Category Archives: General

Creative Kids are Creative

Sooner or later, you’ll notice that I have a fondness for Role-Playing Games, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular.

A while back, my wife and I were chatting about what to do with our children, since we try very hard to make sure that we both get to be a part of any regular gaming group. (This eases tensions, it keeps her from being stuck at home with the kids she’s stuck at home with during the work day, and it keeps me from quitting groups in order to save my marriage. Win all around.)

Participation in any regular gaming groups means taking away significant family time from the kids, who usually end up on “game night” watching movies and playing games by themselves until bed time.

But what iftheywere playing the games?

About a year ago, we tried it out. I spent some time with the kids, helping them create characters and understand the basics of the rules.

Deborah had been given a half-tiger/half-man figure as a present, and she begged me to let her make a tiger-man. The beauty ofD&Dis, if you’re not taking it too seriously, you can do whatever you want. So that was an easy “yes.” Her tiger-man became an archer with the unique name of “Beastly Tiger.” (She has a stuffed bunny named Bunny. This is a trend.)

Jonathan wanted a wizard. But he had seen some pictures of 4th Edition D&D books, so he also wanted “one of those dinosaur guys,” better known as a Dragonborn.

A Dragonborn, from 4th Ed D&D
One of those dinosaur guys

Now if you’re familiar with 4th Edition, you will probably know that Dragonborn don’t make for ideal wizards. They’re more the burly fighter types, solving things with battle axes and brawn instead of balls of lightning and brains. But, again, we’re not taking this serious. And, quite honestly, in my head that gives his character something unique and interesting, a background story that raises questions (and creates opportunities for the DM).
Why did this guy learn to use magic when the rest of his society pursues martial training?
What did he experience growing up–was he an outcast?
Is there something he hopes to achieve through magic that he knows he can’t accomplish by traditional means?

So the answer was, of course, a whole-hearted “Yes.”

Justin was about 6 years old at the time, so he didn’t have much attention span for this sort of thing. He was happy to create a “sneaky guy” and decided to name his character “Clayface” because Justin is an insane fan of LEGO Batman (where Clayface is a villain). Clayface has the power to make himself look like other people… and I can easily picture a stealthy Rogue who is also a master of disguises. So again, a definite “Yes.”

My wife made a character based on a previous campaign, a battle-captain named Bethrynivere who could inspire the others to better performance in a fight. And I threw in a favorite half-orc sorceror whose unique approach to problem-solving often made my kids laugh. So we had our party.

Things only got better once we started playing. After getting the feel for combat with a few bouts in the training arena, they pulled a shift of guard duty and were able to rescue a merchant whose wagon was under attack by goblins. Justin decided his rogue would do some acrobatics as well, jumping into a pit for cover while throwing knives at his target. Jonathan’s wizard cast a couple spells, and then decided he really wanted to run around the pit to crack some goblin on the head with the wizard’s staff (highly unusual behavior for a wizard, but it was still awesome).  Jami had her elf spring up onto the wagon to fight the goblins, sending them flying off the back of the out-of-control vehicle. Seeing that the goblins were beaten but the merchant and Bethrynivere were about to be in a wagon crash, Deborah had Beastly Tiger leap up onto the wagon, grab hold of both of them, and spring off in a backward flip to save them from harm. (Borak, my half-orc, pretty much slept through the whole event.)

I love game night with adults — it’s always interesting to see what creative solutions (or attempted solutions) my friends come up with. But I never knew how full of surprises my kids and their characters could be. I’m sure there will still be some D&D nights where they’re stuck watching a movie or playing upstairs in their rooms. It’s great that there can also be some D&D nights where we hand them their dice, lay out the maps, and ask, “What do you do next?”

Table-top RPGs: When I "got it"

I’ve played table-top RPGs here and there most of my life. My brother and a friend got started playing Iron Crown Enterprise’s MERPMiddle Earth Role Playing. They were both huge fans of Tolkien, and my brother got me started on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as well. So of course I wanted to play a game set in that world.

This was in the days when it seemed everybody in the evangelical church “knew” thatDungeons and Dragonswas like a gateway drug to all Satan’s deceptions. You start playing that game, and next thing you know, you’ll be flying on a broom throwing fireballs and summoning evil spirits… or so the traditional wisdom said.

So D&D was out of the question. But a game based on Middle-Earth had to be okay, right? Of course it was!

We played MERP for a while, and then we switched to BattleTech, a futuristic game where your characters pilot 40-foot-tall humanoid destruction engines, pounding each other with lasers and missiles across a hexagon battlefield. My brother usually ran the games… I’m sure both systems had some term for what they called that person, but the common term from D&D is “Dungeon Master” or DM.

Years later, I found myself sitting at a table with a few friends from the Chapel who were interested in a casual RPG group. I had picked up the newest rulebooks ofD&D, by now freed from the fear that these books were instant portals to the deepest levels of hell. It turns out, if you read through the books and talk to people who play RPGs, all they’re doing is cooperative social story-telling. The devil’s work, indeed.

I had a grand plan in mind to start off the new group’s adventures, and I was both nervous and excited about what it meant to be a good DM. You have to be able to come up with a fairly interesting setting, then communicate that setting, then adapt to all the ways the players will find tobreak everythingin that setting. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The players fought some bandits that had set up a “toll” on a busy merchant road. They learned where the bandits had set up camp, and decided to pay a visit. This was all pretty mundane, but we had several players who had never tried an RPG before, so it was an easy way to start learning the rules. The team decided to approach the camp, and developed a plan. Some snuck around behind the camp, climbing up a sheer cliff face. Some stayed hidden in the trees on the outskirts of the camp, ready to rain arrows and magic down on the bandits if needed, and the main “voice” of the group strolled right into camp with my wife’s character to negotiate with the bandit leader.

At this point, I’m just having fun, playing the part of the surly bandit that my friend is trying to negotiate with. What might the bandit be thinking? He’s trying to trick me, he’s some heroic type… but he makes a good offer, and the money might be worth it. Plus, me and my crew, we have this fellow and his friend completely outnumbered. So if he tries anything, he’s going to get beat down fast.

Then my friend says to me, out of nowhere, “I attack the fire.”

What?  I probably did a double-take. “You what now?”

“I attack the fire. It’s a pretty big campfire, right?”

“Yeah…”

“I want to attack it,” he continues. “I don’t know how hard it would be to do this, but I want to basically swing my warhammer like a golf club and knock the burning wood and embers into this guy’s face.”

My mind is racing, trying to figure out what happens next, and my friend rolls a die to see how well his character does at this attempt. He does pretty well. I’m excited, because I never would have expected this.

My player asks, “So the fire is pretty well scattered, right?”

“Yeah…” I answer, probably with a cringe for where this is headed.

“So… these are all human bandits, right? And you said it was a pretty dark night when we were coming to the camp. So this is the only real source of light. And none of us are humans… all of us havelow light vision.”

We had a dwarf paladin, a few elves, and a halfling (more or less a Hobbit). According to the rules, all of them could see in dim light as well as you and I can see during the day. My human bandits… not so much.

The glorious battle I had planned turned into an epic slaughter in seconds, starting with the fateful phrase, “I attack the fire.”

That pretty much sold me on being a DM. It’s great to set up a world or a story, to describe a setting or a mission… it’s even better to set all that out and see how the players will break it and make it theirs.

That sneaky devil… clearly his trick worked. (/sarcasm)

Proof-Reading Our Message

I’m studying the craft of writing, and one of the books I’m reading talks about the requirement for a writer to “take the reader there” in the story, wherever the “there” is that you want them to be. In other words, I know what I picture as I’m writing a story, but am I writing it clearly enough, descriptive enough so that what the reader “sees” is what I’m seeing? It’s common for new writers to assume that the reader will get the same picture as the writer, because the writer’s mind sees the full picture and fills in the gaps in the story.

At the Tuesday Bible study I go to, we were reading in Acts 4 and talking about what sort of message we should be presenting to the world. It hit me that perhaps many of us in the Christian community are like those new writers. We know what we mean to convey, and our minds fill in the gaps, convincing us that we’re actually communicating the Gospel accurately when we might not be doing it as well as we want to.

I’ve mentioned this book, unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, in another thread. They take statistical research from polling data and show exactly what this generation thinks about Christians, the Church, the Gospel, etc. Then they talk about what Scripture tells us, and how we might better reflect Christ and the Gospel to a world that doesn’t know Him.

To me, their research is like taking what we’re “writing” and giving it to someone to proof-read. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been reading my stuff to my wife. Seeing her respond how I want, laughing at a joke or saying “whoa” at something shocking, and hearing her thoughts on the story– that all tells me that she’s getting it. In those parts, I feel like I’m taking her “there.” Other times, I see how she doesn’t laugh at a joke or doesn’t respond to what I thought was powerful. When she asks, “What does that mean?” then I know I haven’t written that part well, and I change it.

I’m not saying go buy this book. What I’m saying is, the short version of the book is that the world sees us as hypocritical, only concerned with making new converts, anti-homosexual (opposed to the people, not the sin), sheltered from reality, too political, and judgmental (not in the good sense of making moral judgments about right and wrong, but condemning everyone who is “not us” and de-valuing them).

I know that many might say, “Well, Jesus said the world would hate us, after all, and the Gospel message is an offense, so it’s no surprise that people don’t like us.” I thought about why the Apostles were imprisoned in Acts 4 and 5. I realized that they were imprisoned because of what God was doing in and through them, and because of the power of the message they preached. The religious leaders wanted to stop the message, and trying to stop the Apostles was the way to do it.

In contrast, I thought about the unChristian people in my life and the evidence presented in this book, and I realized how very few of the people I’ve dealt with have had issues with the Gospel. More often than not, they haven’t even gotten around to dealing with the Gospel because they can’t stand the messengers. As a result, they don’t care what the messengers have to say.

All I’m saying is, can we honestly suppose that (in general) we’re doing a good job of “taking our readers there,” making sure that the image we see is accurately described in the message our lives convey?

"Pearl-Harboring" People

On December 7th, 2009, I found myself at Pearl Harbor Naval Station, Hawaii. 

While getting to my lodging on the day prior, I came across a memorial on the base, near the chapel. It is a fountain with eleven small columns in the center, each with a pane of glass that has information about one of ten ships damaged in the attack, along with dates when – if the ship was salvaged – each rejoined the fleet. The eleventh pane bears this inscription:

“In recognition of all the gallant men and women, military and civilian, who performed unprecedented deeds of bravery and heroism in the service of their country at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941;

In memory of the brave men who made the supreme sacrifice while serving on the vessels that were sunk or damaged in the attack;

In admiration of the military and civilian crews who salvaged and returned to meritorious service all but three of those vessels;

In lasting tribute to the spirit of these people, may we find everlasting peace.”

It was a serendipity to have been here at this particular time.

My trip to Pearl Harbor Naval Station sparked a little historical research. I read up on the attack on Pearl Harbor, of course, but I also looked at the Japanese military motivation for the attack, and the American response. I already knew that–up until December 7th, 1941–we were not at war with either Germany or Japan. We declared war on Japan as a result of the attack, and Germany decided to declare war on us for that declaration. Apparently, we pretty much said, “Bring it!” to the Germans and declared war back. Anyway, I digress.

One of the Japanese admirals spoke of the tactical victory at Pearl Harbor as a strategic loss. The Japanese were preparing to conquer the Philippines, and they attacked the United States because they thought we would rush to the Philippines’ defense. So they thought they could prevent us from being able to aid the Philippines by preemptive strike on our Navy.  But the American leadership had specifically planned that America would NOT rush to the aid of the Philippines. The Japanese attack (obviously) aroused great anger, and we responded by throwing all our strength into the conflict. The Japanese admiral said that by winning that particular battle, Japan lost the war.

It strikes me from personal experience (what I myself have done, and what I’ve seen my fellow Christians do) that we have a habit of “Pearl Harbor-ing” those who do not agree with us 100 percent.. Too many people have found themselves under sudden and devastating attack by the Christian community just because of something they said or did which put them “clearly” on the enemy’s side in the eyes of church-goers. I’ve read a number of accounts from seekers, such as a woman going to a women’s Bible study who comments about abortion and doesn’t follow the approved party line, and then finds herself under attack from literally the entire group. Or it might be the person who out of ignorance asks, “What’s the big deal about (fill in the blank)?” and gets blasted by multiple comments clarifying just how evil that particular sin is.

I know that defending the truth and teaching Godly standards are important parts of accurately representing Christ. We can’t just call good what God calls evil, nor can we sweep it under the rug.

I just wonder if sometimes we manage to push away people who would otherwise be drawn to Christ in us… if we win the minor battle by showing them what’s so bad about whatever sin, but we lose them in the process. I know for a fact it happens. I wonder, can we not do better?

Small Beginnings

After (not much) cajoling from a few people whose opinions I value, I agreed to start a blog. I don’t quite know what I will do with this thing, but I’ll probably use it to post various written pieces, songs, poetry, and the occasional rant. There might even be some life mixed in, as I watch four insane children grow up around me.

If nothing else, I take this as an opportunity to share my life with anyone willing to go past a “Like” on Facebook, a “Hey man” at work, or a “Nice to see you, Brother” in church. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because on some level you know me already. So thank you for taking the time to let me share a little more.

There will possi-probably be a religious bent to much of what I post… but based on past experience, I suspect it will be a little too secular for some of my Christian acquaintances, and a little too Christian for some of my secular friends. Hopefully I can find that middle ground where anyone on either side of that equation knows that I respect them even if we disagree on a particular topic.

If there’s one piece I’ve written that closely communicates my religious feelings, it is the piece below. I feel that’s a good choice to begin with on this site, because it’s an attitude I hope I never abandon.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper.

You saw the need and You responded.

I’ve forgotten what it meant that You ignored the condemning cries

and told the sinner, “Go and sin no more.”

I’ve forgotten what You came for.

Sitting with the wicked,

yet separated by Your virtue…

I separate myself by venue.

You reach down into the gutter

and lift up the one in need.

I’d be afraid to get dirt on my Sunday best.

My Christian tie could get ruined.

And You loved those You saw

as You traveled by foot from city to city.

I try not to get caught speeding,

since someone might see the fish

or the church bumper sticker on my car.

Miracles followed You.

They don’t seem to catch up with me.

You did all You could

to make the message known,

while I get scared someone might ruin

the gold edge of my Bible as I witness,

armed with a leather-bound book.

You were armed with a heart of love,

and You died innocent between two thieves

to heal the one who was sick but never knew it.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper,

but now I remember Your touch.

And though nine others forget,

I’m coming back to thank You,

And I’m bringing some of my sick friends.