“It’s Death Jim but not as You Know It” – renamed Apocalypse
Onside Report by Andy Grainger
We can thank Covid not only for the inspiration behind this idea but also for Dave Boundy and other techno members of CLWG for creating a virtual club meeting. Apart from the traditional St Reatham members this has enabled people like me in Nottingham, Terry in Sweden and Jerry in Sheffield to take part in club activities. I wonder whether this idea will continue under whatever the post lockdown ‘normal’ turns out to be.
I sense that for game organisers the new technology is actually quite troublesome and imposes significant constraints over fact to face meetings. For me, holding a design session it was not too much of a problem apart from the occasional dodgy internet connection. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Anyway, to my design session for a game on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – War, Pestilence, Famine and Desolation. It came to me that after the two World Wars where the Red Rider – War – must have felt he was in the lead for numbers of Deaths, Pestilence had obviously got irritated at being elbowed out by vaccination campaigns and other advances in medical science and had decided to roll his sleeves up….
Having taken up Bridge here in Nottingham I envisaged a competitive card game where the four took tricks and tried to obtain the highest score. Another inspiration – though I have never played it – was Hitler’s Henchmen where a group of unpleasant gangsters vie for political influence even though it is pointless because they – everyone – are certain to lose….
First though, I felt I needed to find out who the Four Horsemen really were and get some background context. At least there is only one source to consult – The Bible.
To my surprise I found that the question of who the Horsemen were and what they did was actually very unclear. During the session Mukul, who had read the sources, felt that the writer of the Book of Revelation must have been “on something” and it is hard to disagree. Have a look at Revelation.co for more! Since the session I also came across this site which offers more detail.
The original Horsemen first appear in the Book of Ezekiel and offer a straightforward four cornered game between War, Famine, Pestilence and the Beasts of the Earth which I shorthand to Desolation. The command structure is straightforward – their commander is God who is fed up by “abominations in the Temple in Jerusalem”, specifically the worship of idols and the role of the Horsemen is just to punish the naughty people of Israel until they mend their ways.
The Book of Revelation offers a much longer explanation of the Four Horsemen and much more background colour. This includes Sealed Books, ranks of Angels playing Trumpets etc. It also creates a number of ambiguities including whether the Four Horsemen are separate or whether there is only one who combines the attributes of all four.
It was obviously necessary to narrow the options before starting and I decided that I would stick to four characters:
- White Rider: Conquest – rides a white horse and carries a bow. Also known as Faithful & True / Word of God / Christ / The Gospel / Holy Spirit – I decided not to consider the idea that the White Rider was the Antichrist on the basis that it appeared to have been a theory dreamt up as recently as 1866, probably by Evangelical preachers wanting to inject even more hellfire into their sermons.
- Red Rider – War – rides a red horse and carries a sword.
- Black Rider – Famine – rides a black horse and carries scales and food sacks – particularly hostile to those serving short measures of food but specifically instructed not to damage the oil and wine – the Black Rider as a Wine Connoisseur perhaps…..
- Pale Rider – Death, accompanied by “Hell following”. Popularly equipped with a scythe and his horse being the colour of a corpse. I decided to treat the Pale Rider as Pestilence rather than a generic Death.
Death (the Pale Rider) is followed by Hell which offers the possibility of a further character – or is Hell just a storage facility?
One could design a very different game in that only the Pale Rider kills people with the role of the White, Red and Black Riders just being to create chaos and a potential harvest for Death. I did not look at this option which would obviously be more complex and could actually be a co-operative game whereas I wanted a competitive one.
In terms of structure, God remains the overall commander of the Horsemen and sends them out as a punishment together with phenomena such as earthquakes and floods because certain among the Israelites have been adopting the ways of a number of theological rivals. God seems particularly concerned at the thesis proffered by Balaam “Come, and I will counsel thee, (his henchman Balak,) go and set up inns, and place in them whorish women, to sell food and drink at a low price: and this people will come and eat and drink, and be drunken, and will lie with them, and deny their God; and they will be quickly delivered into thine hands, and many of them shall fall.”
Reading this one might suspect more than a hint of jealousy on God’s part that Balaam’s programme of high value food and drink served by comely females has attracted more popularity than his own Austerity Programme. It is noteworthy that he makes no attempt to criticise it on the basis that women are pushed into roles that offer them no encouragement towards a more fulfilling career outside the stereotypical kitchen and bedroom.
Neither God nor Balaam make any overt provision for those in the LGBTQ community and both appear to practice very unfair positive discrimination on grounds of religious orientation.
With a boss like this and particularly in the current climate you would think there was plenty of scope for a game about overthrowing God. We touched on the possibility but Mukul explained that he had already designed one.
Back to the Four Horsemen. In the Revelation version, the role of the White Rider is particularly intriguing. As the Lamb of God he appears to be the operational commander of the Horsemen. As such we felt he should be responsible for implementing the objectives set by God. For example God would set the timescale for the Horsemen to lay waste the world and the number of deaths to be achieved within it. We had not seen any evidence that God was particularly bothered how the deaths were to be achieved which offers the Horsemen considerable latitude. Given God’s wider responsibilities and His general lack of focus the objective would probably be set by die roll.
The White Rider would also have his own quota to meet – basically those deaths not directly caused by War, Pestilence and Famine eg people just dying of old age. Generally though he would be concerned to keep the other Horsemen on track with their quotas and also to stop them going out of control. There would be no point in them creating nuclear war or some massively effective pandemic because if Man is wiped out then God and everyone else is out of a job. The Wrath of God is known to be prodigious after all. So it is important to meet the quota in the timescale set – no more and no less.
In discussion we came up with the idea of a track for each of the Horsemen where they could keep track of their deaths.
Deaths would be produced by cards which might generate more than one type of death. For example the Thirty Years War card might produce deaths from War, Famine and Pestilence in varying numbers. Defensive cards might reflect things like Peace (reduces all deaths other than those of the White Rider), Vaccines (against Pestilence), Geneva Convention (against War) and so on.
Mukul suggested working on the numbers first and then adding descriptions to the cards later.
We also thought that the White Rider could have more of the Defensive cards as a means of controlling the other Horsemen.
We also felt that the events created by the Horsemen should not necessarily be controllable by them – they might have a greater or smaller impact than intended and the possibility of dying out or spreading wider than intended.
The Horsemen should have the possibility of both aiding and hindering their colleagues. For example an event generated by War might have the effect of creating deaths for Famine and Pestilence. In time these might actually generate more for those Horsemen thus backfiring on War. By contrast, they should be able to play defensive cards to reduce the impact of events generated by a colleague.
The White Rider might also have a steady flow of deaths with those of the other Horsemen being the excess deaths. In the Covid scenario for example, at the time of writing there have been around 40,000 excess deaths in the UK due to Covid over a three month period. As around 500,000 people die every year anyway one might expect the White Rider to be awarded around 125,000 In that time less very small numbers awarded to the other three.
Pestilence has therefore got quite a lot of ground to make up and the other two even more so.
We could not find a role for Hell. The idea generated quite a lot of theological discussion. We agreed, I think, that the idea that all the souls had to stay in Purgatory until the Day of Judgement ie the end of the game was not helpful. Rather, any judgement should take place at the moment of death. But although there was potentially an interesting game for the Judges ie ultimately God and the Devil with their associated hordes of Henchangels we could not see how their roles would tie in with the Horsemen.
We had some discussion as to whether the timescale should be specific eg the Middle Ages or the Seventeenth Century. There is clearly a big difference between the pre-industrial and post-industrial eras after about 1900. To give each of the Horsemen a reasonable chance I think the timescale and events will have to be fairly generic with the numbers adjusted for the much bigger populations post 1900.
Many thanks to Dave Boundy, Mukul, Nick Luft and Pickles. Everyone had a particular angle. Mukul was very well-informed about the theology, I was attracted by the contributions from Nick and Pickles on a number of boardgames particularly Credo which was about deciding the composition of the Christian ideology – sorry, faith – as agreed at the Treaty of Nicaea. I was also intrigued by Dave’s idea of a contest between God and the Devil but we could not quite make it work and I think that Mukul has already designed a game on the subject.