Episodes


Episode 100 – History and Historical Mystery


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We’ve finally reached the hundred-episode milestone! Our heartfelt thanks to all our listeners, past hosts and guest hosts, and Patreon backers; you’ve all helped make this podcast special. We look forward to the next hundred-plus episodes!

This episode, Grant and Peter celebrate reaching STG 100 and call out our new theme music (by James Opie, of Nihilore.com). Then, we plug our annual charity drive for The Bodhana Group; discuss some forthcoming changes to our Patreon; and Grant reviews Big Fandom Greenville. After that, we’ve got our Patreon question! This one’s from Jared, who asks “What game systems that you have played have felt the most compatible with spiritual growth, and what game systems that you have played have felt the least compatible with spiritual growth?”

For our main topic, we discuss a worldbuilding problem—handling historical mysteries in fantasy or sci-fi settings where longevity and data retention risk negating the mystery altogether. That leads us into a larger discussion of what the historical record might be like in all sorts of fantastic settings, and what a game master should think about when determining what historical knowledge is available during their game.

Scripture: Daniel 2:19-21; 2 Peter 3:8; John 1:1


Plunged Into Darkness

As I was working today, the unexpected happened: the building lost power. Since I work in a warehouse without much in the way of windows and it’s for a company that sells IT equipment, the effect was pretty dramatic. The building was plunged into inky darkness, lit only by a few laptops we had running that switched to battery power and the activity lights on the servers (which had uninterruptible power supplies). A few minutes later, the UPSes on various desktop PCs started to beep as their batteries drained down and my boss shut down the lab servers so they could come down properly. Then we basically stood around with cell phone lights and flashlights we normally used for working inside computer cases and talked – jokes flew about what various people were doing to knock the power out to whole building, and when it became apparent that this wasn’t a problem that was going away in 5 minutes, we decided to get lunch at a nearby sandwich shop. In a moment, without warning and without time to plan or even react, the environment I was in changed completely.

I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this already.

As I sat there eating my sandwich, the gaming implications of a sudden environmental change started percolating in my head. Now, I’ll lead off by saying that one of the things that made the idea pop into my head in the first place is that the change that happened to me at work today was dramatic, sudden, and inconvenient, but it wasn’t hazardous. The parameters of my day changed in an instant, but that change didn’t threaten my safety at all, nor did it do so for my coworkers. The sudden absence of electricity didn’t mean we were suddenly in danger, it just meant we couldn’t do our normal work. Similarly, these same kinds of nuisance (or even beneficial) sudden changes can spice up a gaming session. Some examples I thought of as I was working on this:

In a modern game, the power goes out (like happened to me). You really don’t realize just how much we depend on a steady flow of electricity in the modern world until it disappears! In addition to losing the lights, we couldn’t use our computers any more, by extension, we were limited to our smartphones for internet access, and we couldn’t even heat our lunches up in the microwave. Even fairly menial jobs these days have some kind of digital component to them – at my old job, all of the books I received went into an inventory database, so if we lost power there, we were dead in the water as well. Nothing shuts down the modern world like taking the electricity away.

A flash flood, avalanche, or landslide washes out or blocks a road or bridge the PCs need to use to travel somewhere. Suddenly being stranded somewhere or having to take a radically different (and probably longer) way around is a good way to either make a party experience one area in more detail or see a much larger stretch of territory than they would have otherwise.

A message arrives (via courier or cell phone as appropriate) to inform the PCs that some drastic change has happened in the world. Depending on the game, this could be a regime change, an inheritance, an important technological breakthrough, the end or the start of a war, first contact with another sapient species, or any number of other dramatic events. Particularly in a world that’s industrial but does not have modern communications and logistical technologies, it can be nearly impossible to stop certain things once they’ve been set in motion. In fact, that’s how the first World War started. That doesn’t mean, however, that the PCs can’t do anything, just that they’re now operating in a different setting.

Due to magic, advanced technology, or weird science, the PCs suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves Somewhere Else. Grant used this to great effect in our D&D game when he transported us to an extradimensional fortress set up by an insane spellcaster. Having to suddenly grapple with an entirely new set of environs (particularly unfamiliar ones) gives PCs an opportunity to explore and forces them to think on their feet.

I’m sure you can think of other examples (and I’d love to see them in the comments).

One important thing to keep in mind when using elements like this is that a little goes a long way. A dramatic twist or environmental shift can add a lot of drama and excitement to a session. Having a whole panoply of them runs the risk of making the players feel unmoored in the setting at best and railroaded at worst. That caveat out of the way, though, I think a lot of games could benefit from a dash of the unexpected.


Episode 99 – Practical Advice for Running Gaming Events (with Mike Perna)


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Mike Perna of Innroads Ministries joins us at the appointed hour, to give our listeners some real, practical advice on running small gaming events for your church or community! First, though, we talk about a few other things, in no particular order: Our upcoming fundraiser for The Bodhana Group (keep an eye on our social media feeds for links to that!); the Game to Grow panel we hosted on spirituality in roleplaying games; players taking notes during games; the InSpectres game Grant just wrapped up; and Big Fandom Greenville (more on this next episode.)

We also tackle a great question from Patreon backer Doug, who asks “What, if anything, do you think is simply off-limits for a game? Is the answer different if we’re talking you personally, or for gaming in general?” (This turned out to be surprisingly relevant to our main topic!)

Also mentioned in this episode: A Game for Good Christians, STG 17, “Lines and Veils”.

Scripture: Proverbs 16:3Ecclesiastes 3:1Luke 14:28


Episode 98 – The Second Commandment (Ten Commandments, Part 2)


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Grant and Peter continue our ongoing Ten Commandments series with a look at the Second Commandment! First, though, Grant has a fair bit to say about InSpectres and Pugmire, and some lessons he’s learned from those games lately. Then we tackle a question from an anonymous Patreon backer, about transitioning into the game master role, and briefly discuss potential Patreon changes and our upcoming holiday charity drive. We also reiterate our call for your stories of harassment and ‘othering’ in the gaming hobby and industry. After all that, we finally get down to the Second Commandment (as well as a bit about how different Christian and Jewish traditions actually arrange and enumerate these ten commandments.)

Scripture: Exodus 20:4-6, Isaiah 55:8, Hosea 3:1, Revelation 9:20-21


Episode 97 – Religious Villains


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We’re back to talk about religious villains in your game! First, Grant discusses a successful Pugmire one-shot and his upcoming InSpectres game. Then, Grant and Peter put out a call for your stories of ‘othering’ in the hobby (which you can submit by email or through our contact page.) We spend a fair bit of time answering a very interesting question from Patreon backer Jim about rewarding good player behavior. And finally, we get to our main topic: Religious villains. We discuss creating religious, and even specifically Christian villains, as well as what makes those villains powerful and effective in our stories.

Mentioned in this episode: Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, Ep. 48, “Prophets of Doom”; and—

Scripture: Isaiah 29:13-16, Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 23:13-15


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


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

Links:
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


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

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