Monday, April 13, 2009

A Belated Pesach Shalom

I should've posted this last week, but I've been rather busy. Grilling enough meat for over a hundred people can really wear one out, especially when my impending marriage means that I don't have enough vacation and personal days left to take off more than the bare minimum of required High Holy Days from work. So I was cooking for the synagogue Seder all day Tuesday, was up until after midnight cleaning up, went to work on Wednesday (where I posted my brief RIP for Dave Arneson), and then took off Thursday for the High Sabbath.

I'm always tickled by the number of gamers who are devout followers of traditional Christianity, like Prokopius and, to judge by his Easter post, the Grognard. This in a hobby that supposedly leads one into Satanism, human sacrifice, and suicide. Yeah, I started gaming in the 80s, and I'm still a bit bitter about the slander, a modern-day blood libel with gamers baking the blood of children into their dice rather than Jews baking it into our matzah.

And yet, the entire game is built around the concept of a war between good and evil, a war that requires good men to sacrifice greatly for their narrow victories--and which often leaves those same men on the outskirts of society, exiles from that which they protect, as James points out here:

As I've argued at length in this blog, the game is in fact at its most
coherent when the PCs are rogues (with or without hearts of gold). But the assumed roguishness of most characters doesn't banish the possibility of there being good or evil. Like the gunslingers of the best Westerns, the PCs are individuals who use barbaric methods to fight "barbarians" on behalf of a civilization that, by the barbaric nature of their own actions in its defense, they must be excluded from. This kind of tension can only exist in a world in which morality isn't treated as subjective or an agreed upon convenience.

This idea is prevalent in both the Jewish and Christian worldviews. In Judaism, there is a strong underlying belief found in both the Talmud and Kabbalah that at any given moment, there are a certain minimum number of righteous Jews for whom the world is maintained. This isn't egotism, but flows naturally out of the idea that the world was created for the sake of Torah, so if nobody continued to practice Torah, the world would cease to have meaning and would cease to exist. Therefore, by continuing to follow Torah and to retain the unique culture that God Himself has crafted for us despite the persecution and pressure to assimilate that we face on all sides, the Jewish people as a whole stand as a bulwark for the world.

Christianity has a similar worldview, in that the Christian sees the present world as "enemy ground," with Satan variously called its prince and even god in the New Testament. Christians, like the "redpills" in the Matrix series, must sojourn through a world that they can never be fully a part of, seeking out others of a "rougish" spirit who are willing to take up the journey and the battle as well. Only by continuing the fight and reaching every corner of the world with the message of its Creator and true King in the face of great adversity and persecution can the Second Coming and the beginning of a new era of peace and truth occur.

In both faiths, the call is to be a "rogue" by the world's standards, not to conform to whatever the current political correctness is, but to walk a different, and often lonely, path.

In the same way, the band of adventurers who live on the frontiers of civilized society in OD&D. Their goals may not be as intrinsically noble as "saving the world"--one may be in it for the money, another to become the greatest swordsman in the world, another for arcane knowledge, another just for the thrill of cheating death--but nevertheless, they end up being civilizations best defense against the forces of Chaos and/or Evil by way of breaking that civilization's rules and living according to a different code of honor. And while they may occassionally receive recognition and honor, such rewards can become a snare, as the rulers granting them expect the footloose rogues to settle down and follow the rules of civilized society in return.

This marvelous fusion of ancient mythology, Judeo-Christian ethics and outsidership, and American "Western" (of the Clint Eastwood sort) mythology is the very heart of OD&D. Small wonder, then, that so many Jews and Christians feel at home in its mythic realms, the occassional brush with Zeus and Thor notwithstanding.


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