Blog Archives

It Takes Imagination

Lego figures stand in for roleplaying characters; tangerines stand in for clouds of bats.

Sure, you may see some Lego guys standing next to some Lego bats sitting on top of two mandarin oranges.

But I see the heroes of Sovereign’s Folly facing down two giant swarms of screeching bats as they explore an ancient tomb.

Side note: Turns out Cuties take up four squares — just perfect for representing a large-sized creature in Pathfinder.

Advertisements

Jesus’ Character Sheet

I love my RPGs, my video games, my novels, my movies. I love a good adventure. And apparently, so does God.

Jesus was born into a poor family, in an unstable country with a burdensome, restrictive religion. He lived a life that made Him a household name 2,000 years later. That’s incredible. But the most incredible part is that Jesus was born at all.

God allowed Himself to be born as a child. Fully God, fully human. A level 0 character. That is absolutely insane. The burdensome religion He was born into was a caricature of what He had handed down from Heaven. The broken world He was born into was a fractured version of what He had created.

There is no indication in the Bible that Jesus was some sort of superbaby. There is no mention of Him feeding or changing Himself, or speaking early, or even being particularly quiet, as in “Away in a Manger.” It says He was a baby. And it says that as He grew up, “He was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on Him.” (Luke 2:40)

Jesus rolled a starting character and leveled up like anyone else. He played through the whole adventure.

He robbed us of the illusion that God is far off, and doesn’t understand what life on Earth is really like. Know what’s extra crazy? He knew before coming to Earth. But by coming in person, He made sure we knew.

It’s really important to recognize that Jesus was fully God and fully human. There are so many implications that I could hardly list them here if I tried. But here’s one of the most important:

Temptation of Christ by Ari Scheffer

Do I even have to roll a Sense Motive?

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

-Hebrews 2:17-18

He lived a life like any of ours, with an important exception: He never sinned. He was tempted, just like we are, but He never gave in. Never failed a Will save.

Turns out that makes quite a difference, especially as we approach Easter. As the passage above says, Jesus lived a perfect life in order to cover over our brokenness.

At Christmas, we celebrated that God came to Earth for us. On Easter, we’ll celebrate what He did for us.

How (Not) to Roleplay a Christian Character, Part II

Here are a few ideas for bringing Christianity into gaming.

Play a Christian character when the setting allows. If you’re in setting with the spiritual left undefined, especially if it’s Earth, you’re in pretty good shape. Keep my caveats from yesterday in mind, play the character with some faith and conviction, and it could be great. Be sure to decide in advance: how will my character react to the supernatural? And how will they act in a combat-heavy game?

Play a character with Christian character. While He walked on Earth, Jesus showed us what courage, love, humility, wisdom, and grace really look like. Your character can follow His example, no matter the setting. Play someone self-sacrificial, forgiving, and dedicated to truth.

Play a character that reflects truth. Give your character a chronic temptation. Take a moment to consider their moral choices. Or perhaps just play them in a believable, true-to-life way. Let your character illustrate humanity the way you know us to be.

Play to bless your fellow players. Sometimes, the game isn’t even about the characters. I love to get immersed in a game, but it’s often more important for me to care for my fellow players. Maybe that means stepping back and letting them take the spotlight. Maybe it means making in-game choices that are more enjoyable for the party than for you personally. Shoot, maybe you volunteer to get drinks and snacks for everyone when you get a chance. Be a servant. Make it about someone else.

Those are some of my thoughts. What about you? How do your real-life beliefs affect your characters?

How (Not) to Roleplay a Christian Character, Part I

I played my first game of D&D just before I became a Christian. As I explored my new faith and began to grow, the thought crossed my mind: why not play a cleric of Jesus? Yeah! His domains could be Good and… uh, Light, maybe. And I could convert all the trolls and goblins to Christianity!

I never ended up trying it. And I’m glad. Here’s why.

Most roleplaying settings describe their own cosmology. Dungeons & Dragons has a large fictional pantheon. Exalted has a grand mythological setting, along with gods, spirits, and reincarnation. Even the World of Darkness has multiple planes of existence based on science fiction, Native American folklore, etc.

None of these settings lines up with the Bible. Thus, if you want Yahweh in any of them, you have to sort of cram Him in unceremoniously. He’s too big, too world-defining to fit. He’s not really God if He’s only as powerful as Pelor, or if He didn’t happen to create the world.

Similarly, the Gamemaster controls the roleplaying universe. What your GM says goes, from an individual die roll to the layout of the spiritual realms. Who made the game world? Is there an in-game God or gods? It’s all up to the GM.

Between the game setting’s built-in cosmology and the GM’s final say, God may not have room to be God. Prayer, for example, may not work for a Christian character the way it does in real life. Especially if God’s not there.

And even if you try to put God into the game, He may end up as a caricature. It’s difficult to mimic His voice well. He’s constantly good and loving, but He’s also full of surprises. Iguess that’s what happens when can perceive all of time and space at once: you end up making decisions that catch us mortals off guard.

Okay, so there are some difficulties in playing a Christian character, especially in fantasy settings. So what’s a Christian player to do if she wants to get the Holy Spirit in on the action?

I have some thoughts I’ll share tomorrow.

One on the Wild Die

Yesterday, I outlined some of the reasons I love roleplaying. Here are some of my least favorite parts of it.

Bad dice. Don’t get me wrong: a failed roll at a crucial juncture can lead to some truly awesome moments. I’m all for that. I just have a problem when the dice are against you for routine stuff that just slows down the story. It’s annoying when you just can’t catch a break in combat, for no other reason than a spiteful d20. Speaking of slowness and combat…

Slow, boring combat. In a good action movie, the fight scenes are fast-paced and adrenaline-laced. Whoa. Action rhyme. But even in the best of RPG systems, combat grinds into turn-based slow motion. Worse, players and gamemasters alike often reduce the action to “I shoot,” and “You hit. Roll damage.”

You can speed things up by knowing your bonuses and the rules behind your abilities. You  can spice things up with a little description. What else can we do to make RPG combat exciting again?

Side note: never grapple. It will stall the game for at least 30 minutes as you try to figure out how it works.

Tone clash. I love getting immersed in a game. That’s why I find it so jarring when someone makes a dumb, goofy comment at a serious moment, or suddenly starts a Shakespearean soliloquy at a lighthearted moment. Sometimes a sharp change in tone is needed in order to break tension or create it. There’s a huge difference between that (good storytelling) and something so out of place that it knocks you out of the experience (just annoying).

I’m thinking you could alleviate this problem by setting an overall tone early in the game. Also, let players who tend to make off-the-wall comments play characters who are maybe a little deranged. That way, the randomness is at least in character.

Do have any good solutions? Do you have other annoyances?

Why I Chuck Dice

I love pen-and-paper roleplaying.

It’s a creative outlet. Especially creating characters. I’d be making up fictional characters with or without roleplaying games; RPGs just give me a chance to let them interact with my friends’ made-up characters. It’s a unique form in that way. And as creative as it is to be a player, it’s orders of magnitude more so to be a gamemaster.

I enjoy performing. A lot of the time, roleplaying is hilarious. Get a bunch of creative people around a table, having fun together, and it often behaves like improv comedy. My friends and I have catch phrases we still use – and laugh at – that came out of games from years gone by. I love getting the laugh. I also love a good dramatic moment too, and roleplaying can provide those just as well. Roleplaying games are basically a venue for amateur (wannabe?) stand-up comics and actors.

I like my friends. Go figure. Getting together for a game gets us all together. I appreciate that, now more than ever. Life has gotten busy, and it helps to have an event on the calendar, an excuse to see each other.

I’ve talked about why I game at length with my friends. What about you? What brings you to the table?

Mutants Are People Too: D&D Gamma World

Years ago, my friend Nick came into the room all excited, holding a copy of Polyhedron. He flipped the magazine open and told us about Omega World, a post-apocalyptic roleplaying system where you randomly generated your character, and would probably die really quickly.

We played, and it was hilarious.

Wizards of the Coast did a very smart thing by releasing the D&D Gamma World box set. You get the same wonderful randomness of the original Omega World supplement, only amped up.

The story goes that the Large Hadron Collider finally worked, and when it did, it collapsed the multiverse. Now, facets of a bazillion dimensions are smashed together in our own, resulting in a bizarre, fluctuating reality that your characters call home.

In ends up very much like Max Max plus Ninja Turtles.

You roll dice to determine your powers, stats, and even equipment. You can then pick what size weapon and armor you get, then – the best part – what it is. For example, I took a one-handed light melee weapon, and decided it was half of a pair of pruning shears. I also chose heavy armor, which I determined was made fr0m a melted car hood.

My character – randomly generated – had very similar psychic abilities to my friend Cody’s character, so we decided we were twins. We palled around with a highly radioactive fellow who shot lasers from his eyes, fighting mutant pig-men and monsters from the wasteland.

Just before I had to go, a couple of our other friends showed up, and we made them characters. They ended up with a giant electric bear and a sentient swarm of clams.

Gamma World is delightfully silly sci-fi fun. As Nick observed, it’s made for the kind of roleplaying you started with, if you were anything like my group: goofy, violent slapstick. It’s a great excuse to kick back with some friends and play out some improv comedy.

The rules system is based on D&D 4th Edition, which I’m not as familiar with. Even so, everything from character generation to combat is easy to pick up, once you figure out the math for all your bonuses. Is it just me, or are there more numbers to add together than in 3.5/Pathfinder?

Many thanks to Nick for running the game. Can’t wait until the next one.

One Kind of Grace

We Christians talk about God’s grace a lot. It’s central to how Christianity works. If you’ve spent any time around a church, you’ve probably heard it defined as “undeserved favor.”

This illustration might help.

You’re running a game of Dungeons & Dragons. You manage to herd your players into the villain’s castle for their first showdown. They navigate the halls, fighting back the guards and foiling a few clever traps, when they get to the hall with the encounter you have planned.

Behind the door at the end of the hall, you know, waits the villain’s personal bodyguard. The party has fought him before, but now they finally get to beat him. They’re already banged up, but that will just add to the drama. All is going according to plan.

That is, until one of the players declares that his character runs ahead of everyone and opens the door. Everyone gives him odd looks. “Dude, give us a sec to heal.” Oddly confident, he says, “No, no. I got it.”

Weird, you think, but you can work with it. The bodyguard spots him and lunges with his heavily enchanted halberd. “Okay,” the player says, “I tell him-”

“Um, you don’t really have time to say anything. He was waiting for you, holding his attack. You guys were kind of invading his master’s castle.”

“…oh.”

Wondering why that wasn’t obvious, you roll the bodyguard’s attack. 20.

You pause.

By rights, the guy should be dead. He’s already taken a bunch of damage, and a major character just delivered a critical hit. Besides, he just put himself and the rest of the party in danger with a stupid mistake, even after everyone tried to stop him. He totally deserves what he gets.

The thing is, you had plans for that character. He was crucial to an upcoming part of the story. And despite how much he annoys you and the party sometimes, you love that character. You see potential in him that no one else does, and you want to see him develop. You want to see him win.

“How many hit points do you have?” you ask him.

“Um… 12.”

You roll damage. With the critical hit, the total comes to 36.

“11 damage,’ you say.

Grace.

Take a moment and consider everything in your life that could have gone worse.

Pick a Deity

I miss Dungeons & Dragons. It’s been way too long since I’ve played.

I’m not sure how you play, but for our group, picking a deity for a cleric or paladin is pretty much an afterthought. It really doesn’t affect how the character is played, unless it’s something especially interesting or plot-centric. We pay more attention to alignment. It’s not so much who a character worships, but whether they’re lawful or chaotic, good or evil. In fact, that’s often how we choose a deity: pick the alignment we want to play, and find one to match.

Clerics, especially, are basically just red potions. Who cares if they worship the sun god, or the angry god with the hammer, or whatever? Who can tell one from another?  As long as they dish out the HP, everybody’s happy.

Here’s how someone’s deity typically comes up:

DM: “You guys get to the city.”

Generic Cleric: “Hey, is there a temple of [fill in the blank]?”

DM: “Um, yes.”

Generic Cleric: “Cool. I go there and pray.”

Other players: “Ooh, can we get healed?”

I want my faith to be different.

Christianity isn’t just a matter of alignment. If the object of my faith is true, it changes everything. If Jesus is who he says he is, he deserves to rule over my entire life. Everything.

Christianity is not interchangeable with other religions. Not theologically, and not in terms of behavior. You’re supposed to be able to identify a Christian by how we love people. You’re supposed to be able to look at someone and be able to tell.

We are supposed to bring healing. We could do a better job at that.

But I hope and pray not to be just another red potion.

How does what you believe affect the way you live?