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.

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


Gaming Curriculum: Extra Credit

Just in case the lists we gave you in our last episode weren’t enough for you, here are a few other things I’ve found useful in my gaming:

Kingdom of Heaven – I like this movie for its treatment of religion and morality, specifically because it treats religious fervor and personal virtue as two entirely separate axes instead of ends of the same continuum. There are good people of various faiths, bad people of various faiths, and people who don’t have particularly strong faith at all of various moral colors. There are also some really good character archetypes to be explored in here.

Wanted – I’m referring specifically to the movie and not the graphic novel that inspired it. The film has a bunch of intriguing ideas about bullet-curving supernatural marksmen, Fate as an active entity in the world that communicates through a mystical fabric loom, and all kind of other juicy, gameable bits. The graphic novel turned my stomach in the initial set-up of the story and I never finished it.

Night Watch – Really interesting Urban Fantasy from Russia, in either film or book form. Light and Dark exist in an enforced stalemate with each keeping an eye on the other through its own police force, dark mages use video games as divination devices, characters step into a sub-layer of reality called The Gloom, and more. There are so many neat ideas in here, I’m genuinely disappointed that nobody ever made a licensed RPG from it. If you’re running a modern game with any fantastic elements at all, it’s very much worth a watch or read. I haven’t read all the way through the series, but what I have read of it has been good.

Brotherhood of the Wolf – An incredibly stylish movie about the hunt for the Beast of Gévaudan. Lots of juicy setting and character ideas, a really interesting monster, and one of the coolest weapons I’ve seen in a movie.

God’s DemonParadise Lost, but backwards. One of the princes of Hell decides that he’s done being on the side of evil and wants to go home, and resolves to take anyone who wants to come with him, demon or damned soul, in his quest for redemption. An interesting companion piece to In Nomine, Frank Peretti’s Darkness books, and The Great Divorce if you want to play with Judeo-Christian spiritual warfare tropes in your gaming.

Security Now – A surprisingly-entertaining podcast about computer security. Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte cover a lot of ground, and in the initial “banter” segment will talk about science fiction, coffee, nutrition and other various things. The various hacks, breaches, and exploits covered in the main part of the show are where a lot of the material germane to gaming comes in, and for something so firmly grounded in reality, it’s amazing how much there is that’s gameable.

Lost – While it does come off the rails at some point (what point that is is the subject of much debate) the show is a cornucopia of interesting characters, plot elements, and setting details. There’s also a fantastic redemption arc for one of the characters (Sawyer) that takes place over multiple seasons and really feels natural.

The Art of Intrusion – Kevin Mitnick’s collection of hacker tales is actually more accurately described as an oral history of several modern heists. Great inspiration for any campaign that includes covert action.

As with the episode, if you’ve got stuff to add, please leave it in the comments. This is a discussion Grant and I would both love to have with you folks.