One of the more enjoyable aspects of game world-building for me centers around religion. In our clergy game there are two religions that have been reasonably fleshed out in the world. One of them is referred to as the "Karranites". I originally wrote them to address some questions I had about my own tradition (various forms of Congregationalism) and used the game setting to do so. It is a bit more complicated and was originally used in my youth group game. In the clergy game the Karranites exist primarily as merchants and smugglers from a "far away land". The are poorly understood by the characters in the city of Port Rufio where the clergy game occurs. While the depth of Karranite lore isn't all that necessary for that game, it is nice to have it around to give richness to the new setting. These mysterious sailors have their own rituals legends, and holidays (see the first post in under "Clergy Game" for an example.)
What I have in this post, however, is the dominant religion in the region in and around Port Rufio. What follows is a short creation story written in collaboration with Rev. Shane Montoya. He also--when he was my intern--was very involved in the Karranite saga, but we decided his angel needed a different religion (one that believed in angels) so we worked up a god in four aspects. This document has been the jumping off point for more development concerning this faith. World building is, after all a collaborative enterprise and a gaming group made up entirely of clergy is going to lean in to developing this part of the world.
In reality nothing I offer in describing a setting is "mine" so much as "ours". This is double true when it comes to the Temple of the Four Aspects...
In the Beginning…
In the beginning there was Maerkvind and they were lonely. They asked “How can I, who encompass all of creation, combat this loneliness? All is within me for I have made it so, yet none is like me but me.”
So Maerkvind created within itself three more aspects of it’s Holy Will. They became both part and not part of the one holy God.
“First I will ‘be and not be’ Jarne the aspect of reason. Thought, logic, ideas will be it’s domain. For my creation has the power to think, the power to learn, and the power to build from that learning. Jarne will be my companion and, of course, myself.” So Jarne was and became the aspect of teaching and learning of growth of culture and of change. Jarne stands facing Maerkvind as the manfiestation of the continued growth of the spirit.
“Then I will create within myself two twin aspects, both like and not like each other. Dahlo will be the aspect of the body, the physical world, and the physical essence of all living things. Sport and exercise shall be their manifestion, so too procreation and parties.
Facing Dahlo shall be their sibling. Falko will be the aspect of the soul, of loves and anger, joy and pain, and of dreams not yet realized. As Dahlo manifests the action and movement of the physical world, so shall Falko manifest the internal movement of heart and soul."
“I--Maerkvind--shall remain the parent, the creator, the aspect of the holy I am”
“My ne manifestions are both part and not part. I am infinite yet limited. This is well and good, for only when our essences are joined, like the waters of four rivers meeting in the placid ocean. Only then will we be fully God.”
And so from these manifestations grew the Holy court of angels and of mortals and so shall it be forevermore.
A couple of game sessions ago we had a sketchy encounter with an ooze. All the characters survived, thankfully, but I took the opportunity to add some details to Thrush's story. Since it is a game and not a novel, the parts son't have to stick together in quite the same way. As players we keep track of important developments in the lives of each other's characters and sometimes collaborate in various ways. As our session ended before the fight was over, this glimpse into Thrush's life is set as a "flashback" between turns.
Also, there is a bit of a story telling agenda around the poem "The Lay of Lake Beltran". In the game it is a spell called "Soothe". It is a healing spell that is meant to be a bit spooky. One way to inhabit a spellcaster at the table is to give the spells more individualized names. Since I cast it twice as often as any other spell (we are always close to death, after all). I thought it needed a cooler name and a bit of a its own backstory as well.
Thrush lands with a thump on the hard stone floor next to the well. Looking to his left he sees Laera, totally messed up and as the pain registers in his slight form he begins the brief incantation taught to him by the Baronness so many years ago…
“This will keep you safe, my child.”
“Will they keep trying to kill me?”
“Yes. Of course.”
The tone is matter-of-fact, like the answer to “Will it rain again? Or “Do we need to run?”
Auntie gently removes the bandages over young Thrush’s face, trying not to cause any more pain than necessary. To the right of them stands the Baron, his eyes scanning between the door and the window, the two dead Hobgoblins at his feet, and his still-bloody sword.
“There will be more, my boy.” he says, his breath still ragged from the exertion. “Some like these and some from the depths of Hell and some family too, though I hate to say it. Being a member of a noble house of Chelliax is a curse. Either they try to kill you or you give them your soul.”
“Shush,” says Auntie. We will keep you as safe as we can as long as we are able. Now, do you remember the poem I taught you? The one about the great pools beneath the earth?”
“Yes,” Thrush says, and he begins to recite it again in the strange language of the dark elves.
“Far beneath the close tunnels of Nar Voth
In the quiet reaches of Sekamina
I sought refuge from Grimlocks
By the shores of Lake Baltran
Do not look for it.
I will not tell you its place.
But my heart seeks its goodness in a land lit by fire”
As Thrush speaks, the cuts on his face start to close. He can feel them! The pain lessens as well. The Baron looks on approvingly and the Baroness speaks again.
“You got the meter slightly wrong on ‘Grimlocks’ so there will be a scar.”
“That is of no consequence,” says the Baron. “Scars on a noble--at least of our type--are expected.”
The baroness rises from her place next to Thrush and brushes her husband’s own scarred face. “Quite fetching, too. Gather the remaining family. We must go home. They will be back.”
That was the first time Thrush remembers someone trying to kill him. It was not the first attempt, just the first memory. As evidenced by his current pain...it was certainly not the last. So many in his family are gone. Killed by unseen forces or enemies in battle, or by others in the southern faction of this own accursed clan. As he got older he got better at doing his own healing and his own killing, when necessary, eyeing his classmates for signs of ill-intent, affecting an easygoing...uselessness...after his uncle died and keeping his actual friends close. He had always been that way, but as he got older he became more practiced and more aware.
But now, back in the present...by the well and covered in black ooze...he is alive. As he once again casts the “Lay of Lake Beltran” he looks over to Laera and wonders how anyone--even someone as powerful as the ancient elf--can live so damned long in a world of constant decay.
One of the current enjoyable parts of my gaming ministry has been "The Clergy Game". It is a group of--you guessed it--clergy who have played a variety of scenarios and systems with a wide range of success. People come in and out based on their busy schedules so there are now more alums than active players. This, however, is the usual in many long-running groups so that is OK. Right now I am the Game Master. Mostly this has to do with the system we are using (RISUS) and also because i said I would. I love being GM but being a player is less time-consumig and also quite a bit fun.
In this post I will describe a bit how our group operates. It may be helpful for people (particularly working adults) who would like to get a game going but just don't know how to get around to it. This has been our struggle, too.
First, our basic format...
We have always met online. At first, we did this because it made our lives easier by taking out one of the largest logistical hurdles. We had--I think--one or two live games early on, including one before my annual Christmas party. Those were better in many ways, but the compromise is what enables us to keep going in the end. Now, with the pandemic and with participants in Connecticut and Florida (which is a state or nation outside New England) it is a total necessity.
Also we have some basic rules...
1) No one plays a Cleric. This is what we do for work! Someone did, however, play an angel...
2) We will play at the appointed time if a majority of players can make it. It is up to the GM and the absent player(s) to figure out why the Player Character (PC) is not around. I usually find the best way to do this is set the campaign in or near a major city. People in a city have different friend groups, jobs, etc. It is harder to explain the disappearance of someone who was just next to you in a dungeon or on a wilderness trek.
3) Basically our game features a lot of improv. We follow the "yes and" rule unless things are just too ridiculous. We also follow the "don't be obnoxious" rule. Yes it has other names. If you can't play nice, play somewhere else. We are busy people in a stressful job trying to wind down. This is our clergy support/care group. If you can't be supportive and caring, why are you here?
4) Our games will be goofy and loose. The game system we use has very low "mechanics". This means that the system itself has very few rules and relies on us to fill in a lot of gaps.
RISUS, the system we use, is only two pages long and it's free. I also play in D&D games and in Pathfinder games where the rules inhabit thousands of pages enshrined in three or more books, each costing around $40 a pop. Those games--with much more complicated mechanics are super-cool and fun. The "Backstory" and "Thrush" tags in this blog come out of a 2nd edition Pathfinder group GM'd by my former intern Shane (who also plays in the clergy group). The advantages are in the way the math that supports the system also allows one to create a character whose traits, strengths and foibles have a measurable game impact.
In a low mechanics game--like RISUS--much more of the story is developed by agreement. The dice are rolled either a lot or a little--depending on the system and the group's culture--to create moments of tension, success, and failure to drive the story forward, just like in a high mechanics game. However there are just fewer formulas and rules defining the character, the world, and how those two things interact. I hope that makes sense.
This means that in many ways the sky is the limit in RISUS. Both you and the world can be anything you want them to be. It is a bit less of a "game" in one sense--defeating obstacles with clearly define powers and skills as in a video game RPG for example--and more of a "game" in another sense--collaborative story telling. I like both types. I currently play in (as a PC or GM) four ongoing high mechanics games and two low mechanics games...one of whish is the Clergy Game that uses RISUS.
Phew! That's alot. The best thing to do now would be to take a look at those RISUS rules.
Generally RISUS is considered a "less serious" game. It relies on classic (and original) tropes and cliches to built a character. One picks a number of stereotypical (or potentially stereotypical) qualities and assigns them a number of plain-old six-sided dice to reflect how good they are at these things. A character, therefore, could be a "Forgetful Inn Keeper" with four dice and then a "Vampire Hunter" for three dice, and a "Cat Lover" for two. I played an one-shot where someone put all their dice in "A Ball of Light". Then when something happens that the dice need to resolve--like combat or cooking dinner--and the player or GM chooses which trope seems to make sense.
In general it is fun. It is fast. Most importantly, these characters don't require a lot of attention outside of the game. The characters in Pathfinder 2nd edition? As a player, I can take a lot of outside game time trying to get the most out of their stats and skills. That out of game time is fun (again, fanfic backstories!) but if you don't have time for that, you should still be able to play.
So our group is finally getting back together at the end of the month. We had to take a break as my back injury and the Pandemic made it hard to find time to play. Not everyone can make it but we are going to make an attempt. I will keep you posted! Until then, here is the link to RISUS, the best RPG in the history of the world...or not...you do you...
This character I am playing, Thrush Vindolanda, is drawn from a variety of sources. One of these sources is Thomas Paine, the great pamphleteer of the American Revolution. Here is a piece I (he) wrote early in our campaign to flesh him out a bit and--of course--add some depth to the world, itself.
CONCERNING a RECENT INCIDENT that commenced PEACEABLY in
a PUBLIC PARK!
My dear FELLOW KINTARGANS!
What is happening to our fair city--nay--to all of Ravounel? Many are aware of the recent unpleasantness that occured in front of our OWN OPERA HOUSE where we have become accustomed to gather to celebrate, to discuss, and to air our differences in a PEACEFUL and WHOLESOME fashion. I will not bore you with the details of that event except to say that our OSTENSIBLE LEADER sent from the capital of this empire to nurture and grow our community instead treated its citizens in the most VILE and INSULTING manner! Then, of course, he set his dogs on those peacefully gathered. Yes, he turned the DOTTARI against those they are sworn to protect. Yes THEY are dogs! However, this small minded petty-tyrant also used ACTUAL DOGS FROM THE PITS OF HELL to disperse them! I could go on, my friends, but the blood boils hot at the thought and I know it does for you as well.
Nay, I want us to consider why the citizenry gathered in the first place. Why did our neighbors throng in protest bearing that time honored symbol of resistance, the PUSH BROOM? I need not tell you that the humble broom is there to clean streets, stages, and CORRUPTION of all kinds and that is why they were carried on this recent fair morning as we always have in times of need!
THE REASON is that THE THRUNISH UNDERLING WHO CLAIMS TO RULE THIS CITY has ATTACKED our very LIFEBLOOD!
We--here in this glorious, FREE THINKING land--rely on commerce and the arts for our livelihood and the depth of our culture. Perhaps you can pass off the BANNING of EMBROIDERY as a concern for the nobles and the wealthy, but to do so would be to deny everyone’s right--as free people--to self-expression. Maybe you DON”T LIKE TEA, though that seems unlikely. HOWEVER no true Kintargan can ABIDE the CLOSING OF OUR PORTS to trade and the SEIZING OF OUR OPERA HOUSE, itself!
While it is all fair and good that this copper-piece THRUNE who puts on airs is interested in the arts, but art is for sharing, for growing the IMAGINATION of the CITIZENRY and not merely for the consumption of Ergoian TOADIES. As for the port...what true governor would prevent the easy flow of goods and people, if not for the diversity in art and ideas such a flow brings? This THRUNE does not abide diversity...look at what he has done to our many temples. Look at what he has done to make us SLAVES! Yet that is to be expected. He is a narrow-minded dolt whose trappings conceal a limited intellect. At LEAST, though he may not be capable of ORIGINAL or MORAL thought, his advisors would understand the basics of commerce, the NECESSITY of TRADE! Does the Empress know about this? One can only imagine NOT!
These are the times that try our souls, my fellow-folk. Do not succumb to the normalization of oppression but resist, resist, resist, RESIST now in small--even secret--ways later in greater ones as time and circumstance alter the state of our affairs.
ABOVE ALL please know...you are not alone. We are better than this low state our occupiers drive us to and yes...WE WILL RISE!!!
“When all the singing falls silent,
and the rageful raging of the streets diffuses
with the dim echo of fellow-feeling,
circling ‘round and ‘round the tired state of mundanity
that resistance finds its way
whenever--whether by prince or prophet or profit
or country or creed or profit and profit--
hellhounds surge upon our body and soul
yet we are not consumed”
---A CHILD OF RAVUONEL
Most gamers I know have more characters than games. I am sharing their backstories here in case they can have a life in someone else's game.
This is Urgoan a sort-of ghost orc sent by Pharasma (a God of Death) to guide the dead warriors back to the afterlife. I am using the Pathfinder world of Golarion but another world could be substituted.
To those who receive this receipt: Greeting and Blessings in Life and Death
I am Urgoan Pharasmyn Orc of the Jade Skulls, Phalanx of Badgers, Devout Cleric of Pharasma
This is my statement upon departure from my home and temple for other lands though no land shall be found better.
Seasons have passed since I was discovered at the front enclave of Pharasma’s sanctuary. Whether I was left there by my parents or--as the Bishop claims--as a gift from the god herself as a blessing to guide the living toward their rest, I may never be certain. Suffice it to say I have never felt an absence of caring. Nor have they denied my place as an orc of the Jade Skulls. My fellow-priests presented me--along with the other novices--before the fighting pits on the assigned days. We took our boar hunt in a proper era of precociousness. Those of us who have survived to this time of young adulthood have not lacked for the scars and stories that form the bond of warriors. I have never felt different among them though my color be pale and my stature and girth be light.
In fact, for most of my life I have expected to be resident in this place; a servant of Pharasma guiding my friends in their final journey and hastening the journey of our enemies. Until one year past from this day--on the day of vision-fasting--when I received a message from the god I serve. She appeared to me as an aged orc of incomparable lineage and placed in my heart an urge to seek out the relics of the past. The dead, you see, still speak through their creations and the words and songs they have left behind.
“Why should I do this thing?” I asked “Why should I leave off my temple and my phalanx for a lonely quest away from my tribe?” “All will be clear in time” she said--again in my heart--”But why do you ask if I have need of you?” At this I was ashamed, but she took pity on me. “There is a great world out there, my child, and if you are to return to this place some day, the temple will have need of someone with your experience, skill, and knowledge. There is more to your mission than guiding people to death. After all, death is meaningless if they do not make the most of their journey to that door. You need to make the most of your journey as well. You must learn. I have seen you. You are curious about the past. All I am doing is giving you that chance to fill your curiosity in service to the great wheel.”
When I returned from the fast-time and found my family, my fellow-novices were skeptical. The Bishop, however, was not. She seemed to know what I had seen and set about my instruction, sharpening my mind and giving me the tools to understand whatever I may discover out in the ferocious world of wild beasts and hostile incivilities. I am grateful to her and to the others, who soon understood the seriousness of my mission. I will miss them. Perhaps the world will send me back again if Pharasma so desires. I leave this note in the records here, to be updated if I return and to stand witness to my faith if I do not. I am Urgoan, an orc I will not shame my people I will not shrink before my enemies I will live and die with honor And will honor the balance Of presence and absence Of death and of life I will carry my scars and tell my story And tell the new stories of the past So the light of the dead will never go out Pray for me. This is my quest
The most regular game I play in began shortly before the pandemic and is set in the Pathfinder world of Golarion. We are playing 2nd edition Pathfinder but the Adventure Path (the "Campaign" in system neutral parlance) is from 1st edition. Here is the backstory that I submitted when we began the game...
...but first some notes...
I play Thrush Vindolanda (also called Lord Flavius Aulamaxa of Vindolanda) who lives in the city of Kintargo in the nation of Chelliax. The world is easily googlable so I won't bother explaining it all now. I am just sharing to give a sample of some of the fiction writing this group gets into in case you want to up your own backstory game.
1) The original (and still actual) audience for this is five (5) people. That is my gaming group for this endeavor.
2) The backstory naturally influences the world for the other characters/players. Most of the place names are in the book but this story started to flesh out the Aulamaxa family in a non-canonical (other than at our table) way. Also, I added an island--Vindolanda--and stole it's name from a Roman fort in England near Hadrian's Wall. I needed something for my character to be "Lord" of because...
3) What I wanted to experiment with in playing this character was a) a potentially long lived person (Thrush is an Elf/Aasimar...which is a kind of angel person) who is in a context where they don't live very long and b) a person with a great deal of privilege who "for reasons" decides to become a revolutionary. The plot of the Adventure Path involves liberating Kintargo and its environs from the evil Chellish (or Chellaxian) Empire it belongs to. Fun!
Anyway, it is an organic start to an organic and collaborative game. I have a ton of this "fanfic" so no doubt I will post more...
One sure thing about being an Aulamaxa is the near certainty of your violent death. It comes from being a Chellish noble. It comes from being not entirely (or less than?) human in a world dominated by human beings. It merely comes from living in Chelliax which is, after all, a beautiful shithole.
All my early years I tried to get away. Mostly that flight was in my mind. I wanted to escape into a dream world where people were good and just. Sometimes it worked. My friends and I could while away weeks camping on Vindolanda and the other islands off Vyre. After all, our adults were busy scheming and climbing (or crawling) their way toward the scraps of power dropped from the table of greater families that lived far from Kintargo.
The only problem was that we couldn’t live on these islands forever, so we would return to the cities prepared for the impending inevitability of our deaths. I now know this is a weird way to be a kid.
Over time my friends and playmates drifted away--most of them. Some of them succumbed to their ambitions. Others found their way out of this accursed nation through subterfuge or destruction. Most of us tried to make do with managing our expectations against our obligations. It was in this tension that my own life began to change. I had different expectations than the ones presented to me. Many of my so-called obligations disgusted me.
As I grew older and graduated from my dear Alabaster Academy, I found myself following my parents to the capital of the “empire,” Egorian. My parents were--and possibly still are--actors and entertainers in that dark place. The family seat is an opera house where they plied their trade while living the lives of courtiers. I tried to live that life as well. Being more studious than they, I turned to poetry and story, but there is still a place for that on the stage and I filled it. I also appeared at court, careful not to appear too bright or clever. For all the world I wanted them to think I was as vacuous as the other country-squires, fond of mild flirtation and less-mild drink. After all, I did not--and do not--want to die.
Here is the thing, I am a follower of Shelyn and have found refuge in her temples. My parents did not (or do not, I don’t particularly care if they are alive or dead) feel that way. While their profession was artistic, their real interest was power of the secular, political kind. In Chelliax, that power comes from Asmodeus. My friends--many but not all--slipped easily into the worship of him. My cousins both Aulamaxas and others (our family tree is complicated) also found solace and support there. I was isolated in Egorian and in Egorian isolation can mean your demise...or worse.
I remember when my parents first suspected that I was not what I seemed--a stupid young man who poorly played the Chellish noble’s game. They called me in to their study. They threatened me--again--with a painful death unless I would conform to their wishes both theological and professional. They may have been frightened for my future. Mostly, though, they were frightened for theirs. Of course...they were also embarrassed. How could they not be? They wanted so much more--or less--than what creating beauty could bring them.
As they spoke and I returned their words, they became even more angry. I tried reason. Sheyln forgive me, I even tried lies. They only became more angry, declaring I was not their son. They had their guards beat some “sense” into me and sent me back to my quarters, bloodied and semi-conscious.
Do you know what? I didn’t mind being disowned. They did not raise me. They were too busy, too frivolous, too self-involved to care what happened to me or the rest of the family so, upon their rejection, I suddenly felt free. I was free to leave this place I was trapped in and go back, back to my home and to those who had, in fact, cared for me in their own Chellish way. I would return to the Baroness and the Baron and make my way in Kintargo, a place deemed too backward for so many of my kin though it remains the family seat.
Once I could move around with relatively little pain, I hatched my plan. I had learned a few things at the Academy and would put them to use in the weeks and months to come. As to my future, I feigned resigned conformity in public. Either I succeeded in lulling their suspicions or they just didn’t care and I was dead to them. Slowly, however, I formed my team. I would not go alone.
First, I confided in Reynia, the house tutor. She had come south for her own reasons but I knew her to be a devotee of Shelyn and a trustworthy support who kept me from falling into the ocean when I was a child. Then we went to my young cousin. I will call him “Shrike” here for he is now with the Knights of Ozem and does not need the taint of his family history. He was immature then, but a good boy. He deserved to be saved from the corruption of our house.
Then, on the day before we were to leave and put Egorian and our family behind us, I walked boldly into the armory, claiming I was preparing for an extended hunting trip the next day. I collected the usual bows and hunting knives, but somehow managed to walk away with something else. I would call it a “birthright” bestowed by my title but I know others might find that silly. I took away the “Sword of Vindolanda” that I had found in that ruin as a child.
The sword was taken from me for safekeeping, probably never to be returned. I am well aware that my title was meant to belittle me, after all. They thought they had hidden the sword away but, of course, I kept track of it all those years. I am the Lord Vindolanda. The sword is mine and now I carry it with me.
We did not wait for the dawn. Claiming that it would take half a day to get out of the city we saddled our horses and road away south along the river in the direction of Westcrown. We made no secret of who we were, just two young nobles and their slightly older keeper out on an adventure, but some days later as we reached the outskirts of the old capital, we let our horses go and booked the first of a number of caravan passages north and west toward home. We were in Belde before anyone appears to have missed us.
Long story short, once the money started to run low, we walked when we could and took on odd jobs or put on shows in the villages we found on the way. Our years “adventuring” on the islands when we were young gave a slight leg up, but mostly it was pity, I think, from the people we met--along with the ludicrous nature of our travel that was so different from what any normal person could imagine would be the lifestyle of the nobility--that kept us alive.
Still, a year or so after our departure, we returned to the Baroness in Kintargo, once again under the cover of darkness. We walked up to the front door, so thin and dirty it took Chelton, the head butler a moment to recognize us though we had known him all our lives! That is when we learned that the Baron had died, but the Baroness welcomed us home. It may have been the most risky thing she has ever done, but I am grateful. Also, she is eminently pragmatic. She is playing a long game both inside the family and out. Somehow we all fit into that plan, I am sure. It wasn’t just love that moved her to take these three self-designated orphans in. We are Chellish nobles, though, so we take comfort in her gift of manipulation rather than umbrage at being “used”. We have a place and station again, after all.
Reynia became the Baroness’s trusted advisor. As I mentioned earlier, Shrike is a very junior knight now. And me? It all depends on where you are sitting at any given moment...right? I continue to find my way in Kintargo, my home that I love.
Sorry I haven't posted lately. I have been failing to game.
So my Paranormal Cowpunch game is pretty much dead. That is how it goes sometimes. My party of two got bored. One "Prospector Pete" turned murder hobo in what is actually a fairly atmospheric game. This is, of course, age appropriate, at least for the player. The other character "Ripley" was doing just fine except her player really was just into it to be nice. That's right. My wife is not a game nerd. In the end she could barely last for 45 minutes before checking her phone or leaving to do the dishes. I still love them but...the game is dead.
This happens to us all doesn't it? I have been having games end prematurely for about 35 years. Back in the day I would try to harass my teenage friends back to the table. sometimes it worked. Mostly it did not. When it did work the game would usually end in tears and recrimination. Over the years I have learned to surrender.
How do you survive? Well, there are livestreams. I sometimes use them to get some game on in the interim, I will list some at the end of this post. There are also other games if you can manage it. Don't be afraid to play with strangers. They won't be strangers for long...just strange. ;-)
Anyway, don't weep for me. I got picked up as a player in a Pathfinder 2e game--a fairly regular one--and I am attempting to reinvigorate my old RISUS game with clergy colleagues. That should be fun too. Both of them are online, which continues to be a big trend, particularly for the middle aged and older player.. I will post on both of these games. I am GameMastering the RISUS game with is a low-mechanics system that leaves things wide open for RP. It is goofy in a good way. The Pathfinder system is one that I have missed playing and the new system is super-cool, both crunchy and elegant.
Anyway, that is what is going on. I have stuff to game and, of course, normal work as well!
Here are a few of the livestreams I mentioned earlier. I didn't leave links because of the many ways to experience them. I suggest googling and then deciding on your platform (like podcasts, Twitch, or Youtube).
Critical Role: This is a fairly theatrical game that is also probably the most popular. The players are all professional voice actors and it shows. I like it but it also can be super-corny and they ignore many many rules for the sake of the story.
Glass Cannon: This game is more rules oriented--it is a Pathfinder game and they also play Pathfinder's Sci-Fi rules..."StarFinder--they also play with an eye to entertainment and are sometimes inappropriate for some listeners. Think late-night live standup and you will get the vibe as far as one-liners are concerned.
Acquisitions Incorporated/"C" Team: These folks are technically the "in house" game for Penny Arcade, the people who bring us the PAX conventions. There are a number of interconnected games that vary in seriousness.
Oblivion Oath: This is the house game of Paizo, who makes Pathfinder. If you want to actually learn how to play Pathfinder, this is the way to go.
That is enough for now. There are tons more but, hey, you are just waiting until you find a game...right?
I mentioned when I began this section that I used to have a D&D group at church and another at a progressive learning center where my son went to high school. During that time I would make a "holiday special" one shot to be played over break. In the spirit of the season, I thought I would share it's founding myth.
A couple of things are worth mentioning. This holiday is essentially a regional one affiliated with local legend more than a specific faith. There are two gods (or "gods" that are manifestations of a greater power) whose followers exist in the same region. While religion is sometimes used by one nation to attempt to assert control over other nations, it is generally understood by the common self-aware being that the true culprit in these conflicts is money and power rather than theology.
Anyway, I hope you like it and that it gives you ideas. It is just one take on the winter festival and the one-shot notes might make an appearance here before Advent is over. It doesn't look like I will have a chance to use it again for a while...
When Aaron Rhymer Stopped the Sun
The single most important holiday in the Wilds is the 9 day festival known as the “Season of the Sun” Held during the shortest days of the year, it commemorates the ancient legend of the poet/wizard Aaron Rhymer. Rhymer is a character that the people of the Wilds brought with them in the migration north, so he is equally important in both Karranite and Sandozian Folklore. While it is banned as heresy in the City of Sandoz, nearly every other community, regardless of their dominant faith tradition, holds some sort of celebration. Karran’s Arc and Free Port are particularly famous for their festivals. Many people dream of making the sometimes-arduous journey to be on one of these places for the holiday.
The Tale of Arcan and Rostaphar
The story is usually told as a poem, which is recited every night during the festival. It follows the travails of two young, star-crossed lovers named Alcan and Rostaphar who lived in a city “far far away” and a “long time ago”. Their parents were rivals in everything. They challenged each other in business and they strove for control of the town from the safety of their urban fortresses. To escape their parents, Alcan and Rostaphar would sneak out and meet in a private walled garden near an area that was considered “neutral territory” by the various factions. Nonetheless their parents caught wind of the situation and--their mutual hatred strangely bringing them together--they made a pact with each other that if their child was not home by dusk each day, they would kill that child and send the body to the other family as proof that the deed was done.
The couple was naturally frightened by this prospect so they agreed to meet one more time in the garden. However, they got so into their conversation that they lost track of time and realized that they wouldn’t make it home before dusk. This is where Aaron the Rhymer comes in.
The garden--as it turned out--was owned by Rhymer. Hearing the cries of dismay from his seat at the window of his second-floor study, Aaron rushed down to the garden to reassure the couple. He promised to stop the sun in the sky long enough for them to make it safely home. Of course, the couple returns the next night and the next so, predictably, Aaron find himself stopping the sun a little later every night as Alcan and Rostaphar squeeze out every moment they can with each other.
As time goes on, people in the town notice. The seasons seem to be moving in reverse! Astrologers start to worry, farmers rush to protect their crops, animals wake up from their hibernation. This, of course, could not be tolerated for long and Aaron found himself in an awkward situation. So he devised a plan.
He invited the parents of the couple over to dinner and arranged for them to find Alcon and Rostaphar in the garden. At that point, just as the parents were preparing to tear the youngsters asunder, Aaron the Rhymer reveals that it is, in fact, he who has stopped the sun and threatens to keep things that way if any harm befalls the couple. Facing that fearful prospect the parents realized that they were bested and imploded with rage.* The couple got married and unified the town, ushering a century of prosperity and peace.
The traditions vary depending on the area. However some remain standard throughout the Wilds. People decorate their houses with things found in nature, for example. In addition there are wandering bands of musicians and quite a bit of eating and drinking after dark (and therefore after fast-time, see below).
There is also a cycle of feasting and fasting. On the first day there is a great feast lasting well into the night. On the next 7 days the people fast during the day and eat after dark. It has been noted that the winter solstice is a rather convenient time for such a fast, but it does mean that almost everyone abides by it. During these days there is a cycle of staying up as late as possible and then sleeping in. On the final night the rhythm shifts again and there is a feast that begins at noon.
As previously mentioned, the entire (5-hour) epic poem is recited every day of the festival, beginning in the afternoon and ending well after dark, at whatever the largest public gathering place is in the area. In Karran’s Arc there are 9 long-time “houses” of citizens that sponsor a reading on their given day. Each has a special uniform and the competition to provide surrounding entertainment is stiff. Since food and drink are not allowed until dark, each house will bring their best beverages in barrels and perform the poem on top of them, using song and dance for interpretation. Once it is too dark to see the barrels are tapped, food is distributed, and the stage gets noticeably smaller.
In Free Port there are multiple readings and by tradition anyone passing by can be dragooned to continue the recitation (sponsored in this case directly by the guilds) . Again, kegs and crates of free food and drink are very much in evidence in an effort to attract the populace. For this reason--in every municipality--the Brewers Guild loves the Recitation and strives to cater it to the best of their abilities.
The tradition among the populace is to find creative ways to skip the first few hours, but most people--at least in Karran’s Arc and Free Port--can recite parts of the entire poem from memory.
The wealthy will sometime hold private recitations as well. It is a big deal to be invited to one, even though they can be deathly boring.
Entreating the Sun:
At dusk on the last night the entire community (or family, it varies) gathers at a high point and an elder recites the words that end the poem. “Love has stopped the Sun and love will make it move again”. If the sun stops and night is delayed the party continues. If it doesn’t stop and night comes, then the kids go to bed.
In recent memory the sun has just kept moving as it always has. There are legends (perpetuated by eccentric drunk old uncles) that the sun did stop once in recent memory and the so-called “shortest day” was an hour longer. No one believes them.
*Tradition says that when they parents imploded they did not die, but instead turned into Scantlings or “Mountain Trolls” which are not real trolls at all but instead resemble hideous misshapen gargoyles and are accustomed to living in cold dark places, like caves and sewers.
Well that is it for now. I may post more from this world as I really liked it and it would be nice to know that some of it lives in the ether. By the way, if you are interested in the learning center I talked about, here is a very non-D&D sermon I gave a year or two ago...
So it happened! We had session 1 of Paranormal Cowpunch. The brief synopsis is as follows...
The intrepid crew (Prospector Billy and Ripley) left El Dorado City and headed out for El Dorado County. They traveled as part of the crew for a regular stagecoach, staying a boarding houses and ranches on their way out of civilization. During that time they picked up some rumors. Turns out there is a strange mist that descends from time to time even though the climate doesn't sustain that much moisture. Also, some people noted seeing a stranger who seemed to smell faintly of salt water and fish, which is also strange since there is no ocean nearby. Some of the ranches appear to be closing as well for unclear reasons. The party is heading out to spend the season at the Lazy J Ranch outside of Gordon. People expressed interest and relief to learn that its proprietor, Dame Edna, is doing well after her husband dies a couple years back.
Anyway, they head out on the last leg of the journey. Their stagecoach if full. Among their companions are the driver, 15 year-old Reginald Weems, and two cowpunchers named Alice Rollinger and Lester Jenkins. There are also a number of more gentle passengers, including a charming gambler, an older couple, and two women who never quite got as fleshed out. They were two days out of Burned Bush Wells and then an indeterminate distance to Gordon. Some time in the afternoon they, too, experienced the mist and then found themselves in a running battle with red-eyed Dire Wolves. They and their companions made a break for a hill to take a stand there. Chaos ensues, Prospector Billy and Alice both get mauled but manage to hang on. Reginald also gets bitten but not nearly as badly. Ripley and Lester patch them up and--with Reginald bandaged and driving, make for the Cross Y Ranch where Alice works.
Before they leave , a number of them see a figure in the mist that looks humanid but seems to be made entirely out of writhing snakes. In their delirium after being bitten, Billy and Alice both have visions of this figure as well.
So this was the first actual battle that the party encountered. Last session we tested the archetype mechanic and the "Hero Dice" but this was the first time using the old Boot Hill mechanics and the result was...mixed. Prospector Billy is played by a teen who became bored with the amount of rolls necessary. I mentioned in an earlier post but there are three rolls; one to hit, one for damage location, and one for damage. All of these use percentile dice (2d10 with one representing the "10's" place to generate a range of 1-100). The game these days move faster but that may improve with some practice. However, the location roll really helped with the storytelling. I liked that there was an actual location for me to work with that the other players could also recognize as having a generally agreed upon in-game effect.
Otherwise everything move right along. Our sessions, however are much shorter than what is considered conventional for most people...about 75 minutes. The reasons are solid. We play on Wednesday night. We have school and work the next day. Also, attention spans are short at times. I have seen one livestream that is about this length--Oblivion Oath on Paizo--I have been impressed by how much they get done in a short amount of time. would it be fun to play longer? I am sure I would like it, but I know to stop when I see the players fading a bit.
Anyway, that is all. Next week we should have two more players. That should be fun...
Perhaps not surprisingly, I am very interested in clerics. I am a clergyperson in real life, serving a small congregation affiliated with two progressive denominations. In some sense, then, I, too, am a cleric! However, my interest in the character class goes all the way back to the B/X (Basic/Expert) Dungeons and Dragons that I played in the '80's. That was WAY before I did anything churchy. If you wanted your PC to live, a cleric was a nice choice. Playing a cleric I had solid armor and weapons, reasonable hit points and (at second level) spells to get those hit points back. I was attracted to the class because of the mechanics. The whole religion thing came later.
In a sense that "original" cleric stayed with us. It is a martial archetype, a sort of pre-paladin off to the crusades. However, as the game developed I--and a ton of other people--found that archetype limiting. After all, when we look at today's religious landscape there are all kinds of religious leaders. There are sequestered monks, scholarly rabbis, and dynamic, entertaining pulpiteers just to name a few. Then, when one adds in the fact that many--probably most--traditional fantasy settings are polytheistic, the range of clerics increases. When we look at the vast array of religious experience--both real and imagined--that strangely medieval "high church' knight of the early years knocking out heathens starts to make the least sense of all.
Now, I have played a variety of clerics of the years. Also, for our church youth group game (no "Satanic Panic" here) I tried to develop an order of clergy loosely based on my own tradition (Congregationalism). What I ended up with was an order of druids and bards who all run taverns and debate the existence of their deity who--strangely enough--occasionally drops in for drinks in the guise of an anthropomorphic lizard.--Sometimes the ministry feels like that.
Thanks to these experiences, I have decided to focus on two big challenges when roleplaying a religious leader. However, before we get to these challenges it is worth mentioning an overarching dynamic. Certain character classes in games like D&D or Pathfinder, for example, have clear real-world analogies. For RP purposes you can be (or know) a cleric, a bard, or any number of rogues. One could make a real-world argument for fighters and rangers as well. However, none of us actually knows a wizard or warlock or monk. They have fantasy hard-wired in. That said, I do believe that RP'ing clerics presents another special hurdle or asset, depending on how one looks at it. So on to the challenges...
The first of these problems comes from our own relationship with religion and our general lack of understanding about how it works. Because we don't know that much we bring our own biases into the game. This is not a shocker. Of course we do. However, it is limiting. If we do not know a fair sample of religious professionals (regardless of their religion) how can we make a fair assessment of our options? Certainly not by watching movies. More often than not--if there is a religious figure in a film at all--that person is a shorthand stand-in for the judgmental establishment. So many of the clerics I know in real life are non-judgmental and decidedly counter-cultural. I am not saying that hideous clergy don't exist--I know a lot of those folks too! However, It is worth remembering that Fred Rogers was also a minister..
Also, when we think of religion we often exclude the internal experience of our own naturally agnostic selves. This is too bad. After all what we see imperfectly outside ourselves should not be prioritized over our own thoughts and reflections. From a psychological or sociological perspective, we all have religious tendencies because we all want to make sense of the world we live in. This fact includes atheists. I actually know a large number of atheist clergy and they are some of the most religious people I have encountered. They are faithful to their world view and their beliefs.
Religions can be very toxic or they can be a blessing. Often one tradition can be both. Also, they can be organized or disorganized. Life is messy, after all. In its "purest" sense, though, faith isn't something you have permanently and all the time. It is an ideal that can be "lived into" even as we fall short. It is a path leading to a dimly conceived goal. It is an adventure of the mid and heart, which makes real-world--or RPG world-- adventures possible.
When we think of RP'ing a cleric, though, we often narrow our scope. even though that crusader image is increasingly a thing of the past, we often start with the idea that our character possesses theological certainty. Paladins have this problem as well. We think that they never have doubts or that they will want to "convert" everyone to their way of thinking (more about that in a minute). I have been a minister for 20 years and I have to tell you that I have doubts every single day. I also have never tried to "convert" anyone. Your clerics (and paladins) can be a hot spiritual mess sometimes while still being good people and being faithful to whatever divine entity they serve.
This brings us to the second problem. We bring our understanding of clerics into a world that is fundamentally different from that of our own. There is a wide variety of worlds that we game in. However, the default--certainly in the popular worlds put out by popular companies--is to take a polytheistic system of faith and put it into a Western European setting without making making all that many adjustments. In a lot of settings (like the one for my youth group that I mentioned earlier). The gods just wander around, dropping in on their followers. In others there is no clear religious system and instead a smattering of cults. The challenge for our brains is to separate these different systems from the one we are familiar with. It is a hard thing to do.
Naturally we look at these worlds through our own lens and can forget to make adjustments. In a world with tiny cults, for example, conversion makes total sense. In a world like ours--with a few large "world religions"--it makes less sense. In both of those cases what religion you identify as frequently has massive cultural implications. Think of all the people who don't go to church but do celebrate Christmas and Easter! A smaller cult would probably have even more intense cultural markers to separate themselves from others.
In a polytheistic world with "teams" of gods, conversion doesn't make much sense at all because someone else's deity might be besties with yours! Also, the existence of gods is not really questioned. They are right there...at the other end of the bar. Cultural markers will be different too and while it may not take a lot of thought it does take some. There might be some clues in Hindu practices if your world is one of these.
OK, I am running out of steam but there is so much more to say! Every once in a while I will come back to the topic of religion in world-building and roleplaying. I would like to talk about building realistic church or temple governance structures for fantasy worlds, for example. One can have a completely fantastic game without thinking about these things but if you want to think about them, they will enrich your world.
Bonus link of the Week:
Here is a sermon I gave a couple weeks ago about the deep welcome I have found in nerd culture over the years: NERDS!
A few years ago my intern and I began a D&D game for our church youth group. I wanted to get back into Tabletop Roleplaying games that I had played extensively as a kid and then off and on (eventually with my own kids) over the years. Anyway, fast-forward to now, I am gaming a lot and have become interested in the spiritual demensions of the game as well as it's ability to spark the imagination about this world and other worlds.