RPG-ology #23: Nonrandom Thought

This is RPG-ology #23:  Nonrandom Thought, for October 2019.


A long time back in Faith and Gaming:  Mechanics we talked about Fortune, one of three methods of resolving outcomes in our games:  the use of dice, cards, and other randomizers to create unpredictable random outcomes.  We discussed then the question of how Christian faith relates to randomness.

Of course, the randomizers we use in our games are not entirely random.  That’s what we’re talking about now.

17th Security Forces Squadron Police Officer, John Hernandez, practices approaching the scene of an active shooter during the tactical driving course at the shoot house on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Feb. 27, 2019. Individuals practiced engaging targets while operating a vehicle and navigating through multiple advanced driving courses. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Seraiah Hines/Released)

As I was musing on probabilities, I read a headline that stated that there was a drive-by shooting in a nearby town.  I’m sure that the town would like to think of itself as a city—it happens to have the largest geographical area of any municipality in the state, and I am told that police in our county seat jokingly refer to their law enforcement division as “the real police,” but it is largely rural space save for a long developed commercial district along three or four crossing roads.  The headline surprised me, and got me wondering about the probabilities of being killed in a drive-by shooting.  It appears that there are hundreds every year in the United States, so the probability of someone being killed in such a shooting on any given day is near one hundred percent—but the probability that it would be any specific individual is negligible, something that could not reasonably be anticipated.

Still, I doubt anyone would argue if I suggested that the probability of being killed in a drive-by shooting is significantly higher in sections of Chicago than it is in the rural counties of New Jersey.  Such shootings may seem in one sense completely random, but they aren’t completely random.

That is our objective when we design fortune mechanics for our games:  attempt to reflect the probabilities of any particular outcome.  It is not particularly likely that a character would be killed in a drive-by shooting, but if we have that in our games we want it to be something that might happen in our cities and probably won’t happen in our towns.  On our “wandering monster” tables, dragons are very rare and orcs rather common, because we envision our fantasy worlds as overrun by orcs but containing relatively few reclusive dragons.  In some situations we achieve that by “curves”—the roll of three six-sided dice to generate character abilities in most versions of Dungeons & Dragons is a solid example.  One character in two hundred sixteen will roll a natural 18 strength; a like number will roll a 3.  One out of seventy-two will roll a 17, and a similar number a 4.  Most characters will roll more or less ordinary strength, between 8 and 13, just as most people have average strength.  The “randomness” is structured.

So, too, in combat, in most games there is a value that hits and a value that misses, and a range of values between the two for which how good the two combatants are, one at offense and the other at defense, determines which ones hit and which ones miss.  There is randomness—you can always roll a miss no matter who you are—but it is controlled.

So how do you do that?  This column can barely begin to scratch the surface of such discussions.  The primer in Appendix 3:  Basic Dicing Curves in Multiverser:  Referee’s Rules is eleven pages long.  There are a lot of ways to use dice to create different kinds of outcomes, and some of them are considerably more difficult to calculate than others.  However, the calculation process is part of the game design process:  you need to work out how your probabilities are falling.  This will at least get you asking the right questions, and in today’s world once you’ve asked the question you can find the answer somewhere.

Probably.


Previous article:  Snow Day.
Next article:  An Amusing Dungeon.

Faith in Play #23: Kralc’s Law

This is Faith in Play #23:  Kralc’s Law, for October 2019.


I don’t want to say that Arthur C. Clarke is famous for this; he is, after all, author of the book behind one of the most iconic of near-term science fiction space travel movies (have I limited that enough?), 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  However, he is quite frequently cited for one of his proposed “laws”, with sufficient prominence that it has become known as “Clarke’s Law”.  It states

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,

and a significant part of the point of the quote is to imply that magic never has to be the explanation for anything, because something we do not understand could well be technology beyond our knowledge.

I don’t know whether Clark believes in magic; I don’t know enough about the man.  James “The Amazing” Randi is a devout disbeliever and debunker, yet I read a short story by him years ago (in Omni Magazine) in which the lead character, a stage magician, discovers that there is real magic in the world outside his knowledge, and so seeks to learn it.  It is easy to assume that what we are watching has an entirely scientific explanation—what we would perhaps prejudicially call a “rational” or “logical” explanation.

However, the reverse is also true. Read more

RPG-ology #22: Snow Day

This is RPG-ology #22:  Snow Day, for September 2019.


As I write this, it’s snowing; snow is sticking to the ground, and we’re probably going to be snowed in.  At least, the boys are hoping there will be no school tomorrow.

That makes no sense to most of you as you read this.  By the time it reaches print (or the electronic equivalent) it will be summer.  I am writing this well in advance of the anticipated publication date.  Here we recently saw the tips of crocuses before the snow buried them, and were worried about some of the other early flowers blooming too soon.  Spring will have passed here when this is published, and all thoughts of snow and ice will be forgotten.

No, I talked about the past slipping away last month.  This month, something different.

I want you to remember the last time it snowed wherever you are.  For some of you this might be an impossible task.  For that I apologize.  Most of my readers are experiencing summer, and winter is just a memory; some are experiencing winter, and need imagine little.  If you’re one of those unfortunate enough to have always lived without snow, this experiment won’t be so much help for you.  Maybe you can use it for something else—focus on what it feels like to be an excluded minority, and write an article about injustice and discrimination.  (See, you can take anything and use it for ideas—you just have to keep turning it over until you find a side you hadn’t seen before.) Read more

Manage Your Factions with Mind Mapping

I was in a conversation recently about how Game Masters manage factions—how do you track their activities and relationships? I use a technique of mind mapping. If you’ve never heard this term, a mind map is a drawing that abstracts the relationships between people, organizations, nations, etc into a spatial diagram. It can look similar to a flowchart, but it doesn’t necessarily progress to an end point. Here’s a sample of a map I used for planning a long-ago Unknown Armies campaign:

Read more

Faith in Play #22: Individualism

This is Faith in Play #22:  Individualism, for September 2019.


Quite a few years ago now I was playing a character in an experimental Attorney class in a game largely based on original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons™.  I had just successfully defended a player character (an Antipaladin) on a murder and robbery charge, and the player said to me, “Boy, your character must be really lawful.”

I answered, “No, he’s Chaotic Neutral.”

And that illustrates just why it is that the Chaos side of the alignment graph is so badly misunderstood and so poorly handled.  My attorney was Chaotic in the best traditions of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):  he firmly believed that every person (character) had the right to be and to do whatever he wanted, as long as in doing so he did not unfairly infringe on the right of any other character to do or be what he wanted.  Although anarchy can be the consequence of chaos pushed to the extreme, chaos is not about anarchy, but about liberty.  It is the alignment expressed in the Bill of Rights, espoused by the Libertarian Party, and represented by Democracy. Read more

Our Friends and Allies — August 2019

The Christian Gamers Guild is not alone in our efforts to build faith communities among the geek sub-cultures. Numerous other organizations, ministries, and individuals are also doing valuable and powerful work among Trekkies, roleplayers, cosplayers, video gamers, and many other segments. As the nature of Internet communities is to change constantly, we’ll try to continue updating and republishing this list twice a year to keep it fresh.

This time around, it’s categorized by type so you can more easily find the kinds of groups and ministers you’re interested in. Some entries fall into multiple entries, of course, so I’ll try to put them in their most salient category, with a note about other things they do.

Although several of these organizations produce (or are) products, the Christian Gamers Guild does not endorse any of them, in accordance with our policy to neither condemn nor endorse any particular game product (and by extension, any other organization, ministry or service). If you have any questions about the appropriateness of any product for yourself, your family, or your gaming group, it is up to you to investigate and decide. Read more

RPG-ology #21: Living In the Past

This is RPG-ology #21:  Living In the Past, for August 2019.


All four of my grandparents have died.  I have also lost my father, and both of my wife’s parents are gone.  I had a long list of great uncles and great aunts at one time, but it has dwindled to nothing, and of my uncles and aunts I might still have one.

The five and dime at which I bought candy on my way home from school is gone, and I am one and a half hundred miles from where it once stood.  There’s a long list of good friends with whom I have lost touch—Jay Fedigan, Artie Robins, Jeff Zurheide, Jack Haberer, not to mention Peggy Lisbona, Nancy Codispoti, Ann Hughes, and the girl to whom my mind often returns, on whom I had an impossible crush for two or three years beginning in second grade, Christie Newcomb.  At least two of those people, all within a couple years of my age, are dead; and although I have spoken or corresponded with some within the past decade, I cannot say for certain that any one of them is still alive today.

No one will be surprised that the past is disappearing into—well, into the past.  That’s expected.  Young people will wonder why I even mention it.  You’re living in the past, old man.  Get over it.  Life goes forward, and will leave you behind if you don’t keep up.  I know this; I can sigh and let life leave me behind, or I can keep moving forward.

But I’ve got news for you.

You’re living in the past, too.

That talk you had with your girlfriend yesterday—that’s now in the past.  Get over it; the moment has come and gone.  Whatever you should have said, well, you didn’t, and you’re not going to be able to go back and fix that.

You got beat up last month.  It’s in the past.  It’s over, and fading faster and faster into oblivion.  Ten years and you might not remember his name.  Twenty years and you won’t remember that it happened.  Yes it hurt, and it hurts, and you’re angry and upset about it.  But it’s the past now.  You can’t hold on to it; you might as well let it go.

That A+ you got on your math test (or was it the “letter” you received in varsity football, or the badge you earned in boy scouts, or the award you won for your picture or article)—well, that’s also in the past.  Time is leaving it behind.  You will eventually forget it.  And everyone else will forget it long before you do.

Was breakfast good today?  It’s gone already.

You are living in the past.  Everything you know, everything you remember, everything you’ve ever said—even the thoughts you had when you started reading this article–everything is in the past.  You can’t have it back.

Don’t feel bad about it.  It’s the same for everyone else.  In fact, it’s the same for the world, quite apart from the people.  I’m one of those who are often quoting C. S. Lewis.  There are enough of us out here that there ought to be a DSM-IV classification for us.  So you’ll probably see his name in a lot of these articles if you stay with the series.  This time he comes to mind because of a very simple observation he mentioned more than once:  most people are already dead.

That is, of all the people ever born, only a very few are alive now.

This moment in time is interesting; if you could know everything that is happening at this instant, it would overwhelm you—even if your knowledge was limited to your own town, there would be more happening this instant than you could grasp, enough ideas for a lifetime of stories.  Yet when compared with the past, this instant is no time at all, a desert devoid of interest.  In trying to get readers to think and create, I often focus on now.  Last month’s article, entitled Pay Attention, might at first glance have seemed to have been about the past—but it was actually about capturing the present, living in the moment and learning from what is around you immediately.  Writing it down served to preserve it, certainly; but it also served to force you to notice it.  The present is always a source of ideas.  But the ideas you can get from the present are dwarfed by those you can get from the past.

Assuming you can find them.

My father was a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech, and a helluvan engineer.  He drove a reconditioned Model-T to school, poured fifty-weight oil into the crankcase to keep the worn bearings running smoothly, and had to crank-start it by hand on cold mornings.  He played fourth sax (tenor) in a dance band to help pay for college, and went to work in an electronics lab for Western Union.  When he was head of the lab, he proposed “Young’s Law.”  Accidents occasionally happened in the lab, usually because someone didn’t have the right piece of equipment and so tried to use the wrong piece of equipment on the theory that it really wasn’t different; the results of such experiments were always strange and confusing.  My father’s law reads, “Things that are not the same are different.”  He missed World War II, having been enlisted just as the war ended.  All this, and more, was before my birth.

He later took an interest in computers, and in the late 60’s spent a lot of time nagging the few computer tinkerers at the company to explain things to him.  This led to a few courses, more investigation, and ultimately to his position as head of engineering for Western Union Data Services Corporation, where he designed systems before there were PC’s.  He holds a couple of patents in focusing microwaves, but he says they really aren’t worth much because modern microwave applications rely on reflection rather than refraction.

He met my mother, a New York girl, after he started work in New York; he courted her for a while.  She tried to pair him off with a girl from Virginia, thinking that two slow-moving southerners would be a good match, but he wouldn’t hear of it.

As for her, she got her bachelor’s degree from City College in New York at nineteen.  She had skipped a lot of half-grades in the New York City schools, and excelled in math.  For quite a few years she worked as an efficiency expert for, I think, General Electric.  If you visited her at home, you would see the efficiency expert side of her still maintaining everything in order even now in her nineties as her grandchildren are all adults and she has a couple of great-grandchildren.  She left work to raise a family, and when the youngest was old enough she returned to teaching, mostly math, as a substitute primarily although she got roped into substituting full time for several years at one point.  She has always looked young; the day after her college graduation, an immigrant bought her a lollipop.

When they were courting, they would ride the train together from Freeport Long Island to The City; they sat with an older man who had known my mother for some time.  He did not think that the quiet, slow, polite Mississippi gentleman that was my father was at all right for my fast-paced New York mother.  But one day, as my mother was yacking a mile a minute about nothing of any importance and the other two sat in silence listening, she abruptly stopped, and said, “Oh dear, I forgot what I was going to say.”

Quietly my father replied, “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll think of something else.”

Their companion roared with laughter, and accepted my father as the right man for my mother from then on.

So, what did your parents do?  Have you ever asked?  Did they tell you?  Their lives are fading from their memories even as you read this; and they were full of stories.  Life itself is an adventure.  I’d think you’d want to know about them merely because they’re your parents, and thus in some sense your story.  But if not, consider it a source of game, world, and character ideas.

This article has been slightly updated from Game Ideas Unlimited:  Living In the Past, published at Gaming Outpost in the summer of 2001.


Previous article:  Pay Attention.
Next article:  Snow Day.

GenCon Worship Service videos

The Christian Gamers Guild, in association with Love Thy Nerd and Tom Vasel, again held a worship service at GenCon. Here is the program for the event: http://www.christian-gamers-guild.org/files/ConventionHistorical/gencon-church-2019.pdf

Here are some videos, courtesy of our Vice President Dave Mattingly:

Love Thy Nerd brings the love of Jesus to nerd culture, through content, outreach, and community. We speak redemption and love into nerd culture, and teach Christians the value of nerd culture and how to love our nerdy neighbors better.

Bubba Stallcup is Love Thy Nerd’s Chief Community Nerd, and cohosts the Free Play podcast. He serves at his church in Texas.

Tom Vasel is a noted game reviewer and hosts the Dice Tower podcast. He has been a pastor in South Korea and a youth pastor in Florida.

Dave Mattingly is a former atheist who found the Lord. He’s the longtime VP of the Christian Gamers Guild, and former publisher at BlackWyrm Games.

Faith in Play #21: Villainy

This is Faith in Play #21: Villainy, for August 2019.


It was a year ago, but I had a stack of articles in the queue when it happened, and decided not to disrupt the plan by answering what appeared to be a question from a Troll posted to our Facebook page (I managed to lose the link to the thread).  It was comprised primarily of the image below, and the question of what we think of it.  I think Facebook is a terrible place to attempt to hold serious discussions, but Bryan pointed him to Faith and Gaming:  Bad Things, about evil in the world, and I suggested Faith and Gaming:  Bad Guys, about playing the wicked character as a way to bring faith into the game.  I did not get a response to that, but I felt that there were valid concerns raised by the picture (I think that calling it a “meme” was wishful thinking on the part of whoever created it), even if it might have been posted by a troll.

If you can’t read the text, above the image it says

I like the villains in all my favorite movies, TV Shows, books, video games, etc.  They’re my favorite, I play the bad guy any chance I get.

The text balloon in the image itself then shows the two-faced person saying

Hi, I spend my free time promoting the opposite of my personal values.  I’m an honest person!

At the bottom it then continues

What do you mean you find it dubious that people would spend their precious free time and hard earned money on things they find morally repugnant?  I’m a really good person, I just love idolizing evil in *ALL* my recreational activities.  There’s no correlation, I promise!

And we are thus faced with the issue of whether someone who plays the villain at every opportunity is reflecting his true values and only pretending to be good in his regular relationships.  In a sense, which version of him is a role, and which is the reality?

This is the more potent a question for me, because as a novelist I am constantly creating the characters on the page, working out what they would do, and I have to understand them–and as I noted decades ago in a journal somewhere, I understand them because I find them inside me, facets of my own personality, my own identity, people I could have been, in a sense could be.  Sure, there is a degree to which I sometimes model characters after people I know, and thus I can ask myself what would Chris do, or John, or Ed, or any of the many other people whose identities contributed something to the composites that are my characters, but this only removes it slightly:  in order to understand Chris or John or Ed well enough to know what they would do, I have to find that part of me that resonates with them, in essence discovering them within myself, knowing what it would be like to be them.  So I am the heroes, but I am the villains, and the ordinary people between the extremes, the background characters, the important mentors and sidekicks, all, everyone, is found as part of who I am somewhere inside.  I have wickedness in me, enough to understand what motivates the wicked.

Arguably, though, I don’t always play the villain–that is, I don’t play the villain exclusively.  Yet I understand the villain, and I understand the appeal of playing him.  I prefer to be the hero, but I know people who usually play the villain, the thief, the rogue, the scoundrel.  (I know people who usually play the hero, as well, but that’s not the issue here.)

As we noted before, there are admirable qualities, lessons to be learned, from playing the rogue.  There are also ways, as discussed in those previously listed articles, to use playing the wicked as a means of throwing light on the truth, of bringing our faith into our games.  Not everyone who plays the villain, even who plays the villain regularly, does so because he is secretly a villain at heart.  It is possible that a particular individual finds that playing the evil character is the best way for him to show his companions just how wicked they are, and how much they need salvation.  There can be good reasons to play the bad guys.

None of which completely addresses the objection.  That is, there might well be players out there who want us to see them, in themselves, as basically good people, but who always love the villains and always play the villains because there is something in them that wants to be the villain.

There is that in all of us, I think.  We are all born sinners, selfish people who by game standards would be evil.  We like being selfish; it makes us feel good to think that there is someone who always puts us first, even if that someone is actually us.  Yet the critic is right.  If we enjoy that in our recreational activities, are we feeding something that we ought to starve in our real lives?  Are we pretending to be what we really want to be, instead of really wanting to be sons and daughters of God?

I think there are good reasons to play bad people.  They include trying to understand how sinners think so we can reach them, trying to show sinners the wickedness in their own lives, creating the contrast between good and evil so that the choice is made clear–there are certainly other good reasons to play the bad character.  The question, though, comes to our motivation:  do we really want to be the bad person, or are we doing this for a good reason?

So examine yourself to see if you are in the faith, and remember that whatever a person sows he will also reap.


Previous article:  The Problem with Protests.
Next article:  Individualism.

CGG Events at GenCon 2019

Once again the Christian Gamers Guild will host a Christianity and Gaming panel discussion with Q&A time on balancing faith & gaming, starting a gaming group at your church, & other topics on how to be both a Christian and a gamer.

Friday, 2:00 p.m. in Westin Ballroom III

Session ID: SEM19157484

https://www.gencon.com/events/157484


We will also offer a non-denominational Christian worship service. We’ll read scripture, sing familiar hymns, hear a sermon, and offer an optional communion.

Sunday, 9:00 a.m. in Westin Ballroom IV

Session ID: ZED19165541

https://www.gencon.com/events/165541