The Way
A Christian Role-playing Game


The Way is an educational fantasy role-playing game for church youth groups. It is Christian, but non-denominational, and therefore useful in all mainstream churches. It lets the players deal with complex moral problems and serves as a basis for teaching a Christian way of life.

The Way was developed at the youth works section of the Västerås Bishopric of the Church of Sweden (the Lutheran church that is the main denomination in Sweden). The project was endorsed of Bishop Ytterberg, financed by the Administrative Board of the Bishopric and managed by Len Howard. Reverend Åke Eldberg has provided theological and pastoral advice during the develoment.

The Background of The Way

  • The Way was originally published in Swedish in 1993 as part I of a The Way series. The English edition was published in 1997.
  • Part II, called Quo Vadis? introduces the players to Rome and Jersualem in the times of the early Christian church. It has not yet been published in English.
  • Part III, called Ansgar, is named for the first Christian missionary to Sweden. The player assume the roles of North Germans that take the gospel to the pagan Vikings in the 9th century. It has not yet been published in English.

Further parts of the series exist on the drawing board, but it not yet clear when they will produced.

Copyright © 1993, 1997: the originators.

Inquiries concerning The Way and the use of role-playing games in the educational activities of the Church of Sweden should be directed at:

Len Howard
Västerås Stift
Västra Kyrkogatan 9
SE-722 15 Västerås
SWEDEN

Phone: +46-21-17 85 63
Fax: +46-21-12 01 98

If you want to order The Way, send an e-mail to len.howard@svenskakyrkan.se for prices and procedures.


What Is a Role-playing Game?
A role-playing game is a particular kind of parlour game, in which five to eight players sit around a table and together create an exciting story by using imagination, dice, paper and pencils. One player, the Game Master (GM), has created the foundations of the adventure. The others have each created a character, a fictitious hero with which they experience the adventure. The best comparison is to envision a director who is staging a play that none of the actors have read beforehand.

The actors create their own roles. The director then tells them where each scene takes place and where the actors are to stand. The actors will now have to improvise what they say and do. The story of the play thereafter develops more or less in the direction originally conceived by the director. Whenever an actor wants to do something special, he or she rolls a set of dice to determine the outcome. It could for instance be an attempt by an actor to persuade one of the supporting cast played by the director (will the persuasion be successful?), an attempt to jump across a chasm (will the actor make it?), or an attempt to emulate St George and slay a dragon (will the dragon devour the actor instead?). The major difference between this kind of theatre and role-playing games is that a game takes place solely in the players’ imagination, while they sit around a table and talk and roll dice.

One person is the Game Master (the director in the paragraph above), who is responsible for knowing the rules, and also for creating a story-line (the play above), drawing necessary maps and jotting down descriptions of the people encountered in the fantasy world (the supporting cast). He weaves imaginary situations and conflicts into the story-line that the players will have to deal with.

The players create imaginary persons (just like the roles in the play) that live in this fantasy world, determine their personalities and guide their actions. Like an actor, the player tries to play the role in a more or less credible manner. Some players do not enter the role much, instead preferring to state how their characters behave. Others really try to live the part and make as credible an interpretation of their characters as possible, Everyone plays in his or her own manner and no particular way is better than another.

When the imaginary heroes face the problems invented by the GM, they must themselves decide how to deal with them. It is entirely up to them and is not dealt with by the rules.

The characters are described on forms called character sheets. All basic facts about a character, for instance whether he or she is able to ride, is noted on the sheet. One should also make some notes about the character’s temperament (e.g. whether he is an optimist or pessimist) and preferences on it.

The players collaborate to overcome the difficulties the GM puts in their way. The GM has no character of her own. Instead she plays all the people that the players encounter in the adventure. These are known as Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and are not as thoroughly described as the players’ characters. The GM invents their personalities during the game or keeps some notes on them prepared on a piece of paper .

A role-playing game has neither winners nor losers. The players usually rejoice when their characters achieve what they want, but even if the characters fail the players do not really lose; they have after all experienced an adventure.

Here is an excerpt from an adventure, provided as an example how to play. All the lines spoken by the characters Jeremiah, Myriam and Joshua are in reality spoken by the player owning the character. The players also say what their characters do, e.g. when they hold their horses outside the customs house and dismount, walk to the door, and so on. The GM tells what happens and what the surroundings look like.

Jeremiah: "We ride to the customs house and dismount."
GM: "The street is deserted and you see no living thing. Far away along the town wall you see a light in a tower."
Myriam: "How far away is it? Would anyone in the tower be able to see all the way to us?"
GM: "It is probably two hundred paces away, so nobody should be able to, but that depends of course on whether you are waving torches or not."
Jeremiah whispers: "We try to make as little noise as possible." He speaks to his buddies: "I think we should sneak up to the door of the customs house and enter it without lighting a torch." The others mumble that they agree.
(To the GM): "I draw my dagger. We move towards the door and try to open it carefully."
GM: "You reach the door without problems. When you investigate it, you discover that it is locked or barred, though it is hard to determine exactly how."
Joshua: "I use my little picklock in an attempt to open it. Myriam, please keep an eye on the surroundings for patrols."
Myriam (to the GM): "I move to the corner and look out for anyone approaching."
GM: "OK, you’re trying to pick the lock, Joshua. Suddenly Myriam hears the noise of hooves in street over at the tannery."
Myriam shouts in excitement: "No! Shit! Not now! I shake Joshua to make him stop."
Joshua: "Take it easy! I have ears." To the GM: "I put the picklock in my pocket and dash to the horse."
Myriam and Jeremiah shouting simultaneously: "I do that, too! I do that, too!"
GM: "When you’re scrambling into the saddles, you see six horses appearing through the gate about fifty paces away. Their riders are shouting to sound the alarm. They are dressed in red cloaks and long slim swords are gleaming in their hands. It seems that they have spotted you."
Joshua: "Let’s get out of here, before it’s too late!"

Ordinary role-playing games are for entertainment, being a creative and exciting hobby that gives an opportunity to use imagination and solve puzzling problems together with friends. The Way is more than that – it has also a educational purpose: to give the players an opportunity to study ethical and moral issues and what the Bible has to say about such matters.

Role-playing Games in the Confirmation Group
One cannot base a confirmation course solely on role-playing games, but it is a valuable tool for certain aspects of it. The game stimulates the students and gets them involved in the issues at stake. It makes problems more concrete and allows the students to find their own solutions and see the consequences of their actions. The gaming session contains a lot of group dynamics. Each student is forced to make up his or her mind how the issue at stake ought to be dealt with, and, if the players disagree, they must also deal with that conflict. Role-playing furthers cooperation, not conflict.

The three adventures provided in The Way book deal mostly with moral issues. The students will face a series of difficult decisions, in which their values and moral qualities are put to the test. There is rarely any solution that is obviously correct. It is easy to find issues that illustrate most of the Ten Commandments and the love of God and your fellow man. The game world contains both heroes and villains. The adventures deal particularly with conflicts between good and devoted individuals and a world that – at least most of the time – is characterised by secular indifference and utilitarianism.

Role-playing games may not suit all confirmation groups. Its success depends largely on the qualities of the Game Master and the genuine interest of the students in this form of education. We have tested these adventures at a series of Swedish confirmation courses with a good outcome – all our students enjoyed them. But there will probably be certain groups that will not like role-playing games, particularly groups consisting solely of girls. Unfortunately, it seems that only boys play role-playing games outside the confirmation course. We know that girls will play as well as boys, but it may be difficult to arouse their enthusiasm.

The Teacher’s Role
The teacher’s role in the game depends on your own attitudes and experiences. Maybe you have already played this kind of games or even been a Game Master. Excellent! You will be familiar with everything in The Way.

If you have not been a Game Master and, particularly, if you never have played role-playing games before, you should probably look for a student who can take care of that task. Tens of thousands of youngsters play the games, so you will probably find a few with previous gaming experience in a student group. With a bit of luck you will find someone who volunteers as a Game Master. If you do not find anyone, you will probably be able to handle the matter on your own, but it will require more work since you probably will have to master all the details of the game. You are your own best guide to your limitations.

Even if you let a student be the Game Master, you have two important tasks. You must be present at the game, since if you do not see yourself what is happening during the adventures, you will not be able to chair the discussions afterwards. Further more, you, being an adult, should also make sure that everything works out well – see the "Caveat" section.

You are responsible for the discussion to be staged after every adventure. You and the students should discuss the moral and ethical aspects of the adventure thoroughly; here you will get the opportunity to show what Christ and the Bible say to the students.

Practical Advice
It will take about 3 to 8 hours to complete an adventure. The game is therefore best suited for camps or study events that lasts a full day. It is harder to play at lessons that last merely 1 or 2 hours. When you have started an adventure, you should try to complete it the same day, or possibly the day after.

The ideal gaming group consists of 6 to 8 people, including the GM. If you are fewer than 5, you will lose much of the group dynamism, and if you are more than 8, you risk chaos since the GM usually is unable to handle that many characters. If your student group is large, you should see to it that no more than 8 play at a time.

Caveat
Some teenagers are extrovert and active, whereas others are very shy. It is important that you keep an eye on who are active in the game and make sure that it is not dominated by one or two players. School experiences show that boys are usually more pushy than girls and tend to dominate in the class room. Pay special attention to the girls to ensure that they also get involved and make sure that each player personally makes the decisions for his or her own character.

The most common problem is that a shy little teenager sits silent and lets the others take care of everything. It is fortunately easy for the GM to remedy such a problem – provided that she pays attention to it. She simply lets something happen to that player’s character, something that the other players cannot interfere with:

"It’s three o’clock at night and you’re watching the camp fire. The others are all asleep. You suddenly hear something go ‘bump’ in the forest. What do you do?"

The GM can quieten dominating players in similar ways – e.g. by letting them encounter a wizard that casts a sleep spell on them. When the characters are unconscious, their players must also be silent. Such spells are not described in the rules, but that poses no problem; the GM alone determines what can and cannot happen in an adventure.