Author Archives: stroupjr

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

So my lovely wife challenged me and several of my coworkers to dump a bucket of ice water on our heads or donate money to the ALS Association. She was so cute doing it too. I thought about dumping water on my head or just donating the money, but I decided I wanted to do something different. I have to be weird, I know, I’m a rebel without a cause. When I sat down and thought about it, I felt that dumping ice on my head or making a donation were good steps, but I wanted to take it a step further. When Jesus came to care for people, He entered into the suffering of those around Him and I wanted to dig a bit and try to understand not only the disease, but the patients and their families who journey with it.

This craze that’s been sweeping the internet is funny to watch as it fills my social media feed and it’s actually made a pretty substantial difference in giving to support research towards treating and hopefully curing ALS. According to the ALS Association, as of the day I was challenged this hashtag driven frenzy of awareness and charity has led to over 14 million dollars in donations to fund research into treating ALS.

ALS, by the way, stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and is more famously known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease for the famous baseball player who made it more well known. It is a degenerative nerve disease that essential weakens and deadens the nerve cells and causes the patient to eventually become totally paralyzed. There is no cure for this disease and all treatments as of now are specifically designed to minimize the effects of the disease and prolong the functionality and lifespan of the patient. It’s not very well known either. Most people know it simply as Lou Gehrig’s disease and have no idea what the acronym stands for our what the disease really does to a person.

There was an article a few friends had shared on Facebook and wanted to encourage you to check it out. It’s written by a woman whose family is currently walking through this disease and about her thoughts on this particular craze of challenges and especially how we can walk a mile in the shoes of someone with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis to better understand their reality. Go take a break and go read it. It’s really worth it.

I was really struck by this, specifically the list of ways of Empathetic Experiences to understand what it is like to have this disease. This is what she came up with.

  1. Pick up a 10-pound weight. Now imagine it’s your fork and move it from your plate to your mouth repeatedly without shaking.
  2. Sit in a chair for just 15 minutes moving nothing but your eyes. Nothing. No speaking, no scratching your nose, no shifting your weight, no changing the channel on the television, no computer work. Only your eyes. As you sit, imagine: this is your life. Your only life.
  3. Borrow a wheelchair or power scooter and try to maneuver quickly through the aisles at Walmart, without speaking. Note the way people react to you.
  4. Strap 25 pounds to your forearm. Now, adjust your rearview mirror.
  5. Using none of your own muscles, have your spouse or child or friend get you dressed and brush your teeth. Write down some of the feelings you have being cared for in this way.
  6. Before you eat your next meal, take a good, long look at the food. Inhale deeply and appreciate the aroma. Now, imagine never being able to taste that – or any other food – for the rest of your life.
  7. Put two large marshmallows in your mouth and have a conversation with your friends. How many times must you repeat yourself? How does this make you feel?
  8. Go to bed and stay in one position for as long as you possibly can, moving nothing.
  9. Strap weights to your ankles and climb a flight of stairs, taking two at a time. That’s the kind of strength it takes for someone with ALS to tackle the stairs on a good day.
  10. Install a text-to-speech app on your phone or iPad and use it exclusively to communicate for one day.

For me, engaging with injustice in the world and with those who are suffering is more than just taking time to give something or even drawing attention to it. I want to understand and try to identify and walk alongside the other. So in lieu of dumping a bucket of water on my head, I am choosing to take this challenge and make a donation to an organization supporting research or treatment for those with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerorsis and I’m going to do some of these things on this list, just to have an idea of what it is like to deal with this condition and better identify with those who are suffering. It took time to dig and learn a bit more about this disease and it is going to take more to really try and understand what it would be like to live with it, but for me this is the best way I can engage with this.

So my challenge is for my former online gaming group: Adrienne, Crystal, Jay, Scott, Travis, and Wes . You can donate money, dump water on your head, or get creative. What you got gang?


Entertaining Temptation

Such a little thing...

 

Temptation is something we entertain as we fall into its grasp, but in the setting of a role playing game, it can also be quite entertaining to explore as a concept. I’ve been a fan of exploring the nature of temptation in my game settings and setting interesting and complicated choices into my games. I’ve written about it before in a previous blog and I think it poses an interesting challenge for players to wrestle with that is outside of the normal “hit a monster until it dies” challenge and provokes not only the character’s engagement, but the player as they determine where their personal lines and boundaries stand. It’s also something that has come up in my own life more recently. I’m doing a devotional reading through a collection of selected readings from various Christian writers over the millenia. It’s a fascinating read and the most recent one came from Thomas á Kempis’s work The Imitation of Christ and was specific about what temptation is, the role it plays, and how to fight against it. As I read, I was struck by how true it is in my life, but also in the fiction and games I enjoy.

Kempis, an Augustinian monk who lived in the turn of the 14th-15th century, writes that temptation is actually useful in our growth and development. He states that,

“Temptations can be useful to us even though they seem to cause us nothing but pain. They are useful because they can make us humble, they can cleanse us, and they can teach us. All of the saints passed through times of temptation and tribulation, and they used them to make progress in the spiritual life. Those who did not deal with temptations successfully fell to the wayside.”

He goes on later to say that,

“Temptation reveals our instability and our lack of trust in God; temptations reveal who we are. This is why we must pay attention to them.”

He goes on to speak about facing temptation and what it takes and requires to stand against it, but I was so struck by the defining and refining power of temptation in both my life, which I have found to be exceptionally true in my own life. My own fears are often drawn into light by the things that appeal to me and call out to me even when I don’t want them to and in a sense, temptation has helped me to know myself on a deeper level that is often buried and I wouldn’t otherwise get to know about myself.

Temptation is a great fit for the fantasy adventure genre. Dire whispers of dark power asking a terrible cost and promising the necessity or justification of succumbing to temptation regularly pops up in great fiction. The premise of temptation is what fuels the darkness of the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings. The idea that this tiny thing could provide the answer that each character is looking to, but at a potentially terrible cost. Watching Frodo descend into madness as he deals with the ramifications of that temptation is very compelling and many can easily see themselves in Boromir’s position as he slowly succumbed to the power of the One Ring, justifying his choices as he weighed the benefit against the cost and convincing himself of his own righteousness in the end. Temptation can lead to some really interesting choices and in games, the siren call of power at a cost is a normal theme.

In my games, magic users and rogues seem to the ones who get tied up in these questions of temptation. Is a rogue willing to take the low road of their class when it comes to sinister contacts and base or brutish robbery or will a magic user make deals that endanger their being for forgotten secrets or powers? Those are interesting questions and ones that I’ve used to great effect in my games. My newest question is, can a divine character be made more interesting by the temptation they have to fight against and prevail over to achieve all that they are capable of? Kempis stated that all saints walk through and face their temptation lest they fall by the wayside. Could a divine character have a particular temptation to stand against and define their winnowing process by which they are made stronger and stand above the rest? It’s s subtle piece of background that can not only say a lot about what a character cares about, but give a game master a great deal of direction and freedom to play with and challenge that particular character. It’s like a giant sign that says, “THIS IS SOMETHING THAT MATTERS AND IS INTERESTING TO ME, PLEASE POKE AT IT!” As someone running a game, I’d love to be handed that piece of character development.

Can you picture a cleric whose temptation is lustful gluttony? Or a paladin who struggles with pride? Or an avenger whose commitment to justice borders on wrathful vengeance? Or an invoker who is tempted by the rich accouterments of his religious upbringing that borders on greed? I can see many ways that overcoming these foibles would produce a much higher quality of hero than one just wandering along adventuring. As flaws, values, and quirks enter into the scenario of creating more interesting characters, I’ll be interested to see how the things that tempt us also enter the equation to bait those juicy adventure hooks and drive some really interesting stories home, especially as we overcome the base elements of our desires and aspire to greatness in our games.


Order of Ulfberht

I’ve been watching the show Vikings on Hulu recently, which is awesome by the way, and in a recent episode a blade with the engraved name of Ulfberht showed up. My wife Brittany started squeeing about how awesome those swords are and we immediately had to go to Netflix and watch a documentary shed watched called “Secrets of the Viking Sword.” It’s available for streaming now, so go check it out if you have a subscription because it’s worth your time. The documentary speaks to a special class of swords that were made and used by Vikings that were made of an incredibly high quality steel that mirrors technology from centuries after their origin. All these blades bore an inscription that read +ULFBERH+T. These inlaid blades had a fascinating story behind them that tells a story I think many games could use today. 20140502-222738.jpg

There are three laments that come together to make these blades so intriguing. The steel technology, the raw material for the blades, comes from the near east as far as India, which the Vikings had a trade relationship with. The swords are carried by Vikings and were very specifically designed to pierce the chainmail of their time. The really interesting thing is the name that is etched into the blade. The name is Frankish (the kingdom stretching from France and Germany at the time), but what really stands out is the use of the cross in the inscription. The cross was used to denote an abbot or bishop or perhaps even a specific monastery, but why would the pagan Vikings be wielding a sword with made by the Christians they raided? The answer is lost to time and we may never know where they got these impressive weapons, but the idea of various materials and technologies coming from around the known world to produce a powerful and game changing weapon is a really cool inspiration.

Maybe a special material is being imported that in the hands of a special order is being forged into weapons that dramatically shift a war effort or power struggle. Maybe the order is a holy rule that is specially crafting weapons with a blessing or enchantment (which the vikings may have believed was true) and they are the only ones who can produce such fine weaponry. How far would you go to claim a unique weapon like this? Who would be trying to pass cheap replicas off to make quick profit? Would you allow this superior weaponry to circulate or shut it down permanently? Lots of fun angles to approach this real world example of weapon forging and craftsmanship.