Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Short History of Dice

Just A Little Something
    So this week's content is going to play out a little differently than our usual weeks. Tonight I have an interesting little video about the history of dice; where they come from, what cultures used them, etc. This abridged bit of content is aimed at accomplishing two things: A.) To segue into my next topic; the use of casting lots (see what I did there?) in the Bible and it's cultural and religious significance, and 2.) To give me time to finish my research on the aforementioned subject. "The History of Dice in Under 6 Minutes" is an interesting little video (albeit the humour is slightly dodgy). Any expletives are edited out if that is something that concerns you. In the mean time, keep an eye out for another, more extensive article, coming later this week!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mental Health & Gaming

Art by Cynthia Lane Armstrong
My Own Struggles
    So, I've struggled with 'clinical depressive disorder' for as long as I can remember (though admittedly, my memory is terrible). Various abuses (non-familial, mind you. My family is very great) during my childhood lead to low self-image which in turn lead to a self-deprecating attitude. Upon reaching middle school, I had become suicidal and obsessively self-mutilating. It was a dark time in my life; I had isolated myself emotionally, fallen away from my faith in Christ, and reciprocated my hurt by lashing out at others and acting rebelliously.
    By grace of God, I emerged from this dark place thanks to so many blessing He poured into my life all at once, when I needed them the absolute most. Before the day arrived that I would take my own life, the woman who would become my fiance grew to care for me and this relationship that had burgeoned pulled me away from the proverbial ledge. Together, we put my pieces back together and resolved to found our relationship by our faith. To this day, it bewilders me that the young, selfish, ignorant boy that I once was could possibly make such a decision. But again, all by the grace of God.

    Those days, I had very little solidarity with friends or family. Many of them were as troubled as I was in varying degrees, and I was ashamed to reveal my angst lest I be discarded by my peers. So, we would play video games and later, tabletop games as I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. But being the sort of person I was, the games were frivolous; saturated in 'murder-hoboism' and crude humour.
    Today, however, I have learned to use this painful past as a powerful tool in my experience with other people who are hurting. Dozens and dozens of times, I have been stopped and asked about the absonant marring that webs across my forearm. At the store, during my time at college, at friends' houses, people ask me why I would resort to something so drastic, why I choose not to hide the scarring, if I have any regrets. My answer, summarily, is this: With that past behind me, I must live with the repercussions. And in doing so, I have been given the opportunity to help others who hurt the way I did.

Therapeutic Gaming
    Now before I start to ramble, this is not some sob story. My life is grand and I love living it. Rather, I want to signify the importance of building relationships that is oft overlooked (at least to the extent that I have perceived) and how detrimental an absence of them can be. To finish this terrible segue, this is why I fell in love with tabletop games. By living vicariously through a fictional character, I could allow myself to build relationships with the others at the table.

    Thanks to the great guys over at the Saving the Game podcast, I learned clinical therapy had taken a foray into the world of roleplaying games. The Bodhana Group; a non-profit organization that specializes in the holistic treatment of children and adolescence impacted by sexual trauma, uses therapeutic role-playing games as a medium to socialize, build empathy, and provide insight into moral decision making. At the time I had learned about them I thought it was an amazing prospect. Really, it is a very logical strategy and I'm not sure why it was so surprising to me. Roleplay being used for therapy is exceptionally common. Revolving the roleplay around a constructed and ordered game would logically provide further benefit, both for the therapist and the patient.

    So, from the perspective of a naive young man, this 'gaming therapy', if you will, sounded sensational. I'm totally jazzed about the prospect of role-playing and tabletop games being able to provide more than just a source of entertainment and actually help people who are hurting. However, before I jump to any conclusions, the right half of my brain yearns to know if it works. This is difficult to quantify as I am not a therapist, nor do I have any experience in the discipline. So, I thought I'd do some research on the subject and its efficacy.

    I won't bore you by regurgitating the condensed notes of the studies and organizations I found, as I had trouble understanding a portion of it even as I read it (I'm afraid I am unfamiliar, as it seems, with the therapist vernacular). Most prominently, I came across two studies: one was a study conducted in France on the effects of  regular tabletop gaming on cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly. Of the 3675 non-demented patients, 32.2% reported regular play of at least once per week. Of the 3675 participants, 840 developed dementia during the 20 year follow-up. According to their results, the risk of dementia was 15% lower in game players than in non-players.
    Additionally, a study was conducted in Grand Valley State University, Michigan, on the use of tabletop game intervention to reduce mental illness stigma among nursing students. 38 nursing students participated which showed an increase in empathy from the students.

Going Beyond
    So, it would appear that there is evidence to support the efficacy of tabletop games and their uses in mental health. These are excellent steps to take, but it is important for me to reiterate; while playing games and providing therapy for those of us that are hurting and need treatment is certainly an admirable act; it seldom results in a permanent fix to the problem. The emphasis that we should place on this is the relationships we build with each other. As a Christian, I am called to be engaged in others' lives. Sadly, it is easy to disconnect relationships from good deeds and charity and we tend to have difficulties making that distinction as a culture.
    What's important is to build relationships with those who are pushed to the margins. Defend them, be with them, be in solidarity with them. Show them Christ by living like Christ in their lives.

    I would say that someday I hope to build a ministry of games to help those that hurt the way I did those years ago. But far more importantly, I pray that I can step into those peoples' lives and show them the love and caring that they require.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


    So here we are, 8:30 in the evening and I've made no success in coming up with something to write about. The night hangs in the sky quietly as the colors of the day fade to gray; a quiet reminder that Wednesday is drawing its final waking breath. These last couple weeks have been some of the busiest in my short life, and I'm thankful for all that I've gotten to accomplish and the opportunities I've had to support people. 
    I've resolved to post on Casting Lots every week, no matter the circumstances. So despite the fact that I have no plans or ideas for this article, I sit here before you to write whatever it is that decides to flow from my fingertips onto the keyboard.

    It has been on my heart for some time now; this subtle call that I've felt towards the InnRoads community. If you're reading this blog and are unfamiliar with InnRoads Ministries, I would first ask you how you found me, but I would also ask you to become acquianted with them. They are a ministry of believers (that's churchy-talk for 'Christians') who try to live Christ through their love of games, tabletop or otherwise. 
    Be it the Holy Spirit or simply camaraderie, I've been drawn towards the InnRoads community with the strong desire to support. Sure, I write articles and things and post them to the Tavern (the InnRoads Facebook group), but blogs posts and game advice aren't what strengthen a community. A community is founded on relationships with each other and with God. So little by little, my desire is to build a relationship with the men and women there; a task that is daunting for me, who by nature must exert great effort to socialize with others.

    So, I suppose this is my love letter to the InnRoads community. Maybe that's weird, but I suppose that when you write without an intentional topic, whatever it is that's in the back of your mind comes out to influence it.

Anyway, next week I shall endeavor to find some constructive content for you to enjoy. Until then...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Masterwork Theatre: A Tale From the Coast, Part II

Art by Felipe de Barros
    "So, where were we?" I sat down to the table, back from the gas station with Doritos and Full Throttle. "Oh, we're at Port Maverick to talk to our supplies guy, uh..."
    "Edwardo Dundergruff; halfling ex-military," I reminded him,
    "Right, right. And then Guillermo was about to do something stupid," Derby said between handfuls of chips.
    "Don't worry that cute head of yours, baby. I've got this under control." Guillermo took a swig of sodapop and we resumed play.

    Fulvar's eyes widened with indignance as they stepped down the gangplank. A beardless Dwarf with a shorn pate stood at the edge of the pier with a clipboard in hand. Fulvar thought to himself, what sort of sick minded Dwarf would shave his beard off? Truly, this must be a base and sordid city with beardless Dwarves tramping about. And in a place of office! Faldun nearly protested aloud, but somehow he held his tongue. It was likely that Jim would get them enough trouble as it is.

    "Names." The dock official spoke curtly. Clearly this duty of his was not pleasing to him (though, by the look of the man, it would be safe to assume that there are very few things that are). Jim Crosby smiled defiantly. He would not let his good mood be spoiled by this stout sourpuss. "Name of Jim, lad; Jim Crosby. This here is my associate Faldun, pleasure to meet you, sir. Might I ask jus-"
    "Yes, very good," the Dwarf interrupted, "And how long do you expect to stay in Port Maverick, sirs?" He scriveled something on his little board, having yet to bother making eye contact with the now very bothered Jim. "Overnight stay," Jim muttered at the bald little man. He handed his clipboard to another official nearby and stepped onto a small crate, giving him the height necessary to open a much larger crate.
    "Now, if you would sir, please remove any weapons, armor, magical apparatus, or symbols of power, religious or otherwise into this crate. We will seal it with the date of your arrival and stamp it with your names and it will be stowed on your returning boat home."

   At this point, Jim decided he'd had quite enough. "Well, being a humble monk of Melora, the only armor I got is my humble garbs," he explained, "but rules are rules I suppose." And with that, Jim turned and dropped his trousers, mooning the discourteous Dwarf. "Now, if you don't feel I've been thorough, feel free to frisk me."


    The laughter eventually died down. My palm to my face, I asked Derby what he planned on having Faldun do. "Well, I hate this guy with a burning passion. But I also don't want to go to jail," he pondered his options carefully as I thought to myself whether this particular dock official was the type to rough a guy over before taking him into custody. I decided the Dwarf thought he was above such actions, but explained that a few armed guards have approached at the beardless Dwarf's request.
    "Diplomacy, check!" Derby exclaimed, "We don't need to make things physical, right? We're better than that. How about we pay him, say, a fine for indecent exposure and get this business over with. I'm sure he doesn't want to be around us any more than we want to be around him." I nodded in agreement, musing at the fact that a Dwarf was covering for a Human's social misstep. "Go for it."

"Cool." The die hit the table. "I got a seventeen."


"Well we're down a few gold, but at least we're not in jail," Faldun remarked, placing his coin purse back into the folds of his doublet. "Maybe next time take it easy on the nudity, okay?" They headed to the census and excise office to pickup their gear from the ship's cargo. Jim scoffed, "Oh, don't spoil my fun. Didn't you see that guy? He was a putz. I'm not even a Dwarf and I was offended by that ugly naked baby face." Faldun laughed as he opened the door to the building, "Your words are poetry, Jim."

    Now, with neither their gear nor themselves in custody, Jim and Faldun rummaged through the crate of their equipment and found their personal effects. But at the bottom of the box, they saw something else; a small scrap of paper, ornately scrawled on in cursive.

                 "Meet at the Leaning Lady. Midnight.                                  
                                                                                 ~Mister Whispers"

    Jim and Faldun exchanged glances nervously. Port Maverick was seeming more suspicious each minute they spent within it's confines.