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Society of Rafa trades heroes’ journeys for community healing in a Jewish RPG world of spirits and medicine

Creators plan to launch an accessible online wiki containing all play materials formatted for screen readers.

artwork from Kickstarter trailer for tabletop RPG Society of Rafa
Image credit: Kelly Ronveaux/Society of Rafa

Medicine has never been about treating just the body, historically speaking. Village healers, doctors, wise people and leaders were also responsible for the mental, emotional and spiritual health of a community. Society of Rafa, an upcoming tabletop RPG that draws deeply from Jewish culture to create a play experience more interested in care than loot.

Society of Rafa puts players in the responsibility-laden shoes of a Rafa in the village of Kahal, tasking them with caring for the inhabitants’ varied conditions, injuries and illnesses. That would be a full-time job for any leader, but Rafas are also responsible for communing and brokering peace with the spirits of the land surrounding Kahal and its nearby wilderness.

Sessions consist of open-ended scenarios focusing on an ailing villager, sudden rash of illnesses or some strange occurance plaguing Kahal’s inhabitants. Using the information on the scenario sheet and each Rafa’s array of healing skills, the players must find a solution that synthesizes the needs of the pained individual, the capabilities of the community, and the often capricious whims of spirits.

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Creator Rachel Atwood said in a press release that Society of Rafa was conceived during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as a direct response to the overwhelming prevalence of tabletop RPGs where players interact with the world through a sharpened sword or crackling, destructive spell. They wondered what it might be like to roleplay in a world where players strive for collective improvement using necessarily imperfect solutions.

“So many roleplaying games and modern fantasy in general are based on the ‘Hero’s Journey.’ Yet, rather than ‘crossing the threshold’ and leaving one’s home to adventure, what if characters grow and develop within a community?” Atwood wrote. “Instead of mechanics about destroying and looting, we want players' toolsets to facilitate healing, growing, and organizing community. Players should interact with fully dimensional NPCs who have personal relationships and motivations that make players feel clever for reading their moods and persuading without dice rolling.

Can we learn to imagine a more perfect world through fantasy? Instead of reductionist good vs. evil, we offer confronting complex moral problems with no singular solution. We want to inhabit a world like those in our favorite slice of life fantasy comics and anime,” they said.

artwork from Kickstarter trailer for tabletop RPG Society of Rafa
Healing a villager will likely require a mixture of traditional medicine and spiritual mediating. | Image credit: Kelly Ronveaux/Society of Rafa

The player-controlled Rafas can be physicians or surgeons who intimately know the inner workings of the human body and the illnesses that infect it, a midwife skilled in the ushering of new life and reproductive health of all people, or an apothecary whose knowledge of herbal remedies give them an edge in preventative care (Society of Rafa has big Apothecaria vibes throughout). They might also be counselors - experts on emotional and mental care - or shepherds of souls, those who accompany people to the world beyond life and even speak with the recently departed.

The team behind Scoiety of Rafa - which includes co-founder Jonathan Davidson, artist Kelly Ronveaux, editor Rebecca Beit-Aharon and game consultant Bob H. Boyd - will be constructing a fully accessible online wiki where all of the texts, sheets and implements for play can be found and read. Everything will be formatted for screen readers, and digital PDF of both the character sheets and medical records will be available to download.

The Kickstarter campaign for Society or Rafa will run from September 18th to October 18th, where the team hope to raise funds for a digital version of both the Society of Rafa Handbook and Book of Spirits, the latter containing information on 30 unique spirits from Jewish folklore such as Lantooks and frog scholars. More information about the team and the online wiki can be found on the game’s official website.

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