Playing as the Stranger

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

I did something new for me this past weekend: I went to a prerelease event for the new Magic: The Gathering set. Because I’m an introvert and a bit of a homebody besides, I went in with a little trepidation and got there fairly early so I could check with the owner of the hosting store about any etiquette or procedures I needed to observe.  (In the event that you’re wondering, there’s not much – you need a DCI number, which is very easy to get signed up for at the store, and then you’ll play four best-of-three matches with a deck you make from six packs of the new set. Buy in was $20.) I went 2-2 overall, blowing out my first opponent, being blown out by my next two, and finally winning 2-1 against my final opponent. Folks were fairly nice, and I really enjoyed the experience, but I was nervous going in, and I’ve experienced a similar phenomenon at cons and when I’ve joined a new gaming group, so here’s what I’ve learned about making yourself a welcome presence in an unfamiliar gaming environment, whether it’s a CCG event, a con game, or the first few sessions with a new gaming group.

  • Be helpful: I carry a multitool and a couple of good-quality ballpoint pens with me, primarily out of habit (I use both at work on at least a semi-regular basis) so when we got the prerelease kits handed out and people were fighting with the shrinkwrap, I opened the knife in the multitool and passed it around to folks near me. I did similar things with the pens all day. Whenever somebody near me asked if somebody had one, I lent them one of mine. I brought a lot more dice than I needed for tokens and counters and cheerfully lent them to my opponents if they needed them.
  • Be prepared: It’s definitely easier to be helpful if you’ve got the tools to be. Bring writing utensils, dice, and scratch paper when you go to an unfamiliar gaming event and be ready to share them.
  • Ask questions: If you’re at an unfamiliar event, ask the other participants if they’re more familiar with the goings-on than you, and if the answer is “yes” and they don’t seem eager to break off the conversation, ask them for advice. Most people like to demonstrate and share their knowledge, and most folks will be happy to assist in matters of gaming you if you ask. I find it’s best to start this early on before things really get rolling, but it’s generally better to ask than guess and do something that can cause problems if you’re unsure.
  • Be humble: If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it, but also try to let it go as fast as possible. Getting gunshy after an accidental faux pas or play error is going to ruin the experience for you and will probably make others feel bad.
  • Be presentable: Show up clean and groomed in clothes that are clean and in good condition. (And if you’ve got a cool geeky t-shirt you want to show off, this is most definitely the time!)
  • Be a good sport: If what you’re playing is competitive, it is highly unlikely you’re going to win more than half the time. If it’s cooperative or collaborative like most RPGs, something will probably go wrong in the game. You’re going to blow an important die roll, miss a clue, etc. Taking setbacks graciously immediately makes you less threatening and more pleasant to game with. Likewise, if somebody else does something really good, acknowledge it and congratulate them! If you’re at a CCG event and somebody gets something really expensive or powerful in their pulls, suppress your envy and congratulate them, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep up a constant stream of conversation or be charming, but being gracious and polite goes a long way.
  • Remember who you’re representing: If you’re a Christian, this has obvious implications: you want to model love, grace, and charity in an appropriate way at the event, but even if you’re not a person of faith, it’s worth remembering that your behavior helps contribute to the overall perception of gamers inside the community itself and potentially outside it.
  • Have as much fun as you can wring out of the event without ruining anybody else’s: Regardless of the reason you’re there, whether you sought it out on your own or went with a friend, it’d be silly not to do all you can to enjoy yourself. If a hobby’s no fun, it’s not much of a hobby.
  • And finally: Don’t talk yourself out of something you’ll enjoy just because you’re nervous!

Good luck out there folks! As always, I’d be interested in additions to this list, supporting or conflicting anecdotes, etc. I love reading your comments, so please, don’t hesitate to post them!



Episode 69 – Holy Sites

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It’s a short episode this week—Grant was fighting a very unpleasant cold—but that didn’t stop Grant and Peter from discussing holy ground! First, reminders about The MacGuffin Factory and our upcoming casual listener Hearthstone tournament (post in the comments if you’re interested, and we’ll send you an invite—it starts September 28th), and some awesome news from Grant. Then we’re on to our Scripture and main topic, about what makes holy sites special and how to use them in your games. Also mentioned: Our third episode ever, on crusaders and Templars; and our show on iTunes, for those of you wanting to write reviews.

Scripture: Exodus 3:5Matthew 28:1-6

Gaming Curriculum: Extra Credit, Part II: Useful Websites 2

I was out working at a craft show with my wife all weekend and was up early for a 7am meeting at work today, so I’m a little beat, which means that I don’t have a lot of gas in the tank for a more contemplative blog post. however, that doesn’t mean I have nothing for you this week. Rather, I figured this would be a good time to list off some reference websites I’ve used in the past that can help with gaming.

Wikipedia: This one is so obvious that I almost didn’t include it on the list, but it’s also so useful that I felt like leaving it off the list would leave the list incomplete. WIkipedia has at least a little bit of information on just about everything, and is a solid jumping-off point for any sort of research you feel like doing. While it’s not always the most accurate source for serious research, that’s less of a concern for gaming purposes. If the author(s) of a given article have, for example, decided to print the legend rather than the history, as it were, that may even be better for gaming purposes. The other thing that’s great about Wikipedia is that it’s cross-linked, which means that following up on specific aspects of whatever it is that you’re researching is really easy.

Tvtropes: When Branden was still on the podcast, he would reference this website a lot, and with good reason. It’s a collection of tropes (defined on the site as: “devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations”) that is organized in a similar way to Wikipedia – cross-linked and separated by subject. Unlike Wikipedia, the tone of the writing is much less formal, but that doesn’t make the site any less wonderful as a resource. Simply looking up a favorite work (TV show, movie, or video game) from the front age will usually yield an entertaining firehose of content to drink from.

SCP Foundation: A site of fictional batches of weirdness, sort of similar to the old Warehouse 23 basement site that Steve Jackson Games used to have back in the day, but much, much larger. If you’re running any sort of campaign that needs weirdness of any sort and find yourself short on inspiration, it’s worth wandering over to SCP and browsing around for a bit. I have to give Grant credit for this one; he was the one who pointed me to the site in the first place.

Google Maps: If you’re running a game set in the modern world (+/- 50 years or so) Google Maps is your friend. The street view and satellite view options in particular are handy for finding interesting adventure locations and it’s useful to be able to find things like airports, natural wonders, major historical sites and so on when you’re running a modern game. Heck, it can even be handy to know where the railways are if you’ve got PCs who like to sneak onto trains in an urban fantasy game.

Online retailers: A lot of the time in modern or near-future games, I find that I want specific things that aren’t in the game books. Specialized tools, clothing, and electronics all have specs and costs associated with them, and place where you can buy those things will generally have that information in an easy-to reference format. Amazon is the big kahuna, but don’t overlook Galls (a company that supplies emergency services), American Science and Surplus (a company that sells little bits of everything and whose item descriptions are among the most delightfully-readable on the web) and Maker Shed (a site aimed at the Maker movement) for neat stuff PCs (particularly gadgetteers) will want.

System Resource Documents: The SRDs for Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, D20 Modern, and FATE are available online for your perusal. The Pathfinder and FATE ones in particular are really well-laid-out and easy to navigate.

And that’s it for this week’s reference library update. If you’ve got resources of your own that you use in your gaming, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Episode 68 – Breaking Down Boundaries (with Kyle Rudge) 4

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Kyle Rudge of Geekdom House joins Grant and Peter to talk about a host of small, interesting, and interrelated topics! Geekdom House has a Kickstarter wrapping up for their lovely “Area of Effect” print magazine, which we completely neglected to plug until the very end of the show. Kyle’s not just here for that, though—he brought lots of fascinating things to talk about, like: Creating a geeky, mission-forward small group in his church; introducing that group to Dungeons & Dragons; his appearance on the “Faith and Gaming” panel at GenCon 2015 (which Mike Perna recorded and released over at Game Store Prophets); a Firefly-themed Bible study; taking a full amateur choir to Winnipeg’s Central Canada Comic Con; the tight-knit communities of fandom; Done the Impossible and The Guild; and characters who reflect ourselves. Plus, a quick plug for our Hearthstone listener tournament—let us know if you’re interested!

Scripture: Ezekiel 11:19-20, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Blog: Pain

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” -Psalm 147:3

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” -Revelation 21:4

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” -Wesley, The Princess Bride

It’s often said that the two certainties in life are death and taxes, but I’d humbly suggest that we’ll all become acquainted with pain long before we’re aware of the tax man. Pain is varied, it is all too common, and it is all too often ignored in our gaming experiences.

So much of the pain that colors our lives is relatively undramatic. A stubbed toe, a small disappointment, even the crushing blow of the sudden loss of a loved one or the nagging ache as you realize that your life will never be quite what you’d hoped – very few of these moments turn up in heroic fiction, and when they do, they are often tangential to the plot. This is not, however, true in our lives. A staggering number of us come from broken families,we all have regrets, disappointments, and illnesses. It is a part of the human condition that we will suffer in a multitude of ways, great and small, between the time when we enter this world and the time when we leave it, and often that pain changes us and shapes us in a variety of ways, and as with so many things, what defines us (and our characters) is not so much that we have pain, but what we do with it.

Some folks are crushed by their pain, retreating into bitterness or madness to escape it – in fact, this is a semi-canonical explanation for where The Joker came from. Crushed beneath the weight of “one bad day” he becomes a sadistic, insane madman, anxious and eager to share his pain with others. Others retreat from the world entirely, becoming hermits or even catatonic.

Others deny it or brush it off with exaggerated indifference. “It’s nothing to me.” Oftentimes this is a trap the immature fall into – seeing the very experience of pain as a weakness to be excised, or if that is impossible, at least denied or ignored. The problem with this approach is that pain is very persistent. It will eventually make itself known, and will reach a point where it can no longer be ignored.

Still others wallow in their pain, allowing it to define their experience. A lot of really good art gets made this way (everything from paintings to poetry to music) but being defined by misery and suffering this way robs people of happiness they could otherwise experience and strains relationships.

Finally, there are some who acknowledge their pain, but push through it. This is one of the better responses, and covers everything from working out to the artist pushing through rejection, to forging new relationships after the loss of a loved one. People treating their pain this way will often seek help with it, which is also healthy and can lead to a lot of growth. (For an interesting treatment of this concept, check out this TED Talk by Jane Mcgonigal.) It should probably go without saying that this last approach (and helping others with their pain) is the way we’re ideally expected to behave as Christians. The Apostle Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” in Romans (Romans 12:15) and scripture is thick with admonitions to help the poor, the sick, the needy, and those suffering (and there’s that word again: suffering) from all sorts of trouble.

Narratively, I think we leave a lot on the table when we boil our adventures down to a series of tactical puzzles (and this from somebody who would be unamimously voted “most tactically-minded” by at least his current gaming group and probably several previous ones). One of the things that made Grant’s successful Shadowrun game so great was that the PC group was very empathetic (at least by the standards of shadowrunners) – they were careful about the amount of pain they caused to innocent people, and seeing those same people in bad situations moved them to do something about it. Now in fairness – they also caused a fair amount of pain to those they felt deserved it, which was often the in-game manifestation of one of my real-world character flaws: a streak of viciousness that can pop out when I’ve conned myself into thinking it’s justified.

Pain, and our response to it, defines our character and our stories, and it should define our characters and their stories as well. The next time you sit down to make a character or play one, give some thought to how they respond to the hurt in their life and the lives around them, why they feel and act that way, and how that affects the story. And, if you’re anything like me, it may also be a good idea to repeat that exercise with yourself in the real world from time to time.

Episode 67 – Breaking Canon (with Kris Newton & Katrina Ehrnman-Newton)

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Kris and Katrina, hosts of the Gameable Pixar Podcast (formerly the Gameable Disney Podcast) join Grant and Peter in a special crossover episode on breaking established setting canon! Gameable Pixar just released a pair of episodes discussing The Prince of Egypt, and they invited Peter and Grant to join them in the second episode.  They return the favor in this episode, where we discuss how to break canon in settings with high player investment—from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to Biblical Egypt, Israel and Caanan.

If you want to give the Gameable Podcast a try, we suggest picking your favorite Disney or Pixar film and listening to Kris and Katrina discuss it in the relevant episode! They also particularly recommend their episodes on The Black Cauldron and The Nightmare Before Christmas as introductory episodes for interested gamers. To pick up with The Prince of Egypt, start with GPP’s Bonus Episode 9: The Prince of Egypt and follow up with Bonus Episode 10: The Prince of Egypt Discussion. They’re also on Twitter and iTunes.

Also mentioned in this episode: Electric City ComiCon; StoryWonk’s Dusted podcast; and an awful lot of superheroes.

Scripture: Isaiah 55:8-11, Jeremiah 23:28-30, Matthew 23:13-15, Romans 15:4

Blog: A Pair of Unrelated Things

I have a couple of disparate topics for this week’s blog.


First and foremost, we just recently wrapped up an exciting project with Kris and Katrina over at the Gameable Disney/Gameable Pixar podcast. We’ve crossed over with other podcasts before, but those have typically taken the form of a pair of one-episode “host loans” where one of us (usually Grant) does an episode of another podcast and one of them does an episode with us. Our most recent collaboration with the gameable podcast folks went a bit more in-depth than that. For starters, all four of us appeared on both of the crossover episodes, and the discussion centers around The Prince of Egypt by Dreamworks. The episodes of both podcasts are intended as companion pieces to each other and reference each other a bit. Be sure to catch both! As an additional aside, Kris and Katrina are both a pleasure to work with and just to associate with. We had Katrina on to talk about prophecy back in Episode 58, and we hit it off with her well. The interaction with both her and Kris was, if anything, even better. They’re both really great folks – friendly, smart, and full of both insights and humor. I’ve recommended their work so much by this point that some of you are probably tired of hearing it from me, but – tough. They do a really fantastic podcast, and especially if you like our tight, topical focus, you are doing yourself a legitimate disservice if you’re not listening to them, too.

CCGs and a Possible Event:

After our episode last week on collectible card games, we were contacted by a listener named Justin Lowmaster who expressed interest in setting up a StG community Hearthstone tournament. If you’re unfamiliar with Hearthstone, it’s Blizzard’s free-to-play digital CCG, available on most non-console platforms (including mobile devices.) More information on it is available here. Since Justin has done the work of coming up with the idea in the first place (something that neither Grant nor I did) I thought it was only fair to use the blog to gauge interest. So, how about it folks? Anybody interested in claiming a bracket slot in a Hearthstone tournament? I can promise that anyone who plays me will probably have a very easy go of it. I’m neither very good, nor very experienced, nor do I have much of a card collection in Hearthstone. Grant, on the other hand, is a very different story. Watch out for him, no matter how much he downplays his skill and resources. He’s humble, but he is also wily.

In other CCG-related topics – is anyone else out there excited for any of the upcoming Magic: the Gathering releases? I know I’m pretty stoked about both the Battle for Zendikar set coming out in October and the new Commander decks being launched in November. I talk about Magic fairly regularly on Facebook and have even entertained the idea of doing a series of posts about it over on my personal blog, so keep an eye out for news of that if I ever manage to get it started.

And that’s all I’ve got this week. As usual, please comment on this if anything strikes your interest, especialy that Hearthstone tournament. If we can get a decent-sized group of folks together to do that, it would be a fun community bonding exercise.

What Aren’t You Interested in Playing or Running? 1

A lot of the time, when a gaming group gets together to pitch ideas for their next game, it’s almost an overwhelming avalanche of ideas at first (or maybe that’s just my experience, but that’s all I’ve got to work with, so I’m going to run with that assumption). And usually, just about everyone at the table is fine with just about all of the ideas. However, I’d like to direct your attention to the number of qualifiers in the last sentence, because everybody has a few deal breakers and they seldom match across an entire gaming group, and they also will change over time. Leaving aside material members of your group find offensive, inappropriate, or painful/triggering for some reason, there’s still going to be a disparity of taste in your group that you have to work around.

For example, I’m not terribly interested in anything that prominently features vampires, will need some serious convincing to play in a Star Wars or Star Trek game, and I also very strongly prefer my games to have what Ken and Robin refer to as “nerd tropes” in them – that is to say elements of science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror. I have no interest at all in my PC having a romantic relationship with another character in the world, and perhaps most importantly, I really don’t want to play a bad guy.

I know of other players that prefer their character have thick swaths of darkness, who don’t like Westerns (which makes me sad), and who prefer not (or even refuse) to play anything that isn’t their preferred edition of D&D or Pathfinder.

Once you get a group together, it can be challenging to get all of these “holes” lined up in such a way that you have a game that isn’t a deal-breaker for somebody at the table, and occasionally you hear of situation where people stop trying and form new groups because some player or group of players has a set of deal-breakers that the rest of the group can’t work around. And while this can sometimes be a shame and a monument to stubbornness, I’m going to go a little “out there” and suggest that it might not always be so negative. That will not, however, from suggesting that perhaps some of our dealbreakers (including mine) couldn’t benefit from a little bit of re-evaluation from time to time. Am I really that against anything involving vampires, or did I just need a breather? My recent acquisition of several Night’s Black Agents products, including backing the recent Kickstarter for the Dracula Dossier suggests otherwise. I’ve certainly enjoyed stuff in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, and my objections there are mostly grounded in fears that, as a fairly casual fan of both properties, I’ll have insufficient “setting cred” to participate well. And I’m sure a game set during a sufficiently interesting time and place could overcome my ravenous craving for the fantastic in my gaming experiences. I could probably use to “stretch” a bit on these ones.

On the other hand, ask me to play a romantic lead or a villain as a PC, and it’s going to kill my buy-in. At best, I’ll be bored. At worst, I’ll be uncomfortable, and either will make the game awkward or otherwise un-fun for other folks who want these elements in their gaming. That isn’t to say that nobody I game with ever gets to do these things again, though – just that they needn’t invite me. And that, I think, is where the balance needs to be struck. Sometimes you need to stretch and flex a bit, but if you can’t or won’t and the rest of the group really wants to do something you have no interest in, it’s very much okay for them to proceed without you, and both you and they should be okay with that. This set of circumstances should also NOT spell the end of your friendship or contact with the old group, either! And this is where, by the way, the positive comes in. A lot of the time, events like this can create new gamers or groups as players or GMs find themselves a little short of the number of people they’d like for a given campaign. It also can create a loose network of gaming groups in a region after a while that will freely swap players around, which leads to cross-pollination  of ideas and storytelling techniques, which is ultimately good for the hobby. If some of my older gaming groups had never broken up, it’s unlikely that I’d be writing this blog post today. So be flexible, but if you can’t bend any further, don’t make everyone miserable – start something new.

I’d be interested to hear what your “deal breakers” are and how much wiggle room you’ve got in there, as well as any stories that have arisen out of a group splitting over different creative desires. Let me know in the comments!

Episode 66 – Gatekeeping (with Mike Perna) 1

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Mike Perna of Innroads Ministries and Game Store Prophets joins us to talk about a complex problem in both faith communities and geek communities: Gatekeeping. Mike’s joined us before for Episode 33 (“Our Origin Stories”), and he was a perfect fit for this topic in many ways. He previously wrote an excellent article on gatekeeping, and has a lot of wisdom and experience to share with us.  We hit on a lot of small details—’controllers’ vs. ‘facilitators’; gatekeeping in church and in geek culture; comments on “pastoral customs” by Pope Francis; and others—but our focus is on solving the problem when you encounter it, not just documenting it. It’s a rather thoughtful episode, so enjoy, and tell us what you think in the comments!

Scripture: Ezekiel 16:49-50, 1 Corinthians 12:21-27, 1 Peter 3:8