Episode 104 – Naming and Renaming


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In this episode, Grant and Peter discuss naming characters and renaming characters! We kick things off with a conversation about the games Grant’s playing right now—Pugmire, Fellowship, and No Thank You, Evil!—and attempt to answer a question from Patreon backer Rich about play-by-post gaming. Then after quite a lot of Scripture (and really, it’s a small sampling of what could have been used for this particular topic) we start in on the difficult art of naming your character: Why it’s so difficult, what goes into a character’s name, and different ways to come up with the right name. Then, we discuss renaming characters—an underutilized dramatic tool for both players and game-masters. That segues into additional names for characters, and when these new names might be added. Finally, we wrap up with a brief discussion on the weight of a name.

The sermon Grant mentioned as inspiring this topic—and a much weightier topic to come—can be found here. Again, we strongly recommend listening to it! Special thanks to Rev. Justin Cazel.

Scripture: Genesis 17:3-6, Genesis 41:50-52, Isaiah 62:1-2, Matthew 1:20-21, Matthew 16:17-18, Acts 13:6-11, Revelation 2:17


Retracing Old Steps

Mass Effect: Andromeda is coming out next month, so I’ve dived back into the second and third games in the series. (I skipped the first because I don’t have it as part of a digital game client and I’m not exactly sure where my discs went.) It’s interesting the things you notice when you go back to something familiar, but that you haven’t engaged with for a while. I realized on the first playthrough just how much there is about redemption and forgiveness in the third game of the series; but back in 2012, I hadn’t done over 100 episodes of a podcast where I examine media and gaming through an explicitly Christian filter with a bunch of other folks doing the same, so the lenses I now view media through are a bit more polished, as it were. Also: it’s been five years and I feel like I can play a little more fast and loose with spoilers now. That said, spoiler warning for the first three Mass Effect games, particularly 2 and 3. If you haven’t played them, they’re well worth your time.

One of the things that has stuck with me is the character of “Subject Zero,” better known as Jack. When you pick Jack up in Mass Effect 2, she’s a very troubled and violent person with an extremely traumatic past. As the subject of a bunch of brutal experiments designed to enhance both her biotic (essentially telekinetic) potential and simultaneous conditioning to fight as a child, she’s pretty darn messed up when you pull her out of a maximum-security prison station in game 2. If you play the game as a “Paragon” like I did, Shepard (the player character) works with her enough that she starts overcoming a few of her issues as the game goes on, but it isn’t until game 3 when you come across her as a teacher of other biotic students at a private school, and a good one at that, where you truly see the level of redemption she’s achieved. A woman who was once a vicious, lawless killer carving a path of rage and destruction across the nastier parts of the galaxy is now a devoted and fiercely protective teacher. She’s still got a sharp tongue, but there is genuine compassion in the way she treats her students and genuine gratitude toward the people, from Shepard to the Alliance personnel who gave her the job, that provided her with a fresh start.

Which brings up an interesting point about redemption: it’s seldom something a person can achieve on their own. People may break bad habits and establish good ones, but in order to truly complete the process, someone has to actually let them have a shot at being restored to some kind of community with other people. This has a lot of interesting story implications in game. How much do you trust the villain that’s reformed? What do you do with bad guys who are suddenly trying to do something good? How do you tell sincere willingness to change from a ploy? Let’s assume you’ve decided to give someone a second chance. What does that look like in this story? In this setting?

The second one that sticks with me and the thing that actually made me cry a little bit the first time I played the game was what happened on Rannoch, the homeworld of the Quarians and Geth. The backstory of those two races seems like a twisted and partially-inverted version of Paradise Lost. The Quarians built the Geth, a sapient race of what boils down to laborer robots, to assist them on their homeworld of Rannoch. The design was a little too good, and one day a Geth gained both sufficient self-awareness and boldness to ask its Quarian supervisor if it had a soul. The Quarians, fearing the response from the galactic community, attempted to wipe out the Geth, which resulted in a war they lost, badly. Driven from their homeworld and wandering throughout space on fleet of ships, and also stuck in environment suits from infancy due to immune systems that function poorly away from a homeworld they no longer have access to, the Geth are God, Lucifer, and Cain all rolled into one. The Geth even refer to them as “creators” rather than their racial name. And the Geth, paradoxically, are willing to forgive the Quarians and welcome them back as long as price isn’t their survival. In a series of events that plays out over an hour or two of gameplay, Shepard is able to learn both sides of the story and broker a peace between the formerly-hostile races. Interesting, the Geth, not being biological, have perfect memory and absolutely zero interest in holding a grudge. The level of forgiveness and sacrifice that goes into the reunification of those two disparate factions was the thing that actually opened the tear ducts up on me. One of the Geth, called Legion (a direct reference to the bunch of demons in Mark 5:9!) because of the way Geth operate (as a host of networked virtual machines, essentially) uploads itself and “dies” in the process. The sequence ends with a hulking Geth combat platform gently offering to let the Quarians come home. It’s also noted that the ecosystem of the homeworld the Quarians need so badly has been carefully preserved for over 300 years by machines that can survive in vacuum. The Geth were looking for an opportunity to reconcile with their creators.

There’s more beautiful symbolism and mythic resonance in that story than I can unpack in ten of these blog posts, but it does serve as an excellent example of the C.S. Lewis quote we used to say all the time on the podcast:

“The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.”

Interestingly, that phenomenon even works when you’ve previously had some familiarity with the myth – a little time away from a story brings back a lot of its significance. And the significance of forgiveness, freely, even eagerly offered is something we can all stand to remember a bit more these days.

 

This weeks featured image is from Tony Alter, used under a Creative Commons license.


STG 103 – Fitness for Gamers, Part 2 (with Kimi, Chris, and Krissi)


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We’ve got THREE guests crowding around the mics this week to continue with part two of a special episode on personal fitness! Kimi (cosplayer, tabletop gaming podcaster, weightlifter, gym owner, and former personal trainer), Chris (media professional, tabletop gaming podcaster, filmmaker, and former personal trainer) and Krissi (gamer, stay-at-home mom, and licensed Zumba instructor) all join us to put personal fitness into a gamer-friendly context. They (along with Grant and Peter) discuss nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, willpower, and more!

Be sure to catch the first half of this episode if you missed it, where we talked about our own fitness journeys, why exercise and physical health matter, unfocused and focused exercise, and setting goals.

Special thanks to all our guests for joining us for a long recording session and providing so much helpful information. For more information about our guests and their projects, as well as where to find them online:

Scripture: Proverbs 16:3, Isaiah 40:31, Colossians 3:23, Philippians 2:1-4


A Sense of Menace

Last session in the D&D game, we came to a horrifying realization: a powerful evil NPC we’d covertly stolen an item from (a witch/hag that goes by “Auntie Bloat”) at the behest of a good NPC had found the colony and had managed to sneak in and make a deal with one of the farmers that would result in her taking the infant he and his wife have on the way. It was unexpected and shocking, but it galvanized us into action almost immediately. In a very real way, this will be what the game is about until the threat is removed.

However, unlike a lot of scenarios like this, Grant has left us with a somewhat longer window before we have to act, which does several interesting things.

First, it creates a sense of looming dread that we’re going to have to live with for a while. Incidentally, Grant seems fond of this – we agreed to an unspecified favor for a water fey earlier in the game and that won’t be coming due any time soon; we’re about two months in the world’s time into the game, which means we have about 10 more months until that favor comes due. The saving of the newborn is going to have to happen at least 2-3 months before that, however, which gives us both time to prepare and time for the situation to get more complicated. There’s also the near certainty that the party is currently no match for Auntie Bloat. Which means we need to gain some levels. Plural. Fast.

Second, speaking of getting more complicated, it’s pushing us to solidify alliances we’ve started forming. The party has sought the aid of Rishi, a Kenku sorcerer and the first friendly NPC we met on the island that didn’t also arrive on our ship. But in order to get that aid, we have to help him secure another teacher for his apprentice should he die in the effort, which means we’re going to be traveling to another nearby island (or perhaps several) in the archipelago on a just-salvaged boat we recovered from some gnolls that had been eaten by giant spiders.

Finally, it’s acting as a mechanism to tie several plot threads together. As mentioned in previous blog posts, the party has been building relationships and a reputation as folks useful to the colony (and to a lesser extent, the Kenku), and as such has been able to call in some favors. The boat itself is a massive favor that Governor Hester Warwick has granted us because while the party is so often the bearer of news of new complications that she gets a headache every time we report in, we’ve also gotten results every time she’s sent us to do something. Rishi is willing to help us because we’ve helped him and the Kenku in a big way once already (in fact, he was the one who sent us to steal the item from Auntie Bloat in the first place). And the colony is starting to expand to the point where the target painted on us for various threats to zero in on is getting bigger and more brightly-colored.

This long-term approach does have a single significant drawback, however: it’s far enough out, there’s a certain risk of losing the sense of dread, and on the other side of the coin there’s also a chance (as killed the Shadowrun game) that the players will become paralyzed with second-guessing and not go anywhere. Do that long enough and even a very good campaign can die.

Still, I think there’s a lot of value in taking this longer view. In a previous campaign of mine, a generally very successful one, we sat down at the end and realized that the player characters had started at level 5 and had wound up at level 21 less than six months of game time later. Their journey had been a constant charge through an unending chain of immediate threats and un-ignorable emergencies. They’d had no time to breathe at all; in the real world, even hardened combat verterans couldn’t keep up the pace they’d kept up, and in retrospect, that had been poor storytelling on my part.

So I think there’s some real value in placing a problem that’s certain and scary on the horizon and letting the players get to it over a longer period of time rather than dropping it on top of them and forcing them to react NOW like so many GMs, including me, have done.

As usual, I’d love to hear your comments on this topic. How have you and your gaming group paced your threats, and how did it work out?

 

This week’s image is used, unaltered, under creative commons and comes from Schizoform.


Episode 103 – Fitness for Gamers, Part 1 (with Kimi, Chris, and Krissi)


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We’ve got THREE guests crowding around the mics this week for part one of a special episode on personal fitness! Kimi (cosplayer, tabletop gaming podcaster, weightlifter, gym owner, and former personal trainer), Chris (media professional, tabletop gaming podcaster, filmmaker, and former personal trainer) and Krissi (gamer, stay-at-home mom, and licensed Zumba instructor) all join us to put personal fitness into a gamer-friendly context. They (along with Grant and Peter) discuss their own fitness journeys, why exercise and physical health matter, unfocused and focused exercise, and setting goals. Plus, Grant and Peter slip through time and answer a question from Patreon backer Doug Hagler, who asks what system we’d use to run a post-apocalyptic campaign.

Be sure to catch the second half of this episode as well, when we’ll talk about nutrition, sleep, stress reduction, willpower, and more!

Special thanks to all our guests for joining us for a long recording session and providing so much helpful information. For more information about our guests and their projects, as well as where to find them online:

Also mentioned in this episode: Red Markets by Caleb Stokes; FTB 180, “Gamer Health (Part 1)” and FTB 181, “Gamer Health (Part 2)”.

Scripture: Proverbs 16:3, Isaiah 40:31, Colossians 3:23, Philippians 2:1-4


Heroic Legacies

A few sessions back Lambert, my PC in our D&D game, almost died in a fight.

The party is a fairly low-level one, and the giant spiders they were fighting could do a decent amount of damage. Lambert was rolling poorly, and the spiders were not – despite his high armor class, they were landing a lot of hits on him and the situation was starting to look a bit dire before the faerie dragon NPC we had with us intervened and gave me some breathing room. Lambert quickly drank a healing potion and he was back in the fight.

That time when things got dicey got me thinking about what kind of impact Lambert’s death would have on the colony, and what kind of impact his life had produced up until that point. Without going into too much detail and boring you all with a gaming story, the effects would have been pretty substantial. Lambert had both a leadership position and a useful set of skills he was neither shy nor reluctant to use on the colony’s behalf, and had he been eaten by a giant spider, there would have been a substantial hole there to fill.

Which leads me to a short, if critical point: if you’re aiming to play heroic characters, what kind of legacy are they creating? A lot of the time, the more heroic PCs in fantasy games especially are defined primarily by what they’re willing to stick the business end of some weapon into, and, it follows, how many of those things they’ve vanquished. Certainly, a lot of fantasy settings are dangerous, monster-infested places and the dragonslayer’s role is a critical one, but oftentimes the things that really make PCs important in the world are the ones that happen when they’re not fighting, or at least after they’re done fighting.

The PCs in the colony game cleared out, but also thoroughly scouted, an ancient, abandoned monastery that’s currently the seat of colonial government. While in that same monastery, they worked out a deal with a freshwater faerie to secure a supply of clean water for the colony. They made peaceful contact with the Kenku village, they made peaceful (if somewhat exasperated) contact with a faerie dragon. They’ve identified the territory of a dangerous predator (a wyvern). They’ve found fertile land, helped find mineral deposits, located a wrecked gnoll ship, and rescued a bunch of lost colonists from an interdimensional “pocket plane.” Lambert has also done a lot of work on finding out which plants on the island are edible and/or medicinal.

They’ve also become known as the bearers of stressful news to at least the governor, who has come to realize that they get things done, but also often bring news that complicates matters every time they come back from some errand.

In short, they’ve made a difference. The people in the colony are safer (much, much safer) better-fed, and better-sheltered than they’d be without the help of the PCs or some other characters like them. In addition to problem solvers and threat-eliminators, they’re scouts, pathfinders, and trailblazers, and that has made them heroic without there needing to be a constant stream of monsters or even a known “big bad.” And like most of these revelations, it’s been equal parts serendipity, improvisation, good GMing, and a complete surprise.

I guess the take-away here is that if you’re looking to make heroes, especially ones tied to a place, look specifically for opportunities to do things that benefit that place in ways that aren’t just taking threats out. Try and find a way for them to leave a legacy. You’ll probably find yourself having even more fun than normal.

This week’s image is from Pedro Ribeiro Simões, used under Creative Commons.


Episode 102 – Adapting to the Dice 3


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Happy New Year! Grant and Peter are back to talk about … dice?! After a couple of minor announcements and housekeeping notes, we list off some of the games we’d really like to try to play in 2017. We also tackle a Patreon question from Jim, who asks us about handling combat in theatre-of-the-mind games (or for visually-impaired gamers, like the Going In Blind podcast.) Our main topic isn’t so much about dice as reacting to the dice, and handling the unexpected results they can give us while keeping a consistent narration—even if it leads campaigns in strange and unexpected directions.

Games we mentioned wanting to play in 2017: Unknown Armies, 3rd Edition; Pillar of Fire; A Scoundrel in the Deep; Feng Shui, 2nd Edition; Dogs in the Vineyard; DramaSystem; GUMSHOE. Also mentioned: The One Shot Podcast and the Party of One Podcast.

Scripture: Proverbs 16:9, Leviticus 16:6-10, Romans 8:28


Clean Slate 1

On this New Year’s Day, hear the good news that God allows do-overs. God created do-overs. We get a second chance…or a third, or fourth, or fifth…or seventy times seven. -From the January 1 church bulletin of the Marengo United Methodist Church.

A lot of us make resolutions around this time of year – things we want to do better or stop doing, and therefore be better. This has proven difficult throughout human history – in fact, the Bible itself can be boiled down into “stop doing the things!” It doesn’t typically prove to be any better on an individual level. We start the new year full of life and excitement, determined to take on the world and our own bad habits and then life eventually grinds us down until sometime around August, we either have completely forgotten what our resolutions were, or we’re so dispirited that we have trouble seeing the point.

Some of this is just human nature and even human physiology. There’s some pretty compelling science that habits – never mind actual addictions – are so heard to break because the more we repeat something, the more it physically affects our brains. Common behaviors form what are essentially hard-wired neural pathways. This isn’t always a bad thing, mind you. This is also the reason why things like tying your shoes no longer require conscious thought by the time you’ve reached adulthood. But that also means that bad habits get hard-wired in as well. (So in Psalm 139:14 when the word “fearfully” comes up, it’s not hard to see this powerful double-edged psychological sword as part of the fear.)

So what does that mean for someone trying to change as a Christian? Probably lots and lots of things, but several big ones I want to focus on.

The first is that, as you may suspect, games are actually your friend in this!  One of the ways that works well for some people (me very much included) to form better habits is to game-ify the process. (If you doubt this, you really should take the time to watch Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on the subject.) As some of our listeners may already suspect, this is where I bring up Habitica. If you’ve never looked at it, look at it. If nothing else, it’s a fantastic to-do list app, and the RPG elements are obviously a bonus. The free version is more than adequate, though it’s helped me enough that I decided to subscribe at a small monthly amount ($5). That gets you access to… …snazzy-looking cosmetic stuff, mostly. There are other tools out there as well. This Lifehacker Article covers some of them, including Habitica (called Habit RPG back then).

The second is accountability. I’ve had some fairly poor results sticking with an exercise regimen in the past, and since I’m now no longer getting much exercise at work, this is getting more and more important with every passing day. I asked some members of a small, private Facebook group I’m in to periodically check in with me about how it’s going, and Grant’s wife (who is a member of that group) has been pretty diligent about not letting me forget this is a thing I’m supposed to do. The trick, for me at least, is to not have be a beatdown, just a check-in.

The third is that it can be good to keep your ears open. I had a horrible time keeping up any sort of regular prayer schedule until I heard about this prayer that can be said quickly as I step into my morning shower and learned this method of praying through my day that I can do at night. I tried them and they stuck. Don’t be afraid to grab tools where you can find them.

Finally and most important is grace. God is far, far more patient with us than we are with ourselves. The Bible is a continuous loop of screwing up and being forgiven from Genesis all the way to Revelation. (See the link under “stop doing the things!”) God has forgiven, does forgive, and will continue to forgive, and while none of us will ever reach Christ-like perfection this side of eternity, we can get better. There’s also a nugget of wisdom I’d like to share from a close friend of mine. I came to him feeling guilty about how hard it had been for me to resist a habitual sin. I’d managed not to do it this time, but the amount of effort it had required from me had me down. His response was “Just because there was a struggle doesn’t mean you lost, dude.” Now to some folks, that may seem obvious, but to me, that was profound.

I still have a lot to work on this year, but there is something wonderful and enticing about a clean slate, isn’t there?

 

This week’s image used under Creative Commons comes from Travis Isaacs.


Episode 101 – Playing Supernatural Creatures


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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Grant and Peter sit down to tackle a topic selected by our voting Patreon supporters: Playing supernatural creatures! First, though, we spend quite a lot of time on a serious problem that cropped up in Grant’s Pugmire game—a case where a player had a very bad reaction to the previous session’s events. Then we tackle a question from Patreon supporter (and host of the Retro Rewind Podcast) Francisco Ruiz, who asks about games centered around specific holidays. Finally, it’s our main topic: How to play supernatural creatures, We talk briefly about whether Christians should do so at all; then we discuss ways to make that more interesting, especially regarding the traditional weaknesses such creatures typically have.

Mentioned in this episode: GullahPugmire.

Scripture: Isaiah 9:13, Romans 14:1-4


Bonus Episode 9 – “The Centurion” (by Rev. Bob Lawrence)


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Grant presents a very special Christmas bonus episode: A reading of a unique sermon given on Christmas Day, 1983, by Rev. Bob Lawrence of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.

Merry Christmas, from all of us to all of you.

Music:Greensleeves” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence“, performed by Andrew Remillard.

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20