Tag: multiverser

RPG-ology #8: The Illusion of Choice

This is RPG-ology #8:  The Illusion of Choice, for July 2018.


Last time we talked a bit about the power of the referee, how it can be abused, and the principles that should prevent that abuse.  This time our focus is on how to use that power in a way that will enhance the game by getting outside our usual expectations.

There is a referee “style” identified as “Illusionism,” one of four identified ways of resolving the issue dubbed The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast:  if the players have complete control over all their character actions, how is it that the referee actually controls the story of the game?  You can read about all four answers at Places to Go:  People to Be, in Theory 101:  The Impossible Thing Before Breakfast, or in the French edition as Théorie 101 – 2e partie : Le Truc Impossible Avant Le Petit Déj’ if French is easier for you.  Most people condemn Illusionism as unfair to the players, who have no idea that their choices do not matter.  Yet Illusionism is built on the use of some very useful Illusionist techniques, and one of them might be an answer to a problem with certain kinds of play.

Many years ago a referee was bemoaning a disastrous game session.  He had designed a high-rise building in which terrorists had hidden a bomb.  The expectations of the scenario (a Trailblazing design) were that the party would move through the building and along the way collect the information needed to defuse the bomb.  Unfortunately, a few perhaps lucky or unlucky turns put them at the bomb right at the beginning of their adventure, and one of the characters decided that rather than risk letting the time run through its several hours he would attempt to deactivate it now—with a bad roll of the dice detonating it and killing the entire party right at the beginning of the game session.

And I realized that there was a much better way to run a scenario of that sort.  I wrote Game Ideas Unlimited:  Left or Right? (only the French translation, Gauche ou droite ? remains online) to explain my solution, and used it in creating a scenario in a world for Multiverser:  The Third Book of Worlds entitled Why Spy.  That book might never be published, although I run the world regularly at gamer conventions, so if you’re ever playing at my table for such a game let me know that you’ve read this.

What I realized is that such a scenario does not work well as a dungeon design.  It needs to be run like a movie director.

The scenario is about terrorists occupying a fifty-story downtown commercial office and retail building.  There are four maps, each designed so that any one of the four sides can be “north” and all the stairwells, elevators, and utilities ducts will align.  The referee is encouraged to make multiple copies of these so he can write and draw on them.  The players are free to decide how they want to enter the building—ground level entrances on each side (front door, back door, loading dock, parking entrance), roof door, or break through a window at any level.  They know that there is some unknown number of terrorists holding some unknown number of hostages, and that they claim to have a nuclear device which they will detonate if their demands are not met.

Whenever they decide where they are entering, the referee chooses one of the floorplan maps, decides which edge is north, and begins the game.  The only fixed encounter locations are the number of terrorists at each of the doors.  Once the players are inside the building, it doesn’t work that way.  The way it does work is there are nineteen encounters—the first a lone armed terrorist in the hall, the last the bomb itself.  As the player characters move through the building, the referee describes the map, inventing irrelevant details (e.g., opthamologist’s office, photography studio, planter outside the door, mirror on the wall) and decides where the first encounter will occur as they move toward it.  The tools of the game are used to determine whether the players and/or the terrorists are surprised, and the players take whatever actions they wish to resolve the encounter.  Assuming they survive, the game continues.  If the players move to a different floor, the referee repeats the process of selecting a floorplan and orienting it, and continues putting the encounters in their path as they progress.  Players can avoid encounters if they wish, provided they have seen the encounter before it has noticed them, but they will find each in the order it is listed.  Encounters include finding an office worker in hiding, finding a door with a bomb on it, encountering terrorists with and without hostages, coming to an open area visible from above or below where terrorists might be, learning that a strike team has been sent to find them, the team getting split, part of the team rescuing the other part, finding the leader with a remote detonator, and finding the bomb.

What the technique in essence does is deprive the players of control over the order in which encounters occur—that is, they can’t go directly to the terrorist leader without passing through the other events.  In doing this, it creates the fun.  You could, of course, design a dungeon crawl with only one direction through, forcing the players to face the encounters in the order you’ve decided.  This “directorial” technique accomplishes the same result, but with the feeling that they can go any direction they wish.  Indeed, they can—it’s just that which direction they go is completely unimportant to what happens next.  They can’t derail the scenario, save only by deciding to retreat from the building.

You don’t necessarily need a map to do this, if you can keep track of where everything is in your head.  There are ways to do that, too, which we will discuss in the future.


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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

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 (the editor informs me that there are 18 of my articles translated there to this point) and some in print in Jeu de Rôle Magazine.

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

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: A Concern

Three months ago, in Deals, I suggested something that flies in the face of much of the common wisdom about what is acceptable in gaming: I suggested that a game that focused on making deals with the devil was a very Christian game, which taught a very important Christian lesson to its players. Some have probably wondered since then whether I think there is anything at all that goes too far in role playing.

That would be at least a bit unfair. I have often said that there are things that go too far for me, and things of which others should at least be wary. Admittedly, I’ve never (that I recall) stated that any particular concept was inappropriate per se for all players, but I have said there were things that concern me, and two months back when we addressed Sex I suggested a few that were inappropriate for me (although not for everyone).

This month, there is something that concerns me. It is appropriate that it should fall in October, the month in which this column has traditionally addressed issues related to magic, because it is a matter concerning magic that has come to my attention of which I write. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Sex

In the earliest articles of this series, we were looking at what might be considered the issues in role playing, those areas in which Christians might have concerns. We started with some fairly simple ones—the implications of various types of mechanics, the matter of creating settings which were different in any way from the world God created, the inclusion of bad things in our worlds. Then we started to get sidetracked, perhaps, into answering the many objections raised against role playing games, beginning with the weaker brother argument. We took many sidetracks and then started to talk about how we might actually involve our faith in our games in specific and intentional ways with the idea of playing the good guys, the first of eight generally on that subject, which included things as diverse as playing the bad guys and using Christian imagery. Then, abruptly, the focus changed when we talked about Pagans and whether modern Christian treatment of them was at all appropriate or Biblical. This opened up a new direction for the column—or perhaps merely returned us to the old direction, back to those matters which might be issues to us as gamers, such as battle and war and making deals with the devil. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Awe

I was looking back at the article Good Guys in this series, as it discussed how we can bring our faith into our games by playing characters who directly express that faith, when it suddenly occurred to me that I could not remember a character playing that sense of awe we sometimes have when we enter the presence of God. Immediately I thought there were reasons; and it is worth perhaps exploring those reasons.

Most games I’ve seen in which there is a concept of the divine (apart from Multiverser and a few games designed specifically to be Christian) use an essentially polytheistic concept. It may well be that polytheism inherently waters down the degree to which the gods impress us. After all, if this is the god of one thing and that of another, and the best that can be said of the king of the gods is that the others are supposed to do what he says, not one of them is particularly powerful or awesome as compared with the God of gods who has all power in His hands. And not only are they individually less impressive, even collectively they somehow fail to measure up. Read more

Faith and Gaming: Bad Guys

Last month as we explored ways to express our faith in our gaming, we suggested that it could be done by playing the Good Guys. But we also insisted that this was not the only way it could be done. In fact, quite unexpectedly, we can often bring our faith to bear on a game by playing the villains. This is done, most commonly, by revealing what evil truly is. C. S. Lewis once wrote that good could easily understand evil, but that evil not only did not understand good, it did not as fully understand itself. Many gamers play evil characters thinking it is the easy and rewarding path. By showing what evil is really about, the Christian gamer can point people to the truth. Read more

Chaplain’s Bible Study: 1 John

bible-839093_640CGG’s Chaplain, Mark Joseph Young, has completed his study of II Peter and will be moving on to I John soon, making this is a good time to join the study. You may do so by sending an email to study-subscribe@christian-gamers-guild.org.

In addition, we would like to encourage anyone and everyone who has found Mark’s writing helpful or edifying to consider becoming a patron, to enable him to continue providing enlightening material in a variety of forms and places. In case you hadn’t made the connection, Mark wrote the Faith and Gaming series, which is currently being reposted on this web site and is also available in print. He also has written several other books: Game Ideas Unlimited (out of print), Christian life works About the Fruit and What Does God Expect?,  the roleplaying game Multiverser (co-author) and two supplements for that game, and Verse Three, Chapter One, a novel based on the game. In addition, he has been a contributor to numerous web-sites and on-line magazines, including his popular Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies for The Examiner (which has recently been shut down).

If you have enjoyed any of that material and look forward to seeing more in the future, please help support Mark through his Patreon page.