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The Best Gear

One of the best parts of roleplaying is when your characters get new gear. After slogging through a baddie-infested dungeon or weathering a big boss fight, you get the payoff: loot. And every so often, your character gets that one weapon they’ve been waiting for, that one magic item they’ve needed — the thing that’s gonna get the job done.

If you’re a rogue, you get the keen-edged, enchanted dagger that makes you stealthier. If you’re the Jedi, you get the modified lightsaber that fits your fighting style. If you’re the mage, you get the scroll containing the spell you’ve been trying to find.

You know that thing that fits just perfect? That thing that solves the problem you didn’t know you had? That’s what Christians are supposed to be for the people around us.

Above: Sharp, double-edged sword

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

-Romans 6:13

The best gear is the kind that fits your character concept. Instruments of righteousness fit the concept God built into us.

Our redemption is not a technicality. We are not delivered into neutrality, nor impotent frustration. We are brought into life and power. We’re not dead weight for God to carry; we’re instruments of righteousness. We live to propagate life.

Our words are to cut through untruth like scalpels. Our wills are to break through temptation like sledgehammers. Our prayers are to wither the ranks of demons like machine guns.

If you want that kind of faith but don’t have it, pray for it. Seek it out. God will honor your efforts and change you from within. He’ll empower you to serve the purpose you’re meant for.

Because our lives are meant to spread life. That’s what it means to be an instrument of righteousness.

Ancient Rules Lawyers

You know, they had real life rules lawyers in the first century.

There were these guys in ancient Israel that knew the Law of Moses inside and out. They knew all the errata, too. Scholars and clerics had added interpretations and clarifications of the rules over hundreds of years, and these experts in the law would debate them constantly.

They also made it a habit of enforcing every rule they knew. It got pretty burdensome for the average Jew, even those who earnestly wanted to follow God.

But that was the problem: the rules lawyers made it harder to follow God. Just like rules lawyers in RPGs make it harder to just enjoy the game. They both focus on the nitty-gritty details so much that they lose the heart of the matter. The RPG rules lawyers suck the fun out of a game; the ancient Jewish rules lawyers stole the focus of following God away from love.

As the church got started, Paul had to make this point in a big way:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-3

This is one of the main reasons Jesus came to earth.

He had already made the universe in a big game of Dawn of Worlds with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He had already picked the Israelites to be His example for the world of how to follow Him. He had already given them the Law. Then, as He knew would happen, He watched them turn the Law into a burden it was never meant to be. He watched them add more and more commands until the weight of it was unbearable.

Then, He came to Earth to show us what following God really looks like.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:34-40

God commands us to do — and not do — a lot of things. We can easily get hung up on the particulars. But never forget: at the root of it all is love.

One way God expresses His love is grace. We don’t have to follow His rules perfectly in order to have a relationship with Him. He loves and welcomes us as we are, then helps us to devote ourselves to Him and work toward perfection.

Don’t wait to come to God because you’re not perfect. And don’t let your imperfection steal the joy of your faith as you strive forward. God knows you’re not perfect yet. And He’s okay with it.

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.

Blasting Bad Guys

I’m just now playing through Fallout 3, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I love post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s also been a while since I played through an RPG, so it’s a nice change of pace from my usual shooters.

When I play video games, I get pretty immersed; that’s doubly true with roleplaying games. I try to keep a healthy distance from my characters, but I find myself getting into them all the same. Most often, I play characters somewhat similarly to the way I think I would act in their situation.

For example, when I found myself in the first subway area in Fallout, I was reluctant to open fire on the first raider I saw. I had put a lot of points into the Speech skill so I could talk my way out of problems, and I hoped I could do so with the leather-clad gentlemen with the handgun. Yeah. Not so much.

In RPGs like this one, you gotta have stuff to kill for experience. Enemies. And you can often tell they’re enemies because they’re marked as such: in Fallout 3, their names appear in red. It makes things simple. If someone has an actual name and it appears in green, chat ’em up. If they have a generic title that appears in red? Apply shotgun. Reload. Repeat until dead.

Neatly-labeled enemies are great for video games.

If we treat real people like that, we have a problem. Read the rest of this entry

Razorclown Roundup: August ’11

I recently beat Portal 2 co-op with my brother-in-law. Great story, great gameplay, great for bonding. I also learned something valuable: it’s easy to get snippy with someone when you’re playing a collaborative puzzle game past midnight, when you’re both mentally dulled. For the sake of your friendship — and science — call it a night and come at it fresh later.

I’m planning on running a couple roleplaying games. I have a couple interested friends I’d like to initiate. I also want to run a Pathfinder game for our usual DMs; it’s rare that they get to be players together. Ideas are beginning to percolate for both games. Now, to get my notes together and schedule some sessions (aka the tricky part).

I’ve been playing Team Fortress 2 and Black Ops. You can find me on Xbox Live or Steam on Thursday evenings and during the weekend.

Speaking of video games, the Extra Life Ministries LAN-tacular is coming soon. More details shortly.

In the meantime, check out my new Tumblr page for occasional randomness. That’s where I’ll post pictures I take with Instagram, cool dystopian stuff from my friend Cody’s feed, and what have you.

My Tumblr page

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.

Final Boss Syndrome

It’s a staple of the Final Fantasy series. It’s happened in several pen-and-paper roleplaying games I’ve played with friends. And I’ve seen it in several movies, most egregiously in Equilibrium and Resident Evil: Afterlife.

The hero walks into a big, impressive room, where the main villain awaits. They exchange dramatic dialogue, then fight to the death.

Final Boss Syndrome.

Think about it for a second. While the protagonist is beating up henchmen, the bad guy is staring at a closed door. Where does an archvillain find the time to wait around until the good guy shows up? For that matter, why not use the time to, I dunno, leave a booby trap and sneak off?

Maybe they use the time to stretch out before the big showdown. That might be it.

I guess it bothers me so much because I don’t see real evil act like that. The boss battle format is too honorable for real evil.

Temptation, for example, is insidious. It sneaks up when you’re most vulnerable and attacks your weakest point. When you’re doing well, it bolsters unhealthy pride. When you’ve made a big mistake, it attacks your self-esteem. It doesn’t let up. It doesn’t fight fair.

Evil prefers assassination plots to duels. It’s more ninja than samurai.

…which brings up another point. Why, in fiction, are so many villainous CEOs so skilled in hand-to-hand combat? Don’t they have evil companies to run?

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?