The Alchemy web site on Levity.com

Games with alchemical content



At a time when game designers, like film makers, are exhorted to read their Joseph Campbell and their Jung, it is only to be expected that Dame Alchemy will make her presence known in the realm of games.

What follows is a very preliminary listing of games with notable alchemical content: games discussed here presently include the role-playing games Ars Magica and Mage: the Ascension, the computer games Zork Nemesis and Christminster, and Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game, together with some playable variants. Suggestions for suitable additions to this page are welcome.

this page submitted by Charles Cameron of HipBone Games


Role-Playing Games:

The publishers of Role Playing Games (RPGs) provide materials on which their players can base their "campaigns", but the players themselves often write up more detailed variant scenarios. There is apparently an alchemical sourcebook designed for use with a variety of game systems: The Compleat Alchemist, by Pandevelopment.

Ars Magica (ArM)

The Ars Magica RPG, created by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein*Hagen and currently published by Atlas Games, is set in "Mythic Europe".

Mark Shirley's alchemy rules for an ArM campaign
Kenneth Hite on the Hermetic Tradition in ArM
Fourth edition of the Ars Magica rule book

Mage: the Ascension (M:tA)

Alchemists are a sub-group "somewhere between Order of Hermes and the Sons of Ether" in this White Wolf Games RPG according to Anders Sandberg, whose fabled Mage page is a veritable treasure trove of information about the game.

Anders Sandberg's M:tA page devoted to Alchemy
White Wolf's Mage: the Ascension homepage


Computer Games

Two recent computer games incorporate a fair amount of alchemical scholarship, and may be of interest to the alchemical fraternity.

Zork Nemesis

Zork Nemesis from Activision, is a CD ROM game with a plot which revolves around alchemy and alchemists. Director Cecilia Barajas uses alchemical insights deriving from Jung in her plot line, and incorporates graphics from Fludd and Maier.

Activision's Zork Nemesis page

Christminster

Christminster by Gareth Rees, is an "interactive fiction" (ie text-adventure) game set in Biblioll College, Christminster, which opens with a quote from the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum and makes references to "Lully", Eirenaeus Philalethes etc. along the way.

Description of Gareth Rees' Christminster
Christminster Z- code module download
Christminster download for Mac users


Glass Bead Games

Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse won the Nobel for his 1943 novel, Magister Ludi. The book describes a contemplative game called the "Glass Bead Game", played by the members of a future secular monastic order. The gameplay is based on the juxtaposition of analogically linked ideas.

In a private communication, the historian Christopher McIntosh has suggested to me that the book's overall sensibility is reminiscent of the Rosicrucians:

I have written, among other things, a book on Rosicrucianism in which I talk about the "Homo ludens" aspect of the Rosicrucian tradition. Curiously enough, it never struck me until now that the whole idea of Castalia and the Glass Bead Game is very Rosicrucian -- the idea of all-embracing system of knowledge combined with the "game" element.
Hesse himself describes the game as "an elite, symbolic form of seeking for perfection, a sublime alchemy [my emphasis], an approach to that Mind which beyond all images and multiplicities is one within itself" -- but perhaps the clearest indication of the Game's kinship with alchemy can be found in Hesse's presentation of the coniunctio oppositorum as the key to the Game's ultimate purpose:
never forget what I have told you so often: our mission is to recognize contraries for what they are: first of all as contraries, but then as opposite poles of a unity. Such is the nature of the Glass Bead Game.

Further materials on Hermann Hesse, his relationship with Carl Jung, and his novel Magister Ludi can be found at the following site, maintained by a Hesse scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

Gunther Gottschalk's Hermann Hesse website

Playable variants on Hesse's Game

A number of people, myself among them, are now working on the design of "playable variants" on Hesse's Game.

A Washington Post article about online GBG variants with links
Some of these Glass Bead Game variants have been played in games on alchemical themes:

The Phoenix and the Peacock

Here George Hersh and myself play one of my own HipBone GBG variants: the topic for this particular game was "alchemy east and west", and gameplay revolves around the varieties of alchemical bird symbolism.

A Glass Bead Game for Marie-Louise von Franz

This game is an extended meditation on the lapis, with special reference to von Franz's edition of the Aurora Consurgens as -- in more than one sense -- a "stone that the builders rejected".

Rules of play for the HipBone Games