Why Adventure Gaming?
One Christian's Explanation

Fantasy is not escapist fiction; it is a morally based genre. Good fantasy demands ethics and good fantasy role playing demands ethical play and design.

At age 17, I chose to become a mainstream Christian. I've explained my reasons for doing so elsewhere. Whether this was good decision, and whether I am the genuine article, are for you to decide.

I have posted this page in response to dozens of requests from visitors who have asked me how Christians should feel about adventure gaming.

I am neither a fundamentalist nor a liberal, and for over ten years my site has been linked to the world's largest site promoting religious tolerance. I am fond of saying, "The world would be a sorry place if Christians did not try to act as good as other good people." I'm not concerned with doctrinal disputes, and if you are, I hope it is a really good use of your time. If you are the sort of person who thinks that those who disagree with you must be wicked, you will not find this page helpful, and you may want to leave now.

At the time it was founded, Christianity was radical. Our earliest document confirms this.

From the beginning, we focused on kindness to others. We cared nothing for racial, national, or sectarian divisions. We tried to return good for evil. We were bound -- unequivocally -- to forgive our enemies. The doctrines and practices were simple and focused on relationships rather than rules. In short, it was about living what most of us consider today to be a good person's life -- as good a neighbor as you could be to whoever you meet on your walk through this world. Anyone -- not just the high-born -- can be a hero. This is an ideal to which we can all aspire, though none of us can reach.

The immediate success of the Christian movement is proved (among other things) by the number of splinter groups, even when the sect was illegal. (Not everybody knows this. One subsect is commemorated in "The DaVinci Code", and there were many others as early as the second century.)

The lasting success of the Christian movement is the reason that all of this seems familiar (even corny) rather than radical. Perhaps this is how you have been trying to live, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian. If so, mainstream Christians say that you are already part of the Kingdom. This was even affirmed by the second Vatican Council. (Are your surprised?)

In other words, I am struggling -- with far-from-total success -- to play the role of a good person in real-life. Why would this make me a strong supporter of adventure gaming?

I have been a gamer since 1979, and an author of gaming articles and software for almost as long. What pleased me most was young people rushing to define themselves in terms of their morals and ethics, and choosing lives of heroic virtue. The role-playing system made people think about right and wrong, how their behavior impacted others, and about what kind of law should govern human affairs. And it encouraged people to become heroes, gaining little except a chance to make a difference to other decent people. The brilliant "Planescape" setting went on to mirror the world's secular ideologies in a strange city at the heart of the universe.

Role-playing games are about cooperation, rather than competition. You "win" by helping one another. Characters with different abilities (fighters, pastor-healers, wizards, and stealth-specialists) must work together to accomplish a heroic goal. The New Testament emphasizes that different people within the Christian community have different abilities ("gifts"), and work together.

Critics of Christinity who say that the faith makes people passive obviously don't know us. We're at the center of every effective movement that actually helps people. And unlike the "heroes" of Greco-Roman culture, anyone can lead a life of greatness.

The Christian tradition has always embraced fiction, including fantasy fiction, as a means of teaching moral lessons. No one really believed the tales of Saint George and the dragon, but they have found a way into our culture. Arthurian romance, the source of the medieval D&D milieu, is explicitly Christian and focused on allegories of right and wrong. JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis were close friends and devout Christians. Even Pat Robertson's TV channel had a "Prince Valiant" offering.

Whenever something new appears, there are disinformation campaigns. When they are targeted at the Religious Right, they are intended to profit the big-money churches. "Chick Publications" added an anti-D&D comic book to its series, which already included a creationist tract (full of obviously false data) and a booklet that calls Roman Catholic communion "the death cookie." James Dallas Eggbert, who supposedly died as a result of "Dungeons and Dragons", was actually alive and well when the legends started about him. Also here and here. One Patricia Pulling blamed her abused son's suicide on D&D, and ended up being branded a liar by her fellow-Evangelicals. Mel Gabler, the right-wing textbook activist, also writes articles against Judaism and the other world-faiths and once said, "Too many textbooks and discussions leave children free to make up their own kinds about things." Another anti-D&D site also claims that wearing the paisley pattern attracts demons.

If you want these people to do your thinking for you, that is your business.

My own experience of life (over more than half a century) has taught me that Mr. Gabler is simply wrong. Give people accurate information, let them talk and think and play roles, and they usually make good decisions. They will try to walk in love, to do good to others, and even to forgive wrongs. What better way than in an adventure game -- where right and wrong may be even better-defined than in our world?

In contrast to some of the other holy books, the Jewish and Christian Bibles have very little to say about the afterlife. For mainstream Christians, heaven begins in this life, when you focus on helping others rather than your own petty concerns. Hell also begins in life, when you focus on vanity, greed, hatred, self-indulgence, and sensuality. The outer planes, first brilliantly conceived by Gary Gygax, are worlds where inner states become real. If you know something of the arcana of the Christian faith (i.e., the doctrine of the intermediate state), or have had some experience with the supernatural yourself, you will understand why I find this aspect of the game so compelling.

There's something else.

For JRR Tolkien, carefully crafting new worlds was perfectly natural to a human being, made in the image of God the Creator. Tolkien's fantasy world, on which D&D is largely based, is filled with meditations on the great moral themes -- temptation, power, heroism, and the ability of individuals really to make a difference.

I've already mentioned that, as a Christian, I am trying (with the help of grace) to be someone that I am not -- a good person.

And the Christian faith starts with a sort of role-playing, in which we identify with someone other than ourselves.

When we say the Lord's Prayer, we begin "Our father...." Christ is God's only-begotten son, and when we pray, we are actually emulating Jesus.

The central act of Christian worship is a re-enactment of Jesus's last hours with His friends, when He revealed Who He is and what He intended for us.

As adventure-gamers, we imagine ourselves as someone else and say, "What would they do?" As Christians in real life, we ask ourselves, "What would Our Lord do in this situation?" The differences are obvious, but there are also similarities -- and these seem to me to be very wholesome.

And although adventure-gaming is no substitute for worship, it is still a shared activity in which friends come together to encourage one another to righteousness.

If you are considering becoming a Christian, find someone in real life who professes the Christian faith and who seems to be wise and good. Ask what you should do next. You are already in my own prayers. You may be surprised how often it is possible and effective to return good for evil. Happy adventuring!

Ed Friedlander MD
July 3, 2005

Follow-up: Since people are already asking, within the faith, I am a conservative Episcopalian (i.e., neither fundamentalist nor liberal.)

On Fairy Stories -- Tolkien's essay
The Way -- Explicitly Christian Role-Playing Game
Christian Gamers Guild
The Escapist -- gaming advocacy website
James Wyatt, an ordained Methodist pastor, chose to promote Christian values through his novels and work as a major designer of the D&D games.

Tracy Hickman, co-author of "Dragonlance", is a strong Christian in the LDS tradition and undertook writing his fantasy novels to promote Christian principles. I found his essay The Moral Imperative of Fantasy compelling.
Faith and Gaming -- by pastor Mark Joseph Young.

Meet Ed
D&D Character Generator
Li Po's Hermitage -- one of the oldest D&D sites
Planescape -- where attitudes become your environment. Beware!

I would like to thank my cyberfriend Indi, from Holland, for the idea for this page. May your dice come up 20's.


As a DM, I made a few adjustments as a Christian refereeing for fellow-Christians. These are just my ideas, and different people will choose different approaches.

Follow-up: I am surprised by the number of people hostile to the Christian faith who have contacted me to say that they find this page (and especially the footnote) objectionable, offensive, deeply wrong-headed, and so forth. Nobody really says why, but I haven't gotten this much hate-mail in years. I'm offering no apologies. I hope instead that should my detractors find themselves in real need of any sort, someone from Christ's family will be there for them as someone has always been there for me.

Follow-up, January 2009. The Fourth Edition offers several features that professing Christians might like. The old problems leading to "Monty Haul / Munchkin" syndrome are gone. "The gods" are remote. However much readers may enjoy Michael Moorcock's grim fantasy fiction, the fourth edition no longer centers on his "law vs. chaos" metaphysics. The new cosmology reflects the belief, common to many cultures, that the world was created from, and remains at war with, primeval chaos. The Hebrew Bible recalls this in Psalm 93, and especially Psalm 89, in which the Creator defeats the water dragons Rahab, Tannin (/ Tiamat?) and others). Unlike other regional faiths, there is no question of Who is the winner, or that it is done for the benefit of humankind. A scholarly history, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea, is available online. The Elemental Chaos reappears with much impact in Milton's "Paradise Lost", in which the Creator builds from it and Lucifer corrupts it. (Along with Boccoccio, Marlowe, Ariosto and Spenser, Milton popularized the character "Demogorgon", and Milton locates the demon prince -- and "Orcus" -- here rather than in his Satan's lawfully-operated hell. Here, says Milton, also dwell primordials -- "gorgons and hydras and chimeras dire.") What a believer should make of this, and how it relates to today's physics in which mysteriously fine-tuned Law brings ever-increasing order out of the initial Chaos, is for you to decide. We read in Psalms 8 and 115 that the task of sustaining the world is given to human beings. Perhaps this includes keeping the primordials in check.

Just as "the elemental chaos" precedes nature and humankind, so "the astral sea" is full of realms personifying human ideals and ideologies. The variant rules allow the great ring / nine alignments that gave the philosophic depth to "Planescape." The lawful evil of the devils (achievement, teamwork, and conquest without love) is something we witness in our fellow-humans every day. The chaotic evil of the Spider Queen (random and capricious cruelty for its own sake) is all-too-familiar to us as an ideal of depraved humans, but nothing that a subhuman thing could understand. Hence, the wisdom of placing all "the gods" in the astral sea.

The demons of the abyss within the elemental chaos call us to discard our essential humanity. They are distinct from the fallen angels, who as devils ("diabolus" means "thrown down") tempt us to greed, hate, vanity, sensuality, laziness, and the rest. The other realms of the astral sea seem ruled by beings who embody the ideals of many different human cultures. Supposedly they arose from the stuff of the Astral Sea in response to the ideals and ideologies of mortals.

The "primal spirits" of nature, stabilized in contrast to chaos, remain to be developed. Other living things, so far as we know, do not hold ideals or ideologies, nor do they engage in senseless cruelty.

In the late third edition literature, the inhabitants of the Abyss were once the Lovecraftian obyriths, senseless (far realm?) evil from before the dawn of humanity. The tanar'ri arose only in response to the worst of humankind.

I am no adventurer, but I honor all human achievement, and I face the task resisting both organized temptation and primordial chaos in my own heart every day. Think about it, and decide for yourself.

As the Fourth Edition cosmology develops, you may decide that adventurers are simply "points of light" in a world where all of our own make-believe is real -- "the gods" (subcreators / ideologies), "the promordials" (causes of natural disasters), fairylands, ghost-worlds, and the nature spirits of animism. Perhaps someday it will even encompass the Woodstock Nation fantasy ("chaotic good").

Michael Moorcock liked C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien personally, but his experience of life did not lead him to share their optimistic faith. Instead, Moorcock succeeded in creating a different kind of fantasy fiction. I was pleased to read selections from his thought, including the following:

I DO have problems with some of the more superstitious bits of ritual and so on but I also have considerable respect for those who practice what most of us regard as 'real' Christianity. I don't believe that the religiosity of America is actually 'Christian' in any real sense. As I said a while ago, I always thought Christ was supposed to be an example, not a weapon to attack others with.

I'm more impressed with my fellow-Christian in the USA and around the world than Moorcock is. As always, you must decide for yourself.