Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Five Gaming Podcasts That You Should Totally Check Out

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! It's been a long week at the brick plant and I've been spending the three hours of the day I have that aren't dedicated to sleeping, working, or showering on a new article about interesting ways to start a campaign. There are some great ideas I've found and tried but the article isn't nearly finished. I have resolved, however, to bring you something interesting to read every week. 

So, today I'd like to share with you a short list of gaming-related podcasts that I really think you should check out. My job (or at least the one that pays me money) pretty much consists of throwing paving stones around for twelve hours every night in a loud factory. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, I start my long night by popping in some earbuds and listening podcasts. It keeps my mind active and distracts me from the physical stress and exhaustion the job entails. I thought I'd share with you who I've been listening to. Each of these guys run great shows and deserve a ton of recognition. 

I will begin in alphabetical order.

Dungeon Master's Block

'Welcome to the Dungeon Master's Block, the place where we focus 
on the dungeon master, the most important person in the game.'

  The hosts of this fine podcast, Chris and Mitch, go in depth about tips and tricks to add to your arsenal of tools as a game master. I've gotten so much insight from these guys for my games and although I think the soundclips they chose as themes for the segments of their show are pretty cheesy, they have a great format; I love hearing the tales of their latest game sessions during 'Storytime' and the guests they've had on are phenomenal. My favorite episode by far has been 'Under the Sea' with special guest Rich Howard, in which they talk about aquatic campaigns and adventures which I highly recommend you check out. 


'A videogame podcast from a different perspective, with open 
and honest conversations about games, life, and belief.'

  Wow, what can I say about these guys. Richard Clarke and Drew Dixon never fail to blow me out of the water (and force me out of my comfort zone). GameChurch is a podcast in which our fine hosts have a pleasant and very real and down-to-earth conversation with a multitude of game developers openly, honestly, and without vitriol or judgement. As a warning, GameChurch is kind of a tough listen. Their discussion of religion, worldview, and spirituality provide a wide range of viewpoints from their guests and for those who are not accustomed to that it can be stressful. Despite that, please give them a listen. Although they're topics do not relate directly to gaming, they take an in-depth look into the people in the gaming hobby, which I would argue is far more important than the game itself.

Game Store Prophets

'The show where geeks get together to talk about God, and 
God-followers get together to talk about games.'

  Starring Luke Nevaro and Mike Perna, Game Store Prophets is what I call a 'variety' podcast about games, God, and day-to-day life. These guys are fun to listen to and just brighten up my day when I listen to them. They're huge dorks and I love them for it.

Saving the Game

'A Christian podcast about tabletop roleplaying games, collaborative 
storytelling in RPGs, and other interesting topics.'

  With hosts Grant Woodward and Peter Martin, Saving the Game looks at tabletop gaming from the perspective of a Christian and how to apply our faith to our games and using gaming in our faith. Personally, Grant, Peter, and Branden (a previous host of the show) have been huge influences in my life as a gamer and in motivating my desire to blog, game, and improve my faith.

Shark Bone Podcast

'A feeding frenzy of RPG ideas.'

  With the most interesting structure for a podcast I have ever seen, Shark Bone podcast creates interesting ideas for storytelling and tabletop gaming through the creation of a world with multiple districts, each featuring a single genre. Each episode focuses on one of the specific districts and creates something new to put into that district that can be applied to creative fiction or tabletop roleplaying. Definitely something that you must hear for yourself.

Well, I hope at least one of these shows piques your interests. They're all great shows, hosted by great people! And just to be clear, I'm not being sponsored by anybody. I just love these guys and I want to see them do well. Anyways, have a great week my friends. I'll be here next Wednesday, albeit hopefully at an earlier time. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kalgar, World in the Roil

Creating Like A Creator

Art by Chris Scholten
   So I've been playing tabletop games for a number of years now. The majority of my experience has been in the fantasy genre. I began playing Dungeons and Dragons in high school and started by delving directly into the role of the Gamemaster (partly due to the fact that no one else wanted to). So I created a story for my friends and a world for their characters to live in. There was no planning involved, no preparation. We didn't have a Dungeon Master's Guide nor a Monster Manual. The four of us read the Player's Handbook, they rolled up characters, and I sat there thinking behind a screen of I-Spy books I had pulled from our bookshelf.
   As I'm sure you can imagine, when our game began it did not go very smoothly. Half of our session was spent consulting the Player's Handbook for rules which we later learned were to be found in the Dungeon Master's Guide. Most of the rules of the game were improvised. Any given creature they encountered was secretly just a 1st level fighter from the PHB dressed like a bugbear or a goblin, as I had not stats to create a monster with.

   Despite a clear lack of readiness and a ramshackled conglomeration of rules we'd made up on the fly, our first game was amazing. We stayed up through the night and played until the sun crept through the living room window (which, I admit, was incredibly strenuous as a first-time gamemaster), and had more fun than some of us had ever had before. We had created a living, breathing, somewhat ridiculous world newly enriched with stories of aspiring storm druids, treasonous blood magic, and doppelganger highwaymen.
   As the years progressed, I built layer upon layer onto this world that I had created. Kalgar, I decided to name it. The setting took its form as years of playing in this world shaped and molded Kalgar into what it is today. It became a sandbox to build upon and each campaign of players left a legacy to be discovered and explored by the next group. So, I had it on my heart to share this setting that my friends and I have created.


   The world of Kalgar is a vast one, home to countless beings. Many races have thrived and developed, since even before the longest spanning annals of written history. Many nations have developed throughout the world, some expanding and absorbing other nations, some oblivious to the existence of the borders outside their own. Great boundaries separate many of the great nations of Kalgar; mountains as tall as the sky gate regions off from the world beyond them and vast oceans separate lands with innumerable leagues of treacherous waters.

World in the Roil 

   In the early age, a great travesty altered the fundamental structure of Kalgar's existence. In Balthir, a kingdom on the continent of Caparice, a powerful cult of sorcerers known as the Animæus sought to expand the reaches of magic across Kalgar. The Animæus learned to augment their already potent abilities by tapping into the raw magical energies held within the planets leylines (great streams of raw energy that permeated the planet, bringing magic and energy to its inhabitants). The cult learned to combine powerful spells, break down arcane energy into it's base form, even imbue life with potent raw magic from the leylines. Led by a very powerful sorcerer, referred to by the cult only as the Essence, the Animæus opened a portal between the Material Realm, the Elemental Chaos, and the Astral Sea, using their combined bodies as conduits to siphon the energy from these planes into Kalgar's leylines. The magic surged through the planet causing violent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and city-sinking tsunamis.

   The world was thrown into chaos, and when the volatile magic reached the nexus of the world, where all the planet's leylines intercede, a great calamity erupted at the heart of Kalgar, tearing a hole into the Elemental Chaos. The world tore itself to pieces as boiling oceans, pillars of lava, and towering glaciers poured into the material world. Millions died during this tremendous event as the planet slowly repaired itself. In time, it reached an equilibrium. The rift into the elemental plane collapsed in on itself and the portal to the Astral Sea closed. The leylines adapted to the surging energy and created balance. 

   By shifting the Kalgar's celestial bodies in and out of the Astral Sea, the natural forces of the planet could prevent another surge of magical energy, using up the excess magic in the leylines with each shift. To the inhabitants of the world, this process had no effect on their lives, save for a churning surge of color and light that flooded the planet's skies with each shift in and out of the astral plane. This aurora-like effect came to be known as the Roil, named for the swirling, fantastic energies that now surround Kalgar's atmosphere as it shifts.


   As you can see, players can have a dramatic effect on the campaign world. Before my players got their hands on some powerful magic and got tricked into joining a cult, Kalgar was as normal as any other campaign setting. When you let your players shape the world as they play, great things can happen that enrich your setting more than you would have imagined.

   What do you think about the World in the Roil? Are you big on the high-fantasy heroics (if you are, feel free to steal borrow Kalgar or elements of it at your leisure) or do you prefer the gritty, down-to-earth campaigns? What unique elements have you come up with for a campaign setting? Comment, e-mail, hit me up on your preferred social media website and let me know!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Morality & Magic (Part II: In Vain; From the Desk of M. Joseph Young)

Image by Gonzalo Ordóñez Arias
 Last time in Morality & Magic, I discussed the use of magic in fiction and my perspectives on it as a Christian. During my study, I concluded that the chief concern in regards to the concept of magic is it's source. Is this power drawn from God or from something opposed to him? Now, this can be analyzed clearly in the real world by studying the Bible and consulting with the Holy Spirit to assess whether something truly extraordinary is in line with God's Word.

 In fiction we must look at this concept through an additional lens, and that blurs the answer much more thoroughly. In our real-world struggle between the spiritual world, what are the implications of playing a character who affiliates themselves with a fictional deity? Is this idolatry in the eyes of the Lord, or is it simply storytelling whose spiritual weight is dismissable?

 Well, as a point of addressing this dilemma, I'd like to introduce you to an article written by the venerable reverend M. Joseph Young, author of Faith & Gaming and a model of inspiration for me personally. He wrote an article entitled 'In Vain' which has provided me amazing insight on the subject and I really cannot laud this man enough. I'd like to share this article with you as anything I can say, he has expressed so eloquently in this excerpt;
In Vain
M. Joseph Young
November 2001
 Is it appropriate for characters in a fictional world to call upon any deity? It is not a simple question.  At every turn God has commanded magic, that we have no regard for other gods; it is top of the list in the Ten Commandments, the concept behind many of the prohibitions (from sorcery to cutting the corners of your beard), and the reason why Israel and Judah were conquered by foreign nations.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  But at the same time, you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.  We are caught between the proverbial two horns.  When we are creating fictional characters in fictional worlds, who do they worship?  On whom do they call?  Do we allow them to call on gods whose names and perhaps whose powers and expectations are different from the Creator?  Or do we risk offending God by using His identity in our tales, possibly misrepresenting Him in the process (after all, we have trouble knowing how He will answer our real prayers--how can we know what He will do in response to fictional petitions)?  On whom should our characters call? 
  At this point we might consider it fair to reconsider whether we should be telling fictional stories at all.  After all, there are enough true stories in the world which glorify God that we could never tell them all.  Should we go back to our consideration in Settings and again ask whether we should be imagining things that are not?  But we have covered that ground, we have come to this point.  It is time to ask ourselves the bounds of our portrayals of the supernatural realm:  do we bring the Real God into our games and stories, or do we invent and borrow imaginary gods to play parts on the supernatural stage? 
  Perhaps it will help to bring the question, and the possible answers, into focus if we attempt to list the possibilities. 
  We could include God in our games as He represents Himself in scripture.  This is not easy; for one thing, He represents Himself in different ways at different times for different reasons, and He does not always choose to tell us the reasons.  He ordered Israel to destroy entire cities with all their populations including the children and the livestock, but God has called us to peace.  He is not willing that one should perish, yet Himself destroyed the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  To say that there is a danger we might misrepresent God in our stories or games is to understate the case.  It is certain that at some point we will misrepresent Him, for we are fallible.  
Does doing so dishonor Him?  The Masorites who preserved the text of the Old Testament among the Jews for centuries were so afraid about misusing the Name of God, the four-letter Tetragrammaton, that they mis-marked the vowel points so as to indicate the word adonai, "Lord", should be spoken instead (leading to the completely unfounded use of Jehovah by early English translations); and some Jews today will write the letters G-D from the same reverence for the forgotten Name.  Should we so avoid making a mistake about God that we avoid using His identity in our games and stories? 
  Or perhaps we should include Him, but change His name.  C. S. Lewis did this, calling God Maleldil in his space trilogy and using Aslan for Jesus in Narnia (where in one volume the Great Lion directs the children that they must come to know Him by the name by which He is known in their world, but doesn't say what that would be).  Can we escape any affront to God by putting the thin veil of another name over Him, permitting us the comfort of being able to blame our mistakes on the fact that it isn't really Him we are portraying, yet at the same time avoiding any charge of idolatry in that it in some sense is Him?  I knew a young Baptist girl who sometimes prayed to Jesus by the name Aslan; to her, the Lion of the story was the same Person as her own Savior--it was as Morning Star or Lion of Judah, another title for His Person.  To Lewis, it was not possible to imagine a world in which God was not God if God was God in any world; thus the Gods of his worlds were thinly-veiled copies of our God.  Yet they were imperfect copies, something that could be excused since they were distinct from God by virtue of their names.  Can we have it both ways? 
  Or do we remove it another step?  J. R. R. Tolkien created Elbereth, the Creator God of Middle Earth.  He perhaps was not so powerful as God, and the people of Middle Earth did not rely on his power to deliver them, but on their own.  But he sent the wizards, much as angels, to help them, and he was worshipped by the elves, and those men who knew.  It was a world with one god, perhaps not The God, but not different from Him in character.  Yet by moving the identity of Elbereth away from God, Tolkien was able to make him weaker, less involved, and so move his story forward without having to consider what God would do at any point.  (After all, should not God have intervened against the evil of Sauron, who has all the marks of a fallen angel attempting to enslave mankind?)  Does creating an ethical monotheism that is clearly not that of the Bible provide us with sufficient distance that our god can be less than perfect?  Or does devising an intentionally different single good god even in fiction offend the True God? 
  We could go a step beyond this.  We could imagine a world in which there are many gods, or gods that are very different from God who are yet gods in some real sense.  Whether we get these from ancient mythologies or modern fiction, or invent them ourselves, they are less like God and more like characters, perhaps like angelic and demonic beings vying for control in the lives of men.  It is much easier to portray the spiritual battle that surrounds us if we can for the moment ignore the fact that the Good side has with it the One Who can win the battle with a word, Who can unmake all that He has made if He so chooses.  A world in which good and evil powers are more evenly matched may have philosophical problems (How do you definegood if some of the gods are against it?  Is it a matter of our own personal preference, or is it something greater than the gods?); but it permits the struggle between good and evil to be more poignant, more vital, and perhaps at least a little bit uncertain (if good cannot lose, what need is there to defend it?).  And we are completely free of any concern that we have misused the identity of God, as He is no longer suggested by our backstory.  We have admitted that our gods are imperfect, limited, fallible.  We are now completely free of any fear that we might misrepresent God, as He is not an issue.  Yet we are also most dangerously close to the idolatry which so offends Him.  Is this an answer, or a worse problem? 
  Given the difficulty involved in representing God in a game or story, perhaps it would be better to exclude Him entirely--to have no God, no gods, no spirit powers at all, in our imagined worlds.  Yet this would seem to be most offensive of all.  How can there be a world without God, if God is God?  To suggest this is to suggest that it would be better to teach that God doesn't exist than to risk making the slightest error about Him.  Yet every preacher runs the risk every week of misrepresenting God; and every teacher lives with the possibility that he might be wrong about God, and is encouraging others to believe a mistake.  I could not justify any world that encouraged people to doubt the existence of God, or to ignore Him and pretend He didn't matter.  Some answer must be chosen, and it should not be one that denies all spiritual reality entirely. 
  There is no easy answer to this problem.  You can't even escape it by refusing to play games or read stories, as each of us will have his own image of Who God is and will share that with others, with all its flaws.  We are going to misrepresent God; we just want to keep that misrepresentation to a minimum. 
  My own solution, expressed in the pages of Multiverser, is to suggest One Supreme God, and a multitude of created supernatural beings who could be called gods, some of whom work on His behalf as they are able, some of whom work against Him, none of whom are perfect or omniscient or omnipotent or any of the other things only G-D can be.  Then as I tell my stories and run my games, the characters interact with the admittedly imperfect angelic and demonic gods, and I rarely have to represent what The God would do.  But this is an imperfect solution; it misrepresents the natures of angels and devils to some degree, and in so misconstruing creation misconstrues the Creator.  Other solutions succeed in avoiding this pitfall, but fall into another.  If there is a perfect solution, I have not found either it or anyone who thinks they know it. 
 But I am convinced that it is better to misrepresent God in our games and stories than to exlclude Him. Understanding that we will never present Him perfectly, we should allow ourselves to represent Him imperfectly to whatever degree we are comfortable, and trust that He will use our imperfections for His greater glory.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Toes In the Water: FATE Core

So I've been hearing a lot of talk about the FATE system, as I'm sure many of you have already. There's been many discussions in Reddit about it, and many of the podcasts I listen to have given it lauds as a very unique and fun system. Happyjacks RPG Podcast and Saving the Game have talked many times about the system and piqued my interests in it as a sort of free-form, narrative driven system. The Critical Hit podcast over at Major Spoilers has even started an Actual Play of FATE Core, where they've devised their own superhero game set in Florida of all places.

I took a look at the system online to get a general idea of how it worked and found myself interested enough to purchase the rulebook. After fooling around with it for a few weeks, I thought I'd let you all know how it went!

So to give you a general idea of the game, Fate is system-agnostic. That is to say, it is not specifically tailored to fit any sort of genre. You could use Fate to play a game that's a fantasy, a sci fi, a noir, or anything else. It plays pretty loosely and seems to use the rules as a supplement to developing a game instead of basing a game around the rules of the system. Because of this, it's pretty easy to plug any setting into the system. My friends have I have been looking for a system to play Mass Effect, Borderlands, and JSRF themed games in, and usually resort to either overhauling a system to make it compatible, or using a lot of improvisation and handwaving. Overall, I'm loving the play, but I'm still getting used to the flow of the system. I'm not used to such a free-flowing, really rules-light style of play.

Right now, my fiance and I are playing a game based in the world of Hunter x Hunter (an anime), and were able to jump into the game pretty smoothly without having to modify mechanics, adjust or create rules, or re-flavor the system.

You can check out the rules online here, and I definitely recommend listening to the Fate game they're doing over at Critical Hit. They've entitled it 'Modern City', and give an amazing example of communicating and building settings and characters together.

What have you guys been playing lately? Have you discovered a new RPG that you're loving? Spread the love and let me know! One of my favorite parts of RPG's is learning cool new systems.