Category: Tutorials

Environment Matters: Improving Your Gaming Area

A wonderful thing about fantasy role-playing games is that they unfold mainly in the minds of the players. They are games of wonder and imagination. Players that keep this concept firmly in mind realize that they can play almost anywhere. Over the years, I’ve played AD&D (my game of choice) in basements, in dining rooms, in living rooms, and in a bedroom (sixth-grade sleepover). We’ve sat on floors, folding chairs and bar stools. We reclined on couches and played poolside on lounge chairs. To a limited extent, we once played in a car and while walking through a park. Your environment can be minimal, if necessary. A few sheets of paper, a pen, and some dice are all that is really needed (and even the dice are questionable). Nevertheless, a nice gaming area can indeed make the game session much more comfortable, more efficient, and more intense.

I have been blessed in that I have been able to play RPGs for over 25 years now, and I’m currently blessed with a comfortable home in which to play. Over the last few years, I decided to make small, incremental improvements to our area. Why not, especially if gaming is a consistent hobby? I am quite pleased with the results so far, but I’m always looking for small ways to improve further. Inspired by an article by Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips, I recently took stock of all my gaming area features, and I share my thoughts with you now. Perhaps an idea that I borrowed along the way might prove useful to your group. I would love any tips or suggestions that you might have.

A Good Table

The best shape is highly debatable and likely a matter of taste. Space requirements and cost are also important factors. However, almost everyone agrees that having a table is key to a good game. It allows players to connect with one another, and it builds intensity. Granted, I would game on the floor if I had to, but getting a good table is worth the effort.

My friend used to host our games for many years, but he eventually passed away. His brother asked if I would take the table and continue the tradition, and I accepted. The table was one that he had made from a sheet of 4′ x 8′ plywood. He slapped some sort of fiberboard over it. He then nailed 3″-wide strips of pine on all sides to give it some depth. On the underside, he attached the folding legs from a folding table. Thus, while a bit large and bulky, it does fold up. Initially, I wasn’t sure that I wanted this thing set up permanently in my basement so being able to take it down quickly helped to convince the wife to allow it. Once I set it up, I decided to spend 20 minutes to stain the sidepieces a walnut color. I also had strips of molding that were unused so I nailed them on and stained them as well. These were just minor touches, of course, but you no longer see unpainted lumber. As for size, we could fit seven players and a DM without a problem. As it is a bit wide, I opt to store a bunch of terrain and other stuff in the middle toward the DM screen. It makes for easy access, and it adds some atmosphere too.

Bookcases and Magazine Holders

Having easy access to many gaming books is obviously a bonus. My den, where we play, had some built-in shelves, which I used in the early days. However, after the wife warmed to the idea of the den being a gaming room, she suggested sprucing it up a bit. She found a mildly inexpensive, two-shelf, black, wooden bookcase from Target. As we had just received a nice tax return, I ordered seven of them. They now line the walls in certain areas. The ones behind the DM hold my figures, some terrain, and spare dice, while some nice candle holders, a lamp, and some knickknacks adorn the tops. Another case holds all of my RPG rulebooks and modules.

Atop two of the cases, I placed some decent looking magazine cases that I bought at Staples. Though only black faux leather, they do keep things looking neat and on the nicer side.

Side Tables

A friend gave us a spare wooden kitchen table. It’s somewhat small, and we don’t use it in the kitchen, but we didn’t want to throw it out. Thus, it now sits against one wall and is quite useful. I keep my portable LED tracing ‘table’/pad on it (not used during the game, but very handy to have out during game prep), along with other knickknacks. I also have another lamp on it. You can never have too much table space (or light).

I keep a smaller wooden table near the traditional DM spot at the head of the table. I keep more figures on it, along with several other props and a few binders.

Computer

I have no laptop, though that would be ideal, I guess. Instead, I have my iMac on an old computer table near the DM-side of the table. Though initially I used this only during game prep, I have come to use it more and more during play. I like having various audio files and soundtracks ready to play, and having the iMac within reach makes that easy. Also, I now keep several relevant documents open for easy reference. Furthermore, if the players catch me completely off-guard, it usually only takes me a minute to pull up the needed information from some other document on my hard drive.

A Brother laser printer sits on the same computer table, making it extremely convenient for game prep. It also makes it very easy to print a document during play if they need it.

Leather Armchairs

The den was a den before it was a gaming room so we have two old leather armchairs in there. Rather than get rid of them (we have no other place to put them, and we kind of like them), we put them up against a wall. When our smaller groups play, no one sits in them, though they do offer a nice break for anyone whose butt hurts or who wants a change of pace. In our larger group, one person usually sits in one, though he gets up during battles.

Terrain

I have very mixed feelings on terrain, though you wouldn’t know that from the amount that I have. I do love the atmosphere it brings, and it does make envisioning certain things much easier. However, I do not like having several rooms set up for each session (as many are wont to do when you have so much of it—and as pictured on Dwarven Forge’s website for obvious reasons). I’ve found that a pre-made layout ends up dictating the session instead of being a useful prop. No. We use terrain in almost every game, but it is always in a form that we can throw together and take apart very quickly. We’ll make a room or two at a time, as we go. This is why I opt to keep most of the terrain right on the table. The types of terrain pieces that we keep on the gaming table are those that we use often: about 50+ stone dungeon floor tiles (10′ x 10′), many stone dungeon wall tiles, some curved stone dungeon wall tiles, some cavern floor tiles, cavern wall tiles, cavern outcroppings, boulders (small and large), tree stumps, fallen trees, small trees, and large trees (lots of trees).

Other types of terrain that I keep in the bookcases include all kinds of treasures, furniture, boxes, crates, barrels, stone columns, campfires, etc. Actually, many of these things are so cheap and get so much use that I highly recommend picking them up. Unlike the Dwarven Forge sets (which are beautiful, but quite pricey), you can get these miscellaneous items rather cheaply. I prefer Legendary Realms for this small stuff (they have a store by me, but they are also on eBay, I believe).

At some point, I grew tired of putting back and then pulling out the same small pieces each session. I found a common plastic bin (maybe 6″ x 12″) and threw these small pieces in it. When we need those pieces, I just grab the bin from the bookcase.

Gaming Mats And Plexiglas

We have used several different types of vinyl wet-erase mats over the years (Chessex battle mats, for example), and we’ve also gone without a mat. I eventually decided that drawing a map on a mat was more trouble than it is worth. I hate to take game time to draw with any accuracy, while very poorly done maps cause more confusion than clarity. Also, the wet-erase markers never quite work perfectly so after a while you can see old drawings on the ‘clean’ mats, which stinks. There are also different types of vinyl maps; some are plain (often cream color), while others are gray and look like stone, and others are green to resemble a forest. Which to use?

I eventually settled on a large (48″ x 48″) green forest mat, which makes setting up a forest encounter extremely easy. With our vinyl mat permanently laid out, we just grab a handful of trees and boulders and scatter them about. When we want to make dungeons or caverns, we just grab the stone tiles and place them over the green mat (which soon disappears beneath them).

Plexiglas is an old gamer’s trick to keep those Avalon Hill-style folded maps pressed down flat so your cardboard unit counters don’t slide. I eventually obtained two small pieces for my table. They do not cover the whole thing (no need), but together they cover about half the table—the part where we have the mats and where we throw together dungeon tiles. This protects the mats and gives you a nice, hard, flat surface for figures.

The Plexiglas gives an added bonus too. There is usually some room around the perimeter, where we would not usually set up tiles or have figures. In those spots, I lift up the Plexiglas and throw some paper props underneath, like the menu to the local tavern, the prices at the local trading post, an index card of Varangian runes (so those PCs that ‘know’ the runes can just peer down to recall what they know), and an index card with the phases of the AD&D combat round (for newbies that may get confused).

Player Chairs and Snack Tables

We use black folding chairs, but they have padding on them, which makes them bearable. Again, players can always get up and sit in the two armchairs nearby if they want a break. I also have my computer chair for a player that doesn’t want to deal with folding chairs.

Though it’s unreasonable to ask players not to put stuff on the table, it is a secret pet peeve of mine because we lose so much space for props and figures. To mitigate the encroachment, I set up snack tables with coasters between every two chairs. For a touch of class, I have gargoyle coasters from Paris and square marble coasters from upstate NY.

Card Table of Snacks

On the other side of the den, about 10′ from the table, is a small card table with assorted snacks, drinks, and paper goods. My players are very comfortable in helping themselves to anything on the table. I usually provide some staples (pretzels, soda, flavored water, and iced tea), while each player often brings a small something. A 30-gallon, black, garbage bag is kept open over there, and it makes cleaning up afterwards a snap.

Cork-board

About two years ago, one group of players spent so much time arguing among themselves over priorities that they confused themselves and lost track of their objectives. Not great game-play, for sure. Though I believe in natural consequences, I did not want this tendency to ruin the game. Thus, I purchased a 35″ x 46″ cork-board, some push pins, and a stack of index cards. I taped a Sharpie to the top. I stash the board out of sight until game time, and then I just lean it against the treadmill, or wherever they want it. It definitely helped. My other groups do not need this so it remains out of sight.

Walls

Huh? Our den has old wooden paneling from the 1970s or 1980s. Not our cup of tea, but changing that is like #412 on our to-do list. How to make use of the paneled walls without ruining them? Masking tape. My current campaigns center on a large lake. A friend used a plotter at work to print an enlarged copy of the map. At his suggestion, I then taped it to the wall for the players to see. It’s great. It really draws players into the game. Everyone can see basics from the table, but anyone can also walk over and point out details. I do want to get a laser pointer so I don’t need to push past seated players to get to the map.

While thinking of the paneled walls as a giant bulletin board, I also printed out another fun prop and taped that to the wall. What was it? I asked every player to tell me which famous Hollywood actor would play each of his or her PCs. Then I found a good picture of each celebrity, dropped each into a Word doc, and labeled everyone. Now each party has a visual of all the other PCs in the party.

The best part about all this is that I can pull the stuff off the wall in about five minutes, if the need arises.

Custom DM Screen

Back when we were playing 3E, I wanted a custom DM screen for the many house rules that we had created. A friend suggested those black, foam, tri-fold, presentation boards, which you can pick up at Staples. I cut it down a bit. It’s 12″ high and has three sections. The center section is 24″ wide, and each of the two wings is 12″ wide. That’s a good-sized DM screen. I then printed out some great pictures, cut them out, and then used rubber cement to fix them to the players’ side of the presentation board. I then printed out my custom tables and affixed those to the DM side. I was quite happy with it and used it for many years. When we switched to AD&D, I made a new one for that.

Ironically, I no longer use it much, though it still sits in place near one head of the table. I seldom reference it, but it does serve to wall off some of my notes, my figures that I pulled out for use during the session, a stash of pencils, specialty dice, etc.

Extra DM Seat

Initially, as DM, I sat at the head of the table (very traditional). However, I disliked being so far away from the figures on the table, and I found myself having to get up constantly. As we have groups of three-five players on average, there is usually some extra room at the table. Thus, I took to sitting in one seat that would be next to the DM. Behind that spot, facing away from the gaming table, is the computer and printer. Thus, from that spot, I can access the computer, still slide into the traditional DM spot at the head of the table, and more easily get to the map and the figures on the table. As stupid as this may sound, I also find that it lessens the poisonous ‘players v. DM’ mentality. In that spot, I keep a cute dice tower and my DM dice for the night, as well as my index cards that I use to keep track of initiative. In that spot, I also keep an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardboard, with ten boxes drawn on it–one for each segment in a combat round. I place small chits on the boxes to note when the party and when the monsters go in a given round.

For a DM chair, I use a Gaiam rolling ball chair, which is comfortable and easy to kick out of the way, when I need to get up (which is still often).

Ambiance

Candles are fun—that is until you cannot see or until you get eyestrain. As much as I would love some sort of fancy lighting, getting my electrician to put in dimmer switches for the high hats is not in the cards at the moment. However, as the den has taken on a rather clubhouse feel, I hung three strings of small Christmas lights around the room, where the wall meets the ceiling (small finishing nails hold them up). I throw them on this time of year, or whenever I want to smile (they make me happy). Subconsciously, they add a warm, cozy feeling to the room.

I also have a few scented candles around the room, and though we don’t play by candlelight, I sometimes light the candles for fun. I also have a few battery-operated candles that look pretty realistic (I think Luminara is the expensive company that makes them, but there are cheaper ones on Amazon).

Memorial Cup

This is probably very atypical, but I’ll mention it anyway. I am very fortunate to have been part of a group that has been playing regularly for almost 40 years! Players have come and go, of course, but the core has remained for much of the duration. I joined them in 2002 or so, when they had already been going strong for about 20 years. My friend Doug hosted the group (he was the one that built the table, mentioned above). His childhood friend, Mike, was a permanent feature of the group from the start. Sadly, in 2015 Mike lost his bout with cancer. Refusing to be separated from his friend, Doug followed just months later. Well, it took us about six months to get over their passing, but we eventually recommenced play. With a nerdy nod to the movie Excalibur, we found a nice medieval-looking goblet and placed it on the table. When we play, we fill the cup in fond memory of Mike and Doug.

So there you have it. That’s our gaming area. Not long ago, a young solar panel technician came to the house to measure something, and when he walked downstairs and passed the den, he stopped in his tracks and said, “Whoa! What a setup!” He actually caught me off guard because I never really think of our setup as anything extraordinary. We have no mini-fridges, no projectors dropping down out of the ceiling, no mood lighting, etc. Yet, I guess when you improve things bit-by-bit, you don’t notice how far you’ve come. So I leave you with this challenge: Find one small way to improve your area as this year comes to a close. It need not be expensive. You needn’t spend money at all. Maybe it’s just how you arrange the furniture. Maybe it’s repurposing an old table that is gathering dust. Be creative. Better yet, ask your players to help. Ask them to make suggestions. They might even donate some doodads or toys to your area. I certainly inherited some features of mine. Great stories and the accompanying memories certainly make playing groups tighter, but so does a shared space. It’s your clubhouse. Make the most of it and have fun doing it.

RPG-ology #18: Waterways

This is RPG-ology #18:  Waterways, for May 2019.


We mentioned rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water in connection with maps when we talked about Country Roads and again when we were talking about the placement of Cities, but we barely touched on them, more from the perspective of their influence on other aspects of our maps and our worlds.  Maps and worlds, though, are complicated things, in which everything influences everything, and understanding how waterways work will help us put together better maps.

This is difficult for me, because so much of it seems obvious to me so I expect it will be obvious to everyone else.  However, I have the advantage, as I think I mentioned in Shock, of over a thousand miles of long-haul canoeing, so I am perhaps intimately familiar with rivers and lakes and ponds and how they work.  I thus hope that I’m not telling you too many obvious points, and that some of this proves to be practical.  Let’s start with some terms.

A river is pretty much any waterway that flows downhill.  They can be big or small, swift or lazy, shallow or deep, straight or meandering, rocky or clear, in any combination.  Smaller rivers are often called brooks, streams, creeks, and similar diminutive titles, but the only significant difference is the attitude of the people toward the waterway and the probability of it going dry, which rivers rarely do.

Lakes and ponds are usually found as interruptions in rivers, and they are distinct from rivers in a significant way.  A lake or pond is formed in essence when water pours into a natural basin and has to rise to the level of an exit point.  Because of this, the surface of a lake or pond is level, while that of a river is always sloped–if you look at the accompanying photo, you can see that the downstream end is downhill.  In the vernacular, lakes and ponds are generally distinguished by their size, but technically they are distinguished by their depth:  a pond is shallow enough that water plants such as waterlilly pads can root on the bottom and grow on the surface, while a lake has at least some areas in which it is too deep for that.  Lakes and ponds are sometimes created intentionally by the use of dams, built by people or sometimes by animals, most typically beavers.

It is difficult to distinguish a sea from a lake in many cases.  Seas tend to be the terminus of rivers, at least one and often several, but most of them either drain into or are contiguous with the oceans, which are also sometimes called seas but which as a word tends to refer to the vast expanses of water separating the continents.  The two exceptions to the drainage rule are the Dead Sea, which is constantly evaporating and so is too salty to support marine life, and the Mediterranean, which also loses its water to evaporation but is large enough that its salinity, although elevated, is not inimical to such life, and fishing and the like are active there.  (It is easy looking at a map to suppose that the Mediterranean drains into the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibralter, but the water there is mostly flowing very rapidly in the opposite direction, salt water from the Atlantic constantly replenishing the losses in the Mediterranean through what some have called the world’s largest waterfall. There is an undercurrent flowing westward as a small amount of dense saltier water goes from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but the bulk of the volume is inflow from the Atlantic.)  It is also the case that seas tend to be salty while lakes tend to be fresh, but this is not a hard and fast rule, there being a number of salt lakes in the world.  Part of this is because the distinctions between lakes and seas are not made in all Indo-European languages, and English has often translated words strictly that were used loosely.

A passageway that connects two bodies of water of the same or similar level is usually called a strait (or sometimes straits), usually unlike a river because water flows in and out both ends generally with the shifting tides.  If it is wider or longer, it is often called a channel, but this word also refers to the best path through a river—rivers tend to carve a deeper groove through which most of the water travels, and boats and ships navigate through these deeper sections either with or against the current. In modern times, these channels are marked by buoys, red buoys to the right when traveling upstream (“Red Right Returning”), black buoys marking the other edge.

A bay frequently appears as a brackish (that is, salty but less salty than the ocean) body of water connecting a river to a sea or ocean.  As the tide rises, water from the ocean pours into the bay, often forcing its way upstream reversing the “normal” flow of the river; the Delaware River is brackish as far upstream as Trenton, New Jersey, about eighty miles upstream, about fifty feet above sea level, and this reverse flow is often used by ships to navigate to inland ports upriver.  As the tide ebbs the bay drains into the ocean, and the river into the bay, and fresh water makes its way downstream to wash away the salt.  Because of the backwash, those upstream ports have rising and ebbing tides, but these are out of phase with the coastal tides that drive them, often by as much as six or eight hours, depending on how far upriver you go.  A very small bay-like inlet is usually called a cove; a lagoon generally is a type of coastal pool that fills from ocean spill when the tide rises over its banks, and then slowly evaporates, frequently not completely before being refilled.

A wadi is something like a river, but significantly different.  Common to inland tropics such as Africa, the wadi is a watercourse that floods and dries in a seasonal cycle.  During the “rainy season” water falls in the highlands and flows down very like rivers, working downstream and gradually covering thousands of acres of ground, pooling but flowing, spreading over wide expanses of open space.  Animals are aware of the seasonal cues, and migrate toward the anticipated flood; plants desiccated from drought spring to life and blossom.  For a few months it is a lush wet marshy world, water plentiful, wildlife active.  Then gradually it all evaporates, leaving the dry grassland to wither in the heat, as the animals scatter to places better able to support them during the drought.  The water from a wadi never reaches the seas, soaking into the earth and evaporating into the air long before joining any other watercourse.  Wadis do not support ship traffic or permanent settlements, because the water level is non-existent for a significant part of the year and rarely deep enough for more than the smallest craft.

Swamps, marshes, bayous, and deltas all tend to be areas where a river spreads out to a shallow wide area, usually with a channel passing through it somewhere but often a confusing labyrinth of waterways leading to dead ends and shallow muck.  Wadis do support marshes and swamps during their wet periods; bayous and deltas tend to be at points where the river meets the sea, and are brackish like bays.

Now, this might sound obvious, but water falls from the sky.  Really all of it does.  Water in wells and water coming from springs is water that fell from the sky and soaked into the ground, then collected atop or between layers of rock and either sat waiting to be collected or built up pressure from gravity until it spurted through an exit.  It gets into the sky by evaporation, the vast majority of this from the vast expanses of tropical oceans—if your world does not have vast tropical oceans, you will have a lot less rain, and a lot less fresh water.  Evaporated water, water vapor, is held in greater quantity in denser warmer air; if the air cools or becomes depressurized, it cannot hold as much water and so releases it.  This is why so much precipitation (rain and snow) falls on mountains:  warm moist dense air currents are shifted upward into cooler low pressure altitudes, and can no longer hold as much water.  From there it collects in streams or soaks into the ground.

There is an interesting atmospheric phenomenon at this point.  As water falls, it washes carbons out of the air, turning into mild carbolic acid.  It has always done this; this is not a modern result of air pollution, although air pollution does contribute to it.  Carbolic acid which lands on dirt and soaks into it decays and releases its carbons back into the atmosphere.  That which lands on rock and flows into streams dissolves the rock, creating calcium carbonate which washes downstream into the oceans, burying the carbon for millenia.  That’s not really useful to this discussion, though, so ignore it.

Technically, a well is a hole dug deep enough to hit what is called the water table, the level under the ground where bedrock prevents water from seeping deeper, and so has water refilling it constantly from the surrounding lands.  It is sometimes confused with a cistern, which is a dry hole usually lined with stone designed to catch rain when there is rainfall and keep it deep and cool in the ground during the dry seasons.  The famed Jacob’s Well is actually a cistern.

This is also obvious:  water flows downhill.  Because of this it is constantly “seeking” the lowest point, and that means it collects into fewer larger rivers.  If it pours into a low point—call it a basin—it collects there, rising as a pond or lake until it rises over the lowest edge.  A lake can have several rivers feeding it, or no rivers feeding it if it is fed by a spring or springs below its water line, but rarely does it have more than one draining it—odds are good that there will be one lowest point, and once the water starts pouring through it erosion will make that point lower.  If the lake is filling faster than it is emptying, it might rise high enough to begin spilling from another point.  However, most typically these are near enough each other that the streams soon join creating an island at the head of the river.  If the two streams are headed in different directions, it is most commonly the case that one of the outlets will erode until all the water passes through it, the other becoming dry unless it is fed by other water sources below.

Where the ground is steeper, the water moves faster and generally straighter.  It follows the lowest ground, but in doing so carves the path deeper, sometimes wider, removing the dirt and softest stone.  If it comes into a pocket of harder stone, it will be turned, but the turning will create swirls and eddies which often drill deep spots in the riverbed.  The northern reaches of the Delaware River are frequently shallow enough to wade through, but where it turns sharply at Narrowsburg, New York, there are whirlpools during flooding and the depth at the curve is over a hundred feet deep.  Rocky rapids form where the ground is too hard to erode easily and the slope is steeper, as the river becomes forced into a narrow space often between high banks and spreads over the area to become swift and shallow, the irregular bottom redirecting the current in directions difficult to predict without surveying in advance.

Where the ground is less sloped, the water spreads to cover a wide path and flows more slowly, but still tends to follow the lowest ground and carve a channel.  In older sections of the river these channels are often meandering, and as the water ultimately settles into them they form snake-like slow rivers with very little noticeable current, frequently surrounded by marshy ground, meadows, and flood plains.

As rivers join, they become wider and deeper, and usually become straighter as the land is less able to resist the flow of the water.  These wider deeper rivers which ultimately reach the sea are frequently navigable by ocean-going vessels, and as we noted are also subject to reverse flow when the tides rise, thus brackish but also easier to navigate upstream.  They will carve deep sections particularly at curves and bends in the river, as in Narrowsburg, creating good ports at such curves, considerably more so than along straight paths.  Upstream of a certain point ocean vessels, which have deep drafts to provide stability in rough seas, give way to shallow-draft river boats, able to navigate farther upstream.

The same currents that form harbors on rivers do so where rivers hit the seas, which makes such points doubly convenient for trade, as a port there accesses both the oceans and the river.  Such harbors are also created where the coastline recedes sharply, as ocean currents form eddies which create depths near the shoreline, although if the surrounding ground is low there will probably be a river outlet there, and if not the deep water is likely to be surrounded by cliffs, making for good anchorage but a bad place for a port.

So to summarize, most rivers begin from streams in mountains, flowing downhill and collecting into larger rivers, forming lakes in low spots, rapids over steep rocky ground, meandering courses over flatter softer ground, ultimately becoming large enough to support riverboat trade and then ocean vessels, subject at the downstream end to tidal backflow, emptying into seas and oceans sometimes through intervening bays.  Harbors form where currents have carved significant depths, usually at the mouths of the rivers and at river bends.

Now you have some idea of how to put the waterways on your maps.

I have omitted canals from this discussion.  Men build canals usually where there are two disconnected waterway systems near enough to each other that it would be commercially profitable to be able to run boats or ships between them.  Usually these involve mechanical locks which enable the control of the flow of water between the two systems, particularly if they are not at the same level, and typically because such canals often have to cross ground that is higher than either of the waterways (the reason the waterways haven’t flowed into each other).  Sometimes canals are built to get around sections of a river that are not navigable, if there are navigable sections upstream of falls or rapids.  They are a lot of work to build, operate, and maintain, and if neglected gradually deteriorate.


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Creating a Hobby Ministry — A How-To Guide

Where is the holy spirit moving in your life? In church? House groups? Your personal prayer time? I hope so, these are where you expect His presence. Bringing people together, giving them life and pointing them towards the truth of the Good News and Jesus. Now think about hobbies. They do two of the three. I firmly believe that God has brought us together through our hobbies and is just waiting for the right person to come along and make the links between scripture and the task you’re all enjoying. Is that person you?

It sounds like a big ask, like it’s something that you need a theology degree and years of training to achieve. But that’s the thing: It’s actually really simple. All you need to do is build friendships with people and wear your Christianity on your sleeve. This is called building relational ministry. The teaching can come later. It is important, but it’s not what’s needed to start with.

Going out into the world and meeting new people is called mission, which seems an odd word until you realise it’s what Jesus told us to do; it’s literally our mission.

He said to them, “Go into all the world. Preach the good news to everyone.” — Mark 16:15 NIRV

Many churches take that phrase of “preach the good news to everyone” and use that as the baseline to begin their mission from. How many events have you been to where the phrase ‘Can we just stop there for a second whilst we have our reading’ has been said? To some people if an event doesn’t have this then it’s not a church event. And to be fair, in the past when Christianity was more, for want of a better word, powerful in the West it did work. But it ignores how society has changed over the past years. We live in a world of fake news where people don’t trust experts or establishments any more. Instead they trust people they know, people whom they respect and are friends with. Those they have an existing relationship with.

I have found that mission works best when taken as a series of steps. 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

Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website

Over the past eighteen months, our diligent and dedicated webmaster Bryan has been republishing much of the material generated by and for the Christian Gamers Guild over the previous two decades in a new web format which is thought to be more accessible and is certainly better looking.  That has included material from our e-zine The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, a couple of articles from elsewhere, some new material, and of course my own Faith and Gaming series.  The upside of this is that many readers have discovered these articles for the first time.  The downside, from my perspective, is that it became just a bit tougher for me to refer people to the articles—not individually, but as a collection.  The old site had a single “Chaplain’s Corner” index that described and linked the entire series plus quite a few other articles on and off the site, and when people had questions about role playing or other hobby games I could (in addition to addressing the specific questions) refer them to that page for more information than they perhaps would have wanted.  That page still has some valuable links, but Bryan agreed with me that now that the entire series has been relocated there ought to be a page that indexes it all at the new locations.

Several thoughts occurred to me as I undertook this.  One was that there were a few articles I wrote which are excellent pieces not originally part of the Faith and Gaming series, and they should be included here.  The second was that it would seem particularly arrogant of me to index my own contributions and ignore those excellent articles by everyone else, so I am going to attempt in essence to map the entire site—not in the old directory tree mapping style, but in something more useful. Read more

Cartography in Photoshop: The Clone Stamp Tool

We gamers love our maps! I spend a good deal of time over at The Cartographers’ Guild, and I have been known to occasionally contribute a tutorial over there. This one has been among my more popular offerings, so I thought I’d share it here, too.


clone-stamp-tool-1Anyone who has made brushes in Photoshop has doubtless learned that you cannot make a two-toned brush. That is, if you make a tree brush and try to overlap two strokes with it, the tree beneath will show through the one on top. The reason for this is that Photoshop’s brushes are a grey-scale image where black pixels are completely opaque, white pixels are transparent, and grey pixels are translucent. This allows you to paint with the brush in any color you want, but it prevents you from using it to make nice isometric mountains and forests: Read more