Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Religious Settings

I spent yesterday working on a setting for my first roleplaying game. I felt I needed to do this, since a game is more than just a set of rules. There's no point in continuing if I don't have an intellectual property. Nor can I continue with the cynical idea that I can pull whatever setting I like out of my ass. I needed a proof of concept, as it were. I'd been noodling around with an idea for some time now, and I sat down to write it last night.

It came out in a shot. A summary of the central idea (who do you play? What do you do?). A description of the game world. Several character classes. I was pleased with myself. Except for one thing: It's religious in nature.

In general, religious-themed roleplaying games don't do well in the marketplace. I can think of three that came and went. I don't remember their names, except for one (Armageddon). One of them did for demons what White Wolf did for Vampires (which is a logical progression).

Given the success of the Left Behind series of novels, I'm surprised that religious games don't do well, especially those involving the End Times. It's obviously a subject that interests people (since game companies keep trying). All I can think is that people object to the overt Christian nature of the subject matter. I don't know if it's a strong athiest/agnostic strain among gamers. Or a sense that all religions are equally valid, and thus reject the whole angels return to earth to clean house thing. Or maybe they don't hew closely enough to Christian dogma.

No matter what it is, religious roleplaying games don't do well. Which is a problem when you come up with what you think is a strong property.

So am I foolish for writing a religious-themed game? Is it destined to fail? Or is there a way to make it more paletable to the buying public? And if the latter, how would you do that, by going more "universalist" or going into hard-core Christian dogma?


  1. You're not a fool, Ross. Don't expect it to sell well, but then few RPGs do these days anyhow. I wrote The Brotherhood for the Mutant Chronicles RPG and The Covenant for the Brave New World RPG. Neither stirred up any complaints (at least about religion) that I recall.

    With gaming as mainstream as it is now, you might actually be able to reach a religious market. Far as I know, the most successful game to do this was the Redemption CCG.

  2. It depends on what the Theme is. Tolkien's series is very Christian, but he doesn't hit you over the head with it. Most of U2's songs are about God in one way or another, they're huge because most listeners don't realize what One is about.

    I think something like that can work really well if the theological viewpoint you're supporting is something that's informs the central tension but is not itself the central tension.

    It's like the difference between The Lord of the Rings and Thomas Covenant. Middle-earth is merely ethical, but The Land is about ethics.

    Using the Left Behind series as an example is probably a mistake because it's obviously an edge case. I think you've got the right attitude in that you're thinking about what's popular and what there's a demand for, rather than developing a Heartbreaker.

    I would not recommend innovating. You don't want to be the guy who innovates, you want to let someone else break the new ground and then you refine it and make it mainstream. So if you're keen on a religious game, let someone else get a breakthrough and then you do it better.

    Right now I think the opportunity in the Adventure Gaming sector is in D&D adventures. The WotC ones are nigh impenetrable, the open license basically only permits Adventures, and no one is making them.

    Now, the reason no one is making them is, I think, because scenario design is a lost art.

    At the end of the day, marketability and demand are all well and good, but you're not starting off with a ton of investment capital, this is something you're doing in your spare time. It's all sweat equity. So really the only thing that matters is your passion. You need an idea that you love enough to sustain you through development.

    I remember when John started on Houses of the Blooded. I could tell he was going to get it done and get it out because he loved it so much.

  3. Both thoughtful comments, which I'll take into consideration.

    On the one hand, I think Redemption tapped into an under-served market. These are Christians who want to play games, but don't want their Pastor looking at them askew.

    On the other hand, I'm not necessarily doing a hard-core religious RPG. I'm doing it in the anime style (which I can explain in more detail if you haven't been following the blog). Which means there's a "church" but not a recognizably Christian one. It would be like the church (small "C") from Trinity Blood, for example.

    I'm not certain if that fits Matt's criteria, but I am being mindful of it .

    This could go one of two ways: Hard-core Christian theology and symbolism or a soft, fuzzy religiousity. Not sure what to do.