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Author Topic: For Ben: The heaven game.  (Read 8941 times)
Shreyas Sampat
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« on: April 05, 2004, 10:19:17 AM »

This is a Forge Birthday (and Special Events) game; if it isn't finished by the time the Birthday Forum closes for the year, I will hold off on it until the next Iron Game Chef or 24-hour games thread is active, and work on it during those.

In the perfect world, this game, when it is complete, will also serve to capture the spirit of the Invisible Cities-styled game that Jonathan asked me to do. This isn't entirely because I am less productive than I'd like - I believe that an intelligent fusion of the ideas will make a stronger game, and I really do want to write that Cities game.

So, tell me about the conception of Heaven that you were referring to, before I go off too far with my own ideas.

The only one I'm going to toss out there is this:

For the beauty to make you cry, you have to care about it first, and then destroy it with your own hand. And you have to want to destroy it.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2004, 11:02:06 AM »

I just posted some comments in the old thread.  I'm reposting them here so we can dissect them:

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Ben, Shreyas, and I need to co-write a game that runs from the creation of the angels through the war in Heaven, culminating in the Fall of Satan/Lucifer/Iblis's rebel faction. And yes, there should be lots of crying involved. Lots of crying at the beauty and the harshness of God's Love and Will. Additionally, Heaven should be, if we can manage this, non-anthropomorphic, since human beings haven't been created yet. You know how, traditionally, angels are often depicted as giant amalgamations of eyes, wings, and animal parts? That's the direction to go. Steal from Milton, steal from Dante, steal from L'Engel, steal from the Bible, steal from the Qur'an. Oh, it would be glorious! Imagine millions upon millions (pre-Fall population of Heaven: 399,920,004) of tiny sprite-like balls of faith and feathers swarming towards each other in intricate arcs and patterns, only to be harshly crushed like so many insects! The glorious tragedy! So delicious!


So, to respond to your opening suggestion: all angels were created as beings of perfect beauty, even Satan/Lucifer/Iblis.  But, because of who they are and what their inner beauty is, the angels are driven to fight and even destroy each other.  That's why they all end up in tears.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2004, 11:55:18 AM »

That's precisely what I was starting out with.

I had this slightly too-Nobilisy idea that each angel is the perfect beauty of some thing, and something valuable comes of creating one's own beauty, but only at the cost of destroying another. So you can have large or small-scale conflicts like these:

The angel of Radial Symmetry invents a certain kind of six-petalled flower. The angel of Unlikely Predators invents the archetypal preying mantis - a long-limbed green creature. Then the angel of Parasitic Relations steps in and resculpts the flower and the mantis, destroying the flower's symmetry in order to turn it into an orchid, which becomes an ideal home for its flattened, ornamented orchid mantis, which is clearly the ideal predator for that environment. Later Symbiosis changes the mantis's behavior, making it nomadic between flowers, so that it serves as a pollinator rather than a prevention of pollination. Strangely, this sounded really compelling in my head as I was walking to stat this morning.

The angel of Paradise makes the Garden of Eden on Earth, and Innocence creates Adam and Eve. Knowledge creates the tree of knowledge. Temptation creates the serpent. All is well and good, so far, but nothing has happened, until Temptation starts attacking Eve's innocence and then Adam's by trying to combine them with Knowledge, and this gets them kicked out of Paradise. Ouch!

But I think that's probably a very modern and abstract view of what's going on, and might not be immediately useful here.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2004, 12:19:22 PM »

See, I think it would be cooler if the angels embodied something far more alien than concrete things or ideals.  You're right though: they do need to be the beauty of something or at least a certain kind of beauty.  Maybe, since angels were originally created by the breath of God to sing His praises (at least, in some mythologies), they should all reflect (like mirrors or planets) some aspect of the beauty of God.  After all, most angelic names end in "-el" or "-iel" which means, roughly, "of God."  So you have Gabriel, "God is my strength," Uriel, "the fire of God," Raguel, "the friend of God," Raphael, "God has healed," Michael, "he who is like God," etc.  It might make sense then for Heaven to be constructed out of angels , then, and Creation might later be; instead of patron angels, the angels would become different aspects of Creation.  So God literally creates the world out of his image (i.e. the angels).

Just a weird thought.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2004, 12:22:20 PM »

Oh yeah, and that would mean that, when angels fought or destroyed each other, they would be destroying bits of God.

Almost enough to make you cry ;)
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DannyK
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« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2004, 12:23:09 PM »

If it's OK for me to throw in my two bits:

In the Talmud, it says somewhere that the Angels get less credit in God's eyes than people, because they have no carnal instincts and naturally follow God's laws.  This might be a reason for the battles to rage so strongly in Heaven -- angels lack the commonalities of mortal life to distract them from their ideals.  

I get a sense from your example that angels don't make much distinction between the political, the metaphysical, and the aesthetic -- I like that, and I liked your example with the mantis and the flower.

DannyK
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2004, 03:30:53 PM »

DannyK, sure! Input is great.

That's an interesting angle, that the angels' very inhumanity makes them capable of these terrifying things. And yes, I intended that they don't make distinctions that seem useful to people, because they're not people. They're something else.

Hmm...angels as the organs of God...that's an interesting concept. This is turning out to be a really fun thread; I don't think I really want to reserve it as a Special Efents game any longer.

Mirrors or planets...somehow, this resonates really strongly with me. I suspect you planned it that way, Jonathan.

So, now, to give this thread some direction: What do the players do in this game? One option is that they play one or more angels, and their job is the stewardship of their own brand of beauty - and, just as importantly, they have an imperialistic need to impose this beauty on everything. They play out the actions of the angels, who reach out and shape creation with the world-maker's hand - as organs of God, they have miraculous awareness, power, and love for their own part of beauty.

Alternatively, that conflict could all be played out in the abstract, and play could focus on the effects of angelic conflict at the level of instantiation. (This is the Invisible Cities angle, I think.)

If angels are parts of God, and they inherently conflict with each other, then what does this say about the state of God and Creation? Can angelic conflict affect God in an important manner, and bring about events like the Fall, the end of the world, etc., or is it a more or less cosmetic state of affairs, with larger events being out of the players' hands? If angels are part of God, then what is the Fall?
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quozl
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« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2004, 03:36:45 PM »

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat
If angels are part of God, then what is the Fall?


Since pride was the cause of the fall, that would mean that the part would think it was more important than the whole.  I think that is a worthy premise to explore.
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--- Jonathan N.
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2004, 03:45:10 PM »

To clarify in my mind, I seem to recall some doctrinal conflict that led the Fallen to separate from Heaven.

What was the conflict that precipitated the Fall? (I think you're right; pinning this down for the purposes of the game can bring it great direction.)
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2004, 04:37:09 PM »

There are several reasons given for the Fall, in different sources.

In Paradise Lost, Satan starts the rebellion because God elevates the Son (the pre-existent Jesus, in an "In the Beginning was the Word" type of way) to be the superior of all the angels, a place that was formerly his own.  Personally, I don't like this version, but I don't really like the idea of a pre-existent Christ, either.

In the Qur'an, Iblis starts the rebellion because God elevates man and commands the angels to serve and look after mankind, when it's obvious that humans are inferior to angels.  I like this version much better, but it means the Fall happens after the creation of man (which isn't my preference, but sounds more like what you have in mind).

In some Christian traditions, Satan/Lucifer justs sees himself as God's superior, or thinks that he can do a better job than God.  Then the Fall happens and God creates man to be His new servants, replacing the fallen angels.  I don't know how this would be possible, if angels reflect God's beauty, unless Satan was "the pride of God" (God's narcissism and self-esteem).

Sometimes, angels fall (though this may be after the civil war and big Fall) through the pleasures of the flesh and senses, seducing (or being seduced by) mortals and having carnal relations with them.  This, in turn, creates the nephalim, the half-angels, who were monstrous and caused God to flood the world, according to some accounts.  Some angels are also rumored to have fallen because of greed or wrath or gluttony or one of the other Seven Deady Sins.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2004, 05:17:26 PM »

More points for thought:

Quote from: On the back cover of 'To Reign in Hell,' Steven Brust
God is omnipotent, but Satan is not a fool.  There seems to be a contradiction here.


Perhaps Satan does not "want" to rebel against God (at least, not in the human sense of having that intention), but he can't help but do it.  It's just part of his nature, and God knows that.  God, however, can't allow him to succeed either.

Of course, I feel like there should also be some ambivilence about whether Satan is justified in rebelling.  For instance, in gnostic traditions, the Creator God is evil and malicious, wanting to trap the brilliance of human souls (fragments of the divine, like angels) in the material world of fleshy, sinful things.  Satan can sometimes stand for freedom at any cost, as he does in Satanism (not devil worship, but the libertarian religious movement).  Maybe we could incorperate this somehow.

Quote from: In, 'The Hypostasis of the Archons,' someone
I have sent you to inquire about the hypostasis (reality) of the Archons (rulers, authorities, angels).  Their chief is blind; because of his Power and ignorance and his arrogance he said, with his Power, "It is I who am God; there is none apart from me."  When he said this, he sinned against the Entirety.

...

Then the Female Spiritual Principle (Sophia, the Wisdom of the True God) came in the form of the Snake, the Instructor; and it taught them, saying, "What did he say to you?  Was it 'From every tree in the Garden shall you eat; yet, from the tree of evil and good do not eat'?"

The carnal Woman said, "Not only did he say "Do not eat,' but even 'Do not touch it; for the day you eat from it, from death you are going to die.'"

And the Snake, the Instructor, said, "With death you will not die; for it was out of jealousy that he said this to you.  Rather, your eyes shall open and you shall become like the gods, recognizing evil and good."  And the Female Instructing Principle was taken away from the Snake, and she left it behind, merely a thing of the earth.


Notice, in the first excerpt, how the Creator sins against the Entirety (everything that is) by daring to call himself "God," and, in the second part, how the Serpent is a force for good, teaching humans the true nature of the corrupt material world, and how Sophia leaves the Snake body behind just as mortals will leave their bodies behind in death, becoming pure spirit and rejoining with the True God.

Just some additional thoughts.
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quozl
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« Reply #11 on: April 05, 2004, 06:11:28 PM »

I suggest not feeling constrained by religious doctrine.  Instead, make this game to adress an issue.  Do you want this game to be about having faith no matter the cost?  Or maybe you want it to be about doing what seems good but is actually wrong.  Find an issue and then construct the game around it.
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--- Jonathan N.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #12 on: April 05, 2004, 06:39:15 PM »

I wasn't suggesting being limited by existing mythology.  That's why I was giving so many different choices to see which ones clicked.  But when you stray too far from the themes that human beings have focused on for millions of years, you end up creating a superficial mythology with no substance (like the one in most "mythic fantasy" games).  If you base it on existing mythology, but tweak it or reinterpret it for your purposes, it gives you a huge foundation to draw from.

Quote from: That's why Ben Lehman
You are not cooler than thousands of years of human storytelling culture.


Personally, I feel like it could be a game about angels struggling to determine what their God-given identity tells them to do in certain situations.  After all, being defined as " a reflection of the strength of God" doesn't really help you decide what to do when Lucifer waves the banner of rebellion.  But that's just me.  Also, in a civil war, you have to take sides.  No one is neutral, and whatever you do will end up destroying something beautiful and leading to pain.  So, a game about hard choices and civil wars, both internal and external.

But, then, this is Shreyas' game to design.  I'm just playing backup.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2004, 07:19:45 PM »

Wow.
Just wow.
You guys are the *best*

Okay, now I'm going to get into some serious setting design meat.  I'm going to tossing out ideas around left and right here.  Don't let me step on your toes, or derail things, or take this as any sort of "guideline" other than "more cool stuff."

1) I don't like the idea of limiting this game to the "pre-fall" times.  Why?  Because Heaven is described out outside of space and time -- literally, the entire history of Heaven is happening constantly, eternally.  The war is going on *right now*, and it was settled yesterday, and it will be settled tomorrow.

1b) Because of this, Heaven is simultaneous Before Creation, Before Man, During Man before Salvation, During Man After Salvation, and After the Last Day.

2) The description of angels as not having any free will seems, to me, to not make them strong candidates for player characters (yes, I have somewhere I'm going with this.)  I think that angels, literally as described in the mythology, function as game mechanics.  In other words, "roll your Razael dice" seems like a really cool idea to me.

3) I have read a description that, upon entering Paradise, the salvaged souls lose their entire memory of those that did not enter paradise.  Otherwise, they would feel survivor's guilt, and paradise would be unpleasant.

My reference: Hymns of Paradise (I hope I'm getting the name right here) is my main source material here -- early Christian poems about the nature of the world to come.

4) What if you are playing saved souls who, after the last day, are called upon to recollect the world and, through and together with the angels, create it?  (remember the trans-time thing.)

4a) What if you're playing yourself?

yrs--
--Ben
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2004, 07:55:36 PM »

Okay, so I really, really dig trans-spacetime heaven and trans-spacetime angels.

Satan is always present in Heaven, there at the right hand of God, but everyone knows that he also sits on the throne of Hell, simultaneously.  As such, he has a terrible beauty that is hard to stomach.  Of course, talking of "sitting" and "at the right hand" don't really matter in a "place" where spacetime occurs all at once.  Heaven is not a place, or a time.  Heaven is an explosion of beauty, a flicker in the night, it is forever and a day.  I can already tell that getting all poetic about Heaven is going to rock...

(Side thought, potential titles: The Ancient of Days, Forever and Ever Amen, The Sweet Hereafter, Alpha and Omega, etc.)

So, Ben wants human souls as PCs.  Possibly strict avatars of the players.  I like the idea of having someone's mortal imperfections burned away by the glory of God and Heaven, similar to the way people believed you could burn someone's mortality away (like Loki does to Daniel in Sandman: The Kindly Ones).  So the question would be: what remains of a person after their mortal failings have been burned away?  What does the soul preserve after death?

So, if the war in Heaven is constantly going on, it makes it easy for it to be about humans.  Maybe Satan and the fallen, at the moment he and Heaven come into being, sees humans there and "decides" (in a non-causal sort of way) that they don't belong in Heaven, so he wars against God.  Hmm, how to narrate all this simultaneously happening stuff?  It should probably just be a matter of perspective.

Okay, thought: What if we collapse the dimensions to help model this better?

Time and Space are both a single point in Heaven, so players have to choose what they want to focus on and that's what they experience.  If they want to talk to Michael, he's right there and he has plenty of time to answer your questions.  If you want to watch the Fall, you can do that too.  So maybe very player-specific scene framing, where they specifically request what they want to experience and then it happens.

Do we even need a GM for this?  Maybe not.  Maybe we just create a general "map" of Heaven's spacetime, where you list major "events" and occurances and then the players "wander around" by focusing on specific things that are going on.

Some more thoughts.  Bedtime now.  More tomorrow.  Shreyas, you're going to have a fun time sorting through all this.
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