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.

More thoughts on nonviolence in D&D

Last Saturday I posted about a new Dungeons & Dragons player’s question: Can I play as a nonviolent character? I was preparing an introductory, one-shot adventure for some new players. I ran the adventure on Monday night. In my post last Saturday I suggested that there were a few options available for a ‘nonviolent’ character, depending on what they mean by ‘violent’. This player ended up choosing a bard and was happy to assist the rest of the party in combat. (This meant creating an illusion of an attractive rocktopus, to distract a particularly threatening rocktopus.)


As I mentioned in my post last week, the four options I suggested really just call us to ask questions about what we mean by nonviolence. Are we really being nonviolent if we’re seeking to control other’s actions and attitudes. Are we really being nonviolent if we use combat to overpower others? (Not really!) The game isn’t really designed to support nonviolence. (I have been thinking about what it might be like to develop a satyagrahi class though.)

For players who hold an ethic of nonviolence (and want the characters they make to reflect this) I think there’s a benefit in playing D&D. Anyone who plays D&D has to work out to what extent they can work with others who don’t share their values. With the main group I DM for, I’ve really enjoyed seeing how this works. We’ve had a very loosely knit group playing the Tyranny of Dragons expeditions. Two of our most regular players have tended to pull the group in different directions. One has a character who’s very conscienctious, wants to avoid combat unless it’s necessary and wants to keep prisoners alive. Another character will want to kill the bartender if he gets a bit lippy.

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I think it’s more helpful seeing if we can work together with people that we don’t agree with. If you start with a harmonious party who all share the same philosophy, a successful adventure is not as great an achievement. That’s been a question that’s come up for me in real life, as I’ve worked out who I can work alongside in response to Melbourne City Council’s proposed rough-sleeping ban.

Ithink I still have a little bit more to write on this topic, so I expect I’ll return to it soon.

How do you make the city safe?

Today I thought I’d repost something that I wrote about number of years ago.

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One Sunday night we were in the city waiting for our tram back home and we heard this guy yelling at everyone. He was obviously very angry. He was trying to pick a fight, walking past each person at the tram stop, calling people white trash, saying he was going to kill people. Everyone was trying to pretend he wasn’t there. I decided to try and make eye contact with him. I was wondering if it would make any difference if someone acknowledged his presence and his anger. He kept knocking me with his shoulder as he walked past, and eventually he turned and faced me. He said he wanted to kill us, like we’d killed his people. I said that my people had done him wrong, and that I was sorry for how we treat his people. He said it wasn’t me who did it. He proceeded to tell about how is people had been killed, about is time in prison, about how he’s treated by the police. He was obviously very upset, but he wasn’t yelling or threatening anyone anymore. I asked him if he had anywhere to go. He said the only place he had to go was back to gaol.

There’s been a lot of talk in Melbourne in recent years about how unsafe our streets supposedly are. There have been calls for more police, for greater police powers. There have been contests between politicians to see who can claim to be be the toughest on crime. I wonder how many unsafe situations in our neighbourhoods could be diffused if we treated our neighbours as human beings, instead of ignoring them and hoping they’ll disappear or get arrested?

I don’t know what happened to the bloke I met later. Maybe he went back to gaol? It’s pretty terrible when one of our neighbours would rather be locked up than be out in the community. I don’t know what the answer is. But I want to keep struggling with it.

Acknowledging LGBTIQ folks at SURRENDER

On Thursday I said that I was hoping to make space at SURRENDER for folks to acknowledge where they are at with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, and I am pretty happy with how that went. A number of people participated in the labyrinth on the Saturday and Sunday mornings while I was hosting the space, and also at other times when it wasn’t intentionally hosted. I also got to have conversations with several people who have more conservative views on this topic than I did, and I think we were able to hear where each other is coming from. We also received feedback from folks who said they appreciated knowing that there was some affirming presence at the conference. (Some of my friends were also hosting a space where people could come and chat about these things.)

For the sake of transparency I thought I should post here the statement that I provided at the labyrinth. If anyone has suggestions about how I can imporve this, please let me know. (My email address is christop@gmail.com if you’d prefer to contact me privately.)

LGBTIQ Acknowledgement Labyrinth

We’re coming here with different perspectives. The unity of Christians is in Christ, not in the perspectives we hold.

One thing I think we should all be able to agree on is that Jesus loves and accepts us all as we are – but it is something that has often been forgotten by the church in our treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer people.

Whatever our perspective, we should all be able to agree that the church should be sorry for the harm it has caused to people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. this is a space for the church to acknowledge the presence of LGBTIQ people in the church.

  • to acknowledge without reservation that the church has often caused harm in its response to LGBTIQ people
  • to acknowledge that LGBTIQ people have often been pushed out of church communities
  • to acknowledge that many LGBTIQ people who have been able to stay part of the church have faced restrictions on their involvement 
  • to acknowledge that there are things we have struggled to understand about human sexuality and identity
  • to mourn the loss of LGBTIQ people who have taken their own lives as a result of hateful treatment
  • to celebrate the contributions that LGBTIQ people have made to the church in spite of opposition
  • to acknowledge that the church needs to begin listening to LGBTIQ people and to commit to doing this in our own contexts

If there is something you’d like to acknowledge, please feel free to take a ribbon, walk the labyrinth with it, and tie it onto the cross. (If you like, you can write your acknowledgement on the ribbon.)

As we walk the labyrinth, we often have to make space for people coming from the opposite direction. In these situations it’s often someone who is travelling in the direction that we were previously taking. We have to work out how we’ll share the space and pass each other. I think this can show us something about sharing space with people we don’t agree with.

If this space has brought up anything that you would like to talk about, I’m more than happy to discuss this and share how my own limited perspective on this has developed over the years. – Chris Booth 04– — —

More on listening to the other side

Last Friday I published a post on something I’d been thinking about for a while, and I called it ‘Why we need to be listening to bigots’. I was hoping folks would suggest more things to consider. I really appreciated the responses I got from friends, so I thought I’d post a summary here:

– taking the moral higher ground but refusing to engage in discourse is not going to get us anywhere

– the fact that someone supports a particualr cause (eg. Brexit) doesn’t mean they agree with all of the arguments that are being used to support that cause

– we’re not going to get very far if we enter conversation with the intention to fix the other

– listening to others in order to argue against them might not be the best idea, and it might be an indicator of arrogance

– these conversations can get scary, and we need to be aware of what we’re up for and when

– we could do more than just bitching about peers we disagree with – we could be contributing to our social groups’ views

– both ends of the poltiical spectrum engage in silly games where we pat ourselves on the back for being so enlightened dismiss the other as stupid and ignorant

– if someone is wanting to promote social justice and equality they need to hear why particular people feel excluded or the talk about social justice and equality is bullshit!

– we could be wrong about why our opponents have the views they do, and having a listen may clear things up

– if you don’t listen to the other side’s argument, you will keep losing the argument

– the left used to be conscerned for improving the lives of the working poor, but now the working poor are the butt of the left’s smug jokes – I think this is a big problem among leftists in the ALP, but even more so among members and supporters of my own party, the Australian Greens

– when we’re listening to others we need to hear their reasoning and feelings; and be able to share our differences; but it’s dangerous if we’re only listening so we can argue against them

– sometimes people support bigotry, but are otherwise quite nice people, and can be swayed when they personally get to know folks who are the target of their bigotry

Thanks Julian, Jen, Cheryl, Jason, David, Stephen, Marita and Kristie for your responses!

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Is there anything you’d still add?

Why we need to be listening to bigots

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There has been a lot of talk this year about whether we should be listening to bigots. My hunch has been that we do need to listen to bigots, but I don’t mean that we should be guided by bigotry or that we shouldn’t challenge bigotry.

On the global stage this year the two major events that seem to have indicated that bigotry is back in vogue have been the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US. While things haven’t been so dramatic in Australia, I think the strongest indicator of a similar pattern has been the election of Pauline Hanson back to the senate. When I was a kid growing up in one of the most culturally diverse areas of Melbourne she was rallying support by opposing Asian migrants, whereas this time around she’s chosen Muslims as her scapegoat.

A couple of days after the election I was on a tram with a middle-aged European woman who was smugly announcing to her fellow passengers (mostly Asian) that she’d voted for Pauline Hanson and that she was so pleased she was back in parliament representing the ‘real’ Australia. I’d like to say that I spoke up to her, but I have to admit that all I did was glare at her, and I’m embarrassed to say that was all I did. (Admittedly there was another European woman sitting next to her who engaged her in conversation, which stopped her announcing to the whole tram.)

I had a similar experience not long after, where another European man started talking directly to me, saying, ‘It’s spot the Aussie in here, isn’t it?!’ (Again, almost everyone on the tram was Asian.) I’m guessing he presumed that because I was European as well I would share his views about who qualifies as ‘Aussie’. I asked him to explain what he meant, as though I didn’t understand, and basically said it was hard to tell because we all come from so many different places, and that most of us aren’t ‘real’ Aussies. I ended up telling him my grandfather was brown (we think now that he had South-Asian heritage) and that he shouldn’t presume he knew he was talking to. He shut up after that. I said goodbye to him when I got off at my stop.

I tell those two stories not because I think they say much about how we listen, because listening isn’t what I was trying to do in either of those situations. But I tell them to demonstrate that I don’t think we should be putting up with bigotry and that I do think we need to challenge it.

These are some reasons why I think we do need to listen to bigots. I’m keen to hear if others disagree with these reasons or find them problematic or dangerous. I’m also keen to hear reasons why we shouldn’t listen to bigots, because I could be entirely wrong.

We need to listen to bigots because we’re all bigots
My sense is that we all struggle with prejudice. Many of us have become aware and convicted of this and so we are trying not to act on our prejudice. It can be easy to think that this means we don’t still have prejudices to deal with. We might also be acting on other forms of prejudice we haven’t recognised. (For example, we might have been convicted of our racial and class prejudice, but still hold prejudices about sexuality or religion.) If we argue that we shouldn’t listen to bigots, does that mean that if others recognise prejudice in us, they shouldn’t listen to us?

Because we have some joint responsibility for our group’s behaviour
If members of my cultural, religious or ideological group are victimising others, I might consider it part of my responsibility to engage my fellows on their treatment of others in order to confront their behaviour. (If I don’t recognise this as my responsibility, I think I’d be passing the buck to the folks they are victimising – hardly fair.) Listening to their perspectives may help indicate the best ways to confront the damaging behaviour.

Because we need to be able to convince others of our own perspective
if we believe we’ve got a more enlightened perspective and practise, we should be doing what we can to bring others on board with us. We need to know what our opponents think and believe and practise so that we can work out how to argue against them. We need to be able to do this so that we can win over folks who are undecided, and maybe even win over some of our opponents.

So what do you think? Have I convinced you, or are you convinced there are things I should give some more thought?

How do you participate in conflict?

In our household over about the last year we’ve spent a bit of time looking at how we engage in conflict. It seemed it hadn’t been something we’ve been all that great at so we thought it was important to learn to do it better. We’ve had our friend Shawn Whelan, who is a professional mediator and negotiator, working with us on that. My tendency has been to avoid conflict, or to try and manage people and environments so that conflict will not arise.

I was wondering, how do you participate in conflict? Do you get straight into conflict or do you avoid it?