Updated: Jan 12, 2022
Cleromancy – The art of divining the will of God by casting lots, i.e. rolling dice.
Do you ever hear something that you’ve heard a hundred times before and suddenly realize you don’t actually know what it means? You always took it for granted that it meant something, and your brain overlooked the foggy, muddled picture you had of the thing each time you heard it used before. I heard a phrase one time that did this to me, probably in an Easter church service, “they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots.” It just sort of struck me that I didn’t actually have any clue what casting lots was. A cursory search online revealed the answer and absolutely blew my mind!
According to Wikipedia, casting lots is a process by “which an outcome is determined by means that normally would be considered random, such as the rolling of dice, but that are sometimes believed to reveal the will of God, or other universal forces and entities.”
Now I don’t particularly care about your religious background, but consider the implications with me, because they blew my mind. That means that every single time in Sunday school I’d ever heard about someone in the bible casting lots, they basically just rolled off for it! Suddenly I’m picturing Roman soldiers sitting around Jesus’s clothes and rolling a d6 to decide who gets them. I’m picturing the disciples trying to decide who is supposed to replace the traitor Judas and they just grab a couple of dice and say to each other “High roll wins?” How many times have I sat across a table to play a game of Magic: The Gathering with someone, grabbed similar dice, and said the same exact thing? Was I “revealing the will of God” in those moments?!
The idea fascinated me. If there is a God, or some all-powerful force that determined the course of my life and everything around me, then of course that being would have a say in how the dice were rolled. Imperfections in the die’s weight distribution during manufacturing, minor scuffs in the surface of the table, the flow of air in the room. If there was someone pulling the levers of the universe, then they may just have a hand in all these little things and therefore determined the result of the die roll. So if I wanted to pick up a phone, call the guiding force that created the universe, and ask “paper or plastic” “hot or iced” “now or later” here was a theoretical direct line. The deterministic forces of the universe at work to give you simple answers to simple questions.
The more I researched Cleromancy, that is, casting lots, the more intrigued I was. It quickly dipped into all other manner of divination. If the patterns of the tea leaves on the bottom of a cup are as random as a dice roll, then reading them offers the same knowledge as a dice roll. And if the omnipotent, omnipresent being(s) driving the universe touched that die or those tea leaves, then why couldn’t you ask them if the weather tomorrow would be rainy. Now, obviously, this is where it breaks down because I can’t actually tell the weather tomorrow by rolling my 2d8. The dice do lie. If it’s because the guiding forces of the universe don’t deign to let me in on the weather or because there is no God, I couldn’t say. If I had to pick the answer I like best, I’d say it’s probably because the God that has a say in dice rolls probably only cares to intervene for the really important questions. But I love the idea that if there is a God, and they cared to affect a dice roll I used to make an important decision, they could.
So one day, when I decided it was finally time to realize my dreams of publishing my games and the games of my talented friends, I knew exactly what I wanted to name the company: Cleromancy Games. The “-mancy” suffix gives it a lovely nerdy ring. It’s an uncommon yet memorable word, the sweet spot for it to be uniquely marketable. And lastly, it reminds me that every time I sit down to play a game, I open myself up to the will of the universe. Events will be random, and the best thing I can do is take the random circumstances as they come, play my best game, and ultimately understand that the only thing that could have happened is what happened. Every crit failure. Every amazing top-deck. The important thing is that I tried my best to influence what I could, and that I had fun. That’s what Cleromancy Games is about.