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Real Religion in Adventure Design

pemerton

Legend
Some of the major works in the fantasy/sci-fi canon are about religion. Just within the English-language tradition,

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the other Narnia books have Aslan as the Christ;
  • CS Lewis's "sci fi" trilogy has religious themes;
  • JRRT's work is extremely Christian, including a new telling of the creation and multiple reworkings of the Fall;
  • REH's Conan stories are rather aggressively atheistic (except for The Heart of the Dragon);
  • Arthurian romance, the Grail quest, etc are infused with Christian ideas and ideals;
  • etc.

That doesn't mean that fantasy RPGing has to engage with religious themes, ideas, etc. But it is hardly out of place for it to do so!

I'm not as familiar with other traditions, but - to echo @Bedrockgames upthread - when I watch wuxia films religious characters and ideas seem to figure pretty prominently. Just to give one example, Tai Chi Master is all about Jet Li's character changing from an establishment-oriented Buddhist outlook to a more idiosyncratic Daoist outlook, which enables him to be victorious at the end. Just as I would expect Christianity to figure in some fashion in an Arthurian game, so I would expect Buddhism and Daoism to figure in some fashion in a wuxia game.
 

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pming

Hero
Hiya!
So, do you think these implementations of explicit religion can be done tactfully within an adventure, even one meant to be published for profit?
Yes...but only if the people at the table are either (A) Atheists/Satanist, or (B) Have a very 'real world and grounded sense of self'.

I have met Theists who are quite happy in their belief...and quite happy to accept that others don't share it, and they don't care. They know that when someone, for example, "take's the Lords name in vain" (sp?), that the person saying it does NOT mean it as any sort of insult or blasphemy. The Theist understands "Yeah, I don't say that because of my belief...but I get that other people don't feel as I do. I'm fine with that".

So...yes. Totally possible. In fact, I'd LOVE to do a sort of "Supernatural-Meets-Walking Dead" zombie apocalypse campaign. I find the Christian religion quite interesting (fascinating, actually). I really like all the Angles and "Host", and power structure hierarchy, major characters (Cain and Able, Adam and Eve, Noah, etc) and their stories....and I like to extrapolate them "up to modern times". As I mentioned, Supernatural (the TV series) is one of my all-time fave series. Absolutely LOVE the set up and "The Boys"! Such great stories to be told and examined from a more 'modern' perspective. IMNSHO, Supernatural managed to do just what you (the OP) is asking...use real-world religion, but not outright "offend a great many people".

EDIT: As a bit of a co-inky-dink, I just, as in today, started watching the Amazon series/remake/adaptation of Stephen Kings "The Stand". Only at episode...4? So, a LOOOOONG way to go. So far I'm liking it at least as much as I liked the 'original TV version' made back in the...er...early 90's? :)

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 
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Emerikol

Adventurer
Are genuine believers the target audience, or do they even play the game? I knew a few believers growing up that were not allowed to play at all, even as a paladin battling devils. It was the 80s though so things may have changed.
Really? Not every person who played D&D had parents who were crazy. My D&D group has traditionally been made up of at least some Christian believers.
 

Ixal

Adventurer
Really? Not every person who played D&D had parents who were crazy. My D&D group has traditionally been made up of at least some Christian believers.
Depends on what kind of believer is meant. There are those who go to church on sunday and thats it and the ones being able to quote the bible from memory (same for other religions).
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Depends on what kind of believer is meant. There are those who go to church on sunday and thats it and the ones being able to quote the bible from memory (same for other religions).
Well in my case I think there are many who fall somewhere in between. For a lay person I consider myself well studied when it comes to the bible. I believe it is the inspired word of God and I read it literally (there is a super long set of words that fully describe my view but I will only post if you really want them).

I don't have a problem playing a make believe game with fantasy elements. I don't feel any conviction from God about doing so.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Depends on what kind of believer is meant. There are those who go to church on sunday and thats it and the ones being able to quote the bible from memory (same for other religions).
If you are a "believer" . . . it simply means that you have an honest belief in your faith, and there are many different faiths.

There are plenty of "believers" who play D&D, listen to rock music, and play violent video games.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Let’s be honest there are some pretty cool biblical times that would make excellent setting for roleplay. The conflict of different ideas and particularly where the theological buts up against the secular is really interesting.

- The Middle East around the time of Jesus. Roman occupation and the stories of that time. Indeed Rome itself becomes very interesting at that time as Christianity spreads to the capital.

- Ancient Egypt at the time of the Exodus

- Warring kingdoms like Judah and Phillistine at the time of Saul, David and Solomon.

- The spread of Christianity across Britain in the wake of the Roman Empire.

If anyone is interested in learning more in an accessible way. Bernard Cornwall’s series starting with Enemy of God is a great fictional account of Christianity vs Druidism in Dark Ages Britain. Also Tony Robinson (of black adder fame) did a very funny series on the kingdom of Judah called ‘Blood and Honey’. It’s available on youtube.
 



Sepulchrave II

Adventurer
I think it’s problematic unless you consciously narrow the perspective and make that narrow perspective an explicit feature of the game you are trying to create. In the real world, religion is embedded in culture and cannot be meaningfully distinguished from it. The best you can hope for in a game is caricature.

When you talk about “Christianity” in an Arthurian RPG like Pendragon, it is idealized in the context of medieval romance envisaged through a modern lens; in Kult you have a kind of “Gnostic” world-view with a very dark cast etc. But in neither case do these religious systems faithfully represent anything beyond a literary re-imagining (in the case of Pendragon a modern re-imagining of a medieval re-imagining). I mean, how close is “Christianity” in Pendragon to what was happening on the ground in Sub-Roman Britain in the 5th Century – not very.

Asireo said:
My interest is because real religions have such a rich and diverse set of traditions and cultures with iconic stories and memorable moments that define the beautiful aspects of the various regions they originate from. Having the party meet the Judeo-Christian Messiah or the Shinto Goddess of Sun Amaterasu or the Hindu Deity of Destruction Shiva would make for excellent encounters and events that not only show the lore of the fictional world but also gives context to real life religious figures and how they operate.

I wanted to repost this because it underlines just how problematic it is to speak in generalities with regard to religious figures.
  • Amaterasu has a number of different creation myths associated with her. If she is “real” (in the game world) you could either choose one of them, or have her origins obscured. In any case, you are already constructing a lens dependent on time and place (Kojiki or Nihon Shoki versions? Yamato period?)
  • Views of the Jewish Messiah and the Christian Messiah are, broadly, different. Beyond that, which Christian Messiah are we talking about? 2nd Century Palestine? 6th Century Constantinople? 21st Century Texas? Again, you need to choose your lens.
  • Characterizing Shiva as a “God of Destruction” is very narrow (and rather Orientalist, no offense intended); you’ve already chosen a lens here. Shiva is one of the most complex and enigmatic deities, but is considered “God” {big “G”) by about 200 million Hindus.
So I would say:
  • Pick your lens and make it explicit
  • Stick to your lens as much as possible
  • Admit that your lens is capable only of caricature
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
...I find the Christian religion quite interesting (fascinating, actually). I really like all the Angles and "Host", and power structure hierarchy, major characters (Cain and Able, Adam and Eve, Noah, etc) and their stories....and I like to extrapolate them "up to modern times". As I mentioned, Supernatural (the TV series) is one of my all-time fave series. Absolutely LOVE the set up and "The Boys"! Such great stories to be told and examined from a more 'modern' perspective. IMNSHO, Supernatural managed to do just what you (the OP) is asking...use real-world religion, but not outright "offend a great many people".

If you enjoy fiction examining the major characters and extrapolating them to modern times, you might enjoy Lucifer (currently available on Netflix). It did, in fact, offend a great many people, as it has a rather more human and sympathetic take on why Lucifer is who he is.
 

MGibster

Legend
Sorry I don’t understand your point?
There's very little historical evidence outside of the Old Testament to support the events of Exodus. Our understanding of ancient Egypt is that workers constructing the pyramid were mostly free laborers, there's nothing in Egyptian records about a mass exodus of Jews or the death of a pharaoh, there's nothing in the records of surrounding people about such an event, we don't know of any pyramids constructed around 1300-1200 BCE which would have been the approximate time of Exodus, and there's scant archeological evidence supporting Exodus.

And this is where it gets hairy when it comes to presenting real religions in games and why many people here have expressed their reticence including it. You're just stepping out into a minefield and you never know what's going to blow up in your face. It makes sense to include real world religions in a modern game. It'd be odd if there were no Christians or Muslims in Vampire, Deadlands, or Shadowrun. But I'm not going to provide stats for the Holy Ghost and I'm going to especially step lightly around religions that are outside of my cultural wheelhouse.
 

While I think it is theoretically possible to put together a table-specific game that is simultaneously textured enough and broad enough to actually use real-world religions and their content without it being bad....I find it very difficult to believe that people can do that with something published and not have it come across very badly. It's a simple problem of compactness. A game--be it a system, a module, an adventure path, whatever--necessarily must be smaller than the body of text and tradition it references. This means you are, of necessity, presenting only a narrow perspective on the topic.

To use one of the repeatedly-cited examples above, Arthurian myth (as far as its religious elements are concerned) is the product of a doubled re-imagining of Christianity in the Medieval Period, first by the people who lived then, second by more recent authors. It's going to be nearly impossible to not present a highly elided, simplified view of Christian theology, practice, and values, and the enormous set of cultural elements that went into making "courtly love" (which is critical to the Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot tragedy arc) are almost certainly going to be either forgotten, unmentioned, or severely simplified. But as with any system purporting to transmit value-judgments across time and geography, the devil is (sometimes literally) in the details here, and the kinds of elision and simplification that would be required to communicate the core ideas efficiently are exactly the kinds of elision and simplification used to dismiss or deride religions in real life.

As for my own work, I draw heavily on medieval Islamic and Jewish religious philosophy in my home game, with some hints of pre-Islamic too, while expanding things outward. Most of my stuff, however, lies in inventing what I consider better explanations for D&D cosmic weirdness (like why Devils and Demons are always LE/CE, but somehow also sapient.) I'm actually very pleased with how the cosmology has come together, but I'm also glad I didn't have the IRL-religion sword of Damocles hanging over my head the whole time.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Apologies. They're historically dubious.
Well most of ancient history is historically dubious. We have sources and some are more reliable than others. It doesn’t mean the time period isn’t evocative, and full of drama and insight. The idea isn’t to provide a definitive historical account but a place and time in keeping with a tradition.

Provided the writer is clear that the work is inspired by this religious tradition and not a statement of fact or authoraritive text. They make it clear it represents just one lens of history I see very little issue with it.

Dreamworks were perfectly reasonable in making their fictional interpretation of Exodus in Prince of Egypt. Their telling was a explicitly biased one and yet still and excellent film. There is space I think for a more nuanced portrayal of the time, particularly in the quasi fantasy/myth space occupied my many tv shows and films. A portrayal that can blend the miraculous, with the historical and a darn good story. There has been plenty of writing on the subject.

My suggested approach would be to present the work as clear fiction... then use sidebars to explain the historical references for the work and some of the disputes and disagreements. Perhaps offering suggestions for alternative approaches where these disputes warrant it.

That said for the OP I would also avoid fairly banal and somewhat tacky direct interactions with gods. The FR approach to god doesn’t really fit with real world religions. Pathfinder deals with it far more effectively... with typical manifestations, divinations, agents and traditions.
 

TheSword

Legend
Supporter
There's very little historical evidence outside of the Old Testament to support the events of Exodus. Our understanding of ancient Egypt is that workers constructing the pyramid were mostly free laborers, there's nothing in Egyptian records about a mass exodus of Jews or the death of a pharaoh, there's nothing in the records of surrounding people about such an event, we don't know of any pyramids constructed around 1300-1200 BCE which would have been the approximate time of Exodus, and there's scant archeological evidence supporting Exodus.

And this is where it gets hairy when it comes to presenting real religions in games and why many people here have expressed their reticence including it. You're just stepping out into a minefield and you never know what's going to blow up in your face. It makes sense to include real world religions in a modern game. It'd be odd if there were no Christians or Muslims in Vampire, Deadlands, or Shadowrun. But I'm not going to provide stats for the Holy Ghost and I'm going to especially step lightly around religions that are outside of my cultural wheelhouse.
See my other post replying to Aldarc. I agree, I don’t want to have stats for the Holy Spirit.

However a discussion of a Holy Spirit, some of the religious traditions associated with it and some suggestions for how this might be represented in an RPG, sounds reasonable to me.
 

pming

Hero
Hiya!
If you enjoy fiction examining the major characters and extrapolating them to modern times, you might enjoy Lucifer (currently available on Netflix). It did, in fact, offend a great many people, as it has a rather more human and sympathetic take on why Lucifer is who he is.
Oh, yes! I loved Lucifer. Enjoyed the heck out of it (binge watched, of course! ;) ). I haven't seen the last season though, because... Netflix. Until they remove "Cuties" from availability in EVERY country...I'm not going back. :( Too bad. I paid $15/month for a couple years for Netflix...had/have some great stuff on there.

Lucifer has some great characters. I really enjoy Mazikeen and Linda in particular. Uriel is my third fave, with Lucifer being a close fourth.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Asisreo

Hero
  • Pick your lens and make it explicit
  • Stick to your lens as much as possible
  • Admit that your lens is capable only of caricature
That would be for the best, though I would probably put sources of research into the adventure and be as explicit as possible for where these courses.

I would like for the experience to be equal parts fun as well as educational. I probably can't have it be as rigorous as a peer reviewed essay, but I'm hoping that as long as I avoid any sort of mocking tune, people would be more understanding of my intentions.
 


TheSword

Legend
Supporter
Not to mention that, given current real-world events in that part of the world, however you position the confict is going to be seen as an allegory for today, and thus pretty insensitive.
Sure, but if peace in the Middle East was the pre-requisite for fiction involving Old Testament tradition we’d be waiting a long time.

It is possible to write about politically controversial subjects without being insensitive. Without me straying into the political here, I would think there are several reversals in the biblical tradition that would confound simple allegory with the current situation but that’s probably debate for another site.

That said, a lot of the legends of the time, the lions paw, the wisdom of Solomon, David & Goliath are not particularly controversial or relatable to any particular individual. Or more likely relatable to every faction. They’re just good stories.

Also let’s not get started on the fact that every one of Moses’ plagues are spells in the PHB.

Even if all that wasn’t the case, an independent publisher isn’t required to please everyone to justify sharing their work. if it’s good enough quality and of interest to enough people. Both of which would be a matter for posterity.
 

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