So I just finished up my Masters degree, which means I’m finally free to start reading books I have been holding off on. Thus far, that has meant getting excited about theology books that I’ve been meaning to read, but that got pushed back because of school reading or books that were part of my classes, but didn’t get the attention that they really deserved for the sake of finishing a paper or posting for a discussion. But the very first thing I decided to do was start the Harry Potter series of books all over again. I started the series on December 15th and I finished three days ago. So in a months time, I devoured all seven of the Harry Potter books and it was pretty darn excellent. Having finished that, I decided I hadn’t quite reached the end of my palette cleansing reading and that I should grab another fiction series to enjoy. I had just seen a trailer for a new movie based on a young adult fiction series (which are becoming a little redundant because everyone is looking for the next big franchise to cash in on), but my family also recommended the series to me so I thought I’d give the Divergent Trilogy a try.
So this is definitely a pop culture, young adult fiction series that is trying really hard to be the next Hunger Games, but it had a concept within that I thought was kind of fun and actually gave me a neat idea for how to handle a pantheon of gods within a fantasy rpg. In Divergent, the world is grim and dystopian and the people of the world have decided to fight against the darkness and conflict by specifically focusing on what they perceive as the problem that brought the world to that point.
The problem was that the surviving people all disagreed with what the major problem was and so they divided into five factions to address the issues within society. Parents raise their kids within their own faction, but at the age of 16, everyone is tested and placed within one of the factions based on their aptitudes and how they align with the values of the differing factions. Dauntless to combat cowardice with bravery and courage, Erudite to combat ignorance through learning and knowledge, Abnegation to combat selfishness with selflessness and sacrifice, Amity to combat conflict with kindness and care, and Candor to combat dishonesty with brutal honesty. Each faction has unique symbols and colors affiliated with their system and approach to solving the problems of the world. In some ways, it felt like the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter got dropped into the Hunger Games and this is what happened.
Now forgetting commentary on the series as a whole, I was intrigued by this idea of factions embodying specific traits and it got my wheels turning. As someone who is monotheistic in real life, working with the polytheistic assumptions of the vast majority of fantasy rpgs have always been a challenge for me. When I ran my very first D&D campaign, the guy playing the dwarven cleric in our game (also a Christian) wanted to know if he could be a cleric of Jesus Christ. Being a brand new Dungeon Master, I told him that wasn’t an option in the book and so he would have to pick one of the options from the pantheon there. He ended up playing a dwarven cleric of the Raven Queen, which was totally cool, but it always left me wondering what would have happened if I had said yes instead.
So enter Divergent to my thought process. As I reflected on how factions in Divergent focused on a particular virtue, I saw a possible answer to my problem.
What if there were only one god in the world? Clerics with spells in particular domains would freak out, that’s what would happen.
But seriously, what if their specific powers were about the focus and direction that they pursued, maybe even the particular spiritual gifts that they have as an aspect of that one god’s character or personality? I’m struck by the nature of denominations within the Christian church today and how they emphasize different theological priorities and how different their methods can be. Usually it ends up as a joke about how many of a particular type it takes to change a light bulb, but in a fantasy rpg setting with domains reskinned as denominations. Each denomination emphasizing different components of one deity is an interesting take on how different divine characters could have different focus through their spiritual gifts and different training from their denominational leaders. We still have the variety in character types, but it fits a model that I have an easier time wrapping my head around.
I love how reading can poke and prompt the creative juices and I’m excited to have some more time to consider how to implement these ideas in a game I would want to run one day.