Displacer beast, and the normalisation of the bizarre

On Sundays I normally post a monster illustration I’ve made to use in Dungeons & Dragons. Today’s monster is a displacer beast:

One of the things this monster got me thinking about is how the most bizarre monsters in D&D can become normalised. It’s basically a panther with six legs and clawed tentacles, but any seasoned player is going to know what makes this monster tricky to deal with. Displacer beasts are based on extraterrestrials called Coeurl, featured in the work of sci-fi author A. E. van Vogt. In his writing, humans who first encounter them don’t realise that they’re dangerous or even sentient. I think in D&D it can be hard to recreate this kind of situation with seasoned players if you’re using monsters from official books. Dylan has suggested using some features from Dungeon Crawl Classics, which allow the DM to generate monsters with random features so that the players can’t predict the creature’s behaviour. (If you can get a hold of the DCC core rulebook, check out the section called, ‘Making Monsters Mysterious’.)

My enemy’s enemy is my friend?

On Easter Monday I ran a short Dungeons & Dragons adventure, Drums in the Marsh, which I mentioned last week.

What I found interesting was the question of who you can work with. If you have a good charcater can you cooperate with a evil character? (I touched on this when I was talking about nonviolence in D&D.

The series of adventures deals with the Cult of the Dragon, who are trying to summon Tiamat, the god of evil dragons. In this particular adventure, a black dragon who is part of the cult has deposed a lizard king and taken over leadership of three lizardfolk tribes. The dragon, Thostugrael, was making the lizardfolk raid nearby farms to work out which tribe’s chief should be Thostugrael’s representative among the lizardfolk. During the adventure, the players disovered that the lizard king’s successor Bogclaw was still around, getting ready to try and taken back the throne. The players had to work out whether they were okay with helping Bogclaw, knowing that lizard kings and queens tend to get their power from a demonic patron. Even so, with Bogclaw in charge, the lizardfolk would probably stick to their marsh, rather than raiding farms or helping summon an evil dragon queen…

Revisiting Noah’s curse

Last week I wrote a short reflection on the disturbing conclusion to the story of Noah in the book of Genesis. In hindsight I think I approached the story too lightly. I want to acknowledge again that the Bible can be, in many ways, a disturbing text. So I want to warn again that the story being discussed may be describing sexual abuse.

I mentioned that some Bible scholars have suggested that Ham molested his father Noah, after Noah had been drinking. Dylan asked me where those claims were being made and how they came to those conclusions. So I said I’d see what I could find. (What I’d written was just from memory, not from recent reading of Biblical scholarship.) So my plan here is to draw together what some of the scholars have said:

I want to start with Beth’s response, which picks up on some possibilities in the story which I missed:

In Africa Bible Commentary, Barnabe Assohoto and Samuel Ngewa say in their entry on Genesis that Ham dishonoured his father by not protecting his honour, and instead going to ridicule him by telling his brothers.

In her entry on Genesis in World Bible Commentary, Clare Amos says,

‘Genesis has no truck with ethnic apartheid. Rather, the connecting link in Ham’s genealogy seems to be the symbolism of Ham’s descendants as nations the biblical writer feared either for their empires or for their aggressive expansionism, just as Ham’s misguided actions had earlier seemed to to give him inappropriate control over his father.’ (9)

In his commentary on Genesis (part of the Interpretation series) Walter Brueggemann says that this story is juxtaposed against the command in Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16 to honour parents and the instructions in Leviticus 18:7-8 against don’t uncovering  one’s parents’ nakedness. Brueggemann says the story might be saying that Ham had sex his with mother, or with his father Noah. He also suggests that it might symbolically mean Ham chose to ‘penetrate the ultimate personal mystery of the parents by probing their most vulnerable action or condition.’ (89)

In Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel, John Goldingay compares this story to the Leviticus 18 and 20, where language of ‘uncovering nakedness’ is clearly being used to talk about sex. For this reason he thinks the story is probably about incest. Goldingay believes it’s possible that Noah, even though he was said to be a good person, molested Ham, and then cursed him, with his other sons covering up what their father did. He says that it’s hard to know what is happening in the story. Something horrible and hard to understand has happened in the family. (184)

I’ve found reflecting on this story disturbing, but I think it is an important story to hear and reflect on. If it is the case that the family was working to cover up abuse, we need to make sure we don’t end up doing the same.

Trugglet in Baptist Place

On Wednesday I was in the city, and saw this paste-up in Baptist Place, where I used to work:

Blythe asked me if it was mine, and I said it wasn’t. We tried to find out whose it was, and Blythe eventually worked out it was by Trugglet.

What do you think this artwork has to say?

To me, the flying house suggests the ‘Australian dream’ of owning your own home – something that now seems impossible for many people in our society. The crashed house gives me the impression that something has gone wrong, and the buildings need to figure out what to do.

6 ways to grow community at work

Last Thursday I wrote very briefly about growing a sense of community at work, and I asked what you think is the best way to do it. I thought I’d post your suggestions today:

  1. Steph suggested we should make sure we notice people and mention things we appreciate about them. In workplaces it can be easy for people to go unnoticed. If we consistently notice people, we’ll create community over time.
  2. Dylan was saying he’s just started a new job, and he’s just been looking out for opportunities for informal, spontaneous coversation.
  3. Steve suggested letting community just happen organically. He said he’d seen bosses try to enforce community from above, and it never works. He was telling us about an attempt one boss made to get everyone to cheer at the end of meetings, which sounded kind of awkward…
  4. Lucas kept it simple: ‘Humans being nice to other humans!’
  5. Jacqui’s suggestion was simple as well, but I think there’s also a lot of depth to it. She suggested sharing food, which is actually something I was talking with some students about yesterday. I think sharing food is really good for developing a sense of community and mutuality, because it’s a reminder of our shared dependence on food and on the land that provides it.
  6. Shae was saying he has no idea how to develop community at work because he’s lucky to work with someone who is already one of his best friends. They’re both already part of the same community in a lot of ways. What he was describing reminded me of the fact that before industrialisation, that’s more what work was like. People would work locally, often out of their homes alongside family. Because of industrialisation many of us now travel out of neighbourhoods to work with people that we don’t see except at work. I think this means we have to be more intentional about growing community. If we have the opportunity to work in our local communities, it can male it more straightforward.

If you have any more suggestions, please feel free to keep adding them!

Are you morally obligated to punch a Nazi?

Photo from ‘Was a Protester Throwing Explosives into a Berkley Crowd Before She Was Punched?’ from Snopes.


Katherine Cross’ article ‘Why Punching Nazis Is not Only Ethical, but Imperative’ has come up in my newsfeed a couple of times. I find Katherine Cross’ argument helpful even though I don’t agree with it. I don’t think you can you teach someone that violence is wrong by use of violence. That said, there needs to be a response, and I think that punching a Nazi is better than doing nothing.
I agree that it’s important to show that these people aren’t as powerful as they would like to pretend. I think that was demonstrated by the person who punched Richard Spencer. I think it has also been demonstrated in Melbourne when anti-immigration rallies have been organised and the counter-rallies have swamped the original rallies. I think this is demonstrated by parody groups like the Million Flag Patriots, when they anger alt right groups by taking the piss.
Some of my concerns with the left choosing a violent response are the likelihood of escalation and of the possibility of the left becoming as much a threat to safety as the right.

Plesiosaurs and milk demons

On Sundays I nromally post an illustration I’ve made for the Dungeons & Dragons games I run. Today’s is a plesiosuarus, which I made for the short adventure I ran on Monday’s public holiday.

Most of the adventure involved lizardfolk, and I realised that a lizardfolk shaman could summon a plesiosaur, which would pose a pretty serious challenge. At the end of the encounter, one of the players said, ‘We killed Nessie!’

I had a look into the history of Loch Ness Monster sightings, which have in modern times been described as similar to plesiosaurus. The earliest report, recorded in the Sixth Century CE, tells of St Columba visiting encountering a ‘water beast’ and rebuking with the sign of the cross it when it threatened one of his followers. The same text, volume two of Vitae Columbae, describes the Irish monk exorcising a demon from a bucket of milk. Could this be an idea for a new D&D monster?

Dungeon Mastering with cards

Two weeks ago I ran a two-hour one-shot D&D adventure for some friends who hadn’t played before. I’d been reading Sly Flourish‘s book The Lazy Dungeon Master recently. This book explains a method of DMing that requires a minimal amount of preparation. It also leaves a lot of room for collaborative storytelling with players. In this method you write notes on index cards. You make sure there are a few different direction that the could take by planning three locations that the adventurers might visit, three paths they might follow, three potential allies they might encounter and three potential enemies. Altogether, my planning only took up six index cards:

I think this worked well. This is something I could do every week if I was running a weekly campaign. I think the one limitation was that sometimes when a player asked a question I hadn’t thought about I’d take a bit too long to respond. But that’s no different to running an adventure straight out of a book.

Since I’m generally running published adventures (my regular group is gradually going through the Tyranny of Dragons expeditions) I was wondering about how I might use this method to run those adventures. I don’t think I can. The adventures are too complex. However, I think I can use some skills that I already have, which invovle metaphorical cards.

One of the things I used to do in my work in the city was lead tours, mostly for church groups. We had other workers who led tours for business people or students. In each location on a tour there were various different stories we could tell and questions we could discuss. We wouldn’t use all of the content for each location in one tour. It would depend a lot on where the conversation went with that group and what was going on in the space at the time. The way I learned to organise the content we had available for the tours involved ‘cards’. You imagined that you had a box of cross-referenced index cards. You had a card for each tour location and each of the location cards were cross-referenced. That way, if you had to change your tour because a location was too busy or not appropriate to the group, you could choose another location that would connect in. There were also story cards and question cards connected to each location – or some of them might be connected to multiple locations. So in each location you had a number of options.

Basically, you didn’t need to do much planning if you knew the connections between the cards well. You could respond to the specific needs or interests of the group if you knew the connections between the cards well.

On Monday (it was a public holiday here) I ran an adventure for my regular group, so I thought I’d try something a bit like the cards idea to organise the adventure. This is not exactly how I imagine it working the best. I think if I was running a more flexible adventure it would work best. But it did help me to give myself a clear reminder of the basic trajectory of the adventure. It also helped me work out what to cut out when we were running out of time. This was my plan for Drums in the Marsh:

I don’t think this really does justice to the kind of method I’m imagining. I’m beginning to feel more like I’d be up for running a flexibly-planned campaign. So hopefully soon I’ll be able to try it out in that context.

‘The dead centre of town’

When I lived in Ferntree Gully with my parents, my dad made the same joke a number of times when we passed the cemetary. ‘It’s the dead centre of town!’ I can remember being in the car with one of my cousins when we passed a cemetery and he made the same joke. I wonder if he heard it from his dad?

This afternoon as I was walking home I passed the Melbourne General Cemetery, which is quite close to our house. Sometimes I walk through it, but this time I walked around the outside. I think it’s kind of sobering passing the resting place of the dead and considering the wieght of all the lives lived.

My understanding is that the earlier cemetery was in the location where the Queen Victoria Market now stands, and that there are a whole lot of people buried there, unmarked. I don’t think it’s good for a society to treat the dead in that way. I think it gives the living the impression that they too could be forgotten and walked overwithout a thought some day.

How do you grow community at work?

We had some visitors today, folks who support the work our household does. One of the first things they asked was, ‘What do Aboriginal people mean by “mob”?’

We said ‘mob’ is your family. Not just a nuclear sense of family, but an extended sense of family/ You might talk about your whole community as your mob.

At my old workplace, we spoke of ourselves as a mob. It wasn’t just a workplace, it was a community. We couldn’t do community development without a community to invite people into.

Our visitors today were talking about their workplace in a similar way, as a community where people look out for each other.

What do you think is the best thing you can do to grow community in a workplace?