, no faith.  What matters to me is genuine wierdness.  Honest to god, poetic, heartfelt, makes sense in the soul if not in the lab, wierdness.  I want the players on the toes to be creative and strange and playing along the lines of people getting off on making up stories that are not nutty-random-events, but actual tales of wonder.

That's where I'd be handing out the whatchamacallem points.

Now, I think Sorcerer could work well for this.  I believe Hero Wars (aka Hero Quest) could work well for this.  I suspect in a more mundane but really-all-the-more-cool-for-it-way Riddle of Steel could work for this (I think if you tweak the SAs correctly, the players would be focused on really cool Fabulist play).  I think Puppetland demands this.

Again (and this is not slight to anyone who's been involved in these big, literate and enganging threads), my agenda hasn't been about recreating religion, or socities with religion, or whatnot.  It's been about engendering the sensibility found in religious tales -- which is a completely different thing.

So for me, rules about focusing on the acts of religion are too narrow.  Acts of poetic creativity are getting closer to what I was shooting for lo' those many years ago back in Inphobia.

Take care,
Christopher
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2003, 07:36:33 AM »

Chris,

First, I'm glad I was clearer here. I probably came off as dismissive in the other post, so it's no surprise that it didn't make sense to anyone.

Quote from: Christopher Kubasik

Just so no one gets confused about what I'm concerned about, I delight in players wandering away from what the GM planned.  (In essence, I don't think the GM should "plan" that much -- prep, yes, plan, no.) You can see this in my writing from the Interactive Toolkit, and everything I write here.

Heck, we all probably woudn't be here talking about this stuff in this manner if it weren't for the Toolkit. That helped inform Ron's thought, which in turn informs my ideas, etc. So I'm really just reminding you Chris to use your own ideas (albeit as expanded upon). :-)

Clerich,

I think we can assume that what we're talking about here is a game that we're designing to appeal to people who do want to play a game that has some religious overtones. Perhaps even one that is centrally focused on religion. If not, then Fang's reservation applies, and we probably shouldn't be worried about religious mechanics per se.

That said, there is a middle ground alternative. Which is to allow for general player creative mechanics and allow them to be used for religion if the player likes. That said, I'll pat myself on the back and say that Universalis, or similar games (COTEC, Aria), are already there to fill that need. Not that they can't be improved upon, however...

To get back to religion specific mechanics I refer back to Chris' post again:

Quote
My focus has been on the act of Fabulist Imagination.  The rules I'm talking about (or, being asked to consider by the Forge's actual designers, of which I don't think I am), are the mechanics of rewards for Fabulist play.  That's what matters to me.  Faith, whatever.  Yes faith, no faith.  What matters to me is genuine wierdness.  Honest to god, poetic, heartfelt, makes sense in the soul if not in the lab, wierdness.  I want the players on the toes to be creative and strange and playing along the lines of people getting off on making up stories that are not nutty-random-events, but actual tales of wonder.

That's where I'd be handing out the whatchamacallem points.
This seems a valid take. Remember Ron's recent concept. Design a functional game, not a game that you think will appeal to some broad swath of people. If this is what Chris wants to focus on, then I think a design could be created that could accomodate this.

Quote
Now, I think Sorcerer could work well for this.  I believe Hero Wars (aka Hero Quest) could work well for this.  I suspect in a more mundane but really-all-the-more-cool-for-it-way Riddle of Steel could work for this (I think if you tweak the SAs correctly, the players would be focused on really cool Fabulist play).  I think Puppetland demands this.
I agree that these systems are set up to work fairly well for these things, but again in a more general way. One can certainly get more specific on the topic of Religion (Mysticism, whathaveyou).

Quote
So for me, rules about focusing on the acts of religion are too narrow.  Acts of poetic creativity are getting closer to what I was shooting for lo' those many years ago back in Inphobia.
Personally, I'd like to see both. Hmmm. A more generalist game could be created where what was specifically to be rewarded was decided up front. Or we could just design quite a few games.

I have to admit that, originally, I was untinterested in the topic as a focus for a game. But now that I'm discussing it more, I'm slowly becoming drawn in by the idea. One thing that really got my attention was when Kester mentioned Dune as an example of a book from which you could glean something on how to make artificial religions. Possibly my favorite book, I agree with that insight*. Further, reading the series, one can see how Herbert is "making it up as he goes". I seriously doubt that he knew where his religions were going to go when he started. They evolved by dramatic need as the story progresses (and unlike some who do not like his later works, I am a fan of all six Dune books). The point is that I can very much see a design that investigates whatever portion of these sorts of elements that the players were interested in.

My design might start with a few precepts. There's no reason why you have to make absolutely everything up from scratch, and having a few seeds could make the play more instantely attractive (as opposed to the sometimes barren feel you get at the beginning when you look upon the blank canvas of a game that starts without any preconceptions; yes I'm talking about Universalis again). Anyhow, the players would take and investigate certain elements that relate to the preconceptions, using mechanics to reinforce the desire to do so, and simultaneously creating more information from which to work from.

To be truthful, I'd like to take Religion as only one part of the concept of Culture as a whole. Gareth and I started down this road with the Mesopotamia idea, but only got so far. Not an easy design spec, but one that I think might potentially be very rewarding. Hmmm...

Mike

*I wanted to comment on Kester's (I think) remarks about Dune's religions being mock-ups of Islam and Catholicism. They are not only based on them, they are supposed to be extensions of those same religions. Earth exists in the Dune universe, and their history is ours. Ten thousand years later. As such Islam and Catholicism are influences on the current religions of the day which are mostly infomed by an event called the Butlerian Jihad in which artificial intelligence was declared an abomination, which thus led to almost all later cultures eschewing that, and many related technologies. The most direct relationship is that Catholicism is called Orange Catholicism, and still uses a derivative bible. Islam has mutated in much more broad ways intheDune universe. Sorry, I find this stuff fascinating.
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #19 on: January 24, 2003, 10:35:43 PM »

Quote from: contracycle
Quote from: greyorm

A thought struck me while reading John's post, specifically the text quoted above. That thought was: the game mechanics do not necessarily have to reflect the actual workings of the world, only the character's perception of them.


Umm - why would you want to do such a thing?  What is the point of building mechanics which are about false internal perceptions?  The only purpose I see in mechanics is the resolution of conflict, and if someone is seeing what they want to see, there is no conflict.  The use of mechanics to support a perception instead of a shared space seems pointless to me; this might imply different mechanics for each character depending on their belief structure.

First, such a system would be a very effective approach to creating a universe in which the truth really was subjective and relative. For myself, I'm always interested in exploring world concepts which are contrary to what I think (I always loved Socrates' response to relativity: "I believe you are wrong; I believe Truth is absolute, and according to your own philosophy you must believe that I am right."). I expect that play in such a world would have a strangeness to it that might just suggest reality is not like that, and that's worth discovering.

Second, I think such a system might well capture a very real phenomenon, the subjectivity of observation. An example of this will illustrate it.

Most people who work in emergency services, such as ER staff, police, ambulance crews, and psych ward personnel, will tell you that the crazies come out on the full moon. That is, if the moon is full, it affects people and causes those close to the edge to go over it and do crazy things. There have been efforts to devise scientific and medical hypotheses for why this is so, usually related to tidal forces on brain cages.

The problem is that statistically it has never been demonstrated. Efforts to show the connection have always come out with no statistically meaningful difference between activities on full moon nights and activities any other time of the month.

So why do the people who should know have it wrong?

The best explanation is a kind of subjective acquisition of data. They begin with the theory that there is this connection. Then the collect data, but filter it through the theory. Thus:
    [*]If a lot of crazy things happen on a night which has a full moon, and someone notices the phase of the moon, it adds to the evidence.
    [*]If a lot of crazy things happen on a night which is not a full moon, and someone notices that it is not a full moon, it's written off as a bad night; someone might even comment about  how much worse it would have been had the moon been full.
    [*]If a full moon night passes peacefully, usually no one will notice that it was a full moon. If they do notice, they will count themselves lucky that it wasn't so bad.
    [*]If the phase of the moon is noticed not to be full on a quiet night, this is remembered and added to the evidence that full moons are different from normal nights, even though such quiet nights are not really normal.[/list:u]
    Now, it's rather difficult to create such false ideas in a game, even though they're all over reality. Players usually manage to get to the reality of the imaginary world faster than their characters ever reasonably could. This subjective system would do so, by making it the case that what people believed about the world is what they would see happening to them. In our crazies example, the fact that the character had this belief that crazy people came out with the full moon would mean that there was a considerably higher probability that he would encounter crazy people on nights with a full moon. Thus the player remembers that as being part of reality because that is what he, through his character, actually experienced. The view is distorted by the mechanic. Arguably, you could say that the world is not subjective at all, but that since we experience it and understand it subjectively, this mechanic models our experience of reality better than one that presents things in a statistically valid pattern.

    So there could be reasons to play that way.

    --M. J. Young
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    contracycle
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    Posts: 2807


    « Reply #20 on: January 25, 2003, 01:42:13 AM »

    But it seems to me the scenario implicitly assumes a certain quantity of objectivity - if our characters are emergency workers, then usually that ER room or whatevr will be objectively true, real, and the weirdness cast against it.  But if the whole universe is weird, then so must the ER room...

    If nothing is iobjective, if everything is how you will it, then where is conflict, desire, challenge?  After all, the very existance of opponents may itself be a hallucination.  I don't understand why I, as a player, would care about characters in such a world.
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    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #21 on: January 26, 2003, 05:38:10 AM »

    Quote from: contracycle
    If nothing is iobjective, if everything is how you will it, then where is conflict, desire, challenge?  After all, the very existance of opponents may itself be a hallucination.  I don't understand why I, as a player, would care about characters in such a world.

    Probably the same reason why an author cares about a character in a story he is writing. In that instance, it is completely and purely as the author wills it, yet the author can still care about the character, and it may be best if he does because if he doesn't, why should we?

    The conflict, desire and challenge could come from the player himself. Like a writer, we could create a character, preferably one we care about, and then bring adversity to that character.

    The telling part of your post is:
    Quote
    I don't understand why I, as a player, would care about characters in such a world.

    I can't answer that for you. Maybe you wouldn't. I don't know.

    Actually, a bit earlier you had said:
    Quote
    The only purpose I see in mechanics is the resolution of conflict,...

    I'd like to quote the Lumpley principle:
    Quote
    Resolution systems are methods for group agreement regarding what happens in the imaginary game world.

    This includes conflict resolution, as you had stated, but can include much more, such as what is being talked about here.
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    contracycle
    Member

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    « Reply #22 on: January 27, 2003, 01:17:46 AM »

    Quote from: Jack Spencer Jr

    Probably the same reason why an author cares about a character in a story he is writing. In that instance, it is completely and purely as the author wills it, yet the author can still care about the character, and it may be best if he does because if he doesn't, why should we?


    That is my question.  Most authors do construct worlds external to their characters, and against which the characters strive.  If there is no external world, why would anyone care?

    Edit: I note a shift in the above passage; whether the AUTHOR cares is IMO distinct from whether the Audience care.

    Quote

    The conflict, desire and challenge could come from the player himself. Like a writer, we could create a character, preferably one we care about, and then bring adversity to that character.


    Well, the world would only be adverse as long as the character chooses it should be so; the adversity would therefore reinforce the characters alienation from and dominance over any externality.
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    simon_hibbs
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    « Reply #23 on: January 27, 2003, 01:51:13 AM »

    Quote from: M. J. Young

    I don't know that these are mutually exclusive views. In fact, I have no problem with seeing them as all real-world explanations for the variety of faiths in the real world--some evolved, some were discovered, some revealed. But the point of what I'm suggesting is that building religions in one or more of these ways, as an exercise in historical creation, might create more realistic and integrated religions.

    Thoughts?

    --M. J. Young


    Iīd posit another model, a essentialy humanist view. This holds that humans are not a Tabula Rasa, but that we have a predisposed nature which colours and shapes our every experience of the world. Therefore we cannot hope to engage the world in a purely neutral mode, but can only fully engage with the world by accepting the characteristics of our in-built phsychological and sensual faculties.

    If humans are pre-disposed to percieve the world in the form of animating forces and supernatural manifestations (and nobody who has ever cursed and threatened their car when it failed to start in the morning can deny that we do), then why fight it? To do so is only to deny our nature, and cast ourselves in an artificial mold which frankly we donīt fit.

    In a fantasy world, this would be most interestingly explored in the context of different species or races, and their differing psychological characteristics. Sorry to always go back to the same example, but Glorantha does this very well. Uz, Aldryami and Mostali are fundamentaly different from humans in the basic psychology, and this shapes their societies and their interaction with the supernatural in fundamental ways. Surely there are further ways in which this concept could be explored?


    Simon Hibbs
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