Peter


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.

 

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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?


Campaign Report: Supplemental Content: Meet the PCs

Grant floated the idea of doing a post introducing the player characters for our D&D game casually to me in a Facebook message earlier, and any other ideas that were half-formed in my brain immediately got stuffed into a metaphorical drawer. The idea is just too perfect to let go. So, without further ado, the player characters!

(Well, okay, just one quick ado. A word from Grant on stats: We rolled stats since that “felt more like D&D”, using the “4d6, drop lowest” method. Since I don’t mind characters actually being competent, if anyone had two stats less than 10 to start with, I let them re-roll one of those bad stats once more. Dealing with one “bad” stat is a fun little challenge, and it can give a D&D character something unique to remember them by. Dealing with more than that just gets frustrating.)

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A Quick Note on Episode 91’s Audio Quality

You’ll probably notice that I sound a little tinnier and more distant in episode 91 than I normally do. Audacity picked up my webcam instead of my much-nicer normal microphone and we didn’t catch it until the show was being edited.

The good news is that since this was a more scholarly show, Grant’s track, which is fine, takes up more of the minutes than mine.

I have since unplugged the offending webcam, so this shouldn’t be something you (or we) will have to worry about in the future. Sorry folks!


Go Time

I have a confession to make, one that could potentially cost me my nerd card: I have zero personal interest in Pokemon Go. I’ve never gotten into the series in any form; I think I’m probably just too much of an old man and I also find virtually every anime or anime-influenced thing that’s targeted at children to be grating (the single, and noteworthy, exception being Avatar: The Last Airbender). Then again, I felt the same way about Power Rangers when I was the demographic. I have always been a little stiff in my entertainment choices, I suppose.

So it may come as something of a surprise that I wholeheartedly support the existence of Pokemon Go and I’m happy it was released. It’s giving couch potatoes a fun way to get some exercise. It’s giving lonely people an excuse to go out in public and a convenient icebreaker to engage with strangers (other players). I saw it used as an icebreaker at the M:tG “Eldritch Moon” prerelease last weekend. Young gamers and old gamers and gamers of all seriousness levels and demographic groups are discovering they have something in common, and that’s all absolutely magnificent. Heck, people who were never gamers are becoming them, which is great!

But it’s also doing something else important: it’s basically giving the church a do-over for the Satanic panic of the 80s and 90s, at least where gamers are concerned. And to my surprise and delight, the church is actually embracing the opportunity.  Churches are setting up charging stations and putting out water for people playing the game. It’s not a huge thing, just some simple acts of hospitality and kindness, but for those who grew up dealing with what must have felt like monolithic disapproval of their hobbies and interests, it’s a fantastic first step. I even saw a meme (that I can’t find, frustratingly) of Jesus’s “I will make you fishers of men” converted to “I will teach you to catch people,” which might seem a bit irreverent…  …until you think about it a bit and realize it really is just a modern re-skinning of the same message (applied to leisure rather than work, but otherwise basically the same).

So in light of all of that, I can’t help but be happy about the existence of Pokemon Go, and I think if you’re at all interested, it’s definitely a good thing to participate in. Anything that helps us humanize our fellow humans is especially welcome in our divisive age, and that’s roughly a thousand times truer in a US election year. Anything that gives us a harmless cultural touchstone and another bunch of analogies to talk about God with is also a good thing.

And yes, I know there has been some backlash from some churches and Christian media figures, but it’s nowhere near as bad as the whole “Dark Dungeons” era, and as we discussed with Chris Ode in Episode 88, there’s always going  to be some of that. There have always been those that felt that whatever The Bible/Christianity/their particular denomination doesn’t explicitly permit, it forbids, and I seriously doubt we’ll ever see the end of that particular mindset completely. I also know that there have been a few isolated tragedies where something bad happened to a player, but on the whole, the experience has been a good one for both the individuals and society.

So even though it’s not my thing, I’m really, actively, and legitimately happy the game is out there. I can’t understand Grant’s love of craft beer, either, but that didn’t stop me and my wife from picking up an assortment of regional craft beers from our part of the country to take with us when we visited him and his wife last fall. If you, unlike me, enjoy the aesthetic, I think it’s wonderful that it’s (Pokemon) Go time.

(Featured image courtesy of mobipicker.com.)

The Classics are Classic for a Reason 2

For the first time ever with the particular gaming group I’m in, we’re doing Dungeons & Dragons. Grant has been wanting to try out the 5e rules and it didn’t take any arm-twisting to the get the remaining three of us on board. This is going to be the colonization game that Grant has alluded to on the show, which is a neat idea to begin with, and we’re going to be doing a more Renaissance-era game than a medieval one to go with the idea of exploration and colonization, but it’s still going to be D&D.

There’s a reason why D&D and its progeny such as Pathfinder, 13th Age and the entire OSR movement continue to have staying power – the basic gameplay feedback loop of dungeon crawling, fantasy (whatever its level), and leveling up is so much fun that it’s spawned entire genres of digital representations. Everything from roguelikes, to various types of traditional cRPG, to Diablo and the Dark Souls games have their roots in various flavors of D&D. There’s a lot of fun and excitement to be gained from battling monsters and collecting treasure.

But there’s also something else that’s cool about this type of game: Character creation is front-loaded. Because you pick a class (or two) and then follow it from there, the possibility exists to define more about who your PC is and who they will become in a D&D style game than in something more open-ended like GURPS or Savage Worlds. A class gives you a predefined role to play and as such, it gives you a lot of room to think about how you’ll go about coloring that particular archetype in the campaign. And because of that, I’ve been sitting here entertaining a number of possibilities.

I’ve been thinking about a tiefling paladin/rogue that’s basically an investigator and advocate for the religion he serves and looks like Judge Frolo but acts much more like the bishop in Les Miserables. I’ve been thinking about a wizard, ranger, or wizard/ranger that’s basically the benevolent hermit that lives in the woods and keeps an eye out for the safety of the town(s) he lives near. I’ve been thinking about a wizened, kindly old Celtic-style druid, about a tough old man-at-arms (fighter) who will train the colonists in how to keep bandits and wild beasts at bay with spear and palisade, about the cleric of a sea god on the ship as a hedge against the dangers of the long voyage, and that was just TODAY. (Grant floated the D&D idea on Saturday evening when we wrapped up our Rogue Trader micro-campaign.)

The classics are classics for a reason. Gygax and Arneson definitely managed to bottle lightning when they made D&D, and while it has benefitted from refinement over the years, it’s telling that most of the successful refinements have been ways to make it more like itself. I love all kinds of different RPGs, but I never want to reach the point where I sneer at D&D and turn my nose up at it. Much like cheesecake, I don’t want nothing BUT it all the time, but if I never got a chance to have it again, I would definitely be sad.


Patreon and a Change of Heart

As you read this, our Patreon is live! If you’re interested in backing us, we’d love for you to do so, but I need to stress this up front: If we don’t get a single penny of Patreon backing, the show will continue to come out every two weeks like it has been for the last four years. We’ll continue to maintain our social media presence, and these bi-weekly blog posts will also continue. We are not in need of funds to maintain the status quo, and if all you can do to help us out is listen – that’s awesome, we thank you, and that is more than enough. Your listening support and the occasional bit of contact via our website or social media presences is plenty to keep us going indefinitely.

However, if you are so inclined, you can now support us financially, too. “But Peter,” you might say, “you at Saving the Game have always resisted taking money from listeners. Why now? What’s changed?” The short answer to that is “my mind.” You see I, Peter, have been the major road block on the road to taking donations.

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Impostor Syndrome and Angry God Theology 3

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Mark 9:24 (KJV)

As we mentioned recently on the podcast, I started a new job a little under a month ago. And as often happens to me in new situations, that newness brought a fair bit of anxiety with it. One day in particular felt especially bad after a bunch of random things went wrong (in retrospect, most of them completely out of my control) and had me seriously questioning whether I should have made the transition at all. The next day, I casually asked my new boss if I was doing okay, and the swiftness and enthusiasm of his assurance that I was was a huge relief.

I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” a fairly common mental/emotional problem that isn’t an actual mental illness, but nonetheless manages to keep me up at night on occasion. (For those unfamiliar with it, this page veers close to being “too true to be funny.”) My particular flavor of it comes with a little extra wariness of authority figures and a strong inclination to disavow my expertise on virtually anything. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’ll probably come to notice that I pepper both my writing and speech with a lot of qualifiers. Some of this is a desire to be clear in my communication, but oftentimes the message I’m trying to be clear about is “I don’t claim to know more than I do, please don’t be angry with me.” It has led to feeling intimidated by exceptionally kind, decent people like some of the folks we’re participating in Game to Grow with – and that is completely absurd. But this is a normal part of my life. I manage it, I try to leaven it with self-awareness, I get encouragement from good friends, and I try to work around it. And credit where credit is due – during my latest and most intense bout with impostor syndrome, Grant was the one with the fastest and most valuable advice for me. I never really considered it in a theological context.

At least, I didn’t until a couple of my friends on Facebook shared an article called The Faceless White Giant that dealt with, among other things, the writing of none other than Jack Chick of Dark Dungeons fame. That, combined with me catching up on my COR sermon listening, particularly the one from April 17, and the concept of Christ as a colander, resulted in something that may or may not have actually been an epiphany, but it sure felt like one.

At times in my life, I have done what can be described as “clinging to my faith with bloody fingernails.” My faith is not something I want to give up, but even as a practicing Christian, sometimes I can find it hard to believe. Love and forgiveness for me – knowing what I’ve done in my life and just how it has hurt people – seems a little “out there.” (Although the concept of Hell can be all too easy to accept in my darker moments, in those same moments, the very concept of Heaven can seem absurd.) At least some of the “Angry God Theology” out there (and certainly my own struggles with it) is at least partially a form of spiritual impostor syndrome.  Just as I sometimes find it hard to believe that my boss at work is satisfied with or even willing to tolerate my performance, I can run into a similar trap with God. It is hard to imagine (for me) a God who is willing to forgive and embrace, but in Jesus’s character, that’s exactly what we see.

Which is, somewhat ironically, one of the things that enables me to hold onto my faith. The God I believe in is every bit as alien and unknowable in His nature as some of the creations of people like H.P. Lovecraft (stay with me!) – it is so easy for us as humans to envision cosmic forces as being malevolent or callously indifferent to us. God as He is described in scripture is vast and cosmic beyond our ability to perceive or conceptualize. When Moses asked the burning bush who was sending him, God’s reply was to tell them that “I AM” was. One interpretation of that statement is “I am existence itself.” Not everything, not the universe, but the very concept of existence. Talk about cosmic and incomprehensible.

And yet the essential nature of this incomprehensibly vast, powerful being is one of tender love and compassion for the lowly and the broken. We as humans tend to imagine powerful and vast things as nasty and dangerous. Lovecraft and his ilk are popular in part because even though what they write about is awful and terrifying, it feels like it’s probably accurate on some level. The idea that the primal cosmic force out there not only cares about us, but is willing to sacrifice so deeply to show it – that strains the limits of believability. It seems far-fetched, too good to be true. And the fact that it’s so hard to believe is one of many things that convinces me that it’s worth believing. It is not something we humans would come up with – it is outside of our frame of reference.

This will not, I’m sure, convince anyone who has lost their faith to take it up again, and I’m even more certain that it won’t convince those who never had it in the first place to develop it now. But if you’ve struggled to hang onto a faith that can be hard to grasp at times like I have, and particularly if your own guilt has been making your grip falter, it’s my sincere hope that this gives you another handle. We need to accept the good, despite how unlikely it seems.

Truth, as they say, can be stranger than fiction.


You Must be This Treacherous to Ride the Story 1

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.


If You Like Us, You Might Also Like… 3

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.