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.

Running Vault of the Dracolich

Today I was involved in running Vault of the Dracolich at Games Lab in Melbourne.

Vault of the Dracolich was a multi-table adventure originally released for the Dungeons & Dragons Next playtest, which eventually became Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. You can purchase the adventure on the Dungeon Master’s Guild here. It was originally designed for four tables, each with a different party starting in a different part of the dungeon, but I think we were running it with about 18 tables of players. As you can imagine, there were a lot of opportunities for players to run into each other and team up against monsters and cultists. I thought I’d write up some of my highlights as a dungeon master today:

A deadline to brush up on the rules

A lot of the time when I’ve been running games I haven’t been certain about particular rules and so I’ve just fudged things. It’s okay to do that, but I wouldn’t feel great about doing that at an event. I’ve meant for a while to make a list of important, basic rules that I’m not clear on and make sure I learn them properly. This event was a good incentive to do that. I’ll probably post something more detailed about that in the next few days.

Spreading of (dis)information in game 

The premise of this adventure is that the adventurers have been sent into the dungeon to get some maguffins so they can get another maguffin. Their patron has given one member of each group a crown that allows them to communicate with the other groups. (We let the person with the crown go and visit other tables to share information.) It was interesting to see this information sharing in action. For example, our group started off in an area inhabited by lizardfolk. The lizardfolk had agreed to let our party pass if they could eat their bodies when if they died. So our party passed the information on, and it eventually as shared back to us. Members of our party also spread some false information about green crystals that were found in one area having magical properties, which led to another adventurer trying to eat crystals…

Three simultaneous hydra battles

We had three parties arrive in the hydra’s den at once, so we had a short conference between the three DMs and decided to run three different versions of the same battle. Our reasoning was that running one battle with all of our players would be too easy for the players. Two of the parties had used a magical portal to travel to the hydra’s den, so we said that something strange had happened while they’d travelled, and they ended up in the same space but on different time lines to each other and to the party that was already in the area. They could see the other parties fighting other instances of the same hydra, but we didn’t let them assist neighbouring parties until they’d dealt with their own version of the hydra. (I’d suggested that we could have just had one hydra with three times as many heads, but in hindsight I think that would have been really slow to manage and not very fun.)

Holding back an undead horde

At the end of the game we rearranged all of the tables, and gave each table a task that was part of a large, epic battle. The party I ended up with was trying to hold back a horde of 28 undead, so that they undead couldn’t get to the other end of the room to reinforce a group of dark priests another party was fighting. I used a whole lot of different zombie, skeleton and vampire minis (cardboard Pathfinder minis, my own cardboard minis, plastic Magic: The Gathering minis), but they actually all had the stats of either skeletons or mummies. Because I wasn’t being clear exactly what kind of undead they were (and because there were so many) most of my players were pretty cautious about fighting them. 
Laser-cut minis

Because I’m an illustrator, I often illustrate my own miniatures, which I print out myself. For this event Games Lab were laser-cutting a whole lot of miniatures out of wood, so that players and dungeon masters could all be supplied with the miniatures we’d need. Because there aren’t a lot of aquatic snake designs around and I had drawn an aquatic snake to use at my table, Games Lab ended up using my design. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, especially since I hadn’t designed it with laser-cutting in mind.

Getting to play with a lot of different dungeon masters and players

I think the best thing about this event was that it was a great opportunity to play with a lot of different DMs and players. Often we stick to our own groups, which have their strengths, but having an event where players were constantly changing tables, where tables were joining together when they met, and where DMs had to work together allows for the creation of a really rich story. It was also kind of helpful when tables joined up together being able to throw to the other DM rather than having to make every call or have the stats for every monster ready to go.

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.

‘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.

A Murrumbeena Local

As it’s a public holiday here today, I thought I’d take a break from writing something myself. Instead I suggest you have a look at my friend Ann’s new blog, A Murrumbeena Local. I was lucky to get to spend a little bit of time in the Murrumbeena community, which is currently being impacted by the construction of the skyrail. Ann’s looking at how to support the community and the local businesses through the construction process.

‘Nothing about us without us’

I’ve just watched this video (it’s a Facebook link, but it should still work if you’re not a Facebook user) of Idil Ali from RISE: Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees speaking at the Palm Sunday rally on the weekend. I had trouble hearing most of the speakers from where I was. But I think she was also saying earlier on that all of the speakers at the rally should have been refugees. (If I misheard or if it was someone else, please let me know.) This year there were more refugees speaking than the previous year, so I was initially thinking that Ali was asking a bit much by expecting that all of the speakers should be refugees or asylum seekers. That’s what I said when Beth asked me yesterday what I thought.

But as I thought about it more later, I realised that it shouldn’t seem like a big ask. If all of the groups that are represented have refugees or asylum seekers involved (and I’m pretty sure they do) it shouldn’t be hard for them to let a refugee or asylum seeker from their group represent them.

How do you make the city safe?

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


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.


A little while ago I noticed this signal box in our neighbourhood.

Quite a few of the signal boxes in our area are painted, but I noticed that as well as the portrait, this one has,



written under the person’s eye. I don’t know if the letters are a later addition or whethere they’ve always been there. Maybe I just noticed them because of the empty beer bottles left on top?

Either way, it’s had me pondering what our neighbourhood thinks about public art.

Just a little further down the lane

On Fridays I’ve generally been posting something I’ve observed in my neighbourhood, or in a neighbourhood I’ve been visiting. Last week I posted some observations about a secluded spot in Carlton. But I didn’t mention these stencils that had been put up just a bit further down the lane:

I guess that’s another function that laneways and other hidden away spots play: they provide places where people can express themselves in secret.

A secretive square in Carlton

Today as I was walking through Carlton I walked down a laneway where I know there to be a hidden space. If you know Carlton well you might recognise it. A fairly non-descript laneway opens up into a carpark, which I think has a bit of a different feel to the rest of the neighbourhood. It almost feels like a kind of rustic public square, hidden away behind Lygon Street.

It’s in the middle of a dense, urban area, but one of the residents has covered the ground floor of their building with a print of an ivy-covered wall.

It seems like something you’d expect to find in the country. It’s as though the resident has sought to create a sense of privacy and solitude in the city.

One the other side of the space, some folks have dragged out some furniture and seem to have been gathering together in the space:

The ivy-covered fence and the circle of chairs seem to me like opposite ways of inhabiting a neighbourhood.

Do you prefer one more than the other?