Pagan Studies

Focusing on the Arte Magical as a practice and profession, we study various facets of magic through the lens of both classical and modern perspective. From ancient myth to urban legend to fiction and philosophy, all viewed through the eyes of a very practical magician.

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Roll a D6

It's probably no surprise that I'm a huge fan of parodies and satire, or the various "-ifications" on the net (yes, I know that's not a word, I'm using it anyway).

I really enjoy it when people get creative about their interpretations of things- the creative world is too broad and vast for us to get terribly proprietary over our ideas.  Copyright infringement and patent laws and such really bug me.  Of course, I like the reversal of such things, like Repo: the Genetic Opera, which is not even terribly tongue in cheek in its commentary on commercialism in health care.

The reason I enjoy these things, far beyond the satirical and political commentary holding people accountable through mockery, is the actual creative genius of world-building.  Taking a simple trope or theme, like maybe a memorable scene from a movie or book, and recreating it as a sitcom episode with the cast of Friends, for example.

Or rewriting the lyrics of a song to suit a completely different message, such as this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54VJWHL2K3I

That video, Roll a D6 by Assorted Intricacies, is a parody of Like a G6 by Far East Movement.  I didn't relate at all to the original song by Far East Movement, and the marrying the catchy tune to a set of lyrics I can actually connect with was kind of awesome.  Things like this are why I love being a part of the geek community.

However, for me it goes beyond that.  The name of this blog post is Roll a D6 for more than just an oblique reference to a Youtube video.  It's actually part of the philosophy of this blog, and states part of my vision.

When I was in my early 20's, I began experimenting with various forms of tabletop gaming, trying to find something that "wasn't D&D, and was actually fun," to quote myself.  I played around with Mage: the Ascension, and Amber Diceless Roleplaying, and Shadowrun... I even read a few GURPS books, looking for inspiration.  However, I had played AD&D extensively as a kid, and sort of hated it, and was looking for something nebulous and unidentifiable.  So, I dabbled with the dice pool a bit, and got bored fairly easily.

One day, however, I was browsing one of the Mage books, and stumbled across an entry that was very clearly sort of a warning label.  "Warning- this is just a game!  Playing Mage will not grant you magical powers, yada yada, don't be crazy."

I mentioned it to my boyfriend at the time, and he pointed out that White Wolf had been having problems with the Vampire: the Masquerade LARP community, and that people were using the books as a means of stating they were real vampires.

His statements were a bit sneering, full of contempt at the "gullible losers."  I myself had a different reaction.

I looked at the Mage book, and said, "well why not?"

That began my foray into the study of magical games and sacred storytelling.  In the old days, we used to tell stories about things we experienced in nature, through stories about the gods.  How Raven's feathers became black, why Spider can fly, and how thunderstorms are really the Gods fighting the evil Etins and driving them back to Jotunheim.

We used to gamble and bet to pass time, and indeed, there are a huge number of stories about gambling with the Devil or making bargains with faeries.

And I asked myself- what makes these stories any more real than the ones from Dragonlance novels about Paladine and Takhisis?  Or the ones in my White Wolf books about the Umbra and the Weaver and the Wyrm?

I began using roleplaying games as paradigms for magic, much like folks will use Celtic or Roman or Tuscan culture and religion as paradigms for Wicca or more indigenous magical practices in a region.  I learned that the dice used by gamers are actually descended from the Platonic Solids of Greek mathematical and mystical tradition, connected to the five elements of sacred geometry.

I started casting circles using the ten (nine and the tenth unknown) spheres of the Ascension, and speaking to my Avatar.  I started referring to my magical objects as Fetishes and spoke of the internet as the Matrix, referencing Shadowrun.

And, I found a reason to play the games I'd only been reading.  My friends and I would gather together, create sacred space, and then we'd do what we called a "Play Yourself" game- creating ourselves as characters in the World of Darkness or in a Shadow of Amber.  And we'd have magical powers or special skills, right out of the book.  Then we'd roleplay through our daily lives as if we'd met some sort of adventure.

The strangest things began to happen- things we roleplayed in the game like meeting people or gaining objects, would have analogues which would happen in real life.  One of my friends got a van his character had acquired in one of our sessions, a week after the session.  Several times, it snowed in the summer (not unheard of out here, but uncommon to say the least), right after we had battled a snow demon or someone had cast a hailstorm spell in the game.

In short, what we were doing was not simply fantasy.  We didn't have to call upon the Four Quarters, or the Archangels of the Watchtowers, or any classical gods.  Magic still happened.

These days, I enjoy roleplaying games not merely as a form of entertainment- I treat them as sacred rituals of honor to the forces which underpin the universe.  In the roll of the dice, I see Fate.  In the secrecy of the DM's screen, I see the great Mysteries.  In the character sheets we design, I see Power and Destiny.  And in every aspect of our gameplay, I see the totems and emblems of the universe being revealed, like the turn of a tarot card.

And everyone wonders why I keep playing magic users.

If you've had an experience like this, please, feel free to add to the comments!  I also welcome those with dissenting opinions- if you've had experiences which seem to contradict what I've written, please share them.  Let's have a conversation!

Everyone roll Initiative!

Last modified on

S. Rune Emerson has been practicing witchcraft and sorcery since the early 90's, and has been teaching since 2004. He is the founder of the Risting Tradition of American Witchcraft, which is a large title for a small local tradition based in Northern Nevada. He also heads a coven tradition called the Cabal of Nocturne, and works as a diviner at Pathways Spirit, a metaphysical shop in Reno.

He likes to describe his life as "extraordinarily simple." He is fond of observing that magic as a profession is the somewhat honest alternative to those of the same mindset as criminals- smart, lazy, and prone towards thinking outside the box, often in areas of questionable morality. He believes in a strong standard of accountability in magical practice, and has very strict ethics. He's also very opinionated about nearly everything.

Comments

  • Babette Petiot
    Babette Petiot Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Merci! I loved this entry, very interesting and inspiring.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Hey, thanks! Any experiences you'd like to share in this vein?

  • Babette Petiot
    Babette Petiot Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Even though I've been roleplaying for about 15 years now, I've never experienced or considered this form a spiritual point of view.

    For me, it is a kind of ritual, but much more a social one, gathering with firends, sharing food, the latest news, exchanging about ideas and what's happening in the world while having an adventure and rolling dice...It's more about bonding and plain and simple fun. ;)

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    *nods* That's much of what I experience when my friends lead a game, too. Generally, I'm one of the only people who gets any 'magic' events out of it, and usually only because I weave the game into my spiritual work. :)

  • Babette Petiot
    Babette Petiot Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Exactly! That's why I found your article so interesting, and maybe soo, I will try weaving the game in my practice. Thank you!

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Fantastic!

  • Naya Aerodiode
    Naya Aerodiode Tuesday, 11 June 2013

    Oh, Mage: The Ascension. What a wonderful RPG. I've spent many years playing it, and went on many awesome adventures. And I learned quite a bit about magick, too, from it, too. Screw the disclaimers; I take my knowledge from anywhere I can find it. It's very obvious, though, that the authors of the book did their homework into real magickal traditions and paradigms.

    Mage really gave me my first understanding of what a paradigm is and why it's important. I remember one harsh DM telling me, "Your character can't do that magick until you explain exactly how it works in her paradigm." It forced me to really think about metaphysics, and not just in terms of game mechanics.

    I actually wrote an article on my own blog a while back about the ways that RPGs can be used as sacred storytelling. Also, I find that using character sheets to help with servitor creation can be a really good way to define the characteristics of the servitor.

    Oh, and in our "play yourself as a character," I was a Cultist of Ecstasy.

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Wednesday, 12 June 2013

    Excellent! That instruction from your DM? I do that to my players too! :D

    Most of my friends are also magical practitioners of one variety or another, especially the ones I game with. It's all I can do to keep my games from turning into classes, although my friends all seem to enjoy them even if I do have a tendency to sneak magic lessons in when nobody's looking. *grins*

  • Laine
    Laine Monday, 17 June 2013

    It's nice to see that others have witnessed the interplay between story and world and spirit wherein it concerns roleplaying games. I've had some odd brushes in the past, not all of them positive, and one that scared us for years afterwards. Since you've been asking for other examples of reality warping to reflect story, I'll put this one up here.

    I and several of my friends were running a Vampire the Masquerade LARP. It was very early on in the game, and the staff was one with a lot of energy and a lot of - dream, connection, spirit, magick, whathaveyou. The stories in the games were often very closely tied to actual landmarks in our city, and sometimes historically linked to them.

    There was a building in a bad neighborhood in Buffalo that I had walked by many, many times on my way to work. It wierded me out - it was in an industrial part of town, had windows not only boarded up but actually bricked up, and doorways that had been given the same treatment. The whole building had been coated with a nasty, sticky-looking pink paint.

    Well, it was obviously a haven for some of our NPC Sabbat; it was too perfect! We had some interesting stories revolving around the location, and then one night, in game, the building was subjected to a very concentrated arson attempt. It would have taken serious work to make this building burn given that it was mostly cinderblock and brick, and it was a chemical fire that did it in game.

    What did we find out the next day? The same damn building burned down in real life. In the physical world. At the same time as it was burning in game. Just like in our game, chemical accelerants had been used on existing chemicals being stored in the building. The whole neighborhood smelled like death for months, and I couldn't even visit it, it was so nasty.

    Since then we've been more responsible about the "play-yourself" kind of scenarios, and about linking things in real life directly to things in games. Heck, when I write stories I deliberately form distances from characters. I remember all too well hearing Grant Morrison speak about how injuries done to King Mob in the Invisibles would be inflicted on him in real life. Morrison has a lot to say about stories and their power.

    So, all that aside, I want to find ways to use this power responsibly and positively and beneficially. Do you have any tips, or any direction that you can point me in?

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Monday, 17 June 2013

    That's a great question! I actually do have a few answers for that, as it's been a bit of an issue for me and mine as well. *chuckling*

    1. In order to create distance between players and characters when doing a "play yourself" campaign, I always have my players select one major thing about them, and change it. Gender, sexual orientation, perhaps a past event. Nothing fantasy fulfilling, either- no "my parents never got divorced, so everything's tralala happy." It has to be something that would change them majorly.

    That allows the roleplaying we do, and the magic, to be far enough away from their own personal lives that they don't have any serious dramatic changes from the tragedies of their characters.

    2. NEVER use people you know as antagonists or plot hooks. Invent new characters- do not put an irritating community member's face on your opponent for the evening's session. Things you do to these people in the game are occasionally inflicted upon their real person. At one point, I played a game with my coven, and we roleplayed us as having split up, and the setting took place a year later. The coven began to immediately suffer difficulties, and did in fact split up. It was surprising, as we all worked together very well.

    3. Most of the changes which happen in the real world are the 'incidental' ones, the ones which happen without comment. Dramatic shifts in the weather that are 'accepted' without question as being part of the new setting, or perhaps an environmental change such as your arson story, are the kinds of changes I mean. If something happens in your game that you would avert from happening in the real world, try doing a simple charm against evil (like knocking on wood, or using the sign of the cross, yes I know it's hokey). It tends to avert trouble.

    4. Do not make a large-scale dramatic change to your home environment, and end on a cliffhanger. Supervillains holding sway over all the world and cackling at the sky may be great for a game, but the real-world consequences are really unpredictable.

    In fact, one way to moot dangerous effects is to cast your circle around the space you're working with, designed to enclose the magic and prevent it from leaving. Then when the game part is done, call forth the bad guys and NPCs as spirits, and thank them for participating in the show, and give them offering, asking them to depart in peace and to go forth and bring beneficial changes linked to the show. That turns them into willing participants like a magical theater group.

    Hope some of these helped! :)

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Tuesday, 18 June 2013

    It's only suggested by the title of your post, but have you seen this?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54VJWHL2K3I

    (I'm a gamer since 1976 or so myself...)

  • S. Rune Emerson
    S. Rune Emerson Tuesday, 18 June 2013

    Actually, I put that link in the post, although apparently the video is having a problem. *chuckles*

    But yes, I felt it was terribly entertaining, and also pertinent to the thrust of my article. ;)

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