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Gen Con 2014 report: Making Your Own Religion

Scott Frazier
Scott FrazierMichael Tresca

I joined the Make Your Own Religion: Creating a Believable - and Entertaining - Fictional Religion panel at Gen Con on Friday, August 15 at 10 a.m. led by the Reverend Scott Frazier, who has been an ordained priest for eight years and a college professor for 16 years. And oh yeah, a DM for 22 years.

Frazier asked the question: "What if magic were real for Catholic priests?" He then used Harry Potter as a foil, questioning how monotheistic theology applies to Harry Potter, which completely ignores how magic interacts with religion. J.R.R. Tolkien was another example. The hobbits don't seem to mention much about religion (with the exception of a reference to "Yule"). On the sci-fi side, the fictional series that dealt with religion most was the new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica in which the pantheistic humans tangled with the messianic and monotheistic Cylons.

Frazier broke down religion into three things: Magic, Religion, and Organized Religion.

  • Personal Religion has a world view, code of morality, and pious practice.
  • Organized Religion has a doctrine, resources, and community.
  • Magic has supernatural power.

PERSONAL RELIGION

  • World View: Does Harry Potter think that he's equal to everyone else? He insists he is and everyone tells him he isn't. Fictional people and real people should all have a world view.
  • Code of Morality: Is the actions the follower takes. How you conduct yourself, from tips to violence to stealing cable.
  • Pious Practice: Physical actions that you don't do for material benefit but lend a sense of order to your life. They define community. Gestures are a sign of belonging (or not belonging). Prayer fits into this.

ORGANIZED RELIGION

  • Doctrine: Official ideas that are recognized publicly. This doesn't mean the members of the congregation agree with it.
  • Resources: Organizations have resources that allow them to take action in large force.
  • Community: Like-minded people get together. The congregation gets together by pooling their resources towards the "other" -- the organized religion.

Frazier next deal with the subject of magic and religion.

  • Personal religion vs. organized religion. The difference is described by words like orthodoxy and heresy and syncrecy. Orthodoxy is when an official policy of an organized religion and a personal religion completely agree. Heresy is when these two beliefs don't match up. It's important to have this tension between the a fictional character and his official beliefs. Syncrecy is a mixing of matching between religions and belief systems.
  • Magic vs. personal religion. It comes up specifically with detect evil, which questions the nature of a character -- do all goblins go to hell? Is it the organized religion or personal religion? Can good deities have selfish priests?
  • Free will vs. afterlife. If an evil race has a chance of growing up to be good, should it still be executed? Should characters care about their actions and how it affects their soul? Angels who can be fallen implies free will.
  • Gods among us. At what point is a god quality defined? Is it omniscience? Omnipotence? Omnipresent?
  • The power of love. Harry Potter was saved by "love." What is "enough" to influence a power or the physical world (definition of magic). Does morality create magical potency?
  • Otherworldly participation. If you can summon a being from another plane, they have knowledge and answers that can influence the world.

At the end of the session, Frazier provided a quick and dirty checklist for creating game religions, including his own massive spreadsheet of deities, clerics, and religion.

When creating a fictional religion, Frazier advised to not overdo it. It won't be perfect. Don't bring real religion into it. Make it up as you go to fill in the blanks. It was excellent advice from an excellent seminar.

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