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Author Topic: Christian RPG Design  (Read 5853 times)

Samarkand

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« on: September 01, 2006, 10:06:59 PM »
Despite my own apatheistic Judaism, I've become fascinated by the devout-Christian market for various products.  It seems less a subculture than a parallel culture.  Something usually invisible from the mainstream, but incredibly popular and influential.  See the popularity of the Tim Lahaye books, etc.

     Now I know that there have been efforts to create a Christian RPG.  Dragonraid most famously comes to mind.  But I haven't heard them as being very successful, since they seemed to be designed as "D&D, but without the bad occult stuff that turns children to Satan".  A rehashing of standard RPG tropes with that didactic, evangelical tone that you see in a lot of things produced for that market.  I've been theorizing on how to make a roleplaying game whose design was meant to explore devout Christian themes.

Some design possibilites:

*  A Tim Lahaye-style post-apocalyptic "Rapture" rpg has a certain goofy appeal.  However, if you're not into his brand of millenarinism it's of limited use.  What would be cool, IMO, is a game set in that most quintessential of Christian eras: the first couple of centuries AD, when the Church was struggling to survive.  What better adventuring setting than the Mediterreanen, Levant, and Northern Europe in that time period, as RPGPundit can attest?  You have your oppressive authority who can provide foils for the PC's, a conspiratorial underground organization for them to get "missions" from, your vast world to explore, and other chunky goodness.

* A mechanic to emphasize how *hard* it was to be a good Christian at that time.  I'd avoid establishing a rule that "no Christian would be violent, therefore fighting is forbidden."  Making moral choices via a Virtues/Vices mechanic or similar should be very important--to emphasize that "turning the other cheek" meant considerable sacrifice and faith.

* No "magical faith".  Earning Faith Points or whatever to power things like healing, divine intervention, etc. would be risking the charge that the RPG is all about the occult under Biblical window dressing.  Faith would be akin to willpower or very rare cases of miracles...and those not under the control of the player to define.
 

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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2006, 10:43:09 PM »
Personally, I think there's very little entertainment value in the kind of fanatical dementia of the U.S. Evangelical Christian crowd.
I mean, you've heard of the Left-Behind-based video game? The third-person shooter where you go around murdering employees of the UN and buddhists because they serve the antichrist?
You want to know why the US is screwed, there's your answer: its because these people are the Taliban, and the rest of America is in denial trying to claim that they can be reasoned with: The only real difference is that they don't have the power to have their way yet. When they will, do you really think they won't be getting rid of Buddhists and UN-employees for real? I mean, shit, look at what they're teaching their kids...

So frankly, I'd have as much interest in doing an RPG about that as I would in doing an RPG made by an Al-Qaeda member about the glories of being a suicide bomber.

Of course, some Swine theorist somewhere is going to think that both of those are immensely fun ideas for RPG goodness.      :duh:

I think you COULD do a lot of good RPGs that paint Christianity in a positive light, or that are at least more interesting than the "left-behind-shoot-the-UN" scenario.  For a start, you could go with the whole Early Christianity business, where the PCs would be trying to spread a pacifistic love-based ideology (or a gnostic ideology of wisdom) in a relatively brutal Roman world that suspects them of incest and cannibalism. The opportunity to detail the early christian factions, their increasingly complex relationship with the Jews (from their emergence as a jewish side-cult, to their strained connection with Judaism during the Jewish uprising, to their eventually falling-out with Judaism at the end of the first century), and do some interesting things regarding the mechanics of attempted conversion if that was your deal.
You could of course make it with, or without a supernatural twist.

There'd be other possible eras too: the Crusades, the Reformation, Jesuits in South America or China, stuff like that.

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laffingboy

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« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2006, 10:50:28 PM »
I applaud you for seeking out an untapped market and brainstorming a way to get a piece of it. It's good to see a design forum that treats games as products to be marketed, instead of 'art for art's sake'.

But I think that your thinly veiled contempt for your target audience might hamper your attempt to appeal to them.
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« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2006, 11:05:19 PM »
I'm actually studying in seminary at the moment, and I've had a couple of games put out there. Eldritch Ass Kicking is my first printed game, distributed by Key20 Publishing (now Key20 Direct). I did work on the recent Noumenon RPG from Abstract Nova. I also have a couple of products on RPGNow - I'm just an indie publisher really, but I'm a Christian... licensed minister at the moment.

There is a lot of rich possibility in using the Bible as a background for RPGs, but I think there are some examples of that out there... like Green Ronin's Testament D20. I think a small press company, Visionary Entertainment, had something out for a while, though I don't know if they are still around. Dragonraid sort of has notoriety, but it does well because it has specific design goals (in a nutshell - get kids to memorize bible verses through a game). Multiverser was written by M.J. Young, a great theologian. There are other ones out there - mostly small press or free (like Claymore and Seth Ben-Ezra's work).

Is there a market for it? Not really. The big Christian publisher of games is Cactus Games, and they do well because, first and foremost, they design rockin' games. They have never done a Christian rpg - collectible card games and board games are their style. (One of their popular ones is Settlers of Canaan, a Christian remake of Settlers of Catan.)

In reality, Christian gamers play the same stuff you play - games where there is good and evil and people have to make tough moral decisions. Really, it's a lot like life perhaps. I like running and designing games that are just simply fun, that make you laugh. I mean, a staple of Jesus' ministry was to get people around a table and eat and talk. (Maybe he was a gamer?) But I'm also interested in bringing in larger themes into my games, some of which parallel biblical themes... like exodus, exile, a prophet to a hard-necked people, compassion to your enemies, strangers in a strange land, being counter-cultural, fighting the man, standing with the poor, loving the unloved... Any of these themes could make an awesome backdrop for a roleplaying game.

So yeah, the bible and Christian spiritual tradition has much that could be used as inspiration or support for a game -- but why does the game have to be... Christian persay?
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David R

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« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2006, 11:06:14 PM »
I don't know about Christian RPG design, but I could see running Christian allegories and fables in diverse genres.

I mean, a campaign set on a penal colony in the midst of a religious awakening - but I don't think that's what you are talking about.

Regards,
David R

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« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2006, 11:59:50 PM »
Quote from: MysticAges

Is there a market for it? Not really. The big Christian publisher of games is Cactus Games, and they do well because, first and foremost, they design rockin' games. They have never done a Christian rpg - collectible card games and board games are their style. (One of their popular ones is Settlers of Canaan, a Christian remake of Settlers of Catan.)


Do you get instructed by God to kill every man woman and child in Canaan, like the Israelites were in the Bible? Do you get punished by God for not doing it, again like what happened to the Israelites in the Bible? That's some crazy shit right there...

Quote

In reality, Christian gamers play the same stuff you play - games where there is good and evil and people have to make tough moral decisions. Really, it's a lot like life perhaps.


I would imagine its certainly like music, anyways. Most of the faithful and yet sane christians I know express a dislike for "christian rock" and that sort of stuff, and really dig bands like U2 or Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, who often have religious/christian themes while still being about the music, not about preaching to the choir with a giant sledgehammer.

And I'm not talking about lukewarm Anglicans or something like that; one guy I knew was a fucking Plymouth Bretheren, and he really dug Dylan and Johnny Cash. Played RPGs too.

Quote

I like running and designing games that are just simply fun, that make you laugh. I mean, a staple of Jesus' ministry was to get people around a table and eat and talk. (Maybe he was a gamer?) But I'm also interested in bringing in larger themes into my games, some of which parallel biblical themes... like exodus, exile, a prophet to a hard-necked people, compassion to your enemies, strangers in a strange land, being counter-cultural, fighting the man, standing with the poor, loving the unloved... Any of these themes could make an awesome backdrop for a roleplaying game.

So yeah, the bible and Christian spiritual tradition has much that could be used as inspiration or support for a game -- but why does the game have to be... Christian persay?


At least, why does it have to be in-your-face-US-style-Pat-Robertson christian?

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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2006, 12:02:45 AM »
Quote from: David R
I don't know about Christian RPG design, but I could see running Christian allegories and fables in diverse genres.

I mean, a campaign set on a penal colony in the midst of a religious awakening - but I don't think that's what you are talking about.

Regards,
David R


The deeper "theme" of my last Traveller campaign was basically a Sufi Muslim allegory.

My current Roman Immortals campaign has a powerful dosage of Zoroastrian, Gnostic Christian, and Mithraist themes. Im also trying to present a varied and thurough detailing of the origins of Christianity (my personal historian's take on it, anyways) as part of the storyline of the campaign.

Hell, Jong's character was Joseph of Arimathea!

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GRIM

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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2006, 01:30:13 AM »
See... I want to do something that's sort of the anti-'Left Behind'.
A post rapture world with heroic atheists standing up to the calamities and trying to drive the angels and the faithful off the earth and eliminate god.
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« Reply #8 on: September 02, 2006, 01:49:17 AM »
Quote from: GRIM
See... I want to do something that's sort of the anti-'Left Behind'.
A post rapture world with heroic atheists standing up to the calamities and trying to drive the angels and the faithful off the earth and eliminate god.


hmm.. a radically politicized anti-christian RPG would probably appeal to me about as little as a radically politicized pro-christian RPG.

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GRIM

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« Reply #9 on: September 02, 2006, 02:28:25 AM »
Quote from: RPGPundit
hmm.. a radically politicized anti-christian RPG would probably appeal to me about as little as a radically politicized pro-christian RPG.

RPGPundit


I like a bit of politics and statement in my gaming, even if I don't agree with the point being made it makes for more interest, same way it does in fiction. Plus, doing one's part to counter the tide of evangelical nonsense is appealing.
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David R

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« Reply #10 on: September 02, 2006, 02:34:49 AM »
Quote from: RPGPundit
The deeper "theme" of my last Traveller campaign was basically a Sufi Muslim allegory.

My current Roman Immortals campaign has a powerful dosage of Zoroastrian, Gnostic Christian, and Mithraist themes. Im also trying to present a varied and thurough detailing of the origins of Christianity (my personal historian's take on it, anyways) as part of the storyline of the campaign.

Hell, Jong's character was Joseph of Arimathea!

RPGPundit


Yup. Any religion can be fodder for deeper themes in games. I was talking about Christianity, because that was what the OP seemed to be interested in.

But you know all said and done, I would really like to see a game based on a more historically accurate version of any religion - or a game set in any genre with a heavy dose of real world religion thrown in the mix.

Regards,
David R

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« Reply #11 on: September 02, 2006, 03:08:46 AM »
Quote from: GRIM
I like a bit of politics and statement in my gaming, even if I don't agree with the point being made it makes for more interest, same way it does in fiction. Plus, doing one's part to counter the tide of evangelical nonsense is appealing.


The thing is, partisan politics/ideology is extremely shallow and unidimensional. I like issues and themes in my RPGs, but I like them three-dimensional.

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« Reply #12 on: September 02, 2006, 03:47:35 AM »
What does it mean to be Christian?

Does it mean worshipping Christ specifically or worshipping his teachings and ideals?

There's a big difference when it comes to how I can imagine designing an RPG setting.

I can imagine a very Christian setting in which Christ is never mentioned. I can also imagine one based on the current "conservative Christian" viewpoint expressed in my own country where his name is cited constantly but his ideals are nowhere to be found.
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GRIM

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« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2006, 04:04:32 AM »
Quote from: RPGPundit
The thing is, partisan politics/ideology is extremely shallow and unidimensional. I like issues and themes in my RPGs, but I like them three-dimensional.

RPGPundit


So you leave the true nature of the revelation a question.
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« Reply #14 on: September 02, 2006, 04:32:15 AM »
Quote from: Yamo
I can imagine a very Christian setting in which Christ is never mentioned.


CS Lewis's Narnia, Tolkien's Middle Earth...

One game/sourcebook that hasn't been brought up yet is the Inquisition sourcebook for the oWoD.  Some fantastic stuff it there that would fit the ideas mentioned in the OP

But I agree with MysticAges and the Pundit.  A "Christian RPG" would be bad for the same reason that "Christian" "music" is almost universally dreadful.  One-dimensional and if the writers/musicians could cut it in the "real world" they wouldn't need to confine themselves to the ghetto