Starting a Podcast, Part 5: Consistency

Oh, hey, it’s Grant again! It’s been a while—new kid and all—but I’m picking up where I left off in our impromptu “Starting a Podcast” series. In this post and the one or two after this, I’ll talk about professionalism—that quality which promises reliability and responsibility. I want to cover several aspects of podcasting professionalism, but I’m going to start with the most common problem facing new podcasters: Consistency.

Deliver what you promise

That right there? That’s the most important piece of podcasting advice I’ll give you throughout this entire series.

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Episode 85 – Designing Fantasy Pantheons (with James Wyatt)


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Former Methodist minister and current Wizards of the Coast writer James Wyatt joins us to talk about designing pantheons for fantasy settings! James is a long-time D&D writer with a multitude of major credits, and he’s currently writing for the Magic: the Gathering creative team. That experience shows in this conversation, which covers the qualities of well-designed pantheons, their essential natures, and a multitude of design details relevant to your campaign world. We also talk about Shadows Over Innistrad and “The Lunarch Inquisition“, James’s recent story set there; Plane Shift: Zendikar, which turns that Magic: the Gathering setting into a home for D&D 5th Edition adventures; the paradox of the Cross; our first “gaming curriculum” episode; and Thursten. We talk a lot about Thursten. Enjoy!

Scripture: Deuteronomy 10:17, Job 4:15-17, Acts 17:22-26


You Must be This Treacherous to Ride the Story

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers for Wolfenstein: The New Order and Spec Ops: The Line.

I ran into an interesting roadblock recently while playing Wolfenstein: The New Order. At the end of the first chapter of the game, you’re presented with a sadistic choice by the villain and the game is pretty insistent that you actually make it. Failing to choose gets your entire squad killed and when you reload the save, you’re right back at the decision point. I watched that scene where you stare down the villain and he kills your squad a half-dozen times and almost stopped playing entirely at that point. I was ultimately talked out of that decision by some of the other folks on the Gamers With Jobs forums, and while the material that follows is surprisingly rich for a FPS game, there’s still a nagging metaphorical splinter in my brain about how I really shouldn’t have betrayed that squad member just to continue the story. It seems that playing Spec Ops: The Line back in the day had more of a lasting impact on me than I’d given it credit for.

Spec Ops: The Line escalates the misfortune, chaos, and suffering caused by its hard-charging, hot-tempered protagonist steadily over the course of its story and eventually (mostly via loading screens) starts telling the player that they can make the awful things stop happening if they quit playing the game. That idea resurfaced in my mind as I was looking at the sadistic choice sequence in Wolfenstein.

I have a hard time with stories that require me to be treacherous or duplicitous to move forward. I actually stopped playing Fallout 4 before the end because I could see that was the way the story was headed, and I don’t like betraying the trust of even really bad people. I don’t like having to compromise morally to get to the rest of a story.

Yet even the stories central to my Christian faith include some treachery and betrayal. The infamous example is Judas Iscariot, of course, but the Biblical figure my parents named me after certainly had his share of less-than-stellar moments where loyalty was concerned. From trying to escalate Jesus’s mostly-peaceful arrest (that Jesus was cooperating with) into violence in John 18:10 over Jesus’s objections to his denial that he even knew Jesus in Luke 22, he demonstrated that, under enough stress, even his loyalty could crack.

And here’s the thing: Jesus forgave him. In John 21, Jesus not only forgives Peter, but also puts him to work. Once again, God shows his ability to work through and with human frailty to accomplish his purposes. Peter’s story continued beyond the act of betrayal.

And that brings me to a realization that I had only after I started writing this blog post. A lot of my supposed virtue in games (and in life, if I’m going to be at all honest) comes from a well of pride. “I’ll defy the villain even if he kills an entire squad instead of just one of them. My integrity is worth more than those lives.” No, actually, it’s not. And it’s further not necessarily doing anyone any good to insist on always playing the good guy in everything. Now, it may not be harming anything either, and certainly playing upstanding characters can be a lot of fun, but when my internal narrative is such that I’ve convinced myself that I can’t play someone with major character flaws in a fictional context because that would reflect poorly on me, then perhaps it’s time to stretch a bit, especially because I have a nasty streak that I sometimes subconsciously feel I can let out as long as it’s fueled by “a good cause.” Like a lot of people of faith over the years, I have a problem with wanting to cultivate an image of outward purity when the truth is that on some essential level, I have the potential to be absolutely monstrous.

Fortunately, at times like this, I have my co-host. Grant has been running a Rogue Trader game for us, and as many of you are no doubt aware, the Warhammer 40k universe is a little thin on people of flawless virtue. My aloof, toaster-obsessed, pipe-smoking Explorator may be a humorous and strange character, but he’s not anyone’s role model. In fact, he’s even a poor example by the warped standards of his own society. But he’s also not a channel for sadism and cruelty – he’s just a self-interested, socially inept guy who is also a little weird. And while playing him isn’t as comfortable as playing some of my previous characters, at least he’s getting me to remove at least a few inches of the self-righteous stick I have lodged in my hindquarters, or to put it another way, it’s allowing me to start sawing off parts of the log I have in my eye so I can start getting rid of it. Unfortunately, that’s a long log. I have a feeling I’m going to be sawing for quite some time.


Gaming Curriculum: Extra Credit, Part III: Miscellany 1

A lot of the time, these are generated by a lack of other ideas, and I find them a useful way to fill a creative gap while still handing out something useful. That’s not the case this time – I have a couple of things that I especially want to recommend this time. Quality over quantity for this one; I just have two things, but they’re both phenomenal.

The first one is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast. I just discovered this recently after having been kind of tangentially aware of it for a while, and it has pushed just about everything else out of my listening rotation. Even other podcasts that I absolutely love have been fighting for my listening time with this. Mr. Carlin has a way of presenting historical narratives that is absolutely riveting and if your brain works anything at all like mine does, you won’t be able to stop the gaming ideas from coming. In particular, he focuses a lot on the human side of things and first-hand accounts; there’s a strong emphasis toward “putting the listener there” as much as possible. He also shows a great deal of respect and charity toward a wide variety of different world views and cultures, which I really appreciate as a listener; he’s more one to ask you to think about why horrible things happened and how people got through them than one to rant about how awful things were or sneer from a modern moral pedestal at “backwards” people from ages past. He also references other, fictional works, which makes putting stuff in a gaming context easier. Lord of the Rings actually gets referenced a lot during the WWI series.

As I just hinted at, I particularly recommend the six-part series “A Blueprint for Armageddon” which focuses on the first world war, and currently has me ruminating on ideas for a low-fantasy setting that resembles pre-WWI Europe.  I haven’t listened to anywhere near everything he’s put out so far, but I only have one or two more pieces of audio before I have to start buying his older stuff, which I will be doing happily and without hesitation. His current series, King of Kings, is also excellent, and it deals with the events (going all the way back to the founding of the Persian empire) that eventually lead up to the Battle of Thermopylae (the infamous stand of the 300 Spartans).

A few words of caution, though: this series is not for the faint of heart. Carlin gets pretty graphic at times as he describes, for example, just how terrible a WWI battlefield was or just what they did to the leaders of the Anabaptists that took over the city of Muenster when they caught them. Hardcore history has helped me understand and appreciate the value of horror about as much as talking to Kenneth Hite and Greg Stolze did, and that is high praise indeed.

The second one is much lighter in tone, and is more specifically gaming-focused. I had to go back and check to make sure we hadn’t included it in one of the previous podcasts or blog posts in this series, and I’m still not 100% sure we haven’t even after checking just now. Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick webcomic (the link goes to the first strip) is wonderful gaming inspiration for anyone in the hobby, but especially those running D&D games. It starts out as just a silly webcomic about a D&D adventuring party (complete with breaks in the fourth wall) and succeeds fairly well as just a humorous thing to read, but as the story goes on, the story gets more serious, more complex, and more interesting, and while Burlew’s setting is kind of generic by necessity, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it once the story starts scratching below the surface. Reading it will teach you interesting lessons about dealing with various problem characters (Elan, Belkar, and Vaarsuvius all represent different problematic PC archetypes, though that is far from all they are, and they have important roles to play in the story), developing a world as you go, heroism, villainy, storytelling, and so forth, but I think one of the more interesting and subtle lessons it teaches (perhaps without even meaning to) is how much you can get across with some fairly spare descriptions. The characters in Order of the stick aren’t quite traditional stick figures, but neither are they particularly detailed, yet the simple, clean art conveys a great deal.

Unlike Hardcore History, this one is probably fine for anyone over the age of 12 or so; while there’s some mild language, a fair bit of violence and the occasional sexual reference, nothing is particularly graphic, and the good guys are clearly marked and in most cases, pretty clearly heroic.

As usual, I’d love to hear if you get anything out of either of these, and I’d also love to hear any recommendations you might have.


Episode 83 – Personal Horror (with Greg Stolze) 1


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Author and game designer Greg Stolze joins Grant and Peter to talk about Unknown Armies 3rd Edition, its Kickstarter, some of his other work, and personal-scale horror stories! We spend a lot of time talking about Unknown Armies—practically the whole episode, really—and Greg had plenty to say about personal horror and how Unknown Armies reflects that. In particular, we talk about how this sort of horror differs from the “cosmic horror” currently in vogue; how relationships can matter more in personal horror; stress and horror; and more. Enjoy!

Mentioned in this episode:

Scripture: Job 38:4-7John 15:13Colossians 3:23-25Romans 3:10


If You Like Us, You Might Also Like…

Grant and I are both really busy this week, but we still wanted to give you something to look at, so we figured it would be cool to share some links to the various other “geeky faith” projects out there with you, because there are a surprising number of them these days. So without further adieu, the list:

Crossover Nexus: Both an occasional crossover project (Grant and I have both been on episodes) and an aggregated list of geeky faith projects. Start your search here; it’s not exhaustive, but it’s definitely a solid place to start.

Game Church: One of the older and more polished geeky faith projects out there, and full of interesting content. They focus mostly on video games and have a podcast of their own.

Geekdom House: We had Kyle Rudge, the man behind this amazing site on with us for episode 68. Kyle himself is a great guy – we really enjoyed talking with him and were impressed by both his warmth and his intelligence. Geekdom house has plenty of those qualities as well, and while you won’t find much in the way of podcast content here, there’s plenty of great stuff to read.

Innroads Ministries: If you’re aware of us, but not them at this point, I’m honestly not sure how that works as they’re one of the places we’re syndicated through and we’ve had Mike Perna, the man behind it on with us on two separate occasions. (Episode 66 and Episode 33. We really should get him back for episode 99…) They focus mostly on board games, but there’s a bit of tabletop RPG content (that doesn’t come from us) in there as well. You find both their main podcast (Game Store Prophets) and The MacGuffin Factory, the monthly-ish podcast Mike Perna and Grant do that centers around story hooks there.

See you next week with an episode as usual. If you know of other geeky faith projects that I didn’t include in this list, let us know in the comments. Putting together a reference document of them is on our to-do list.


Episode 82 – Diaspora 1


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Not much in the way of news this week, so Grant and Peter get almost straight into the topic: Diaspora, the scattering of a people from a common homeland and their desire to return. We discuss what, exactly makes a diaspora and how it can be used for world and character building.

Links:

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 36:20, Psalm 147:2-4, John 7:33-36, 1 Peter 1:1-2


Digging Too Deep

On Sunday, after I got home from the Easter festivities, I knocked something off of my games backlog: The Beginner’s Guide. It’s a really interesting experience (though I’m not sure I could actually call it a game, even by my own loose definition of “game”) and got me thinking about, well, how much thinking I do about my hobbies.

Now before I go any further, I should reiterate that I think there’s tremendous value in taking hobbies and interests (gaming especially) to a deeper-than-surface level. I love the work of Jack Berkenstock and Sarah Lynne Bowman a great deal and I really get into symbolism in my media (when I catch it, anyway). I just about jumped out of my chair cheering at the cleansing metaphor of the rain at the end of the fourth episode of Season 2 of Daredevil when I watched it, and while I’m not as good at articulating it as Grant is, I’m very much in favor of the gaming table as a way of exploring moral, psychological, philosophical, and theological concepts, as well as a place for building interpersonal skills. In short, I am an enthusiastic, happy believer in using fun for good and thinking below the surface of the media we consume.

There’s a very real risk if we’re not careful of falling into the infamous “high school English teacher” trap of over-analyzing something to the point where it loses all meaning, or at least the intended or original meaning, but there’s also the problem of thinking one’s fun has to “work” (as in “toil” not as in “function”) all the time.

Because of that, I find it useful (if a bit frustratingly difficult at times) to remind myself on occasion that fun for its own sake is perfectly okay and beneficial in its own right. The Beginners Guide did a fairly jarring and harsh job of reminding me of this as I played it this past weekend. Note: for those who haven’t played it, The Beginner’s Guide is only about 90 minutes long, so it’s quick to get through but also almost impossible to talk about without spoiling to some degree. So I’m going to spoil it a bit – you’ve been warned. Anyway, in The Beginner’s Guide, one character over-interprets his friend’s work and invents a need for help where none exists, which then leads to a betrayal of trust and the loss of a friendship. In effect (to swipe rather irreverently from Tolkien), he dug SO deep that he unearthed a Balrog. He tried to make the projects of his friend Coda work as an insight into his friend’s inner struggles and saw a call for help when one wasn’t there – in effect he fell into the “English teacher trap” and the “fun needs to be more than fun” trap at the same time.

While I haven’t shared work I wasn’t entitled to share with people it was never intended to be shared with like the narrator in The Beginner’s Guide, there have been times where I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that I really shouldn’t be having fun with my hobbies unless they were also serving some other purpose. I needed to be generating content, or having some philosophical revelation, or even just practicing my critical analysis skills (which admittedly CAN use some more development) or I should stop. I was digging down past the point where it was fun and missing some of the inherent worth of recreation: stress relief, rest, and joy. (Also: don’t let the word “was” make you think this is some long-defeated character flaw and that I now have perfect perspective. I did this to myself last week.) However, like so many of these more introspective posts, I’m not always entirely sure where those lines are. The Beginner’s Guide, for example, is clearly supposed to be thought about and analyzed even as it cautions about the perils of over-thinking and over-analysis.

At times like this, I think back to our conversation with Kyle Rudge of Geekdom House on episode 68, and try to remember that art has worth of its own and that consuming it can be edifying in its own right. A lot of the time there’s good stuff below the surface of our entertainment, but sometimes it’s worth taking the time to appreciate the surface itself and just let that be enough.


Episode 81 – Fear 1


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Grant’s second child is here and everybody is doing well!

Grant and Peter discuss some recent news, including Gamerati’s taking over of RPGpodcasts.com (a very good thing) and the upcoming Tavern Con and Electric City Comic Con, then get down to discussing the main topic: fear in RPGs. A lot of gaming groups have trouble handling fear in-game. Grant and Peter discuss some common reasons for the trouble and offer a number of potential solutions.

Links:
Tavern Con (no official link yet)
Episode 45 – Unity vs. Uniformity (With Ed Healy)
Stardew Valley
Electric City Comic Con
Gameable Pixar Podcast, Bonus episode 33: The Corpse Bride
Games Store Prophets Bonus Content: Darkest Dungeon

Scripture: Proverbs 9:10, Matthew 10:26-31, John 16:33, Luke 2:10