Peter


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.


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.


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.


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.


Morality, Privilege, and Redemption

Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” -Matthew 9:13 (ESV)

We had a very interesting moment in our D&D game this past weekend.

First, a bit of set-up. The player characters had been sent off to explore a previously-unexplored area of the island with the goal of finding minerals, specifically iron ore. While looking around, they encountered a massive, 12′ wide track where the vegetation had been stripped down to the ground. A bit unnerved by this, the player characters readied weapons and cautiously followed the track. At the end, they found an absolutely ENORMOUS beetle gnawing placidly away at the vegetation and moving at a pace that would make a sloth seem like a drag racer by comparison. It was huge, but it was also profoundly non-threatening.

And that’s when the faerie dragon decided to start messing with us. Unbeknownst to us, we had wandered into the territory of a non-malicious, but extremely mischievous one, and it started its pranking of us by attempting to get my PC to ride the beetle like a rodeo bronco via a suggestion spell. Lambert, being a cleric with both a high wisdom and a proficiency bonus to his will save, beat the spell handily, but Grant described the suggestion as a strangely-strong but fleeting impulse. Lambert had just finished describing this to the rest of the party when the giggling in the woods started. Aster, the party’s rogue (played by Grant’s wife Krissi) immediately fired an arrow at this unseen, giggling force in the woods. What actually took place (as we discovered later) was that the dragon used an auditory illusion and flew off to prank us more in the future, which resulted in some real hilarity and a detente with the faerie dragon over fruit compote (yes really). That was all later in the session, however.

What happened immediately was the PCs hearing a scream of agony that trailed off into the woods. And this is where it really got interesting. The party rushed into the woods to investigate, and found Aster’s arrow stuck in a tree. What followed was a discussion where Lambert expressed concern that they had harmed something that wasn’t actively trying to harm them (riding the beetle probably would have gone unnoticed by the beetle) and also worried a bit that they’d made an enemy of something with mind-controlling abilities. Aster countered (reasonably) that she hadn’t actually been trying to harm anything and the arrow was intended as a flushing tactic. There was a bit more back and forth with Lambert looking more than a little distressed and Aster asking him what she should have done instead (which Lambert really did not have a good answer for). Aster ultimately apologized to Lambert and said she’d alter her tactics in the future (a promise she kept later in the session at some personal risk).

Toward the end of the conversation, Krissi said to me “Lambert is just starting to realize what a different set of base assumptions Aster lives with, isn’t he?” Aster had a much rougher background than Lambert. He had grown up as the son of loving parents and then went into the clergy, and from there into a monastic order where he spent 15 years in a monastery surrounded by natural beauty, holiness, and peace. His background had taken a core of kindness and civic responsibility and nurtured that until those traits defined him.

Aster, by contrast, had probably stitched up a knife wound somewhere on her own body by the time she was eight. The illegitimate child of an elven noble and a barmaid, she’d grown up on the streets and had finely-honed survival skills that depended on being the fastest shot and the quickest thinker. She hadn’t had the luxury of being able to reflexively go to mercy and kindness in her life – those traits would get you killed, messily, on the streets. Much like in a modern prison, you had to be tough if you wanted to keep on being at all.

In the context of that background, the arrow shot made complete sense. In Aster’s world, you rarely got any warning at all, and when you did, you sure didn’t want to waste it. Parley is a luxury the streets will seldom allow you. In the context of Lambert’s world, it was different – even in this new place far from home, he was already safer than Aster. Encased in armor, carrying a shield, and possessed of a high resistance to mind-influencing magic, he did have the luxury of parley. The list of things that can one-shot an armored healer with strong mental resistance is a lot smaller than the list of things that can one-shot a lightly-armored rogue. (The reverse, however, is also true. The rogue can put a much larger list of things down quickly thanks to sneak attacks . Have I mentioned lately how great 5th edition D&D is?)

No matter how you slice it, though, Lambert’s morality was a privilege he had born out of privilege he’d already had. And so it is in real life, too.

Desperation can push people to do all kinds of things society frowns on. Poor areas are dangerous because poor people are desperate, and desperation makes things like robbery, drug dealing, and murder seem more reasonable. It also makes things like drug use seem more appealing because it offers an escape from the misery. Children are born without one or more parents because accidental conceptions happened (again as a brief escape from the misery of daily life) or something deprives the child of one or more parents, whether it be through death, prison, or abandonment. It can lead people who aren’t cruel, evil, or even particularly short-tempered to do things like firing an arrow at someone who may not have meant them any real harm.

That in turn makes it all the more meaningful when one of those people, used to desperation and a hard, unforgiving world actually takes a risk and suppresses those instincts, which is exactly what Aster did later on in the same evening. The fact that Lambert had been disturbed affected her enough that when she went up against the mysterious, pranking force again, she left her bow out of it and ultimately set the stage for us to make at least a temporary ally out of the faerie dragon.

She rose above the pain and horror of what she came up through to spare the feelings of a friend with no such baggage who had expressed concern about her actions. If that’s not redemption, I don’t know what is.

This week’s image is used under Creative Commons from Nick Perla


A Gamer Gives Thanks

From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained.
 -Jeremiah 30:19 (NIV)

My favorite holiday approaches rapidly. I know, I know. Most people like Christmas (or maybe Halloween) but I like Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite because it is one holiday where the celebration itself hasn’t been horrendously commercialized (and almost 2 decades of experience in retail drove home just how important that was throughout my adult life). There’s just a nice get-together with one’s family (and maybe some friends) and an enjoyable meal, hopefully with a bit of quiet contemplation thrown in. It’s low-friction and low-pressure, and I like both my family of origin and my in-laws, so there’s no additional stress there.

It’s fairly common around this time of year to make lists of things one is thankful for, and I like that tradition; I’ve recently started praying a version of the traditional Examen prayer (this one specifically, if you’re curious) in the evenings (or trying to remember to, at any rate) and that includes an element of thanksgiving which I have found helps with my perspective at the very least.

However, there are tons of lists of gratitude around the web this time of year, so rather than just running down a list of personal blessings, here are some things I’m thankful for as a Christian gamer, specifically.

  • Gaming has never been better: Tabletop RPG design is benefiting both from the contributions of experienced professionals and a vibrant indie game scene, and both of these groups get along and cross-pollinate. Crowdfunding and e-publishing have taken a lot of the financial risk on the producer’s side and the financial barrier to entry on the consumer’s side down,meaning that…
  • Gaming has never been more accessible: The same internet and e-publishing have also made our hobby easier to research and get into than ever before, and there are a great multitude of helpful sites out there devoted to all aspects of gaming, including…
  • The RPG podcast community: Whether it’s veteran stalwarts like Fear the Boot or other niche podcasts like our dear friends over at the Gameable Podcast, the RPG podcasting sphere is healthy, vibrant, welcoming, and full of interesting people. In addition, thanks to some of those people…
  • The idea that gaming is not just harmless, but beneficial is gaining traction: We’ve (mostly) put the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s behind us, and the pendulum has started to swing in the other direction. You need look no farther than Game to Grow, Wheelhouse Workshop, and The Bodhana Group to see evidence of that. And thanks in part to those efforts…
  • Christians are not only showing up at the gaming table, they’re setting it: When I was first getting into gaming, the specifically Christian resources for gamers were limited mostly to a few things  on the Christian Gamer’s Guild website. Now, not only are they still around, but we have access to The Geekpreacher, Geekdom House, Gamechurch, The Dice Steeple, and our good friends at Innroads Ministries, just to name a few.

There is much to be thankful for as a Christian gamer. As always, we’d love to hear what you’re thankful for in the comments below.


Render Unto Caesar 1

“Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.” -Mark 12:17 (ESV)

As this post goes live, it will be election day here in the US.

Thank. Goodness.

The last election cycle has been draining my sanity like someone wants to make syrup out of it. As person who doesn’t identify as strong liberal OR conservative, I’ve often logged into one of my social media feeds and felt like I’ve stepped into a war, and I have friends on both sides of the battle lines. Nothing stirs Americans up like an election cycle, and I’ve witnessed a fair amount of flaming, blocking, and deleting of people from friends lists over the last few months.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” -Matthew 5:9 (ESV)

As a Christian, that makes me sad, because while there’s certainly some wisdom in paying attention to politics, caring about them, praying about them, and participating in the democratic process if it’s available to us, what we as Christians are supposed to do doesn’t change regardless of how the election turns out. The standing orders for the body of Christ are the same in places where the church is culturally dominant and places where it’s been forced underground by persecution, in places of great prosperity and in places of crushing poverty.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” -Micah 6:8 (ESV)

It is fine to differ, and debate, and even argue. It’s fine to be concerned or even horrified by what goes on in the political sphere. But at the end of the day, even if we consider someone our enemy, we have to love them anyway. We might as well stop before it goes that far.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” -Romans 12:18 (ESV)

So by all means –  render your vote unto Caesar. I certainly intend to. Just don’t forget the rest.

Regardless of who wins, there will be injustice in the world, so:
Regardless of who wins, act with justice and fairness.

Regardless of who wins, there will be poverty, so:
Regardless of who wins, help the less fortunate.

Regardless of who wins, there will be suffering so:
Regardless of who wins, be kind to the hurting.

Regardless of who wins, bitterness and vengeance will tempt the human heart, so:
Regardless of who wins, forgive and work toward peace.

And remember:
Regardless of who wins, remember that God is ultimately in charge of it all.

Remember, take hope, and follow the best example we will ever and could ever have: Jesus. We have a lot to do regardless of what happens in the political sphere.


Some Light in the Dungeon

Jack Chick died this past weekend. For those too young to remember, back in 1984, Jack Chick published his now-infamous “Dark Dungeons” tract, and as we discussed with Chris Ode in episode 88, 32 years later we as gamers are still dealing with the fallout.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, -Matthew 5:44

Forgiving the dead is a strange and tricky thing, especially when they hurt you or those you care about without even knowing you exist like Jack Chick did to so many gamers. So how do we go about forgiving one of the key figure in the “Satanic panic” of the 80s and 90s? Because as Christians, that’s what we are commanded to do. The thing I like about Matthew 5:44 is that it comes directly from Jesus. There’s no room for hedging because “that’s the Old Testament” or “well, that’s one of Paul’s letters.” Nope. Jesus himself said that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Paul and The Old Testament differed on this one. That confluence of scripture doesn’t leave much room for alternative interpretations.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. -Romans 12:14

I would suggest the “how” of forgiving is going to vary from person to person, but keep in mind a few things as you contemplate that for yourself: first, as wrong as he was about a lot of things, Chick seemed motivated primarily by a sincere desire to save people from Hell. His theology was that of an angry, pitiless God and speaking as a person who has to wrestle with some of those ideas himself from time to time, that kind of theology is often borne out of guilt and feelings of having missed the mark. As I often say on the podcast: remember Hanlon’s Razor (which can be restated as “assume good faith”).

If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it. -Exodus 23:4-5

However, forgiving Jack may be a fulfillment of one of our duties of Christians, but it still leaves us with the troubling problem of his legacy, and I think the best way to address that is to keep using our hobby for good. Donate time or money to things like Extra Life, which our friends at Innroads Ministries are doing for the fourth year straight, use simple roleplaying exercises as a way of enhancing teaching in your church and other charitable efforts, and probably most importantly, don’t let gaming become an “idol” that takes over more of your life than it should. Let your light shine so brightly that as Jack looks on from a Heaven that is more full than he’d dared to hope, even he can see that it reaches even into the dungeon.

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. -Revelation 21:6-7

Rest in peace, Mr. Chick.


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.