Tag: faith and gaming

RPG-ology #1: Near Redundancy

This is RPG-ology #1: Near Redundancy, for December 2017.


If it seems to you like I just launched a new article series two weeks ago, congratulate yourself on your astute observation: Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction just appeared. That series is in a real sense a continuation of the Faith and Gaming series of a decade ago, dealing with the relationship between our leisure activities and our Christian faith. However, it was suggested that that series could also include articles on game theory and game play, drawing on the now lost Game Ideas Unlimited series I wrote for Gaming Outpost around the same time. That to my mind did not really fit the vision of the Faith in Play series, and I discovered that I had more to write for that series than I anticipated, and much more that could be written if these other areas were opened. Thus I suggested that I might write two distinct series of articles, this one covering the aspects of designing and running games that are less directly involved with issues of faith. Of course, as that series observes, everything in our life is related to our faith; it’s just that some parts of life are easier to discuss separately. Thus here is “RPG-ology”, the study of role playing games, presenting aspects of the hobby that are more practical, nuts-and-bolts concepts.

I said two weeks ago that when I introduce a new series I try to explain what the series is about and why I should be qualified to write it. Of course, I just did that for the other series, and a lot of this is redundant, because you can read there about my background as a gamer, my introduction to role playing games, my involvement in writing Multiverser, and my long-time defense of role playing games against critics. Much of that qualifies me for this as well, but there is more. Certainly I have been running role playing games since 1980 and spent the better part of the 90s creating one (and I am not alone in thinking that it is a particularly good one). I also became involved in discussions of role playing game theory and design in around 1997, with such well-known independent game designers as Ron Edwards and Vincent Baker, first at Gaming Outpost and later at The Forge. I have written articles on quite a few role playing web sites including RPGnet and RoleplayingTips.com; my article Applied Theory is at The Forge, I have six articles at Places to Go, People to Be (a series on Law and Enforcement in Imaginary Realms and another on Theory 101). My column at Gaming Outpost ran weekly for four years. Quite a few of these have been translated into French, republished at the French version of Places to Go, People to Be and some in print in Jeu de Rôle.

I have also corresponded with quite a few of those in the industry. Gary Gygax and I discussed alignment; I have a couple of stories told me by Dave Arneson. I won’t embarrass anyone else (either by inclusion or exclusion) by listing more names. Suffice it that I have a substantial curriculum vitae in the gaming world.

Further, as mentioned, I wrote over two hundred articles on the subject which have vanished with the demise of Gaming Outpost—but I have titles and descriptive blurbs for well over half of them, and memories of some of the others. There is good material in that—tricks to use in scenario design and play, secrets of good game masters, theory behind play, and more. So a lot of that lost material is likely to be recycled here as found new material. That might also be redundant—but as the recent successful run of the republication of Faith and Gaming demonstrates, even material that is still somewhere on the web is unknown to many who would enjoy it, and that would be all the more true of material that has vanished and is being re-written.

So I hope you’ll join me mid-month into the future as we discuss aspects of role playing games that offer ideas for play and design you might not have considered. I look forward to recovering some of these ideas.


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Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction

This is Faith in Play #1: Reintroduction, for December 2017.


There is a sense in which this is the continuation of the Faith and Gaming series. I began writing that in April, 2001, and continued doing so every month for four years—and then stopped. It seemed to end abruptly to me, but as I looked back at it the final installment was an excellent last article, and it has stood the test of time as such, as the series was published first independently by me and then in an expanded book by Blackwyrm. The end seemed abrupt to me because it was occasioned by a computer crash at my end that took all my notes for future series articles (it ended the Game Ideas Unlimited series at Gaming Outpost as well), and at the time I could not see how to get back up to speed. However, it has been more than a decade—thirteen years this past April—since the series ended, and I am often asked, and often consider for myself, whether I am going to continue it. Part of my answer has always been a question: what remains for me to write? Yet there is always more to write; I just have to identify it and tackle it.

And thus there is another sense in which this is a new series—thus the new name, Faith in Play. Part of that is because I noticed from the vantage of years of hindsight that much that I had been writing specifically about role playing games applied much more broadly to all of life, and especially to all of our leisure activities. So with that in mind, I am again putting the fingers to the keys and producing more thoughts on how we integrate faith with life, and particularly with those parts of life that in some sense seem the least religious, the times when we are playing. C. S. Lewis more than once cited a conversation from Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Bingley was explaining a ball, that is, a festival dance, to Miss Bingley, who had never attended one. Miss Bingley asked, “Would not conversation be much more rational than dancing?”, and Mr. Bingley replies, “Much more rational, but much less like a ball.” And that is the challenge we often face in our leisure activities: that they are what they are, not the least bit rational, and yet not for that reason unimportant. In some ways, how we spend our leisure time, what we do when we are having fun or relaxing, may be the most important part of our Christianity, because it is the one thing over which we have the most control, the one part of our lives in which we most express who and what we are, and usually the time when we are interacting with others most naturally.

This is not the first time I have begun a new series of articles, and I generally begin with an introductory post. That post usually explains what it is I hope to write, and who I am that I feel qualified to write any such thing. Having explained the former, that leaves me with the awkward part of presenting my credentials. 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

Faith and Gaming: Miscarriage

Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.

These words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:16 are cause enough for us to tell the world that role playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons™ are a good thing which Christians can and perhaps should embrace, enjoy, and use to the glory of God, and to answer the calumnious misinformation spread by others. Yet the question is still asked why it matters if fantasy role playing games are wrongly accused of being evil. What harm is there in this mistake? Shouldn’t we be taking our stand on more important issues, and just letting the people who fear and condemn role playing games live with their error? It isn’t that important, is it? It won’t really make a difference in anyone’s life if a few pin-headed Christians are confused on a matter of a silly game and no one bothers to put things right, will it? Read more

Faith and Gaming: Samaritan

“The Good Samaritan”. Balthasar van Cortbemde, 1647

I pondered what to write in this month’s column. Normally I’m not much for noting special events, but this column marks the conclusion of four years during which a new subject has been addressed each month, relating our faith to our gaming, exploring how we can make our game play specifically Christian. The hope is that such a milestone would be marked by one of the better entries in the series. It’s difficult to know, however, which articles will prove themselves particularly helpful until the responses start appearing, so there’s not much sense in focusing too much effort on that decision. Noting that this is about playing games that are peculiarly Christian, I realized I had a topic note that spoke of a specifically Christian story one might tell in a game.

Of course, it might be presumptive to begin by stating that it is a particularly Christian story. That would seem to be the first question. We have twice before examined stories that might be specifically Christian in their essence. In Deals it was the Faust story, the story of the man who sold his soul to the devil and didn’t really get what he wanted from it. In Goethe’s hands that was a very Christian story; the question is whether it would be so in the hands of the average role player. We also considered the Redemption story—not the Redemption Story, the story of Christ’s sacrifice for us, but the more personal story of the Prodigal, God’s effort to redeem us individually. It may be that this is a specifically Christian story; on the other hand, it appears in pop culture expressed by those who have no known commitment to our faith, so if it is a specifically Christian story it may have lost much of its impact in our post-Christian world. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Teleology

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

There’s an old joke about a comedians convention at which those in attendance didn’t bother to tell any jokes in their speeches, but rather referred to the jokes by number so everyone could think of the joke and laugh, and the speaker could get on with his speech. In much the same way, people who discuss philosophy and theology have given labels to a handful of ideas which attempt to prove that God exists. One of those, the one in which we are interested at the moment, is called the teleological argument for the existence of God. It’s an argument you’ve surely heard, but might not know by that name. Teleology is about design.

In the classic formation of the argument presented by William Paley in his Evidences of the Christian Religion, it is predicated that the existence of a watch demands the existence of a watchmaker. From this it is then argued that the universe has the marks of a designer, the act of an intelligence who or which put it all together. Hence there must be a god (not necessarily the Christian God, but at least a creative intelligence) responsible for the construction of the world. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Animals

In The Wind in the Willows the main characters sing a Christmas carol which speaks of the animals as the first to “sing Noel”, to recognize Christ on Earth.

It is, of course, a fantasy; and perhaps more than that, it is a children’s fantasy. There is no reason to take it seriously. On the other hand, I’m sure I’ve encountered the idea of the animals around the manger worshipping Christ in other Christmas carols. Although I cannot think of an example at the moment, as December begins I suspect we will hear this idea somewhere in the days ahead. Is it all fantasy, or is there something here that we are missing? Read more

Faith and Gaming: Holy Men

Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, by Chuck Kennedy (Official White House Photostream)

For the last few months we’ve been considering character Archetypes, what we can learn from these as Christians, and how we can use them to express our faith in our games. There are quite a few more we could cover, based solely on what someone has dubbed the professional archetypes, and it has been mentioned that there are other categories of archetypes, such as role archetypes and personality archetypes. Originally when the idea was proposed, it seemed as if the phrase archetype was being used to avoid saying the rather loaded word class, but discussions have clearly shown the breadth of meaning the term has, and it could be a long series if we tried to cover all of even the major ones.

Thus this month we will look at one more, and then we will move away from this line for a while and cover a few other ideas that have been simmering for a while. I have dubbed this one Holy Men because I have not found another word. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Wizards

I will confess that I specifically saved this one of the Archetypes for this month. It has been something of a tradition to cover subjects related to game magic in October, begun inadvertently when I addressed the objections to Magic that first year and then returned to it a year later when I recommended Fantasy as a particularly Christian medium one year later. A Concern expressed last year also related to magic in games, so at this point it seems that in the month in which Halloween appears I must say something that is related to game magic. In fact, I already have a topic for next year’s October article, so I guess I’m taking the tradition seriously.

Seriousness is one of the characteristics of this month’s character type, the wizard. We would normally call him studious, probably learned, perhaps educated. The wizard is the sort of person who knows great secrets because he applies himself; and because of the breadth and depth of his knowledge, he wields great power. Merlin of Arthurian legend is the prototype for this character, and Gandalf of Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) and Dumbledore of Hogwart’s Academy (the Harry Potter series) both capture the concept beautifully. These are men who know, and because they know, they can do.
Read more

Faith and Gaming: Rogues

Box art from 2014's Thief video game
Box art from Square Enix’s Thief video game

When the dwarfs said that they had come to hire a burglar, Bilbo Baggins was insulted. He was a respectable hobbit, a bit reclusive but generally admired in the community. He certainly was no thief. The dwarfs indicated that they meant no offense. You can call it expert treasure finder if you like. It’s all the same to us. It wasn’t all the same to the honorable Mister Baggins of Bag End. Imagine being treated as some sort of rogue.

Yet he is one of our heroes, and indeed many of our heroes share something of the rogue, that clever and shady character who skirts the law and uses perhaps disreputable techniques, but always for a good cause. Read more