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Author Topic: Sorcerer: A Catholic Roleplaying Game  (Read 7920 times)
Christopher Kubasik
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« on: December 16, 2002, 02:13:42 PM »

Hi All,

The various Religion in RPG threads got my head stewing for this last week.  I thought I'd post the results.

Will Power: A Sorcerer One Sheet

I. A caveat before we begin:

What I'm about to write is a based on my view of religion.  As we saw on the religion threads, most folks have all sorts of different views of what religion is.  (And magic(k), for that matter).  This will be mine.  Treat the following as a one sheet for a Sorcerer campaign.  Clearly, suggestions to clarify the one sheet will be fun for all.  But references to such and such an author who says such and such the opposite won't be of much use.  I already know other people have different views.  I'm using the rules of Sorcerer to see how I might mix my thoughts on religion with RPGs.  I'm doing this because my views on religion in RPGs seem to be radically different from everything I've read so far, so I thought folks might enjoy seeing a very different take on the subject.


II. The Theology of the Setting

Evelyn Underhill, in her big ol' book Mysticism, defines Magic as tapping supernatural sources for the Self.  Faith, or Religion, is a love of God.

The distinction is clear, but odd, because we constantly think of religion as a means of protecting us from harm, or getting what we want from being good.  The fact that this is almost never born out in religious stories makes the assumption odd.  In this setting the assumption is overturned, and we accept the notion that God is not just like a person but much, much bigger.  God is in fact an alien logic, something suprahuman that mortals could not pretend to understand, working from a plan that is simply beyond our understanding.  You either submit to this alien schema, or you resist it.


III. God is not a Pez Dispenser

Bottom line: how gods are treated in RPGs exist within a tradition almost entirely bound by the logic of RPGs.  While bargaining with god, praying to gods to keep their mojo up, worshipping gods to get fireballs and such is standard logic for a hobby (and might even be supported by the writings of other folks. Please so the caveat above), I can't really see it in the literature of religion I've read.

Variations exist.  The Greek tales are full of moments of appeasement; but should Hera get to Zeus' ear after you've made your sacrifice, chances are you still won't get home safely.  Seldom though, in the Greek tales, does sacrifice or homage simply get you magical abilities.  The gods are fickle, and appeasement is more the order of the day.

To the point: The Christian God (which is the God of this One Sheet), does not dole out favors for prayer or sacrifice.  One blunt example should suffice to make this clear.

Jesus, God's son on earth, prays to God, fearing the fate that soon waits him.  He says,  "Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt."

Cut To: Jesus is arrested and taken to his Crucifixion.

All right?  The Christian God is not about whether or not God shows up with the winning lottery ticket.  It's about us doing God's will.  The faithful pray not to get bennies, but to bring their own will into alignment with God's will.

Some people might get this wrong, even those who call themselves "believers" but, that's the nature of human beings and the nature of this Sorcerer setting.


IV. The Humanity Matrix

For this Sorcerer setting Humanity is... A love of God, which is the same thing as a Submission to God's Will.

To make this active for players, we'll define submitting God's will as the following definition, spoken by a scribe in agreement with Jesus about which of the Commandments is first of all:

"You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he;
and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When the PC's take actions like this, they get Humanity Checks to raise their Humanity.

Rituals are based on... turning from God: whatever is contrary to God's will.  These would include all matter of selfish willfulness, either toward god or toward other human beings.

Premise: Who will you serve?

At 0 Humanity you are... no longer Human.

Demons will...  encourage you to behave counter to a love of God.


V. Demons

Demons will use all manner of seduction, flattery and so forth to encourage their "masters" to commit all manner of sin.  Breaking commandments is the general rule of thumb.

But why?

This one question kept me busy for days.  I didn't want the things to simply be Bosch paintings made manifest.  Too easy to dismiss; too much a caricature.  I wanted them to have some emotional meat to them, so, using the standard tales, I came up with this bit of logic:

Demons, in their pride, are angels who wanted their own will, and so spited God.  God banished them.  They are now like fish so deep beneath the sea that they no longer perceive light -- in this case the light of God.

They long, however, for God's attention.  And so they eagerly reappear in the mortal world when summoned by Sorcerer's, for here, at least, they are within the realm of God's perception.  But still, they they cannot perceiver God.  They cannot love God.  They simply do not know how to submit to God's will.

They do know, like the blind, powerful creatures they are, how to make a ruckus.  They thrash about, using mortals at they pawns and compatriots, desperate to make God see them finally and lift their darkness so they might see God again.  But, again, unlike mortals, they no longer have a choice in how they will or will not love God, and only rage and harm and encourage pride and self-will.


VI. Where's the Pay Off?

So wait.  I love God?  But I don't get fireballs?

Exactly.

You get your Humanity... which, in the game of Sorcerer, is worth an awful lot.

I realized that the Humanity mechanic was exactly what I needed to engage my views of religion in an RPG.  No Pez dispenser.  No quid pro quo.  Just a willingness to love God.  And in return you're human.

The tension for any Sorcerer is: Do I love god and do God's will, or do I use this new power I've got, and do my own will?


VII. Atheists?  Agnostics?  Believers?

Any of them.  Sorcerer can be any of them.  They may think there is no god even as they tap the power of demons.  Even in the game mechanics, God is purposefully mysterious and offstage.  And they may be believers: bitter an angry at a God that allows horrible things to happen in the world, fully justified in their belief that now is the time to get their due from a world that denied them looks or money or safety.  These types give the finger to God with every ritual, furious at Him for what they see to be God's failings.


VIII. God's Will

God's will, as always, will be tricky to determine.  This will be a matter discussed OOC, during game play, in one of those involved conversations Sorcerer seems to generate among players.

IX. In Closing

The purpose of this was to figure out how to bring a sense of mystery and weirdness to RPG religions.  Real faith in a pain in the ass.  (Though certain mystics assure us it gets more fun with time.)  I wanted to figure out a way to get people into that mode.

Why do that?  Cause it's one of the things art is supposed to do: bring us to new points of view, and I think it would be interesting to try.  Most RPGs flatter us with power trips, like TV and Film, reflecting back to us images of how we'd like to be only at our best, or  valuing us at our most bland.  I think Sorcerer (an Intense Roleplaying Game, after all), could handle something a bit tougher.  Playing characters who value a set of values beyond our own -- God's Values -- which can only confound us when we think first of ourselves, but might astound if we open ourselves to them.

As for offending those of a faith by mucking about with Christianity and demons: I've expressed elsewhere my belief that Christianity has lived by it's stories.  Not all of them are pleasant at all.  Nor is this an attempt to proselytize.  It is, first, and attempt really get religion as I've encountered it in the literature of religion and the world I live in into an RPG, and second, to provide a chance for folks (including myself), to encounter this in a focused, social, and narrative manner.

Okay.  So that's that.  Look forward to any comments and discussion about this.

Take care,
Christopher
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jrients
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« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2002, 03:18:38 PM »

First off, I am stunned by the elegant simplicity of your definition of Humanity.  In practice, would you outline God's plan for each PC and then make then roll Humanity checks based on adherence or deviation from that plan?

Second, I'm a little fuzzy on your explanation for demons and their behavior.  Are they trying to do good deeds to get Gods attention?  I'm not saying that would work (true good deeds being the fruit of faith, not vice versa), but it seems that their Needs would be pretty twisted.  If your demons are trying to get back to the primordial light, I would expect them to be constantly trying to do good but screwing it up, because no good deed would lead to good results unless the deed was done according to God's will.

I kinda imagine that your demons would behave like really piss-poor boyscouts:  

Need: Help an old lady across the street every day.  Whether she wants to cross the street or not.  Take across the street by force if necessary.

Need: Give money to the poor.  Even if the homeless guy down the street only uses it to buy more heroin.

Need: Visit the sick.  Even if they want to be left alone to die, for chrissake.

Need: Clothe the naked.  When your sorcerer is trying to get laid the demon starts screaming at him to put the clothes back on that poor girl.
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Jeff Rients
Jake Norwood
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« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2002, 07:38:23 PM »

Chris-

I've been planning on playing Sorcerer for a long time, and I gotta say that (as a IRL religious guy) that this approach really appeals to me. It makes Socerer about hard choices (a must) and puts you on the line between God and your own ambition (which, IMO, really is a huge part of the issue).

I would love to see some examples of this definition of humanity in-play (hypothetical, even), so that we can better understand what you're trying to do with it.

Sweet, bro.

Jake
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2002, 07:23:08 AM »

Hi Jeff,

Sorry I wasn't clear.  The demons are spoiled children doing as much harm on earth as they can, thrashing about morally.  They have no sense of what is good at all.  But they want god's attention, and so go for it with gusto.  They have no idea they'll fail... hence the whole blind fish analogy.

As for the Humanity....  As stated, I think the group will have to decide a lot of it on the fly in OOC conversations.  Sorcerer seems to produce this kind of discussion during play.  In essence, "God's Will" for a player character would be discovered through play.

Jake,

Though we haven't corresponded much at all, I was looking forward to your response.

As far as an example goes, remembing the working definition from Mark quoted above (the greatest of the commandments, blah, blah, blah...) I'll just whip off an example from the game I played with Jesse.

If Karl is supposed to love others as he would have others love him, and his son returns after twenty years, (which was Karl's kicker), then welcoming his son back would be along the line of God's will, no matter what it would cost to Karl's pride.  To hang on to his pride, and thus live by his own will, Karl would reject his son's homecoming.  (Which is what Karl did in the actual game.)

Keep in mind that the quote about loving god all your heart, all your knowledge, all your strength implies (for me at least), something beyond just a relationship with God, but an interaction with god -- using your love, intellect and body to behave with love.  There may be debatetes about this at the table, but I think there is a kind of compass here -- even if it has to be figured out on the fly.

Take care,
Christopher
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Clay
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« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2002, 07:31:40 AM »

I think that this is a good outline.  Someday I'll get a Sorcerer game up again, and I want to use an explicitly Christian theology.  This will make a good model.
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Clay Dowling
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2002, 09:10:31 AM »

Hi Christopher,

That's a beautiful and rigorous breakdown. Here are my questions and concerns ...

1) I don't see any need to humanize the demons by giving them motivation. What matters to me is that they speak to needs, concerns, and desires that are human but not of God. That might sound contradictory, but it's not ... there's no point to a God's Will existing unless some brand or branch of human activity is counter to it. (IE, free will is about something.) Demons speak to that element of humanity.

So as far as demon motivations are concerned, I'm only interested in how they appeal to humans in various situations (some sympathetic, some not), not why the demons do it.

Most of the text in part 1 of Chapter 2 of The Sorcerer's Soul ("Demon definitions") is exactly about this - an operative, rather than an internal definition/explanation.

2) How about those Angel rules in Chapter 3 of the same supplement? Any thoughts on how they might apply?

Best,
Ron
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Garbanzo
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« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2002, 05:14:42 PM »

Christopher:

There's an interesting book called "Those Invisible Spirits Called Angels."  By Renald Showers.
It delivered just what I wanted: taking the Bible as irrefutable truth, what do we know about angels and demons?  

Possible highlights:
relation of Jesus to angels, demons
distinction between fallen, free angels (who live in the lowest heaven) and the fallen, confined angels (who are in hell/ tartarus, for makin' babies with human women)
activities of evil angels re: saints, Satan, unbelievers
blah blah blah.

I get a sense that you're looking to work fairly abstractly (that is, not work through all the nubbly bits pre-play) but regardless, I'd recommend this book heartily.  Even if you just use it as a source for some whack NPC opinions, there are lots of interesting surprises ol' Showers trots out, all with biblical citations galore.
I picked it up for $5.00 on half.com.

Just some grist for the mill.

-Matt
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 18, 2002, 06:22:46 PM »

Hi Matt (nice to see you again),

I think ... and correct me if I'm wrong, Christopher ... that the Bible isn't especially important as a special text in the construct/context that Christopher's presenting. Here are the reasons.

1) (This is least important) The Catholic approach doesn't emphasize reading the Bible as a direct and literal guide, whether to "what happened back then," "what's it all about," or "what sorts of devils and ghoulies exist." I bill this as the least important reason because I'm not sure whether Christopher means the Catholic part of the thread-title literally.

2) More generally, I don't see anything in his presented material that places any special emphasis on Biblical or interpreted-Biblical content. Christian, yes; Biblical in terms of text, no. The Will of God, or the Love of God, etc, appears not to be associated with any written guide (again, in his presentation).

Now, all of the above is totally not to the point of your contribution, which is valid - that here's a nifty set of ravings/views that can bring a lot of Color and perhaps some questions to the game. In that sense, yeah - great reference, it looks like.

Best,
Ron
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talysman
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« Reply #8 on: December 18, 2002, 07:39:50 PM »

hi Christopher... interesting approach to demons and religion. I'm not so sure about limiting demons to beings who want to do as much evil as possible in order to attract god's attention. it might be better to broaden this to simply "attract attention"; the demons are thus more concerned with spectacle than with sincerity.

what made me think of this was an article I just came across in the Fortean Times on the stigmatic Padre Pio. FT describes how several members of the church hierarchy thought Pio was demon-possessed and that his stigmata were a sign of either diabolical powers or outright fraud. this certainly raises the possibility that not all miracles are necessarily good, even if they appear good -- hence the need for The Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition) to investigate alleged miracles to determine their true nature. it raises a number of moral questions...

you can find the article here.
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John Laviolette
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Christopher Kubasik
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Posts: 1153


« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2002, 01:18:13 PM »

Hi everybody,

Thanks for the responses so far.

In no particular order:

The thread title is sort of a play on the RPG's title.  Instead of "an intense roleplaying game," it's "a Catholic roleplaying game."  See, it's kind of funny...  Oh, never mind.

Oh, and also, I was going to call it "a Christian roleplaying game," and then I remembered that many Christians work with faith healing and the like, and I didn't want to use that title but exclude their interpretation of Christian, so I limited to what I'm working with.

Demons: Yes, Ron.  I think you're right.  What I was trying to do, since I was going to play the demons, was protagonize the demons.  Ooops.

Angels: No.  I really want to make God (and the force of God) as annoyingly obscure and apparently removed as God often feels to "us".  This, in fact, was the point of this one sheet.  I wanted to create a different feel of "religion" than one normally gets in RPGs with Clerics running around using their "faith" the way Military Contractors use accounts from Pentagon.

The Humanity definition.  This occurred to me:  Current definitions of Humanity that have proved useful for Sorcerer so far are: Love, Sanity, Honor, Civilization, Emotional Sanity, and so forth.  

All of these are easier to grasp than "a love of God's will."  That is, of course, until one actually is confronted with defining any of those definition in the middle of game play.  The truth is, Sorcerer is specifically squishy on Humanity.  Not only are random rolls made to determine Humanity loss and gain, but there are no set values to check against.  ("This book of madness does 2d4 against sanity.")

Humanity in Sorcerer, whatever the definition, is always explored moment to moment.  My one sheet's definition might appear more slippery than others only because it's God's will (not, my love, my honor or whatever).  But each of those concepts will always shift and slip during play, each will be explored from a million different circumstances.

And the God part... Well, that's the rub, isn't it?  For those of who care, we must always weigh out God's will and explore it -- just as the game Sorcerer would have us do.  Again, it would be an exploration for all at the table to really discover how much we'd be willing to surrender our character's will and let him or her follow God's will -- and discover exactly what that would be.

Take care,
Christopher
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jburneko
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« Reply #10 on: December 19, 2002, 02:05:27 PM »

Christopher,

I've been pondering this for a few days now and I have two questions.  Both questions stem from the use of "Catholicism" which, as Ron pointed out and you partially affirmed, may not be central to the point.  However, I want to ask them anyway.

1) What of Dogma?  Specifically, Catholic Dogma.  Would you include all of that as part of "doing God's will?" or would that be more specific to the play group and the actual specific characters or not?

2) In my opinion, Catholicism is one of the more exciting branches of Christianity.  In a lot of protestant sects, there's just me and god and that's it.  I take a shot a guessing what "god's will" is and after I'm dead I find out if I've won God's game or not.  This to me is a little dull and frankly, after some thought, your definition seems to lend itself towards that side of Christianity.

In Catholicism, however, there's a boat load "mysticism" still retained.  Transgretions can be forgiven through confession.  True believers can recieve stigmata (which is FAR from a "reward").  Statures cry blood.  There's nearly a whole pantheon of Saints and Angels, one can call on for strength and guidance.  Even God, himself has three faces (The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost).

Now, I understand that you were deliberately trying avoid the "I pray and I'm rewarded" mechanic ala D&D style Clerics or even "faith healers" but is there anyway we can bring in all that powerful mysticism and *still* avoid that "reward" element as it is normally presented?  Perhaps there's a way to tweak things such that doing God's will is just as, if not more, scary than dealing with the demons.

If this question is just too far off base or doesn't interest you, then we can drop it.

Jesse
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #11 on: December 19, 2002, 03:13:11 PM »

Hi Jesse,

Okay, the Catholic thing really, really was a throw away.  But now I'll think on it.  Give me some time.  It might take a while.

Christopher
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jrients
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« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2002, 03:23:53 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
Even God, himself has three faces (The Father, The Son, The Holy Ghost).


FYI, many (most?) protestants are trinitarians as well.  Still, I see your point.  Mainstream protestantism seems to be a little sparse for gameable material once you get past the Salem witch trials.
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Jeff Rients
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« Reply #13 on: December 20, 2002, 06:40:59 PM »

The whole "love of God's will" thing looks more like Islam to me than Catholicism.
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the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue
Clay
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« Reply #14 on: December 23, 2002, 01:00:30 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
Now, I understand that you were deliberately trying avoid the "I pray and I'm rewarded" mechanic ala D&D style Clerics or even "faith healers" but is there anyway we can bring in all that powerful mysticism and *still* avoid that "reward" element as it is normally presented?  Perhaps there's a way to tweak things such that doing God's will is just as, if not more, scary than dealing with the demons.


Jesse,

I don't see any particular "I pray and I'm rewarded" mechanic going on here, or a need for one.  The last time I checked, the act of contrition does not grant a mechanical forgiveness for one's sins because you spilled your sould to the priest, but require honest contrition and penance for your sins.

Everything about stigmata suggests not some wonderous thing coming about through prayer, but a direct and unpleasant reminder that God's will needs to be done, and you have been picked to carry it out. Everything about carrying out that will sounds terrifying.  Remember that to carry out God's will Christ had to walk into his own crucifixion, knowing that it was his best friend who would sell him out.
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Clay Dowling
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