Tony Dowler recently let me critique his work-in-progress Mathematica as part of a critique exchange over at Story-Games.
Capsule summary: it’s a well-done alternate-history Renaissance game, built on Clinton Nixon’s Solar System. His main addition to that system is the “war of ideas”. Without giving away too much, questions like “Can the Pope be infallible?” can be invoked during play for mechanical advantage, and eventually get “resolved”, the answer becoming part of the game world.
That triggered off an idea in me for an alternate treatment. What if the ideas (let’s call them Theses, like Luther’s) become like very cut-down characters, which “advance” as they are invoked and involved in conflicts until they “transcend” and become orthodoxies or truisms accepted by at least some people as just part of the way things are?
This makes them rather like gods, of course. And, in fact, the ideas of the Renaissance and afterwards did start to be treated, in many ways, like the gods of polytheism.
Those same gods were given a revival in intellectual and artistic discourse in the Renaissance, their symbolism and attributes used in discussion and symbolic art about ideas. Probably this had something to do with the age’s desire to disentangle itself from the medieval Church, which did a similar thing with the symbols and attributes of the saints.
Interestingly, like me in City of Masks, Tony has made the continuation of Roman paganism part of the background to his setting. I suspect his reasons may be similar to mine (I seem to remember him saying somewhere that he’s a fairly conservative Catholic): Doing this enables you to play with ideas about the role and influence and corruption of the Church in those times, without the emotional complication of its historical continuity with the Church of which you are a current faithful member.
So anyway, there’s an idea for my file of “may have legs” ideas. Theses, and, naturally, antitheses, which act like characters in at least some ways.
More in my next post.