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

Episode 100 – History and Historical Mystery

Download this episode (right click and save)

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 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)

Download this episode (right click and save)

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

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.

Game to Grow – Episode 4 – Spirituality & Roleplaying Games

Hey, listeners & readers! We recently hosted the fourth Game to Grow episode, on spirituality in roleplaying games. Two panelists should be familiar to long-time listeners—Rev. Derek White and Jack Berkenstock—and two are people we hope to have on as guests eventually, Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman and Shivam Bhatt. Enjoy!

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

Download this episode (right click and save)

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

A Call to Greater Fellowship 1

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. – Acts 10:34-35

Gaming, as we have stated many times before, has the potential to be a powerful tool for good. You need look no further than our dear friends at The Bodhana Group to see that.

It also has a dark side.

If you’re unfamiliar with Saving the Game, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. My name is Peter, and along with my co-host Grant, I do a biweekly podcast about tabletop roleplaying games and collaborative storytelling from an explicitly Christian perspective. We agree that part of the responsibility of speaking about gaming from a Christian perspective is helping the gaming community be friendly, welcoming and most importantly safe for everyone, Christian or not.

Grant and I have been progressively more disturbed by a steady trickle of stories of people who aren’t like us (white, middle-class, middle-aged men) being given the cold shoulder, mocked, and even intimidated or abused by gamers, sometimes to the point where they leave the hobby or never even give it a chance. There was a time when I didn’t really know this problem was there – to the point where I got into at least one argument about the extent of the problem a few years back.

Sadly, I’ve been shown just how limited my perspective was, and what I saw during that process grieved me deeply and made me not a little angry.

We spoke about this with Mike Perna back in Episode 66 when we addressed the topic of gatekeeping, but unfortunately, in that episode, I think we wound up mostly preaching to the choir – our listeners, when we’ve met them in person and talked to them online, have been kind, gracious folks (actually, we’re kind of counting on that, but more about that later) and not predisposed to gatekeeping.

Which is why we want to listen to and share your stories.

If you have been treated badly by gamers, or someone else in the larger hobby, we want to hear what you have to say. In hearing your story, passing it on to our listeners, and talking about it, we hope to equip our listenership to notice the warning signs of gamer abuse and intimidation and stop it before it really gets started or just plain stop it if it’s started already. And frankly, the less you’re like Grant and me, the better. We want to hear from people of different ethnic backgrounds, women, people with non-traditional sexual orientations and identities, people with disabilities, people who aren’t neurotypical, people with differing worldviews, and anyone else who has a relevant story to tell. And, if you’ll let us, we’d like to share your experiences with our community in an episode (or maybe two) we’re chomping at the bit to record as soon as we’ve got some stories to share and your permission to do so.

We’re doing this because we sincerely believe that our listeners are a good place to start changing the community from the inside out. If you want us to keep your story anonymous when we record, but still share it stripped of names and locations, we will. If you want to come on the aforementioned episode and actually talk to us about your experiences, we’d be humbled and grateful. After all, God wants everyone brought into community, and that starts with love, acceptance, and a willingness to defend those who are being mistreated or oppressed.

To contact us, you can use any of the following options. Please let us know if you don’t want us to share your story on the podcast or on social media, or if you want to remain anonymous when we do so; and if either of those are true, please use one of our more private channels.

  • The comments section below
  • Our “Contact Us” page
  • Email us at hosts [at] stgcast [dot] org
  • Twitter
  • Facebook (either as a message or on our page directly)
  • Google+

If some other means or format is better for you, of course, let us know. We want your story, and we’ll happily work with you to help you get it to us.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13

If you are one of our many beloved gamer doppelgangers out there, we’d like some help from you too:

1. First and foremost: If you have a friend or family member who has been through this phenomenon we’re describing, please put them in touch with us.

2. Second and only slightly less important: Start doing some research of your own into this problem. If you’ve been blessed as I have been to game with a diverse group of people since day one and then your primary internet gaming “family” is the oasis of love and compassion that is the greater Fear the Boot community, you may find it hard to believe that the problem exists, so steel yourself and start looking.

Our goal in this project is to shine some light into the darker corners of our hobby until, well, frankly, the light is normal.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

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.