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Author Topic: Making Religion a Real Organization in Fantasy Role Playing  (Read 1156 times)
Anatola
Member

Posts: 7


« on: April 29, 2011, 02:49:57 AM »

This is my first post here, and it is mainly just some thoughts I am having while fleshing out a setting for a role playing game I am soon to begin.
I am generally trying to create a fantasy world that eschews good/evil or law/chaos dichotemies and also does not presume humanocentric worlds. One of the primary changes I want to make (from what I have seen in most RPGs) is the sort of white hat/black hat treatment of religion and magic as well as religious monolithicism.

I would prefer something that looks like ancient Greece or Akkadian religion: the assorted divine powers all have very personal motivations and ethos, and while might be thought of as all divine for their incredible character and power are not necessarily any more 'virtuous' than anyone else, nor are they insanely and systemically 'evil' (even Stalin had to maintain good relations with SOME people); in fact I want the whole concept of good/evil morality to remain deliberately ambiguous. While behavioral constraints and codes might be part of devotion to a particular god there is no PC and generic 'good morality' which would apply to any of them.

One may worship several gods or demigods for different reasons, and they might be at odds with one another or at odds with assorted mortals. The line between god and man should not be too clear, divinity being attributed to or bestowed upon the mighty and influential and very non-transcendent anthropic attributes applied to deities.

Any thoughts or resources?
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Anatola
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2011, 03:16:59 AM »

An example of the sort of problem I am thinking about: religious organization. Historically, religious organizations have a combination of observable piety and organizational status combined with whatever political and doctrinal disputes enter into it from the culture more generally. Many high-ranking priests are inferior scholars of the religion to persons below them or outside their religion altogether, and many of them are cads or frauds. In 'generic' fantasy, including D&D but also fantasy novels generally, the highest-ranking religious figures are almost guaranteed to be the most pious and the most powerful precisely because of how the direct deity-human relationship works and because of geometric snowballs of power accumulation; it is almost unimaginable that a non-spell casting liar could outcompete a powerful and devoted priest; the latter is likely to be in all ways superior. Yet this is very weird from a historical and organizational perspective; take the example of Iulius Caesar who is the Pontifex Maximus but whom we would not expect to be the most religiously informed or best augur, even presuming the gods he worships grant real supernatural favor. Likewise, just because Caesar is the head of several legions would not lead us to believe he is the physically most powerful man in the army. It seems that a religious administrator or special pontifex should be treated as one of specialization, instead of being generically 'better'.
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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2011, 07:11:20 AM »

Hi,

Some other games that play with this:

You may want to take a look at HeroQuest/RuneQuest - the setting of Glorantha is based on a lot of different cultures, but generally does a good job of handling the complexities of politics and religion. 

An interesting thing it does to twist the "most pious = highest ranking" is that a lot of magical power is derived by large rituals from entire communities ("Harvest Blessing Festival" etc.).   So the person who happens to be able to get the community to work with them, ends up able to do the big magic, whether they are or are not exceptionally pious.  (Of course, there are minimal requirements to meet the religion's needs, but beyond that, you kinda can be as sketchy as you want provided the community doesn't care or doesn't know).

Burning Wheel also plays with this a lot, in the fact that being pious in thought or deed (or, furthermore, having access to divine powers) is completely separated from the issue of religious hierarchy.

Dogs in the Vineyard is basically the game about slamming the question of "What is righteousness?  What is correct in the eyes of God?" on the players every session.  The players travel from town to town, to fix problems and try to set each town back on the path of the Faithful- problem is, it's always failing and going to shit.  And no one has any answers.   Maybe the PCs ("God's Watchdogs") end up actually being good people and fixing problems, or maybe they just end up ruining everything and killing a lot of people along the way.

There's a lot of games that eschew Good/Evil alignment logic with religion, so there's a lot of good resources to check out.

Chris
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rolepages
Registree

Posts: 2


« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2011, 02:54:57 PM »

One thing you may want to look into is the way India relates to their religion culturally. In the west we have a very black and white view of religion with the good guys of heaven on one side and the bad guys of hell on the other. In India there are thousands, perhaps even millions of deities and each one is worshiped in different ways by different peoples.

I think WoD actually handles this pretty well with the Triat, which is a take off on the Hindu myths. Although Wyrm is theoretically the evil character, a closer inspection will reveal that all three of those deific powers have evil and good in them.

Most major modern fantasy novels that deal with religion also handle it in a vaguely ambiguous way.
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stefoid
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Posts: 657


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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2011, 04:15:15 PM »

Hi,

Some other games that play with this:

You may want to take a look at HeroQuest/RuneQuest - the setting of Glorantha is based on a lot of different cultures, but generally does a good job of handling the complexities of politics and religion. 

An interesting thing it does to twist the "most pious = highest ranking" is that a lot of magical power is derived by large rituals from entire communities ("Harvest Blessing Festival" etc.).   So the person who happens to be able to get the community to work with them, ends up able to do the big magic, whether they are or are not exceptionally pious.  (Of course, there are minimal requirements to meet the religion's needs, but beyond that, you kinda can be as sketchy as you want provided the community doesn't care or doesn't know).

Burning Wheel also plays with this a lot, in the fact that being pious in thought or deed (or, furthermore, having access to divine powers) is completely separated from the issue of religious hierarchy.

Dogs in the Vineyard is basically the game about slamming the question of "What is righteousness?  What is correct in the eyes of God?" on the players every session.  The players travel from town to town, to fix problems and try to set each town back on the path of the Faithful- problem is, it's always failing and going to shit.  And no one has any answers.   Maybe the PCs ("God's Watchdogs") end up actually being good people and fixing problems, or maybe they just end up ruining everything and killing a lot of people along the way.

There's a lot of games that eschew Good/Evil alignment logic with religion, so there's a lot of good resources to check out.

Chris

definitely.  runequest/herowars etc.. is all over this.  The key thing is that everything is relative to your cultural viewpoint.   One culture might think the ability to withstand torture without flinching is virtuous while another culture thinks the very idea of torture is abhorent.  They are both right within their own cultural context.
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Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #5 on: April 30, 2011, 10:50:07 PM »

Avoid naive relativism
Quote
One of the weird things about teaching nowadays is the way students no longer fit into Perry’s famed stages of ‘undergraduate development’: rather than arriving at university as naive moral realists with a dualistic, defer-to-authority attitude, they tend to be naive relativists. The bulk of them, I have found anyway, will say right or wrong depends on your cultural frame-of-reference, or something similar. To which I’ll reply, “So female circumcision is quite proper so long as it is practiced in Sudan.”

You can almost hear a “poof,” their naive relativism evaporates so fast. The point is this: our moral intuitions often don’t care about our ideas all that much. Humans, as social animals, are other-evaluating machines, and as such, there are very few consistent relativists out there (as I’m sure Grin and Theo would agree (thus the Nazi references)). Relativists are perfectly happy to live and let live as far as lifestyle choices go, but when it comes to acts of obvious harm, they are as censorious and as judgmental as a televangelist at a gay rights parade.
Look for that judgemental part of you and make play about those issues...since in real life how can one back down on female circumcision? Yet in a game, there's a little leeway to not yolk your entire mind to such judgement, since its not real - and thus you can reflect on that judgement and the sort of actions it demands, instead of purely being that judgement. Find your inner televangelist...provoke it through play...and observe...
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Anatola
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2011, 11:13:44 PM »

Thanks for all the recommendations, I am seeing if any friends of mine have RuneQuest books.

As regards 'naive moral relativism', I'd say I'm pretty much a moral nihilist (I think morality is a psychological or rhetorical force, not a logical one).
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Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
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Posts: 17707


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« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2011, 07:13:03 AM »

No more discussion until an external link is provided, please.

Best, Ron

editing this in: I really really hope to see the link appear, because the topic is primo. I just returned from leading a serious discussion on this stuff at InterNosCon.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2011, 08:26:26 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
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