Tuesday, November 24, 2009

World Building Part 4

My project continues...


There is one centrally important reality about humanity in Scripture — God made humanity in His image and likeness (Gen 1:26-7). As such, humanity has a special role within creation — we are God's representatives to creation and we represent creation to God. This is why when Adam and Eve fell, they took the rest of creation with them.

Thus the Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than all the wild animals of the earth. On your breast and belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for His heel.

This special role within creation still exists despite the fall. God has set up humanity in an adversarial role against the Adversary himself. He has given us the power to lift creation up to God — away from nothing and into life. As the personification of that nothing, the devil and his minions will try to lead us to pull creation back towards nothing. Since we have been endowed with the image and likeness of God, who is ultimately free, we have the freedom to choose which path we will follow.

When creating a fantasy RPG where their are a plethora of fantasy races from elves and dwarves to goblins and lizardmen, there arises a conundrum: what, exactly, is "humanity?" Or, more precisely, who is endowed with the image and likeness of God?

This can be handled in a number of different ways:

  1. All fantasy races are not human and play, to one degree or another, an adversarial role towards humanity. In terms of an RPG, this works better in a Sword & Sorcery-type world where players are going to have exclusively human characters.
  2. All fantasy races are human. The various differences in races have come about because of some expression of magic. In a world where sin can manifest itself physically, an orc represents humanity consumed by hate and violence. Half-breeds are easily explained in this manner. Worlds using this model allow players to have characters from a wide variety of fantasy races.
  3. All fantasy races represent the children born of the Nephilim and human women. This choice falls somewhere in between option 1 and option 2. In this setup, fantasy races all have a dark beginning and are more apt to side with their demonic origins than a normal human. As such, players would be free to play the exceptions — those that embrace their human origins as opposed to their demonic one. To a greater or lesser degree, these races would face distrust and prejudice from their human neighbors.

Each one of these choices has consequences in terms of moral dilemmas that will face players. Option 1 allows more freedom for players to slash their way through a bunch of orcs with little or no qualms — they are physical expressions of evil that need to be eradicated. Option 2 muddies the water quite a bit. Killing an orc is the equivalent of murdering a human being. Option 3 similarly muddies the water; however, this can be tempered by how one sees the choice of following the demonic or human path for fantasy races. If this choice is ongoing, than killing an orc is murder. If following the demonic path represents a choice where there is no going back, killing the orc is closer to option 1.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of flexibility in how to represent humanity in a fantasy setting — none of which requires a polytheistic world view.


  1. One comment that stuck with me during catechism was the Bible was about the relationship between God and Man not a taxonomy of God's creation and everything in it. This came about during a discussion of Angels and why the Bible doesn't have a lot of details about them.

    It is interesting to speculate what God intentions are if sentient creatures other than man are discovered. The current V series is exploring this a bit.

    The Spawn of the Nephilim is interesting. Especially the tension between the human and the demonic you mentioned.

    My own take is rather more mundane in that the other races are a product of magical genetic engineering by demons. So while different now they are still considered as a part of the race of man under God's plan for the Wilderlands.

  2. Rob,

    It is interesting to speculate what God intentions are if sentient creatures other than man are discovered.

    The important issue for me is whether or not they are created in the image and likeness — are they free beings capable of rendering thanks to God, or are they driven to act the way they do by some other force, genetic or otherwise. Regardless, any life that exists out there is part of God's creation.

    My own take is rather more mundane in that the other races are a product of magical genetic engineering by demons.

    This isn't so far away from the Spawn of the Nephilim concept. You've just chosen a slightly different methodology — magical engineering. Again, you've proved how flexible this whole concept of "humanity" can be in a fantasy setting. Thanks.

  3. Could not a DM just as easily posit a fourth Scripture-induced series of possibilities for non-human races?

    Each such people might be a separate creation, still "man" in the sense of being made in God's image and likeness, but in a different location along the evolution (or devolution) of their relationship with Him.

    Perhaps, for example (and I'm casting my net o'er a pretty darned wide area, here), elves have not yet fallen from his grace (well, not precisely; see below); dwarves have done so, but are in their "Obey the Law and be right with The Smith," stage; orcs have for the most part as a group (with, no doubt, individual exceptions) fallen even further into sin than humans, having rejected God more whole-heartedly and with less regret than man.

    Their reactions to Truth as revealed in Christ might thus be different:

    Elves accept such as a matter of course, and their state of being leaves them, not unmoved by, but instead so serenely accepting of, Him (as if He were, say, common sense), that humans find them infuriatingly self-assured. Those elves who have fallen, such as the drow, are so steeped in evil (and considering their skin tone, I must add pun intended) they seem essentially irredeemable in the eyes of humans—almost diabolical/demoniacal in their rejection/reflection of Light.

    Dwarves are not yet prepared for the radical solution of Christ, and instead try ever more determinedly to cling to their version of the Law, not realizing that such is a stratagem doomed to eventual failure (though God sees their struggles differently than He does those of humans, as they're elsewhere on the path back to Him). They are a people of iron: Hard, but brittle ... and not yet realizing that the fire of Christ will sear some away, and turn others into steel.

    Orcs and other humanoids have embraced their fall with a sensual enthusiasm, but are not so refined in their decision as the drow. They're brutish and mean, like wild dogs or wolves ... but such creatures given Love often become hounds of great strength and worth.

    Of course, it's 4:50 a.m. here, and perhaps I'm just rambling.

    I'd enjoy your reaction if you're inclined to respond.

    1. So, in essence, what you are proposing is to extend the analog beyond just Christ and Church:

      Elves = Angels (with a physical form)
      Drow = Fallen Angels who followed Lucifer (which introduces an interesting spin on Loth — was the serpent in the garden a spider or is Loth now a serpent-like being?)
      Dwarves = the Jews
      Orcs, etc. = pagan Rome

      This is not only a world I would play in, but would be fun to play with...there are several very interesting implications from this analog. How populous are humans vs. the other races? Are orcs, etc. the dominate race? How often do elves interfere in the affairs of others?

      However, in the schema that I propose above, this squarely falls under number 2, where (with the exception of drow) there is a moral dilemma over killing non-humans.

    2. I think we may be running afoul of that Byzantine-Roman difference of perspective on the just war and necessary violence—whether the commandment reads, "Thou shalt not kill" or "Thou shalt not murder," which is, of course, a matter of proper translation you and I shan't settle here. :-)

      I, too, had noticed the easy association of elves with angels, but, of course, the latter are creatures of spirit with perfect will, whilst one with material, mortal form would possess a soul. I do not propose that elves have made a free and irrevocable choice as have the angels (at least according to Catholic theology, which I assume when discussing such matters; my apologies if such is problematic), but instead that their fall did not occur in such a fashion as to taint the entirety of the race, but rather at a later point in their development, allowing both for elves who are little less, in some fashion, than angels themselves ... and others who retain in large measure their arguably greater gifts than humanity, now corrupted into something grotesque and yet still lovely. (We’d also have to assume, though, that dwarves and orcs fell in similar fashion to humans, even as elves didn’t, at least not en masse.)

      As some say when agreeing to disagree (if indeed we've reached that point): "Your board, your wave." ;-)

    3. Yes, Orthodoxy never developed a Just War theology. All war is sinful, period. The closest we get is St. Basil, who advises those who are called to war in defense of the empire to go to war; however, even if one never kills an enemy soldier, one must repent as if one did.