Category Archives: A-Z 2014

X is for Xerxes

xThere are a few historical figures who pop up in the stories of Scripture that warrant a second look. In the New Testament, the author, Luke, makes a very big deal about who is Caesar and who was governor of what province as Luke is primarily a historian and doctor by trade and is specifically rooting his tale in the historical reality of his time. In the Old Testament, after the defeat of Israel, first by the Assyrians who spread their people all over the Assyrian Empire, then by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, the people of Israel found themselves in captivity (as was the practice of the Babylonians and the Persians who followed them) in a foreign land. The best of the people were carried off to Babylon to be assimilated into the Babylonian (then Persian) empire and culture. So those many armies of the Persian empire who made up the huge army that faced down the Spartans in 300, Israel was one those conquered people who folded into the Persian war machine, but without the crazy war rhinos.

Xerxes’s story is found in the book of Esther, one of two books in the Old Testament specifically focused on a female lead character. Esther is a Jewish woman living in exile as an orphan. She’s cared for by her uncle and her story takes a dramatic turn when the king, Xerxes, becomes fed up with the many personal slights of his wife, the queen. He removes her from her role and throws a beauty pageant to choose his next wife who will become queen of Persia. Esther happens to win this pageant and goes from an occupied inhabitant of the Persian capital to its celebrated new queen.

That is where this story takes a turn for the awesome. Esther’s uncle hears about a conspiracy against the king and reports it through Esther. He is honored by the king for his service, which makes one of the king’s viziers jealous and that adviser decides to try and murder all of Esther’s people in retaliation. Little overkill, <sarcasm> but we’ve all been there, am I right?!? </sarcasm>

So this elaborate plot is put underway by the king’s vizier to single out Esther’s people (which no one realizes that she is Jewish at this point) and she is watching this all as it transpires. So she hatches her own elaborate plan and flips the machinations of the evil vizier on his head. She has him run out of town and the story ends with a delightful ending where the evil vizier is impaled on a pike. Grim, but fair.

Political intrigue and the behind the scenes machinations of court are not my personal cup of tea when playing games, but seeing an elaborate game of political chess come to fruition is very satisfying to watch. Setting the pieces in motion takes finesse and long term strategy that I lack patience for personally, but makes for a fascinating spider web of intrigue and mystery.

The book of Esther is read regularly at festivals within the Jewish community as a testimony to not only God’s protection, but of the courage of one person taking a stand and what one person can really do. It’s a short book and is maybe worth your time to witness one of history’s earliest femme fatales. It doesn’t take long and for someone who’s not so good at political intrigue it definitely inspires my imagination in regards to how you might navigate your way out of a difficult and potentially deadly political situation.


W is for Wine

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I actually went back and forth a long time on this one because originally I was going to do “W is for Wrath”, but the imagery of wine is extremely prevalent in Scripture and I live in the Northern California bay right outside Napa Valley, so wine culture is something I’ve come to enjoy. Wrath is another big concept in Scripture, but grapes are an image that has several facets that I find more compelling than the righteous judgment fueled by a desire to bring justice to the broken (although that is pretty awesome too).

Wine was a pretty huge part of Mediterranean culture as it was a great region for grape growing and alcohol made water more sanitary and a safer option for drinking than normal drinking water. And it’s tasty. Wine stories start in Genesis when Noah, having just survived a crazy flood, drinks a little too much and embarrasses himself in front of his family (the story of the curse he places on his family members after his drunken episode is majorly complex, but a sobering reminder of the dangers of drunkenness). Wine becomes a component of offerings offered in step with the animal sacrifices which make a parallel between blood and wine (and they already look very similar). Jesus says that new wine must be put in new wine skins and not old ones because as wine ages in a wine skin, it expands the contained skin and stretches it out. Pouring new wine into an already stretched skin can cause it to burst, spilling the wine everywhere. The most powerful image of wine in the New Testament is at the Last Supper when Jesus sits down with His friends before His death and passes a cup of wine to them and states that His blood is like this wine and that they must drink this wine as a symbol of the covenant that He is establishing with the pouring out of His blood. Wine became a huge element of the religious ritual of communion from that point forward. The image of wine and blood as parallels is continued into the New Testament in the book of Revelation in a powerful image of judgment and death.

“Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, ‘Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.’ The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.” (Revelation 14:17-20 NIV)

So what is wine in your game? Is it merely another beverage of choice in the local tavern, or is it a symbolic foreshadowing? Does it hold ritualistic power or special significance? Could it unlock deeper secrets behind a dungeon entrance that only the correct goblet and specific wine open she drank in conjunction with each other. Could wine offer immunity to some painful effect while weakening your mental resolve and willpower? It has an interesting potential role to play in a game setting other than a passing detail in celebration of your victory in the local saloon if you are willing to explore and try something new. Salud!


V is for Violence

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The Bible is full of stories of violence. From beginning (Cain murdering his brother Abel) to the end (war that ravages the entirety of the planet), the Bible is a testament to the incredible inventive and pervasive nature of humanity’s dark and selfish violence. The time that the Bible was written into was violent and produced some of the earliest law codes that placed limitations on the violence that people could inflict on each other, even in retribution for violence done against them. The Code of Hammurabi and the Levitical law of the Bible both contain the rule of “an eye for an eye” to specifically reduce the escalating cycle of vengeance that ends in wars.

Roleplaying games are full of violence too. Most roleplaying games today thrice off of various combat simulations and conflict resolution mechanics of varying levels of tactical expression. Finding justice for wrongdoing is a common theme throughout RPGs and being the force that stands against injustice and drawing the line against a violent oppressors is something that comes up frequently, but what if there was a another response against the violent offender? What if the response of force against force wasn’t the only option? Jesus had something to say about this specific issue.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)

Many have cited this example as a reason to endure abuse or to merely passively engage with an offender, but there is a slightly off component to Jesus’s advice that doesn’t come up all that often. Each of the slights and responses that He discusses had a cultural context. Turning your cheek into the slap forces your opponent to attack you either with a fist and acknowledge you as an equal or slap you with the left hand and be shunned for breaking cultural taboos. Roman soldiers could force an occupied person to carry their equipment and march with them, but only for a mile. Jesus’s suggestion is delightfully loving yet subversive to show that you can’t put them down.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should turn all your combat resolutions into peaceful protests or civil disobedience, but some of the best little moments in my roleplaying experience have been when violence or killing was not an option. The time I took my players weapons away after they were knocked out with sleeping gas and they had to not only break out of jail, but escape with out their lethal tools. It was hilarious seeing them come up with alternative ways to face their opponents. I also played a character in a campaign once who had never killed a thing in his life. Whenever he attacked, he deliberately tried to knock his opponent unconscious and find the means to release them safely. When his friend was mortally wounded by a creature and he resorted to real violence and killed the beast, it was a turning point for him. Lastly, I played in an adventure where we were investigating strange doings in a mine that was being haunted by Orc ghosts whose burial grounds had been disturbed. We couldn’t make them stay dead or dissipated, so we had to do some problem solving to satisfy their angry disposition and set them at rest and it was a very compelling and interesting adventure to explore.

Basically, violence doesn’t have to be the main theme of a game you play. Overcoming adversity and even combat can and should be a big part of the roleplaying game experience, but there is no need for it to remain a bloodbath. There is something empowering and in my opinion more interesting about finding a solution that might take a bit more time and creativity than simply at the end of a bloody dagger.