Enough

ENOUGH

I could really use a drink.

Not that kind… I’m just thirsty.

Yes. This.
Steaming hot Sumatra… yes. This.

I’ve been sitting here playing Diablo III long-distance with my brother for a little while. Finally I realize I need to stop, and get started on actual projects instead of pointless video games. I commit to start writing a new blog post, and to start the rewrite of the first chapter of my Kaalistera book.

But first, I want some caffeine and some water.

So I go to the kitchen and find that the coffee pot has shut off. The coffee is room temperature now. I like iced coffee, and I love a steaming cup of hot coffee. But not this.

So I look for the diet Mountain Dew I bought yesterday. Then I see that I forgot to put that in the refrigerator. A cold soda would hit the spot. “Kind of slightly not warm” isn’t really what I’m looking for here.

Cold. Not lukewarm.

“You are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” – Jesus.

Revelation 3:14-21 has a challenging letter to one of the early churches, and in that letter, Jesus makes that statement. He also says that “lukewarm” makes Him want to spit, or vomit.

Lukewarm isn’t, “well, I guess this will do.”

Lukewarm is sickening.

So where do I find myself on God’s thermometer?

I mean, I know how I feel about my spirituality. “I’m not Billy Graham or Mother Theresa,” I might say. But I’m not cold.

I suppose I can find an example of a really cold person, someone who is opposed to God or who is completely apathetic about what Christ has done for us. And then I can say “I am hot compared to him.”

Or I can find someone that is certainly “lukewarmer” than me, if I want.

One of the cases where “warm enough” is just right. Good for fish. Not good for souls.

If I can at least stop comparing myself to others, I’ll probably end up deciding that “I am not as hot as I could be or maybe should be, but I’m hot enough.”

Enough is a funny word. Merriam-Webster’s defines it as: “occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope
as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations.” The definition begs a question:

That question is, “Whose?”

Whose demands are to be met?

Whose needs are to be satisfied? Whose expectations are being used to determine what exactly is “enough” in this case?

I say I’m “hot enough” or maybe “not super hot, but warm enough” in my faith. And Jesus says, “I wish you were hot or cold.”

This is what Jesus Christ wishes.

I can wish for things, and I can talk about what I want things to be like, and what I wish they were like. But God isn’t really asking for my two cents on these subjects.

He says plainly what He desires.

I WISH YOU WERE HOT.

Well, yeah, or cold, but let’s ignore that for a second because I don’t want to be cold.

The problem, the real issue, is that I want to be “warm enough.”

God help me, but that’s it. If I can just be “warm enough” to not make God sick to His stomach… if I can just be “holy enough” so that I don’t have to go confessing to God or feel guilty all the time… if I can just be “committed enough” so that I can say that I am “doing enough” so that I can say no to the really painful duties that I’d rather avoid… if I can just read “enough” of God’s Word, or pray “enough” and so on.

But let’s be clear here.

That is not hot.

There is coffee or tea that is “warm enough” and then there is “hot” and the difference is very clear. There is soup that is warm enough to not make me queasy, warm enough so that the grease doesn’t congeal on the surface, warm enough to be edible… but a hot bowl of soup isn’t just “edible.” It can be “delicious” or “satisfying” or it can “hit the spot,” but it won’t just be “edible enough.”

My daughter likes to help with cooking dinner. She has started making some pasta dishes now and then, and the first few times, I wondered why in the world the noodles tasted so strange. They were soft, but sticky like glue. They mashed together and I thought I was eating paste with pasta sauce. What happened?

I watched her the next time, and found the problem.

Yum!

“Deborah, you have to get the water boiling hot before you put the noodles in. You can’t just toss them in warm water and say that’s good enough.”

Pasta paste is edible. But it’s never a culinary goal to aim for.

Likewise, God doesn’t want His people to aim for “enough.”

What does it matter, though? Maybe being lukewarm was a problem for that particular church, but what threat does it pose for us today? God knows we’re all busy; many of us in the church probably have a schedule completely full of “Christian” activities. When we’re doing all that, maybe we don’t have time to get “boiling hot” anymore. Maybe lukewarm just has to be enough for now.

There’s a problem with that.

It is dangerous to be lukewarm because we think we’re still warm.

(Not that I ever do this… and don’t ask my wife, but)

When you sit in the bath for a long time, the water cools. But it still feels fairly warm, and it feels a lot warmer than getting out of the bath. If we get out for a moment and see how cold it is, it’s easy to get back in and feel a sense of warmth again. We won’t notice that the water is quite a bit colder than it was at first. We just care that it’s not as cold as the air outside.

We get complacent. We sit for a while doing the same thing, trusting–or even overconfidently knowing–that it is hot enough to serve a purpose. We get comfortable, “knowing” God has done a lot of work in our lives, and brought us some distance along this spiritual journey. And so those moments when God knocks on the door of our hearts (or the door of the bathroom), the altar calls that are more about discipleship than salvation, or the messages that address our behavior precisely–those, we think, are for someone else who “really” needs God badly.

We probably know exactly who that person is. In the old days, we’d get a cassette tape of the sermon for them. Now maybe we post a link on their FaceBook wall, or send them a podcast. We might think, “Man, I hope they get what God is saying to them, because He sure hit their nail on the head. Now I’ve done a spiritual good deed. I’ve done enough.”

Are we past-tense or present-tense?

If you walked, that doesn’t mean you’re walk-ING.

If you experienced, that doesn’t prove you’re experienc-ING.

If you did and saw and heard, great. But are you still do-ING, see-ING, and hear-ING?

If you burned for God in the past, that doesn’t mean you’re burn-ING for Him now.

You might have even been hot when you filled up the bathtub. But it’s been a while. What is God accomplishing here and now through your current obedience?

“Well I was X, Y, and Z at my old church. I did my time.”

That’s great. But you’re here now. Don’t look through rose-colored glasses at images of past glory and decide that you have achieved “enough.” God has more.

Way more.

Exceedingly abundantly beyond what you’ve heard, seen, thought, dreamed… beyond what is considered possible or reasonable.

Far beyond any concept of “enough.”

He doesn’t aim for that.

Pastor Gary Hoyt of BCC preached on this passage while I was in Omaha back in 2008. Full disclosure: He probably deserves more credit than that for this blog post, because the notes I took on the passage and the subsequent personal thoughts were inspired by his sermon.

On that day, Pastor Gary talked about how we often deal with situations where some product or business is advertised in glowing terms, promising life-changing amazing results. Then we find the product is mediocre at best.

AMAZING!
“No, really,” they say, “you can trust this offer. It has a gold logo.”

It was perhaps “good enough” for its purpose, but it certainly didn’t live up to the hype.

It’s a shame when something over-promises, but under-delivers.

Pastor Gary offered his standard grin and challenging gaze, the “I really hope you get this point” look, and he asked this question:

“What if maybe God is One who under-promises, but over-delivers?”

What if the hype doesn’t — indeed, CAN’T — live up to God?

Am I too complacent to consider the possibility, the consequences of the “something more” God has?

Should I be content with a “warm enough” relationship with God?

My coffee has been heating up while I type this.

I couldn’t stand the thought of drinking it before, but I’m going to fill my cup now that it’s hot.

Succumb to Relief

When we look around at the world from a Christian perspective, it is difficult to ignore the impression that situations happening around us are not what God has intended. Depression overtakes us; strife and division affect us in–and take us out of–healthy relationships with others.

Stupid pigs!
This is my six-year-old’s biggest problem. I’m a little jealous.

As Christians with the grace of God available to us, we still find ourselves overwhelmed by circumstances and catch ourselves after we succumb to temptation. Seeing the condition of the world is painful. We ache when we see just how messed up everything is. We ache when we see just how messed up our own lives are. Surely there must be something that can deal with this.

When I have a headache, I am quick to reach for the medicine cabinet. I’ve been trained well by the commercials that say, “I’ve got a headache THIS BIG…” I want some pain relieving medicine! In the same way, I am looking for something that will give relief in the midst of the mess in my life. I’ve got problems that are THIS BIG… where’s God’s Excedrin?

When we see this mess, we know: This is not the plan God has for our lives.

But this also does not disqualify us from relationship with Him. In fact, when we see ourselves in such terrible conditions, we are ripe to experience RELIEF !

As I thought about this and jotted down notes, I considered the word I had chosen: “succumb to temptation.” What does it mean when we “succumb” to something?

Succumb- 1    to yield to a superior force or overpowering appeal or desire
2   die

From the perspective of God, we are not capable of yielding to a superior force. No such force exists. A few verses will adequately illustrate this point.

Speaking of ungodly spirits that are active in the world, John writes in 1st John 4:4, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Col 1:13).

It says something when we are willing to yield to a weaker or inferior force. We could fight and win, but we are choosing not to. Sometimes this is intentional and directed by God. We are taught at times to “turn the other cheek,” “bless those that persecute you, do good to those that hurt you.” These commands are given regarding people.

With our enemy, there is no such commandment. The words used are warfare terminology: resist, stand firm, fight, put on armor, take up the sword, be watchful and alert, pull down strongholds, take captive. Christ was the One who “disarmed,” “made a spectacle out of,” “destroyed the works of,” “triumphed over,” “crushed the head of,” and conquered the enemy. He is our Example.

He is the One who could say, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. All authority in heaven and on earth is now given to me.”

We do not face a superior force, and so we have no reason to succumb to our enemy. We instead have been given the opportunity to overpower and push back our enemy.

“Succumb” also means to yield to an overpowering appeal or desire. From the perspective of God, no such appeal or desire exists. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1Co. 10:13).

We are no longer bound to the sinful nature. “If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation– but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it” (Romans 8:10-12).

“It is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” (Php. 2:13 AMP).

The reason that we can recognize that from God’s perspective there is no such thing as an overpowering desire or appeal is found in the above. He energizes and creates the desire to do His will within us. His power is effectual power– effective in accomplishing what He sets out to do. This is the power that is referred to in Eph. 1:19 (AMP), where Paul asks “that you can know and understand what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe.” This is the “power that is at work within us,” that “is able to carry out His purpose and do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]…” (Eph. 3:20 AMP).

The fullness of this is found in the work of Christ Jesus as our Great High Priest. Romans 1:16 tells us that the good news about Christ is God’s power working unto salvation in everyone who believes. This good news is that Christ Jesus came to intercede between God and man, to bring reconciliation and restoration of God’s favor upon mankind.

Hebrews 2:17-18 states that “it is evident that it was essential that He be made like His brothers in every respect, in order that He might become a merciful, sympathetic and faithful High Priest in the things related to God, to make atonement and propitiation for the people’s sins. For because He Himself in His humanity has suffered in being tempted, tested, and tried, He is able immediately to run to the cry of, and assist and relieve, those who are being tempted, tested, and tried, and who therefore are being exposed to suffering.”

Some versions use the term “succor.” This is defined as aid, help, or relief– from Latin roots meaning “to run up, to run to help.”

Physical relief
Spiritually, I need to get some of this!

Relief is an interesting word. It has a number of meanings. Relief is:

1. the removal or lessening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing.

2. aid in the form of money or necessities given for those in need

3. military assistance to an endangered post

4. one who replaces another on duty

5. a legal remedy– something that corrects or counteracts an evil, or compensates for a loss

6. a projection of figures out from the background of an image or elevations from the surface– something that stands up or stands out

Picturing Christ as one who succors or relieves gives us a greater understanding of why God doesn’t see any temptation as overpowering.

Christ removes or lessens the oppressive or distressing nature of the temptation. He may just give us direction to leave the vicinity of it, or He may cause the temptation itself to cease.

Christ gives aid in the form of all that we need in order to remain true to Him. He provides us with the strength to stand — “My strength is perfected in weakness” or “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” are verses that demonstrate this.

Christ literally provides a military assistance when we are in danger of losing our position. He did this by “disarming the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the Cross.” We are no longer at a military disadvantage because our Savior has over powered the enemy. He can bring military assistance by motivating others to pray for us in our time of need.

Christ is One who takes our position on duty. He fights on our behalf. When we realize that we do not stand on our own strength, it is as if He is taking our place. We are no longer relying on our own abilities to hold the position. We are relieved of our responsibility to hold the ground by our own effort, and we are able to join our effort with His limitless supply of strength.

Christ is One who legally corrects or counteracts evils that we encounter. His shed blood and His priestly mediation have swept away the sin. He is, whether one accepts the gift or not, “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” He has corrected and counteracted the evil in the world. The reason and purpose of His ministry is defined in 1st John 3:8 as “to destroy the works of the devil.”

Finally, Christ is our relief in the sense that He is the One who stands out. When people see us, they should see a relief image– that of the Savior who has transformed us. 2nd Corinthians 3:18 says, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” As we encounter and seek God’s face, we are being made more and more like Christ. We identify with Him and people are able to see Him through our lives. Paul said it was no longer Paul that lived, but Christ, as grace worked in his life. “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died in vain!”

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. When we humble ourselves, we receive “the grace of God that brings salvation” that “has appeared to all men.” How can something appear to man except in a physical form? How can an intangible thing like grace “appear to all men?” John 1:14– “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And verse 17, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ is our Reliever, and grace is the relief He gives. We can only receive it in the position of humility, because that is the only way we can see His face– with the transforming glory that comes with it.

When we are proud, we will fight and resist showing weakness. When we are humbled, we give in and admit defeat. From God’s perspective, we should never feel like we have to give in to the defeated and overpowered enemy. God provided all we need to deal with that. We do not succumb to our enemy or to our temptations.

The key is to succumb to the grace of God. Yield to His overpowering work in our lives. For there we find all the relief we need.

Jinxie

I had a silly thought today while waiting for our jet to get fixed. I do have the nickname mentioned in this story, and I do love to say the most horrible things about what could go wrong… so I thought of a fun “power” for a fictional character to have, and jotted down a rough idea of his story.

JINXIE

Aircrew are a superstitious lot.

“Don’t eat your lunch during maintenance delays on the ground,” they say, “or else you’re sure to fly your full sortie.”

“Don’t say that equipment, or weather, or the aircraft, or the evaluation, or any blasted thing is ‘good to go,’ because that means it won’t be.”

“If you DO say such a thing, knock on wood, or else you’re jinxing us.”

Well, our Navigator said some things yesterday, and knocked really hard on the plastic top of the mission planning room podium. But here we are, delayed again for… five, six… no, seven different issues with this fifty-year-old plane.

But the pilot says they all check out good now, so we’re ready to press on with our day.

Apparently, plastic lecterns don’t have the same natural anti-Jinx powers of wood. Maybe it’s something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Did you knock on it, and you were not jinxed? Then SHE’S A WITCH! BURN HER!”

I make it a point to jinx us as often as possible. “Well, we know that the mission software will all be accounted for and ready to go when we get to the jet!”

Or, “You know there will be perfect data-link connections with all the other participants.”

“All the radios will be loud and clear all day… of course they will! Why wouldn’t they be?”

Aircrew usually end up with a nickname of some kind, a handle based more often than not on some profound mistake that serves as the basis for a great story. My friends call me Jinxie now. That’s mine. They want me to watch my mouth, and they glare at me when I make an innocent joke about diverting to a different airfield or cancelling a flight because of some catastrophic emergency.

To be fair, both of those events were pure coincidence.

“Be careful what you wish for,” I suppose. My friends would agree with that ubiquitous logic.

That’s when it hit me. I should be careful. Why not use these powers for good?

“We’ll probably find another tanker for air refueling since we can’t meet up with the first one as planned.”

Nope! No tankers available right now; they’ve all given up their fuel loads to other aircraft.

You’re telling me that in the absolutely largest logistic organization of the most powerful, worldwide-capable Air Force, where we provide millions of pounds of JP-8 jet fuel every day, we cannot possibly find one tanker that has just a bit of gas?

Nope. Jinx.

“That convoy is going through the thickest concentration of insurgent positions with snipers, RPGs, IEDs, and every other God-forsaken acronym, all of them looking to spill American blood. Our boys are in for trouble.”

Morbid, maybe. But go with me on this.

Those guys drive right through the hottest part of eastern Afghanistan, where we’ve been seeing troops in contact with enemy forces every single day for the last two months… and today, not a peep.

Maybe the bad guys are busy picking poppies today. Maybe they’re meeting to protest girls attending school in the classrooms the Coalition built. Maybe they’re busy with young Afghan boys. I don’t know or care.

All I know is our guys got through safe, despite me naming every bad situation I could think of.

Or maybe because of it?

Either way, jinx. Insha’Allah.

“You’ve got a gift; use it well.” Of course, my Dad was talking about playing piano, but the meaning still applies. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Yeah, Spider-Man was probably talking about something else too. But you get the point.

We always brief that every crewmember has a voice. if you see something happening that doesn’t look right or safe, speak up about it.

My handle is Jinxie, and I plan to speak up a lot.

Drudgery and Drag-on

Giving up some of the structure of the game you’re playing can sometimes make for more interest in the story you’re telling.

So we finally got a gaming table set up in our living room (a sweet hexagon table we picked up for cheap… reminds me of BattleTech), and the entertainment center next to the table is filled with all things D&D.

Time to put it all to use!

For my birthday, among other things, we decided to finally sit down as a family and play some D&D for the first time since our move. I had some new Eevil Paizo products, and I wanted to try them out! I whipped up some generic notes to form a very rough (and thus flexible) plotline, got character sheets and minis and map packs ready, and laid out sets of dice.

We got started, but we’re not the traditional table-top RPG group. I’m dealing with a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old, who both pretty much “get it.” My wife is also playing, but our 1-year-old is requiring attention RIGHT NOW. And then I’ve got a 6-year-old who wants to play but also starts thinking about Angry Birds any time there’s a second of silence in the game. So… how to cater to the needs of this group?

It has been a while since we played. I mention terms like “Perception” and then have to explain where on the character sheet to find the skill. We talk about powers and attacks, but they’re not remembering what all they can do. We go over generic descriptions of the characters they’ve chosen, and what sort of decisions they might make.

*snore*
Can I just do some math homework instead?

I figure, start with action rather than with non-combat role-playing, or else the 6-year-old is done. Sure enough, he’s pretty well into the combat, even if he needs coaching on how his character can participate. “You can shoot your crossbow at that rat, or you can run over, pull out your sword, and slash at it.” His first attack goes well, but the second misses. He seems kind of overwhelmed, and his character gets stung by a scorpion. I try to put it in terms he understands. “Remember when you were crying today because your sister hit you SO hard? That’s what this felt like for Clayface. He got stung in the shoulder just like you got hit. He could take maybe another three or four hits like that before he gets knocked out.”

So he’s mad at that scorpion, and still kind of unsure about what to do. Then my wife uses her warlord to give my son a free attack. Basically, the warlord opens up, vulnerable to attack, drawing the attention of some enemy… then one of the warlord’s allies gets to use that distraction to his or her advantage, making a free attack. Justin rolls his attack…

…and gets a 20.

I use the GameMastery Crit Hits deck (and the Crit Fumble deck) for additional description and excitement. I have seen exactly zero players complain about the fun of finding out what specifically their crits accomplished, and sometimes the random cards fit the story in ways far better than I could come up with on my own. So my son’s rogue, Clayface slashes at the scorpion, doing only modest damage, but permanently blinding the poor creature. Now he’s completely excited.

Still, this fight is taking a long time, and the kids are barely familiar with their characters and the rules. They get the idea that “you say what you want to do, you roll a d20, add some number off the sheet, and then figure out if that’s enough to succeed.” It hits me… do we all really care that the AC for a Giant Centipede is 16? Does it really matter that they have a Mandible attack that is +6 to the roll, with a chance for 1d8+4 damage on hit? No, none of that matters. What matters is, do they get the feeling they can contribute in a meaningful way?

Very quickly, we’re doing guesstimated math. If a number is readily available, I’ll use it. (My wife’s warlord’s AC is 17, for example). If not, I have a good guess in my head. Maybe I’m not doing the monsters justice, or maybe they’re slightly more powerful than they should be.

So what! We’re playing this for the kids, not just for me. They’re completely satisfied with this system.

We finish the fight and it has gone longer than I planned (1 year old distractions!). For whatever reason, in my haste, I never bothered to think of the party capturing the last evil creature for questioning. They ask a bunch of generic questions, and decide to use the goblin as a bargaining chip for when they meet the rest of the goblins that might be attacking the town the heroes came from. (Little do they know that the goblins have no loyalty at all  and won’t care… but that will be for next time.)

By now, it’s 9 PM, and it’s time for bed for the kidlets. But I learned something important in this short gaming session: as long as your group is fine with it, you can speed things up significantly by reducing the strictness of the rules. I didn’t have exact breakouts for every monster’s stats or make the kids do all the math required to play by the rules. We just got the story and the fight going, and kept it moving fast enough to keep them interested.

Yawn
You can be strict with these… or not.

You roll a 5 when you make your attack? You miss. You roll a 16? You hit. Figure somewhere about 11-12 as the cutoff and then just go with it. Is it a tough monster with thicker armor or swifter reflexes? Maybe 13 or 14 is the cutoff for that one.

The attack does 9 damage? Ok, then this level 1 or level 2 monster is probably bloodied now. Do you really need to make sure that Dire Rat #2 gets its full 12 HP worth of actions before getting bloodied? No, not really, not for this particular group.

Your group dynamics are going to tell you very quickly if you can get away with this sort of thing. I’ve often had at least one player in the group who wants the specific numbers. “Wait a minute, I rolled a 13 last time with a +6 to attack, and I hit… she rolled a 14 with a +3 to attack and missed… so this thing’s AC must be about 18…”

That player is probably not going to be satisfied with this option.  I’d suggest being honest and up-front with your players about it. Ask if it will bother them if you try to speed combat and skill challenges along in this manner.  It may take some of the pain and concentration away from strict dice math, and focus the concentration of your players on the story developing in the game.

And I think that’s where you want it to be.

Paizo is Eevil, pt 2

Seriously… STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY! (Except I’ll puchase a few of these and one of those… and a set of that.)

DM: “You approach Torhalin and inform him that–“

Ranger: “Wait, who’s Torhalin again?”

Rogue: “I thought he was the guy we killed last session.”

Paladin: “No, that was the other dwarf… the one we used the Jar-Jar mini for…”

Ranger: “Oh yeah, I hated that guy. So who’s this guy?”

DM: *sigh*

More likely than not, if you’re playing a tabletop RPG campaign, you have a few non-player characters (NPCs) that show up regularly. It could be the innkeeper who offers free room and board based on some favor the adventurers have done for her… along with juicy gossip full of quest hooks. It could be the kindly noble who needs heroes willing to stand up to insurmountable odds in order to save his town. Maybe it’s a favorite villain whose presence sends your players into a frothing rage. (Using a Jar-Jar mini helps with this.)

In any event, a name and brief description only gets you so far. Using an accent or particular speech pattern might make the NPC more memorable, but you still can only hope you are making an impression on your players.

Friends & Foes
Worth a thousand pennies!

A picture is still worth a thousand words.

And a deck of pictures is apparently worth about ten bucks.

The Friends and Foes deck comes with 54 full-color face cards, each with a space for notes on the back to aid with keeping track of just who the heck Torhalin is in your campaign. When you introduce an important NPC, you give your players an immediate image of what he or she looks like along with your description and roleplaying. Each time they encounter that character, they get the visual reminder that says “This is who you’re talking to, remember?”

GameMastery has at least two others: Enemies and Urban NPCs. I’m not going to bother looking through their store to see if they have any more… because I might buy them.

On top of having a visual cue, the deck of various pictures might inspire new ideas for characters, situations, interactions, or encounters… maybe even key campaign arcs.

herp de derp
…and you know you wanna play THIS guy!

Of course, the downside is that you only have so many cards, and the variety means you only have so many of particular types of NPCs. It might seem strange if all the bad guys start to look just like the first villains the heroes encounter.

But the decks are a great start… IF you want to spend ten dollars.

There are cheaper ways, of course.

If you have any artistic talent (or if one of your players does, and is willing to volunteer the effort), you can make your own cards, tailored specifically to the needs of your campaign.

You know what you want the diabolical politician and her powerful magician advisor to look like.

Corrupt Politicians
Corrupt Politicians

You have an idea of how the ancient ghost in the ruined city will appear.

Ancient Ghost
Ancient Ghost

What about the crafty assassin your party has chased throughout the realm?

Crafty Assassins

Show the players exactly what you want them to see. (Try to have better handwriting than I did, though.)

This also works great for scripted events. You have the chance to show rather than tell.

Poor Archmage Danethral…

Danethral before
Danethral, before…

At some point he was doomed to get twisted inside out by one of the villains. I did my best to describe this, and a few of my players at least said, “Ew, that sucks.” Then I showed them the card,

after
…and after

and I got more than one cringe or grimace. Win!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so you’re not an artist. (I barely qualify as one anyway, so don’t feel bad. Paizo’s not banging down my door asking me to draw stuff for them.) What are you supposed to do?

Though stick figures might be good for comic relief, that’s not a sustainable option. Likewise, if your “art” becomes a distraction, it will take the players out of the game to try to figure out if that’s a picture of the troll or the damsel in distress. No bueno.

Oh hai Google Images.

If you use a computer as a DM screen, or even if you just load some pictures to your iPhone or cell, you can easily show your players a decent representation of what their characters are looking at. Load a few key NPC pics, and you can easily remind them of who they’re interacting with, while paying nothing but a few minutes’ of image search in the process.

And of course, your rulebooks probably have a few pictures in them as well. Flip to a page if you have a hardcopy, or bring up an image if it’s a softcopy, and there you go. Obviously, that’s less than desirable, but it’s better than nothing.

And if all that fails, and your players stilldon’t remember your villain, break out the Jar-Jar miniature. They may not know who it is or why they’re out to kill him, but they will unleash all manner of fury in their effort to destroy him… especially if he says, “Meesa gon’ die!”

Jar Jar

Incentive Ride

My stomach lurched and my boredom vanished as the sky whirled about me and the ground became “up.”

In May of 2010, as a reward for receiving the John L. Levitow Award at NCO Academy, I had been put on a list for an incentive ride on an F-15 Eagle. A year and a half had passed, with delays, cancellations, and a surgery that medically disqualified me from flight for six months.

I was hopeful at first, but I had been on that list nine years earlier, and missed out on the opportunity when I left Kadena Airbase in 2002. On my return in 2003, I was told that there was no record of me being on a list for an incentive ride, so I gave up that dream long ago.

After my surgery in June, and after several attempts to return to flight duties, I was cleared to fly again in January of 2011… right after a deployment had ended. I thought it would look very “coincidental” if I was not able to perform official duties while we had missions to fly, but suddenly was able to fly to get an incentive ride. On top of that, I was scheduled to deploy, so I declined the ride until I returned. But then the fighter squadron cancelled several flights for maintenance, and then they were involved in exercises. It was one delay after another.

I had two months left before my next change of station, and I knew that I would likely never get this chance again. Then I got the e-mail.

Friday, October 21st. Primary Flyer. Life Support training. Parachute training. F-15 Egress training. G-suit fitting. I’d done all this before only to have the flight cancel on the morning it was scheduled. But my hopes were rising as Friday approached.

That morning, I met Major “Crusher” Osborne, a thin friendly pilot quick with a smile and bubbling over with seeming limitless energy. We talked about what to expect on the flight. Crusher was excited because I had already been through altitude chamber training; this meant he could go much higher than the usual incentive ride allowed. We were also probably going to be by ourselves instead of in a formation, so we would be free to do whatever we wanted in the training area.

Crusher and me
Crusher and me

As it happened, there were two incentive rides scheduled, and the other individual had an assignment one month after me. So the very thing I thought might ruin my chances was what ensured I got a flight.

We suited up with all our gear and G-suits. Then we received a weather briefing before getting a ride to the jet. The G-suit already felt tight; it’s made to inflate slightly, squeezing the calves, thighs, and abdomen, forcing blood back up to the heart when gravity makes it pool in the legs during high-G maneuvers.

Worse than the constant pressure of the suit is the harness. It has two straps that come up between the legs from behind, fastening to clips on the waist. These have to be tight enough so that you can barely stand up straight. That way, they fit somewhat comfortably when you sit down in the cockpit.

Crusher took me on a walk-around, checking to ensure the jet was safe. As he did so, he pointed out all the “fun” features: “Here’s an AIM-9 Mike model, we carry three more here, here, and here. And we have points for four more missiles along the fuselage there… here’s the chaff and flares… watch the gear door… there’s the gun, a 30 millimeter gatling gun… this whole part turns as we maneuver…”

We got in and Crusher went through all his checks. At one point, a warning light wasn’t turning off, even though the controls worked fine. We’ll never take a jet up for a training mission if we know there’s a significant problem. But today, as we waited for maintenance and I worried about a possible cancellation, I was prepared to accept a few risks!

Let's do this!
Getting ready to fly

Ground maintainers worked with Crusher and found a quick, painless fix. Then we were ready to taxi out to the runway. We started rolling, and I laughed as Major Osborne gestured repeatedly to various personnel along the taxiway, pumping fists, waving, flashing a peace sign, returning salutes.   Soon we were staring down the runway, cleared to take off. Crusher had briefed me that we would take off on afterburners–not because we needed the boost, but just for fun. His squadron was videotaping this, so he planned to pull almost straight up as he passed their building.

“I like to look back at the ground when we do that,” he said. “It just looks cool, being over the runway.” I shrugged, not really knowing what to expect.

He pushed up the throttles, and we started down the runway. But, to be honest, it was somewhat unimpressive. It wasn’t much different than a normal take-off on the average commercial airliner… until he pulled the stick back.

In a flash, I was pulled against the chair as sky filled my vision. The few clouds spun in the air, and Okinawa looked like the ceiling. We were inverted. I looked “up” through scattered clouds at the base and the city around it. I was glad that I had a few motion sickness bags, because I knew I’d eventually need one. Or more.

We had a smooth flight out to a nearby overwater training area. “What’s the highest you’ve ever been on your jet?” Crusher asked. I had to think for a moment, then told him we were once at 41,000 feet to get over some weather.

“Well, we’ll beat that today,” he replied as he began a steady climb. We peaked at 46K, then pitched down and pushed up the throttle to break Mach 1. There was no real change in how the aircraft handled or felt–at least as far as I could tell. Crusher just pointed out how the altimeter needle began to flutter and bounce as we crossed the threshold of the speed of sound.

From there, he took the plane around a few clouds and then descended to a thousand feet, skimming the ocean’s surface. This was where motion sickness finally got the better of me. Pulling a few Gs in a turn was no big deal, but the negative Gs when we levelled out were brutal. It felt like I was about to float up out of the seat if not for the harness, lap belt, and shoulder straps holding me down.

Once I recovered, we ascended, and the pilot gave me control of the aircraft. I was very hesitant at first; this was an expensive fighter jet and I was not sure how to control it, let alone how well I really could. I pulled the stick a bit to perform a few short turns, and Crusher suggested “cloud chasing.”

There were strands of white and grey as we flew out from Kadena. They were amazing to me, because from above or below, they looked massive, spanning the sky. But as we were level with them, I saw that they were thin like sheets of paper, wispy veils drawn across the blue.

Out in the training area, however, the clouds were massive puffy columns like white cotton candy. We noticed a rainbow, and I pointed the nose at it. As we flew toward this small arc of color in the fluffly cloud-towers, the rainbow circled around us on all sides. I cut some turns around the clouds, weaving between them like pillars.

Oddly enough, what surprised me was how much the flight looked like playing Ace Combat 6 on the Xbox 360… with the noticeable addition of stomach-churning turns and the constant rumbling roar of massive power just behind our seats. I thought of the loops and turns in that game and asked, “Can I just pull straight up?”

“Go for it!”

"...because we were inverted."
It probably looked something like this

I pulled the stick back and pushed the throttles up, filling our view with the deep blue
of the sky and feeling gravity’s futile pull on us. I kept pulling back until we finished half a loop, with the water “above” and the sky “below.”   Crusher was impressed, not because I did something remarkable or skillful, but because I actually did something. Apparently, most people just sit and do a couple turns, then quit, whether from nerves, fear, or queasiness. I was nervous, too. But I also knew I only had one shot at this. I was going to fly this plane for a minute!

Having done the Immelman, I thought about other maneuvers I’d seen. I asked if I could try a Split-S, where the plane rolls over and dives toward the water, pulling “up” until it comes out straight and level, right side up.

“Let’s get a little more altitude first,” Crusher answered. “Then, sure!”

Each turn and maneuver forced air into the G-suit, squeezing tight around muscles and keeping blood flowing. Then Crusher took control to demonstrate brake turns, and we made a punishing sharp turn, hitting 8.2 Gs, or more than eight times the normal force of gravity. I was told to tighten up all my muscles, take in a breath, and then hold it, quickly releasing a puff of air and inhaling sharply for a fraction of a second every three seconds or so. Thankfully, the turn was sharp but short. Even so, it felt like I was being crushed… appropriate, I guess, given my pilot’s handle.

Then Crusher decided to run through some dog-fighting maneuvers. Honestly, that part was just a blur of turns, throttle, braking, and excited chatter as he described how he would deal with an imagined enemy fighter on our six.

Once all that was done, he gave me one more offer to take the controls. I was still feeling a little queasy, and I was so content with what had come before that I answered, “No thanks, I’m good.”

I deeply regret this now. The exhilaration was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, one for which I’m incredibly grateful. But I do wish I had taken full advantage of the opportunity.

Even so, the incentive ride was better than I had imagined…
and well worth a ten-year wait.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

            And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…

            …And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

            The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

            Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

                        –from “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee

F-15 at Kadena
An F-15 takes off from Kadena

I Know

http://soundcloud.com/sonworshiper/i-know

Two people are essentially to blame for this song’s existence.

C. J. Monet has really been entertaining me with his music (hence the techno style to this track), and Pastor T. J. Cristobal preached a great sermon on Ephesians 6:10-18 at church today.

Our identity is a crucial component of how we live our lives, how we decide our course of action, how we evaluate what’s going on around us. Our perception of who we are and what we’re worth dramatically affects how we interact with everyone and everything else. “Perception is reality” is a common enough expression, and I don’t use it to mean that if I think I see a pink elephant, there must really be a pink elephant. I use it to mean that I will respond to what I perceive, what I see, what I understand… not necessarily to what is actually true.

For Christians, this “perception” may be found in answers to questions like these:

Am I a sinner? Or am I a saint who struggles with sin?

Am I a failure? Or am I an overcomer who sometimes fails?

Am I worthless? Or am I the object of the affection of the Creator of the universe?

Am I unlovable? Or am I precious enough that God Himself would die for me?

(I’ll add a caveat, lest we Christians get all presumptuous and puffed up in our recognition of God’s love toward us. All those other people out there in the world, the ones our community sometimes wants to judge and protest and so on–those people are just as much the objects of God’s love as I am, and it’s my job to communicate that to the world, because the One I claim to follow “did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). So yeah, don’t forget that part of your identity either.)

What have you discovered about who you are? What have you learned about what you were meant to do with this life? I know whose I am, and I know who’s in me.

You’ll say that I am weak, that I’m not worth a thing

You’ll say I should give up, that there’s no chance for me

You’ll say that nothing’s changed, that I am still the same

I say that Christ is in me and there’s power in His name

The old is gone, and the new has come

My victory is won by all that Christ has done

 

 I know whose I am

and I know who’s in me

I’m not who I was

’cause Christ has set me free

I know what He’s done

And how He’s changing me

I know the Holy One

And what I am called to be

Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours

Jesus, I am Yours, I am Yours

 

I am called, I am chosen, I am loved, I am redeemed

I am free from condemnation, rescued from my enemy

I am purchased by my Savior, who lives inside of me

I am dead to sin, I am secure in Christ my hope of glory

The old is gone, and the new has come

My victory is won by all that Christ has done

 

No matter what the world may say

No matter what the world may do

My identity and destiny are only found in You

Paizo is Eevil, pt 1

Dear Paizo,

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

No, seriously, it’s about like that.

Now, maybe all you gamers out there are already well aware of how many useful products are out there. But some of us have been overseas for a few years, and some of us are Luddites that don’t understand how to shop for things online.

So walking into the local game store and seeing all they had to offer was a terrible experience… at least for my wallet.

Because I love their products and I am all too willing to give them money, I’m going to post a product. Then I’m going to tell you how to do the same thing (more or less) for cheap. Maybe I’ll do a few of these, because I keep ending up with Paizo products on my game accessories shelves.

Let’s start with the GameMastery Combat Pad.

You know you want one
Magnets! How do they work?

Depending on the RPG group you’ve got, combat can be one of the best or one of the most frustrating parts of game time. Someone’s probably browsing Facebook on their iPhone, someone is off getting snacks or hitting the bathroom, and someone’s reading the rulebook to challenge a decision you made ten minutes ago because there’s a clause they’re sure will give their character an edge. (Grammar nazis: please note the proper use of they’re, their, and there in the same sentence.)

 

Inevitably, you get to someone’s turn, and they blink twice, shake their head, and try to figure out where their character is at, where the enemies are at, what happened while they were out in space, and gosh, what are they going to do this round, because it came up as a surprise that they’d have to participate in the game soon.

GameMastery’s Combat Pad won’t magically fix that player, BUT it gives them no excuse!

You get 8 magnets for enemy names, 8 for PC names, 4 for NPC names, 0 magnets for DM PC names (haha, kidding), and a few indicators for the progression of combat rounds. You also get a handy pad for eraseable notes, and columns for delaying or readying actions. And there’s a far better write-up of the product on the website I linked, so if you really want all the details, go there.

The product certainly looks nice and all. Being able to move the magnets around is convenient. You can buy additional magnets if you are running an enormous group (more than 8 players? seriously?) or if you’re the sort that unleashes entire armies on your party (more than 8 types of monster? nice!).

Maybe that’s worth your $20. Or you could cut the price by more than half, give up the pretty look of the Paizo product, and just get one of these:Half the cost, all the function

Or if you’re like me, you run your game mostly off files on your laptop (the perfect DM screen!), so it’s nothing to pop open Notepad and create an initiative tracker right there. Of course, then you have one more thing to communicate–  “Borak, you’re up next, and then Lucan.”

But then you don’t get to play with magnets.

Vestigial Souls

(inspired by two “word of the day” exercises, for “vestigial” and “subtilize”)
For the Agworkers of Sector 5, nothing ever changed. Nothing needed to change, because every need had already been taken into account… every need but one.

Cado paused to take a deep breath. His chiseled muscles rippled under his pale skin as he hefted the bag of ferti-seed over his shoulder, and sweat dripping from his brow to the fresh-tilled earth below. Filtered sunlight washed over the domed production field.

This week’s crop would help satisfy the famine, he thought as he knelt and aimed the spout. The moist chemigenetic mixture of seed, fertilizer, and enhanced soil trickled out into the softened furrows Cado made earlier in the day.  There was tell that last week’s harvests met the monthly quota for Ag-Industrial Sector 5, where Cado worked. The next two weeks’ produce was destined for transport.

“From those with plenty, to those who have need,” the Maxim echoed in Cado’s mind. He knew it was his duty; it was everyone’s duty. But more than that, it just made sense. The soil would not support life on its own without scientific enhancements, and the famine’s impact on the food supply meant everyone had to do their part. DoD gathered all “nurtural” produce and allocated all resources for the good of all the varied Sectors in the Union, each with their specialized industries.

The speakers blared the signal for midday rest, and Cado stooped once more to set the seed bag down, avoiding the green shoots already poking through the wet earth. He double-checked the spout to ensure none of the precious material leaked out. Waste not, want not. Ferti-seed cost the Union time and energy to produce; it was everyone’s responsibility to prevent waste.

There was a row of shade-trees at the edge of the tilled fields, and Cado made for his favorite spot. Before he sat down, he plucked one of the dozen ripe red-orange citrus apples that beckoned to him off the lower branches. The pulpy flesh of the fruit was filling as always, a nutritious lunch, acceptable fuel for an afternoon of hard work in the farm complex. The juice rehydrated his body and the gnawing in his belly quieted down somewhat.

Far above, the safety-shield tint of the dome’s hexagonal panels shifted to transparency. The full, dangerous light of the sun burned through the empty sky onto the fields below during the midday break. The ferti-seed was designed to handle what Cado was not. Just before the next bell, the radiation shields would be back in place, protecting the Ag-Ind workers. The Manager thought of everything.

Cado took another bite. The vitamins and electrolytes which enriched the fruit energized his body. The weariness drained out of his muscles. Cado felt ready to jump up and finish the field ahead of schedule. But it was scientifically proven that the seventeen-point-five minute midday rest was essential for maximum production. It was another detail the Manager took into account. Cado closed his eyes and began the proper deep-breathing regimen.

A soft female voice broke the silence.  “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

Cado’s right eye opened in a narrow slit. “Lilly, this is not social time,” he hissed.

“I know,” she whispered back as she peeked around the tree.

She was three years his junior, according to her Personal Information File. Two years ago, when she first arrived in Ag-Ind Sec 5, he had accessed her file. He was surprised to find above average marks for physics, technological development, comprehensive theoretical application, and a few words he didn’t even know. Cado wondered back then how it was that the Aptitude Testing & Allocation branch of the Department of Distribution had found her suitable for grain production.

Then he remembered he did not work in DoD for a reason. He was a simple Agworker. The Manager’s judgment was infallible, his purpose pure: From those with plenty, to those with need, for the good of the Union.

And as far as Cado could tell, Lilly had been a dependable worker. Ag-Ind workers who did not meet DoD-mandated quotas were reassessed and transferred to a task better suited to their education or medical condition. Everyone had a place in the Union.

Lilly giggled, and Cado was shocked to see her bare feet in the thick grass, verdant blades between her wiggling toes.  “Why have you taken off your workboots?” he barked.

“I don’t need them to sit in the shade, silly,” she countered, and then added with a mischievous whisper, “It’s… pleasant, relaxing. You should try it.”

Cado’s face wrinkled at the archaic word. Relaxing? No one talks that way any more. “You should have a care about such non-standard behavior, Lilly. Why are you acting this way?”

She snickered, and he heard her take a bite from a citrus apple. “Mmm… it’s jusht–“  She paused to swallow. “Oh, that’s so tasty after a few hours’ of good hard work.  Look at the sunlight, how the dust dances and sparkles over the field… I don’t know, it just makes me feel…” she stumbled over the words. “Warm… and alive.”

Eyes open wide now, he shot quick glances to the left and right. Unless some Ag-Ind workers had received aural upgrades, no one should have heard her comments. But they will soon, if she doesn’t stop talking like this.

She continued without concern. “A few weeks ago, a small pebble stuck in my boot heel, and I took off my boot to get it out. When my toes touched the grass, it felt…” She sighed as she reached for words. “Soothing… tender… ticklish…”

Cado struggled to understand, but the concepts were so alien, the words unfamiliar and unused.

She turned to face him. He caught his breath at the sight of her auburn eyes; there was more energy in her gaze than a bushel of citrus apples could provide. She smiled, and he felt his cheeks burn, though he could not say why.

“You have some stuck to your face,” she said with a laugh as she plucked her right glove off. He sat frozen as she reached out to brush small bits of orange away from the stubble on his chin. Her hand lingered, stroking the sharp lines of his jaw, fingertips rubbing with a raspy noise across his rough face.

Cado found her touch uncomfortable… no, terrifying.  His cheek tingled at her caress; her hand felt like electricity against his skin.

The bell sounded the end of the midday rest. Lilly smiled and replaced her glove as she turned. Cado watched her jogging–almost dance–back to the field. He took a much-needed breath and returned to his work. But every so often, he caught himself stealing a glance at Lilly. Worse than that, a couple of times he caught her watching him.

It wasn’t even two months later that Lilly was reassigned from Sector 5. Cado thought about her as he ate his midday citrus apple, guessing at what position she might have been given. He did not investigate; it was not within his purview to ask. Whatever it was, he knew it was for the best. No doubt, she was reassessed and positioned where her skills and intelligence could better serve the Union.

Eyes closed and engaged in the deep-breathing regimen, Cado smiled.

Lilly was right. The grass did feel soothing between his toes.

Approach Boldly

Hebrews 4:14-16 states, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

If God was going to speak to you today, what might He say? What thoughts arise to answer that question? Imagine for a moment that Jesus Himself was standing there in your office. What would you say to Him, and what do you think He might say to you?

Many times I have found myself expecting judgment, discipline, or condemnation from God. Sometimes, I hesitate to pray or to worship based on that expectation. After all, He is a holy God, seated on His throne of righteousness and justice, and here I am, little old me; I stumble and fail in so many different ways. If I go to God in my condition, He’ll probably tell me how many things I am doing wrong, or correct me for my faults. He probably doesn’t have a lot of time for a failure like me. On top of that, I’m reminded of everything I should be doing… I don’t pray enough, I don’t read my Bible enough, it’s been a while since I went to church, etc.

Ever feel that way? This phrase, “approach God’s throne with confidence,” shatters that fear of God’s anger and judgment for all those who are covered by faith in the high-priest ministry of Jesus. Christ’s blood was the perfect sacrifice, making atonement and “reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Our high priest is called “merciful and faithful.” He understands our weaknesses because He has walked in our shoes; He does not stand aloof, out of reach, glaring down on pathetic and pitiful humanity. Instead, He became pathetic, pitiful, “a man of no reputation, familiar with sorrows,” in order to reconcile us to God.

Now we are free to come to the throne. The throne is the seat of authority, and is approached with reverence and fear. The one who sits on the throne in a particular land holds the power of life and death for anyone who approaches that place. But because of our high priest, we are not coming to a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace, of unmerited favor. Nothing I can do will earn God’s acceptance– He has already accepted me! We come with confidence because the One on the throne has granted us His favor and love. He has approved us, selected us, welcomed us to come before Him.

This breaks down all my thinking that my relationship with God is based on “Jesus and _______.” All the good things that I do will not grant me special favors from God. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” and when I work to earn something from God, my faith is in what I have done instead of in Him. God’s plan works the other way around: He saved us by His grace, through faith, and not by good deeds that we have done, so that we can’t boast about our “special” relationship with Him as though we did it on our own. But we were saved for a purpose, so that we can be in the right position to accomplish good deeds for God’s glory. We do good deeds because God loves us, not so that God might love us.

At all times, knowing that we have received His favor, we can come boldly to God in prayer and in worship, knowing that we can receive His loving assistance (mercy) and find divine power and strength (grace) to help us whenever we have a need. Jesus is a faithful priest in things pertaining to God; He is always able to administer the blessings of God to us. There is no time where He takes a leave of absence; He is never too busy; He is never taking a break. We can always rely on His ministry, and find mercy and grace at every point of need.

The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.