Saturday, 5 May 2012

Always Believe In Yourself...

This thread on YSDC got me thinking a little about how to portray Real-World religions within the context of Lovecraftian nihilism. Partly because this intrigues me anyway - as I may have mentioned before, I'm a psychologist in training - and also because my current character in my role-reversal sessions of CoC is a Catholic exorcist. Now, my Keeper has specifically stated that religious rituals etc. will have no discernible effect on the world except for psychological effects. That's fine, and especially as he's only running a short game I completely understand the lack of ambiguity. That said, I think there's some wiggle-room for my own game to play with and I'd like to explore some options.

Obviously, some people will take it upon themselves to view this post as some sort of flame-bait. I do not intend to tread on any toes and these are not reflective of my RL views (which are entirely irrelevant to the issue) but my stance on portraying religion in a fictional universe, albeit one much like our own. If you are offended, please feel free to shut the tab and navigate away. Fair warning, I'll simply delete antagonistic posts.

I am working from the standpoint that no major world deities exist as independent deities. This is for two reasons. Firstly it gets very idealogically charged very quickly as you decide which ones are left out or left in, even things like meshing all the Abrahamic conceptions together can cause problems. Secondly, there are too many anyway, from major religions down to Egyptian beings. Incidentally, when there are exceptions to this rule, it is invariably Egyptian gods that actually exist in my game as I have a soft spot for the whole pantheon.

Option 1: The Facade.
This is an approach that is very popular among many writers of CoC scenarios as it is malleable to individual scenarios and situations. It involves treating the deity in question as an avatar or facet of an established Mythos entity (I hesitate to call them deities as they aren't technically in my game). This is typically Nyarlathothep (Baron Samedi in Burning Stars, for example) but could be Y'golonac, Yig or even Yog-Sothoth itself. I understand why it's become such a trope and have indeed invoked it myself, but I do have reservations about this. Firstly it disagrees with my conception of many of the mythos beings. Nyarlathothep especially suffers from this, probably largely due to a certain well-liked published campaign that is based around the concept, and it means he has basically turned into Loki. Who is far, far too human for my tastes. Mischevious and trickster deity is all well and good, but I don't like it when he's too heavily involved. It just smacks too much of anthrocentrism. With the exception of Y'golonac of course who is a deified version of everything that is wrong with humanity born from our basest desires. So fair enough. He doesn't usually use avatars though, preferring followers who join his debased ways anyway.

In this instance, religious folks who appeal to their deity of choice are in fact attracting the attention of a Mythos being. While this can never be a good thing, it may achieve short-term goals. There are likely to be conditions or, more likely, consequences of these appeals though and as the person's faith is likely to grow stronger if she has prayers that are answered the final revalation is likely to be that much more sanity-shattering.

Option 2: The Derleth.
This is a very unpopular approach among many purists in particular. It involves factionalising the various beings into 'good' and 'evil' sets that are at war in the cosmos. The general divide is that the GOOs are fighting for the destruction of the Earth, while the Elder Gods are attempting to suppress their efforts. Thus, again the native gods of earth religions are likely to be avatars and masks of the Elder Gods. The differences are chiefly that these deities are much more likely to be sympathetic. Again though, they are unlikely to wear repeated pestering and smiting shall be visited upon an uppity follower. Under this section would also come the 'actual' deities, such as Bast and Hypnos in the game's canon. These tend to exist as benevolent deities and also work with Nodens if he is around. Similarly, it could be that all benevolent gods are facets of Nodens. While I'm a pulpy gamer, I'm a Lovecraftian purist so I don't like touchy-feely deities like Nodens wandering about in my game world.

Option 3: The Lovecraft.
No being that isn't mathematically summoned using the correct ritual can be interacted with. Prayers and the like go completely unanswered and many will lose their faith in the face of the unholy truths they encounter. Most powerful entities are mere aliens and natural forces rather than actual deities.

I tend towards option 1 when these issues come up. But it varies and as I have said before, I am constantly meddling with my world's canon as much as the rules of my game.

Now, I reckon that there should be psychological implications of religion for characters. These can be both positive and negative of course. To start with at least, the promise of an overarching plan and a guardian would make a seriously religious character fairly hard to shake. Similarly, courage of one's convictions can lead to a persuasive personality and a master of argument. Of course if and when their faith is challenged and found wanting, there is a massive downward spiral from there.

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