[Tales of Entropy] Philosophy and Politics

Another one of my English-language Tales of Entropy scenarios dropped into the database today. As I've discussed before, Entropy is a pretty emblematic, relatively generic blood opera story game, which makes it a fit vessel for doing all sorts of more or less quirky things. I like to brag about my writing, but these scenarios are also often pretty good springboards for considering story game scenario prep in general - what makes a good scenario?

For reference, here are my earlier threads on the general topic of Entropy scenario writing and repurposing stories into games:

Farcical Roleplaying
Movie Adaptation
Intentionally Breaking Genre

imageimageThe new scenario Dark Dungeons continues the adaptation trend that I've been riding lately. This time I'm pretty sure that at least somebody's heard of the thing I'm adapting: it's a short comic book pamphlet from the early '80s, created by the fundamentalist Christian evangelist/cartoonist Jack Chick for his series of little comic books that tell stories about his world-view. Dark Dungeons the comic book is somewhat notorious among gamers for how zany it is, and for how it captures the era of the big "Satanist panic" that gripped American religious circles at the time.

There are several things about Dark Dungeons that make it interesting to me as a drama gaming topic. The first one I want to emphasize is that while there is plenty of ironical distance, repurposement and death of the author in my enchantment with Jack Chick, none of that applies to the comic book story Dark Dungeons itself: I genuinely like it as a comic book and storytelling, no need for any irony or strange reinterpretations in that regard; the work stands on its own. It's a snappy little tale with compelling characters and thought-provoking situations, and a brutal, emotionally empty finish. It's a horror story from a world where you're forced to choose between satanic witches and a soulless cookie-cutter conversion to patriarchalist spiritual slavery. I fully empathize with gamers for whom the attitudes and ideas here are too personal to deal with, but for me personally it's an interesting psychological horror fantasy story; what would we do as a gaming group if somebody killed themselves over the game? What if somebody really did use their gaming group as a recruiting ground for their church? What if reality really was as riddled with gnostic conspiracies and magic? What does it mean that I can't get a character to name level despite trying for years on end?

More generally, I'm excited to play this scenario at some point simply because it features the trifecta of dramatic excitement for me:
* There's a distinctive fictional milieu with relevant human themes.
* There's a sympathetic dramatic situation.
* There's a serious political and philosophical core we have to take stands on as human beings.

My favourite "philosophical premises" here, laid out in words in the interest of being explicit with people who might read this sort of stuff completely differently. These are what interest me in this scenario philosophically:

Can following the Calvinist God ever be morally justified? How about refusing him, how far does "rebellion" carry as a moral principle? Is God ever morally responsible, or is He really an amoral and arbitrary actor?

Assuming that goodness as a quality flows from God, as Christianity generally does, what does it look like when people approach or distance themselves from God with what is essentially magic? In this world, does witchcraft make you intrinsically cruel (unlike reality, if I'm any judge), or is that a cultural accident, or what?

I am curious to play this with whomever, and see what kinds of answers they bring. And what kinds of questions, too - this scenario is really dense with content, you could focus on all sorts of things.

A few feedback questions to help us craft better scenarios in the future - if you read the scenario I linked above, please answer these:

1) What is your relationship to Dark Dungeons? Are you familiar with it, or the culture it comes from?
2) Would you be interested in playing something like this? Do you find the scenario comic or serious? Is it politically relevant to you?
3) Given the scenario, and the way Entropy requires each player character to be a nemesis of another one - who would you create as your player character in this scenario?

Comments

  • Personally I find this much more interesting than your previous entry. This is indeed very dense material, in the meaning of containing complex layer of issues where to tap into if one would play it.

    One level of this, that you didn't really emphasize above is to reflect, how us gamers view the issue of gaming connected to satanistic world views or in more general terms: labeling our hobby as evil and corruptive endeavor.

    This is a very difficult subject matter. I see the blaming video games of inducing violent behavior somehow related to this. The usual gamer reaction being to simply deny the existence of such correlation and tag the accuser with contempt and ridicule.

    Although the subject matter in Dark Dungeons is much more ironic, I feel that playing this scenario without ridicule and drawing it to campish extremes would be an exercise indeed!

    Then some answers:
    1) I am vaguely familiar with the subject matter, although not very thoroughly.
    2) I would be interested to play. And as I said above, it would be interesting to play this without too much comedic relief.
    3) One would perhaps easily go for the GM, perhaps a devoted and religious mother would also be an interesting pick.
  • 1. I do know Dark Dungeons, and first became acquainted with D&D and roleplaying at the tail-end of the 80's "Satanic Panic" in America; both of my older brothers played, and as far as I know my parents didn't object to it despite being regular church-going folk.

    2. I'd definitely give it a shot, though it's hard to say how exactly I'd want to approach it. I'm pretty sure any attempt by me at being "serious" would ultimately end up treating the scenario's approach to religion...well, rather like a fantasy world. Even just describing it as such sounds sort of offensive, though that's really not my intent. I don't think I could play it at all with people for whom the world view of the scenario is too close to their own beliefs.

    3. If I could come up with a reasonable way of positioning Elfstar (or the ghost of Black Leaf?) as an antagonist to Debbie, I'd definitely do that, and try to spin a kind of Fight Club-like psychological drama out of it. I worry that this idea might be overstepping the bounds of the scenario, or just creating a situation that would end up being too difficult to play. Perhaps a better way to do that would be to simply play Satan, and use the concepts of the characters as a vessel for interacting with the psyches of the other characters, as Satan is wont to do.

    This is a super interesting scenario, I'm excited to see other other people's takes on it are.
  • edited February 2018
    Ha haa, Elfstar was my own idea as well! I initially determined that yeah, I'd be on board with playing either Ms. Frost (Debbie's "enemy" in certain ideological sense), Mike (the churchy guy who "saves" her in the comic) or Satan, but then I realized that Elfstar would be an absolutely brilliant move here. The comic is even explicitly supportive of the idea that playing D&D is intended to construct an alternate personality more suitable for witchcraft, and that Elfstar is to some degree a separate person [grin]. I imagine her as a a more assertive person, probably with a bit of a crush on Ms. Frost, and only opposed to Debbie in the sense that they want slightly different things out of life. Plus, 8th level Cleric of course, with magical powers as documented in the D&D manual.

    This must be just about the only Entropy scenario where every character implied by the scenario is fully imaginable as a nemesis for the pivot character. Marcie (who has yet to suicide as the scenario begins, note) would work just fine as a bitter foe who resents Debbie for letting Black Leaf die, for example. The pastor is obviously an adversary to just about every free thinker on the planet, no explanations needed. Even Marcie's mom, only seen in one panel, would work fine.
    1. I do know Dark Dungeons, and first became acquainted with D&D and roleplaying at the tail-end of the 80's "Satanic Panic" in America; both of my older brothers played, and as far as I know my parents didn't object to it despite being regular church-going folk.

    2. I'd definitely give it a shot, though it's hard to say how exactly I'd want to approach it. I'm pretty sure any attempt by me at being "serious" would ultimately end up treating the scenario's approach to religion...well, rather like a fantasy world. Even just describing it as such sounds sort of offensive, though that's really not my intent. I don't think I could play it at all with people for whom the world view of the scenario is too close to their own beliefs.
    Yeah, for me this is all just fantasy. I don't mean this in a dismissive New Atheist kind of way, like spirituality isn't real or worthy of our time - I'm just stating it as a fact, the hardcore fundamentalist Christianity has never really touched on my own life emotionally. I'm also fascinated by the absolutely brutal god-image this kind of Christianity has. I think I have the draft of a novel somewhere that's set in this kind of world, even.

    An observation: if one of the players chooses to play God, then the basic cosmological proposition that God is all-powerful becomes immediately much more interesting in a way rather reminiscent of classical theological knotwork. Does God "lose" a conflict because he wanted to lose all along? Is God an ass because we do not actually understand what is "good"?
  • edited February 2018
    1) I hadn't heard of the work but amply heard about both the culture and its anti-RPG manifestations in the 80's.
    2) The first paragraph after Debbie's sheet felt long but the overall idea is tempting. The more ironic thing in my view is to play the comic straight, no exageration, god forbid.
    3) I would rather play a believer if only to win in the end, but Debbie seems like a nice girl. If I had no option to let someone go first, I'd be a previous recrew of Mrs Frost, without the authority but all the more relatable. This leaves me room for last minute repentance.
  • Eero,

    This scenario is fascinating and deep in about a million different ways. It brings up a lot of questions about gaming, about how to engage with it, about religion, and about society. A totally fascinating case; there's so much to consider here.

    1) I'm familiar with Dark Dungeons, and the "Satanic panic" around D&D affected me a little as a kid (some of my friends' parents - and, much later, my girlfriend - had fears about the "questionable" nature of the hobby and whether witchcraft might be involved).

    2) Although the "Satanic panic" is somewhat of a thing of the past now, for my purposes, I still find the premise intriguing and relevant. There are many different issues at play here, and all are very "meaty" and worth digging into. I'd want to play this totally "straight" - make a particular effort to avoid D&D humour and other, similar "easy outs" (for instance, don't make your character someone who's coming to introduce the gaming group to a much better, newer RPG!).

    3) My favourite idea is also Elfstar or Black Leaf!

    However, perhaps to follow on that theme, I could create some other kind of horror or evil spirit given genesis by the game itself and coming to invade reality, as some sort of demon seeking to experience human pleasures. (Perhaps a D&D monster come to life, due to the powerful imagination of the players and the ritualistic nature of the game.)

    Another strange idea which suggests itself to me, though I'm not sure what to do with it, is to play Marcie's psychotherapist. (Perhaps play around with whether the psychotherapist is a clinical, secular scientist, or whether she is, instead a deeply religious "spiritual advisor".)
Sign In or Register to comment.