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.

Here’s the Chant: Ixalan, the Far Realm and Tiamat’s Faerûn

Each week I’ve been posting a roundup of online content related to tabletop roleplaying games, and 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons in particular. Here’s this weeks:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘The Origin of Elves in Dungeons & Dragons’D&D Beyond – this video (a full transcript is included) explains the backstory of the elves in D&D and the importance of their relationship with their deity Corellon and the demon lord Lolth
  • ‘Arcane and Divine Magic in Dungeons & Dragons’D&D Beyond – this video (also with a transcript) explains how magic works in D&D and the differences between divine and arcane magic users
  • ‘Plane Shift: Ixalan’Wizards of the Coast – this free PDF includes material for running D&D adventures set on the plane of Ixalan, currently being featured in Magic: The Gathering. I’m hoping to run a short adventure in this setting soon, and this is a trilobite I’ve drawn to use when I do:
  • ‘Know Thyself: The Importance of PC Familiarity’Nerds on Earth – this article is actually just as helpful for dungeon masters, offering some suggestions for players who struggle to work out what to do on their turn
  • ‘Does D&D Warp Our Ability to Tell Truth from Fiction?’Nerds on Earth – this article looks at the persistent rumour that tabletop roleplaying games make it difficult for players to differentiate between fiction and reality, with an overview of how we actually do differentiate these things around the table
  • ‘Breaking Down the Monstrous Water Races in D&D’The Game Detective – this post looks at the commonalities between bullywugs, koa-toa and sahuagin. These monsters have a lot of similarities, which can be confusing.

For players:

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

  • ‘Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: Monks’Encounter Roleplay – in this article I’ve had a look at the two new monk subclasses in Xanathar’s Guide and explaining why I think Charlie Chaplin and Legolas are both monks

Here’s the chant: randomised beholders; defiling and preserving magic; and Nentir Vale

Each week I post a roundup of content about tabletop roleplaying games, particularly 5th edition Dungeon & Dragons. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players or dungeon masters:

For players:

  • ‘Why You don’t Need a Backstory’Cup of D20s – this article suggests that rather than writing backstories for new player characters, we should let their stories emerge and develop through play

For dungeon masters:

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

  • ‘Existential D&D’Cup of D20s – this post looks at connections between roleplaying and existentialist philosophy

My recent content:

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.

One week, four different games

Last week I ran three D&D games and played in one, and they were all pretty different. (In contrast, I’m probably not playing D&D this week because a lot of folks are away on holidays!)

Tuesday night I ran a table at Games Laboratory’s Christmas event. Since it was a novelty one-shot game set in a fairly whimsical location, it lent itself to humour. IT WAS a good opportunity for mischief, jokes, carolling and trying things that might otherwise seem silly. (Beers probably helped create that atmosphere too!) At an event like this it’s also important to make sure the story moves along at a decent pace because you need to finish the adventure in one session.

Wednesday night I playtested a time-hopping adventure I wrote for Encounter Roleplay. With this game it was a lot more important to make sure the story made sense and that it was clear what was going on and what the characters should be investigating. I needed to make sure I got feedback about whether it was fun and engaging and whether it made sense. Because I’d based the setting (and elements of the story) on mythology that I know pretty well, I was also able to come up with improvised content when my players asked about things that I hadn’t planned to cover.

Thursday night I ran a session of Out of the Abyss for my regular group, which is fairly loose-knit. They witnessed Demogorgon rising from the Darklake and destroying kuo-toa city of Sloobludop and two of them accrued some madness before the made the decision to escape rather than try to fight.

Friday morning I jumped into my first live-streamed game on Encounter Roleplay at short notice. (Last 30 minutes are on Twitch, here.) What I found was that playing in a live-streamed game is a lot different to playing at a table (or playing a private game online). If anything, I think it was more like playing at the Christmas event. In hindsight, I think when your game is being broadcast live it’s important to have a character concept that will be interesting and entertaining, but also easy to get across to everyone quickly. That wasn’t something I thought about when I chose to play as a goblin druid! But once I realised that this was important, I did work out some ways to make it clear what my character was on about and ways to make him entertaining.

Here’s the Chant: Hogwarts RPG, gith and Dark Sun

Each week I normally post a roundup of content related to tabletop roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s roundup:

For players and dungeon masters:

  • ‘Githyanki and Githzerai’D&D Beyond – this video (there’s also a transcript) looks at the backstory of the two gith races and their relationship with the mind flayers and Tiamat. (I wonder if this might give us some ideas of how the gith will be used in future storylines?) Here are some githzerai I’ve drawn for Planescape adventures I’ve run this year:
  • ‘The Dark Sun of Athas’Bell of Lost Souls – here’s an overview of D&D‘s Dark Sun setting. The article suggests that the conflicts built into this world helped to draw players in.
  • ‘The Harry Potter Tabletop RPG Guide’Google Drive – here are some revised rules for running 5th edition D&D adventures set in the world of Harry Potter, including a comprehensive list of spells

For players:

  • ‘The Dark Sun Mystic’ThinkDM – here is some speculation about what we might be able to expect from the new mystic class option when it is officially released. (I also covered this topic at Encounter Roleplay a little while ago.)
  • ‘Determining Ability Scores’The Kind GM – this post looks at the pros and cons of a number of different ways of generating ability scores in D&D. (Make sure when you’re determining scores that you know what the agreed options are for your group!)

For dungeon masters:

My recent content:

A merry Kranglemas to all

Tonight at Games Laboratory we ran a Christmas themed adventure. We started with the same premise: a village of drow artificers in the frozen north, about to celebrate Kranglemas – the longest night of the year. The patron of this sacred day is Krangle, who delivers radioactive crystals to bad children and toys to good children. The crystals turn children into aberrations and the toys are actually automatons who kidnap the good children to work in Krangle’s mines. A half-orc called Grinchen is trying to thwart Krangle’s plans by stealing the presents before they are opened.

Running this adventure was a lot of fun. My table spent some time carolling, and eventually ended up drinking and singing in the street with some rowdy drow.

One of the most memorable player characters was a halfling warlock whose patron was always reminding her of how small she was. The halfling had developed a very obvious insecurity about her height. When she opened her gift from Krangle it turned out to be one of the radioactive, green crystals and it turned her into a gibbering mouther. She was very pleased, because this meant she was now the largest party member.

Later on, when they were trying to find Krangle’s mine, they found a magical stone door, which the mouther decided to eat her way through. I decided that eating a magical door should have some kind of magical effect, to I had her roll on the wild magic surge table. The result was that if she was killed in the next minute she would be reincarnated. So when the centaurs who were sheltering behind the door trampled the gibbering mouther, she was reincarnated as a dwarf. She felt short again, so she asked the centaurs to trample her again, and she reincarnated as a dragonborn.

Here’s the Chant: racial stereotypes, Christmas cantrips and the origins of saving throws

Each week I put together a wrap-up of tabletop roleplaying game content (mostly related to 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). Here’s this week’s wrap up:

For digital RPG players:

  • ‘Sword Coast Legends Last Chance Sale’Sword Coast Legends – I really enjoyed playing this game when it was released, and I think it failed because of runaway expectations from fans. (To be fair on the fans, these expectations were stoked by the developers in no small way!) Sword Coast Legends is heavily discounted at the moment, and will not be available after the end if the year, although the servers will keep running.

For players and dungeon masters:

For players:

For dungeon masters:

  • X Marks the Spot – Wizards of the Coast have released a short D&D adventure set on the plane of Ixalan (from Magic: the Gathering)

For anyone wanting to learn about RPG history:

My recent content:

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?