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MatrixCubed

Religion in RPGs

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Hopefully this won''t turn into a Real Life Religion debate. I''m curious to know what benefits and hindrances exist for different theological models in games; for the most part, which have the most potential for entertainment that, at the same time, do not reek of redundancy. The options would be as follows: None: Characters don''t believe in deities; not to say they are heathens or whatnot, just that they are never mentioned or become a factor in the storytelling. Conflicts are more concentric around "king vs. usurper", "dragon vs. villagers", "mad wizard vs. hero", and so on. Monotheistic: One deity, good characters perform deeds in His/Her/Its name. Non-followers might be viewed as heathens (if they serve other idols like daemons for example), societal rejects, or might just not be a factor in the game as "everyone believes". Duo-theistic: Classic "good vs evil" conflict, personally my favorite, character fealty in the game is clear. Provides more of an engine to tell the story based on characters or world-events than faction skirmishes. Polytheistic: Common in ancient mythology (Greek, Egyptian, Norse), potentially many factions (and many alliances) exist, can tend to be confusing for the casual gamer who doesn''t investigate who is who. My personal least-favorite, as it''s simple to write a too-detailed story that might annoy users who could care less about deity mindless characters follow. (NeverWinter Nights, I fear, chose this model, which makes the characters seem a little... empty-headed). Ideas? Comments? And please, don''t view or treat this post as flame-bait. MatrixCubed
http://MatrixCubed.cjb.net

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Not that I can really tell you why, but I never cared for Greek and Roman mythology. IMO having a lot of different gods is more of a hinderance than an aid to storytelling. Unless the story is really about the gods themselves, I would much rather have deep characters that move the story along.

Since religion has played such a huge role in midieval times, it does make sense to include some religeous factors into any feudal era game.

Interestingly, much of the European wars of that era were not in the name of opposing gods, rather in the name of the same god but because of differences in how the people believe the god should be worshipped.

For me religion is a seasoning. Sprinkle in for flavor, but don''t overpower the natural goodness of the story.

CDV

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(by the by, this thing sounds like it belong in the game writing thread.)

Religion as a narrative tool is a chance to throw the audience a bone, as far as seeing into the character''s personality. Having your character follow a religion would indicate several given personality traits. Like, being a muslim would probably either indicate humbleness and a vow of poverty, or in today''s age, psychotic fanatasicm. A protestant christian would probably be the happy type that said hello to everybody and gave little phamplets on how to get into heaven. And a catholic would probably investigate into agnosticism. However, these are stereotypes and shouldn''t be devotely followed, but lightly touched upon. Mind you, if religion doesn''t have a place in the story, then don''t give it one purely for the shock value.

As a means of gameplay, I''m not so sure. If the deities are active characters in the game, then having characters rally behind deities assumes some benefit. Its some crazy idea to play with, and for a nice example, try Actraiser on the SNES, where you played as GOD trying to revive the world. It was a half ghost and goblins, half sim city. Nice game.

-> Will Bubel
-> Machine wash cold, tumble dry.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Polytheistic:....(NeverWinter Nights, I fear, chose this model, which makes the characters seem a little... empty-headed).


I don''t think so because in computer RPGs the Gods are real and you usually meet a few and fight one at the end.

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For a wonderful example of Polytheistic done right, play Sacrifice .
For those who haven''t, it is essentially an RTS game. Except unlike the tradition campaigns where you choose one of 2/3 sides (C&C, Starcraft, etc), you can actually choose what god you wish to help for each mission.
If you do a certain god''s mission, you get that god''s spell for the level, the unit for that level, and special units/bonuses depending on what you actually did.

It''s very interesting, and gives great replay value.

I like having multiple god''s, gives more room for secret alliances and backstabbing

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I''m not sure I see the difference between mono-thesitic and duo-theistic. Zoroastrianism would definitely be dup-theistic as both Ahura Mazda and the bad guy (forgot his name) were equal in power. But in mono-theism, even if there is only one supreme being, there are still challengers to tempt people, so it also ends up being a "good vs. evil" struggle.

However, in terms of what I''d like to see if religious overtones are to be made, I think I''d prefer the monotheistic....with one caveat. He doesn''t appear in person. His minions can, but the almighty himself. But the questions has to be asked, if religion takes a central stage, and basically the conflict is over the correct form of religion then who is right? If side A believs in mono-theism, and Side B believes in polytheism, who is right?

Or are you saying that, for example, in reality, there really is only one God, but side A is fighting against sideB who doesn''t believe in the one true god?

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The classic good versus evil struggle is always good. You could even do without creating names for specific diety, and just have a "moral" conflict rather than religious one.

On the other hand, I developed a system for my old MUD that had about 12 dieties. Each diety had a story, and had control over an aspect of the world. For instance, one diety controlled magic. Followers could (under extremely rare, random circumstances) benefit from following the diety by having their mana-cost reduced, or spell-casting times reduced etc... We called it "divine intervention". After running for a short time in game, we removed it, as it was somewhat resource intensive.

Always remember, some players will get offended because you have gods or a "God". Some players will get offended because you don''t have gods. There is no right answer, but IMHO being blatantly evil in your portrayal of religions is about the only situation that will turn any players away.

Good luck.

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Well, if we learn anything from Jesus, the how of religion isn''t as important as the why. You "clean the outside of the cup" so to speak, but what about the inside?

That said, I can see that implementing religion as part of a game does help to emphasize, or parody - if you will -, the problem of religion that Jesus pointed out.

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quote:
Zoroastrianism would definitely be dup-theistic as both Ahura Mazda and the bad guy (forgot his name) were equal in power.


Actually, by historians, Zoroastrianism is considered the first ethical monotheism (before Judaism). Angro Manya (sp?), while equally powerful to Ahura Mazda, is still just satan in disguise (different role) and thus just as monotheistic as Christianity/Judaism.

I prefer multitheistic. It gives another dimension to every character, a focus point. You know that a follower of Tyr is going to be somewhat militaristic, but that he will have a definite sense of fairness and honesty. The same could be said of a follower of Odin (Wotan, whatever), but it''s hard to say how he will act in a particular situation.

It may seem to make characters more... transparent or ''empty-headed'', but that''s the player, not the character. The character is only what the player makes him. Of course, NWN might make the NPCs rather transparent, but they are NPCs, not PCs in that case and need to be somewhat... dumb. AI is VERY hard to program well and it isn''t uncommon for games to be delayed months or even years because the AI for NPCs just isn''t doing what the makers want it to do.

I do agree that religion is sometimes used in place of actual personality by gamers though. Too often followers of one diety will consider it a "with me or against me" situation, not realizing that even Loki was a trusted son of Odin. Odin wouldn''t want you to run around killing Loki''s followers, just imposing law and order upon them and teaching them the error of their ways, sometimes through force, but never through murder.

One thing to remember though, every pantheon has it''s head honcho and what he says goes. If Zeus tells Poseidon to do something, he will do it 99% of the time, just find a way to warp it to his own means. It''s the way of things. The unfortunate thing about most completely fictional religions (non-historic) is that they never have this facet. In Everquest there is no ''head honcho'' deity, they''re all generally equal and work against or with whoever they see fit. Mystara (D&D''s Forgotten Realms world) doesn''t have a deity who makes the all encompassing decisions that the darker deities warp to their purposes. This is usually how you can tell the difference between fictional religions and history based religions. Historical religions are organized, hierarchical entities while fictional ones are almost chaotic creations with little order.

When conflicting religions (pantheons) are encountered, one of two things happened throughout history: Either the religion is conquered and incorporated or it is incorporated as a derivation of itself. One only need look as early as the Egyptian mythoi (originally 3 separate, smaller pantheons) to notice this, or as recent as the Christian religion''s incorporation of any vast number of pagan rituals, celebrations (holidays) and persona into their religion. The rituals were made a part of the good part of the religion, while the personas were made equivalent to satan worship. Thus, you can have a spring fertility celebration and stick bunnies and eggs in it (obvious symbols of fertility), but you have to call it Easter and associate it with the rebirth of the savior... You can have a Winter equinox celebration, but you have to associate it with the actual birth of the savior. It''s the oldest trick in the book, targeted at the lack of communal memory from generation to generation, but it''s also been proven to work almost every time it was used.

You want a pantheon? Either do a little research and do it right or make one based upon an actual historical pantheon. You want a simple good/evil battle? Those are a dime a dozen.

Well, as usual I took a planned 3 paragraph post and turned it into an essay...

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quote:
Original post by fingh
The classic good versus evil struggle is always good.


everybody, please, dump the good vs evil stories.

look at real religions. every (sensible) member wants to be in that religion to be a good person.

conflicts come in two ways:
1) fanatics who hate everyone else
2) one''s practice interferes with another

how many RPGs have seen angelic figures slaughtering deamons from hell. let''s try not going to extremes and create a story where religion only matters on the character level, eg "i just found out my best freind is a protestant.". it''s a lot more intimate.

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One area that religion can play a major role is that of magic. Clerical magic is bestowed by the gods onto their worshippers. Clerics are submissive to the will of their gods and their powers flow from their submissiveness.

Mages, on the other hand are fiercely independent and serve no one but themselves. Their power is derived from their own will and knowledge of the forbidden arts (revealed by a trouble making deity ages ago, eg. Loki, Prometheus, Lucifer).

A third group are the athesists who believe in neither gods, nor magic. Their unbelief renders them completly immune to magic and miracles. (The movie Eric the Viking is a good example on how this unbelief would work.)

Korvan

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Guest Anonymous Poster
quote:
Original post by solinear
...Well, as usual I took a planned 3 paragraph post and turned it into an essay...


...and a fine essay that I enjoyed reading.

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This is a conflict in games. If you make religion a severely important thing in the game, you''ll turn off people who aren''t too fond of religion, but draw the hard-core followers of religion. Leave it out, and you''ll draw the atheists and most people who don''t really care, but you''re likely to turn off the hard-core followers of religion. Most games include some religion, as, in this country at least, religious people overwhelm the amount of non-religious people, such as myself. I do find it slightly annoying if it''s very important to the game, but otherwise I don''t really care. Only thing I wouldn''t want is a game with a character commanded by "God" to slaughter the "Unbelievers"

Why?!?

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The conflict in games is between LANGUAGE and TEST. Religion in games presents an interesting juxtaposition of these two processes because religion can act both as a "system of meaning" and as the precondition for a "test".
Once you include religion in a game, the usual balance between language and test is distorted, becoming relative to the observer''s attitude/s to the religion. In other words, the game becomes relatively successful as a function of how seriously it is taken. Hence the concern about religious games that "turn" on the player and demand certain behaviour.

The flipside of the coin is that games already are a form of religion. They constitute a meditation on some external form of truth and, among game players, success at games is about being able to pass the test they present. But more than being language or test alone, the games can simultaneously become symbols of social membership to the religion practiced by a particular game''s followers.

Is there a way to liberate people from treating games as religion or coding religion into games? In short, is there a way to liberate games from materiality? I don''t know. Perhaps the answer lies in the integration of gaming into standard social practice as a method of change (not empty language) and as a method of exploration (not as an empty test). Both steps imply breaking the material conditions of gaming and becoming sensitive to long term considerations in gaming implementation - the language no longer as fleeting, the test no longer of simple reflexes (certainly chess and games like it have enjoyed their life for this reason).

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Its simple if the games story calls for religion put it in.

If you are writing the story you must think will I want religion to be a big part of the story. Its all about the message you are trying to send and the story you are trying to tell. Who cares if other people think religion should be in a game its your game make it how you like not how other people think it should be. If a person wants to make a game have him write a story and if he wants religion so be it. Make the game how you think it ought to be made.

OoMMMoO

"Only when dead are we truly free" -Me

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I also think monotheistic/duotheistic religion is rather uninteresting in an RPG. I''d rather see a well implemented polytheistic RPG.

One thing that gets me about the way polytheism is represented is that it seems very shallow. In NWN for example, your religion makes almost no difference to the game whatsoever, in fact it just seems like an open text field - you could enter ''Derek The Magic Beetle'' as your religion for all the difference it makes.

It would be far better in my opinion to develop a sensible pantheon of gods rather like the Greek or Roman gods. Keep the pantheon down to a sensible size, maybe as many as ten but no more. (unlike the completely absurd number of D&D gods) Different races can have different names for these gods, and maybe even slightly different interpretations of them, but they should all map onto the same set of deities.

Also, get away from the ''Good god, bad god'' crap. Gods should be pretty much neutral, unconcerned with the morality of men. All they care about is being respected and honoured. The God of War will like you if you fight a lot - particularly if you do so in his name. He doesn''t care whether you fight for a good cause or not, all he cares about is the fear or respect of the masses. If you defeat all your enemies and bring peace to the land, then eventually he''ll get bored - and favour some young upstart who''ll shake things up a bit.

As a player, you''ll have to make decisions. Do you pay your respects to all the gods, just to keep them off your back? Or do you favour one particular god and his allies, but make an enemy of his counterparts? Or something in between?

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quote:
It would be far better in my opinion to develop a sensible pantheon of gods rather like the Greek or Roman gods. Keep the pantheon down to a sensible size, maybe as many as ten but no more. (unlike the completely absurd number of D&D gods)


I''ve found 2 solutions to this dilemma.

1) All gods other than the ''native'' ones to a solar system are predatory gods, living off the labor of other deities work. In this solar system the ''true'' deity is ''God'' (Yahweh, Allah, blah blah...) all of the others were predatory ones, pantheons from other solar systems who gave up after their loss in this solar system was guaranteed.

2) All of the pantheons are actually just groups of angels sent down to teach humans the ways of those in heaven. I like this one more because it makes the most sense. Too many common themes across religions. Also, there is the head deity (Zeus, Odin, Indra, etc...) that could be considered an ArchAngel while the others would be of the other choirs of angels (Angel, Seraphim, Cherubim, etc...). They seemed as gods to us because of the unexplainable levels of power they commanded.

I really like the 2nd one too because of it keeps duality in place. It shows that deities really don''t care about our problems, only their own hides. What was God''s determinator for who is an Angel and who is a Demon? Are you with me or against me. Love the sound of a human skull crushing but you just can''t turn your back on God? You''re an Angel. There is NO moral barrier, just one based upon who''s side you took. Set sound demonic to you? It doesn''t matter what he sounds like to you, he was on the winning side and gets to keep his wings.

Loki, Set, Shiva (the Destroyer), Ares, etc... they''re all Angels. How do we know this? Because God sent his angels to teach us their ways, he didn''t send Demons and his Angels wouldn''t associate with Demons now, would they?

Like I said, I really like the 2nd option.

As for the ''rediculous number of D&D gods'', almost all of those are actual historic deities and almost all of them were coexistent (around at the same point in time in history). With the exception of the Hindu religion all of them are largely non-existent now also. It''s not rediculous, it''s reality. Each culture had it''s own religion. The Sumerians had one, the Scandinavians, the Celts, Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, American Indians, Russians... these are all historical pantheons that all existed at around the same time. Even a large number of the non-human deities are based upon historical mythological characters, from Grummsh to Correlon Larethian (or however you spell it). Actually, only having 10 gods is kinda rediculous when you consider our history.

I do have to admit that I agree with you and see little reason for having more than a dozen though, since most of the deities are simply the same thing with a different name and slightly different powers. There''s a good dozen earth mothers/fertility/harvest deities that all end up serving largely the same purpose. Thunder/storms? Do we really need a half dozen of these gods? Not really, it''s a game. Add more later if you need to, but try to keep it reasonable and manageable.

I should reiterate about the good vs. evil thing though. Real life is never so black and white. Tomas de Torquemada (Grand Inquisitor) is viewed today as one of history''s greatest villains, but he was a priest. Confidant of Isabella, refused dozens of promotions above friar preferring to serve God in that capacity until he became an Inquisitor. Even during that time in Spain he was called by one historian "the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order" and I''m guessing that it wasn''t just lip service.

Too often powerful priests are the villains, working against the true meaning of their religion. How can you make it a wall with black on one side and white on the other? What side are you on, what side am I on? While we may agree on both of those, what side will history put us on? Even the most vile beast, if in a position of religious power, will be defended by the most holy knight and fellow priests. There is no "Oh, you are evil, I see the light and now turn on you!" scene. There is no "You have found me out, I have made a pact with the devil and now I will transform into a demon of immense power" scene like is too popular in console RPGs. This is reality. Most of those unforgiveable monsters actually believe what they are doing is right and good. In a freakish coincidence, if they were Angels they would be right, for as long as they are on God''s side they are doing what is right, no matter what it is.

Anyway, again this post is getting too long.

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quote:
Original post by solinear
Actually, only having 10 gods is kinda rediculous when you consider our history.



Not at all. Just because every civilisation calls its gods by different names, doesn''t make them different gods. Furthermore, what one civilization calls a god, another might call an angel.

For the sake of simplicity, I wouldn''t bother coming up with too complicated a system. Go for maybe 9 or 10 Gods, maybe also give them (slightly?) different names according to what race you are. Don''t go the Forgotten Realms route, where you have a completely separate God for practically every living thing on the planet. (God of Slimes and Oozes anyone? What next, the God of Foot Fungus and Underarm Bacteria?)

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