RE: Pagan vs. Heathen

From: Mike Holmes <mike_c_holmes_at_...>
Date: Wed, 24 Jan 2007 07:57:51 -0600

>From: Ra´┐Żl <eikinskialdi_at_...>
>I'm using Black Horse County Magic Keywords from HW book for a few
>NPC rivals. Among a few blessing there are "Resist Pagan God"
>and "Resist Heathen Spirit"

The problem with writing a fantasy game is that it's unreasonable for players to learn a new language to play. I mean even though Tolkien wrote a language for the Elves of Middle Earth, would you expect people playing a RPG in that setting to actually learn Elvish? No, instead we use our native language, and imagine that the characters are speaking a different language, but one that conveys the same meanings.

To whit, Pagan and Heathen are both English terms that have interesting real world etymologies, of course. Grossly, though you can consider them synonymous, there is at least a differing connotation to the terms and, in fact, somewhat of a heirarchy. That is "heathen" implies "somebody who doesn't worship my god" whereas pagan tends to refer more to those who worship "country" traditions - the term coming from the latin for country. This meaning "outsider" to the extent that this is taken from a monotheist context, a parallel to the Roman church in Europe.

So, in other words, all Pagans are heathens, but some heathens are not pagan. :-)

One could assume that this use for the abilities in question is meant to imply that heathen can be used more locally, and pagan abilities more for outlanders. But I think that they're being used somewhat indiscriminately here for color.

That is, I think that the key thing to look at is end term. God refers to theism, yes. Spirit to animism spirits. Magic, I think, applies to anything. Pagan or heathen here I think refers simply to "not right, not our way."

Less clear is whether or not this means that something like Resist Pagan Magic can be used against "enemy wizardry" as you put it. The term heathen *might* apply to somebody from another sect. Maybe. But Pagan really does seem to imply a specific earthy or non-monotheistic religion.

In play, truth be told, I'd leave it up to the player. Can Resist Pagan Magic be used by a Seshnellan against a Carmanian wizard? Well, if so, then the Carmanian's similar spell will also work against the Seshnellan. The extent that a player sees this as being effective or not effective says something interesting about how the player views the differences between the monotheist sects. Is it really a different god, or the same god, but merely a question of doctrine?

As for using the piety ability to resist - well I think you can allow it sans improv penalty. I mean there are two cases. Either it's a different god, in which case your belief in your god applies as much as it does in defending against a theist god, no? Or it's the same god, in which case using his magic against you should be difficult if you're devout, no?

Either way I think you can probably use it at the normal level to resist.

That's my "since my Glorantha will vary, I treat it relativistically" sort of answer. There may in fact be a "hard" answer that Greg or somebody could give you on the "facts" of the relationships of the differing monotheist sects, and whether or not they all actually worship the same god (in fact or in effect). The writers might also be able to tell you their intent in using these specific terms. I'm just giving you the coping mechanisms that I use when I don't have this sort of info.

All magic abilities "suffer" from interperability, because of the nature of language. Even something as straightforward as "Run Up Hill." If there is a cliff on this side of a small hill, can I run up that? Or is it meant to imply only running up the gradual slope of a hill? Anyone can run up a hill, it's really just a question of speed and exhaustion. So what does this ability do specifically? Make one able to run up the hill faster? Or without exhaustion? Or both?

When it comes down to it, all abilities will be defined to some extent in play by the use allowed, and by the improv penalties applied. Once they have been used, you start to get a better idea of their meaning. If it's established that "Catch Fish" allows one to do so with their bare hands, it's probably not an augment ability for using a net. Or, at least that's how I'd rule.

Think of it this way. All characters are "As You Go." The abilities on the sheet are just notions of the characters abilities. The characters actual abilities are set when they come out in play, and are used in some fashion. So until that time, the ability Resist Pagan God sits in a sort of "Shroedinger" state of indifferentiation. I usually allow the player to define it pretty much on first use, under the argument that if he had wanted some other ability, he could have taken that instead in all likelihood. That is, I let the player define the character's abilities to their vision.

Once they've been established, then I try to make the player stick to that now narrowed vision for the sake of constraint. That's not to say that I don't allow abilities to be used in a wide variety of situations - I probably do more than most. But I'm not shy about using improv penalties to say, "This isn't the precise use that you've defined the ability as being about." I simply believe that even narrow abilities can pertain tangentially in a wide variety of situations.

That's how I handle this stuff.


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