Resurgence of the Illithids

On Friday afternoon I ran Rrakkma!, the Dungeons & Dragons adventure that’s been released to promote Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. (I wrote a review of it last week.) The adventure is about a group of githyanki and githzerai who hope to reunite the two gith races in their struggle against the illithids (a.k.a. mind flayers) who once enslaved them. I’d watched Powerscore RPG streaming a playthrough of this adventure, and they got through most of it in two hours. (I believe they’re going to stream the second session this weekend.) Our group managed to finish in four hours, partly because I kept reminding them that they needed to were racing against the illithids’ plot.

Sadly, in the final stage the whole party perished fighting the mind flayers in the Far Realm. Presumably, the whole gith race was enslave again, and the mind flayers have been able to re-establish their rule of the Prime Material Plane. But, you could say that the gith have been reunited, right? It can’t long until there’s another gith rebellion, and that could be a good basis for another adventure.

In preparation for the adventure I made a whole lot of paper miniatures, and you can find them on the DM’s Guild here. (There’s also tokens and art files.)

Why demons?

I’ve just published a new set of printable paper miniatures depicting demons, which folks can use in tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. (There’s also a set of tokens here, using the same images.)

Some people might wonder why I would want to use demons in my games or why I would want to include them in a product, especially since I’m a Christian from an evangelical background. Some folks have had concerned that the inclusion of imaginary demons in games like D&D opened players up to influence from real life evil spirits. For a while, D&D‘s publishers started calling them Tanar’ri, in order to avoid this stigma.

One of the reasons I don’t have a problem with demons (and other evil creatures) being included in these games is because I think they can be a useful way of depicting human evil. Even in real world scripture, I think that evil spirits are often being used symbolically to talk about social evils.

In the regular game I’ve been running on Thursday nights (we’ve been using the D&D book Out of the Abyss) the party has gradually become aware that the subterranean world of the Underdark is being influenced by Demogorgon, the two-headed prince of demons. In the lore of D&D, the two heads of Demogorgon are divided, constantly scheming against each other, and this is also the nature of the madness he spreads. In two settlements the adventurers have visited, this madness has taken the form of greed, division and paranoia.

The town of Sloobludopp had been divided between two religious sects, led by warring relatives, as though the community had two heads attacking the one body. In this situation, the party ended up siding with one of the ‘heads’ and when the two factions came to blows, their violence summoned the Demogorgon to the town to destroy it.

More recently, the part has been exploring the dwarven city of Gracklestugh, which appears to be afflicted by a similar madness. However, this time they’ve noticed how the madness of Demogorgon is pulling the city apart, and they’ve been looking for a way to unify the city and bring festering, hidden conflicts into the open.

This is all very simple to talk about in a game, but it’s not hard to see that these are dynamics that impact on our real world. It seems like our societies are becoming increasingly selfish, fractured and paranoid. I think these stories can call us to live generously and to find ways to reach out to ideological enemies in the midst of real and serious conflict.

Fungus and the vulnerability of community

I’ve just released a new set of printable paper miniatures on DriveThruRPG, featuring some fungus people. At the moment the pack is US$1, but I’ll put it up to a regular price of US$3 in a couple of days. (I’ve also tried out making some tokens with the same illustrations, and I’m wondering if those are useful for people using virtual tabletops for their games?)

I’ve been using fungus people (in Dungeons & Dragons they’re called myconids) a little bit in the Out of the Abyss adventure I’ve been running for my Thursday night D&D group. There’s been a young myconid accompanying the group for most of the adventure, but in our most recent session the party came across a group of myconids who were acting quite unusually.

In D&D myconids are presented as peaceful creatures who live an idyllic existence in small, subterranean communities where they dream together and seek higher consciousness. This works because each community of myconids submits to a leader. In Out of the Abyss, the close-knit communities of the myconids are used by the demon lord Zuggtmoy to spread her maddening influence through the subterranean realm of the Underdark. This demonstrates that, while we tend to think of ‘community’ as a good thing, it can also be used to spread malevolent influence. (i’f you’re interested in reflecting more on the tensions between community and freedom, I’d suggest looking up the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman.)

Recent work

I haven’t been posting here a lot this year, mostly because I’ve been busy working on stuff that’s being published on other platforms. I thought it would be worth publishing a roundup of D&D stuff I’ve been working on:

In terms of stuff unrelated to roleplaying games, I’ve also been working on:

  • illustrations for some Uniting Church resources, which will be out in time for the season of Easter
  • an intergenerational contemplative space for SURRENDER’s Melbourne conference, coming up just before Easter

Let them eat microherbs!

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We’re getting bigger!

There’s never been a more exciting time!

He doesn’t make us nervous

What we need is a clean slate

What does this button do?

There’ll be a consultation

It never worked anyway

Need to get rid of the old wood

What we need is a clean slate

Well I’m sorry you feel that way

We don’t deal with that one

He doesn’t make us nervous

ohshitwevefuckedithaventwe

What do you think went wrong?

What we need is a cleans late

There’s never been a more exshiteing time!

Let them eat microherbs!

Ordinary Time at Gembrook

I’ve been gradually working on some artworks for Gembrook Retreat based around the seasons of the Christian liturgical year. The most recent one I’ve finished is for Ordinary Time (the season this blog is named after). For Ordinary Time they asked if I could do a picture of their property, showing some of the everyday work people do on the land.

Gembrook Retreat is a property out in the Dandenong Ranges, on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne, where folks can stay for spiritual retreat. You can find out more about them here.

How it all goes together

One of the things I said I wanted to do this year was to write regularly – and that has taken different forms throughout the year, but I’ve found it has been really worthwhile. Being a personal blog, the content here has changed over the course of the year. (I’ve also done some private writing for my study, as part of a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church in Australia, and as part of a pilgrimage to Lake Mungo.) On this blog recently I’ve almost only been talking about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, but earlier in the year I was also posting a lot more religious-mythological Bible content, stuff I’d been observing in my neighbourhood, opinion pieces about the proposed homeless ban in Melbourne, stuff about migrant-settler-colonial identity in Australia…

Sometimes people tell me I’m doing an awful lot of different things, but in my mind all of those stuff comes back to one thing, and that’s critical engagement with stories. As my collaborator Matt Valler has been saying,

‘Every city is full of hidden stories that quietly enforce the rules we live by. Labyrinth uncovers those stories so that together we can rewrite the rules.’

We need to be able to engage with stories in a critical way because they can shape our society for better or for worse. (And it’s often a lot more complex than just good stories and bad stories!)

Anyway, that has been my focus, and I hope that gives an idea about what holds my year together!

Religious-mythological story
This year it’s been really helpful having regular contracts with the Victorian Council of Christian Education, illustrating resources written by my friend Beth Barnett. (I also did a little bit or writing for the season of Lent early in the year.) What I like is that VCCE are really in favour of critical reflection on the Bible, not just in academic institutions and not just for adults but for the whole church. Personally it’s also been helpful just having regular stuff to work on so that I can improve my skills and reinforce a regular practise of drawing – which makes it easier to pick up other religious-mythological work with groups like Scripture Union Victoria, Gembrook Retreat, Baptist Union of Victoria, Surrender and Melbourne Welsh Church.

Story through gaming
The discipline has also meant I’ve been able to start expanding into doing tabletop roleplaying illustration through Owlman Press (I’ll be playtesting our new game Phantasmagoria next week) and Encounter Roleplay (my new Dungeons & Dragons adventure King Dawutti’s Legacy is now available to our Patreon supporters). I find there’s often also cross-pollination between the two, because a story from the Abrahamic mythologies might provide a structure or a setting for an adventure, or the elements of a parable might provide an idea for a monster. In the new year I’m excited about some new gaming projects that I’m currently working on thanks to connections with the #DnD community on Twitter.

What interests me most is how our games often draw on stories that are already part of our society, but invite us to engage with the creatively. I think there are also opportunities to experiment in how we cooperate with others or engage in conflict at the table. It’s been great getting back into a regular rhythm of hosting games (and getting to occassionally play!) with a fairly diverse group of players.

While I’m talking about gaming, I also need to mention that I’ve appreciated being able to continue working with Evan at Rival Sky. I don’t play most of the games we sell (I do play Star Wars: Imperial Assault a little bit) but it’s really helpful having something to do that’s regular, dependable and practical. (You might be surprised how therapeutic the physicality of packing parcels can be!)

Story in the real, physical world
I think physicality is really important. I don’t think our engagement with story can stay in the realm of reflecting on Biblical mythology or participating in narrative through games. I think it has to have an impact on our actual world. With Labyrinth we’ve been inviting people to do this kind of critical reflection on stories in the city streets, as we have done in Melbourne for a long time. It’s been great being able to see this practise continuing in Melbourne as Urban Seed (where I learned this practise) has been gradually winding up, and seeing experiments happening in London, Dallas and Washington DC. Reflection on the stories needs to lead to response, and for some of us that has meant engaging with the government and wider community about the homelessness ban that was proposed by the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

What we do in our home is also being informed by reflecting on our story. Our household, the Indigenous Hospitality House (named in honor of the hospitality we’ve so often received from Aboriginal and other Indigenous peoples) is a response to the story of our colonial history and the to the question ‘What does it mean to live on stolen land?’ In recent years we’ve been trying different ways of inviting other people to reflect on and respond to that story and question, because we think it’s something our whole society needs to grapple with. Early in the year we released a book as a way of sharing some of our learnings and inviting others into reflection. Mehrin and I got to take some time out to participate in the Yingadi pilgirmage to Lake Mungo with Vicki Clark, a Mutthi Mutthi woman who helped set up IHH at the beginning. As we finished up this year we have a few people leaving our household, but the three of us who’ve been living there for a while feel encouraged to have others joining us – especially since a few years ago we weren’t sure where we’d find enough people to keep operating!

In 2018
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this year I participated in a Period of Discernment with the Uniting Church. My sense throughout this period has been that what I need to be doing is spending time near the boundaries of the church and out in the wider world, where people are engaging with and responding to the stories of our world. (I think that fits within the scope of the Uniting Church’s understanding of what a deacon does.) I expect I’ll be continuing these practises and seeing where they lead.

Here’s the Chant: Santa’s warlocks, rules lawyers and windmill cultists

I try 😂 to post a weekly roundup of tabletop roleplaying game content (particularly about 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons) each week, but it’s getting to that time of year and it’s been hard! Nevertheless, here is this week’s roundup:

For players:

For players or dungeon masters:

  • ‘Storytelling In Tabletop Campaigns’Stronghold Media – this post is about the central role storytelling plays in tabletop roleplaying games
  • ‘Kenku’Bell of Lost Souls – this article looks at things like how kenku moved from monsters to a popular character race and how they lost their wings – speaking of kenku, here’s one I drew to use at PAX Australia:
  • ‘The Dreaded Rules Lawyer’The Yawning Portal – this article talks about the difference between being helpful with rules and being an irritating rules lawyer, recognising that we can all be both
  • ‘Gender and Sexuality’The Yawning Portal – this article is about the importance of including characters of diverse gender and sexuality in our games
  • ‘Upcoming D&D Products for 2018’Tribality – here is some speculation about official D&D releases what we may be able to expect next year. (I’m hoping they’re right about the modron march.)

For dungeon masters:

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply in the themes of our games:

  • ‘The F-Word: The Arms Race’Legendary Pants – this post talks about the historical development of medieval arms and armour. I also talks about how we might be able to incorporate the idea that different weapons are effective against different kinds of armour into our games.
  • ‘Essential Equipment’d-Infinity – this article os about the likelihood of adventurers developing alcohol dependency and how this might impact an adventure

My recent content:

Bargaining with hags

On Thursday nights I’ve been running Out of the Abyss with my Dungeons & Dragons group. Tonight a number of players weren’t able to make it, so I decided to run a little side adventure for the three players who were available, rather than advancing the main plot too much. Only one of the players is an evil character, but I was basically able to get get them all to make deals with a sea hag, Auntie Pong. It was a lot of fun trying to trick the players. One of the players was suggesting that the hag should be giving them cursed items, but my hunch was that she’d be more likely to give them things that she’d find amusing (like the cloak of displacement that looks like a frog onesie) or information that wouldn’t actually be very useful. But who knows, maybe the ‘croak of displacement’ will turn out to be cursed?

Here’s the Chant: Xanathar’s Guide, Mystara, firearms

I believe I’ve missed a couple of weeks again (due to urgent assignments and commissions) but this week I’m back with another roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. The first major rules expansion for 5th edition D&D has just come out, so there are a few posts about that.

I’ve also just started writing for Encounter Roleplay, so make sure you check out the site and Twitch channel.

Related to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything:

For players:

For players and dungeon masters:

For dungeon masters:

My recent content: