The first issue I tend to take is that history is always so complete, and written from such an absolute standpoint. We have exact dates for everything of importance for everything that has ever happened in the setting, which itself strikes me as weird, as our own history is one in which knowledge is repeatedly discovered, recorded, lost, and rediscovered. As someone who gets really into history in real life, I find it a bit jarring how exact and specific - how good - the record keeping is for all of time for essentially the entire planet is since the dawn of time. Adding to that, it's rarely written in character, from the perspective of any given group of people.
In real life, history has a massive bias depending on who you talk to and when, who won and who lost. What we remember as a crusade for the holy land, the east remembers as "the Frankish invasion" and paints in much the way we painted the norse raids on churches and monasteries. Rome and the celts are another wonderful example, with history remembering the celts and Gauls as a barbarian rabble and a threat to "civilization," whereas archeology is forced to paint them as having a fully developed and complex society of their own - albeit one with the misfortune to stand between Rome and a substantial amount of silver.
Clever role players can try to analyze the timeline and try to come up with alternate views based on their characters individual culture, but such attempts always seem forced. Having an official time line both presented and confirmed out of character can take a lot of the perspective out of the game. Which brings me to my next issue: religion.
Religion in role-playing games is often handled so poorly. This isn't such a problem when the main religion in the game is NotCatholicism as most writers in the western world are at least familiar enough to fake it. However, the further one gets from this basic model the worse it becomes. I can't count how many settings I've come across that present the culture as some kind of paganesq polytheism, but the writers don't seem to understand the basics of how polytheism works as a world view.
In real world polytheisms, there are a whole mess of gods and goddesses, each with their own domains. Individuals within that culture may have an affinity to one god or another in particular, usually based on their vocation (warriors like war gods, farmers like whomever will bless the harvest) but as a whole it is a service-based religion. You go to whomever offers the thing you need at the time. I don't care how much you love Ares, when you're having lady troubles you go to Aphrodite or Hera. The trouble in many RPGs is that rather than treating the gods like a pantheon belonging to the same culture, you wind up with a setup where the various gods have competing churches. This is particularly bad in Forgotten Realms, where in third edition at least, failure to "dedicate" oneself to a specific god meant that you would spend eternity in a kind of purgatory, your soul becoming part of kelemvor's wall. Apparently, if I am a farmer in the realms, it isn't just my vocation - it must also be my religion.
This setup gets even weirder when the authors begin attributing other monotheistic traits to polytheisms. Very often, you will find a hard push for a given deity to espouse a certain dogma, with different gods within the same pantheon often having contradictory or directly oppositional codes of ethics and dogmas, demands from their followers. Real polytheisms in history don't do this. The overwhelming majority of polytheisms are votive religions. This is the simplest relationship one can have with divinity. I leave you this nice offering in exchange for you either blessing me, or in some cases simply not wrecking my shit. The codes of ethics and values in these societies come from the society as a whole. There may be a mythological basis for it, but that comes from the mythology as a whole. If you're writing a polytheism, you're writing a single coherent religion. Catholicism would have never worked if the idea was that each part of the trinity and every angel and saint had different and contradictory expectations and demands.
This isn't to say there can't be specific cults with different or contradictory teachings, there are always mystery cults and fringe sects. You simply need to be aware or this when writing and indicate that group B is different than the population at large.
Much like with the above absolute nature of history, I personally dislike when games mechanically or out of character confirm things about the settings religion. When our out of character official history tells us that the god Zeno created the world, you have directly told the players that the Zenites are right, and that anyone who doesn't acknowledge Zeno is mechanically, objectively wrong.
Weirder still, when you have a setting that features direct divine intervention and literally god powered divine spells (as opposed to powered by the faith of the caster) you miss a lot of opportunities for interesting role playing. You can't have discussions of faith when deity is a proven and objective fact. You can't disbelieve, or remain a skeptic of a priests claims when they can summon deity at will. You can't have questions about dogma or theological debates, heresies and reformations. The mystery and wonder of religion and the nature and power of faith fundamentally change when you can pick up a phone and get god on the line when need be.
I honestly understand why many settings are written in exactly the above way. I think a lot of people find the real world so murky and ambiguous that a setting where everything is laid out, clear-cut and definitive is somewhat comforting. There are no grey areas. This is the good guy country because they are backed by the god of good guys and their enemies are the bad guys who were created by the bad god. There are no questions that need to be asked, no ethical quandaries. Just pure heroics.
And that's absolutely fine. I can understand the appeal. I just find it .. Boring. For me, leaving things ambiguous, up for debate, means giving my character free reign to decide how he relates to the world, what these things mean to him and ultimately what his values are when put to the test. Whenever something is confirmed out of character by the setting, that opportunity feels diminished.
Just my thoughts on the matter.
Until next time,