Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Council of Passaic

I’m reading in several places lately about making it possible for kids to learn RPG games, with the hope of getting them young and getting them interested, and thereby creating a wider interest. This is an answer to the general failure of businesses - publications and game development - to succeed in a thin market, along with the belief that interest in the game is waning.

The community has long felt that D&D ‘ought’ to be more important than it is. I seem to remember decades ago that it was believed to have jumped the shark sometime in the mid to late 80s … before the reboot of 2.0, naturally. I couldn’t say the game was more popular then than it is now - nor less popular, as far as that goes.

I think it is a good idea to teach people how to play the game - except that the whole community has yet to determine exactly how one plays the game. It would seem a good start to have some kind of conference regarding how this might be done. As a student of history, I’d like to offer a template which players of the game could use for that conference.

In the 320s AD a fellow with some boffo political pull and a hard on for establishing a regimented system of rules for the players in his campaign gathered together the high muck-e-mucks at a place named Nicaea, which was relatively the center of the intellectual world - and conveniently just off the beaten path, very much like the sort of places chosen for modern Global Summits. Mr. Boffo’s name was Constantine (later to be played by Keanu Reeves in the movie - no, not actually), and the role-playing game that had his community by the short hairs was called ‘Christianity.’

Constantine had essentially two problems: the first, how to get more players into the game, and the second, how to settle the constant and annoying questions arising from in-bickering among the players. By that time, Christianity was more or less in its 4th Edition days (as published by Tertullian). Augustine of Hippo would bring out the 5th Edition in another couple of decades - but of course that’s not knowledge Constantine had the privilege of having.

(As an aside, there have been Seven editions for Christianity, not counting the multiplicity of game formats sparked off by Martin Luther in the 16th century. In most cases, the 2nd Edition, published by Paul, remains the most popular. We think we have problems).

Constantine gathered from far and wide the most respected and best known DMs from throughout the Res Publica (go with it, it’s Latin), to have a sit down conference and hammer this thing out once and for all. The actual number of attendees has never been certainly established - somewhere about 300 is a fair guess. Most of them were from the Eastern Empire and most of them spoke Greek. Constantine himself, though ostensibly a Roman DM, preferred Greek and had his digs in Constantinople, a thoroughly Greek city at the time.

Now, mind you, not all those interested in the game were invited. Many of those who had established rogue Chry-Cons (Christian conventions, sometimes called ‘churches’) not recognized by the self-imposed patent holders were definitely not invited to attend, particularly since they had refused to pay their user fees for the better part of a century. Meletius in particular, a successful but obviously ignorant grognard dwelling in Egypt, was singled out for disenfranchisement. Another gamer group that got the boot were those who had been using tables and modules written by a cantankerous fellow, Arius, without the original publisher’s approval.

Without getting into too much detail, the 300 DMs argued and threatened one another for thirty days (an unconfirmed period), finally establishing the set principles Constantine was looking for - a sort of 4.5 Edition. However, there were still certain problems with those failing to recognize the importance of those game decisions made at Nicaea.

Those were tougher days, however, and the Constantine-led Nicaean games committee were playing for high stakes. It was quite clear what needed to happen, and so the Christian role-players set out immediately to get the job done. Gathering together in mass armies, they sought out and butchered all other gamers who disagreed with them. Oh, I don’t mean the wrote a few strong letters and banned them from local game stores. I mean real, honest to God slaughter … hah hah, I made a funny.

They went after the rogue gamers, and after the gamer’s families, and then for good measure they decided to massacre all those people who had been playing silly board games and card games (damn pagans). First they killed all the stay at home pagans, and then they went to the borders and killed all the pagans there, and then they went deep into the wildernesses in every direction and found pagans who had never heard of the Christian game, and killed them too.

This was before missionary work - that came centuries after. I’m talking about the pagans in Scythia and northern Germania. By today’s standards, they didn’t go that deep into the wilderness.

Within a hundred years, and after the 5th Edition, the Christians did manage to organize their RPG to the degree when it was now ready to be taught to young children. Unfortunately, a tougher and crazier group of people who didn’t play any game at all except how to kill your neighbor with a fork (or any other handy implement) suddenly came out of the East and made it very hard to teach anyone anything for several hundred years.

But Christianity managed to survive that, and the Viking role-playing game besides, making it possible for many children to be thoroughly indoctrinated right down to the present day. It makes you proud to think that 17 centuries ago a lot of narrow minded men were able to accomplish so much good work.

We can learn a great deal from their passion. Clearly we need to gather together all those souls who have really proven themselves through their public relations and their popularity - I suggest Passaic, New Jersey. Kind of the center of the intellectual world and kind of off the beaten path. Then, once those gentlemen (no women, obviously - we wouldn’t want to mess with a working template) decide what game we’re playing and how to play it, the mass executions can begin. Ah, those will be heady days.

Then we can put together a decent boxed set and really get this game off the ground. Damn, I can feel the groundswell now …


Ragnorakk said...

That is awesome! I'm off for Byzantium any day now...

KenHR said...

I love this post. I love it with the heat of a thousand suns, to use a cliche.

Chgowiz said...

I don't know what's funnier... the content or the snorts and chuckles that no doubt were heard around your computer while writing this.

Sad thing is that it is a true history (I'd like to take more time to really read the history but it sounds what I recollect and your interest/attention to detail is well known) and one that should make one cry - or just acknowledge that we're all a bunch of damn dirty apes.

Strix said...

Absolutely loved this one!

Blaine said...

I loved what I read and agree but before the mass executions of gamers begins... might I ask where the line falls on the roleplayers?

Just wondering so I can plan my move into the wilderness ahead of time. Thanks!

Carl said...

This is one of your best, Alexis.

What you're describing is not too different from what went on at Lake Geneva, WI during the mid-to-late 70s, aside from the lack of wholesale slaughter of innocent Monopoly and Pinochle players.

Want to hold a gaming convention in Calgary? Alternately, we could hold it in Denver -- centrally located with a hub airport.

sirlarkins said...


Alexis said...

It's just not the same if you can't kill people.

During the 80s and the early 90s there were regular, yearly RPG conventions here in the city - big affairs, including thousands of people. It used to fill the hotel where it was held, where you could do the regular thing and get a room with 14 of your buddies and try to lay RPG chicks there in the afternoons (and sometimes at night, with everyone else in the room).

In those days I used to DM tournaments, work my way around for the weekend from table to table, try formats and meet players. Much of the bitterness and approbation to be found on my blog derives from experiences directly evolving from meeting people at conventions.

A convention here? I would rather slash my wrists.

Carl said...

There's no need to be that extreme. Think of the paramedics that would have to clean up a mess like that!

I have been to about five gaming conventions in my life. One of those was GenCon. They were all more or less what you described. I showed up to game and everyone else wanted to ogle the vampire chicks or whatever else they could get away with. At one point, after the third time the DM drifted off in mid-sentence as a devil-bedecked hottie wandered by the game table, I snapped my fingers in front of the DMs face and said, "Hey! You're on the clock. Time for devil girls later. Game now." He was not happy. I still won "best player" at the table. Go figure.

I'm not talking about a large-scale convention, but more of a workshop. We'd each run a game, take feedback during and after the session, make notes and develop a curriculum. Like any good science, we can enumerate this one, but we need to research and experiment. We need to articulate a hypothesis and beat it to death until it becomes actual theory.

What will we get out of this? Ideally, we'll come away with a lesson plan. At the very least we'll find out if this idea is just plain stupid or not, and we'd be able to do some serious gaming in the process. If we can clearly define a set of processes and procedures for running and playing in a role playing game, we can market it. Again, we won't get rich but it would be the first serious attempt to monetize the hobby that didn't rest solely on the publishing industry.

Jim said...

I'm sorry, but hot devil girl trumps gaming anytime.

I mean, we have to keep things in perspective here.

Alexis said...

Sorry, Jim.

We do not play with our dicks.