Episode 96 – The First Commandment (The Ten Commandments, Part 1)

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Grant and Peter kick off a new, more theologically-oriented series this week! We’ll be looking at each of the Ten Commandments, and so of course we’re starting with the First Commandment. First, though, we answer a question from Patreon backer Richard Lorenz about other podcasts in the “geeky faith” genre (and specifically faith and roleplaying games—see the show notes for a full list of everything we mentioned!) We also spend a little time talking about Game to Grow. For our main topic, we talk about the importance and theological implications of the First Commandment, as well as some of its gaming implications.

Mentioned in this episode:

Scripture: Exodus 3:15, Exodus 20:1-3Matthew 22:37-38Matthew 6:24

Campaign Report: Player Perspective, Part 1

Grant has written a number of very well-thought-out reports on our D&D game from a GM’s perspective, but so far, aside from mentioning it on the show, I’ve been a little quiet on the game, other than stating repeatedly what a blast I’m having. I’d like to take some time to explain why I’m enjoying the campaign so much, and I’d also like to point out some things that are going particularly well that I think are worth mentioning. As you can see by the “part 1” in the title, I intend to check in here at least occasionally about the game.

Threats without horror

A lot of the time when GMs are running fantasy games, there is an all-too-seductive temptation to lean heavily on supernatural or horrific cruelty to create a sense of stakes in the game, impressing on the players how important their mission is with demons, undead, or mangled remains of innocent victims almost from the jump. While this can be effective in certain games, it is an overused trope, so it’s been refreshing that Grant has used supernatural horror elements very sparingly and has instead focused mostly on natural threats. The first encounter of the game was with sahuagin, who basically act like a nasty school of predatory fish – they attacked and dragged prey into the water, but didn’t curse people with foul magic or ritually sacrifice them on the beach. The biggest, nastiest threat currently on the island (at least, that we know of) is a wyvern, which is a massive, venomous beast, but isn’t demonic or evil – just big and hungry. There have been some supernatural threats sprinkled in – a spectral undead and what we think is probably a hag – but for the most part, the difficulties and adversaries we’ve faced have been very grounded – taking care of the lower tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and trying to establish good relationships with the other people we’ve met on the island – the kenku.

It’s not all about alignment

Speaking of the kenku, one of the things I find cool about the game is that I have no idea what alignment Rishi is. I am similarly ignorant about the colony governor, Hester Warwick, and in fact about every single other character in the entire game except the other two player characters, whose alignments I know through metagame knowlege only. In addition, there is literally no way for Lambert to find out, despite the fact that he’s a cleric, because the “Detect Evil and Good” spell now simply alerts you to the presence of supernatural entities or magically consecrated or desecrated areas rather than letting you see where every sapient creature around you falls on a 3×3 alignment bingo card if you cast it enough times. That means that, in the game as in life, we have to figure out who is trustworthy and who isn’t by observing behavior and interacting with characters rather than simply scanning them. This is a change in the D&D system proper from previous editions rather than something Grant is explicitly doing, but after playing a number of sessions with it in place, I can say without reservation that I think that was an exceptionally good design decision.

Things that are interesting without being epic

The kenku look like walking, wingless crows, but they also have aspects of lyrebirds in that they can mimic all sorts of sounds around them and even pass these sounds down to descendants, which is why the party can communicate with them at all. The old mystery cult monastery we cleared out as our first dungeon was full of implied story and interesting bits of world history, but there was nothing world-shattering in there, just an old building that had some history.

The desire to make things epic or jaw-dropping is another pitfall a lot of campaigns can fall into, and having a world that is interesting and feels grounded and lived-in has helped me to stay interested and engaged in the game. It seems to be pushing our group to actually live in the world a lot as well – there has been a lot more focus and a lot more in-character time in this campaign than anything we’ve done since the Shadowrun game.

Limited violence

There has been combat, certainly, but the entire game is not a string of fights connected with flimsy plot. Some of the best moments in the game have been role playing ones, and that has been consistent. Grant has done an admirable job of keeping the challenges of setting up a society and interacting with a new one front and center, and I will admit that I (and my PC) have much more anxiety about the colonists going all conquistador on the kenku than I do about the monsters on the island.

Grant would probably ask me to balance this out with criticism, but I honestly don’t have any, and in any case he has done so in his own posts already. So there.

Personal Goals

One of the things I’ve been trying to work on is my tendency to hog the spotlight. Fortunately, the other players made deeper and more complex characters than I did, so they’ve actually been helping with that quite a bit just by being awesome. Lambert is a very busy PC, but he is certainly not the toughest member of the party (that is unquestionably Garm, especially now that he’s gotten access to some magic) and he’s not the most skillful or intelligent member either (that would be Aster, the unbelievably competent rogue).

I am also trying to use this game to practice what we preach on the show. Lambert is a very deliberate attempt at breaking away from some of the more violent and self-righteous characters I’ve played in the past. What I’ve been trying to do with him is make him into “glue.” While he’s not a pacifist, I want him to be a peacemaker, and I also want his influence to be at least one reason why the members of the colony live in harmony with the natives of the island rather than conquering or disregarding them. Lambert was designed to be the kind of person who doesn’t get a lot of recognition, but helps society be better, more empathetic, and more compassionate, hopefully due to his example. I want to use him to practice humility, charity, and kindness rather than just righteous fury and decisiveness. I want him to help the other PCs become the epic, noble heroes they can clearly become. And most importantly, I am hoping that his story will point toward the life that really is life, that he will be a good example of how to be authentically human and a servant of God (despite the fact that he’s in a polytheistic setting and a cleric of a member of the pantheon therin). Time will tell how successful I am in that.

Campaign Report 4: Into The Witch’s House

Hey, folks. Grant again, and … what’s this? A bonus play report? Delicious! My recap from a few days ago was pretty negative—and rightly so, because I screwed up hard. In these last two sessions, though, I think we collectively made up for that. Character development, problem solving without violence, some great roleplaying, and a couple of nasty combats. Oh, and the rogue set a needle blight on fire and robbed a witch. Good times.

(A personal note: This blog post was supposed to go up last Friday. However, between a nasty head cold and some other issues, that didn’t happen. I apologize for not getting this out in a timely manner.)

Session 6

I’m going to try something a little different for this post. Since these two sessions were pretty action-packed, I’m going to recap each session and then immediately talk about it from a GM’s perspective, rather than packing all the GM notes at the bottom.


Kenku WitchI left the party on a cliffhanger: Rishi (the wacky old kenku loremaster) was juuuuust about to tell the party something they could do to earn the trust of Kondou (head of the kenku village) and the other kenku. (I’m going to talk about that cliffhanger in the “GM’s Notes” section below.) Well, Rishi’s task was simple, on the face of it. He wanted them to retrieve a stone tablet, about 8″x12″x1″, with a kenku carved into it. It had “gone missing”, he said, and he’d just learned where it went: It was in Auntie Bloat’s house.

“Auntie Bloat”, it turned out, was an ancient kenku witch—much older even than Rishi—who lurked in a bog at the far western end of the island, living in a fish’s skull. She and Rishi apparently were in a bit of a standoff, and the PCs offered the opportunity to shake things up. So the next morning—after waking up to the sound of Rishi shouting a story off his balcony to passing kenku—the party set off to find Auntie Bloat.

The kenku village was just a bit uphill of the small lake the party had spotted the day before, and the witch’s swamp was (naturally) at the end of the small river flowing out of that lake. Finding her was therefore just a matter of traveling down-river. This occasioned an interesting debate, however: Aster (the scrappy, urban rogue with a … limited … grasp of the concept of personal property) was strongly in favor of taking a fishing boat, even if there wasn’t anyone around to ask about that. (Her player—my wife—invoked her “It’s not stealing if I need it more” flaw, and earned an Inspiration point for doing so.) The party argued this for a bit, and eventually nixed the idea on both moral and practical grounds, but it was a good (and 100% player-created) moment. (more…)

Episode 95 – Hospitality 1

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It’s a relatively light episode for news, so Grant and Peter have more time for the Patreon question and the main topic. It turns out they need it. Hospitality is a big, old-school StG topic and the hosts look at it from a number of angles and discuss how it applies in games, in the world around us, and at our gaming tables.

Scripture: Leviticus 19:34, Luke 14:12-14, 1 Peter 4:8-10

Episode 5: Charity
Jean Veljean and the Bishop of Digne
Would You Hide a Jew From the Nazis?
Denver church planning to build tiny homes

Campaign Report 3: Exploration & Narrative Railroading

Hey, folks! It’s been about a month since our last campaign update, and I’ve got four sessions to recap as a result. That’s a lot to cover, so I’m going to break this up into two posts. Expect a follow-up later this week. A lot has happened for the PCs, and as a GM I’ve done some good and some bad things, all worth talking about. I don’t want to skimp on too many details!

Anyways, let’s talk about exploration—and bad GMing.


For those keeping track at home, I’ve written about three sessions so far. Here’s a recap of the next two.

Session 4

Ball's Pyramid (North)So after exploring the ancient monastery and clearing it out, the various colonists moved in (somewhat) and started settling down in earnest. After a day or two of helping with various chores, the PCs decided to explore and try to find an easy way to the top of the cliffs they had settled in front of. They went south, following the coastline, and found a sizable bay there that might one day be a good harbor, though the current colony location is a bit far away to use it themselves. In the distance, well to the south-south-east, they also spotted a sharp, solitary spire of rock jutting out of the ocean. (The picture I sent them to illustrate this was of Bell’s Pyramid, a pretty amazing natural wonder in the ocean between Australia and New Zealand.)

After about half a day of travel, they eventually found a place where they could get up the cliff face. They found a sub-tropical forest at the top, along with a few high places they could get a better view of the inland terrain from. That gave them a glimpse of a bit more geography—a tall, volcanic mountain in the distance, a plateau sloping away from them … and a thin, barely-visible plume of smoke rising in the distance to the west of them, suggesting that someone might live there.


Episode 94 – Epic Monsters 1

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Grant and Peter are back with a whole host of things to talk about! We start with a bit about the Pugmire campaign Grant just started playing in. Then we answer a surprisingly tricky question from Patreon backer Jim Nanban, who asks us for our “elevator pitch” for RPGs as a hobby. We remind everyone that Save Against Fear 2016 is coming up very quickly (and that you should go if at all possible!) And finally, we reach our main topic: Epic monsters. What do we mean by an “epic monster”? What role can and should they play in your campaign? Why do they sometimes fall flat? And what little tricks and additional details can you add in to really make them stand out to your players? And most importantly, what’s the best story about an epic monster from your own gaming career?

Mentioned in this episode:

Scripture: Job 3:8, Revelation 13:1

Unfinished Stories 2

Listeners to the podcast have probably sussed out that I enjoy digital RPGs about as much as tabletop ones, albeit in a different way.  Some of the first games I ever played on a computer were the old Sierra King’s Quest games, and in particular, the third entry in that series sticks with me. In King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human, you play an older teenage boy named Gwydion as he seeks to survive and ultimately escape from his captivity to the cruel and vastly more powerful wizard Manannan. I remember many evenings of wracking my brain as Gwydion, sneaking around, trying to amass the components necessary to turn my evil master into something less threatening, and once I finally managed that task, the story felt complete to me. And that wasn’t even a proper RPG, but a text-based adventure game.

From what I understand, there’s a fair bit of game left after you turn Manannan into a cat and escape, but I never really pushed myself to see it. That has happened many more times over the years, and the fragments of unfinished stories, both interactive and non-interactive, both digital and tabletop now form something of a metaphorical trail behind me. There’s my paladin/detective in service to a neutral good death god whose tale of investigating a mysteriously-immortal noble class (and the implied sinister forces behind it) in his world will never be told. There’s my Pillars of Eternity party, stuck on a late-game dragon fight I could never get past. My poor courier in Fallout: New Vegas was stranded in a deathclaw-infested part of the Lonesome Road DLC the last time I played it. There’s a party of GURPS 3e characters in a fantasy alternate history setting that I ran that never discovered that one of their number’s arranged fiance was an ocean-spanning crime boss. My playthrough of The Witcher 3 is stopped before either of the DLC packages start. I’ve got about a third of Hyperion and about a third of Night Watch to read, and haven’t been back. I still haven’t watched the final seasons of Flash Point or The Shield. And then there’s our Shadowrun party, who were just starting to make the shift from being entirely mission-focused to a proactive force in their neighborhood when the campaign ran out of gas due to PC paralysis, GM burnout, and The New Shiny.

This trail of unfinished stories is part of why I started my backlog project and yet even that hasn’t seen any progress since May (probably not so coincidentally right around the same time I started my new job). Still, it’s something that tends to gnaw at the back of my mind, and lately I’ve been trying to get to the end of some of those stories, to finish the ones I can so that I only have the ones I can’t left.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that at least one of the most famous and well-known of Jesus’s parables ends on an unresolved cliffhanger! In the parable of the prodigal son, we never do find out whether the old brother eventually relents and joins the party. That’s not the point of the parable, of course, but that doesn’t mean the story is neatly tied off, either. I think perhaps that may even be part of the usefulness story – its sudden ending leaves those who hear it with the lasting knowledge that there’s more to tell, and invites comparison to countless unfinished personal stories.

Which ultimately means even the unfinishable stories have some merit. Our Shadowrun campaign may rise again, the opening part of King’s Quest III remains one of my favorite digital memories, and the wall I hit in Pillars of Eternity has recently inspired me to restart the game from scratch and push through in a more slow and deliberate fashion, savoring the experience as I go rather than charging through to the end. And, in a more concrete sense, I still have time to do better, to tie up my own loose ends and seek or grant forgiveness, to reconnect with people I’ve lost connection with, to find new ways of living out the commandments Jesus left us with.

And when I do finish or even just continue one of these stranded stories, there’s a feeling of satisfaction that’s not always present for ones I punch through on the first go around. Sometimes putting things down for a while just makes them that more enjoyable to pick up. Sometimes the treasure that you lost feels more precious when you find it.



Questions for the reader:

Since this is something I’m sure I’m not alone in, I’m going to conclude this with some direct questions to you.

1. What stories do you have still sitting around in an unfinished state?
2. What use, if any, do you still get out of them?
3. Are there any stories that you’ve decided to leave technically unfinished, but complete enough for you like I did with King’s Quest III?
4. How do you look at those unfinished stories? Do they hang over you, or do you put them aside and move on?

Episode 93: Anti-Heroes

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Grant and Peter handle the first of two topic voted on by Patreon backers: Anti-Heroes. After tackling another great Patreon backer question, the hosts dive in, and as it turns out, this is a more complicated and controversial topic than you might think. The episode covers everything from Biblical figures to Sherlock Holmes to Rincewind to The Punisher with some advice (and cautionary notes) for gaming along the way.

Scripture: Judges 3:15-21, Luke 22:55-61

Anti-Hero page on tvtropes.org
Save Against Fear 2016
Two Types of Paladin
Episode 25

Campaign Report 2: The Ancient Monastery 1

It’s been a couple of weeks since I updated everyone on the status of our Dungeons & Dragons game. Not to worry, though—there’s been plenty of action to generate both blog posts and episode content. Plus, we’re trying something new by not missing sessions, and I’m pleased to report that this seems to be working surprisingly well!

But seriously: Last week, the party wrapped up the first dungeon crawl of the campaign. This was kind of a major milestone for our gaming group, on both sides of the virtual GM’s screen. My wife had never actually explored a proper ‘dungeon’ before, since she’s relatively new to gaming. I’d put maps together for the Savage Shadowrun we played a while back, but those were mostly floor plans I’d filed the serial numbers off and turned into heist scenarios; this was a properly-gridded dungeon, which the players had no foreknowledge of, and that was a first for our group. And for myself, this was a bit of a personal milestone: My previous D&D game was a terrible Eberron game, where I’d focused so heavily on making pretty maps that I completely neglected to put together a coherent plot. So just by virtue of entering a dungeon at all, we were off to a good start.

Good thing, too.


Episode 92 – Generalists and Specialists

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Grant’s back from Electric City Comic-Con 2016, and it was fantastic! We recap the show, including some specific people and organizations Grant wanted to specifically call out (check the full notes below for links.) Then Grant and Peter answer a Patreon backer question from Jim, who asks about demonstrating the difficulty of doing the right thing in game without being obvious or annoying about it. Finally, we cover our main topic: A discussion of generalist and specialist characters, with a focus on an issue that came up in the pre-game prep for our current D&D campaign.

Scripture: Exodus 31:1-6, Colossians 3:23-24