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Debates and Opinions

Attacks on Roleplaying

Wargames; Points or No Points?

Are Fantasy Wargames 'Real' Wargaming?

The Curse of Games Workshop?

The Attacks on Roleplaying


My response to Mr. Schnoebelen's attacks on D&D or,
"No, not Blackleaf!"

"The incredible vibrating brat", otherwise known as; "Who the hell reacts like that in real life?"

If you are not aware of the likes of Jack Chick and his fundamentalist mates then it is worth having a peek at a few of his tracts. His tracts are those rather badly drawn little pamphlets that US fundamentalist Christians delight in distributing to people who really don't want them. Many people find them hilarious and they are astonishingly over-the-top in their approach. The very hyperbole and unrealistic (and often offensive) plots makes them entertaining reading in a "shaking your head in disbelief" way.

In 1984, Chick drew a pamphlet called "Dark Dungeons" which dealt with the fundamentalist's view of Role-Playing Games, specifically Dungeons and Dragons in this case. Do take a few minutes to read it, and see for yourself just how closely it seems to match your own games and experiences....


Now this has been tackled by better men than I, and I present a few of the online treatments below:


Now I mention this tract as a lead on to my main article. The tract was apparently drawn under the "expert" guidance of one William Schnoebelen. Who? Well, Mr Schnoebelen claims to have been a real-life wizard. Yes, really. He was also, apparently, a Freemason, Mormon, Illuminati, and vampire. I’m not making this up. He also claims to have played D&D. He makes plenty of other claims as well, so I shall not try to prejudice the article by stating my own view on his claims at this point.

Now before I start, I should mention that I have no problems with Christians or any other religion as such. I may not believe in what they believe, but I don't feel the need to ridicule them for doing so. I will happily debate with anyone who tells me that I am wrong not to believe in a religion, and have a major problem with those who try to persuade me into their way of thinking using threats.

So, to set the framework for what I am discussing, I will mention that Mr Schnoebelen runs a fundamentalist church in the USA called the 'With One Accord Ministries'. He appears to be a professional controversialist, delighting in such childishness as handing out anti-mormon pamphlets in Salt Lake City. No surprise then that he joined the attacks on Dungeons and Dragon back in the 1980s. Anything to get his name in the news, I suspect.

Mr Schnoebelen has written quite a few books on everything from UFOs to Wicca and Mormonism. He sets himself as an expert in the occult, and claims many extremely far-fetched things. He claims to have been a high-ranking member of the Illuminati (which don't actually exist), and claims to have been forced to have sex with a demon (which don't actually exist) to join. He claims to have been a real vampire (which don't actually exist), including having had retractable fangs. He also claims to have been a member of the 'secret' level of the Masons (which levels, needless to say, don't actually exist), and to have been a real spell-using wizard (which don't... well, you get the idea). Such are Mr Schnoebelen's credentials.

He admits to not having had a proper, stable job until he became a Christian. Cynics may point out that, as a serial fantasist, this is not really too surprising. Even more cynical types may point out that being the head of fundamentalist church is not really a proper job either.

Mr Schnoebelen attacks RPGs, as well as other religions, fantasy books like Harry Potter, and all the usual targets for fundies. Hilariously, he threatens that people who do not believe in his god will go to his god's hell, which is rather like telling an adult that they will go to Narnia if they root about too deeply at the back of a wardrobe.

His attacks on RPGs stem mainly from sheer ignorance. He is convinced that playing a character in a game means that the player will ultimately be unable to separate reality from the fantasy. Maybe this is down to his own personal experience? He believes that magic is not only real, but that using it will send the user to hell. Again, from a self-claimed former wizard this is a rather unusual stance.  One of his problem with RPGs is that many feature magic, and he believes that having a fantasy character who uses spells in a role-playing game will somehow enable the player of that character to develop magical abilities. For a grown man, this is an incredibly bizarre turn of logic.

Another of  Mr Schnoebelen's problems with RPGs is the morality they contain. All RPG players know that combat and questionable morality are part and parcel of most RPG sessions. After all, the gameworlds in which RPGs, especially fantasy RPGs, are set are dangerous places with somewhat ineffective law-enforcement. Characters kill and loot with joyful abandon. However, for one thing, it is the characters that do so. They are operating in a make-believe world where their actions cause no real harm. A dead orc or bandit is simply a lost statistic on the GM's tally-sheet, it is not a living, breathing individual with a family and dependants. We know that it is make-believe because we, the players, interact with the other players. The player whose character is gleefully burning the bandit hideout to the ground would be mortified if he accidently spilt his drink on the next player's character sheet. The player is not the character and vice-versa.

On top of the character-player factor, most RPGs have at their core a strong moral element. 99% of games involve righting wrongs and fighting evil. Sure, your character may torture the bandit chief, but that is only because he needs to know where the hostages are kept. Many characters wouldn't even go that far, and there are plenty who act in a manner entirely consistent with <insert religion of choice> teachings. In a fantasy world, though, you can explore the limits if what you are comfortable with without having to affect real people or the real world. We sometimes enjoy playing an evil character precisely because we want to experience life on the other side of the fence without actually hurting people.

Yes, we are aware of those for whom evil and mental instability are real. Yes, some of those people play RPGs. After all, they are more likely to want a temporary escape from their own dreadful existence, even if that involves rolling dice and pretending to be someone else for a few hours a week. These are not the typical RPGer, however, just as Mr Schnoebelen's brand of fundamentalist extremism is not typical of the majority of Christians. Just as a murderer killing in the name of his god is not the fault of the church, neither is a disturbed gamer the fault of RPGs. Women drive cars but driving a car does not make you a woman.

This is the fundamental reason why Mr Schnoebelen's arguments against RPGs fall flat. He cannot understand that the vast majority of people are perfectly able to separate fantasy from reality. They do not go home after watching a film and think that they are part of the film plot. They do not read a book and believe that they are one of the characters. Mr Schnoebelen's own brand of fantasy, as evidenced by his claims of vampirism and so on, point to a man for whom a severely delusional mental state is normal. For most people, it is not.

My point by point response to 'Should A Christian Play D&D?' 

This is a long article, really too long for having on the page in its entirety. With this in mind, I have linked to it as a Word document. In it, I have reproduced the text of Mr Schnoebelen's 2001 article, "Should a Christian Play Dungeons & Dragons?", interspersed with my own observations in blue text.

Attacks on D&D

For those interested, Michael Stackpole has written a far more detailed rebuttal of the whole BADD 'investigations'. I recommend reading http://www.featherlessbiped.com/6696/RPGSATAN/rpgsatan.htm if only to see what D&D was being accused of.

Wargames; Points or No Points


Wargame army selection:
Points or no points?

Those of you who play wargames are probably aware of the idea of allocating points to different units. For those who are not so familiar with the concept, in essence each type of wargames unit is valued at a certain point value. This value is an abstract way of allowing players to assemble armies that are, in theory, equal in power and so have an equal chance of victory.


The Arguments


Many rulesets include a points system. The writers have assembled a list of available unit types and have calculated their relative value on the battlefield. Players may pick an army that is within the agreed value, thus allowing a 'fair' battle.


However, other rules writers disagree that using a points system is the best way to assemble the opposing forces. Their argument is that no historical battle was ever organised according to a balanced formula, and that army commanders have forever been forced to fight with whatever force was available to them. Using points is an artificial and ahistorical way to create an army, and thus is not suited to wargames.


My Opinion


We do not usually fight historical battles when we play wargames. Were I offered the chance to play out Isandlwana and given the British forces, I would know that I have a very small chance of victory. Similarly, were I to suggest someone play the French at Agincourt while I played the English, I would do so in the knowledge that I had a very good chance of victory.


Equal forces do not correspond to equal numbers. Think of the early campaign in the Western Desert in 1940, where huge numbers of Italians were defeated by a small number of British and Commonwealth troops. How would you feel if you were playing a France 1940 game and were given a brigade of German Panzer IIIs, but expected to face a brigade of Matilda IIs? Your tanks cannot penetrate their opposite numbers, yet can be destroyed with ease. I doubt that you would enjoy the game for long.


Whilst is it true that historical commanders could not necessarily draw upon equal forces to the enemy, they certainly would have chosen to do so rather than fight at a disadvantage. It is circumstance and strategic necessity that dictates how many troops can be fielded, and not the whim of the commander. Whilst no historical commander reduced his army to better match his opponent's strength, neither has any voluntarily fought at a disadvantage. Any commander would fight with a huge advantage if given the opportunity, but is constrained by what is available. None would choose to fight if outnumbered and outmatched, yet this is what one player is asked to do if fighting without a system to balance the armies. We have the luxury of deploying overpowering forces if we play campaign games, and this is closer to historical reality than a stand-alone game.


We play wargames because we think we have a chance of winning. Who plays chess but voluntarily removes their own Queen and Knights? It is a game, not a historical recreation, and the players are therefore involved in a competitive enterprise that allows their own skill to determine the outcome. Points give us a level playing ground from which to win the battle through our tactical ability. We know that we have equal forces, whatever the number of units fielded, and so defeat or victory is down to the player rather than the army.

Are Fantasy Wargames 'Real' Wargaming?


Is Fantasy Wargaming 'real' wargaming?

Fantasy or historical wargaming? The definitions are, it has to be said, a little vague around the edges. The two camps know what they mean, however, even if isn't that obvious to an outsider.


The Arguments


Fantasy gamers say that wargaming is wargaming, no matter what you field. If you play out a recreation of Waterloo using elves and orcs, so what? The fun is the key thing.


Those opposed to fantasy wargaming see fantasy as slightly childish and nothing to do with wargaming's traditional roots. Just like Renaissance Fairs (or, cringingly, 'Fayres') where people who have painstakingly researched their historical Tudor outfit see themselves surrounded by elves and Imperial Stormtroopers, traditional wargamers believe that fantasy dilutes the scholarly and historical tradition.


My Opinion


The vast majority of wargames are, first and foremost, games. Certainly, professional military wargames are serious business and not played for fun, but the sort of wargames we play on the dining-room table with toy soldiers are games.


If you have fun playing wargames of the Seven Years War with meticulously researched painted units, then all power to you. I sometimes enjoy the research that goes into creating and fielding units, and it has stood me in good stead academically. If, however, you also have fun making up a fantasy army with centaurs and tiger-riding Amazons then you are equally at liberty to do so. Often it is interesting to mix the two, as Flintloque did by mixing orcs and elves with Napoleonic warfare.


But what exactly is fantasy? It is any break from reality. If you play out the 1941 invasion of Crete with the proper units and deployment then the chances are you will still be playing fantasy. As soon as one of those historical units moves or reacts differently to how it did in May 1941, you are into fantasy. Most wargames, however well researched their units, use hypothetical battles or encounters. Many also deploy units that never saw the opponents laid before them. This is not recreating history, it is fantasy.


Fantasy is whatever you make it, but if the opposition to playing fantasy games boils down to deploying goblins and dwarves, then those criticising must look to their own tables. If your army has too many Tiger tanks for the period and theatre, then you are not the serious historical gamer that you think you are.

The Curse of Games Workshop?


The Curse of Games Workshop?

Games Workshop were a major force in fantasy gaming when I was in my formative years. I started gaming when I was about 13, and this corresponded with the rise of Citadel as a miniatures company and all sorts of gaming paraphernalia being released by Games Workshop.


The Arguments


Are Games Workshop now a good influence in the gaming hobby? Well they are responsible for gathering a large number of new gamers through their high street presence. If you mention wargaming to many people they will have heard of Warhammer, often 40K. Go into any Games Workshop store and you will find children and young teenagers eager to snap up the latest releases or play a game with their friends.


On the other hand, they are overpriced and seek to be monopolistic. Try playing in one of their games with a non-standard figure and you will be told you cannot use it. Even older Citadel miniatures are not allowed. Are they seeking to further wargaming or are they seeking to further Games Workshop? Games Workshop, it has been argued in wargaming magazines and clubs up and down the country, are a shadow of their former selves. They are overpriced, exclusive, and seek only to part youngsters from their parents' money.


My Opinion


Games Workshop are a business and, like most businesses, their loyalties are internal. This is understandable, for a business that recommends you go elsewhere is never going to thrive. It is wrong to expect them to support wargaming as a whole when they are concentrating on pushing Games Workshop.


What I dislike about their business model is their cynical exploitation of young gamers. They are drawn into playing Warhammer through peer support and the high street presence. If a child's friends all play Warhammer then Warhammer is obviously going to be the game of choice. Family members can wander into a store and be reasonably certain that they are buying the correct models, thus making GW a reasonable choice for birthday presents.


So, the youngster has his painstakingly collected army, lovingly, if not expertly painted. He proudly takes it along to fight its first battle only to be told that the rules have now changed again and he has to collect a whole new range of models and books. These 'updates' happen with distressing regularity. It seems to be an annual event, something that makes collecting armies pointless. Your shiny new elf regiment has now been reviewed and revised, and new models released. Sure, you don't need to have the latest models, but we are talking about a youngster wanting to impress his peers, so the latest models are expected.


I used to love Games Workshop and bought Warhammer from its first edition. That changed a few years back when their cynical greed just became too much for me. I now have several other rulesets which actually give a better game and allow for a far wider range of models. This is good because, aside from a few quite stunning set-pieces, the quality of GW's figures have declined noticeably over the years. Citadel used to be the miniature company. After merging with GW, I'm afraid, they have lost a lot of ground and become very much second best. Wargames Foundry and Hasslefree Miniatures, Reaper and others, all produce better figures and have a wider range.

Games Workshop are on a timetable as far as cornering the current market is concerned. As realization grows that their business model is exploitative and their products are actually not very good in comparison to some other manufacturers, they may find that they have to seriously rethink the way they do business.

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