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Christian RPG Design

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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.

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.


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.

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?

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.

David R


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