On Wednesdays I normally post a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games in general. Here’s this week’s roundup:
For players or DMs:
- ‘Plane Shift: Amonkhet’ Wizards of the Coast – this installement adapts player character races, monsters and challenges from Magic: The Gathering‘s ancient-Egyptian-inspired setting to D&D 5e
- ‘RPG Legends: Forgotten Realms’ LitRPG Reads – an overview of the history of the Forgotten Realms setting
- ‘Playing by Post’ Nerdarchy – explains the nature of roleplaying online without a ruleset
- ‘Tomb of Annihilation Clues and Hints’ Power Score – SPOILERS! Gathers together a whole lot of details that can be gleaned about Tomb of Annihilation, which may be handy for DMs planning to run this adventure – but could ruin the adventure for players.
- ‘Running the Sunless Citadel: The Grove Level’ Merric’s Musings – this article presents some ways to play up the horror themes of Sunless Citadel’s climax
- ‘She’baz: Queen of Aberrations’ World Builder Blog – a backstory and D&D 5e stats for a gargantuan aberration, all mouths and tentacles
- ‘Kassandra Kray’ Crossplanes – basic description of a mercenary nonplayer-character who is secretly on a mission to liberate slaves
- ‘Terrors of the Dragon Empire: Dracotaur’ Kobold Press – this D&D 5e monster is basically a draconic centaur, with variations based on the four winds
- ‘Howl’s Menagerie Token’ D&D Beyond – a one-use token taht transforms the user into a beast
- ‘What Can King Solomon Teach Us About Slaying Demons in Our Roleplaying Games?’ Nerds on Earth – this article is a few months old, but I think it has some good ideas stemming from Solomon/Sulaiman’s apocryphal struggles with the demonic
- ‘D&D grung and other monsters are people, too’ Nerdarchy – this article describes how the DM has used monsters as non-player characters in an adventure involving conflict between grung and lizardfolk; and in a Spelljammer adventure
- ‘Fortresses, Temples and Strongholds’ Walrock Homebrew – a 17-page set of rules for building and mainataining various buildings, from cottages to palaces
- ‘5 Tips To Use Recurring Villains To Challenge Your Players’ High Level Games – this listicle shows some ways that you can make sure some of your villains last more than one adventure, and can go on to become the party’s legendary nemesis
- ‘5 Tips for Helping Beginners in RPGs’ High Level Games – this listicle has some suggestions that I think will help new players get into the game without the complexity of rules getting in the way
- ‘Supporting Players’ Marauding Owlbear – four ways that you can support shy players when running games
- ‘The Art of the Introduction’ The DM’s Table – this article has some suggestions to make sure that your game gains and maintains momentum
- ‘Just Ignore Backgrounds’ Middle Finger of Vecna – suggests that it’s better to just allow players to choose two proficiencies and ignore backgrounds in D&D 5e
- ‘Combating Metagaming’ Nerdolopedia – explains why metagaming is a problem, but also how you can use it to streamline your game
- ‘Useful Tools to Have on the Side’ Insightfulgaming – this listicle presents a few things that are helpful to have prepared whenever DMing
- ‘Ascension’ Nerdarchy – has some suggestions about how fey creatures can be made more frightening by digging deeper into mythology. I don’t think this aspect of fey creatures is as forgotten as Mike Gould suggests, but it’s definitely lost in the Disneyfied version of fairies. Also, here’s a fungal dryad I drew:
- ‘Inside the Bag of Holding’ Kobold Press – this table offers 12 things adventurers might find in a bag of holding
- ‘Fantasy Rumors & Odd Jobs’ Dicegeeks – this table offers 100 plot seeds which you could choose from or select randomly using d100
- ‘d20 #RPHOOK Plot Seeds : 181-200’ Shenorai’s Role-Playing Haven – here’s another 20 plot seeds, including one Where’s Wally/Waldo? reference
- ’30 Fantasy Gaming Flash Encounter Ideas’ Nerdarchy – 10 encounter ideas each for a urban, forest or mountain environment
For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on gaming:
Content I’ve recently published:
Sunday to Wednesday I was in a class on Indigenous Theologies and Methods, which NAIITS (North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies) was running here through Whitley College. One of the things we spent a lot of time discussing was the differences between how Western Christians have read the Bible and how the Bible might be read from Indigenous cultural perspectives. One particular emphasis that our teacher Terry LeBlanc (a Mi’qmac man from Canada) noted was the tendency for Western Christians to focus on the rupturing of creation in Genesis 3 and overlook the goodness of creation in Genesis 1-2. His suggestion was that rather than Genesis 3 being an ultimate fall from perfection, it is more like a break in relationship between people, God, spirits and fellow creatures.
At the same time I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge for July. Each day there’s a Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw, and Tuesday’s challenge was a wereshark, which I really enjoyed drawing.
@bodieh, who lives in Western Australia (where the government has encouraged the culling of sharks) is one of the organisers of the challenge, commented on this one. I wondered whether this wereshark might be looking for former Western Australian premier Colin Barnett? I wondered whether we should be paying attention to what sharks may be trying to say to us, rather than culling them? It certainly seems unfair to me that we would venture into their natural environment and then kill them when they attack us.
This year I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis, and on Thursdays I’ve been reflecting here on what I’ve been reading.
Today I’ve been reading about Abram, Sarai and Lot leaving Egypt and heading back to thew location between Beth El (a city named after a Canaanite god) and Ai, where Abram had build an altar to his god, YHWH. Abram and Lot come into conflict because they both own so much livestock that their herders are fighting over pasture. In order to resolve the conflict, Abram suggests that they separate. Lot chooses to reside among the cities on the well-irrigated plain of Jordan and Abram chooses to live in the land of the Canaanites. It seems sad to me that the family group has been divided by a sense that there aren’t enough resources to share.
YHWH promises Abram that he will give the land of the Canaanites to him and that his descendents will be like the dust of the earth. He ends up settling at the oaks of Mamre – a place that I think could also be associated with a Canaanite god. Again, Abram builds an altar to YHWH in a location that may be sacred to a Canaanite god.
This year I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis. On Thursdays I’ve been posting some reflections here.
Last week I posted about Abram, Sarai and Lot leaving their new home on Haran (in modern-day Turkey) and travelling to the great tree (maybe an Asherah tree?) at Shechem, where Abram build an altar to YHWH. In the section I’ve been reading today, the family group travel further, to a location between the cities of Beth El (‘house of El’) and Ai, where Abram builds another altar to YHWH. Again, it seems (to me) that Abram is building an altar in close proximity to a site dedicated to a Canaanite god – El, the king of the Canaanite gods.
After this the text says that they gradually moved into the arid region of Negev, and eventually had to go to Egypt because of famine. Abram says he’s worried that the Egyptians will kill him because Sarai is beautiful. (I wonder why he thought this?) He asks her to pretend they are siblings instead. When they arrive in Egypt, Sarai is taken to live in the Pharaoh’s house (presumably as a wife?), and because of this, Pharaoh deals well with Abram, providing him with livestock and slaves.
It doesn’t go well for Pharaoh though. YHWH afflicts Pharaoh and his household with plagues. It seems Pharaoh realises what has happened, and he tells Abram to take Sarai and leave. Even so, it seems like Abram is leaving Egypt a rich man.
Having read this little snippet, I wonder why it was that Abram presumed the Egyptians would kill him? It’s actually Abram who deals dishonestly in the story, denying his marriage to Sarai and benefiting from her presence in the Pharaoh’s household.
I find it interesting that this story has been preserved even though it shows the patriarch in a negative light.
I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis. On Thursdays I’ve generally been reflecting here on what I’ve been reading.
What stood out to me today was a small detail which I probably wouldn’t have noticed at one time. Abram and Sarai and Abram’s nephew Lot have uprooted themselves for a second time at YHWH’s instruction. They head to Canaan and they stop at the terebinth (‘great tree’ or ‘large tree’) of Moreh at Shechem. What’s significant about the tree that the people telling and recording this story mention it?
My suspicion is that the tree is a sacred site to the Canaanite god Asherah, the kind of place that some people in Israel later believed needed to be destroyed. Abram’s attitude isn’t to desecrate the site. The text says that YHWH appeared to Abram here, so he built an altar there, next to what may have been a sacred oak.
What does it mean for Abram to build an altar to YHWH? Does it mean that YHWH and Asherah are familiar? Does it mean that YHWH is encroaching?
Each week I’ve been reading and reflecting on Genesis. I’m now posting some of my reflections on Thursdays.
What I’ve been reading this week marks a shift in the story. At this point, I think Genesis becomes a family drama, following the story of Abram and Sarai’s mob. We’re introduced to them living in ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’, which appears to have been located somewhere in Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is the region that later became Babylon. The text describes Abram’s father, Terah, leading the family out of Mesopotamia and settling in Haran, which might be in the area we now call Turkey. After Terah dies in Haran, YHWH speaks to Abram, instructing him to relocate again, to a land where he will become a great nation.
I was talking with Beth about this part of the story yesterday, and we were reflecting on the fact that Genesis appears to have been developed (from earlier sources) when many of Abram and Sarai’s descendants were living back in Mesopotamia, after having been defeated by the Assyrians and Babylonians and removed from the land. I wonder what it would have been like for them living in exile to read that their family started out here? I wonder what Abram and Sarai’s departure would have meant for them? Would it have given them hope that they could also leave Mesopotamia and repeat Abram and Sarai’s journey?
I think we can look at the whole of the Hebrew scripture follows a pattern of repeated exile and exodus, because it’s been shaped so much by the experience of exile in Babylon.
For a while I’ve been reading though old Planescape material for 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons. (I’m interested in running a 5E Planescape campaign, so if you’re in Melbourne and interested let me know.) Planescape is a setting that incorporates the various planes of the multiverse, meaning that adventurers are likely to come across representatives of various gods (called ‘powers’). I find it interesting that the god(s) of the Abrahamic traditions is not represented in Planescape and is generally avoided in D&D, especially since Christianity and Islam are the two most widespread religions. I think there are some good reasons for this. It would be problematic to portray Abrahamic conceptions of God in this context.
It seems that people of the Abrahamic faiths are often offended by representations of their god. I think this is particulalry because of the Jewish tradition of holding the name ‘YHWH’ with reverance and because of the Jewish and Muslim instructions against making images of God. I also think it would be problematic to include Abrahamic concepts of God, because the Abrahamic faiths believe there is only one true god. Monotheists aren’t likely to appreciate a setting where their one true god is actually one amongst many. These might not seem like a big deal for those of us who don’t have a faith or who hold our faith loosely, but for many people it’s very serious to portray the divine incorrectly or disrespectfully. A couple of weeks ago I posted about treating Aboriginal culture with respect, and I think most people who read that article understood this. I think for the same reason we might hesitate to portray Aboriginal culture and religion in a game, we should also hesitate to portray other faiths and cultures, and seek to be respectful.
My personal opinion is that the Biblical concept of God is pretty messy. (I’m not familiar with the Quran, so I can’t comment on that.) I don’t think the Bible has a consistent way of portraying God, but brings together various complementary and contrasting portrayals from different communities in different eras. I don’t personally find this very bothering, but I do think it is a reason why there is so much scope for conflict – some people will focus on one idea of God that they find in the scripture, and others will focus on a contrastic idea about the same, one God. If one were to include an Abrahamic depiction of God in Planescape, creative decisions would have to be made about which Abrahamic ideas to emphasise, and those decisions would be bound to offend some people who emphasise other parts of the tradition. Of course, I don’t people who are happy to explore these ideas playfully and creatively (which is what I prefer) would have a problem with this.
I was talking with one of my friends about this topic and he suggested that another problem might be that it’s hard to portray a god who is understood to be transcendent. I don’t really buy into the idea of God being transcendent myself – I think it has become commonplace in the Abrahamic tradiitons because of Platonic philosphy. That’s why I like what Neil Gaiman does with Jesus in his novel American Gods. Jesus doesn’t directly appear in the novel, but it’s mentioned that he’s been seen hitchhiking in Afghanistan, where he’s not so well recognised. It seems not so transcendent, and more like the itinerant rabbi found in the gospels. My understanding is that in the TV show there’ll be different depictions of Jesus, recognising that different cultures at different moments reshape their images of the divine.
If I was going to include Jesus as a power in the Planescape setting, I think I’d be most likely to portray him as a wandering stranger.
On Wednesdays I’ve been reading Genesis and posting some reflections here. This week I reassessed my schedule for blogging and made some changes to make it mire sustainable. I think I’m going to post about Genesis on Thursdays now, but I’ll see how I go.
Last time I started looking at the story of Babel. The story describes a group of people who don’t want to be scattered out across the earth like the rest of humanity. They settle in one place and build a great tower in order to make a name for themselves. I said that we might see this as an expression of free enterprise, or we might see it as a description of empire.
Something I didn’t mention last time was that it seems to me that this story describes a people who have a fear of the earth. They don’t want to be scattered across the earth, so they build a city. If you live in the city (especially right in the middle of a big city) it can be quite easy to loose touch with the earth. These people build a tower with it;s head in the heavens, as though they’re wanting to escape the earth and enter the realm of the heavens.
When the god YHWH finds out out this, however, he has to go down to have a look at what they’re doing. (It seems as though the text is suggesting that the people think they’re approaching heaven, but they actually have a very, very long way to go. YHWH confuses their languages so that they can’t work together, and they join the rest of humanity in scattering across the earth.
We might say that YHWH should have minded his own business and let humanity see what they can achieve. (I’ve been in groups where we’ve read the story and people have said that.) However, I think this story may be shaped by the fact that the Jewish people knew what it took to build these kinds of monuments – slave labour. They would have observed this during their exile in Babylon. It seems like the name ‘Babel’ which means, ‘confused’ might actually be pointing back to Babylon. This story might have been told as a way of taking back power from their Babylonian oppressors by making fun of them.
On Wednesdays I’ve been gradually reading through the book of Genesis and reflecting on the stories here. Last week I looked at some of the genealogy after the flood, focussing in on the interruption of Nimrod. Today I want to start looking at another interruption: Babel. Babel is one of the cities that’s mentioned as belonging to Nimrod. The general direction of movement in the genealogy is toward small, autonomous tribal groups with their own unique identities, but I think the Nimrod and Babel interruptions describe imperial assimilation.
In this story, the world is described as still having only one language. It describes the people of Babel, who are afraid of being spread across the earth and separated. They decide to build a tower with it’s head in the heavens, so they can make a name for themselves and not be scattered. Shouldn’t this be celebrated? Isn’t this a story of humanity banding together to realise their potential?
We could take this at face value, or we could consider whether this might be a commentary on the operations of the Babylonian empire. When Babylon took over Judah, they removed the elites from the land, taking them to their own city. They were expected to assimilate, adopting the language, religion and diet of Babylon. Empires often operate in this way, expecting colonised and migrant peoples to assimilate, to speak one language and relocate to urban centres. In Australia there has been pressure on Aboriginal people to leave remote communities (or consolidate into a few large remote communities). It’s often been presumed that speaking English is more important than speaking traditional languages. There’s also been increasing presure on migrant peoples to assimilate.
At Easter I published a post where I said that we should treat the story of Jesus as mythology. Some folks said they were interested in what I mean by that. I started wondering what I really mean by that.
Dominic Crossan says that myths are stories that try to explain everything, make us at ease, close all the gaps, show us that everything makes sense and everything is as it should be. Myths explain everything. Myths don’t leave space for more speculation or conversation.
Parables, on the other hand, challenge mythology. Parables, disrupt, question and transform. Historically Christians have often read the parables of Jesus as though they answered questions and summed up reality, but in their original context they often challenged people’s assumptions.
Given Crossan’s definitions, would you say that the story of Jesus’ resurrection is mythology or parable?