I want to take a moment to introduce you to one of my favorite tabletop roleplaying products that has been delivered to Nerds on Earth HQ in the past several months, the Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible from Red Panda Publishing.
Some of you just reflexively turned me out and we will get to that in a moment. For now, let me give you the premise of the book, straight from the marketing text:
“Cleopatra is dead. Rome and Parthia struggle for control of the Fertile Crescent in a bid for world domination, while local politics in the Middle Kingdoms become increasingly divisive. The prophecies of the so-called “Messiah” have long been forgotten, and an ancient Evil lurks in the shadows, corrupting the hearts of humankind. Three of the wisest mystics known as the “Magi” travelled to Bethlehem following a star they believed to be a sign. They never returned. Hope grows dim as the world descends into darkness. What we need are answers… and those brave enough to seek them.”
The Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible converts locations, characters, and monsters from the Bible into material playable with D&D fifth edition. As I read through the 350 pages, I was struck that the material was sufficiently true to the source material while also being a heck of a lot of fun. It isn’t merely a list of people and places as they appear chronologically in the Bible. Instead, Red Panda has created a unique adventure experience that brings roleplaying loosely into the narrative of the Bible.
The book details the basic historical setting evocatively in order to create an immersive campaign setting, as well as an adventure that takes characters through levels 1 – 10. Importantly, the campaign runs parallel to the events of the Bible, so players will encounter familiar people and places from Bible stories, but the adventure, while “on rails” still offers flexibility enough to tell an interesting story around the table.
The book includes monarchs, ancient demons, mythic monsters, and moral dilemmas. If this sounds like typical D&D fare, then you’d be right, except they happen to be inspired by characters and creatures from the Bible.
The book also includes 4 playable lineages, 9 new subclasses, several new feats and backgrounds, as well as dozens of new spells and monsters.
Biblical accuracy is addressed: “The source material for this book is not merely historical, but represents a collection of stories integral to the faiths of Christians, Jews, and Muslims across the world. Great care has been taken to be faithful to the characters, locations, and events of the Biblical narrative. The writers on this project have approached the source material with the utmost respect and reverence, consulting many different translations and traditions for accuracy.”
That said, “some creative liberties have been taken.”
I was impressed with the humility and sincerity of the creators as I read through the book. Alas, in today’s tribal and polarized culture, a product with traditional religious overtones will be met with reflexive criticism. Indeed, a good friend of mine – who ironically used to be a pastor – reflexively responded, “Deep sigh. Just no.” when introduced to the book.
I understand that. I also understand many formed an immediate opinion from the headline alone and aren’t reading this.
But I’d like to commend the creators. They tried and mostly succeeded. Yeah, I’m not roleplaying Jesus and – even though they did an admirable job of providing gracious context text for that encounter – including a meeting with Jesus in a roleplaying game isn’t a decision I would have made personally. But, again, I laud their work and effort.
And if you think inspiration from the Bible isn’t already in your D&D game then you don’t know your history. The Bible has leviathans, giants, oracles, serpents, and sorcerers! It’s the OG D&D. In fact, half of Gygax’s inspiration was the Bible and the other half was Tolkien, who took his inspiration from the Bible.
The spell summon monster and cleric class was created by Gary Gygax using direct inspiration from 2 Kings 2: 23-24. The spell gentle repose is taken from an ancient Catholic ritual. King Solomon was a demon wrangler. And I’m honestlyly going stop there because, as I think about it, I could be here all day with examples and I haven’t even touched on Tolkien and his influences.
So, point taken, critics, I’m not blind to our current cultural context around religious matters. But, also, points given to the creators of Adventurer’s Guide to the Bible. It’s a great book and clearly a labor of love. It has been, in fact, one of my favorite gaming reads over the past several months.