Religious Influences

Tenra Banso Zero monks

TBZ setting book, page 142

I have been reading Tenra Bansho Zero, and it’s really interesting to see how religion is handled in the default setting. Unlike most non-historical western RPGs, each of the religious groups has a very specific real world antecedent that should be immediately recognizable by those that are familiar with Buddhist history.

Phoenix Sect. Tiantai/Cheontae/Tendai Buddhism; most institutionalized. The Phoenix Sect is accepted as “official” Buddhism by the Shinto techno-priest overlords of Tenra. Mt. Hiei is obviously the inspiration for Suzaku Mountain.

Ebon Mountain. Chan/Son/Zen Buddhism, concerned more with individual enlightenment, also most associated with martial arts.

Bright Lotus. Pure Land Buddhism; salvation through recitation of a mantra. Popular with common people due to the accessibility of the teachings.

(These are oversimplifications, but they are not mischaracterizations.)

How many western RPGs create fantasy versions of Christian sects? Not many. The reason is probably rooted in the satanic panic, but it is nonetheless odd that the west is more sensitive about tapping directly into religious heritage for fantasy inspiration, preferring to go the safer route by appropriating things that are at least one level removed from direct religious practice.

There are some stirrings of deviations from this tendency (for example, the 30 Years War setting for LotFP’s Better Than Any Man, and this post about Biblical mythology from Beedo, though it is worth noting that both of these are more directly historical than Tenra). The Books of Pandemonium, by Rafael Chandler, about a war between heaven and hell on earth, might fit the brief, though I haven’t read it myself, so I don’t know how directly it draws from Christian doctrine.

5 thoughts on “Religious Influences

  1. trey

    In Weird Adventures, I largely created fantasy stand-ins for real world belief, though they were not identical to real world sects.

  2. Gus L.

    I think there may a fear in game publishing (certain recent LOTFP publications obviously excluded) of offending the religious. It may be satanic panic echos, but I bet it’s more a “let’s not offend religious gamers”. Now the reason Eastern religion gets included is because either A: No one worries about angry Buddhist fundamentalists or B: Eastern religions are still viewed as exotic enough by American culture that they get lumped in with ancient religions. We all know the Olympians are fair game in a game – perhaps it’s Jude-Christian blinders that make Buddha and the Tao up for grabs as well?

    All that said – I am just waiting to find out that Pahvelorn’s Hidden Empire/True Empire/Lost Empire is either a Zoroastrian analogue (ideally by way of Fred N.) or a Buddhism pastiche…

    1. Brendan Post author


      The thing about Tenra Bansho Zero is that it is a Japanese game written for Japanese players that was only just translated into English. So Buddhism is presumably a bit more immediate for its original audience, though obviously cultural dynamics differ with regard to the relationship of religion to society in Japan.

      1. Gus L.

        Interesting – certainly the Buddhist fundamentalist in Japan (not sure about the Shinto ones – I think those exist, or at least certainly did in the 40’s) is a lot less insidious and angry then the Christian fanaticism in the US, while religiosity/religious themes appear more common and less veiled in Japanese sci-fi/fantasy culture.

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