Episode 73 – Our Gaming Curriculum (Part 2)

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Grant and Peter reprise Episode 60’s “Gaming Curriculum” topic, with another set of suggested media! These are things we think you should read, watch, play, or experience away from the gaming table which will make you a better player and gamemaster. Check the full show notes below for links to everything we mentioned during the show! Plus, we spend a lot of time talking about Clockwork Empires—reflecting how much time Grant’s been putting into the game.

Don’t forget that we’re raising funds for The Bodhana Group, which uses tabletop RPGs in cognitive therapy applications for hurting children. For more details, visit our fundraiser page or listen to Episode 25, where we interviewed Bodhana’s Executive Director and learned all about the great work they do. If you want to help them, please consider giving to them this holiday season!

Scripture: Proverbs 22:6, Acts 8:26-31


My Virtual Self

Fallout 4 comes out the day this blog post drops. Finally.

I’ve really enjoyed every prior game in the series that released for the PC, and with the one exception of Fallout Tactics (which fell victim to a late, game-breaking bug), I’ve finished all of them at least twice. It is probably my favorite video game series of all time, and news of a new installment still has the ability to turn me from a relatively sober and mature 37-year-old back into an excitable teenager, at least for a little while. My attitude about this aspect of my personality varies with my mood. At times, I think it’s cool that I can enjoy things enough that a new release can excite me before it even arrives. Other times, it bugs me that I can’t just rein it in until the thing arrives. And then, on a bit of a tangential note, I find myself lamenting the fact that I won’t get much time with the game until Wednesday evening, thanks to a church meeting I have to be at about an hour after I get home from work on Tuesday (and no, as much as I would like to, I will not be playing hooky from either work or the meeting).

It’s not just video games that can have this effect on me, either. I generally watch new Magic sets with at least some interest, and I’m actually not at all ashamed to admit that when we get a really good guest host lined up for one of the podcast episodes, that tends to psych me up, too. (Incidentally, we’ve got a returning guest for the episode we’ll record in two days and a really cool topic, to boot. I can’t wait to record this one!) And the start of a new campaign or adventure with my RPG group is way, way up there, too. My acceptance of my own enthusiasm seems to scale proportionately with how appropriate I judge it to be, but I feel it nonetheless. And in my introspective moments (which are frequent enough to provide a lot of blog fodder), I wonder why I can’t summon up this same level of excitement for the stuff I have to, or at least should do rather than just recreational activities.

The answer, I think, is novelty. Grant once said on either our podcast or another one that he appeared on that he felt bad for people who only live one life, and I can’t help but agree. Games allow us to inhabit whole other worlds in a way that even the best movies or books don’t. I remember Skyrim ads that read “live another life in another world” and I think that’s the effect that the best gaming experiences, whether digital or tabletop, create.

That brings up another question, though, one that I still don’t have an answer to: what moral responsibilities do our fictional selves in these fictional worlds have, and how much of that responsibility transfers back to us in the real world? The obvious temptation is to answer both questions with “none” and end the conversation there, but I think that may be too easy of an answer. At the same time, the standards are clearly different, and the context is wildly different, and it galls me to no end when I hear some of the more radical elements of my own faith insisting that there is no such thing as fiction or pretend. (I mean, for crying out loud – Jesus taught in parables. There is fiction authored by Christ Himself in the Bible.)

However, at the same time, my conscience does nag at me just a bit when one of my characters does something bad in a virtual world. I do occasionally wonder where the line between fantasy and reality gets blurry, and where the capacity to simply think of this or that course of action starts to paint a picture of my character – my real, personal moral character, not my fictional avatar in the game world. I know there can be some value in exploring, or at least revealing, the dark corners of my soul, but at the same time, I think it’s probably possible to dive to deeply in those dark waters.

Or maybe I just like feeling heroic. Or maybe I’m just a softy. Or maybe all of the above. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but neither do I want to stop asking questions. I will tell you this, though: getting a new world to ask them in still excites me like nothing else.

Episode 72 – An Introduction to Gnosticism (Historical Heresies, Part 2) 2

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Our holiday fundraiser for The Bodhana Group has officially begun! Grant and a recuperating Peter kick off this episode with a plug for that, before diving into the complex structure and philosophy of Gnosticism in order to lay a foundation for further episodes on specific Gnostic Christian sects. Grant provides an overview of core Gnostic beliefs, and how they connect to Christianity and Judaism (as well as other beliefs from around the Hellenistic world.) We touch on Kabbalah and modern Gnostic influences, and then spend some time discussing a major and newly-discovered Gnostic text: The Gospel of Judas. Grab a notepad, and enjoy!

Scripture: Deuteronomy 4:39, 1 Timothy 6:20-21, 1 John 4:2-3

Successful VOIP Gaming

Grant and I have been in the same physical location a few times, and we’ve been in the same RPG session many more times, but never both at once. All of the tabletop RPG sessions that included both of us have occurred when we were both at home, and I know from recent experience that our homes are roughly 12.5 hours of steady driving apart. This means that our gaming group has lived out its entire existence in VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) land. Considering we’ve had multiple campaigns and have been together for almost all of Saving the Game‘s three-ish year history, I’d be so bold as to call our group successful.

I also know that, as a guy who is starting to see glimpses of 40 on the horizon, that the likelihood of me going out and gaming with strangers when I can do a little work and game with close friends instead is pretty low. I figured for this week’s blog post, I’d share a few thoughts and lessons collected from 3 years of regular VOIP gaming, because while nothing beats getting together with your group in meat space, sometimes that’s just not practical, or even possible.

  1. If you’re going to go to the trouble of coordinating an online game with people, make sure it’s a group you really want to game with. One of the advantages our gaming group enjoys is that we can actually game with people spread out over 1200+ miles of territory (and if we ever get our player in Colorado back, it’ll be even more than that). Put together your dream team – the really close friends who you gel with well socially and really enjoy interacting with.
  2. Set yourselves up some kind of permanent hub. We use a secret Facebook group, but there are all kinds of tools for making a private community online. Pick one that works for your group and use it – being able to work around last-minute scheduling issues and having a central repository for character sheets and reference documents is really useful.
  3. Have at least three ways to get in touch with everybody in the group. You should have the VOIP service itself, email addresses, and some type of real-time communication. Texting works well for this, but so does social media like Facebook or Twitter if the person checks it regularly. Nothing makes you suddenly worry if your friend is okay like them being 10 minutes late for a VOIP game.
  4. Be ready for some fluidity in starting times. Adult lives – they interfere, especially if the adults in question are students, parents, or in some way on-call professionally.
  5. Find a single VOIP client that works and stick with it. We’ve personally found that Google Hangouts work the best – Grant and I use them while recording Saving the Game episodes, too. Some folks are more comfortable with another option like Skype, though, and that can also work fine. The biggest trick is getting one that doesn’t crash anyone’s system. Once you’ve got that handled, you are, as they say, golden.
  6. Video can be nice, but it’s really not all that important. Being able to hear each other clearly is much more critical. If you’ve got to turn video off in the name of audio quality, do it and don’t look back. This is especially important if somebody is on a weak-to-moderate wifi signal. Along those same lines, if you can use a computer with a physical, wired connection to the router, do it. Finally, do what you need to to make sure everyone can hear everyone else. If you can hear someone fine but they can’t hear you, take the time to remedy the problem instead of trying to work around it.
  7. Figure out how you’re going to roll dice. We’ve rolled physical dice on the honor system and we’ve used online dice rollers. Both work fine, but give some thought to how you’ll handle this.
  8. Plan on shorter sessions. Two to four hours is probably all you’ll realistically get. Wearing even a comfortable headset can get a little chafing after a while.
  9. Stick with lighter systems. It’s easier to run them when you aren’t physically present to pass books around than crunchier systems. Savage Worlds works a lot better over VOIP than GURPS.
  10. Immersion can be both easier and more difficult. On the one hand, you’re in front of a box of distractions. On the other hand, if you can leave just the VOIP window or something relevant to the game up on screen, the screen itself can pull your eyes away from distractions. A headset helps too.

And that’s all I’ve got. As usual, I’d love to hear from anyone else who has experience with VOIP gaming. Do you agree or disagree with me? Did I miss something important? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Episode 71 – Creeds

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Grant and Peter take a large tangent in our discussion about heresies in the early Church, and turn it into its own episode on creeds! We discuss the uses of creeds in the early Church (and in other organizations), with plenty of historical examples, and then break down some uses of player-made and GM-made creeds at the gaming table. Don’t forget to check the full show notes for a complete list of all the creeds, confessions, and fictional examples we mentioned in this episode!

Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:41 Corinthians 1:10-13, 1 Timothy 3:16

Mellowing With Age

“When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis

I was really intense as a younger gamer. I collected gaming books at a dizzying speed – enough to fill two bookcases, and I read them voraciously. My characters tended to be hard-as-nails, steely-eyed crusading types, often slightly ruthless and utterly inflexible. I wouldn’t dream of playing any alignment except Lawful Good (or maybe Lawful Neutral if I really wanted to give the bad guys what-for). My systems of choice were extremely crunchy and had lots of room for optimization, and I hung out on RPG forums a lot – first the old Pyramid boards, then the D&D forums over at Wizards of the Coast. Gaming consumed my life and defined me a great deal. Similarly, I was also a very intense and sadly very self-righteous Christian despite the knowledge of the planks in my own eye. I was quick to condemn the actions of others without context and without sympathy. My young man’s eyes flicked around constantly for some evil to smite whether I was in a fictional world or the real one, and it seemed like I never had to look far. With pretty much the singular exception of geekiness, I lived almost entirely in the “Christian bubble” and it’s not hard to picture my younger self standing there, arms crossed, scowling out at the outside world.

I was a pharisee. Truth be told, I still struggle with that aspect of myself. There is a part of me that wants to pass judgment and dispense justice. And while I now know that the Christian life is a call to compassion and mercy, there is a little part of me that would have probably been a distressingly-zealous Templar if I’d been born a few centuries ago. God (and other Christians) continue to work on me and I continue to get better little by little, though I still have a long way to go before I get even close to catching up to my role models.

Gaming, on the other hand, has been a much easier transition. I’ve discovered that black-and-white morality and hack-and-slash game play, while fun in moderate amounts, can make a game stale if that’s all it is, and my involvement in the larger community of gamers has introduced me to a lot of new systems and concepts that I’ve really come to enjoy. Back in my youth, I think I’d have balked at a system like Savage Worlds, because it doesn’t have the granularity and detail that my system of choice at the time, GURPS, has. I still like GURPS as a resource, by the way – my old GURPS books are some of the most frequently-referenced volumes on my gaming bookshelves, but I’ve also come to realize that the system definitely has some limits to it in play. Some of those limitations are accentuated by my adult life – I have a full-time job, a wife, and an assortment of other responsibilities (including this blog post) to fulfill, and I also have a broader range of interests than I had when I was younger, so not having to dump quite so much time into the prep work of gaming is really nice. Similarly, faster, less-granular systems with fewer fiddly bits actually get out of the way creatively and allow for more interesting decisions at the table rather than just in character creation. Gaming with other adults is also wonderful, if less-frequent and shorter in session length. As I’ve gotten older it’s also become more apparent how gaming and faith compliment and inform each other.

I think it’s funny that sometimes there’s a pressure to “grow out of” hobbies like gaming, because I think tabletop RPGs, more than any other hobby I have, have previously had, or can imagine having, benefit from the mellowing that comes with age and the the relationships adults make with each other. If you’re just starting out on your journey – in faith or in gaming – know that you have a lot to look forward to on the road ahead. Some things really do get better with age.

Episode 70 – Adoptionism and Ebionism (Historical Heresies, Part 1) 1

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Grant and Peter kick off a new Historical Heresies series, analyzing heresies from the early Church! Without much additional news, we dive right into our Scripture and topic, starting with Adoptionism and Ebionism. Along the way, we explain what we hope our listeners can learn from this new series and what we hope they can use in their games. As always, feedback is appreciated—especially for a new series—so let us know what you think and what you’d like to hear in future episodes in the comments!

Also mentioned in this episode: Richard Beck’s book Unclean.

Scripture: Isaiah 56:6-8, John 1:1-5, John 10:16

Playing as the Stranger

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:18

I did something new for me this past weekend: I went to a prerelease event for the new Magic: The Gathering set. Because I’m an introvert and a bit of a homebody besides, I went in with a little trepidation and got there fairly early so I could check with the owner of the hosting store about any etiquette or procedures I needed to observe.  (In the event that you’re wondering, there’s not much – you need a DCI number, which is very easy to get signed up for at the store, and then you’ll play four best-of-three matches with a deck you make from six packs of the new set. Buy in was $20.) I went 2-2 overall, blowing out my first opponent, being blown out by my next two, and finally winning 2-1 against my final opponent. Folks were fairly nice, and I really enjoyed the experience, but I was nervous going in, and I’ve experienced a similar phenomenon at cons and when I’ve joined a new gaming group, so here’s what I’ve learned about making yourself a welcome presence in an unfamiliar gaming environment, whether it’s a CCG event, a con game, or the first few sessions with a new gaming group.

  • Be helpful: I carry a multitool and a couple of good-quality ballpoint pens with me, primarily out of habit (I use both at work on at least a semi-regular basis) so when we got the prerelease kits handed out and people were fighting with the shrinkwrap, I opened the knife in the multitool and passed it around to folks near me. I did similar things with the pens all day. Whenever somebody near me asked if somebody had one, I lent them one of mine. I brought a lot more dice than I needed for tokens and counters and cheerfully lent them to my opponents if they needed them.
  • Be prepared: It’s definitely easier to be helpful if you’ve got the tools to be. Bring writing utensils, dice, and scratch paper when you go to an unfamiliar gaming event and be ready to share them.
  • Ask questions: If you’re at an unfamiliar event, ask the other participants if they’re more familiar with the goings-on than you, and if the answer is “yes” and they don’t seem eager to break off the conversation, ask them for advice. Most people like to demonstrate and share their knowledge, and most folks will be happy to assist in matters of gaming you if you ask. I find it’s best to start this early on before things really get rolling, but it’s generally better to ask than guess and do something that can cause problems if you’re unsure.
  • Be humble: If you make a mistake, apologize and correct it, but also try to let it go as fast as possible. Getting gunshy after an accidental faux pas or play error is going to ruin the experience for you and will probably make others feel bad.
  • Be presentable: Show up clean and groomed in clothes that are clean and in good condition. (And if you’ve got a cool geeky t-shirt you want to show off, this is most definitely the time!)
  • Be a good sport: If what you’re playing is competitive, it is highly unlikely you’re going to win more than half the time. If it’s cooperative or collaborative like most RPGs, something will probably go wrong in the game. You’re going to blow an important die roll, miss a clue, etc. Taking setbacks graciously immediately makes you less threatening and more pleasant to game with. Likewise, if somebody else does something really good, acknowledge it and congratulate them! If you’re at a CCG event and somebody gets something really expensive or powerful in their pulls, suppress your envy and congratulate them, too. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep up a constant stream of conversation or be charming, but being gracious and polite goes a long way.
  • Remember who you’re representing: If you’re a Christian, this has obvious implications: you want to model love, grace, and charity in an appropriate way at the event, but even if you’re not a person of faith, it’s worth remembering that your behavior helps contribute to the overall perception of gamers inside the community itself and potentially outside it.
  • Have as much fun as you can wring out of the event without ruining anybody else’s: Regardless of the reason you’re there, whether you sought it out on your own or went with a friend, it’d be silly not to do all you can to enjoy yourself. If a hobby’s no fun, it’s not much of a hobby.
  • And finally: Don’t talk yourself out of something you’ll enjoy just because you’re nervous!

Good luck out there folks! As always, I’d be interested in additions to this list, supporting or conflicting anecdotes, etc. I love reading your comments, so please, don’t hesitate to post them!



Episode 69 – Holy Sites

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It’s a short episode this week—Grant was fighting a very unpleasant cold—but that didn’t stop Grant and Peter from discussing holy ground! First, reminders about The MacGuffin Factory and our upcoming casual listener Hearthstone tournament (post in the comments if you’re interested, and we’ll send you an invite—it starts September 28th), and some awesome news from Grant. Then we’re on to our Scripture and main topic, about what makes holy sites special and how to use them in your games. Also mentioned: Our third episode ever, on crusaders and Templars; and our show on iTunes, for those of you wanting to write reviews.

Scripture: Exodus 3:5Matthew 28:1-6

Gaming Curriculum: Extra Credit, Part II: Useful Websites 2

I was out working at a craft show with my wife all weekend and was up early for a 7am meeting at work today, so I’m a little beat, which means that I don’t have a lot of gas in the tank for a more contemplative blog post. however, that doesn’t mean I have nothing for you this week. Rather, I figured this would be a good time to list off some reference websites I’ve used in the past that can help with gaming.

Wikipedia: This one is so obvious that I almost didn’t include it on the list, but it’s also so useful that I felt like leaving it off the list would leave the list incomplete. WIkipedia has at least a little bit of information on just about everything, and is a solid jumping-off point for any sort of research you feel like doing. While it’s not always the most accurate source for serious research, that’s less of a concern for gaming purposes. If the author(s) of a given article have, for example, decided to print the legend rather than the history, as it were, that may even be better for gaming purposes. The other thing that’s great about Wikipedia is that it’s cross-linked, which means that following up on specific aspects of whatever it is that you’re researching is really easy.

Tvtropes: When Branden was still on the podcast, he would reference this website a lot, and with good reason. It’s a collection of tropes (defined on the site as: “devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations”) that is organized in a similar way to Wikipedia – cross-linked and separated by subject. Unlike Wikipedia, the tone of the writing is much less formal, but that doesn’t make the site any less wonderful as a resource. Simply looking up a favorite work (TV show, movie, or video game) from the front age will usually yield an entertaining firehose of content to drink from.

SCP Foundation: A site of fictional batches of weirdness, sort of similar to the old Warehouse 23 basement site that Steve Jackson Games used to have back in the day, but much, much larger. If you’re running any sort of campaign that needs weirdness of any sort and find yourself short on inspiration, it’s worth wandering over to SCP and browsing around for a bit. I have to give Grant credit for this one; he was the one who pointed me to the site in the first place.

Google Maps: If you’re running a game set in the modern world (+/- 50 years or so) Google Maps is your friend. The street view and satellite view options in particular are handy for finding interesting adventure locations and it’s useful to be able to find things like airports, natural wonders, major historical sites and so on when you’re running a modern game. Heck, it can even be handy to know where the railways are if you’ve got PCs who like to sneak onto trains in an urban fantasy game.

Online retailers: A lot of the time in modern or near-future games, I find that I want specific things that aren’t in the game books. Specialized tools, clothing, and electronics all have specs and costs associated with them, and place where you can buy those things will generally have that information in an easy-to reference format. Amazon is the big kahuna, but don’t overlook Galls (a company that supplies emergency services), American Science and Surplus (a company that sells little bits of everything and whose item descriptions are among the most delightfully-readable on the web) and Maker Shed (a site aimed at the Maker movement) for neat stuff PCs (particularly gadgetteers) will want.

System Resource Documents: The SRDs for Pathfinder, D&D 3.5, D20 Modern, and FATE are available online for your perusal. The Pathfinder and FATE ones in particular are really well-laid-out and easy to navigate.

And that’s it for this week’s reference library update. If you’ve got resources of your own that you use in your gaming, we’d love to hear about them in the comments.