I get email

27 January, 2011

Well, Adam, I could go through your latest mail point by point, I suppose, but I think it would be a bit of a waste of time and effort. Your original message to me was:

I wanted to ask you something, being completely serious and sincere. If you feel up to answering it I really would like to know your thought process on why is it that you doubt Christianity?

I’m not trying to belittle you or anything like that, I’m just curious as to what you found as “wrong” in it.

I’m sure any sincerity from me is wasted on you – you didn’t contact me to genuinely ask anything, but to proselytise. However, I’ll answer. It’s been a year or two since I put this into words.

Christianity is many things. Among them, it is a world-view: a map of the world as we find it, of life. It explains why things are the way they are. We see “the hand of God” and the opposition of the devil in the events of our lives, and in the broader world.

But after being a christian for a decade or three – the nonsense “prophecies”, the healings that don’t happen, the church and marriage breakups – you have to enrich your view of the world just a little, and admit that a heck of a lot that goes on in churches and around the world is just people being people. Good, bad, often stupid – people.

One day I had a simple realisation. It was not God’s plan that man should fall in the Garden of Eden. He gave us free will, and has to deal with the consequences of that. That is – omniscient, omnipotent God, by limiting his own power to make room for free will, is left playing catch-up.

With that realisation, I had to leave behind the usual christian conceit that absolutely every little thing that happens is a result of God’s or the Devil’s personal machinations (my mother, for instance, prays for parking spaces). Not everything that goes on is about us. Or me. A lot of what goes on isn’t intended to be about anything.

So, having found room for life being made, in part, of just … stuff – things that are neither good nor bad, God nor devil, christian nor unbeliver, an obvious question suggests itself: how much of what happens, how much of what I see around me, is just random stuff? Noise? I could start, obviously with people “moving in presumption”. But once the question is asked, it doesn’t go away. When someone prophecies, we understand that some of it will just be themselves. How much of it is just coming from themselves? How often? How much of what people experience in worship is just singing with a group that shares a common belief?

A christian friend of mine that I tried to explain this to answered: “that;s really sad – it tells me that your church was not seeing the miraculous”. Well … yeah. More and more, I saw less and less of the hand of God moving around, and more of people being people.

I was asked to give a little talk on the bible. So I went and investigated, read the Anglican confession of faith (well, that specific bit of it. It’s several volumes.) I was struck by “Yes! Yes! This is what I believe too!”. All well and good. But as an independent pentecostal, I had for years looked down on the denominational churches. Reading the confession of faith, however, I got an insight into what they must think of us and our vacuous happy-clappy churches (todays sermon: How Jesus wants your day to be nicer!).

But – where do you stop? Seeing how the anglicans could fairly regard themselves as being more securely grounded than us, I can also see how the catholics regard them, an the orthodox churches the roman catholics. And for that matter – how hindus view christendom.

Finally, one day, the fateful question: how would a person who did not believe at all view these churches? Us? Me? Now as I asked myself “How much of this person’s emotional prophesying is just themselves?”, “How much of this rah-rah sermon that we are going to ‘take this town’ for Jesus …”, another question presented itself: “What would a person who did not believe at all make of this – what I’m seeing right now?”

Remember that I said that Christianity was a map of the world. Oh, I knew that God really was speaking through the bible, that God really was shaping events around me, us, the world, I knew that he was active even if we couldn’t figure it out. But in asking “what would an atheist think?”, I began to build an atheistic map of the world. This went on a long time – it was not a sudden or emotional thing.

When you have two maps of a country that you are travelling in, that disagree with each other, eventually you’ll form an opinion on which one is better. All of the puzzles and difficulties that my christian map gave me – Why would God do this? How come things are the way they are? – my atheist map explained perfectly satisfactorily. No, God did not let the pastor’s wife die of cancer – people just get cancer and die, sometimes. The church went broke not because Satan attacked it, but because that other pastor was too young for the responsibility, and a meathead. The natural disaster happened because they live in an earthquake zone. Again and again, the atheist map made much more sense than the christian one, and explained the world better.

One day, years along the track, I said to myself out loud: “I just don’t believe it anymore, do I? This angels and demons stuff.”

And it was true. I simply didn’t.

Lot of water under the bridge since then, of course. Lot of revising my ideas about a lot of things. But I could not go back, now, to the confusing, confused nonsense I used to believe. I have found something better. Not happier, or more fun or satisfying. Just something that I am confident is true, a map with nothing to commend it but that it is accurate.

Kingmaker – Giacamo’s notes-for-epic

27 January, 2011

OMG! Zombies! Dave had us running through an adaptation of Resident Evil, apparently.
Have bad nightmares for remembering this. Baybe to write epic quickly – not to remember too much.

And so noble Jope to run all night until dawn should grant its benison of light and life did set his face, his companions also, undead horde not slow to follow and set to rend and tear. Then did Seldryn call upon her art and make use of magic prepared and hoarded against exigency dire, summoning mounts from aetheric stable for her lord and boon companions, and away sped they towards fell city, undead horde behind, but never far.
Seldryn is my character, so I can’t help by tell the story from my POV. My theory is: a wizard has a lot of spells, but can’t prepare them all. A spell that you know but can’t cast is pointless. The key, then, is to scribe scrolls. I pretty much spend all my gold on it. Mount is a 1st-level Pathfinder spell that summons a common riding horse. I had three scrolls, prepared ages ago – you never know when you are going to unexpectedly need an extra horse. It was a lifesaver. I was really pleased to be able to go “I have just the thing to get us out of this mess …”
Grim city attained, Jope sought shelter in Erastil-home from unholy horde – his mace making way for he and his companions. Yet even there was beset with evil, defences hard-pressed and companions grievously bloodied, so removed him to stouter inn where his mages told of echoes of abjuration.
I pushed for the church. Other options were the inn, and Brett picked up on a clue that the answer to the puzzle was at the fairground. The church turned out to be a bad move – not very defensible: big windows. We barricaded the door with some Feather token, Tree items. The boss was some sort of clawed ghost thingy – a jilted bride, of all things. Scary and sinister.

Attempting to get into the temple of Erastil

At last titan of undeath made himself known – stout inn struck to flinders, no defence there, but at bridge over water did canny Jope attain there to make his stand. With arrow and spell and mighty blows did he and his companions fell the bane, and lesser dead only remaining did search for dread earthquakes epicentre. At market-ground found his mages traces of the evil, their scent leading southwest beyond horizon.

Yeeees … Giacomo rather glosses over how we got from the inn to the bridge: a wiser bard than Sir Robin’s. The tactical retreat to better ground involved Jope cunningly exiting the back door of the inn while Rainor stood his ground outside and took some shots at a two-stories-tall undead thingy.

Meanwhile, Switch was bumbling about inside: the aura of Abjuration that she and Morgana sensed turned out to be some explosive runes. Once disarmed, they turned out to be guarding some loot and various notebooks containing plot exposition. The runes themselves were also a clue – something about centaurs. She did get off a Glitterdust, but then she also took off.

Morgana flies, of course, and was never in serious trouble. We had to retcon – thanks to the summoned horses, she did not need to use up her flight for the day to escape the zombies, and so still had a few minutes.

At the end of the session, Dave told us that in the module the town was abandoned. Ghaaah! The important thing, however, is that we hit level 8. Switch now has third level spells and 3d6 sneak attack. 🙂

For Rainor’s POV, see Brett’s blog.

Guild of the Golden Scorpion

26 January, 2011

The Green Crane / Golden Scorpion game is no more. The Good Games Lanyon GMs have decided to scrap it and start over, which is cool.

As we were all utterly wrecked after CanCon, Jamie asked me to run a delve on Monday. (God he looked terrible – the ‘ranga complexion does not do “exhaused” at all well). I ran the Level 16 delve with some pre-generated characters. There were several points of interest.

I am really pleased that we made the effort to simply be there, even though the green Crane Game was not on, and that the shop supported it. A gaming group just cannot work if “is it on this week?” is always the question. It’s the same as being in a sports comp – there has to be some degree of commitment from everyone to turn up regularly.

The “generate a character quickly” on the Wizards character builder blows chunks in several respects.

  • The quick-gen characters are all use the latest class-of-the month. If you want a striker, you don’t get a rogue: you get something out of PH3. Many of these have complicated rules which you cannot interpret just by reading the cards.
  • The quick-gen characters are horribly unoptimised. Jamie got one with which he could – essentially – do nothing. It really had nothing useful at all.
  • The generator just does not understand a4 paper at all, and some of the powers actually had important bits clipped. Seriously. We did not know what some of the feats and class abilities did. Wizards: not everyone uses the ridiculous, backwards system of weights and measures that the USA uses.
  • Don’t use the “Essentials” format. It seems to have missing stuff that you need for the full game.
  • Oh – page numbers, please Wizards. Or some way to figure out if you have accidentally missed a sheet. The printing is really bad, and I understand why Jamie wanted me to do up something to process those .dnd4e files into something useful. I might go ahead with it, now.

In all, the use of the fast-generated characters was a bust. I had to make rulings on the spot.

(UPDATE: I managed to convince my mac that I had a US Letter-sized printer. Print to PDF with that set as the printer captures the whole page as pdf. That pdf printed to a4 successfully captures all the text.)

I had fun faking out the players. The dungeon has a few statues. In the first room, one of them is a Helmed Horror. I managed to get the players paranoid about the second by putting it on the initiative board and rolling a d6 when it was its turn. In the final room, there are two statues. I managed to convince the players that they would light up when the boss became bloodied by accidentally letting the information slip. “Ok, ok, but your characters don’t know that – it might be something, it might just be another statue. It hasn’t moved yet.”

Had to chop out the second part of the delve – it took us so long to read the character sheets and figure out the powers, and invent rulings for stuff that we didn’t know.

Had fun ruling that a push into a wall did 2 points of damage – 1 if it was diagonal. The poor minions were getting clobbered by being rammed into the walls and furniture and knocked out. A little comedy.

Having the right minis was great – it just adds a little something, you know? Didn’t have enough Azers, and used a fire snake for one of them. What would have been nice is to have changed a couple of Azers into spitting fire snakes – level 16 artillery minions – and used the minis that I had.

I missed one of the boss’ powers – misread “burst” as meaning burst from around his position, rather than it having a range. But, it recharged on a six, so really missing it for a few rounds at the start didn’t make a big difference. Actually, I think that having the boss not use the recharging power straight away is probably a good move. An intelligent monster would watch the flow of battle for a bit and them place his shots. So all in all – not as big an OMG as I though at the time when I realised I had missed it.

Finally – I was pleased that the players wanted to know what happens after they take the vial off the boss and use it on the sconces. They wanted a denouement to the story – even though it was just a self-contained delve – and I made up something on the spot that seemed to please them. The delve says that the walls start to collapse and everyone has to scramble to get out. I embroidered this by saying that this set of rooms was a temporary structure in the primordial chaos that the boss had built specifically to accommodate the envoy (an air creature) – provided a “why” to back up the “what”. Cool.