Tag Archives: Games

#354: Versers Reorienting

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #354, on the subject of Versers Reorienting.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first six novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, For Better or Verse, Spy Verses, Garden of Versers, and Versers Versus Versers, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the seventh, Re Verse All,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the first mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 1 through 6.  It was suggested that more shorter posts were a better choice than fewer longer ones, so there will be posts every six chapters, that is, every other week, for this book.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 1, Hastings 186

When I began publishing Versers Versus Versers and had introduced the Tomiko “Tommy” Takano character I attempted to get feedback from my readers through social media.  I got very little, and most of it amounted to, “Keep writing the novels”.  The clearest single statement I received said that one particular reader who is also an author most enjoyed the Lauren Hastings stories, also enjoyed the Bob Slade stories, and did not at all enjoy the James Beam stories.  That gave me good reason to include Lauren.  I also had another reader who loved all the James Beam stories, which combined with the fact that he was the second newest character gave me reason to include him.  The Tomiko stories got some favorable mention, or at least I so understood it, and since to this point she had only seen a dozen chapters it made sense to continue her in this book.  Meanwhile, that gave me reasonably different settings, so I have some decisively distinct stories.

I also realized that all three stories were going to be long and involved, which wasn’t bad in itself as they could intertwine in a long book, but I was already posting the chapters of the sixth book and it was short.  I was thus anticipating not having a finished product by the time I finished publishing the other.  As it turned out, I wrote the last chapter of this book after I finished posting the last chapter of the other, but by the time I had posted all the character sheets (at three per week) to the support site, I had finished a quick read-through edit and a workable cover and was formatting chapters for e-publication.

I had had some time to work out in my own mind how Lauren was going to experience the impact of the truck and the arrival in the new world.


Chapter 2, Takano 13

The decision to have her live in Delaware was a bit of a risk for me because I’ve driven through the state and visited many people and places within it, but I’ve never lived there.  Still, I think I’m familiar enough for what I need.

When she said that she was from Delaware, I realized that I hadn’t actually decided whether that existed in this world.  I subsequently decided that yes, this was the United States as I know it.

I needed to connect Tommy to something in this world, and the fact that she gets at least partial credit for saving the four-year-old was a good basis for the mother to offer her lunch and a chance to clean up.

I think that the Billings family was part of a 1950s TV show, and Janet may even have been one of the names from it, but I’m not sure of that.  It just seemed like a 1950s suburban family name.


Chapter 3, Beam 56

The Industrial Complex is the kind of detailed world that takes quite a bit to get oriented, and the player on whom Beam is modeled did many things here most of which I don’t remember.  However, I’m starting by getting him aware of some of the important details.


Chapter 4, Hastings 187

The character she meets was what was called a Winged Folk in a variant D&D game Ed Jones ran; I played him, and used his name as well as I can recall it from the game.  I am still attempting mentally to reconstruct the members of the party, with a bit of help from Jim Denaxas (who played the druid Zamfir in that game).  I also know where they are going, but have very little notion of what they are likely to experience along the way.

Asking whether Tiras is an angel is a bit of a joke, because Lauren was once asked the same question, and having been to the edge of heaven she is aware that heavenly beings come in a lot more shapes and sizes than just winged men.  However, confronted by a winged man it’s still her first thought.


Chapter 5, Takano 14

I needed a likely light lunch for a little girl in the summer, and decided that grilled cheese and tomato soup was probable.  As soon as I thought of it I realized that Tommy had had quite a bit of cheese recently, which put her in a bit of a quandary, but then, she would choose to eat rather than not.

I am not a bubble bath person; I remember it from childhood, though, and I know that women are often fond of them.


Chapter 6, Beam 57

I don’t have actual floorplans for apartments in the originally designed world, on the assumption that these would be so numerous and varied that referees would need to devise them as needed.


This has been the first behind the writings look at Re Verse All.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to continue with another novel and more behind the writings posts for it.

#344: Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #344, on the subject of Is It O.K. Not to Make a Statement?.

Recent events have raised this question in my mind.

I don’t want to discuss the political issue; I want to discuss the discussion.  There are many people on one side and very few on the other, and the people in the majority–or at least the loudest group–appears to be of the opinion that no one is permitted to be quiet.  Everyone is required to agree with them or face consequences.

That’s how we get polarization, and the major issue with polarization is that everyone stops listening to the other side and compromise and progress become impossible.

And there are innocent victims along the way.

The Origins Game Fair, one of the longest-running major game conventions in the United States (old enough that the original Dungeons & Dragons game was debuted at it, and that was a minor incident in its ongoing history), faced with the problems of the COVID-19 virus, cancelled its event, the annual June game convention in Columbus, Ohio.  Efforts were progressing toward holding a massive online convention.

That has now been cancelled due to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The official reason seems to be something like (and I’m paraphrasing hearsay) it would be inappropriate to do something as frivolous as celebrate games during this time in which people are being horribly oppressed based on race.

The unofficial reason seems to be something like (and now I’m paraphrasing gossip) that people supporting the Black Lives Matter movement were pressuring this non-political corporation to make a statement in support of the movement, and when the non-political company chose to remain non-political the supporters of the movement began a boycott.

Well, the official reason is, if that’s actually it and you’ll forgive the expression, bull droppings.  Following its logic, and recognizing that someone-or-other has been oppressed for centuries, it would never be appropriate to celebrate anything good.  Cancel Thanksgiving; it is inappropriate to celebrate the abundance of the harvest as long as there is still oppression in the world.  But oppression of blacks and black poverty is much improved since half a century ago–and yes, I was there.

Besides, it has long bothered me that black poverty is made such an issue when there are so many impoverished whites living alongside them.  I looked up some statistics online (got 2018 numbers), and there are one and three fourths white people below the poverty line for every black–15.7 million whites, 8.9 million blacks.  That turns out to be a larger percentage of the black population, and you will get that statistic thrown at you quite a bit, because as Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn lies, and Statistics.”  Yes we need to do more to help impoverished blacks; fundamentally, though, we need to do more to help impoverished people.  We need to understand that lives matter, and color doesn’t.

But in my mind the issue is not the issue.  Sure, I support protesters speaking out for better treatment for blacks.  I further think that those who for some reason want to protest against this (I can’t think of one right now) should organize intelligent counter-protests and not, as is allegedly happening, attempt to sabotage the peaceful protests of their opposition.  What I find objectionable is this outside-the-protest pressure on people who would prefer to remain neutral, insisting that they take sides in the debate and declare themselves, and so offend one side or the other, or be deemed an enemy of the movement and a target for reprisal.

This, though, seems to be the new strategy of public debate.  Not so long ago when it was still possible to question global warming there were honest scientists threatened with losing funding and positions if they didn’t toe the line and join the global warming brigade.  That was not the only time it has been done.  To recall the words of Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes:

Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition….[but] the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas–that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.

So hold your opinion.  Hold it strongly and express it loudly and clearly.

But accept that there are people who don’t hold your opinion, or don’t hold it as strongly, or don’t wish to be identified with one side of an issue, and have some human decency and respect and let them hold their opinion or keep it to themselves, as they prefer.  Demanding that they take sides publicly on a publicly controversial issue is more than just rude, it’s a violation of our Constitutionally protected rights.

#325: The 2019 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #325, on the subject of The 2019 Recap.

Happy New Year to you.  A year ago I continued the tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #278:  The 2018 Recap.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable, so that if you missed something you can find it, or if you vaguely remember something you want to read again you can hunt it down.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, that day also saw the publication of the first Faith in Play article of the year, but all twelve of those plus the dozen RPG-ology series articles are listed, described, and linked in 2019 at the Christian Gamers Guild Reviewed, published yesterday.  There’s some good game stuff there in addition to some good Bible stuff, including links to some articles by other talented gaming writers, and a couple contributions involving me one way or another that were not parts of either series.  Also CGG-related, I finished the Bible study on Revelation and began John in January; we’re still working through John, but thanks to a late-in-the-year problem with Yahoo!Groups that had been hosting us we had to move everything to Groups.IO, and I haven’t managed to fix all the important links yet.

At that point we were also about a quarter of the way through the novel Garden of Versers as we posted a Robert Slade chapter that same day, but that entire novel is indexed there, along with links to the web log posts giving background on the writing process.  In October we launched the sixth novel, Versers Versus Versers, which is heating up in three chapters a week, again indexed along with behind-the-writings posts there, and it will continue in the new year.  There are also links to the support pages, character sheets for the major protagonists and a few antagonists in the stories.  Also related to the novels, in October I invited reader input on which characters should be the focus of the seventh, in #318:  Toward a Seventh Multiverser Novel.

I wrote a few book reviews at Goodreads, which you can find there if you’re interested.  More of my earlier articles were translated for publication at the Places to Go, People to Be French edition.

So let’s turn to the web log posts.

The first one after the recap of the previous year was an answer to a personal question asked impersonally on a public forum:  how did I know I was called to writing and composing?  The answer is found in web log post #279:  My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

I had already begun a miniseries on the Christian contemporary and rock music of the seventies and early eighties–the time when I was working at the radio station and what I remembered from before that.  That series continued (and hopefully will continue this year) with:

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it is evident that the music dominated the web log this year.  In May I was invited to a sort of conference/convention in Nashville, which I attended and from which I benefited significantly.  I wrote about that in web log post #297:  An Objective Look at The Extreme Tour Objective Session.  While there I talked to several persons in the Christian music industry, and one of them advised me to found my own publishing company and publish my songs.  After considerable consideration I recognized that I have no skills for business, but I could put the songs out there, and so I began with a sort of song-of-the-month miniseries, the first seven songs posted this year:

  1. #301:  The Song “Holocaust”
  2. #307:  The Song “Time Bomb”
  3. #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal”
  4. #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods”
  5. #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe”
  6. #320:  The Song “Free”
  7. #322:  The Song “Voices”

I admit that I have to some degree soured on law and politics.  Polarization has gotten so bad that moderates are regarded enemies by the extremists on both sides.  However, I tackled a few Supreme Court cases, some issues in taxes including tariffs, a couple election articles, and a couple of recurring issues:

I was hospitalized more than once this year, but the big one was right near the beginning when the emergency room informed me that that pain was a myocardial infarction–in the vernacular, a heart attack.  Many of you supported me in many ways, and so I offered web log post #285:  An Expression of Gratitude.

Most of the game-related material went to the RPG-ology series mentioned at the beginning of this article, and you should visit that index for those.  I did include one role playing game article here as web log post #303:  A Nightmare Game World, a very strange scenario from a dream.

Finally, I did eventually post some time travel analyses, two movies available on Netflix.  The first was a kind of offbeat not quite a love story, Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies unravels When We First Met; the second a Spike Lee film focused on trying to fix the past, Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies unravels See You Yesterday.  For those wondering, I have not yet figured out how I can get access to the new Marvel movie Endgame, as it appears it will not be airing on Netflix and I do not expect to spring for a Disney subscription despite its appeal, at least, not unless the Patreon account grows significantly.

So that’s pretty much what I wrote this year, not counting the fact that I’m working on the second edition of Multiverser, looking for a publisher for a book entitled Why I Believe, and continuing to produce the material to continue the ongoing series into the new year.  We’ll do this again in a dozen months.

#303: A Nightmare Game World

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #303, on the subject of A Nightmare Game World.

I had a dream, a very strange dream, in which I was apparently trapped in a very strange world.  I think that if I ran this world in a game, people would be frightened, and so I’m calling it a nightmare–although oddly even when I was running for my life I wasn’t scared, just intrigued with the problems of trying to understand the world.  I’m going to blame Michael Garcia for some of this, because he just asked my opinion on a batch of documents that formed part of a world for his AD&D™ game set in a labyrinth with dimensional instabilities, but in fairness other than that there must have been dimensional instabilities in it, nothing in the dream came from him.  Yet I can see Eric Ashley running something like this as a Multiverser™ world, so I wanted to share it for the benefit of those referees looking for something really out there.

The basic setting is a modern warehouse-style department store, a sort of cross between BJ’s or Home Depot with the high racks of goods and Wal-mart with the many departments and clothing racks and linoleum floors and good lighting.  There seemed to have been a lot of people in the building, but it was not crowded, and often I was alone or with a few others.  I tacitly understood somehow that there was no exit, but that nobody actually lived here, as if they had all come to shop but then were trapped inside.  That in itself did not cause anyone to panic; it might be that they were not yet aware of the situation, as most were still shopping.

The first real oddity that caught my attention was in one corner of the store, where an aisle running from the front toward the back was lined with boxes that might have been games or kitchenware or something, there was a girl, probably young twenties, trying to set up something like a telescope–a big one, not Mount Palomar, but a couple body lengths with perhaps a four-foot diameter tube on a large base.  This apparently belonged to her father, who had set it up right here not long before, but had vanished, and for reasons not at all clear to me the device had been disassembled but was now being reassembled.  I came to understand through conversation that the telescope also had laser targeting devices which somehow managed to latch on to portals to other dimensions, maybe created wormholes or something, and the girl was certain that if she could get it working she could bring her father back.  O.K., shades of Howard the Duck.

Meanwhile, I concluded that there were dimensional rifts of some sort somewhere in the building.  My first clue to this was that a tyrannosaur came down the front aisle toward us, and we all had to run for our lives, abandoning the work on the telescope.  It’s kind of funny that whenever there is a breach to the Mesozoic era, it’s always a tyrannosaur that comes through, never small harmless herbivores, but then, they wouldn’t be so exciting.  I remember diving under a shelf unit to escape, and sometime in this I spotted what I took to be a shambling mound.  When I awoke I realized it looked nothing like a shambling mound, but rather appeared to be made of a mass of tangled bright green plastic ribbon about seven feet tall–but a shambling mound, I realized, made sense, since it’s entirely vegetative and so would be of no interest to the carnivorous tyrannosaur.

I can think of a lot of questions and directions for the player characters in such a world.  Can the professor actually be rescued using the telescope-like device?  If he is, does he know how to fix the dimensional instability so that the portals to other worlds can be closed and the doors to the natural world opened?  Is all of this a result of a botch with this device, and if there’s another botch, what’s likely to happen?  Is the equipment to fix the instability available in the store?  On a similar topic, does the store sell weapons, such as hunting rifles, and if so can they be accessed and made operational, and would they be effective against the invading creatures?  Can the panicking shoppers be organized into some kind of useful group, or are they just going to wind up bait for the monsters?

The biggest problem I see, from a Multiverser play perspective, is if the player character manages somehow to stabilize the building and open the doors so the people can egress to their homes, what does the referee do with the world beyond?  I find modern settings to be some of the most difficult to make interesting, myself, but then I know people who can do wild and crazy things with simple ideas.  I’d love to hear whether anyone does anything with this one.

#285: An Expression of Gratitude

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #285, on the subject of An Expression of Gratitude.

I need to thank a lot of people.

The complications include that I do not know who you all are, and I’m not sure of the propriety either of naming those whose names I have or contacting you personally.

Thus I am thanking you all, however many of you there are, through this web log post.

This arises from the fact that I recently had a myocardial infarction–a heart attack–which put me in the hospital.  I posted that in this Facebook post, and somewhere about twenty responses down I posted again with news of the Friday and Monday procedures, and my Tuesday discharge and such.

Many of you sent what I guess would be called “good wishes”, that is, comments, messages, whatever, hoping that I would get better.  Thank you.  I have done so to a significant degree, although I am still a bit weak and officially convalescing (and my wife has already scolded me for overworking once she knew how much I did yesterday, the day after my discharge, but someone had to get the boys to work and someone had to pick up my prescriptions, and more often than not I find that someone is me, particularly when she is working a string of night shifts, driving herself for the first time since her broken hip, and needing to sleep during the day).  So I am not fully recovered, but I am back at work.

Many of you prayed, and for this I am particularly grateful.  You have, of course, obligated me to let you know about the answers to your prayers so that many of you can give thanks to God for the grace extended through the prayers of many of you (cf. II Corinthians 1:11).  I have largely done that in the Facebook post.  I am not out of the woods entirely–I have a bag of new medications (and of all things the pharmacy couldn’t fill the “aspirin” prescription (chewable baby aspirin–how could they not have that?), so someone has to go back for it today), and I have two appointments for a cardiac stress test and a followup to decide what the test results mean.  Those are in the second week of March.

At least two of you made a point of spreading the word of my debilitation, and of encouraging people who at least know who I am to support me financially during this time.  That has resulted in a few gifts of significant amounts through my PayPal.me account–the first real activity there since it opened, and enough to pay for this bag of prescriptions and a bit more.  I have not seen any new Patreon patrons yet, but Patreon’s notification system is sometimes wonky so I’m going to include mention of that–because I am grateful to those of you who have made an effort to keep me going, and thankful to God that you are there, to those who contributed and to those who encouraged others to do so.

I’ll extend these thanks to those who have been meaning to send a bit of help my direction and simply haven’t yet done so; I know what that’s like, as there are often times when I have something I need to do soon that goes for days or weeks or even months before I manage it.  So thank you for the prayers and support you are going to send in the future.  You really do make a difference.

As the picture says, thank you.

#279: My Journey to Becoming a Writer

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #279, on the subject of My Journey to Becoming a Writer.

This is a response to a question asked by Georgia Bester on the Christian Music Network Musician’s Corner at Facebook, which reads:

Hello [emoticon omitted]
For those of you in writing ministry. I would love to hear about your journey. How did you know for sure that this is where the Lord wanted you?

That link probably does not work if you do not belong to that group, as it is a closed group, but that is her entire post.

Uncertain exactly what she meant, I asked for clarification, specifically whether she was talking about songwriting or bookwriting, and she answered:

Christian Author+-songwriter

–which I take to mean both books and music.  I write both, and there have been separate but connected paths that brought me to them.

By the time I was twelve I had settled in my mind that I would be a professional musician, in the popular vein.  I already played piano, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, ukulele, and I think fife and recorder, and my singing was noteworthy–my kindergarten teacher had identified me as her “little songbird”.  I could hold a part in a choir, and had a significant range for a boy.  I had even tried writing music, but none of it was any good, and it was frustrating.

I was introduced to another boy my age (John “Jay” Fedigan) who played the guitar, sang, and wrote songs.  Working with him I learned how he wrote songs, and started doing so myself.  Because in order to play keyboards with him I was going to need to know what he was playing on the guitar (and he was clueless when it came to notes and chords) I learned to play the guitar.  Before I’d finished high school I’d added bass guitar, tuba, flute, and several other instruments to the list, but I got good on playing the guitar, singing, and writing my own songs.  This was the late sixties/early seventies, so these songs were all love songs, usually sad, or protest songs.

The Jesus Movement hit our town in a big way.  I actually had become a Christian when I was thirteen, in 1968, but it hadn’t had a lot of impact on my life because I’d always been a reasonably decent churchgoing kid.  The Jesus Movement was something different, people for whom faith was the center of their lives in a real way.  I got dragged along the edge of this, and became more involved, and realized that the songs I was writing weren’t really worth singing, in a message sense, so I started to shift more toward writing Christian songs, and by 1972 (middle of junior year high school) that’s pretty much all I wrote and all I sang.  (I did write a piece for my high school band, and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer which my high school chorus performed, and of course performing with school groups I did the music chosen by the directors.)  The band that had been a precision rock band called BLT Down became an evangelistic Christian vocal rock band called The Last Psalm, and for a couple years made a splash in coffeehouses and colleges in northern New Jersey.

I went to college and decided to major in Biblical Studies (rather than music) because I thought having that degree would open more doors for music ministry than the other.  I did take a music theory class, but I also took a creative writing fiction class, mostly because it sounded interesting and I imagined that I might one day write the next major Christian fantasy novel, akin to Tolkien’s work.  I played in a couple of bands, including Jacob’s Well and Aurora, which sometimes included some of my songs in the repertoire.

Coming out of college I mostly spun my wheels for years trying to get some traction.  My wife’s theory was that I would get a good paying job with my college degree and pursue music on the side until it reached the point that it paid for itself.  That never happened.  Instead, the Lord worked some strange circumstances to land me on the air at a small but important Christian radio station (it had been the twelfth most important Contemporary Christian/Rock radio station in the country shortly before I arrived, despite being in the sticks and reaching part of northern Delaware as its primary audience–no offense to people in Delaware, but it’s not one of the top markets in the country).  I did some solo concerts with teaching included and continued to write songs for them.  I met a lot of people in the Christian music world, but by this point my recording equipment had died and I had no recordings to give them and no spare money with which to repair the recorders.

During this time I headed up a project to launch a radio station news letter, and wrote much of the content for it.  We had it printed by a local newspaper, who traded printing costs for advertising time, and so I became acquainted with the associate editor of The Elmer Times.  In our chatting we hit an idea by which I would write a few pieces of political satire for his paper, under the byline M. Joseph Young, so that it wouldn’t be obvious that this was written by the DJ on the local Christian radio station.  I think two were published, and I might have copies of them buried somewhere.

After five years I parted ways with the radio station; God had in essence told me it was time to go, and I was so burnt from the struggle I didn’t ask where I was going.  That turned out to be nowhere fast.  I was asked at this time to head a band called TerraNova, which I did for a couple years, but a guitarist who came to us very humbly then made himself indispensable then fell apart and quit pretty much put an end to that.  I was going through jobs fairly quickly, four jobs in two years none of them going anywhere, and my wife, who finished her nursing degree, said I should go back to school.  I could tell you about the very strange search for continuing education and how I wound up going to law school, but suffice it that I did, and graduated with a Juris Doctore and a mountain of debt, only to be denied admission to the New Jersey Bar because of the debt.

While I was trying to resolve this problem, I was asked to help a friend of a friend who was trying to write a role playing game.  I was good at role playing games and good at writing; he was quite creative and had a core of excellent ideas for the game, but he was a terrible writer, had no head for game mechanics, and was very disorganized.  We collaborated, and after five years of work and personal tension he dropped out and left me to publish Multiverser:  The Game.  I kept the nom de plume M. Joseph Young for that project, and for most of what came from that.

I attempted to launch another band, Cardiac Output, which played a bit locally before the pressures and problems of my family life created by the combination of the debt and the fact that getting a law degree wasn’t solving anything was too much and the band collapsed.

In order to promote the game I started writing web pages, first as my own sites.  I wrote on multiple topics–Bible materials, but also role playing game stuff, time travel pages, some stuff on law and politics.  My own originally several web sites grew (eventually I consolidated them into one huge site, M. J. Young Net) and I was invited to write material for other web sites, most of it role playing game stuff, but some on other subjects.  I was occasionally paid small amounts for these.

The company that published Multiverser got a crazy idea to create a comic book based on the concept, and it fell to me as the company’s chief writer to create the characters and stories.  I had written enough for three issues (six stories, two for each of three characters who would rotate) when the tiny company’s art department said it couldn’t be done without increasing the size of the department sixfold, so the stories got shelved for a few months–and then I suggested that they could be turned into the beginning of a novel.  The company agreed, and eventually published Verse Three, Chapter One.  A lot of what brought that about is discussed elsewhere.

Something had been nagging at me ever since TerraNova had dissolved:  a lot of Christians had come to Christ and were never told what to do next.  I felt that a need existed, and in very short order wrote What Does God Expect?  A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct.  The company that published the novel did not want to get the image of being a “Christian” book publisher, so I talked to a lot of people about it, and wound up self-publishing it.  This was followed by two more short books.

Laced into this, when I was at the radio station I became aware that one of the most Christian games I had ever played was being attacked by Christians, and so I spoke in defense of the game on the air, and put together notes for what might be an article.  A few years later I wrote that article, and tried to find a magazine interested in publishing it, but I’ve never been good at self-promotion so it didn’t go anywhere.  When I started putting things on the web I finished that article as Confessions of a Dungeons & Dragons(tm) Addict, and it caught the attention of Reverend Jim Aubuchon, who was co-founding an online group then called the Christian Role Playing Game Association.  He invited me, I wasn’t interested, again circumstances intervened and I was just about forced to join.  I was then asked to head a committee, and from that told that put me on the board of directors.  The group changed its name to Christian Gamers Guild, and the Vice President and the President both resigned in short order, the Chaplain decided that that made him President, and we needed a Chaplain, so he asked me to fill the slot just until we could finish the group’s constitution and hold elections.  I’d never won an election for anything in my life, and as far as I could see the Chaplain didn’t really do anything, so I figured I could wear the title for a couple months and then someone would replace me.

After those couple months there was an election, and I was nominated and elected to continue in the position.  After wearing the title for a couple years I decided that I ought to do something, so I started writing a monthly column entitled Faith and Gaming.  (I had also simultaneously started writing a weekly column for one of the role playing game web sites, Gaming Outpost, entitled Game Ideas Unlimited.)  I wrote this series for four years, disrupted by a computer crash.  People occasionally asked me if I was going to write more, or if I was going to put the material in a more accessible format, so I self-published Faith and Gaming.  A few years later a publisher in the industry approached me with the suggestion that they could republish an expanded edition with a few other articles I’d written on the subject in other venues, and I agreed.

In the end, I write and I compose because it’s what I do.  Much of what I write and all of what I compose is Christian, but then, that’s because I am Christian, and even when I’m writing about law or politics or role playing games there is a degree to which my Christianity is part of that–C. S. Lewis once commented that the world did not need more Christian books, but more books by Christians.  I’m not persuaded that he was right, as Christians need Christian books, but I think he was onto something with the notion that if the best books on secular subjects are written by Christians, unbelieving readers are going to find traces of the faith reflected in those books, undermining their unbelief.

So Georgia, if you’re asking how I knew God had called me to write, I don’t know that I ever really gave it much thought.  Writing is not one of the ministries; it’s one of the tools of ministry, and if you’re called to ministry and you can write, you’ll probably find yourself using writing as one of the tools of that ministry.  I write because I cannot help writing, and I sing and compose because I cannot help doing so, just as I teach and explain because it is innately part of me to do so.  If you are called to something, you will find yourself doing it, or doing something like it, without thinking about it.

I know this has been long, but I’m going to close with a few links to other articles you might find helpful on the issue:

#278: The 2018 Recap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #278, on the subject of The 2018 Recap.

A year ago I continued a tradition of recapitulating in the most sketchy of fashions everything I had published over the previous year, in mark Joseph “young” web log post #219:  A 2017 Retrospective.  I am back to continue that tradition, as briefly as reasonable.  Some of that brevity will be achieved by referencing index pages, other collections of links to articles and installments.

For example, on the second of January, the same day I published that retrospective here, I also posted another chapter in the series of Multiverser novels, at which point we were at the twenty-third chapter of the fourth book, Spy Verses (which contains one hundred forty-seven short chapters).  We had just published the first of seven behind-the-writings web log posts looking at the writing process, but all of that is indexed at that link.  Also on that same day the Christian Gamers Guild released the second installment of the new series Faith in Play, but all of those articles along with all the articles in the RPG-ology series are listed, briefly described, and linked (along with other excellent articles from other members of the guild) in the just-published Thirteen Months in Review on their site.  That saves recapping here two dozen more titles in the realms of Bible/theology and gaming, many of them excellent.  It should also be mentioned that six days a week I post to the Chaplain’s Bible study list, finishing Revelation probably early next week, and posting “Musings” on Fridays.

Spy Verses wrapped up in October, and was followed by the release of an expansion of Multiverser Novel Support Pages, updated character sheets through the end of that book, and by the end of that month we had begun publishing, several chapters per week, Garden of Versers, which is still going as I write this.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that all of that writing is free to read, supported by reader contributions–that means you–through Patreon or PayPal Me.  If you’ve been following and enjoying any of those series, your encouragement and support through those means goes a long way to keeping them going, along with much else that has been written–and although that may be the bulk of what was written, there is still much else.

Since on January 10th the first of the year’s web log posts on law and politics appeared, we’ll cover those next.

#220:  The Right to Repair presents the new New Jersey law requiring manufacturers of consumer electronics to provide schematics, parts, and tools to owners at reasonable prices, so that those with some knowledge in the field can troubleshoot and repair their own cell phones and other electronics, and none of us need be at the mercy of price-gouging company stores.

#221:  Silence on the Lesbian Front addressed the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision not to hear a case against a Mississippi law permitting merchants to decline wedding services to homosexual weddings.

#222:  The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights arose at the Supreme Court level when Florida claimed Georgia was using too much of the water that should flow downstream to it.

#225:  Give Me Your Poor talks about our immigrant history, the illusion that it was entirely altruistic, and the question of what we do going forward.

#229:  A Challenge to Winner-Take-All in the Electoral College looks at a federal lawsuit claiming that the standard electoral college election system violates the one-person-one-vote rule.

#230:  No Womb No Say? challenges the notion that men should not have a say in abortion law.

#231:  Benefits of Free-Range Parenting discusses the recent idea that parents who do not closely monitor their kids are not being negligent.

#241:  Deportation of Dangerous Felons considers the Supreme Court case which decided that the law permitting deportation of immigrants for “aggravated felonies” is too vague.

#247:  The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case examines in some detail the decision that protected a baker from legal action against him for refusing service to a homosexual couple, based primarily on the prejudicial language of the lower court decision.

#251:  Voter Unregistration Law examined a somewhat complicated case upholding a law that permits removal of non-responsive voters from the registration lists.

#253:  Political Messages at Polling Places presented the decision that non-specific political clothing and such cannot be banned from polling places.

#255:  On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries examined a convoluted probate case in which a law passed subsequent to a divorce dictated how life insurance policy assets should be distributed.

#259:  Saying No to Public Employee Union Agency Fees is the case the unions feared, in which they were stripped of their ability to charge non-members fees for representation.

#261:  A Small Victory for Pro-Life Advocates hinged on free speech and a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to post notices that the state provides free and low-cost abortions.

#270:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Ballot was the first of two parts on the election in our state, #271:  New Jersey’s 2018 Election Results providing the second part.

#274:  Close Races and Third Parties arose in part from the fact that one of our congressional districts was undecided for several days, and in part from the fact that Maine has enacted a new experimental system which benefits third parties by having voters rank all candidates in order of preference.

One post that not only bridges the space between religion and politics but explains why the two cannot really be separated should be mentioned, #224:  Religious Politics.

My practice of late has been to put my book reviews on Goodreads, and you’ll find quite a few there, but for several reasons I included #223:  In re:  Full Moon Rising, by T. M. Becker as a web log post.  I also copied information from a series of Facebook posts about books I recommended into #263:  The Ten Book Cover Challenge.

There were a few entries in time travel, mostly posted to the Temporal Anomalies section of the site, including Temporal Anomalies in Synchronicity, which is pretty good once you understand what it really is; Temporal Anomalies in Paradox, which is a remarkably convoluted action-packed time travel story; Temporal Anomalies in O Homen Do Futuro a.k.a. The Man From the Future, a wonderfully clever Brazilian film in which the time traveler has to fix what he tried to fix, interacting with himself in the past; and Temporal Anomalies in Abby Sen, an Indian film that is ultimately pretty dull but not without some interesting ideas.

In the miscellaneous realm, we had #227:  Toward Better Subtitles suggesting how to improve the closed captioning on television shows; #228:  Applying the Rules of Grammar encourages writers to understand the rules and the reasons for them before breaking them; and #273:  Maintaining Fictional Character Records gives some details of my way of keeping character information consistent from book to book.

This year we also began a subseries on the roots of Christian Contemporary and Rock Music, starting with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor in March, and continuing with

  1. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael
  2. #236:  Reign of The Imperials
  3. #238:  Love Song by Love Song
  4. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark
  5. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch
  6. #244:  Missed the Archers
  7. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits
  8. #248:  The Hawkins Family
  9. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist
  10. #252:  Petra Means Rock
  11. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands
  12. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive
  13. #258:  British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn
  14. #260:  Lamb and Jews for Jesus
  15. #262:  First Lady Honeytree of Christian Music
  16. #264:  How About Danny Taylor?
  17. #266:  Minstrel Barry McGuire
  18. #268:  Voice of the Second Chapter of Acts
  19. #272:  To the Bride Live
  20. #276:  Best Guitarist Phil Keaggy.

Looking at our Bible and Theology posts, the first of the year landed in the end of March, as #233:  Does Hell Exist? attempts to explore how the modern conception of hell compares with the Biblical one; #245:  Unspoken Prayer Requests finds theological problems with asking people to pray without telling them what to pray; and #267:  A Mass Revival Meeting explains what is really necessary to bring about a revival.

There were also a couple of entries related to gaming, including the republication of a lost article as #237:  Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials–the first article I ever wrote to be published on someone else’s web site.  There was also a response to some comments made by #239:  A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild, and a sort of review of a convention appearance, #249:  A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

A couple previously published pieces appeared in translation in the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be, which you can find indexed under my name there.

So that is a look at what was published online under my name this past year–a couple hundred articles, when you count all the chapters of the books (and more if you count all the Bible study posts).  In the future, well, I have a lot more to write about Christian music, I’m only getting started with Garden of Versers and have another novel, Versers Versus Versers, set up and ready to run, several Faith in Play and RPG-ology articles are in the queue (one publishes today), and there’s a study of the Gospel According to John ready to post and the Gospel According to Mark being prepared to follow it, plus some preliminary notes on Supreme Court cases, an analysis of a time travel movie that’s taking too long to finish, and more.

Again, your support through Patreon or PayPal.me helps make all of it possible.  Thank you for your support and encouragement.

#273: Maintaining Fictional Character Records

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #273, on the subject of Maintaining Fictional Character Records.

At this point I have written six novels and am watching the fifth go into publication in online serialized form.  As with the work of many other authors, the books themselves form a series, with characters continuing their stories from book to book.  One of the challenges of such a collection is maintaining character consistency, that is, making sure not only that the characters stay “in character”, but that they don’t change in the details, from hair color to high school to siblings to skills and equipment.  It’s easy as an author to forget something you decided three books before about a character, so it’s good to have a method for keeping track of it all.  You don’t want to find yourself saying that a character can’t do something he did before, or that he did something long ago you already said he didn’t do, or that he abruptly has or does not have some possession previously established otherwise.

This is my method.  I’m sure that it has some unique features, and I’m equally sure that other authors have different methods.  However, if you’re contemplating writing something that might have a sequel, you’ll want a method of your own, and mine might be helpful at least to get you on the right track.

I think if I were more organized I would probably keep the character records up to date as I wrote, adding details to the records each time I used them in the story.  I don’t do that, mostly because while I’m writing I’m not thinking in that direction, but in the direction the story is taking me.  This has meant that in the editing process I’ve had to go back and change something that was contradictory because I forgot between chapter one and chapter twenty-one that I had made a particular statement about a character.  That’s alright–that’s really a large part of what story editing is about, catching the inconsistencies and making them consistent.  Thus I don’t start work on the character records until I’ve done at least one read-through edit, and then I try to do them as part of the editing process.  Thus I begin with document one, the near finished draft of the book.

Before I start, I make sure I have another set of documents, one for each character whom I believe is going to reappear in a later book.  I have been wrong more than once–that is, having introduced a support character in one book, I unexpectedly brought him (or her) back in a later one, and had to go back to the previous book to build a starting character sheet.  Because my stories are based on Multiverser, I use one of the formats I have used for character papers in game play, which gives me an organizational structure; and because these are word processing documents, it’s easy to edit them.  The particular format I use begins with the character’s full name followed by nicknames and aliases, then a section of attributes rating how strong, smart, agile, and so forth, the character is, and a physical description.  I then list all the skills the character is known to have.  The game system gives me a solid organizational structure, because I can list technological skills, body skills, and magic and psionic abilities each in its own sector and use the game’s “bias” system to keep them orderly and find what I’m seeking.  Below that is equipment, which is probably my weak point because I list it in the order it is first mentioned in the text, and thus if I’m seeking something I sometimes have trouble finding it particularly if the character has a lot of possessions.  At the end are notes that don’t fit anywhere else, such as details of character history, known character traits and beliefs, and similar items.

Going from the book to the character sheets is a two-step process.

The first step is that I read the book and consciously attempt to notice every mention of any skill, possession, or personal detail for each of the characters I’m following.  This has to include both positive and negative details–that is, negative in the sense of that which is established as not available, such as that Bob Slade more than once noted he was never a Boy Scout and Joe Kondor doesn’t have a watch.  For each such item, I open that character’s record sheet and go to the bottom, typing the chapter number and what the item is.  Since I’m recording the chapter numbers (and my books have a lot of short chapters) it’s easy for me to relocate the reference later if I’m not sure what my note means.  I do all the characters on one pass, and so once I’ve finished the read-through I have multiple character records with a lot of chronologically-organized notes at the bottom.

The second step is to work from those notes, by opening the character reference paper in more than one window, and making entries in the appropriate sections of the upper portion of the sheet; I usually but not always include the chapter references for more information.  The notes can include things like whether a weapon is loaded, if an object broke or was repaired, and sometimes that a particular object was given away.  I don’t delete the note entries, but instead italicize the ones already included; having them makes it easier to track some information using a search function.  I do the characters one at a time, focusing on each until it is completed before moving to the next.

Because Multiverser is a game and the novels are in some sense an extension of it, I have a third step:  I create web page versions of the character sheets to provide to the fans so they can use the characters in games.  I don’t make these as complete as I would were I actually using them in a game, but I update them for each book.  That requires creating a new HTML file for each character for each book, and then matching the information in the new HTML file to that in the word processing document–but since I can save the previous file as a new file and then edit the new one, this is mostly about finding the new details.  I do not include the end notes in the web page versions, but regard the word processing files as the “official” records which I reference at need, the HTML files as the public publications of them.  Also, sometimes in the process of creating the new sheet I find errors in a previous one–most commonly omitted items.  I fix these in the new sheet, but not in the previous one.

Those character papers are available online, which is really so that my readers who want to use the characters in play can see the details about them but in this case gives you the opportunity to look at the format.  The headers including the pictures in the HTML versions are not part of the word processing files, as they are not needed in those.  (The pictures are present primarily because they make sharing on social media more effective.)

#249: A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #249, on the subject of A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

Last year in An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience I reflected on being a guest of the convention–a minor guest, listed as staff, but brought there because as a role playing game designer I hopefully add something to the experience of convention goers.  I’m looking at it through a different lens this time, hoping to give something of my own experience.

I suppose the story really starts months ago.  Last summer, shortly after my guest appearance at AnimeNEXT, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of time recuperating.  Complicating it greatly, two days after I was hospitalized my wife fell and broke a hip and a foot, and was also hospitalized for emergency surgery followed by extended rehabilitation.  In what would have been a comedy of errors had it not been so serious, three of our sons were working at cross purposes trying to resolve issues with the house so that we would be able to maneuver in it while convalescing, with wheelchair and walker and such, and when I came home in the middle of this it was in an uproar.  I don’t know that I contributed much to it, but after perhaps a week my wife came home, and I was there for a few days helping her get settled before I returned to the hospital for another couple weeks and she was struggling to get along without me with the help of two of those boys and a neighbor friend of theirs.  We took a long time to convalesce, and things are still not entirely normal–which meant, among other things, that I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to get to the convention myself, and whether she would be able to manage without me for a few days.  She still doesn’t drive, even though she’s back to work, so I have to drive her.

I’m not sure whether it was the last week of April or the first week of May, but one night when I drove my wife to work the most reliable car we have broke down, and that put a dent in our transportation.  I had one of my sons pick me up, and used a different car in the morning to retrieve my wife from work, and AAA towed the car to the nearest AAA approved service station, which happened to be a few blocks from home, which was quite convenient since work is fifty miles away.  I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it.

Why should I worry?  Well, if you read the aforementioned linked article, you know that I was present in 2014 and 2017, but that in 2015 and 2016 last-minute disasters prevented my attendance.  I thought we were potentially facing another, particularly since one of the cars on which we rely belongs to a son who spends the school year driving around the country in a company car and then uses his car, which is legally my car so that he doesn’t have to pay insurance and garage fees during most of the year just to have it, for the summer.  So I was anticipating losing a car, on an uncertain date, complicating transportation further.

Then a few weeks prior to the convention I ran out of printer ink.  I was in the middle of printing the first draft of the next novel for online publication, and I’m collaborating with someone on this one, so an exchange of printed pages has been part of the process.  Printer ink might not be that important, but it is important, and with the car in the shop (for the entire month) and an expected cost estimated with a variable of about two hundred dollars more or less, I had to be careful about spending money.  HP makes a reliable all-in-one printer which I’ve been using for near a couple decades now, but they have a policy of underpricing their printers and then overpricing their ink cartridges.  Complicating it further, apparently the cartridge mine uses has become less commonly used, so that it wasn’t on the shelf at my local Walmart when I finally decided I needed to buy one.  The convention was two weeks away, and I went online and found a place that sold their own replacement cartridges, and ordered some.  They arrived about a week before the convention–and two out of two black cartridges were defective, in different ways.

I will credit SwiftInk for great customer service.  Their online help gave me suggestions for trying to make them work (cleaning the contacts), and when these failed promised to ship replacements immediately, which they did.  Unfortunately, those replacements did not arrive until after the convention began, so I had no print capability.

If somehow you don’t know, I go to conventions to run Multiverser, the roleplaying game I co-authored with E. R. Jones.  I take a stack of books; they’re out of print, and I don’t have any copies of the rules other than my own, but I have several of the world books and a couple others.  I also have a small (probably twenty-two pocket) file case in which I have a lot of papers, including unpublished worlds that I use, worksheets for magic skills, and on-the-fly character creation papers.  As noted, last year when I returned from the convention there was a lot happening, and I wound up hospitalized not too long thereafter, and never gave another thought to those books and papers.  At least they got put away–the suitcase that I used was left in the living room until one of my sons decided to move it outside to get it out of the way, and when I found it this year it was ruined.  It went through my head a couple times in the hectic days before the convention that I ought to find the books and papers and make sure I had everything, but then part of me was uncertain I was going to go at all, and part of me recognized that if I didn’t have printouts of the needed papers there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, not having printer ink.

Complicating it further, as the date approached it became known that my wife, who works alternate weekends, would be working that weekend.  At first I thought that was the kibosh, but I realized after mulling on it for a few days that the convention started early Friday, with staff arriving starting Thursday night, and ran through Sunday morning; Sunday was the quiet day, generally.  If I could check in on Thursday night I could be active on Friday and up until lunchtime Saturday, get home in time to get organized and have my wife at work Saturday night.  I was not able to get confirmation for that from, well, anyone anywhere, but it became my plan, at any rate.

Transportation was settled a couple days in advance.  The car that was in the shop was going to be finished that Thursday, and my son whose car it is and I would retrieve it and bring it home.  He and his wife were interested in playing at the convention, so they were going to drive me in and back; as it turned out she was feeling ill the day I had to go, but he still did the driving for me (again, thank you).  He dropped me at Bally’s, where I was billeted, and I told him to stay in Atlantic City until he heard from me in case something went wrong.

Something did go wrong, but first I stood on line for probably half an hour.  I was very irked when a young and not unattractive girl took advantage of the attentions of a young man to cut in line right in front of me, but stifled my passive-aggressive tendencies and waited until it was my turn.  Then they asked for my ID.  I had not driven myself to Atlantic City, and I did not have a current copy of my license on my person.  With all the hospital visits and doctor offices wanting my ID, it got separated from my wallet and I wasn’t carrying it.  I had two older licenses, but the hotel would not accept these despite the fact that they were photo IDs, because they had expired.  They were not unsympathetic, and attempted to call the person running housing for the convention, Connie Ngo, but Connie didn’t answer her phone.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t keep my driver in the city all night, but I couldn’t send him away without knowing I had a room.  I texted him to return to get me, and started toward the exit; but I remembered that I had Connie on Messenger (because I had wanted to confirm that there would be no problem with checking in on Thursday night), so I messaged her.  She responded to the message and called the desk clerk, and I was approved and given a room key.

We were four to a room, technically, but only one of my roommates had arrived, and one had had to cancel at the last minute, and the remaining one I did not see until Friday night.  My roommate introduced himself by first name only, and I admit that it takes me several tries to learn names, and I only saw him awake one other time when I was barely so myself.  He offered a variety of snacks he brought from home.  I stuck one of the two key cards they had given me in a pocket and tossed the folder containing the other on the dresser, and never saw it again, but I slept with the card in my pajama pocket and kept track of it all day (I have this freaky thing about losing keys).  I laid claim to one of the beds and slept until morning.

At this point I’ll say a few words about the hotel.  I was in the Sheraton last year.  The room at Bally’s was considerably nicer.  I think the room itself was larger, and it had a couch large enough for a bed in addition to the two beds (and the first roommate had brought his own cot) so we didn’t have to share.  The bathroom is larger, with a large shower stall.  I had some concern that there were no safety railings inside the shower (I’m getting old, and am not always completely steady on my feet), but that’s often the case.  The Sheraton, as I recall, had a shower/tub, but I’m a bit tall for most bathtubs and so prefer showers.  It was overall a nice room.  I do not know, however, whether that’s because all the Bally’s rooms are nicer than the Sheraton rooms.  I was in the Garden Tower, and it may be that those are better than the standard rooms.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that if you wanted WiFi you had to pay for it separately.  McDonalds and Walmart can manage to give their customers free WiFi.  I’m not sure why one of the biggest casino hotels in one of the major resort centers in the Western Hemisphere can’t manage such a trivial amenity–but indeed I was reminded that the same rule held at the Sheraton last year.  I’d have used it to watch Netflix on my Kindle, I expect, but I had had the foresight to download a couple things to the Kindle for that purpose in advance, and I could handle Messenger, which I also have on the Kindle, on my phone.

I awoke alone, and had not yet checked in with the convention staff, but I took time for prayer and study and got a shower and a respiratory treatment before packing the essentials and walking the several blocks to the Convention Center.  That is one advantage of staying at the Sheraton:  it is physically attached to the Convention Center, being right across the street and having an enclosed pedestrian bridge between the second floors of each.  That doesn’t mean it’s close–it’s a long walk inside the Sheraton just to get from the rooms to the bridge (there are banquet halls between the two), and I remember lugging my gear using a wheeled cooler as a handtruck and case between the buildings.  I knew that there were free buses between Bally’s and the convention, but that you had to have your convention ID to use them, so the first time I had to walk.  Had I been earlier the night before I could have checked in there, but I was slow packing everything (the suitcase having been ruined, it took a while to settle on a high-quality reusable grocery bag for my clothes) and thought getting into the hotel was more important.  I made the walk to the center and found my way to operations, which was in the same room as last year, and was soon properly badged.  I then found Kat, my boss as head of Tabletop Gaming.  She was telling one of the photographers to get some pictures of how overcrowded the board game room already was on Friday morning, to show that our department could make good use of more space.  I told her I was going to take the Jtney (the bus) back to Bally’s and return with my thirty pound box of books, dice, and game materials, then grab some brunch somewhere.

Time to address the food.  That was an issue last year.  It was considerably better this year.  Instead of providing scheduled meals they gave us eight vouchers, each good for up to fifteen dollars at any of the several food outlets in the Convention Center itself except the Beer Garden.  Breakfast was still a challenge, as reportedly only one of those outlets opened early, and it sold out of breakfast sandwiches quite quickly both days I was there.  I was late enough on Friday that they already had their lunch menu going, and I bought a personal pizza, a cup of coffee, and a single-serve Minute Maid Tropical Blend juice, which was fourteen dollars and change–but hey, they must pay exorbitant rent to have space inside the convention center.  When I got back to the table, though, I already had players waiting, and so I sipped my coffee while running a game for a couple hours, and then when they scattered to other convention attractions I ate a cold pizza with a bottle of juice, and can’t really speak to the quality of the pizza.  The next morning I was earlier; they had gluten free bagels, which I decided not to eat (and was told my someone that this was a good decision), but instead got two cinnamon danishes, a small Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice.

By Friday afternoon I had heard that there was a place to buy food inside the dealer room, so I decided to try that next.  They were a pirate-themed grill, and advertised steak sandwiches and burgers.  I asked for one of their ten dollar bacon sirloin cheeseburgers, and was told that they were out of bacon, so I went with the eight dollar version without bacon, added lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and catsup, with a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate, self-served.  It was rumored that their fries were good, but at five dollars I could see I wouldn’t be able to buy a drink and stay within the voucher.  Anyway, the burger was large, tasty, and filling, and I went back the next day.  At that point I was preparing to leave the convention, my ride being almost there, and so I spent two vouchers to get two bacon cheeseburgers and one without bacon.  I gave one of the bacon burgers to the son who drove to get me (and he devoured it in the street before we drove away, but said it was really very good, but economical as he is he would not have paid ten dollars for it; I figure that’s a good price for deluxe burgers nowadays, and again they have an incredibly high rent on their space).  I brought the other two home and shared them with my wife, who is not a fan of bacon.  The grill bent over backwards to make it possible for me to transport these, which were usually served in open topped boxes, and should be commended for that.  I left my remaining coupons with Ahmetia, my co-host in the RPG room, figuring she could use them.  Because of the high prices, I often saw people using a fifteen dollar voucher plus a bit of pocket cash to pay for their meals, and while I avoided that I did so partly by not buying some things I might otherwise have eaten.  That’s not a complaint; I tend to overeat anyway, and didn’t really need the fries.

By now I have this entirely out of sequence, but that’s not really a problem.  I’ve left out the games, only hinting at them to this point.  Time to remedy that.

By the time I got to the table with my pizza late Friday morning, Navya and Cory were waiting, and I began the character creation process.  Ahmetia, who has several years of Multiverser play under her belt, is very good at selling people on playing at my table, and Kat reminded me that she played a session at Ubercon a decade ago and thinks it’s a really great game, so I get referrals.  As we were moving forward with their character papers, Johanna arrived and joined us.

You’ll remember I said that the printer mattered.  My On-the-Fly Character Creation system uses four printed sheets on which players record information.  The fourth sheet is the simplest, being there strictly for the world list and stage number.  The third is equipment and the second skills, and of course you can have multiple sheets of skills and equipment.  The first, though, is the most complicated, with name, aliases, attributes, averaged attributes, best relevant attributes, bias levels, weaknesses, and character description all mapped onto a single page–and when I opened my file, I had only the second and third pages printed.

It wasn’t a disaster.  After all, I know what goes on the first page, and I had a couple of yellow pads, so everyone wrote out the first page longhand.  There was a second problem, that I had only one pen, and my first two players had no writing implements; I discovered another, though, an old four-color pen, in the game materials box, and when the third player arrived she had her own.  Not long after that, Ahmetia delivered a handful of pencils and some scrap paper, which was a big help as the weekend continued.  We put together their character papers, started them on the Tropical Island, and got them all gathered together with Michael di Vars, who explained to them what was happening.

I had eight players over the weekend, seven of whom sat and listened to Michael explain that they had died and any time in the future that they die they’ll come back to life in another universe just like this time, and not one of them balked, called him crazy, or demanded proof of this insane explanation.  Ah, well, it’s fun when it happens, but I’m not going to spoil it.  I was working out where each of the original trio was going to go next when they died, but suddenly they all had to run before that occurred, the game ended, and I ate my cold pizza and ran to the loo.

I returned to find Corderro waiting.  We got him up and running on the Tropical Island, and he had a long conversation with di Vars and then asked if the senior verser would be willing to spar a bit in unarmed combat.  As it happens, di Vars is extremely good at many weapons across the technological spectrum, but never really took much interest in unarmed hand-to-hand.  Corderro was high level professional, third degree black belt in a martial arts style.  At hand-to-hand he was fifty percent faster than di Vars with a very slight edge on accuracy, with the result that he outfought the killing machine in two one-minute rounds.  He lasted long enough for the volcano to blow, took a nasty rock to the head, and was out of the world–but also decided to leave the game there.  That’s a bit of a shame, because I knew where I was going to send him.  (Hint:  he has a beard.)

I’ll interrupt this recounting of games to recount the night.  I was the first one back to the room, partly because after seven I figured there was no point in starting a new game, I got and ate the aforementioned cheeseburger, and called it a night.  I moved my box of books to the board game room, which gets locked overnight, and took my bag of personal effects to the Jitney to ride back to the hotel.  I wasn’t up long, taking time to find something innocuous on the television that would lull me to sleep (Transformers, which I’ve seen before), set early alarms, and went to bed.

An hour later I was awakened by banging on the door.  It took a moment to get organized and answer it, and I almost didn’t catch the departing offender, but it was the roommate I’d met accompanied by the roommate I hadn’t met, having gotten themselves locked out.  I let them in and went back to bed, only to have my cell phone ring while I was getting in.  My youngest son, who lives not far from Atlantic City at the moment, had apparently not realized that I was going to be at the convention this weekend, and having failed to get his mother on her phone decided to try mine.  We talked for several minutes, and apart from me suggesting that if he couldn’t reach his mother he should try his brother I don’t remember any of it.  I then settled down to sleep.

Someone silenced the television at some point, but I was asleep by then.  I noticed it in one of my brief periods of overnight awareness.  I think I awoke before my alarm; in any case, I was the first up, and I packed my things, left the room, went back because I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and discovered that I’d also forgotten my box of tissues, and then went downstairs and checked out of the hotel.  It was not quite seven thirty, and the buses didn’t run until eight, so I got some prayer and study time on a park bench near the hotel parking garage entrance under the shelter of the building as it poured rain a few dozen feet away.  At eight I walked the short couple blocks to the bus stop, boarded a waiting Jitney, and was soon joined by a crowd of others headed to the convention.  I had promised Kat I would text her when I was up, which I did around seven-thirty but with the caveat that I wasn’t going to get there until the buses started, and she said she was already awake and working on getting the room unlocked.

I put my stuff in the RPG room, but the board game room was still locked; I asked someone working that room to bring my box to me when it became possible, and went to obtain the aforementioned breakfast.  Returning, I did a bit more study while nibbling on part of the breakfast, but then Steven arrived.  I still didn’t have my materials, but there were pencils and pieces of scrap paper on the table, so I set aside my breakfast and attended to starting his character sheet.  The books came, I got him started on the island, and Hannah and Tia arrived.  I had actually bumped into them twice in the halls, and Hannah must look like someone I know because I thought I recognized her, but apparently she’s not who I remembered.  Having met me and introduced themselves, they came to try the game, so I started setting up their papers.  Having finished their first page, I turned to their skills, still juggling Steven through his time on the island, and Austin arrived and joined the character creation process.  I was hitting my stride, though, and got that moving well.  Steven met di Vars, and got a feel for what was happening, but then said he had to leave just about the time I was launching Tia, then Hannah, then Austin.

Austin made a comment about having to leave soon, so I ignored the die roll and had him reach di Vars first.  He decided on cautious discretion, and remained behind the tree line watching.  Tia, second to arrive, decided that she needed help more than caution, and called out, receiving an invitation to join him.  By the time Hannah arrived, she could see Tia sitting by the campfire, and as they were friends before the verse they recognized each other.  Austin left the table, and di Vars explained things to Tia and Hannah, and then before we got much further they, too, said they had to leave.

I feel a bit foolish that I did not mention it to Navya, Cory, and Johanna, but perhaps they’ll find their way here somehow.  Corderro jogged my thinking, so I invited him, Steven, Austin, Hannah, and Tia to continue play on the M. J. Young Net Forum.  I know several of them wrote that down, but as I write this none of them have arrived.  That’s kind of a shame, because I know where I want to send several of them, but we’ll give them some time to find their way.

I’ve got one other aside.  Last year, within minutes of my arrival, I saw a girl in costume who would have made a good picture for my character papers for Lauren Hastings.  She looks a lot like most representations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, so I often find pictures that work.  This year I saw someone, not quite as good but passable, again as I was headed for check-in.  Again I never saw her again.  It prompted my brain, though, to consider that I should look for people who might be suitable images for those character papers.  After all, Slade looks a lot like Thor, I’ve got a couple of American soldiers, someone might come as a sprite which would be good for Derek, Shella is a witch, and I’ve recently added a few characters including a dark-haired Arabian princess.  I saw no one the entire time who fit any of these images.  It was a bit disappointing in that regard, but then I’m not all that well versed in anime and recognized very few of the characters I did see.  Someone was Deadpool.  That’s about it.

When I got home, the household was hoping that since I had left the convention already I could run a game for them.  I somewhat wearily with apologies explained that the reason I was home was because I had to get some sleep and do the work driving that night, and then tackled what had to be done to be ready for that.

I must also thank Kate and Tris for holding down the kitchen in my absence.

Here’s hoping that I can do another convention next year, if not sooner.  I don’t know that I would say I have fun, but it is a high point in my time to be reminded that people like the game, even if it didn’t sell terribly well.

I think that about covers it all.  Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the convention for inviting me again.  Here’s hoping that I was not more trouble than I’m worth, and perhaps there will be another invitation next year.  It’s an interesting way to spend my birthday weekend.

#239: A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #239, on the subject of A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild.

Someone recently posted to the Christian Gamers Guild list, in a post called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that he would be resigning.  This is not a big deal; members come and members go, and life is like that.  Two things make this event a bit different.  The lesser is this individual has been involved for perhaps as long as I have, perhaps longer, and years ago actively so, and I miss some of those who were involved in the early years who are no longer there.  The greater is that in announcing his departure he suggested that perhaps he was wrong about role playing games, and that maybe the rest of us should consider quitting the hobby as well.

I am reproducing my reply, in substance at least, below; first, I am going to attempt to do justice to his statement without actually plagiarizing it.  I am going to call him “J” here, because I don’t have his permission to use this and don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, and “J” has absolutely nothing to do with his name (it’s short for “John Doe”, if you must know); members of the Christian Gamers Guild already know who he is.

J begins by introducing himself and announcing that he is leaving the group because he has decided not to play role playing games, but he wants to explain that.

Giving his history, he notes that when he first joined the group he was uncertain whether role playing games were compatible with Christian faith, and how that would work.  He had stopped playing when he became a Christian, but encouraged by the guild resumed doing so.  He identifies himself as “a Spirit-Filled believer and as such I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today through the gifts of the Spirit and in the anointing and power of God being alive and active in the Church and in individual believers today.”

He says that as soon as he returned to role playing he knew something wasn’t right but wouldn’t admit it to himself.  He was involved in ministry, but always felt that there was a hindrance blocking his connection to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, he also felt that his faith interfered with his ability to play the games.  Before he was a believer, he felt that he tapped into something that enabled his games to flow, and once he was a Christian running games became a chore.  He believes that he had been connecting with a “spirit”, and although what he says is not exactly clear as to whether he means that literally he thinks there is a demonic and seductive connection in role playing games.  As a Christian, they simply weren’t the same for him as they had been when he was an unbeliever.

J then tells us that before he was a believer he was involved in the occult, and that Dungeons & Dragons™ played a role in pointing him in that direction.  His occult involvement never produced anything but empty promises and a few frightening experiences, and eventually drove him to Christ.

He wisely tells us that the Holy Spirit is at odds with many things in this world; he says that role playing games are one of them.  The most objective objection he raises is from someone who counseled him against games, who said “…in role playing games you spend your time trying to be something that you are not; what the Holy Spirit wants you to do is be who you are.”  He feels it is necessary for us to ignore explorations of who we aren’t and seek more deeply who we are.  So saying, he recommends that we all leave the fantasy behind, although he recognizes that not everyone is at the same place with God.  He departs with a word of love for us as siblings in Christ, and with the famous closing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

*****

I am not attempting to persuade J that he’s wrong to leave the group or to give up role playing or other hobby games.  That’s a weaker brother issue, and if it’s a problem for him, I respect that.  I will certainly in some way miss him, even though he has rarely posted recently, just because knowing that there are a few people around besides Christian Gamers Guild President Rodney Barnes and me who have been here from the E-groups days makes me feel better about still being part of it all–and I do feel good about it; it has in some ways become integral to my identity.

Further, I understand the Charismatic/Spirit-filled viewpoint.  I don’t know that I speak in tongues more than you all, but I do speak in tongues, and quite a bit, while sitting, working, driving, writing, washing dishes, and at many other times.  Yet I am also solidly grounded in the more “rational” denominations, with solid connections to the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans particularly, and more casually to quite a few other denominations.  It also should be said that, like Rodney, I was a believer for many years before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons™, and in fact my “gateway” to it was the fantasy literature of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

My problem with what J says is that it’s almost entirely subjective.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  As I discuss in Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance (covered in a bit more detail in my book What Does God Expect?) our lives are very much about balancing the two kinds of direction, each tempering the other.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is delivered entirely subjectively, and we have to trust at some level our own instincts, that this is indeed what God is saying, and not something that comes from within ourselves.  I just get upset about it because I’ve had people say to me that “God told me” the games were evil, and there is then no discussion.  J isn’t saying that; he’s saying that they have been an impediment to his own joy and connection to God, and he thinks it might be so for others.  It is certainly the case that God sometimes asks us to surrender perfectly good things simply because He must be more important in our lives than they are.  Anything that we are not willing to give up for God is an impediment to our relationship with Him.

In the course of the discussion, someone suggested that eventually J will be able to return to gaming, and that’s possible–but it’s also, I think, an idea that itself becomes an impediment.  If you give something up in the hope that God will give it back, you are still holding on to it.  When God wants you to give up something, you need to walk away and not look back.  So I understand that J might never return, and certainly is not going to expect to do so at this point as he is leaving.  That expectation itself would be counter-productive, an indication that he is not really leaving gaming but only pretending to do so for the present.

J is uncomfortable with the magic in gaming because in his mind it is connected to the occult.  I have often argued that one of the best aspects of fantasy role playing games is the magic, that it opens the players to the possibility that there is more in the world than materialistic naturalism.  Of course, when that happens believers need to be there to say, “Yes, and this is where you find it.”  J had the opposite experience, and now for him there is a connection from seeing the supernatural dimensions of the world and moving toward the occult.  For me, the connection is the opposite direction, from seeing the power of God to discovering the fictional exploration of that power in the games.

The games have also connected me to a lot of people who need God, and I think perhaps I have helped some of them along the way.

J’s point that many things in the world are at odds with God is certainly right and important; however, most of us are involved in the world by necessity, working in jobs that are not primarily about reaching people for Christ or building the faith of believers (sales help might be service industry, but it’s not delivering the gospel), becoming part of organizations that are beneficial without having solid religious connections (hospitals are big in this, but I also am aware of groups trying to help the homeless, and drug rehabilitation programs that are not primarily Christian faith based).  Jesus said that everyone who is not for us is against us, but He also said that everyone who is not against us is for us, and while that makes the world seem black and white, it also introduces the possibility that some things can be used both for and against God.  I watch television shows which some think are science fiction of the worst sort, in which I see metaphors for the work of God in the world.  Certainly role playing games can be used in ways that oppose God, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, even some which seem most anti-Christian can prove at the bottom to be strongly Christian.  It is not what we use but how we use it that most controls the impact of our games.  For some, incredibly dark worlds have been a reminder of the amazing greatness of God.

J also suggests that we need to discover who we really are, not explore fantasies of who we might be.  Yet I think this is an unreal dichotomy.  I often discover more of who I really am by exploring who I am not, and sometimes discover that who I pretend to be is really part of who I actually am.  Playing Multiverser I was encouraged by its magic system to trust the power of God for several things, minor things really but in some sense magical or miraculous in their own way, because my character did so successfully in the game world.  I would not have had the boldness to pray some of the practical prayers I have prayed had it not been that I explored that boldness in character.  Even in playing “unlike me” characters, I learn much about how people who reject God are thinking, and am thereby better able to connect with them and deliver the truth.  The exploration of fantasies is a significant part of understanding my reality.  Indeed, the fantasy literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams have had tremendous impact not only on me but on believers and unbelievers around the world.  Why should fantasy gaming not also have the same potential, used aright?

Some of what I have said is of course subjective, and none of it is a reason for J to stay if God is telling him to leave.  However, if you are considering whether what J says might be true for you, consider also whether being involved in role playing games has had any of these benefits for you:  connecting you to people who need to see your faith; giving you insight into the spiritual battle between God and the devil within the metaphors of the game; strengthening your faith by reminding you that you are on the side that has the power.  I have profited in those ways from game play, and in a sense that’s the tip of the iceberg.  The largest open door for my ministry has been through this group, a group I was reluctant twenty years ago to join, which has encouraged my efforts and given me a platform to reach out to a world not much reached by believers, the world of hobby gamers.

So I say so long, J, and if you’ve gotten any of those fish you mentioned from me, you’re welcome.  I hope you’ll keep in touch through other media like Facebook, but wish you the best of grace in all your endeavors.