Why demons?

I’ve just published a new set of printable paper miniatures depicting demons, which folks can use in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. (There’s also a set of tokens here, using the same images.)

Some people might wonder why I would want to use demons in my games or why I would want to include them in a product, especially since I’m a Christian from an evangelical background. Some folks have had concerned that the inclusion of imaginary demons in games like D&D opened players up to influence from real life evil spirits. For a while, D&D‘s publishers started calling them Tanar’ri, in order to avoid this stigma.

One of the reasons I don’t have a problem with demons (and other evil creatures) being included in these games is because I think they can be a useful way of depicting human evil. Even in real world scripture, I think that evil spirits are often being used symbolically to talk about social evils.

In the regular game I’ve been running on Thursday nights (we’ve been using the D&D book Out of the Abyss) the party has gradually become aware that the subterranean world of the Underdark is being influenced by Demogorgon, the two-headed prince of demons. In the lore of D&D, the two heads of Demogorgon are divided, constantly scheming against each other, and this is also the nature of the madness he spreads. In two settlements the adventurers have visited, this madness has taken the form of greed, division and paranoia.

The town of Sloobludopp had been divided between two religious sects, led by warring relatives, as though the community had two heads attacking the one body. In this situation, the party ended up siding with one of the ‘heads’ and when the two factions came to blows, their violence summoned the Demogorgon to the town to destroy it.

More recently, the part has been exploring the dwarven city of Gracklestugh, which appears to be afflicted by a similar madness. However, this time they’ve noticed how the madness of Demogorgon is pulling the city apart, and they’ve been looking for a way to unify the city and bring festering, hidden conflicts into the open.

This is all very simple to talk about in a game, but it’s not hard to see that these are dynamics that impact on our real world. It seems like our societies are becoming increasingly selfish, fractured and paranoid. I think these stories can call us to live generously and to find ways to reach out to ideological enemies in the midst of real and serious conflict.

Hostipality with Nouwen and Safran

I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out and John Safran’s Depends What You Mean By Extremist at the same time. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Nouwen’s book before, and one of the things I’ve appreciated most about it is the way he talks about the relationship between hostility and hospitality. He acknowledges that when we begin to practise hospitality, we’re often using it to cover over hostility. We can use our ability to provide for others as a way of holding power over them. I think everyone has had some kind of experience of recieving grudging hospitality or passive aggressive hsopitality. Nouwen thinks that if we’re able to recognise the hospitality that often underlies our hostility, we can start moving toward true hospitality, which is freedom for the guest.

I’ve also been interested in how Safran picks up on the theme of hospitality and hostility, although in some ways it’s quite different. John Safran seems to have made himself vulnerable in the process of writing his recent book, by participating in hospitality with various Australians who have, for various reasons, been called ‘extemists’. By going and visiting folks from various Australian extremist groups, spending time in their homes, sharing beer, smokes and pizza, Safran has made himself vulnerable, and I think many of his subjects have also made themselves vulnerable in response. At the end of his visit to United Patriots Front member Ralph Cerminara, Cerminara said he was going to write an article about Safran for his website Left Wing Bigots and Extremists Exposed, but he said he’d changed his mind because ‘it was nice [Safran] came over to chat.’ Safran also visits Muslims from different traditions, visits the Aboriginal tent embassy in Redfern and has a fresh look at the presence of extemism in his own Jewish community. All of these encounters seem to complicate the nature of these groups, when their opponents and the mass media seem to want to simplify everything. Safran shows that they aren’t as homogenous as we might expect. He find that there are Jews among the United Patriots Front despite the presence of neo-Nazis. He finds that Cerminara has Italian and Aboriginal heritage, is married to a Vietnamese migrant, supports Aboriginal land rights, is angry about governments trying to move Aboriginal people off their land, and hates that he gets lumped in with the left wing activists because of these views. I’m not by any means saying that UPF are admirable people, but that the story is more complex that what we’re often told.