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 #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

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

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.

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.

RPG-ology #20: Pay Attention

This is RPG-ology #20:  Pay Attention, for July 2019.


When Multiverser was first going to publication, artist Jim Denaxas suggested that from henceforth everything in my life had become tax deductible.

My job today is to create worlds, and to find ways to import worlds to games—my games and the games of referees around the world.  Whatever I do in pursuit of that job is a business expense.

If I go to see a movie, I’m researching plots, stories, and sometimes fantasy or science fiction settings.  If I read a book, it’s the same thing.  The newspaper is a source of world ideas; so, for that matter, is the television.  But those are the obvious things.

I could go on vacation, and justify it as a study of other parts of the world.  How much more realistic could my development of a Greco-Roman culture feel if I’ve walked the Appian Way, or stood before the Parthenon?  Could I write as convincing an Asian setting without visiting China and Japan?  If we’re setting this in the mountains in the summer, a trip to the Poconos is helpful, but wouldn’t it be so greatly enhanced by traveling to the Rockies, the Alps, and perhaps the Himalayas?  I can visit the beach and learn much; I can visit Historic Gloucester, legendary Malibu, and even the black beaches of Hawaii and learn so much more. Read more