Of all of these letters, the Orthodox Church reads a pericope from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. In it, he highlights the various ways that he has suffered for Christ:
Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.Though I do not even pretend to see these things in the same ballpark, I am reminded of the various and sundry ways that RPG players have shared our stories of the trials, tribulations and even deaths of our characters from all of the campaigns we have played through the years. I and others have often mused about the lethality of older editions of D&D (as well as a number of games that the OSR has spawned).
One might be tempted to ask, therefore, why would one even want to play a game in which character death seems almost inevitable? To answer that question, let me share with you the musings of St. John Chrysostom on the very pericope the Orthodox Church reads today:
For this is the brilliant victory, this is the Church’s trophy, thus is the Devil overthrown when we suffer injury. For when we suffer, he is taken captive; and himself suffers harm, when he would fain inflict it on us. And this happened in Paul’s case also; and the more he plied him with perils, the more was he defeated.While most spectacularly understood in context of the lives of the apostles (who all, with the exception of St. John the Evangalist, were martyred), this quote of St. John Chrysostom does speak to one of the reasons why RPGs are so appealing — especially to me and especially the older editions of D&D and their clones.
Whether a metaphor for (Christian) Civilization vs. the (Demonic) Wilderness or humanity vs. death, RPGs allow us to stand in defiance of our own inevitable death. We get to die a thousand deaths, struggling to survive against all odds and have fun doing it.
To my mind, the reason that it is so much fun, despite the ever-present possibility that my character will come to some grisly end deep in the darkest part of the Wilderness or Underworld, is that the criteria of victory has nothing to do with anyone but we who play the game.
In the same way that Christ’s victory (His crucifixion) seems like foolishness to the world, what constitutes victory in an RPG is not written into any game mechanic, rule or even expectation. Victory is simply defined by how I, or anyone one who plays the game, wants to define victory. And sometimes, that even means a gloriously brutal death somewhere deep in the Wilderness or Underground.