Wednesday 15 July 2015

Judeo-Christian Background Material in Wargames

In my previous post, I was describing two "magic systems" for a generic game engine.

One more unique system talked about "demons."  Despite having a more interesting mechanic,

I thought I bet many people will find this a little odd - if I renamed this mechanic people would respond better and Even though the concept can use any mini, from any era, it'll be regarded as niche.

The other "psychic powers" was very mainstream. I thought: I suspect people will respond more positively, even though it is a more generic, boring system, pigeonholed in the modern/sci fi periods.

That inspired this train-of-thought post....
But why?  Is mentioning angels and demons so odd?

I find it interesting how I rarely see recognizably Judeo-Christian material used as wargame background, in a coherent manner. 

Let's consider religion/deities in wargaming.

Norse gods? By the bucketload.
Greek gods and demigods?  Absolutely.
Celtic gods & myths? Represent.
Egyptian gods? Sure. Set and Anubis say hi.

Even recently invented, less-mainstream deities are popular.  I bet a surprising amount of readers could quickly identify "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"*  (*an obsession I've never really 'gotten' - I must not be one of the cool kids) 

Wargamers have a history of reusing complete belief systems, legends and pantheons of gods for background, often with only minor alterations.

But anything with clear coherent Jewish or Christian links is conspicuous by its absence. Angels, demons, "faith" power - yes, as part of other, generic systems, but rarely in concert as a specific background. I'm wondering - is it because has links to an active faith? But everyone likes psychic or paranormal powers - and that's something many people actively believe in. Wiccans don't make people uncomfortable about magic. People wargame religious wars (even recent/active ones) all the time.

The Judeo-Christian writings and folklore have an impressive array of material.  I doubt it is because it lacks interesting content. I mean we have:
The ultimate "dark lord" who fell from grace to become the archenemy of mankind (no, it's not Horus)
"Fallen" angels (who secretly manipulate humanity, MJ12-style?), who have specialist powers
"Demons" who can possess and control like puppets, as well as buff/debuff
"Nephilim" - halfbreed demigods (Hercules wannabes or link with Nazi experiments)
 "Golems" - relentless clay 'robots' - before Warmachine
"Miracles" - a fully fleshed out "magic" system with a myriad of examples

The materials could be set in any period. Here's a few random samples: modern times, as secret war (think the later seasons of Supernatural), or a spin-off of Weird War 2 (nephilim, Hellboy-esque Nazi experiments), 16th Century Prague (alchemists, rabbis and golems) or simply ancients wargaming with supernatural elements using a less mainstream magic system.  

It's like games are willing to use one or two bits and pieces, perhaps renaming them, but not to use them in recognizable quantity, unlike the ubiquitous not-Celtic or not-Norse settings/factions that litter every fantasy wargame ever.

The only example I can think of is the now-defunct West Wind Game "Lucifer's War." Remember how popular that was? Me neither. (Actually that's not a fair example - the minis are pretty awful looking so I can't imagine them being a big draw)

Even straight Biblical historicals aren't heavily represented.  WW2. Napoleonics.  Medieval. Dark Ages. Biblical?  It's can't be the rather lame sandals everyone wore then because Greek and Roman minis are relatively popular in comparison.  I always raise my eyebrows when I see the Biblical armies painted in blogs as they are so rare and unusual. It just seems surprising that the world's most popular book, chock full of ancients battles, barely gets a look in.  I mean, when do you expect to see Perry Miniatures or Wargames Factory bringing out Philistine spearmen plastics in 28mm?

Although perhaps being overhauled in recent years, the concepts of angels and demons and miracles are at least as rooted in Western culture as vampires and werewolves (though perhaps not zombies for the current generation - my goodness that's an over-used genre!) and certainly far more than random Norse gods.  

To reiterate the topic - (and keep any replies focussed) -  
Q1: Do you think  Judeo-Christian myths/folklore/call-it-what-you-want, are under-represented in wargaming?
Q2: Why do you think this is?

A related, wider question is

Q3: What other myths/legends/folklore/beliefs/religions/historic races/time periods are under-represented in gaming, that would make great gaming backgrounds?


  1. Biblical wargaming comes under 'Ancients'.

    Fields of Glory has a whole book on the period... "Swifter than Eagles". In a recent tournament I even faced an Egyptian army drawn form that supplement.

    1. I know it is Ancients. But would you say it is popular? Using my non-scientific method of "blogs and webstores I've browsed lately" I'd say Biblical gaming is a tiny proportion of ancients, with Greek/Roman being the vast majority.

      I'd say I'd see more Punic Wars specific stuff, for example, than the entirety of the Biblical nations of any era.

  2. 1. Only a few cases, but as AAA video games. From the East, the Persona and Bayonetta series represent angels and demons equally, while in the West the only major Judeo-Christian game was Dante's Inferno.
    2. These settings may not be as popular in the west because of how sacred the mythologies are treated, especially in the 90s due to censorship. By using this setting, you may also be assumed to reference the popular stories of the Old and New Testaments, like Adam&Eve and Jesus, rather than focusing on the lesser known stories, such as the Rapture and the various records of history. If your game is popular enough, you will face some controversy/skepticism due to these assumptions.

    3. Check out the PC game Dominions 4, as it explores the question in the context of a grand strategy wargame.

    1. 1. I'm not looking at video-games per se, as many video-game trends do not cross over onto the tabletop. They'll need to, though, to hook the next generation. I've been gaming a bit at school with 10 year olds, and video-game references permeate their conversation. Its how they relate to the tabletop games. (this might be an interesting topic for a post in itself)

      2. But is Christianity that "sacred" in most Western societies? Why is it so controversial in a tabletop game? Videogames are far more confronting in their various content and people seem to have given up protesting and moved on.

      ...Perhaps tabletop gamers are still lying low after the D&D pogrom in the 1980s...

  3. Ia! Ia! Cthulhu ftagn!

    Wasn't there a specific Angel/Demon style war-game.. Lucifer Wars?
    I know Westward made a bunch of fugs, reminded me of the TV show Dominion

    1. Cthulhu tragic.

      Lucifer Wars? The one game I grudgingly mentioned in the last third of the post? ;-)

    2. Yes I am, and proud to be!

  4. Japanese games are all over this stuff :-)

    I think a lot of people are concerned about offending someone, so they just stay clear.
    Though ironically, plenty of biblical influence in D&D :)

    1. Japanese use a lot of Biblical themes. Isaac Asimov said sci fi was basically full of Biblical themes. However, it's always themes/influences - it never takes too directly from the subject matter.

      It doesn't make sense if it is too "touchy." I mean Christanity is the most parodied religion/mocked most often in TV and movies. Why is it OK there, in mainstream media for millions, but not OK if it is a minatures game?


    During the Thirty Year's War, a portal to Dante's Hell was found somewhere in Germany. Troops were quickly dispatched and founded the city of New Jerusalem from which the exploration/raiding/conquest of Hell started. Factions includes the Catholic Westerners, Saracens (which found their own portal some time ago and have been exploring Hell for a while), Demons (Lucifer's own), Losts (infernal denizen who do not recognize Lucifer authority), Mercenaries (mix of humans - including a Jew cabbalist and his pet golem - and losts for hire) and Immortals (a Demon and Chinese alliance or something) warring over the various realms of Hell (lots of dust and ashes, fire and lava but also frozen lands and vast necropolis)...

    What is Hell Dorado:
    Factions of Hell Dorado:

    Judeo-Christian enough? ;-)

  6. 1. I feel like religious motivations and ideas, as opposed to religious stories and figures, are lacking in modern wargaming. 2. I think it's because most people don't understand how theology, philosophy, and non-literal thinking works, and can only understand religion on the most basic, literal level. 3. I think HP Lovecraft's original Mythos universe is wildly unexplored, particularly in the themes of aliens sharing on a few normal dimensions with us and so on. Too many times it's just a re-skin of Christian mythology in the manner of August Derleth, or a traditional human-centered universe.

    1. Religious factions are usually caricatures - i.e. "crusader" "elf-nature-worshipping-hippie" "chaos-evil-kill everyone-just because" "waaagh because waaagh"

      I never regarded Cthulhu under-represented? For somewhat obscure 1930s novels that are in no way mainstream, it seems to represent strongly in steampunk/VSF/pulp circles.

    2. Yes, usually the 'background' in wargaming is nigh non-existent. I think the problem is wargaming is a terrible way to discuss stories and ideas. So you get the trappings of religions thrown together like 19th century dinosaur skeletons because the people playing the games don't know and don't care about how the underlying religion and culture works.

      Lovecraft's original Cthulhu mythos is under-represented. The broader mythos canon is very popular, but it tends to miss the point of Lovecraft's original work. If you read Lovecraft these days, and you can on Project Gutenberg's Australian site, it's more like science fiction with the horror centered on fear of the Other, and Otherness. My point being that people rarely explore the tropes of extradimensionality. A truly lovecraftian wargame, I think, would involve a 5+ dimensional spaces rather than just miniatures of space-octopodes.

      What's my point? What people think of Cthulhu these days is an octopus-headed demon, whereas the description in Call of Cthulhu is explicit about how much of Cthulhu's mass exists outside of the usual dimension of space, which is really hard to represent in drawings or sculpture.

  7. Have you read any of Guy Gavrial Kay's books he has religion in his novels that are clearly analogs for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. They are disguised a little but are clear... they are not game base they could be some great inspiration for game along these lines.

    I have been Playing Dux Britanniarum and they have priest on the battle field of both the Christian and Pagan varieties they can remove shock and curse enemy units... not magic but in a superstitious age every one know the cures of a priest or warlock brings you bad luck.

    1. to focus
      Q1: maybe somewhat.
      Q2: I think its because we live in a secular age and secular people are hesitant to us "magic" based on religion they know not just from books but from direct experience. I also think we a society are losing touch with our own religious tradition.

      A related, wider question is
      Q3: I think my suggestion would be above.

    2. I don't know if his stories are analogues for religion, but rather societies as a whole. In fact, I don't think they are disguised - he's pretty much straight set stories in China, Moorish Spain, Byzantium and Medieval France. All he does is rename them i.e. "Sarantium" = "Byzantium." I'd say they are more historic novels than mythological/folklore.

  8. Well, you probably do not see many Biblical Ancient armies because we know next to nothing about them. There is a scarcity of resources and evidence. The two most famous battles are Khadesh and Meggido and they are not nearly as well documented as the Punic War or other Greek/Roman battles. This makes Ancient gaming them a challenged. Even if you look at the Bible, the details and records of any particular battle are pretty shaky.

    Now, onto using Miracles as a system of Magic. It can be a bit overpowering. I mean one side has an All Mighty, All Knowing power on there side and The other has some regional elemental being. Unbalanced! If you look at the siege of Jericho as an example, the single invocation of the Miracle pretty much ended the battle. It is no fun gaming something so game breaking. I hope I made my point clearly. :)

  9. @ Eric

    Fair enough, however what if the side with the miracles as opposed to the local diety had restrictions on types of units and even the actions of their units, for example.

    -Not being able to shot models in the back
    -Not being able to kill prisoners
    -Not being able to use civilian populations as meat sheild
    -Not being able to perform IED, Suicide missions,


    There are probably more.

  10. Q1. In comparison to other religions used in wargames, as a backdrop; Judeo-Christian themes, tributes, acknowledgments is very high.

    Q2. RPGs have more of this than board games. Naming Paladins, cribbed Black Magic style spells, using friars and monks.

    Q2. Legbas, orishas, loas. See Lucius Shepherd's green eyes for a sense of this (near the end).

    1. If you want the voodoo angle, Makatishi has done a good tabletop version of the old PS1 game JuJu Man

    2. Naturally Judeo-Christian "themes" are common. But having a monk in a game does not make it Judeo- Christian. I still don't feel like there are many wargames where it is overt (a la Helldorado). For example, there are more "overt" Cthulhu games (a very niche area). Direct Tolkein creations (elves, orcs etc) permeate 90% of fantasy.