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Whose God Is It Anyway?

Unpacking books at the weekend, I stumbled across my copies of Kult[0]. I have two editions of the book, and apart from a one-shot involving lots of influence from Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser that ended up with all the characters dying, I have no intention to ever run it again. See, the game's a hardcore horror game. It posits a wonderful setting including realms beyond time and space, beyond death, and beyond madness. Humanity are fallen Gods, and our servants are now our jailers. And then it goes and fucks it all up by making it impossible for the characters to ever actually learn any of this.

I dunno, maybe I'd be better off running a game that didn't rely on the beautifully crafted setting at all, or introducing little droplets and giving the PCs a chance to survive. I don't want to, though. If I've got this brilliant insanity to play with, I want the players to feel it. I want them to realise the game's Gnostic underpinnings, and to have a chance. I fear that this last statement is incompatible with the style of the game, because I don't like killing off PCs left, right, and centre[1]. Perhaps some more information would have helped. Who knows? Certainly not I, not at present.

So why then do I own two editions of a game I'm likely never to run?

Because I love gnosticism as a concept. I don't just mean the style of the Gnostic Gospels, but any setting where humanity has fallen from a higher state of being, through either fallacy or trickery. Hell, I've even got a copy of The Last Exodus in my collection. I don't have that because it's a Cool™ or Edgy™, I certainly don't have it for the system (which needs work) or the style and layout (busy and at points a real pain to follow everything, with lacking explanations of key points). I have it because it combines post-millennialism with a standard Gnostic setup, dual Godhead and all.

As far as I'm aware, these are the only two games that use the concept in any meaningful way. I'm probably wrong. If you know better, please enlighten me.

But anyway. I've turned Gnosticism to Mage (Example Gnostic Mage game) and fiction both, I keep buying games in which it features as a setting, and I've started to wonder why. What is it about Gnosticism in roleplaying that attracts me? I think it's two things.

First and foremost it has the inherent sense of possibility. This is why I like SF, the idea that what we have isn't everything. There's more than the obvious out there. Every planning meeting, every time I hear people drone on about two-year, five-year, and ten-year strategies a part of me dies inside. I've more than a bit of the singularitarian about me[2], and every time people assume that the current situation is the best it can be they deny me my future. In fifty years, the world will study capitalism in the same way we study the Second World War. A hundred years and one hard rapture later, zero-sum capitalism gets confused with the industrial revolution because the kids slept through history class.[3] But I digress.

Gnosticism doesn't have the sense of possibility about the future, it has it about the past. Humanity used to be so much more than we are now. What we have at this second, what we are, is not the top of the tree. We don't have what we once had, but in a perverse way I can take comfort in knowing that we're not all we can be. We have potential. We were born of greatness[4]. Unlike the major religions of the Book[5], our greatness wasn't the ability to be people sitting around in a garden never questioning the establishment and getting ultimate punishment for breaking the only rule. We were Gods, or at least so much more than we are now. What we were, we can be again.

And there, there we have the second reason. Gnosticism gives us (that is to say, the characters) a reason to strive. What we were, we can be again. The world — reality itself — isn't a transitive state designed to measure our behaviour before we get kicked into one of two (or three) buckets at the end of it. It's a fucking prison. We are not here of our own free will. And when we know that, it takes only the right type of personality to follow through to the next thought: Fuck that, I'm leaving. Of course, leaving isn't easy. It probably isn't possible. Hell, it's probably not entirely conceivable — certainly, whatever's outside the prison is conceptually incompatible with the human mind; it'd have to be or our jailers were having a really off day. But despite this, protagonist psychology implies a certain desire to push the boundaries and find a way out.

That's the appeal. We have a goal and we have a damn good reason to work towards it. That's why it's attractive. As a framework, it fits. It's a setup for a roleplaying game any way you look at it.

So, yeah. I have spoken.

[0]: Both first-English-edition and the latest one with the fold-over covers.
[1]: Also a reason I prefer Delta Green to Call of Cthulhu. In both you're the victims of an ultimately uncaring universe. In one, you can at least use your skills and connections to feel like you're making a difference if only at a great cost (even if you don't), and you die a lot. In the other, you just die a lot.
[2]: Not just a singularity, a supercontext. But this is not the place.
[3]: The world keeps changing. Nobody can stop that, nobody can say it isn't happening, but this is the march of change going on ahead of us and denying that is the hallmark of a future-shocked fucknut who's going to think that free matter and the dissolution of property are the work of medieval devils. The very idea that we're at any kind of peak when we look back at the very sea of change that brought us here, and that we can only remain constant or go backwards is poison. People spouting it have only the right to turn into fertiliser when they die, since they're actively harming the development of the species and if they were right we'd all die at twenty-five and aspire to be the royal-arse-wiper for a fat fucking layabout or to one day farm land for our own benefit rather than the shitweasel who "owns" it through some bullshit divine providence. If you want to die at twenty five, fine. Do it soon so you get out of the way of my fucking future.
[4]: This is why it appeals. Nowhere do I admit to believing it.
[5]: Two 'l's to disclaimers. You know me by now.

Comments

( 3 informants — We want information! )
cairmen
Aug. 10th, 2006 12:54 pm (UTC)
We should talk about this. Kult's one of my favourite games of all time, and I've run it or things using big parts of it a fair few times with some success.
digitalraven
Aug. 10th, 2006 12:56 pm (UTC)
I'm off for the next two weeks. I've been meaning to talk with you about several things, and can add this to the queue.
spudtater
Aug. 14th, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC)
Good stuff.
( 3 informants — We want information! )

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