RPG-ology #14: Shock

This is RPG-ology #14:  Shock, for January 2019.


About a year ago a discussion in the Christian Gamers Guild group reminded me of a couple articles I’d published in the Game Ideas Unlimited series that were lost but worth reviving.  This is a recreation of the first of those.

I’m pretty sure it was 1973.  I was a Boy Scout and a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster in my last year as a scout before continuing as an adult leader.  My father was troop committee chairman and often active in our outings, and Mr. Winkler was the Scoutmaster at the time.  Rick Trover and Bob Hamer, who are both part of this story, were a year or two younger than I, and respectively Junior Assistant Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader.  It was the troop’s first excursion down the Delaware River, although quite a few of us had logged several hundred miles of canoeing through the Adirondacks.  We knew that the river had flooded, and that the day before we arrived on the banks at Skinner’s Falls to begin our trek Cochecton, New York, a short distance upstream, had been under four feet of water.  We did not know that there was a whirlpool under the Narrowsburg Bridge one day south of us.  However, never having seen this part of the river before, we were unaware just how far above flood stage it was.  Still, we sat in camp on the bank for two days waiting for the water to drop before someone decided that if we were actually going to canoe this river in the week we’d planned, maybe we should get moving downstream.

Ricky and Bob took a canoe and headed up above the falls.  I’m not sure whether someone had authorized this.  I first became aware of it when people were shouting and I joined the race to the shore to watch them coming down fast from the waters above the falls into the worst possible spot.

Let me describe what we saw Read more

Christian Gamers Guild Chaplain’s Bible Study Begins Gospels with John


Early in 2006, Christian Gamers Guild Chaplain Mark Joseph Young began an online undergraduate level Bible study through Yahoo!Groups with Paul’s Leter to the Romans.  Moving at one verse a day five says a week, he has now finished all the epistles and, as of today, Revelation/Apocalypse.

The study will continue next week, with the first post, preliminaries for a study of the Gospel of John, appearing sometime on Sunday (January 13, 2019), and chapter 1 verse 1 being sent on Monday.  The study is a combination of exegetical and analytical principles applied to the Greek text with many translations compared in an effort to reach the original author’s intent.

You can join the study by sending an email to cgg_review-subscribe@yahoogroups.com or through the Yahoo!Groups interface as cgg_review.

Mark Joseph Young, “MJ” to much of the gamer community, has been Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild for nearing two decades, and has been teaching this Bible Study since beginning with Romans.  He hold degrees in Biblical Studies from Luther College of the Bible and Liberal Arts (formerly in Teaneck, NJ) and Gordon College (Wenham, MA), received a Juris Doctore with honors from Widener University School of Law, and is Mensa qualified.  He is the author of our Faith and Gaming series, of the more recent Faith in Play and RPG-ology series, and of quite a few books and many online articles on quite a variety of subjects.  Some of his articles have been republished in French and German.  His online presence is maintained largely by support through Patreon and PayPal.me.

The study, officially sponsored by the Christian Gamers Guild, is open to all and has participants including ministers from a wide variety of denominations.  We look forward to your participation.


The Investigation Falters

Another Beckett Family adventure in the Northumbrian frontier. These events occur during the down-time between the family’s investigations into the ruined Temple of Pholtus.  


Background

Lord Balin had tasked the Becketts with learning the whereabouts of his missing provost. They interviewed various people in the village of Lakesend while some of their number were healing and training.

Cast of Characters

Most of the party members are part of one large extended family—the noble Beckett family. A few are retainers

Granny Beckett: Witch. Eccentric matriarch of the family.
Lord Roger Beckett: Ranger. New family head.
Sir Raynard Beckett: Cavalier. Handsome and witty.
Daniel Beckett: Assassin. Passionate and protective.
Brother Lewie: Cleric of St. Cuthbert. Erratic but insightful.
Raymond Beckett: Fighter. Stoic and responsible. (NPC)
Rayner Beckett: Thief. Bastard half-brother to Raymond.
Marin: Young scout and skiff pilot. Recently taken in by Granny.

Narrative

Lord Roger pressed upon his kin the need to complete the task that Lord Balin had given them: To find his missing provost, Master Kevan.  With the Keep preparing for siege, the man was sorely missed. Over dinner, the family reviewed what they had found thus far.

Master Kevan is not the only villager that has gone missing. Jehan the shepherd had disappeared first, and Hammond the shepherd later disappeared (the family was currently occupying their cottages and watching their flocks on the hillside).  There was no trace of these two men.

Gunnar the smith had his two apprentices, Tormad and Arn, go missing, and while some villagers whispered that he murdered them or that the teens had drunk too much and drowned, the smith swore that the two were doing late night chores out back when they vanished.

Though it may not have been related, a week or so earlier, several villagers reported seeing a large man-sized creature with bat wings flying over the village. No one could give a good description, saying that they caught a quick glimpse through the trees as it flew in front of the moon. Conclusions varied wildly, but most suspected that a vampire was kidnapping and feeding on the villagers.

One man, named Egil, who once lived on the cliffs overlooking the swamp, claimed that some mysterious group had seized his son, Erland.  In a panic, he fled to the village, where he sought passage on a ship heading south to Yarrvick.  He claimed that this secretive group had infiltrated the village, and, fearing to be seen, he did not feel safe in booking passage.  Instead he hid, with the aid of the baronial falconer, Frederick.  The falconer had allowed him to stay in an unused shack of his in the poorest part of the village.  Unfortunately, that shack burned to the ground in the middle of the night a few weeks ago.  Roger had sifted through the ashes the following morning and found a hastily scrawled letter that the man presumably buried.  In it, he claimed that the secretive group had found him and was coming for him.  He mentioned markings on their faces.  Apparently his attempt to use fire to keep them away caused his own immolation.  Either that or he was insane.

I write this only to calm my nerves. It has been seven days since I left home. When they dragged away Erland, all light went out of my soul. I wanted to die, but panic took hold of me. Unfortunately, panic drives away reason, and I fled without significant coin. I must book passage southwards, away from this nightmare-infested land, but I have little coin or even shelter.

Frederick took pity on me, kindly soul. He remembered visiting my homestead on the cliffs, years earlier, where he used to train his birds. He arranged to let me stay in this tiny cottage for the next few days, rent-free. That should be long enough to book passage. They won’t think to look for me in this tiny, dusty hovel.

Terrors in the night! I am not safe, even here. I do not think they saw me, for if they had I would certainly share my son’s fate. There are more than I suspected though, even here in the village. They move about by night.

I made a try for the docks today, hoping to sell my services to a guildsman, but I know now that I am trapped! Twice along the way did I see villagers with those telltale marks. They know I am here! I see it in their eyes! I fled back to this dark hovel. The docks are being watched. I know it now. How to book ship with no coin and also avoid detection? Without Erland to provide for me, I shall perish alone in this dirty hut. I fear to go about by day lest I be discovered, but the night brings its own horrors. Damnable misery!

I awoke with a start. They are creeping about outside…

I can hear them whispering in the dark… Lighting the lamp was probably a mistake, but fear has taken the reins. Perhaps fire will drive them off! Need more than an oil lamp though. An old bulls-eye lantern may do! Celestian’s mercy—the previous occupant left one, along with plenty of oil. If they come for me, I shall show them such a blaze that they will slink back to the shadows!

Adela Farmer, the village gossip, mentioned that several villagers had changed their ways recently and without explanation, though the expected siege may well explain everything.  She mentioned that several villagers no longer went out by day, staying in their homes with shutters and doors locked.  She mentioned Felden the tailor, Hurlen the farmer, Ulfias the farmer, and Torstein the old pilot as examples.  She was also leery of two men that seemed to be squatting in the newly constructed village hall.  Another village gossip, Emma Mason, confirmed what Adela said and added that William Wainwright and his family never come outdoors anymore. She also mentioned that William Wainwright and Felden Tailor had come down with some sort of disfiguring skin malady.

Rayner had spied on the two men in the village hall one evening, a few weeks ago, but his attempt to follow them failed.  In a conversation with Lord Melias, he seemed to dismiss them as potential problems.  He did share, however, that he feared that a secret group existed within the village.  He was worried that such a group might serve as a fifth column during a siege, and he wished to root it out.  He suspected Felden the tailor, the two merchants at the village trading post (Dagonet and Arnauld), two newcomers staying at the Welcome Wench, a wandering ‘peddler’ at the Welcome Wench, and the entire band of Pholtan pilgrims that had recently arrived in the village.  He shared that the pilgrims had been seen poring over a map in the Welcome Wench, making secret plans, often in the reserved room in the back, presumably to keep away from prying eyes.

As for Torstein the pilot, Brother Lewie learned that this old man, who had ferried people up and down the length of the lake for decades, had stopped working just months prior.  His young daughter, Marin, was trying to keep the business alive.  Brother Lewie found her near the docks, and she shared that her father was very ill.  She mentioned that he had come down with some ailment in recent months and could no longer work.  Granny paid him a visit, going to his small cabin on a small island in the lake.  She found him rather delirious, short of breath, and sweating profusely.  His face was marked with grayish patches and blisters.  At first she feared plague, but she eventually ruled this out.  Granny questioned Marin at length, and eventually she noted that her father became ill soon after he stopped attending the gatherings on the hillside.  Apparently, he had been one of a small group of devotees to Celestian.  His small group of astrologers, mystics, navigators, and pilots had met occasionally over the years, especially on days of the new moon or during lunar eclipses.  However, Marin shared that her father grew disenchanted with the group when eastern astrologers began to join the group in growing numbers, changing the group’s traditions and exerting control over its members.  He eventually left the group after having words with such men.  Granny spoke with the old man briefly, giving him herbs to restore him a bit.  He seemed to have trouble answering any questions about that group or the eastern astrologers that came to dominate it.  On two later occasions, Granny tried other herbs, but nothing seemed to restore his vitality.  He died during her last visit, and Marin—destitute and in danger of starving—had taken service with the Becketts soon after.

Wymund the weaver reported that he heard and saw things scurrying around in the darkness around his house at night—things larger than animals and perhaps men, though he could not be sure.  He asked Reince the woodcutter to clear the trees from around his home, but the woodcutter never showed up to do the work so he eventually did it himself.  This seemed to do the trick, for he thereafter had a clear view of anything that approached his home, and the sightings and sounds ceased.  In the course of conversation, he mentioned that other folk in the village seemed strange of late, and Felden the tailor’s name came up again, as did Hurlen the farmer and Ulfius the farmer.  He also noted that Galiena the spinster had grown ill with some strange ailment.

Sir Raynard, Granny and Brother Lewie visited Galiena and found her in a terrible state, sweating profusely and writhing in pain.  Sir Raynard pointed out that her skin was marred with small pustules, blisters, and gray patches.  Her face and neck were a patchwork of scars and bleeding cuts.  Brother Lewie did his best to revive her and ease her pain, and for few minutes she seemed more lucid.  In response to their questions, she mentioned that ‘terrible things had arrived in the village about a year ago’ to control them through pain.  She screamed that things were alive and crawling about inside her head, and she clawed at her skin repeatedly.  They noticed her bloody knitting needles by the bed.  As she spoke, she seemed to convulse in pain whenever she tried to give answers that related the recent events.  After several agonizing minutes, despite the efforts of Brother Lewie, the spinster died before their eyes.  Before she left, Granny noticed that the wooden shutters on one window had been knocked off their hinges.

Father Godfrey sent an acolyte to Lord Roger to report on his investigation of the body of the unknown wounded man that had died on the hillside, perhaps coming from the ruined temple of Pholtus.  He and his assistants had discovered thousands of tiny worms in the corpse. They found these almost imperceptible worms in almost every piece of tissue that they cut from his body, whether it was near a wound or not.  They saved a few tissue samples and then burned the corpse for fear of some new plague.

There was much discussion on how all this might connect, but there was no sign of the provost.  Like the two shepherds and the smiths’ two apprentices, he was gone without a trace.  The fat, jovial and ever-sweating merchant, Master Arnauld, advised Sir Raynard that he should stay indoors at night, as everything nefarious or mysterious seemed to transpire after dark.

Unsure of how to continue, the family eventually decided to speak with the woodcutter, whom the weaver described as acting strangely.  Reyner, Roger, and Sir Raynard walked through the muddy streets of the village, crossing the algae covered wooden span of the west bridge.  Two Baronial guardsman and a tax collector talked quietly under a large willow tree nearby.  Not far beyond the bridge, they spied the woodcutter’s home.  It sat far back off the road, partially obscured by several large trees and many lush green bushes.  They knocked on the door to no avail, and Reyner noted that he heard noises inside.  Eventually, they heard a moan, as if someone were in agony.  Questioning the legality of what they were about to do, they nonetheless pushed to open the door.  It was locked, and Reyner went around back, only to find that door locked too.  Eventually Raynard put his shoulder to the front door and knocked it off its hinges.  Inside they found several children lying on the floor, semi-conscious and writhing in pain.  In a bedroom, they found a disheveled woman writhing and groaning on the stuffed mattress.  They sought to aid her, but she was delirious.  Realizing that they needed help, they sent Reyner running back to fetch Brother Lewie or any of the clerics.

The young man sprinted out of the house and down the path.  Only seconds later, without quite knowing why, he slid to a halt.  Just then, a burly woodsman lunged at him from behind a broad oak tree, wielding a long axe.  The bearded woodsman rushed him, but Reyner had the wherewithal to slip away, running back to the house screaming for help.  Twenty yards away, Sir Raynald drew his sword and rushed out to meet the oncoming woodsman.  When the woodcutter ignored all shouts and pleas, the knight struck him with the pommel of his sword, stunning him for a second, but the crazed man suddenly struck back and hit Sir Raynard in the ribs with the axe.  Furious, the Frangian knight grabbed the muscular woodcutter and threw him to the ground, wrenching his arm behind his back and driving it into the ground.  Reyner heard an audible snap, and the man wailed.  The young Beckett jumped in and wrapped himself around the man’s ankles so that he could not rise.  Roger, with bow drawn and arrow nocked, shouted for the Baronial guardsmen about a hundred yards away, near the wooden bridge that leads into the village.

One guardsman came running and helped to secure the scene, allowing Reyner to go to the Shrine to get Father Godfrey.  Though the vicar seemed busy, he and a few of his novices came immediately.  It took more than half of an hour to fetch them and to return, but the vicar wasted no time once he arrived.  He and his men checked on the woman and children.  The guardsman followed Father Godfrey’s lead, and the PCs and the acolytes of Cuthbert took the family to the Keep by means of a wagon.

As they left the Keep, Roger muttered under his breath to Raynard, “You did not have to break the man’s arm”.

“Easy for you to say”, the knight snapped.  “Your every breath does not feel like a dagger in your side, ” he continued, holding his ribs.

Roger grinned widely, continuing to chide, “I just point out that he was already restrained…”

“Well what if he broke loose?” replied Raynard flatly, glaring at his brother as they walked.

Roger laughed again and smacked his brother on the back.

“Bloody bastard!  That hurts!” yelled Raynard.  “Get away from me!,” he muttered, still wincing.

Laughing, Roger then dispatched Rayner to the temple of Saint Cuthbert, situated up on the hillside above the village.  “Cousin, fetch me Brother Lewie.  We need to heal my delicate younger brother,” laughed the ranger.  Rayner nodded and ran off.  In the temple, he found Lewie and asked him to return, noting that Raynard was still in great pain.

Brother Lewie eventually found his older brother, kneeling by the shepherd’s cottage.  Raynard gritted his teeth and Lewie inspected the wound.  “I think that lunatic cracked a rib,” wheezed the knight.

The young cleric was sympathetic as he dressed the wound, saying, “I would wager that you were not expecting to be attacked, especially after you knocked him senseless with the pommel of your sword.  We should all learn a lesson from this.  As for your wound, my friend, there is no cut.  The damage is internal.  I shall ask the Saint to heal you, lest you be laid up for a week or more.  Pray with me, cousin.”  Raynard joined the young priest in ritual prayer, and moments later, a flood of warmth flooded through the muscles along his rib cage.  The sharp pain subsided much.

“I owe you one, cousin”, quipped the knight.

“Nonsense”, the cleric replied.  “You owe the Old Man in the Crumpled Hat.  Make a donation at the temple,” he continued, looking up toward the limestone structure that dominated the hillside.

Back at the cottages, Roger mused aloud to Daniel, “Well, Raynard is not dead. We can be thankful for that. Yet, did we gain anything from that bizarre encounter?”

Daniel mindlessly flipped his dagger by the handle, catching it and throwing it again repeatedly. His eyes were not on his blade though, for he was starting blankly at the ground, pondering his older brother’s question. He finally offered, “Today we learned that whatever is afflicting this place has spread further than we thought… and we still have no clue as to its cause. Small comfort.”

Faith in Play #14: Wickedness

This is Faith in Play #14:  Wickedness, for January 2019.


In discussing Dungeons & Dragons® alignment, as we began last May with True Religion and continued looking at that which the game calls “good” in Goodness, it is important to remember that each alignment is something in which people actually believe.  That becomes a problem when we turn our attention to “evil,” because we tend to stereotype it in cartoonish ways, with villains who are depraved and monsters that are sadistic.  In so doing, we reassure ourselves that we are not evil, because we are not like that.  Yet in defining that which is the polar opposite of “good” or beneficent, the game has something far more subtle, far less heinous, in view.  Evil is embraced as a belief by perfectly sane sound reasonable people, not just Cthulhu cultists and reclusive Shakespearean witches.  It is something people—even respected famous people—believe to be the way the world is and how we ought to respond within it.  In fact, if you examine yourself carefully, you might discover that you yourself are aligned “evil,” or at least have some significant aspects in your true beliefs that reflect an “evil” world view. Read more

Thirteen Months in Review

Last November we published Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website, in which I attempted to index everything that had been posted to the site in the previous eighteen months–the time from when our capable webmaster Bryan launched the new web log-driven format through the republication of the entire Faith and Gaming series.  It was a lot of material, and a long index.

I decided not to let it run quite so long this time, but to try to index the entire year plus only one extra month, those articles posted in December 2017 after the Overview had been released.  It really was the beginning of this year, because the first articles in the two major monthly series appeared then–that’s right, Faith in Play and RPG-ology have now both been running for thirteen months, a baker’s dozen of each.  There have also been quite a few articles on other subjects and from other authors.  So before we reach an overwhelming amount of material, here’s a look at everything we released in 2018, and a bit earlier.

Let’s start with the first article of December, and put all of that series together this time.  Faith in Play was envisioned as a continuation, thirteen years later, of Faith and Gaming, tackling the same kinds of issues and perhaps expanding from the focus on role playing games to look more broadly at leisure activities of all kinds–without forgetting the role playing games.  The series included:

  1. #1:  Reintroduction December 5, 2017 introduces the new series as a second volume of Faith and Gaming, an exploration of how our Christianity impacts our leisure activities.
  2. #2:  Portals January 2, 2018 looks at how the fantasy and science fiction connections between universes become a metaphor for the reality we experience as God is moving us to the new world.
  3. #3:  Javan’s Feast February 6, 2018 recalls an event in a game in which a character had a positive impact on the players.
  4. #4:  Bad Friends March 6, 2018 discusses the people in life who mistreat us, and how we respond.
  5. #5:  Fear April 3, 2018 looks at the cause of in-game fearlessness and applies it to the rest of our lives.
  6. #6:  True Religion May 1, 2018 begins the alignment miniseries with the focus on what we believe controlling what we do.
  7. #7:  Coincidence June 5, 2018 discusses syncronicity and events which seem almost to have been manipulated.
  8. #8:  Redemption Story July 3, 2018 considers stories which mirror the redeeming act of our salvation, and whether that can be done in a game.
  9. #9:  Clowns August 7, 2018 returns to the archetypes subseries with a look at the importance of comic relief characters.
  10. #10:  Goodness September 4, 2018 continues the alignment series with a consideration of what it means, in game terms, to be Good.
  11. #11:  Halloween October 2, 2018 presents a defense of the celebration of what is essentially a secular holiday.
  12. #12:  Fiction and Lies November 6, 2018 discusses whether telling fictional stories is a “sin of lying”.
  13. #13:  The Evils of Monopoly® December 4, 2018 delves into the dangers the game poses to our theology.

Two weeks later, the RPG-ology series launched.  Discussions about the Faith in Play series suggested that we should also cover subjects from the long-lost Game Ideas Unlimited series that had run at Gaming Outpost–articles about game theory, design, and play–but that this should be distinguished from the other series as its own set.  This series so far has included:

  1. #1:  Near Redundancy December 19, 2017 introduces the other new series as a return to some of the Game Ideas Unlimited topics, ideas for game theory, design, and play.
  2. #2:  Socializing January 16, 2018 explores the fact that those of us who have trouble relating to people have created a game that teaches us how people relate to each other, through a relationship process.
  3. #3:  History of Hit Points February 20, 2018 explains why hit points are still popularly used, and what they contribute to game play.
  4. #4:  The Big Game March 20, 2018 gives instructions for running games with large numbers of players.
  5. #5:  Country Roads April 17, 2018 discusses how to design the main roads connecting places in a fictional world.
  6. #6:  Name Ideas Unlimited May 15, 2018 suggests ways to provide names for everything in the fictional world.
  7. #7:  Playing Fair June 19, 2018 explains why a good referee can’t kill any character any time he wants.
  8. #8:  The Illusion of Choice July 17, 2018 gives the basics of the “directorial” technique of organizing an adventure such that the encounters occur in sequence wherever the characters choose to go.
  9. #9:  Three Doors August 21, 2018 uses the Savant logic problem to introduce the concept of understanding your referee’s motivation and adjusting your play accordingly.
  10. #10:  Labyrinths September 18, 2018 explains the concepts of labyrinths and mazes with design ideas and examples.
  11. #11:  Scared October 16, 2018 discusses what frightens people, and how to use that.
  12. #12:  Aphorisms November 20, 2018 suggests one way to build cultural variety within game worlds.
  13. #13:  Cities December 18, 2018 talks about where cities will appear in the world and why.

R. C. Brooks gave us more of his D20 game, Lands in the Clouds, with:

  • House of Wren (Renewal) by R. C. Brooks, December 12, 2017 presenting a clerical order focusing on stress relief.
  • House of Arocon (Knowledge) by R. C. Brooks, January 9, 2018 presenting a clerical order that deals in knowledge and books.
  • House of Beyan (Earth) by R. C. Brooks, February 13, 2018 presenting a clerical order that deals with all things related to matter, from vegetables to stone.
  • House of Keen (Air), by R. C. Brooks, April 10, 2018, presents the clerical order related to air and gases.
  • House of Sukan (Fire), by R. C. Brooks, June 12, 2018, presents the clerical order related to fire and burns.
  • House of Coursan (War), by R. C. Brooks, July 10, 2018, presents the clerical order related to military defense.
  • House of Curren (Travel), by R. C. Brooks, August 14, 2018, presents a clerical order related to vehicles and mounts and all aspects of travel.
  • House of Foura (Luck), by R. C. Brooks, September 11, 2018, presents a clerical order involved in the manipulation of fortune.
  • House of Wold (Prophecy), by R. C. Brooks, October 9, 2018, presents a clerical order whose task is to warn of impending ill.
  • Multiple Gifts, by R. C. Brooks, November 13, 2018, discusses the possibility of a character having more than one spiritual/magical ability.

And Michael Garcia continued to enthrall us with recountings of adventures in his games, including:

  • Screams in Store by Michael Garcia, December 26, 2017 in which the now familiar Winchester team walks into a trap and discovers that goblins are not easy opponents;
  • Ants in the Darkness by Michael Garcia, February 27, 2018, in which the Beckett group of adventurers on a dungeon crawl encounter serious trouble.
  • Battle on the Beach by Michael Garcia, March 27, 2018, in which the Winchester team pursues a group of robber knights with a hostage, catching them on a beach.
  • Treasure Identification by Michael Garcia, April 24, 2018, in which the Beckett team argues about magical treasure.
  • Bandits Rock by Michael Garcia, May 22, 2018, in which a contingent from the Winchester team gets into serious trouble while spelunking on a scouting mission.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 1, by Michael Garcia, July 24, 2018, in which the Beckett group approaches and enters what they believe is a ruined temple.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 2, by Michael Garcia, September 25, 2018, in which the Beckett group encounters trouble at the entrance to the temple.
  • Terror in the Tower, part 3, by Michael Garcia, November 27, 2018, in which the Beckett group sends an advance team into the tower, and out again.

…and also notes on his world and his special rules, such as:

We had a few insights from Bryan Ray, including:

  • What Does God Think About Hacking?, by Bryan Ray, January 30, 2018, which explored several different meanings of the word and which of those might be sinful.
  • Monkey Business, a Circuit Breakers adventure, by Bryan Ray, May 29, 2018, with a sequel to last year’s Prime Time Adventures play report giving the extended story of a game session.
  • Tales From the Loop, by Bryan Ray, October 30, 2018, a review of a role playing game of that name.
  • Controlled by Fear, by Bryan Ray, December 11, 2018, recalling the benefits that came from running a horror role playing game for a church group.

We also had a few articles giving information about upcoming conventions where chapel services or other Christian opportunities were scheduled:

  • Con Chapel: Beginnings by Eric Van Denhende, January 28, 2018, covering information on February and March as available in late January.
  • CGG Events at Gen Con 2018, by Bryan Ray, July 31, 2018, giving information about the Sunday morning worship service and the Friday afternoon Christianity & Gaming panel.

—M. J. Young

Chaplain, Christian Gamers Guild

Village of Lakesend

Part three of the Compendium of Lands Around Blackwater Lake, the gazetteer for the Northumbria campaign. These are being published out of order because the next Beckett family adventure takes place in the village. Part two, describing the keep, is coming later this month.


Agents of the Frangian Crown supposedly founded the village of Lakesend about the same time that they laid the foundations of the nearby keep, about one century ago. From a military standpoint, the sites seem odd in that they are located over one mile apart. Considered separately though, each site makes sense. The keep sits on the shore of the Blackwater Lake to control the Narrows, a narrow body of water at the southern tip of the lake. Ships going northwards or southwards any significant distance must pass through the Narrows, and a garrison there can control the river trade. Meanwhile, the village sits astride a small river that comes down from the hills and then splits, one part running northward into the Narrows and the other part running southwards to form the headwaters of the mighty Blackwater River. Considering the distance between the two settlements, one can see a weakness in the arrangement, for an enemy can isolate both settlements rather easily.

Why is this a problem? On the outskirts of the village are fertile fields, now the site of several small farms. It seems that the village provides most of the Keep’s agricultural stores. Though the Keep sits on the shore of the lake, its garrison may have difficulty feeding itself on fish alone, especially in times of war. In addition, flocks of sheep and goats graze on the nearby hills, providing additional food stores for the Keep in times of war. Loss of the village could be catastrophic to the Keep. Baron Blackwater should remedy this strategic weakness before an enemy army attacks either settlement. Read more

RPG-ology #13: Cities

This is RPG-ology #13:  Cities, for December 2018.


When I wrote about Country Roads I promised to return at some point and write about city streets.  However, as I thought about it, I realized that before you can understand city streets, you have to understand cities–why they exist, why they form where they do, and what factors govern their patterns.  So this is a look at cities; we’ll come back to the streets another time.

There are two general categories of reasons for cities to come into existence, which we can identify as commercial and governmental, and a few subcategories of those that have some impact on them.

The primary commercial reason for the appearance of a city is resources.  Chief among these are those related to water, in three distinct ways.

Cities grow at natural harbors, because of shipping.  Thus on oceans, but also on inland seas, huge lakes, and deep rivers, trade begins, shippers move goods in and out, and a city is built around the income from transportation.  Whether it is triremes bringing goods in and out of Greece, galleons carrying gold from Mexico to Spain, steamboats on the Mississippi, or oil tankers running between Kuwait and Perth Amboy, more goods move farther by water than by any other mode of transport, so where there is a convenient place for ships to load and unload, a city will form.

Water is also a necessity of survival.  Great cities don’t generally form spontaneously in arid deserts, unless there is a reliable water source available.  People need water to drink, but also to raise crops and livestock, to wash, and for a wide variety of industrial purposes from making paper to cooling nuclear reactors.

Water is also one of our earliest sources of power after slaves and draft animals.  Water turning wheels drove early mills for grinding grain, and eventually drove machinery that wove cloth and created many other products.  Today, at least part of our electricity is generated from moving water.

Thus if you have a natural harbor, or a river or large lake, or even a spring, it can become a reason for a city to appear.

Of course, water is not the only resource that causes cities to appear.  Mineral wealth, from coal and limestone to gold and diamonds to petroleum and natural gas, invites prospectors to gather forming communities that grow into cities.  Nor are natural resources the only economic inducement.  If there is a city at South Bay Harbor and another at North Lake Port, and one at Eastern Inlet and another at West Mountain Mine, there will be roads connecting these places–but the road from Eastern Inlet to West Mountain Mine will cross the road from South Bay Harbor to North Lake Port, and the traffic through there makes it an ideal spot for commerce, and thus if the problems of food and water can be solved easily, a city will form at the crossroads.

As we said, though, not all cities are begun for commercial reasons; some are started for government reasons.

The most obvious of these are forts, from walled cities more ancient than Jerusalem to medieval castles to cavalry troops posted in the American west.  Governments decide that they need to defend something–land, resources, people, transportation routes–and build a fortress.  People recognize that the existence of the fort means protection from whatever danger is perceived, and so collect near it.

Military forts tend to be extremely well designed for their original purposes; armies tend to be that way about encampments.  Thus within the walls of the fortress housing and facilities and accommodations for food, water, ammunition, supplies, vehicles, animals, and anything else deemed necessary to the local military effort, will have been carefully organized.  The problem is that foresight is not always perfect.  Sometimes the situation at a particular location becomes more contested than anticipated, and troop strength has to be increased, doubling or tripling the population inside the walls.  If this continues intermittently for long enough, the fort might be expanded, but the expanded fort will be less efficient than the original simply because it has to be built around what already exists.  If it is not expanded, it still will be modified, as facilities intended for storage become barracks for troops, new structures are constructed in open spaces to provide protected storage for the displaced goods, and the original plan is altered in uncounted ways.

The placement of forts is frequently sensitive to geography.  High ground is typically advantageous, so mountains and hills are often choice locations.  Often they are intended to control movement, such as passage through a mountain pass or at the mouth of a river, and will be placed above or even in the middle of such a bottleneck.  Artificial hills and even islands have been built to support such forts.  Water is again often a factor, not only because the keep needs a water supply but because rivers and lakes form natural moats which help protect that side of the fort.

Of course, outside the walls the only control the military has over the rising city is the ability to insist that nothing be built within a certain distance of the walls–after all, when the hordes come, whether orcs or Huns or Vikings or Apaches, they will readily use any such structures for cover, so the army will not permit them too close.  Thus other than that clear space, the town will grow haphazardly into a city, unless some government takes control of it.

Military uses are not the only governmental purpose that will create a city.  Sometimes they are created for administrative purposes.  Washington in the District of Columbia is such a city, built to a plan because the nation needed a centrally located seat of government to oversee law and taxes for the thirteen states that was not itself part of one of those states.  The oldest sections of Philadelphia were designed by its founder, a man granted a huge amount of land to establish a colony who had the foresight to recognize that this riverport was going to be a major hub in the development of the surrounding land.  It is thought by some that Emperor Nero set fire to the poor section of Rome (and blamed the Christians) so that he could take the helm in what may have been the world’s first urban redevelopment plan.  Such planned cities appear in places where the governments think them convenient for the purpose–centrally located in the geographical area, or on land with the potential to become a major economic center, or in sparsely populated areas where the government wants to encourage some kind of development, whether agriculture, industry, or tourism.

So these are the major reasons why cities appear where they do, and when you’re designing your world maps you should think about what cities are where and why.  That will then give you the points you need to connect with your country roads, and frame your map.


Previous article:  Aphorisms.
Next article:  Shock.

Controlled by Fear

Several years ago, I ran a fantasy horror game for a group of teenagers from my church. It was their very first roleplaying game, and I felt both very privileged to have the opportunity to introduce them to the hobby and very responsible for keeping them on a godly path in their play. My own experience with roleplaying at that age was… Well, let’s say that some of the encounters were less than holy. In that light, horror might seem like a peculiar choice of genre—the kind of conservative Pentecostals of my home church are just as uncomfortable with horror films as they are with roleplaying itself. Nevertheless, although I don’t care much for the genre in film, it’s a gaming mode that I enjoy and that I think has much to offer. This article isn’t meant to be an apology for the place of the macabre in the Christian imagination, so to keep it short, I’ll offer this link to Christian Fandom’s essay list on that topic and chaplain M.J. Young’s previous articles Writing Fear, Faith in Play #5: Fear, and RPG-ology #11: Scared. Rather, I would like to look at one particular moment in that game and offer some observations on gaming, Christian fellowship, and courage. Read more

Faith in Play #13: The Evils of Monopoly®

This is Faith in Play #13:  The Evils of Monopoly®, for December 2018.


It is perhaps almost a joke, that whenever uninformed people begin talking about the evils of role playing games a gamer will respond with the notion of the evils of the game Monopoly®.  I mentioned it myself in my 1997 article Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons™ Addict.  (I do not know whether anyone else had mentioned it before me, and it was one of several games I cited in that article for various issues.)  Lately, though, the idea has nagged at me that there are numerous “dangers” in Monopoly® in particular, and it would be worth taking a moment to address the game.

Let’s begin with the one that is the most obvious:  the game promotes a mindset of greed.  To win the game you must become the “richest” player, accruing the most money and real estate of anyone in the game.  It is capitalism on steroids.

Sure, there are wealthy Christians in the world, and not all of them handle their wealth admirably.  Yet most of us would agree that the pursuit of money is not only wrong, it is a very alluring trap.  Learning as Paul to be content in luxury or poverty is not an easy lesson.  Monopoly teaches the opposite lesson, encouraging us to seek to be the wealthiest.

Yet the objection goes deeper.  There are plenty of games in which being the best is the way to win, and quite a few in which the score is given with dollar signs in front of it.  If it were only that you had to try to be better than everyone else at the table, well, a lot of games are like that, and Monopoly® might be excused.  However, unlike Parchessi or Life or many other games in which once one person wins everyone else loses, the rules of Monopoly® state that nobody wins until everyone else loses.  That is, in order to win the game you have to drive all the other players into bankruptcy.  You don’t win until you are the last man standing, financially.  We can accept that in a footrace once one person wins, everyone else loses.  This is more like a demolition derby, in which once everyone else loses, the one player remaining wins.

So those are perhaps the big objections to the game; but it would be a short and perhaps laughable article if those were the only problems.  The game also offers its “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards, and in doing so creates another notion to which Christians ought to object:  the idea that favorable and unfavorable events come to people at random.  You might win a beauty pageant, or have to go to jail, but it has nothing to do with anything you did, it is merely the roll of the dice and the draw of the cards that controls your fate.  As we discussed long ago in Faith and Gaming:  Mechanics, randomness is a theological problem wherever we encounter it.  Monopoly® does not suppose that God is behind these random distributions of good and ill; it teaches that such outcomes are random.

It also teaches that such random events are to some degree balanced.  A chance card can be benefit or bane, and the balance between them is such that you do not know whether to dread or anticipate as you reach for one.  God’s world is good; evil is found in it, and suffering, and this article is not about to resolve the issues involved in that.  However, a game that teaches us that good and evil balance out in the end is not a Christian game.  Good wins in the end, and there is more good than evil in our path, because God gives good gifts.  If we come away from a game thinking that the good and the bad balance each other in the end in life, we have learned the wrong lesson.  The truth is, much that we think bad is for our good, and thus is itself good, and the good in our lives outweighs the bad.

Let’s add one more issue to the pot:  if you pass “Go” you collect, in the original version, two hundred dollars.  That is, if you can survive long enough, the next paycheck will come and you’ll have money.  For many people that’s realistic, but it’s also teaching a lesson, that all you have to do is survive to the next paycheck.  Most of us make the mistake of thinking that our money comes from our hard work at our jobs; the fact is, our money comes from the grace of God–the jobs are only the vehicle by which it is delivered.  James warns us against relying on what will come tomorrow; Monopoly® encourages us to expect it.

I am not going to say not to play Monopoly®.  As board games go, it’s well designed and popular.  I am going to say to be wary of the lessons it teaches, and remind yourself of the truth.

Or find a more Christian game to play.


Previous article:  Fiction and Lies.
Next article:  Wickedness.

Terror in the Tower, part 3

This Beckett Family Adventure follows Terror in the Tower, part 2. 


Background

The session began with the PCs at the ruined Temple of Pholtus, a few hours from small village of Lakesend. This was their third foray to the temple. The first time, they spotted harpies flying about the tallest tower in the complex. They entered the tower, but a battle with animated guardians inside caused them to return to the village. During their second visit, they fought a swarm of goblyns in the temple’s cellars. This time, they left the horses and a few of their party a half-mile away. The main group then made a thorough search of the ruins, finding evidence of recent inhabitation. The group now stood in the cloister, deciding what to do next. Read more