Category: Chaplain’s Corner

The Christian Gamers Guild has many facets to its ministry, as we seek to reclaim the imagination to be conformed to the image of Christ through the use of gaming as a creative art form.

One of those aspects is support for Christians involved in gaming. Much of that support is realized through our interactive e-mail group, as Christians from around the world who are gamers share their thoughts and experiences with each other. But the mission goes beyond that. This section of the web site contains articles and links geared to edify and challenge Christians as they live their faith in their games.

Questions about any of this can be directed to the Christian Gamers Guild Board of Directors; some of the authors of individual articles have also included e-mail addresses in their biographical materials, linked from their articles individually.

Faith in Play #26: Fields to Harvest

This is Faith in Play #26:  Fields to Harvest, for January 2020.


Last month I wrote about the impact the Christian Gamers Guild has had on Christians and on gamers.  I noted that there were now many other “geek ministries” trying to make a difference.  In fact, between when I wrote that article and when it appeared I began to wonder whether we had become superfluous.  Role playing games had moved almost entirely from feared activities suspected of cult and occult connections to mainstream entertainment embraced by ordinary people worldwide.  Video games now pull more income than movies, as an industry.  Board games are on the rise.  Even such “fringe” geek activities as anime and cosplay are moving into the mainstream.  Certainly there are still some believers who embrace errors taught decades ago about the evils of such entertainments, but they are a vanishing breed.  I thus wonder if my job, defending hobby games to Christians, has become moot.

Then an odd thing happened.

You may know that I write two article series published here at the Christian Gamers Guild.  This one, Faith in Play, was envisioned as a resurrection of the notions of the Faith and Gaming series originally published in the early aughts and still on our site, looking at the intersection between our faith and our leisure activities.  However, when it was proposed, our webmaster said he hoped it would include material similar to and possibly drawn from the Game Ideas Unlimited series I did weekly for four years at Gaming Outpost, most of it lost when that site died.  (Some of it has been preserved in French translation at the Places to Go, People to Be French site, and indeed I also wrote material for the Australian Places to Go, People to Be, and for RPGnet, RoleplayingTips.com, MysticAgesOnline, and several other role playing game sites, not all of which still exist.)  Not seeing that as part of the faith and play connection, I suggested instead that I do a second series, which eventually was named RPG-ology, strictly about role playing game play, design, and theory.  Thus I contribute two articles each month to the site, aimed at slightly different audience interests.

I was responding to a post on a Facebook role playing gamer group, and the question was something I had addressed in one of the RPG-ology pieces, so I linked the article.  As I recall it was one that had been only slightly edited from a Game Ideas Unlimited original, and so had once appeared nearly the same at Gaming Outpost.  Bryan has somehow cleverly set up the site such that such links are branded:  the image shows the name of the article and the Christian Gamers Guild logo when it appears in preview on social media sites.  Seeing the logo, one of the participants in the Facebook thread commented that he never read articles on Christian web sites.  He said they had a certain “smell” to them.

I don’t know quite how to react to that. Read more

2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed

Last December we published Thirteen Months in Review, in which I attempted to index everything that had been posted to the site in the previous thirteen months–the time from when our previous index, Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website, had been published.  I am now attempting once again to summarize, this time a calendar year of material, for those who missed something or want to find something they remember. Read more

Christmas

It is Christmas Eve.  Merry Christmas.

It is the one holiday universally celebrated by Christians everywhere who celebrate holidays.  Although we all celebrate Easter, we have different ways of determining the date so we don’t all celebrate it at the same time.

We might count that peculiar, because the date is almost arbitrary and certainly incorrect, at least if we mean the night of Jesus’ birth.  I wondered, when I was younger, whether we meant that Jesus was born on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Night, which turns out to be a much more complicated question because the Jews start their days at sunset so Christmas Eve is the night of the twenty-fifth leading into the day of the twenty-fifth.  But it’s moot anyway.  Shepherds in Palestine didn’t tend their flocks by night in December; they did so in the spring.

I said the date is almost arbitrary; there are two reasons for it.

One is that despite our disagreements concerning the date of Easter (due largely because the western church was concerned to dissociate itself from Judaism and the eastern church was more interested in getting the date to coincide properly with Passover) we know it was in the spring, and were we to attempt to celebrate Jesus’ birth and death so close together it would create a rather crowded church calendar.  Certainly there were a lot of other times we could have chosen, but April would just have been complicated.  A fixed Christmas and a floating Easter might wind up on the same day, and obviously we would often have Advent overlapping Lent, which in traditional terms are simply incompatible.  Christmas had to be at another time.

The other reason our forefathers chose December is connected to a policy of what we might call “holiday replacement”.  We see it fairly obviously in connection with Halloween, in which we are accused of replacing the forgotten Celtic holiday of Samhain with Holy Evening or Reformation Day.  Arguably Christmas replaces Yule, and in spots imperfectly as the use of not only Yule traditions but the very word itself to describe the holiday time appears sporadically.  Yet it was not just Yule; every culture in the northern temperate climates of the globe recognized the winter solstice with some sort of ritual or celebration.  This was the time when the days stopped getting shorter and began once more to lengthen, and our ancestors recognized that.  It was celebrated, and the church knew you can’t deprive people of their celebrations.  You can at best give them something else to celebrate.  Thus the birth of Jesus was placed at the time everyone was celebrating the return of the sun, and we made a big deal of it, usurping the celebratory traditions of sun holidays throughout the world.

Yet it is in a very real sense an appropriate time for the celebration of this birth.  It is of course an irrelevant coincidence that the words “sun” and “son” are homonyms in modern English (they were not so as recently as Shakespeare), but that does not make it insignificant.  The winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the light; while our astronomers declare it the beginning of winter it is in a very real sense the start of spring.  From this point forward for half a year each day is a little longer, a little brighter, a little more lit.  The light is coming into the world, a little bit at a time.

And so we celebrate a day two millennia ago when the light came into the world, and we choose to do so now, when we have reached our darkest days and the light is returning.

I, at least, cannot think of a better time metaphorically for this celebration.

Merry Christmas.

RPG-ology #25: Transmats

This is RPG-ology #25:  Transmats, for December 2019.


This article has been republished from Gaming Outpost’s Game Ideas Unlimited series from June, 2001, only slightly edited for republication here, originally entitled
Game Ideas Unlimited:  Transmats.

  Matter transmitters bug me.  In short, I find them incredible in the most basic meaning of that word:  I don’t believe them.

  If by some chance you’ve avoided all science fiction, let me explain the matter transmission concept.  A material object, possibly even a living object, is deconstructed particle by particle, and a complete record of the position, motion, and energy of each particle is recorded and transmitted to another location where an exact copy of the original is constructed particle by particle, having the same energy levels and motions and relative positions.  It’s the teleporter of Star Trek, the transmat encountered on Doctor Who.  Larry Niven envisioned such matter transmission booths replacing telephones.  And there’s something about it all that I just don’t believe.

  It actually is not the science.  It is pseudo-science, certainly; someone is going to have to find a way around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle if it’s going to work.  But there’s a logic to it that suggests to me it will one day be accomplished.  I don’t know that I will live long enough to have my molecules disintegrated and reintegrated, but I would be surprised if no one ever manages it.

  What bothers me is the way in which this technology doesn’t matter in the worlds in which it is prevalent.  To have done this is to have accomplished much more, but generally those aspects are not considered or even worse are discounted for insensible reasons.  So bear with me while I take another look at transmat technology.

  In order to build a matter transmitter, you have to be able to disintegrate a target.  This may seem obvious; yet in how many settings do they include matter transmitters and don’t include a simple disintegrating weapon?  If I can find and disintegrate a dozen men on the surface of a planet far beneath me, why doesn’t it work as a weapon?  Since I don’t have to worry about reproducing the object disintegrated, I should be able to destroy buildings, structures, perhaps entire cities.

  But that’s just the beginning of my interest in disintegration.  After all, I’m quite aware that if you disassemble a molecule, you convert it to an enormous amount of energy.  The problems inherent in containing and controlling such levels of energy are another question; but why can’t this technology be used to generate power?  Given the amount of energy in a mass the size of a human body, the energy required to initiate the disintegration reaction must be a tiny fraction.  When the dilithium crystals are failing, why don’t we just throw furniture into the transporters and convert it to reserve power?

  And the weapon use of such power is staggering.  A moment ago I was talking about a disintegrator; but if you start to take apart the molecules of an object, you initiate nuclear decay on a massive scale.  Every building, every person, every rock is a potential nuclear bomb whose massive energy can be explosively released with a bit of prodding from our disintegration technology.  As it says in Multiverser, “a device which disintegrates without containment is a remote nuclear fission reaction stimulator.”

  And that leads me to think about the containment.  If I’ve built a transmat, I’ve found a way to contain the energy of complete nuclear collapse.  I don’t know what those force fields will be like, but somehow I think they’ll be able to deflect or absorb unimaginable amounts of power.  We are casually assuming the presence of a shield that could have easily contained the impact of Hiroshima.  We are tossing those shields around as an everyday tool, without any consideration of their real power.

  It’s probably not impossible to design a matter transmitter which reintegrates directly from the disintegration pattern; but it makes more sense to include a memory circuit.  And most of the matter transmitters in most fiction at least imply the existence of such memory banks.  That means that whenever you transfer an object from one point to another you also make a data copy of it; and as long as you have that data copy, all you need to do is add energy to it and you can make another–and another, and another, as many as you need.  You can make a hundred dinners, a thousand starships, a million soldiers.  But this is a largely untapped resource, and the excuses used are complete nonsense.  Not enough energy?  Easily rectified:  throw a few rocks into the disintegrator.  Pattern loss?  This is as foolish as those badly-written spy shows where they are passing around the “only copy” of a computer program.  If making a copy of a program deleted the original, it would make sense–but anyone who understands even a little about computer memory knows that even deleted data is still there until something replaces it.  Keeping the file in memory is easier than losing it.  But is the available memory too small?  The memory circuit really only makes sense if it’s large enough for the entire file.

  But writers go to great lengths to make it impossible to copy things, especially people.  We are told that complex DNA molecules are imperfectly replicated such that life forms can’t be copied.  But we know that life forms can be copied, because that’s what happens when we teleport them.  Really, we’ve completely destroyed one body and built another identical to it.  Besides, those “tiny molecular changes” are inconsistent with most of the other replication applications we can conceive.  How many water molecules have to accidentally be mis-linked as hydrogen peroxide before the liquid is not merely bitter but deadly?  How many mistakes can you make in the atomic structure of a metal object before the levels of radioactive decay are measurable?  No, molecular copying has to be perfect for it to be useful at all; it doesn’t have to work substantially better to copy life forms than anything else.

  Not only can we copy things, we can modify them.  The applications of this have never been adequately explored.  In fact, the medical applications alone are mind boggling.  Did you break a bone?  We disintegrate you, make an adjustment to the program, and reintegrate you with the bone corrected and fully strengthened.  You can do the same thing with a ruptured spleen, or a hernia, or a defective heart valve.  With a filtering program, you can completely remove every trace of a targeted virus or a chemical poison.  If there’s chemical imbalance, whether insulin or hormones or neurotransmitters, you can adjust to correct levels.  Body temperature can be corrected.  With our growing knowledge of the human genome, we would be able not merely to instantly undo the effects of such genetic disorders as sickle-cell anemia or Chrone’s Disease but to reconfigure the genome itself to remove the cause.  And when it comes to cosmetic surgery, well, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”  You want to be taller?  We’ll re-craft your long bones and vertebrae.  Overweight?  We’ll filter out a hundred pounds of fat on one shot.  We can add muscle mass in all the right places, turning a ninety-eight pound weakling to The Incredible Hulk in minutes.  Forget hair dye; we can change the color of your eyes, the pigments in your skin, the length of your fingernails.  Your facial structure can be completely rebuilt.  If we want we can provide you with entirely alien features, or make you look like someone else.  Giving you short blond hair in the morning and long dark hair by dinner is no problem at all.

  Let’s consider cooking.  Insert the roast of your choice and enter the program.  We can increase the temperature such that it is fully cooked in seconds.  At the same time, we can screen out gristle and bone while dispersing the ideal amount of fat and moisture for the most tender servings.  And spices can be added not merely to the surface but throughout the meat.  It’s as easy to chill as to heat.  Water can be turned to ice, cream and sugar to ice cream–we can even make Baked Alaska, with the hot cake and meringue surrounding the frozen center.  Spoiled food is no longer a problem, as we can screen toxins from our meat and dairy product far more easily than we could from our bodies and serve them fresh and delicious.

  Your wardrobe is as flexible as your imagination.  Oh, there will still be designers; but instead of selling clothes they’ll sell computer files.  And getting dressed won’t take long.  Stumble out of bed in the morning into your transmat and execute the preprogrammed routine.  A few seconds later you arrive at work dressed in a new suit cleaned and pressed, with your hair combed and your teeth clean.  If you like you can even program a shot of caffeine already in your blood, or go one step better and clear those endorphins from your brain.  After work, you enter another program into the transmat and go directly from work to the club; you arrive in a completely different outfit with your makeup redone and even a new hairstyle.

  But we don’t have to stop there.  Do you like being thirty-five?  No reason for you to get any older–we’ll just save the pattern of your thirty-five-year-old body and restore you to that physical form with each trip.  Or if you’d prefer being younger, we can probably do that too–maybe not the body you had then, but something very like it.

  And of course everything that isn’t true of cloning is true of transmat copies:  they have your personality, your memories, even your fingerprints, and they’re your age.  Today there are people who are highly skilled to the point of indispensable; tomorrow we’ll be able to copy these people so that they can be in several places at once, and if something should happen to one he’s not entirely irreplaceable.

  And we could go beyond that:  we could design our own people.  Once we know the basics of the human genome, we can modify it to suit our preferences; and unlike with genetic splicing, we don’t have to wait to see the results of our changes:  we can birth the new person fully grown.  And we don’t have to be limited to people.  We could design and build a faster race horse, a smarter ape.  We could design bodies completely different from anything we’ve seen.  And if we like we can give them human levels of intelligence.

  That, of course, leads to a much deeper question.  Why is it that we don’t let our science fiction stories make copies of people?  At least, whenever we do it’s usually an accident, and usually with serious complications.  For television, it may be in part because of the technical problems of having multiple roles played by the same actor.  But there are also moral and theological challenges raised.

  As already said, everything that isn’t true about clones is true about transmat duplicates.  At the moment of their creation, they match the pattern exactly.  They will diverge from each other thereafter, as each acquires distinct experiences and memories, but depending on how established their characters are at the time the pattern is made they will always be similar.  Which is the original?  In truth, neither–both are copies, the original having been destroyed in the creation of the pattern.  Neither has any more claim to being that person than the other; each has the same continuity of consciousness up to the moment the original was disintegrated.  And you might argue that it is illegal, immoral, or unethical to make copies of people–but is that going to prevent it from happening, or force it underground?

  But there’s a deeper problem, a theological problem which you have to answer before you can use a matter transmitter:  is man merely the sum of his material parts?  Is there nothing more, nothing intangible, what might be called spiritual?  If there is, then when the body is disintegrated it would presumably leave a disembodied spirit; and when it is again reintegrated, some spirit would have to occupy it.  It’s easy to hypothesize some sort of spiritual dimension such that the spirit of the man can travel any distance instantly and so be immediately reunited with the body; but it’s just as easy to imagine that some other disembodied spirit would fight him for that body–one of the dead, perhaps, or something worse.  Also, if a man has one spirit, and you duplicate him, what spirit occupies the other body?

  The presence of matter transmission technology in a game world has so many other implications it should be carefully considered before inclusion.  If you’ve got it, you have the basis for uncounted changes to the world from its weapons of warfare to its basic social structure.  You also have some very challenging story ideas from which to build adventures that can be as intellectually compelling as they are exciting.

  Technology always changes the world in unanticipated ways.  When you consider the effects it has in your world, make sure you don’t stop with the obvious.

Since the original publication of this article, I have been reliably informed that the property known as quantum non-locality will make it possible to overcome Heisenberg and possibly build a matter transmitter, but probably will not work for the communication system I envisioned in that linked article–although I did give permission to another science fiction author to use it in his work, and it has a plausibility to it.


Previous article:  An Amusing Dungeon.
Next article:  Monster Design.

Faith in Play #25: Impact

This is Faith in Play #25:  Impact, for December 2019.


Back in maybe 1981 when I first started explaining on contemporary Christian radio station WNNN-FM that Dungeons & Dragons™ was not some evil cult activity but a very Christian game, I was as a lone voice crying in the wilderness.  In 1997 when I first posted Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons(TM) Addict, Webcrawler (the original search engine) and Yahoo! (at the time a directory maintained by people reading and indexing web pages) between them had a dozen pages on Christianity and role playing games—half of them against.  So sparse was the defense of gaming against the assaults of well-meaning misguided Christians that within days of my posting that page Reverend Jim Aubuchon knew it was there and invited me to join his newly-formed Christian Role Playing Game Association, which within two years would become the Christian Gamers Guild.

I’d like to say that I immediately saw the benefit of joining my ministry with that of others.  That is not how it happened—but I have told that story elsewhere.  Suffice it that God saw the benefit of putting me on their team.

Today the voices that rage against the evils of role playing games have been isolated to pockets of cranks, and most of the world knows that Dungeons & Dragons™ is not a cult but just a game, and a good game at that.  Meanwhile, there are so many people who in an organized way are involved in some kind of ministry involving gaming that there is a Facebook group specifically for such groups, and even though I am one of the moderators of that group and I have more than once read the article on this site naming many of them, Our Friends and Allies—August 2019 by Bryan Ray, I have no idea who they all are or what they all do.

Did we start something?

I can’t make any grand claims for the Christian Gamers Guild.  When Reverend Paul Cardwell joined us for a while, he was already working with The Committee for the Advancement of Role Playing Games.  I don’t know when Bill Walton launched The Escapist, but he has never been a member of our group to the best of my knowledge.  Michael Stackpole and Tracy Hickman were working on rebutting anti-D&D arguments independently of me for as long as I had been doing it.

On the other hand, I know that at least a few of those currently part of that group of game and hobby ministers were at one point members of the Guild now using their talents in other ways.  Further, I know that we had an impact beyond them.  Just recently (now a few months ago, but only days as I draft this) someone found me on Facebook and reported that two of the articles I wrote in the late 90s (the aforementioned Confessions and the recently unburied and republished Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials) had had a positive impact on his life and marriage, as they helped persuade his wife that his gaming interest was not something evil.  That was someone I helped twenty years ago of whom I only just became aware.  They use to say in media that you will hear from one out of a hundred listeners or readers.  That suggests there were a lot more that I helped whom I will never know were helped.

So what, am I patting myself on the back and giving praise to the organization of which I am so visible a member?

That is not my intention.

I wrote that first article because I saw a wrong that needed to be addressed.  In fact, I drafted the original sometime in the mid eighties, based on notes from the arguments I’d made on the radio prior to that.  I did it because I saw a need.  It made it to the web in large part because I had it already largely drafted and needed material for a web site that would draw attention to the game I had just published.  I had no intentions nor expectations of becoming a recognized defender of hobby games—that was God’s decision.  What I want to convey to you is that if you do what God has put in front of you, if you right the wrongs you see at hand in the ways you see to do so, you will ultimately have far more impact than you imagine.  You will change lives simply by becoming involved in them.

There is a local pastor whose church is not more than five miles from my house; I know him because his mother and I attend the same church.  One particularly cold night he found a homeless man trying to shelter himself on the front steps of his church.  He took care of that man that night—but he thought he, and his church, ought to be doing more for the many homeless on the streets of their small city.  One had recently died trying to take shelter in or obtain clothes from a clothing donation box.  He started opening the church sanctuary on cold or stormy winter nights for homeless people to sleep on the pews.  He worked with other churches in the city and with city officials and police, establishing a program called Code Blue to identify potentially harsh weather, and soon managed to set up places where such people could sleep on such nights, not only in his city but in the two other major urban centers in our county.  This was not enough; creating something called the M25 Initiative (for Matthew chapter 25), he got people working on finding and fixing abandoned houses and moving homeless families into them.  They are approaching a hundred families so helped—and with their initiative, the State has passed legislation supporting such efforts in every county, and local businesses including the major hospital chain have helped fund and manage the program.  (The hospital says that putting people in homes reduces the numbers coming to the Emergency Room for shelter on such nights.)  Reverend Robin Weinstein has, I think, had far more impact on people’s lives than I have had, but it began because he insisted on giving a homeless man shelter on a cold night.

People always say, “Let yourself be used by God.”  Yet the hearers often respond, at least within themselves, “How?”  The answer is right here:  do what you see in front of you to help people and correct wrongs, and God will use you in that, and open more in front of you.


Previous article:  The Christian Veneer.
Next article:  Fields to Harvest.

RPG-ology #24: An Amusing Dungeon

This is RPG-ology #24:  An Amusing Dungeon, for November 2019.


On June 1, 2001, Gaming Outpost began publishing Game Ideas Unlimited with an introduction to the author and the series plan.  The following week this article appeared, only slightly edited for republication here, under the title
Game Ideas Unlimited:  An Amusing Dungeon.

Photo by flickr user Waldo Jacquith under Creative Commons 2.0 license, no changes were made.

  Some years ago I was the dungeon master for a new group of novice AD&D players.  After a hiatus, I found myself back in the dungeon design business, and this time for a bunch of teenagers who did not know me.  I wanted to do something good, fun, interesting.  But I also wanted to apply the lessons of previous games to the new one.  One of those was that dungeons had to make sense:  there had to be a reason why this underground structure had been built.  And that meant that I needed to create history, a story which explained what had happened in the past.

  The story I invented was fairly simple.  Eons before (when dealing with elves who live for millennia, ancient history must be defined in eons) an elf had a crazy notion of establishing trade with the underdark, possibly even negotiating peace between the surface elves and their estranged drow brethren.  It was he who designed the original dungeon and financed its construction.  The tension between his dream and his fear that he might be unleashing a great evil on the world made him a bit crazy.  The original designs included some levels which were safe havens, places for travelers to rest and even be entertained, interspersed with levels which were deadly, laced with traps or fierce beasts, intended to kill anyone not privy to the safe path.

  The builder died, and was buried in the depths of his creation; that which he built fell into disrepair, and was discovered and occupied by others.  The newcomers made changes, making this their homes.  Some areas lost all trace of their original purpose and design, while others were untouched.

  Among those discovering the abandoned rooms and tunnels was a traveling troupe of entertainers.  They saw in the upper levels the opportunity to build a home, a place to practice their crafts.  A secret door provided a wonderful entrance to the area they picked–the second level of the dungeon–and behind it they began making changes.  One of their number, a young wizard, began to construct something here that would be the wonder of the age.  Yet as his companions died, the troupe and their work would fade into oblivion, leaving their magical showplace buried and forgotten.

  And so it was that the character party stumbled into something none of them could possibly understand, something so strange and frightening it would leave them bewildered and terrified; yet so awesome they kept returning, trying to fathom its mysteries.  For the thing that had been built eons before into which my characters now blundered was something unknown to their age.

  It was an amusement park.

  It wasn’t difficult to design.  I had to throw a lot of continual light spells around, and extrapolate some spell research into locomotion.  There were some things I couldn’t include–I wished there were a way to do a Ferris wheel, but the underground setting limited the vertical dimension of my designs.  Still, I managed to create a very real collection of attractions.

  Some of these were very straightforward.  There was a stone zoo, in which petrified specimens of a number of fantastic creatures had been caged for display.  Two stages were illumined with light spells in reflective containers; one of these was for plays, and had prop and costume supplies behind it, while the other was the sideshow where the magician kept his tricks and gear.  A betting wheel would spin automatically when a bet was placed, and if the d6 matched the player’s number it paid five to one.  A small cafe included a floor where some ancient musical instruments still sat.  And there was a quiet boat ride through a dark tunnel, the boats magically teleporting back to their starting point once the passengers had disembarked.  I even included vending machines which could create food and drink when activated by a coin.  But there was so much more.

  The merry-go-round had carved figures of horses, but also of fantastic beasts; and they were enspelled such that once riders mounted all would move in a circle with the same gait they would have if alive.  The cavalier in the party loved this, using it to train herself on gryphons and dragons and pegasi.  The funhouse had mechanical shifting stairs and floors and slides, vents of air blasts from below, distorted mirrors, and an entrance to the vast maze on the next level.  The strong-man bell was extensively magic-mouthed such that on a die roll (adjusted for strength) it would hurl insults or compliments at the characters.  And the shooting gallery provided five bolts to fire from the tethered light crossbows (sites suitably misaligned), again charging a coin to play and rewarding victory with a few coins returned.

  My favorite trap–that is, ride–was the tilt-a-whirl.  The characters entered a room; it was perfectly round, with two doors, one to the north and one to the south.  The room had a thirty foot ceiling.  There was a sort of statue, more like an obelisk, in the center–shapely and not unpleasant, but with no feature that would distinguish the front.  The floor was metal, and this smooth metal continued up the first ten feet of wall.  A few minutes after characters stopped entering the room, all doors would close and then vanish, and the metal floor and wall would suddenly shift, slowly turning.  As it turned, it increased in velocity, and characters were forced to the outside wall; but as everything was told from their perspective, they were told that as they were moving, some magic drew them against that wall.  Then, as they were pinned helplessly against this wall, they saw the obelisk slowly drop into the floor; at the same time, the ceiling descended toward them, inexorably threatening to crush them.  This took only a couple minutes, and the ceiling stopped descending when it reached the top of the metal part of the wall.  But then the truly terrifying happened:  the metal floor beneath them dropped twenty feet, down to the obelisk below.  They were now suspended by the magic which pressed them against the wall as it spun.  Then, slowly, the metal wall began to drop toward the floor below, and once it was there it slowed to a stop.  One door–randomly selected–opened to permit the dizzy characters to stumble back to the halls, uncertain of whether they were north or south, or whether they had descended to a lower level of the dungeon.  Of course, they had not–they had been lifted twenty feet and then lowered back to their original depth.  But their perception of the situation left them quite bewildered.

  But their favorite was probably the roller coaster.  This began as a bench at the end of a hall.  If anyone sat on the bench or stood in front of it, suddenly a low wall would appear creating a sort of cart around it, and it shot straight up thirty feet, and then moved forward–at the same time leaving behind an identical looking bench at the end of the hall.  I mapped out a course that carried them three hundred feet per round (a minute); along the way there was one straight stretch where a group of piercers would attempt to drop into the cart, and another where large spiders sprang at them.  But the true terror was in hurtling through alternately light and dark tunnels, sometimes bound straight for a wall only to have the cart turn at the last instant.  Of course, once two of the party members had been swept away by this trap–I mean, ride–others had to follow in the hope of rescuing them.  The carts would depart at one minute intervals. And in the midst of the ride was a section where one cart would leap over another.  I think one of the players may actually have screamed.  I know that at least one of the characters leapt from the cart onto the track to escape.

  I’ve run thousands of hours of fantasy games; yet this is the adventure people best remember.  They all agree it was an insane idea, a concept which never should have worked, never should have been tried.  Yet it was among the most fun and most memorable adventures they ever had.  Almost fifteen years later they still spoke of it.

  I never imagined when I thought of it that it would really work.  It was just an idea for an adventure, something to fill space in a dungeon map.  Two levels down I had a luxury hotel; two levels below that was a dragon lair; below that was a race war.  This was just part of the show.  What made it so wonderful was that it was so totally out of place, and all the players realized that whatever they thought it was, to their characters it was completely inexplicable and clearly very dangerous, even demented.

  A substantial part of creative thinking involves taking two things that have not been put together before and asking whether they can be combined.  This adventure placed a modern amusement park in a medieval fantasy dungeon.  I often find my ideas by looking at what to me are perfectly ordinary things and asking how they would be perceived by someone with an entirely different understanding of reality.  I find a way to make it work in that reality, and then attempt to describe it to the players through the filters of the characters’ mindsets and presuppositions.  The result is always strange to the point of alien, to the level of magical.  By taking the ordinary and shifting it until it is out of place, you can create something quite original.


Previous article:  Nonrandom Thought.
Next article:  Transmats.

Faith in Play #24: The Christian Veneer

This is Faith in Play #24:  The Christian Veneer, for November 2019.


My attention was called to a crowdfunding effort for a Christian-themed game.  This was long enough ago that I expect, or at least hope, that nothing I say will impact the success of that funding effort, because it really looks like it might be a good game and I hope they succeed in bringing it to print.  However, it was presented to me through a Christian gaming forum, and the tag line was

Be the first of the wise men to reach the Christ child in Bethlehem. A new Christmas game tradition.

It was being produced by a company named Christian Haven, which is confusing because it appears that that actually is the name of the senior designer on the project, and not a clever idea for a name for a company that produces Christian games.

My gut reaction to that blurb was, how is it not a remake of Parcheesi?

In fairness, that’s a bad reaction on two fronts.  First, just because a game draws strongly on the design of another game doesn’t mean the new version is not as good or better than the old.  I spent many hours in past decades enjoying the game Sorry, which is essentially just Parcheesi with cards and a few other quirks; Trouble is also Parcheesi, but with the Pop-o-Matic® dice thing (a great idea for kids’ games because you can’t easily lose the dice).  Another version of Parcheesi could be a fine game, and shouldn’t be discounted simply for being a bit derivative.

It’s a bad reaction on the other front because the game is a lot more complicated than merely a remake of Parcheesi.  There appears to be the potential for intricate strategy, the involvement of random complications, and the necessity for resource management.  Its resemblance to the classic board game is minimal.

Yet my problem is whether it is a “Christian” game.

Perhaps I am too hasty.  Nothing on the funding page claims that this is a “Christian” game; it is billed as a “Christmas” game.  Christian Haven can’t help having been given that name.  On the other hand, one of the mechanics involves answering trivia questions, and half of these are Bible-based (the other half based on “history”).  It is clearly a game for Christians.  That of course does not make it a Christian game—there are many things marketed to and for Christians which in themselves are not “Christian” and which are sometimes even a bit dubious in their values.  I could raise issues with any game, but I have fewer complaints about this one than I have with Monopoly.

I am thrown back to that unanswerable question:  what would make a game “Christian?”  I proposed a design for an activity I called a Christian Game a couple years ago, and one of my readers teased that only I would call an exercise in Biblical exegesis a “game.”  I’ve commented before that I don’t have a definition of “game” that would include everything I would include and nothing I would exclude, and that only complicates the matter.  Yet I find it difficult to label anything “Christian” beyond people and groups of people and their interactions.  That in itself suggests that there ought to be something like a Christian game.  However, I’ve been Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild for about two decades now, and the only use of that phrase I can genuinely defend is that it identifies any game played in a Christian way by Christians.  You can’t put that in a box.  A Christian theme and a Bible trivia mechanic make a game that will appeal to Christians and not to others, but that’s just a coating on a game.  If it were about Muslim pilgrims racing to Mecca and had Koran trivia cards, it would be the same game for a different audience; that version would no more be a Muslim game than this one is a Christian one, because the game has not changed, only the veneer.

Again, none of this is passing judgment on whether the game in question is a good game.  It probably is.  I just don’t think it’s necessarily a Christian game, and wouldn’t want it marketed as such.

Editor’s note: The name of the game in question is Stella Nova: Journey of the Magi.


Previous article:  Kralc’s Law.
Next article:  Impact.

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