Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fear and Trembling and Dungeons

I had an epiphany recently.  Let's say you're kicking off a new game (a heroic age, bronze age campaign).  When laying out the gods and the cosmology, do you choose option A or option B?

Option A:
The gods live up on Mt Olympus.  You go to Hades when you die, but good folks can go to the Elysian Fields.  The earth was created by Gaea out of chaos.

Option B:
Your people believe the gods live up on Mt Olympus.  They believe people go to Hades when they die, but good folks can go to the Elysian Fields.  Your people also believe the earth was created by Gaea out of chaos.

Big difference.

Should players be given Absolute Truths™ or should they be left with ambiguities?  When they hike up to the top of Mt Olympus and realize it's just a big hunk of barren rock up there, no marble palaces or golden thrones in sight, what happens next?  "We must not be worthy, so the immortals have hidden themselves from our unworthy eyes".

What happens when they run into Norsemen, or Babylonians, and they get told that their "gods" are just a bunch of demons?  The real gods, led by Odin, created the world out of Ymir's carcass.  Or was it Marduk that formed the world out of the body of Tiamat?  Now get ready to die, you Zeus-worshipping heathens...

I realize some folks want their fantasy to be a different type of escape - they want their game to be Narnia, or Middle Earth, or the fantasy Europe of faux-Christianity vs ultimate Evil;  these folks want absolute truths, they want clear battle lines of good vs evil…  they want the world to make objective sense*.

But in a D&D game emulating sword & sorcery and weird fiction  - what a great opportunity to add elements of fear, doubt, dread, violence, and horror!  Keep it ambiguous, keep it unknown.  Keep it real.

Kierkegaard would be proud.  Oh - and I may have just solved the problem of the cleric, too.  For myself, at least.

*In the interests of full disclosure, Gothic Greyhawk is very much a faux-Christianity, law vs chaos, kind of place; the Black City setting will be the weird fiction place with ambiguous deities and angst.