Sunday, April 16, 2023

Christ is Risen!

Foreseeing this, Isaiah proclaimed: "Hades," he said, "was angered when he met You below." It was angered because it was abolished. It was angered because it was mocked. It was angered because it was slain. It was angered because it was shackled. It received a body and encountered God. It took earth and came face to face with heaven. It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see. Death, where is your sting? — The Catechetical Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom

Friday, April 7, 2023

On Gods and RPGs

A reader of this blog recently asked me to comment on their favorite TTRPG, Fading Suns, which they partly describe as follows:
…it's base premise is that the major religion is a mix of real world ones, predominantly Christianity, but with lots of Islam, Buddism and so forth. There are lots of theological disputes within the system, there's "magic" that "works", when you're praying to a game version of God (Pancreator, a semi-gnostic syncretic deity). Lots of saints and rituals resembling the Church's rituals and so forth.
The question here is whether or not it is okay, from a strictly Christian POV, to allow for magic to be awarded to followers of, for lack of a better word, “pagan” gods?

First, we must clear up something. Neither Orthodox Christianity or Scripture posit strict monotheism, as understood by most moderns, Jews, and Muslims. Take for example this prayer from the Presanctified Liturgy and the Vespers service:

Compassionate and merciful, longsuffering and very merciful Lord, hear our prayer and attend to the voice of our supplication. Give us a favorable sign. Guide us in Your path that we may walk in Your truth. Gladden our hearts that we may fear Your holy name, for You are great and work wonders. Only You are God, O Lord, and there is none like You among the gods. You are great in mercy and gracious in strength and in aiding, exhorting, and saving all those who place their hope in Your holy name. [My emphasis]
When I first encountered this prayer, I was a bit scandalized because it explicitly acknowledges the existence of other gods(!); however, this prayer merely reflects a viewpoint expressed by Scripture. Take Psalm 82:
God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I say, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.” Arise, O God, judge the earth; for to thee belong all the nations! [My emphasis] 
In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT used by the ancient Church), the “divine council” from the first verse is συναγωγή θεών. That first word is a root word of Synagogue and the second is a declension of ο θέος — God. There is no escaping the idea of other gods or their existence.

The polemic presented here in Psalm 82 is that Yahweh — the Most High God — is the creator of all things, including these other gods. This is made clear by the line, “you shall die like men.” Within the context of the Fall, everything that has a beginning also has an end. These gods were originally created to watch over and protect the various nations, but turned against their cretor and accepted worship from those very same nations.

It is important to remember that within the context of a Fantasy or Science Fantasy world, whatever magic system exists is part of creation and something God made. Like all things given by God, this magic system can be used as God intended or used in a manner that does not. In Scripture, we see this happen with technology.

The Book of Genesis presents us with two Civilization builders: Cain and Noah. As the first city-builder, Cain uses technology to build a society of personal pleasure, power, and sin. This civilization is so evil that God deems it unsalvagable and calls forth the Flood in order to start over. Noah is the means by which this happens. He uses technology in obedience to God. Through this use of technology, humanity and through humanity all of creation, gets to participate in a salvation event.

Thus, if I were to play a TTRPG where various gods grant magic to their followers I would portray it as the gods of Scripture giving out technology to Cain’s civilization. While it might temporarily give a character influence and power, it ultimately will lead to destruction. In contrast, that same magic used in context of the Most High God and in obedience to Him and His Church can be salvific.

One of the reasons I like 0e and B/X is that the mechanic of arcane vs divine magic make this distinction very easy to emulate and communicate in game play. I myself have never read anything about the Fading Suns game world or mechanics, so I don’t have any explicit advice about how to implement these ideas mechanically or mythically within that setting or rules; however, Scripture can help here, too:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. — Matthew 16:18
No matter what situation a TTRPG places humanity or what alternate history it proposes, it is very easy to insert the Most High God as creator of all things. In a scifi or future fantasy setting, the Church survives somewhere, however big or small. As long as I present this knowledge and this reality in some way shape or form, the story that emerges from play is an exploration of the consequences of our relationship (or lack thereof) with the Most High God.

If you are interested, this is a subject I have written many times about. You can find several here.