Friday, November 16, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Ein Feste Berg

Another article in a series exploring the connections between Gaming and Music, and other outlets of popular culture.

So, one of the major events in the development of modern society in the Western world was the Reformation.  On the surface, of course, it was a movement to identify that the Church was not the sole authority over man's relationship with God (and by extension, in an age of pervasive religiosity, also not the sole authority over all aspects of society).  Regardless of where an individual is within the Catholic-Protestant-Other taxonomy, it must be realized that the Reformation enabled society to separate Church authority from secular authority, and also the essential roots of ideas about freedom of religion, tolerance of others, and the value of the individual versus the society.

All very important stuff.

 However, as lofty as all this is, here at Gaming with Chuck, and especially during Theremin Thursdays, we are (for the moment) interested in the effects of the Reformation on both Music and Gaming.  We will start out with music, one piece in particular, and then look at a few related games.

Approximately 10 years after he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of that famous church in Germany (actually, it was "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" and they were nailed to the door of All-Saints Church, in Wittenberg, Germany), Martin Luther composed the song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (actually "Ein Feste Berg ist unser Gott").  It has been a cornerstone of protestant hymnals ever since, especially the Lutheran Church, in one form or another.  If you have never heard it, here is a version in English.  I say a version, because it has been translated into English alone over 70 times.



By the way, Luther's music was included by J.S. Bach in his fantastic cantata, BWV 80. Okay, so a great hymn, written by a great man, from a great (although tumultuous) time.  What about it's relationship to gaming?  Well, there are a couple of games that I would like to consider, two board games, and a role playing game setting.  Two of them share the name (A Mighty Fortress) from the hymn written by Luther.  The third bears a phrase uttered by Luther ("Here I Stand") during his defense before the Diet of Worms.  Here is a fantastic video, with Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, giving a hollywood version of the defense (in actuality, Luther answered the first half of this scene one day, and then asked for a day to consider, before his final answer that contains the immortalized defense, "Here I stand, I can do no other").  This is from the movie "Luther" 2003.  By the way, it should be pointed out that this is a pretty good depiction of Luther, even if it is performed by Voldemort's brother.


Before getting to the game titles, and risk being labeled as being "too serious", Gaming with Chuck would like to point out that Martin Luther was an earthy fellow (despite having a PhD, like the author of this blog), and enjoyed a good beer or wine as much as the rest of us.  There is a letter he wrote to his wife on the subject (see the nice article here), once, where he claimed that the beer he was drinking on a trip was "strange to him" and if he did not get his own stock forwarded to him, he might not be able to return to home because of the new beer he was drinking.  In light of that, we present one possible vision of how Martin Luther may have celebrated Oktoberfest (with apologies to the All Saint's Church in Wittenberg).



Okay, the games.  The first (and oldest) is the (1977) SPI Title, A Mighty Fortress.  The game is a very solid, and not overly-complex design.  This was a multi-player (6 players) game about the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.

The game featured not only markers representing Clergy going back and forth to convince states to favor one side or the other (in essence, converting, or re-converting countries), but also featured some military action (the beginning of the Wars of Religion).  A reprint of the original (with updated graphics, but not much else changed) came out from Excalibre games in 2011 (available on the Decision Games website).  Here is an image of part of the map, followed by the blurb from Excalibre Games:



A Mighty Fortress: Between 1531 and 1555 the world shook to the reverberations of a struggle whose resolution was to chart the course of Europe’s religious and political alliances for centuries. It was in these years that the conflicting ideologies of Lutheran Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation inexorably drew the disparate empires, nations, and leaders of Europe into a maelstrom of religious war and dispute.

A Mighty Fortress simulates this major historical conflict on a beautifully illustrated political map of Europe. Colorful cardboard playing pieces move, position. And engage in battle upon this map through a superimposed hexagonal grid, which functions like a chessboard’s squares.
Game components include: one rules booklet, 200 die cut playing pieces, one 22 x 34 inch map, and various player aids.
Overall, a very good game, and one that was worthy of being reprinted.

Our next title is the much more modern boardgame, Here I Stand. This is a game from GMT, published in 2006, concerning similar events as A Mighty Fortress, but in a more modern design.

The game was reprinted in 2010 (with some component improvements).Movement is point to point, rather than hex map, but the biggest change is that this is a card driven wargame design.  The action, from turn to turn, is governed by card play (which grants all sorts of map based activity). Here are some sample cards.

The designer, Ed Beach has a nice web page discussing aspects of the game.  The most excellent wargaming graphics design artist, Mark Mehaffey has a very nice redrawn map, presented on his website, here.


Finally the last item to bring up this time is "A Mighty Fortress", which was a setting handbook for 2nd Edition Advance Dungeons and Dragons (or AD&D2E as the cobbler elves at Gaming with Chuck refer to it as).  This was a general handbook for setting roleplaying campaings during the Renaissance in general, and the Reformation in particular.  And why not?  As a setting, it has a lot to be desired - strong possibilities for conflict, lots of mobile classes of personages that can be used as archetypes for characters, a period when there are a lot of different nationalities and societies in contact with each other, and loads and loads of historical material about the conflict (and legends) of the time.


 This was in the REF (Campaign Reference) manual series, all of which gave insight into how to play in either Historical or Mythological settings from history.  Very nice work.  It had lots of information about the military hardware of the time, as well as the various nationalities, and ideas of how to play spies, soldiers, adventurers, diplomats, swashbucklers, and clerics from the period.

Before you say "pooh, pooh" to this idea of a setting for a fantasy roleplaying game, consider the introduction of Magic in a period where you have two very strong, and one of them very authoritarian, Religious systems in a society that has reasons to believe in all sorts of magic, supernatural, and mystical forces.  For reference, consider the fantastic tales of Robert E Howard about his hero, Solomon Kane.  That character has served as the basis not only for the Howard stories, but also pastiches from other authors, as well as comic books, and a movie.  The character travels across Reformation Europe (if stretched to include the English Civil War and the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, including the Thirty Years War), battling not only the typical bandits and vile crooked noblemen and women, but also witches, demons, werewolves and all sorts of other supernatural foes.

While that may or may not be your idea of gaming, it is out there and it is available.  Let me say, however, that despite Howard's flights of fancy, much of what he wrote about is in type, if not in instance, part and parcel of the Reformation mind.

So, from Martin Luther, through J.S. Bach, down to Solomon Kane.  That is Theremin Thursdays for this week, I hope you get to do some gaming this weekend.
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