#24: Dare to Go There?
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue.
Religion is often a subject avoided in Traveller. And for very good reason, given the conflict it can generate, the deep held beliefs of some players, and the difficulty of representing a spiritual dimension in game terms. The advice usually given is: don’t go there. Even amongst mature and like-minded players this can be an area fraught with difficulties.
However, there are those who feel that, whether you’re a believer or not, religion is too much part of the human – and perhaps alien – condition to simply be ignored. There is too much potential for in-game conflict, adventure, scene setting and flavour to simply abandon it altogether. Hence the many references you’ll actually find, despite the above advice, to various religions in Traveller and indeed my own small contribution to the topic in 101 Religions (which I wrote a tenth of and edited half of) and which was inspired by DGP’s Universal Religion Profile in Grand Census or World Builder’s Handbook.
It seems to me there are four levels at which you can include religion or spiritual matters in Traveller. The first is to ignore it or make a deliberate decision it will not be included. This of course already says a lot about the universe of adventure but is perfectly reasonable. The second is to use it as window dressing – there in the background and providing the odd plot point or character motivation but kept fairly low key. This is the approach that the general body of Traveller work takes and was all that 101 Religions aimed at in its fairly simple notes. It’s also the approach I’ve taken thus far in games I’ve run at TravCon where I’ve not majored on it. (About the most religious event in any game I’ve run was the noble son of a Count being asked to deliver “the third reading” when visiting a formal, liturgical church service with aim of ‘being seen’ and in the hopes of picking up rumours. That the player in question gamely delivered an actual reading was quite a thought provoking moment.)
A third level is one in which religion is thoroughly embedded in the setting and becomes a driver for much of what goes on even if the characters aren’t necessarily religious types. This is the approach taken by the astounding body of work from one person that is the periodical Stellar Reaches (http://stellarreaches.nwgamers.org/issues/), and the website Ancient Faith in the Far Future (http://ancientfarfuture.blogspot.co.uk/) which is doubly interesting in that it comes from an Orthodox perspective. In the former, the Empty Quarter is lovingly detailed (and fabulously illustrated) with a complex array of faith and politics, organizations and polities, characters and worlds. It’s not a safe place for characters, and perhaps even players, and it’s not always easy to understand Mr Plummer’s writing, but it is an interesting place. Over at Ancient Faith, there is much non-religious material but the blogger Robert Weaver sometimes makes explicit some of his setting choices rooted in his Orthodox faith, and I, for one, would love to visit and explore.
A fourth level, which I’ve never seen in Traveller, would be for there to be an overtly spiritual dimension added to the game which I understand is modelled in some niche RPGs, possibly peculiar to the United States. I’m not entirely sure I’d like this, but in a ‘safe’ space with mature and probably like-minded fellow believers, this would certainly be an interesting experience to try at least once. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try developing rules or refereeing such a game however. But who knows what the future holds?