Saving the Game A Christian podcast about tabletop roleplaying games, collaborative storytelling in RPGs, and other interesting topics

October 4, 2016  

It's a relatively light episode for news, so Grant and Peter have more time for the Patreon question and the main topic. It turns out they need it. Hospitality is a big, old-school StG topic and the hosts look at it from a number of angles and discuss how it applies in games, in the world around us, and at our gaming tables.

Scripture: Leviticus 19:34, Luke 14:12-14, 1 Peter 4:8-10


Episode 5: Charity

Jean Veljean and the Bishop of Digne

Would You Hide a Jew From the Nazis?

Denver church planning to build tiny homes

April 7, 2015  

Grant and Peter are back to talk about making interesting conspiracies for your players to expose—or participate in! First, we plug the ongoing Fear the Con 8 Kickstarter—if you want to see us there, the con needs to hit its Kickstarter goal, so consider backing it if you haven't done so yet! Then we get down to business, talking about the elements of a good conspiracy as an entity in your game, and only briefly diverting to talk about conspiracy theories. Like these, which claim the moon isn't real.

Scripture: Psalm 41:5-9, Matthew 26:1-5

March 3, 2015  

One of the pieces of media that's been consistently pushed on my by friends (mostly my co-host Grant and his wife, but also some other people) is the show White Collar. For those unfamiliar with it, the show is built around the concept of a not-so-bad “bad guy” being teamed up with a good guy to do good things. In some shows this results in tensions and they find drama that way, but in White Collar, it tends to operate more on the friendly banter level. The dynamic is similar to that of a lawful good paladin and a very kind-hearted and decent chaotic good bard working together. The characters (mostly-reformed con man Neal and FBI agent Peter) don't always agree on how things should be done and operate under different rules, but they genuinely like and trust each other, even if neither one really wants to admit it. The show is delightful you should give it a try if you haven't.

In any case, while binge-watching the first season on Netflix over the weekend, I ran across something interesting in Season 1, Episode 9 that I feel is worth putting in the proverbial gamer tool box. [SPOILER WARNING: spoilers for S1E9 of White Collar begin here] In the episode, Peter goes to talk to a corrupt judge, who offers him a bribe. We know from eight prior episodes of character development that he's about as likely to be bribeable as Captain America, so when he plays along, the audience knows that he's doing so with an eye toward catching the corrupt judge in her corruption. The other characters in the show, particularly his boss, are less likely to have quite such absolute confidence in his virtue, so when the judge makes plans to give a tape she made of the interaction to a rival agent, we realize he could be in real trouble. He and Neal both begin to put plans into place to get him out of the jam, but neither consults the other first. Peter gets together a bunch of his subordinates who do trust him and starts building the case against the judge on an accelerated timetable. Neal gets together with another basically-good criminal buddy of his and they erase the tape in transit. The tape being blanked buys Peter more time to turn the tables on the corrupt judge and the dirty FBI agent he's up against by the end of the episode.[END SPOILERS]

The episode illustrates an interesting idea: People who work together don't always need to coordinate to help each other (in fact, a lot of workplaces rely on people not constantly needing to coordinate with the boss or each other to get stuff done). Neal and Peter never communicated what they planned to do to each other, and in fact, Peter was grateful for Neal's help but was as surprised by it as his rival was. They worked together while working apart.

This could be, I think, a really neat thing to do in a game, but in order for it to work properly, the PCs have to really trust each other. If they don't, you're more likely to get intrigue than serendipitous cooperation, which may also make for good play and/or good story depending on your group, but it's beyond the scope of this blog post. However, if you're a GM and your players have that kind of relationship, I think you probably can get away with giving multiple parts of a split party the same news they're going to want to react to without letting them talk to each other before they have to start moving on it, then let their actions help each other at appropriate times once the clock starts moving, and when the party finally reunites, enjoy the “that was you?” moments that will inevitably spring up. I think it's also important for their goals to be complimentary, but don't sweat it if they aren't identical. In the show, Peter wanted to catch a bad guy and Neal just wanted to spare his friend some possible career-imperiling grief.

It's not something you probably want to do all the time, but if your group will go for it, I think it could be a lot of fun to let your PCs work together without working in concert. I certainly intend to give it a try at the earliest opportunity.


February 17, 2015  


Especially dedicated listeners (or those that tuned in for Episode 50's live recording session) have been exposed to the longest-running inside joke in Saving the Game's history: Blarey the Podcast Train. I live about a block away from some railroad tracks, and when the freight trains come through, the engineers seem to take a perverse joy in laying on the horn just right, so the sound waves bouncing off the sides of the houses turn the entire street into a giant megaphone. There are certainly more annoying things in the world, but the blaring (blaring horn – Blarey – get it? Yeah, you really didn't need me to explain that, did you?) of that train horn in the middle of a podcast recording session certainly makes my top ten list of recurring irritations I wish I could be rid of.

But as long as I live on this street, Grant is going to have to edit around breaks in the conversation as we all pause to allow the train sounds on my audio track to fade into the background. The train has derailed conversations and gotten them back on track when we had to pause in the middle of a tangential discussion, it's spawned its own jingle (“Blarey, the podcast train – he's here to ruin your aud-i-O!” [thanks for that, Branden—Grant]) and has, as I mentioned earlier, become an inside joke among the hosts, to the point that, for all of its distracting qualities, it'll feel like the end of an era whenever I move and record an episode from someplace where the familiar rumble and deafening honk aren't going occur.

If you keep an eye open, it's possible to do similar things in-game. In Episode 55, Grant and I spent some time discussing our Shadowrun PCs and in particular, how my PC, Frost, developed an in-game desire to return to the punch clock world of honest (and stable) employment. We discussed how that developed out of a joke, but we barely touched on the fact that the (in-game) joke rose out of another PC's annoyance. The PC in question got into shadowrunning in order to avoid being part of the regular working world, and mine had the gall to drag him into that world, albeit for a short time.

Another PC of mine, a paladin with some psychological baggage, changed away from a hard, grim outlook when some other PCs pointed out to him just how ridiculous he seemed scowling and brooding all the time, and a third one managed to completely isolate himself from the rest of his adventuring party by being impatient and short-tempered with another PC who was obnoxious, but generally good-hearted.

It's not a complete measure of a person by any stretch of the imagination, but how people deal with things that are bothering them, both individually and in groups, says a lot about who they are and what their character is like. Some folks will take an irritation and co-opt it, making something fun (or at least bearable) out of it like the StG hosts have done with the train that comes through my neighborhood, wrapping layers of humor and shared experience around the problem until it's not really a problem any more. In this way, it's almost like the process of an oyster making a pearl. Others will allow the irritant to control their mood, like the last PC I mentioned. Others still will change because of it, and some, realizing that they are the irritant, will try to make themselves less abrasive. None of these approaches to irritating circumstances is the “right” one when you're creating characters, but it's worth keeping them (and any other responses you can think of; my list certainly isn't exhaustive) in the back of your mind for character development.

Who knows? Maybe that thing that's just a pain today will eventually turn into something with its own theme song tomorrow.

February 3, 2015  

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:26

I have an odd relationship with difficulty. Sometimes it just frustrates me. I play most shooters and other action games as well as most story-based RPGs on “normal” or “easy.” I tend to get annoyed when I'm playing a digital card game and the random number generator seems to favor the computer's draws more often than not. But there are times when that falls away. I tend to thrive on a certain amount of pressure at work (even if most of it is internal), I love the feeling I get when I figure out a solution to a real-world problem, and I definitely like some more difficult gaming experiences.

I think the difference is that there is more than one kind of difficulty. One type represents being inadequate in some way I'm unable to overcome. This type of difficulty manifests in being shafted by a random number generator, being unable to twitch fast enough in a FPS or RTS to do anything but die, or even encountering an unexpected and unavoidable traffic jam on the way to work. I can't control the random number generator, as I age, my reflexes aren't going to get any faster, and there is no amount of good planning that will save me from the consequences of someone else, 20 minutes ahead of me, getting into an accident that snarls traffic in all directions.

The other type, however, comes from inexperience and invites growth. Some of my favorite gaming experiences have come from this type of difficulty. Way back in the late 1990s, Jagged Alliance 2 kept me on my toes and I moved a rag-tag squad of mercenaries around a map trying to liberate the oppressed country of Arulco. That game is really tough, but the toughness feels fair; enemies are subject to the same rules as you, and while they often have better numbers and equipment, they are seldom any match on a personal prowess level for your team. In addition, staying calm and using solid tactics will usually be enough to get you out of all but the thorniest jams. XCOM: Enemy Within plays out in a very similar manner, as do a number of other great turn-based strategy games I've played over the years.

Two more good examples are the entire roguelike and rogue-lite genre cluster and Lords of the Fallen, which I'm playing in preparation for taking a crack at a Dark Souls game. Like the aforementioned turn-based strategy games, they give you a consistent set of rules that everything in the world plays by, then puts you in a set of circumstances designed to test how well you can work within those rules. As you play, you can feel yourself getting better. When I first started playing Lords of the Fallen, a single rhogar marauder was more than a match for me. Now I can take on two at a time and usually come out victorious (if not unscathed).

Finally, there are deck-building card games, which I have very hit-or-miss luck with. I'm good enough at Magic: The Gathering for it to be fun in a casual context (and I love Commander/EDH) but I'll never darken the door of a tournament. I tend to get my clock cleaned in Race for the Galaxy and Dominion, but I love those games anyway, I can feel myself getting slowly better, and the success I experience in all three is more satisfying not only for the failure I've experienced, but for the knowing why.

There is a parallel, I think, between the struggle to get better at some game and getting better at being a person and a Christian. The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of athletic competition often when he's talking about the Christian life, and I think he's onto something. Resisting my habitual sins and being more loving, more forgiving, and more learned in my faith isn't effortless. It's sometimes really hard, in fact. But I don't think we're supposed to look at the struggle as a futile one we can't make any progress in. Much like a more experienced player or a strategy guide, we have Jesus, and Paul, and countless other scriptural figures to show us at least some of what we need to do if we're going to overcome the obstacles in our path. And even with that help, we're never going to succeed 100% of the time. But much like with those pesky rhogar marauders, if we keep at it, we'll eventually find that things that used to seem insurmountable to us are now challenges we have a solid chance of overcoming.


January 20, 2015  

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."—Ecclesiastes 1:9

There's something appropriate to the fact that Solomon's words are about 3000 years old, and while he may not have given humanity enough credit in terms of technology, he certainly was right about our behavior. There are two places I think this is relevant, with radically-different levels of importance.

The first and more important is that, as I've heard a number of pastors say, there is nothing we can do that God hasn't seen before. Our shortcomings and sins are neither novel nor noteworthy, and neither is our cycle of struggle, failure, trying again, backsliding, progress, temporary success, and genuine forward progress. The story of the Bible is the story of humanity failing, screwing things up, pleading for forgiveness, getting it, doing better, and then sliding back into old habits and the cycle beginning anew. There is nothing we can do to shock God. There is no wrongdoing we can commit that will set us apart as one of the “special bad ones.” His forgiveness extends to all equally.

The second is that because of this pattern, human nature has been more-or-less constant for all of our history. We do good, we do evil. Cycles of freedom and oppression wax and wane, and one can find parallels with present events in history, sometimes very recent history. I'm sure everyone with an internet connection has seen some quote that, on the face of it, appears to be about current events that was actually from the 1960s. Or 1860s. Or 1360s. Humanity is nothing if not consistent, which is why, in my opinion, the stories we tell each other are so important.

It's also why they tend to be so similar.

There are archetypal stories out there (how many is the subject of much discussion and debate) but the names are familiar: the Hero's Journey, Boy Meets Girl, Monster in the House, and so forth. Each one comes with its own set of tropes and conventions. So many of us strive to come up with something original, when the truth is: we can't. There is at least one website devoted to cataloging tropes, and it is massive. In a way, that knowledge is freeing, if you let it be. Because there is still room to combine the elements in a new way, even if the elements themselves are familiar. And in so doing, we can create something more useful than something new: we can create something meaningful, and meaningful in such a way that it can be understood.

Meaningful doesn't always have to mean “deep” by the way; not every story we tell is going to contain some timeless, profound truth. However, if we let them, almost every story we tell, or that we let others tell us, will reveal some small tings about us. Telling stories together builds friendships, but it does so by showing others parts of us that we can't or won't show in other ways. Tabletop RPGs can do this better than most other means, if we let them. The collaborative nature of the experience means that the participants should be constantly playing off of each other – you can tell a lot about someone by the types of characters they create, and how those characters behave in-game. The experience teaches both us and our friends our own specific rhythms and patterns of thought while teaching us theirs in return. Oftentimes, all that's useful for is making the session more enjoyable, but in today's world of stress and disconnection, that's still a worthy goal. Every now and then, though, sometimes unintentionally, the experience will teach us something profound about ourselves, deeper than we expected, but you have to keep scratching the surface to get down there.

We often get into the good stuff, the deep stuff, the really useful and meaningful revelations not by digging a mine shaft straight down, but by digging a continuous series of shallow holes, one inside the other.

January 6, 2015  

Every year, I and countless other people make New Year's Resolutions. And every year, most of us break most of them. The reasons vary, but most resolutions do not survive the year. That leads a lot of folks of a sensible but perhaps a little cynical bent to deride the practice as worthless or just a source of disappointment.

I disagree; I think the practice, even, perhaps especially, given the ephemeral nature of the resolutions is valuable.

For one thing, failed resolutions can be a convenient reminder that even the most sensible of us can't always predict how things will turn out. It can be a good hedge against Pride to realize that we didn't accomplish something we wanted to as long as we don't fall into the trap of self-loathing about it. That same reminder of our own finite and fallible nature, especially so closely placed to Christmas, can help drive home just what a wonderful thing it is that God loves us and chose to walk among us in human flesh, experiencing what we experience as we experience it.

I also think also there's tremendous value in sitting down once a year and really thinking about what you'd like to do with your life. Modern life is, almost by definition, busy and distracting. Even as an introvert, married to another introvert, with no children and a job that allows me excellent work-life balance, I find my attention constantly in demand for a thousand things, both petty and important, and even when I'm not busy, there's always Netflix and Steam. It's nice to have an annual ritual where we stop for a bit and contemplate what, exactly, we actually want to do with ourselves. (This same phenomenon, by the way, is why I also enjoy long car rides with my wife; driving removes a lot of the technological distractions and gives us time to talk.) There are some nice parallels between annual lists of things I'd like to make better about myself and the doctrine of Progressive Sanctification I believe in as a Methodist.

And finally, making some resolutions acknowledges the clean slate that a new year brings, but it also puts a few brushstrokes on the canvass so you're not staring into a void of endless, yet empty, possibilities. Or maybe that's just me.

So I'm doing what I always do at this time of year: I'm assembling a list of things that I'd like to do with my life and I'm going to try to accomplish some of them in the coming year.

With that in mind, I offer the following resolution-related suggestions:

- Pick stuff you WANT to do, not just stuff you HAVE to do or feel you SHOULD do. If you're anything like me (and face it, if you're reading a post about resolutions on the website of a Christian RPG podcast, you're probably more like me than either of us is comfortable with) you'll have more success and less guilt that way.

- Pick out a few things that you'd like to try, but never have. In my personal lists, this often takes the form of game systems, and I have a few in mind for this year.

- Pick stuff you'll want to “renew” if you don't get it done this year.

- Divide your list into categories. Here on Saving the Game, we've used the categories of Faith, Personal, and Gaming, but obviously those are driven more by the format of the podcast than anything else.

- Don't be afraid to let resolutions go if you realize you don't want them any more.

- Pick at least a few things that won't benefit just you if you pull them off.

- Have fun with it! Silly resolutions are fine, as are difficult ones.

- Share them! (Perhaps not all of them, but the ones you're comfortable sharing.)

- Check in on them periodically throughout the year. (Doing this is one of mine for this year.)

Happy New Year, and I hope to see you in the chat room on the 8th!

December 23, 2014  

Normally at this point, you'd get 700-1000 words of my musing about gaming, Christianity, introvertedness, or something else that touches on the podcast's topic stable here. But it's the holidays, and I work in retail, and therefore I've been reduced to a shambling Christmas zombie. So instead of a blog post, I offer the following holiday wishes.

To our Christian listeners: Merry Christmas! I hope the joy of the season and the love of both Christ and your loved ones are with you.

To our non-Christian listeners who celebrate another seasonal holiday: Happy Holidays! As you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, or whatever other winter holiday you choose, I hope the time is enjoyable and meaningful.

To everyone who uses the Gregorian calendar: Happy New Year! We're planning another live episode for the 8th of January—our annual resolutions episode. The last live episode was an absolute blast. You should come join us for this one.

And that's all I've got. I hope your holidays, and any holiday gaming you manage to do are awesome. And I'll be back with more blog entries in the new year.


December 9, 2014  

The meme of "murder hobos" has been a prevalent one in gaming discussion lately. If you're not familiar with the concept, it's exactly what it sounds like: PCs that wander around killing stuff, often seemingly for its own sake. Violence has been part of RPGs from the beginning; after all, Gygax and Arneson came out of the tabletop wargaming scene when they created D&D back in the 1970s.

Furthermore, even if Gygax and Arneson had come from more of a dramatic tradition rather than a tactical one, violence would be in there. Shakespeare and the Greek plays are full of bloodshed and mayhem. People have been fighting and killing each other, and for that matter, everything that moves, for ages.

I still can't help but wonder if we've put just a little too much emphasis on participating in it in the RPG world. Our recent discussion about nonviolent conflict has been sharing an orbit in my mind with This War of Mine, a game about surviving in a war zone as civilians. In our last episode, Devon mentioned that nonviolent conflict resolution tends to keep stories moving faster, and that's very true.

However, if you're anything like me, suggestions and ideas are always welcome in these situations, so here's a list of scenario ideas and media that might help you along if you want to put more non-violent action in your game.

• Rescue operations where PCs have to sneak someone or a group of someones out of a hostile area under the noses of superior forces can be incredibly intense and cool. The real-life example that comes to mind most quickly is the Underground Railroad where abolitionists snuck slaves out of the South in pre-Civil War America.

• As we mentioned in the episode, heists that have to go off stealthily are wonderfully entertaining experiences, both from the planning and execution sides of things. Some of the most memorable gaming stories I have to this day come from Grant's Savage Shadowrun game in a scenario that centered around sabotaging a soft drink release.

• I feel like I mention this all the time, but large-scale events like natural disasters or even extreme weather are a great bit of seasoning for these types of events. If you're trying to be stealthy, a violent rainstorm is potentially a huge boon as the wall of rain obscures vision and the sound of it obscures other noises and washes away muddy footprints on hard ground. Natural disasters, especially ones you can see coming, provide a great opportunity for players to exercise their ingenuity. Remember how everyone was screaming at their televisions over the lots full of school buses after Hurricane Katrina? This lets your player characters avert situations like that in a safe, fictional setting.

• Races can be interesting too, in either the traditional competitive sense, or in a higher-stakes one where the PCs are trying to outrun a hostile force of some kind to some key point. Trying to get through to an important leader with diplomatic documents before a foreign envoy that wants to start a war does would make for a very tense scenario.

• If there's anything This War Of Mine has impressed on me, it's that just trying to survive and find resources is a very compelling struggle on its own. Playing a few games of This War of Mine or Neo Scavenger will probably do the same for you. The games do feature some violence, but it's not something you enter into lightly or usually even willingly. This could be a whole campaign (the base idea works especially well for post-apocalyptic scenarios) or something to add spice to an existing game.

• Exploration and treasure hunting can make for an exciting time, and the themes fit any number of games from historical-style New World exploration to hunting through the Dream Realms in a fantasy game to colonizing a new planet in science fiction. GMs wanting to provide this experience for their players would be well-served by looking up some of the more interesting things here on Earth. Keep in mind also that you don't have to be the first people or sapient beings to ever reach a particular place for it to be interesting. Finding new human civilizations in a low-fantasy world is exciting and mysterious.

• Escape scenarios, particularly prison breaks make for some great adventures. Watch The Great Escape and The Shawshank Redemption (no hardship) for ideas. The book The Great Escape was based on is even better and more replete with ideas.

• Grand-scale projects always have problems. The PCs can be the people who make sure an ambitious venture is able to keep going. Some ideas for the project itself include transportation networks (roads, railroads, portal networks, seaports, a space elevator), fortifications (the Great Wall, a castle, a defensive space station), or science and industry (a skyscraper, a specialized manufacturing facility, the Large Hadron Collider). Snags include shortages (of manpower, materials, or money), bureaucracy, shifting circumstances or terrain, difficult deadlines, and poor planning on the part of the organizers that has to be worked around.

• Politics, diplomacy, and intrigue. And not even just Westeros-style conniving. Putting the PCs in charge of getting a good-hearted (but maybe somewhat uncontrollable) NPC politician elected in a democratic society could make for a whole campaign.

• Investigations, mysteries, and puzzles are an old-standby, but for good reason. If you particularly enjoy this type of game, looking at the GUMSHOE line of games from Pelgrane Press is highly recommended.

Hopefully that list will be enough to get you started – I know that I'm excited to put more of this in my games when I start GMing again. If you have any further ideas or comments, we'd love to hear them. Comment on the article or get in touch with us via social media.

November 26, 2014  

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

I've made no secret to anyone who knows me (or anyone who listens to the podcast) that I sit on the "introvert" side of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. It may come off as odd or even inaccurate to some, because my job is fairly asocial. I work in shipping and receiving, and for most of the year, I am a one-man department. Because of this, unlike a lot of introverts, I still have some social energy left in the evenings because my work doesn't drain it away, so friends often see a fairly lively, energetic side of me.

Or at least, they hear it. The blessing and the curse of the internet is that many of the people I consider my closest friends live in other states. I've never met some of them in person, though I've talked with them via VOIP services and game with some of them almost every week. I hope to meet them face-to-face at a convention one of these days.

And yet, that geographic separation doesn't make them any less my actual friends - in fact, I'd argue the opposite is true. Much like the more somber, slower pace of traditional services help put me in a better frame of mind for worship on Sunday morning, I often make friends better via the internet. I even met my wife that way. The slower pace of communications provided by forums and social media allows me to connect better with people, at least on a first-impression sort of basis. And it's typically less jarring and therefore easier to back out of a social media or forum conversation (or even end a VOIP call) than it is to leave a social gathering.

Some of the extroverts reading this are probably bristling now, ready with all kinds of admonitions that "internet socializing doesn't count." To which I can only say: which is more important to you - physical proximity, or mental and emotional engagement?

To shift gears slightly, this is one of the things that is also nice about gaming. It gives you another context so socialize in, with reasonably clear rules of engagement and something that all the participants are already invested in to talk about. Planning a job in Shadowrun or meticulously working your way through a dungeon crawl provides a greater level of conversational depth than simply talking about the weather, or at least it can. I'd argue it should.

By contrast, church can be an intimidating place, especially to the uninitiated. There are tons of rules, almost all of them unspoken, and the penalties for breaking them can be severe.  I think that sometimes we as Christians can get a little arbitrary of what we expect of people. Talking with other folks in the "geeky faith" community like my cohosts, Derek White, and Mike Perna DOES count as fellowship with other believers. If a new Christian is more comfortable fellowshipping with other believers at a slower pace online - that counts. If a long-time Christian is having problems with social anxiety or social fatigue and does the same thing - it still counts. To come back around to my earlier point, meeting together is being mentally present with each other, giving of your time and attention instead of merely displacing the air an arbitrary number of feet away from them.

Now, I'm not about to suggest that introverts and/or gamers of faith should never darken a church's door. There are a lot of things churches offer, particularly if you get involved. Opportunities to start "checking off some of the boxes" in the parable of the sheep and the goats are a big one. For example, I'd never have gotten involved with the local food pantry if not for some of the folks at my church, who opened that door for me. Another benefit is the ability to make connections with people who may not be as comfortable with technology. At 36, I'm about half the age of most of the folks who attend the traditional worship service I go to at my church. You're not likely to find most people in their seventies on Facebook unless you're one of their grandchildren (and even then you may not), but they often make fantastic mentors and role models. They have, after all, seen a lot of life in all those years. And there is something profoundly moving about being at a traditional candlelight Christmas service that no amount of high-definition video will ever replicate.

Still, I think there is a tremendous amount to be gained by taking advantage of the modern ability to engage folks we'd have never known existed in ages past. I've made real, lasting friendships, been challenged in my entrenched views, had some fantastic games, and grown in my faith - all without ever leaving my home.

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