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.

RPG-ology #6: Name Ideas Unlimited

This is RPG-ology #6:  Name Ideas Unlimited, for May 2018.

If you’re going to run a game, if you’re going to write a book, if you’re going to tell a story, you quickly find that your characters need names.

There are a lot of ways around this.  Sometimes a character can exist with only a title—Lieutenant, Reverend, bartender—and not merely incidental characters.  No one knows the name of The Doctor.  E. R. Jones used stock names for essential peripheral characters—that is, all his stablehands were named “Bob”, and he has other names for innkeepers and petty thieves and the wealth of unimportant minor characters populating the world.  When player characters would ask for the name of an incidental character they might never see again, I would often reply, “He tells you his name,” and it was thereafter agreed that if the incidental character’s name ever mattered, the character knew what it was, even though none of us ever did.  However, even with all of these tricks, players are going to need names for their characters, and referees are going to need a lot of names. Read more

Faith in Play #6: True Religion

This is Faith in Play #6:  True Religion, for May 2018.

In the earliest versions of Dungeons & Dragons™, the original role playing game from which all others (including those electronic games that call themselves “RPGs”) are descended, there was a rules section known as alignment.  Many players did not understand it; many gamers did not use it; it was often badly abused.  However, I think it was one of the best and most important parts of the game, and I often defended and explained it.

I am going to make the perhaps rather absurd claim that I am a recognized authority on the subject of alignment in original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™.  I know, that’s ridiculous.  However, I am also going to prove it.  When Gary Gygax was promoting his Lejendary Journeys role playing game, he placed on his web site exactly two links to pages related to Dungeons & Dragons™  One was to my Alignment Quiz, which had already been coded into an automated version by a Cal Tech computer student and translated into German.  The other was my page on choosing character alignment in my Dungeons & Dragons™ character creation web site.  He apparently believed I had a solid understanding of the issues.

So big deal.  I’m an expert in a game mechanic concept that isn’t even used by most of the few people who still play that game.  However, even if you don’t use it, don’t play that game, I think alignment is important to understand, because ultimately the character alignment was the real religious beliefs of the characters in the game world.  Read more

RPG-ology #5: Country Roads

This is RPG-ology #5: Country Roads, for April 2018.

Of course, role playing game referees almost always have maps, and many of us make most of our own maps. The fact is that you don’t really necessarily need maps, and we’ll probably eventually talk about running games without them, but for most of the kinds of games most of us play, maps are an important part. I even belong to a Facebook group dedicated entirely to game referees making and sharing their maps. Honestly some of them look more like aerial photography, but that’s useful too. Questions often arise about how to make maps, and having been a Boy Scout and having taught Cub Scouts a few Scout skills over the years, I’m pretty good at maps. So we’ll probably return to them from time to time. One of the questions I often hear, though, is how do you design the roads on your maps. If you don’t understand how roads work, you can do some pretty silly things with them.

This article is going to talk about what we’re dubbing “country roads”, with apologies to John Denver, but we’re including wilderness roads, desert roads, pretty much any road that is outside the confines of a city—the long roads that take you from one major place to another in your adventure setting, the road on which your adventurers set out when they began that took them somewhere else. Some of what we’ll talk about applies to city streets as well, but they have their own complications and issues, so maybe we’ll come back to them in another article. Read more

Faith in Play #5: Fear

This is Faith in Play #5: Fear, for April 2018.

I heard a comment on the radio to the effect that fear is a problem for intelligent imaginative people. The argument was that such people readily envision all kinds of terrifying possible outcomes of any situation, and so give themselves negative expectations. Stupid people, it was argued, don’t see what’s coming, but intelligent people think about all the possible outcomes and consequences in advance.

I am not persuaded. It is, after all, quite possible for someone to be afraid because they have been in a situation like this before and it led to a bad outcome; it is also quite possible to be frightened by a completely unfamiliar situation because you realize that you have no idea what might happen next. However, I can see that it is often the case that intelligent imaginative people frighten ourselves with what we conceive as possibly happening in the future. During the Cold War there were probably millions of people for whom the threat of nuclear annihilation was only a theoretical possibility discussed by politicians and military leaders and of no real concern to someone trying to get through the problems of ordinary life. It was intelligent writers, intelligent leaders, people with the ability to imagine what might happen, who were truly terrified of the possibilities. So there is some merit in the notion.

That caused me to wonder about the players in my games, and to suspect that you have seen something of the same in yours. Read more

RPG-ology #4: The Big Game

This is RPG-ology #4: The Big Game, for March 2018.

I’m going to begin by apologizing to the Christian Gamers Guild President, Reverend Rodney Barnes. It seems we often find ourselves arguing opposite ends of a question. Years ago (maybe decades) we both participated in the Magic Symposium in The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, and his contribution, Magic as Part of Creation, suggested handling the issue in exactly the way that my contribution, Magic: Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy, said was the wrong way. Now a year ago he wrote The Numbers Game, in which he suggested keeping a strict limit on the number of players in your game, and it seems that I am writing to contradict him once again.

Let me say that this is not really my intention, and I do understand his point. When I run Multiverser games, even at conventions, I try to keep the game to four players at a time, and if it stretches beyond six I usually try to get someone at the table to work with me as a second referee to run some of the players. But E. R. Jones and I had the experience of being two of maybe half a dozen known Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ Dungeon Masters in our small county, and when we ran the game the rule was always that anyone who wants to play is welcome at the table as long as someone already there will vouch for him. I sometimes ran thirty players in my living room/dining room; he sometimes ran fifty in cafeterias and snack shops.

So I’m writing to tell you how to do it, or at least how I did it, and what I know of how he did it, having watched him from the player’s seat. Read more

Faith in Play #4: Bad Friends

This is Faith in Play #4: Bad Friends, for March 2018.

This started with a bit of silliness that over the course of a few hours became considerably more serious.

It was a morning drive, and on the radio someone was talking about how Jesus had saved her marriage. She said that now her husband was her “best friend”.

I know it was sincere, and it was undoubtedly truly meaningful, but I’m afraid it is so cliché that I immediately noted to my wife, “You know, no one ever talks about their worst friend.” We laughed. I said that there must be a way I can use that for something, and we pondered how you would identify your “worst friend.”

A few hours later I shared the joke with my youngest son, who did not laugh but instead said that he knew exactly who his worst friend was.

There is something of an attitude in gaming groups that says we must be friends because we’re all gamers who get together to play. It’s like thinking that you must be friends with everyone who goes to the same bowling matches or bridge games or cocktail parties. I have talked about that before, in Faith and Gaming: Friends. I have also written in mark Joseph “young” web log post #93: What is a Friend? about two distinct concepts of friendship. I hold the word to a rather high bar. I think most of the people who think themselves my friends probably are only acquaintances who like playing games with me. That’s fine; it’s good to have acquaintances of that sort. You could even call them friends.

My son’s choice for “worst friend,” though, was enlightening. He named the high school friend who, after serving in Afghanistan, became a homeless drug addict. This boy seems impossible to help—give him shelter and food, and he takes advantage of the situation to steal from the house to buy drugs.

We have a short list of people who are not allowed inside the house. They are welcome to sit on the front deck and talk with people, and we will help them as we can, but the doorway is the boundary. I always explain it to them very simply: People who live here believe that you have stolen from them and that you will do so again. As long as you are never inside the house, no one can accuse you of having stolen anything from inside the house. Thus the rule protects you from being accused. It happens that it also protects them from the temptation of stealing from us. This friend is on that list.

As I considered this, I realized that there have been many people whom we treated as friends over the years who abused that status. More than once we had to discontinue having gaming groups play in our home because someone, never identified, stole things from us, and rebuilding a gaming group after something like that is not simple. If the people we entertain in our home are our friends, we have had some bad friends. What do we do about these people?

Love your enemies, and pray for those who mistreat you, so that you may become sons of your Father in heaven. For He makes His sun shine on the good and the bad, and gives the blessing of rain to the righteous and the unrighteous.

Let me be clear. I do not mean that you necessarily have to give your bad friends free rein of your home; I do not mean that you do not report theft or other crimes to the police. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is put someone in jail—if indeed you are doing it as the best way to help them. We have had to do that at least once. What is expected, though, is that we continue to love the bad friends, even the worst friend, and to look for the best way to help them. We were never promised that showing love wouldn’t result in pain or injury to ourselves. We were promised that God would recognize His own image in us when we did so.

There is a footnote to this story. This was written about a year before it was published here, and in the intervening months my wife and I were both hospitalized and released with some severe restrictions on our activities. During this time that “worst friend” appeared, clean and sober, and stayed with us for an extended time, cooking and cleaning and otherwise making life possible for us while we were recuperating. No one is irredeemable, and a little love and grace and kindness can go a long way.

So show love to your friends, even the worst friend.

Previous article: Javan’s Feast.
Next article: Fear.

RPG-ology #3: History of Hit Points

This is RPG-ology #3: History of Hit Points, for February 2018.

Some time ago the Christian Gamers Guild republished the excellent article by Charles Franklin, Hitting Them Where It Hurts. Charles Franklin is the nom de plume of a marine who testifies as an expert witness on issues like that, and a long-time gamer. He was not the first to take issue with the notion of “hit points” as a determinant of character survival, but his was the first effort I saw to address it based on real-world combat statistics (back when it was originally published in 1999 in The Way, the Truth, and the Dice). Since that time many systems have devised ways of dealing with damage and death that avoid some of the criticism of hit points, but it is still a popular mechanic used in many games and adopted to computer and console role playing games (properly “CRPGs” but frequently confused as “RPGs”).

The criticism is that it is unrealistic: people do not take so much damage and then die. Some people are killed sometimes instantly by a single hit to a vital organ; others are riddled with bullets or cuts and stabs and bruises but continue fighting or make incredible escapes. The notion that a character can look at the weapon in the hand of an attacker and think, that can’t possibly kill me without him getting several lucky strikes is really not consistent with the reality of mortal combat. It’s only a knife, but in the spleen it will be fatal, and in the jugular very quickly so. Hit points do not represent that at all. Everybody knows it—and indeed, everyone has always known it. So why do we use them?

Part of it is the history of the game. Read more

Faith in Play #3: Javan’s Feast

This is Faith in Play #3: Javan’s Feast, for February 2018.

Have you ever been in a game in which a character in the game did something that impacted all the players at the table? It happened to me once.

Well, it probably has happened to many of us. It happens sometimes when one player crosses a line, bringing something into a game that makes everyone uncomfortable, such as a rape or graphic slaughter scene; or when a player gets the idea that because his character is a thief the other characters are not going to be offended if he cheats them and steals from them, and they realize this. However, have you ever been in a game where the action of a character had a positive impact on the gaming group?

I have such a story. Read more

RPG-ology #2: Socializing

This is RPG-ology #2:  Socializing, for January 2018.

Gamers have, or at least not so long ago had, an image of being socially inept.  Many are thought to suffer from high-functioning autistism or Aspergerger Syndrome, to be highly intelligent but have difficulty identifying and expressing feelings, entering into relationships with other people.  The “unwashed masses” once referred to immigrants coming to Ellis Island; now it perhaps describes GenCon.

I have written a fair amount about role playing game theory.  I participated in discussions with (Sorcerer author) Ron Edwards, (Dogs in the Vineyard author) Vincent Baker, and others, in the late 1990s at Gaming Outpost and later at The Forge, as what began as “GNS” (for “Gamism, Narrativism, Simulationism”) expanded into something Ron calls “The Big Model”.  My own explanations of that are still at Places to Go, People to Be as Theory 101:  System and the Shared Imagined Space, The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, and Creative Agenda (also appearing in translation on the French version of the site and in print in Jeu de Rôle Magazine), and I would like to think I contributed at least a little to the development of that theory.

What The Big Model had at its root was the recognition of something that is in one sense completely obvious and in another completely overlooked:  game playing is a social activity.  It is a way in which people interact with each other within a structured setting, and thus we can reasonably say that it is a structured social situation.

This intrigues me, because I have recognized about myself that I do not do well in unstructured social situations—parties in which people mingle and eat and drink and chat, for example, or that social hour that’s really only about fifteen minutes after the church service.  I don’t know what to do, how to interact, in a sense what my role is.  I do well in classrooms, whether teacher or student, because I understand the roles and play my part.  I similarly do well in worship services, in discussion groups—any situation in which the roles are generally structured and everyone knows what to do, how to act and interact.

What is more interesting, though, is that a role playing game is itself a structured social situation, that is, a gathering of people interacting with each other following an agreed set of rules for that interaction, which itself is about creating a social situation—the interactions of the imagined characters within the game.  Thus people like us, people who have trouble relating to other people in unstructured social situations, enter into a structured social situation in which we are cooperating in the creation of a story about people interacting with each other in an unstructured social situation.  We are, in a sense, teaching ourselves how it’s done by simulating such situations and relationships and interactions between imaginary characters.  We learn how to socialize by creating characters who do that, and we do so by social interactions.

Thus as we come away from our games into the real world, we bring with us this picture of how people converse, how they relate, how they interact, from having attempted to reproduce that kind of conversation, relationship, interaction, in microcosm.  We then begin to become more like our characters, more able to be like other people, to socialize in unstructured situations.

I still have trouble with multi-party conversations—I never know when it’s my turn to speak, whether to hold on to that thing I was going to say and say it later when it’s no longer apropos, or drop it and hope that whenever it’s my turn to talk I will know it and have something to say.  I never have that problem during the game, because the rules, the fundamentally social rules, provide the structure that informs those questions.  But gradually what I have learned about character interactions has worked its way back into my life, into human social interactions.

We the geeks of the world have created our own therapy, a social activity that teaches social interaction.

Who would have guessed.

For what it’s worth, I have written about social interaction in games before, notably in Faith and Gaming:  Fundamentals and other articles in that series.

Previous article: Near Redundancy.
Next article:  History of Hit Points.

Faith in Play #2: Portals

This is Faith in Play #2: Portals, for January 2018.

I’m going to begin this with a bit of a theology lesson, continue with a some words from a song I wrote a few years ago, and then tie it back to our fantasy and science fiction stories and games.

One of the things that is confusing for many Christians is the idea of being saved, in the ongoing sense. After all, the Bible sometimes suggests that we were saved, at some past moment when we repented and turned to Christ, and then sometimes that we will be saved, at some future moment when either we die or the world comes to an end and we land in heaven with God, but sometimes that we are being saved, right now, in the present as an ongoing process. We might justly ask which is true, but we can see in that case that it is not at all unreasonable for all three of those statements to be equally true: at a moment in the past we were rescued, and God’s continuing work is moving us from lost to saved, so that in the future we will be among those rescued.

What really confuses, though, is the notion that we are already in heaven. That’s a bit of eschatology (that is, the study of last things) which a lot of people just say isn’t so, and yet the fact is that we are new creations, and thus part of the new creation, which is the thing that comes into existence to replace the old creation, and that’s why it’s confusing—until we get the eschatology straight. Read more