Game Pile: Dragonraid

Notes and partial script after the fold!

In the late 1990s, there was a hot window of time where it was possible for you to be a presence on popular radio and also, at the same time, a ska band. Part of this is because the 90s pop radio charts were kind of drunk on money and would try literally anything once or twice, but in that space and time there seriously was a moment where the pop charts could have songs on it from Reel Big FIsh, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake and the Hippos. It was a moment.

And in that moment, you could go into a Koorong bookstore and buy Christian Ska music like Bunch O’Believer’s ‘It’s a Ska Ska Ska Ska World.’ Here, let’s check out this intro to their music video clip for Mission Trip To Mexico.



And yes, this is around when South Park was a popular source of moral panic because they might corrupt the youth into swears. As a band, Bunch O’Believers are, well, they’re the blandest possible step below ‘fine.’ Their music is basically competent, unremarkable ska which doesn’t convey much emotionality and is exactly as good as it sounds when you start it. If you ever used a musical keyboard and pressed the ‘demo’ button, this is the ska version of that. The songs’ lyrics are abysmal; a song about going to Mexico to explain to a majority Catholic country what Christianity is, as if they don’t know about it is just the start of it, but it was their ‘best’ foot forward. They had on the same album such banger hits as ‘I saw pastor dancing,’ ‘I’m gunna wait’ and ‘Homeschool girl,’ and those are all exactly as terrible as you think, reading those names.

The thing with these songs is they’re not just boring and expressing an ideology I despise, they’re also just really unchallenging and simple. Lyrics follow the simplest rhyming scheme with the same energy as ‘oh I’m Talen lee and I’m here to say that eating vegetables is a-okay.’ I’m not going to play you any samples, because that’s how copyright bots find you, but also because it sucks on toast.

So during the height of a music movement where ska bands were getting everywhere from Clueless to Digimon, and when South Park was at what we thought was the apex of its power, this is what the Christian Media machine was able to put out and capitalise on it. This is an example of what I refer to as Christian Replacement Media.

If you’re not already familiar with this, there are book publishers, movie producers, a streaming network, a variety of stores and industries, many based out of megachurches, that exist to attempt to create a rival media conglomerate to ‘worldly’ media. You may have heard of some of them with the most publically visible one lately being the Pureflix channel’s attempt to provide an alternative to Netflix, serving up Christian-safe media that’s designed to work for as many different categories of Christian as have the money worth shaking out of them.

Christian Replacement media is typically extremely low quality and hackish; the books are written in an amateurish fashion, with plot points rarely thought out, mistakes left in, and often entire plot points are ‘whoopsied’ away in a way that may remind you of a fanfic author who can’t go back and edit earlier chapters because they’re released now and revisions happen to other people. The music tends to be safe and unextraordinary, with the best of the best in the space managing the stratospheric escape to Conventional Easy Listening radio where they quietly fade away and return to the safer spaces they’re used to. The movies are just pure crap but it doesn’t matter because they’re serving a market who care more about their ideological bent than their quality as storytelling media.

I have a personal theory that Christian Replacement Media is typically bad because the people who operate in those spaces are selected away from the things that make you good at making them. Empathy for audiences is useful for making good media that connects to other people and a lot of these creators are much too meanspirited to think about how other people feel. In order to learn technique and variety in your storytelling you need to expose yourself to other stories and when you start doing that you start pulling away into those other spaces. Some people are in this space because they genuinely believe it, but quite a few are in it because they can’t make it in the mainstream. They can’t convince new people. What they can do is preach very hard to a choir, and hope that choir doesn’t know better about how good their work is.

Whatever it is, you can probably find an attempt at a Christian Media version of it. Social media networks, dating apps, clothing lines, political candidates, music genres and yes, cryptocurrency front-ends all have their special version of ‘Christian Replacement.’

Now that you know that this is a rich, fulgent field of extremely stinky blooms, let’s talk about when in the 1980s, they tried to make a Christian Replacement Dungeons and Dragons.

Let’s talk about Dragonraid.

Explain the Dungeons and Dragons moral panic

If you’re not already familiar with it, back in the 80s and reaching well into the 90s there was a moral panic about the potential threat to Our Youths that was Dungeons and Dragons. The concern, which you’ve probably seen highlighted with things like movies, chick tracts, and maybe even the promotional material of BADD (bothered about dungeons & dragons) is that D&D taught realistic demon summoning rituals and created a magical reality that could ensnare the minds of youths, literally, and it was turning them into witches, actually.

You are hearing this and I already know you’re thinking ‘they didn’t really believe that’ and I need you to understand that I’m not messing with you when I say they really, really did, and pretending they didn’t lets these people off the hook.

Into this space, where there was a popular craze that Christians wanted to demonise, someone stepped up to make a Christian Alternative to Dungeons and Dragons. That someone was Dick Wulf.

No really.

Not that one.

And what he made was Dragonraid, a game that tried to bring the roleplaying fun of Dungeons and Dragons into the space of children’s bible study and in the process made a game that successfully merged the worst elements of both.

Not gunna talk about ‘fun.’

Introduce Dragonraid

What is Dragonraid Like?

Well, you’re not going to be surprised.

I want to strike a difference between complexity and complication. Something complex has a lot of nuanced interaction between its pieces; you can’t just adjust one element of a complex design without seeing a lot of interacting pieces directly responding. A design that’s complicated has a lot of components in it that may or may not relate to things. If your design needs you to memorise a lot of things and reference tables regularly, it’s probably complicated; if it requires you to do difficult math in your head it’s probably complex.

This game is complicated, but it’s very much not complex. In fact, mechanically, it’s about as complex as a Fighting Fantasy adventure game book; scenarios are presented with simple binary a-or-b, with good actions getting rewards and bad actions getting punished.

Read the passage on resolution

Extremely turgid writing, unclear and poorly edited

the use of encircling language

the entirely random character building

Equipment is fixed

Some genuinely good ideas; if you can shake a penalty by roleplaying a solution, and you don’t, the penalty winds up spreading.

The spells mechanic

Talking about memorisation and catechism

sample adventure

I haven’t played it

the big twist: there was already a D&D for christians, made by christians

Gary Gygax was an intermittently-practicing JW

His game has things like clerics and holy water, priests and empowerment by god. His games believed in punishment for vices. The adventures are about destroying pagan idols from savage tribes, defeating dragons, and returning home. You will be given arbitary advice from capricious strangers and you need to be able to mind-read the module writer to tell if it’s good or bad advice.

It didn’t work, by the way.

Dragonraid, which was a fundamentalist christian alternative to dungeons and dragons, was criticised by the same moral panic mongers, who never played it. It was condemned for having ‘evil content,’ and the same false claims about D&D were imposed onto it, which sort of shows that it’s never about the thing is it? It’s about what complaining about the thing lets you control.

This is how moral panics work: some people make a loud noise about something that isn’t a problem, because other people pay for loud noises, and it gives you power, and you never have to worry about people checking if what you say is true or not, because you’re busy selling loud noises.

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