Sunday, June 4, 2017

Casting Woo onto the Dice

The annual Pagan Picnic is this weekend here in St Louis. Though I long ago filed away witchcraft, wicca, faery magic and other pagan revivalism into the category of "benign bullshit," I yet still love to participate in gatherings dominated by such magical thinking and perspectives. The vibe is just so positive, the craftwork so sincere and the community so welcoming. I'll even buy the occasional Green Man or Artemis icon just to be supportive.

Official event photo, credit unknown

Another thing it quickens is a particular sense of nostalgia, one integral to my approach to roleplaying. I don't hear it often mentioned anymore, but some of the earliest adopters of Dungeons & Dragons after it got away from the war-gamers were Medievalists (SCA'dians, Renaissance Fest actors) and late-era bohemians, especially the one's heavily into Tolkien and pantheistic spiritualism. Though by the time I found roleplaying it was not physically present in the circles I gamed in, their foundational influence was still a big part of the culture. Articles and rulebooks would discuss running campaigns taking more-than-casual inspiration from history, ancient art and "personal discovery." It was an approach that resonated with me, much more so than play focused on combat or advancement-hunting, because it was reaching, however vaguely, for something sublime. Not to say it was dourly serious-minded; these were the folks who loved Monty Python, after all.

As far as I've seen, contemporary game texts don't really acknowledge that flavor of "Woo" anymore ("woo" meaning a soft, non-rigorous belief in magic, a bit of harmless irrationality). Sometimes I wonder if it all got drawn off into then used up by the Gothic aesthetic of the World of Darkness. Todays' tabletop culture seems largely dominated by hackers and collectors, builders of spreadsheets and action figure archives, not a tarot card reader to be found. Sometimes I ache to experience a game with a little old-tyme magik in it, and I don't mean a spell list.