So, this is in response (in some ways) to Gregory’s post Gods, Demigods, & Heroes – itself a response to a couple of recent things he’d read and seen. Myself, I was underwhelmed by Monte Cook’s presentation – it seemed like a rehash of very basic theology from an anthropological standpoint. Now, as a bit of a disclosure on my part – I was raised in a utterly non-religious household, have studied and practiced various forms of paganism and the occult since my early teens, joined the Unitarian-Universalist church (and was the youngest member of my congregation to, as a teenager, take the “Build Your Own Theology” adult religious education course offered) and quite seriously contemplated becoming a minister for a number of years. I’ve even contributed a forward to a book about pagan shamanistic practice (no, I’m not saying which one here). I do have and practice a deeply spiritual life, but not one that I generally talk about here because it isn’t the focus of the blog.
Playing RPG’s for me was a galvanizing process to study history, religion, anthropology, occultism and all sorts of related issues. One of my fondest memories I being told at the Catholic university I did my B.A. at that I was one of the only people they had seen who probably could have tested out of the mandatory “western civ” classes they had with a focus on Catholic history – including the emphasis on Church history and related theological matters.
I tend to look at all of my gaming in terms of “big questions” – my science fiction game is/was about “what does it mean to be human?” and for my fantasy game I always tended to think of it in terms of a morality play, “what is the nature of evil?” I always found a nominal AD&D universe an excellent model for this (in much the same way as I expect Tolkien and Lewis did – both theologically minded writers) – there is clear “good” and “evil” and things can have a inherently evil nature or alternately natural valence for evil that is ultimately different from what modern Christian theology tends to talk about (aside from some fundamentalist sects). That’s before you add in something like Lovecraftian Outer Gods or Great Old Ones, where are manifestly not “evil” by the author’s definition merely the ultimate “Other”. This issue is inherent within the boundaries of whatever version of Gygaxian Naturalism your game world is run.
So religion in RPG’s, in D&D in specific, has to contend with both ontological as well as epistemological evil, and evil as praxis – all within a setting that echoes the mythopoetic origins of the players understanding of good and evil. It’s a rich setting that can force a player and DM to confront the social biases inherent in cultural constructions of morality and ethics. I think that it is the job of the DM to do this justice if that is the sort of game they want to run and that their players are ok playing in – most players probably don’t care or won’t notice depending on how the DM chooses to go about doing this.