Friday, September 30, 2005


imagine that for just one day you were unafraid no one could threaten you no one could shame you no one could rebuke you what power you would have you would be completely free you could do whatever you wanted you could change the world all this in just one day if somehow you were not afraid

Facts About Dihydrogen Monoxide

Read the facts on this dangerous chemical.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Doug Phillips says nice things about where I work.

Doug's Blog Oh yeah! And we're braced for the phone calls....

Intelligence Report on Subject #M33P135: The Meeples.

GeekList: Intelligence Report on Subject #M33P135: The Meeples. This be funny. For those who don't know, a "meeple" is a little human-shaped game piece, particularly from the Carcassonne game series.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

For physicians of the body and the soul...

From the Baylyblog: For physicians of the body and the soul... It becomes every person who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things: First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of all the lives entrusted to his care. Second, that all his skill and knowledge and energy, as they have been given him by God, so they should be exercised for His glory and the good of mankind, and not for mere gain or ambition. Third, and not more beautifully than truly, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature; for in order that he may estimate the value, the greatness of the human race, the only begotten son of God became himself a man, and thus ennobled it with His divine dignity, and far more than this, died to redeem it. And fourth, that the doctor being himself a mortal human being, should be diligent and tender in relieving his suffering patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer. -Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Blogger's Word Verification Revealed

In a recent announcement, Blogger has revealed its source for the words that it uses for word verification. "It seemed best to us to use a Slavic language," said Mary Webster, public relations director for the blogging website. "And what better way to raise humanitarian awareness than to use the language of the former Yugoslavia?" Various civil rights groups are already objecting. "It's simply un-American to exclude other oppressed races," argued Chinese-American activist John Lu. "We demand that begin to include kanji-based verification to represent our people's suffering." When it was mentioned that most Western keyboards are unable to produce kanji, Lu noted that this was more evidence of discrimination.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unless your righteousness....

Today I spent several hours with some deeply spiritual folks. While I sat with them, I heard them discuss the challenges of homeschooling their children, the importance of maintaining close familial ties, the best ways to engage the larger culture with their beliefs, and even how to allow their children to participate in the rites of their faith while still being respectful to other worshippers. I felt right at home. After all, these are all issues that are important to me and that I wrestle with from time to time. These were folks who want to integrate their faith into every area of their lives, just like me. Except they weren't like me. They were Pagans.

And now, a word from our sponsors

Once again, the Ben-Ezra family is selling stuff on eBay, getting rid of stuff for cold, hard cash. Here is a listing of the items for auction. Buy stuff. Tell your friends to buy stuff. Thanks. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blathering.

More about God's love

I have another thought about the Reformed approach to God’s love and God’s wrath.  I’m going to get at this thought by asking a question:  “What is the gospel story?”

I think that most Reformed Christians would probably answer this question in terms of TULIP.  Man is found in his sinful, corrupted state.  Then, God acts:  the Father ordains salvation, the Son accomplishes it, and the Spirit applies it.  Finally, those who have been saved from their sin and corruption are preserved until the end of their days.

This is all true, and I don’t want to deny any of it.  However, I think that this formulation tends to overlook a vital part of the story.

Before our current state of sin, before our father Adam’s sin, God created humanity.  And why did He create us?

God created us to love us.

Pause a moment and consider this.

While you are considering this, I want to affirm my agreement with the orthodox creeds and the teaching of Scripture about God, especially the aseity of God.  This is important, in order to understand what I say next.

As Reformed Christians, we confess God’s foreordination of our salvation from the beginning of time.  However, I think that we are so careful to stress God’s sovereign prerogative to choose that we overlook the purpose of His creation and election.

God created me and elected me, because He was full of so much love, that He wanted to spend all of eternity with me.

He didn’t need any of us, but He chose to need us.  He was not alone, yet He says, “It is not good that the [M]an should be alone.”  It was not good that He was alone, so He made us.

That is the beginning of the gospel.  The beginning of the good news is not the bad news of our sin.  The beginning of the good news is that God created you because He wanted to be with you and love you forever.

But instead, you spat in his face and walked away.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Logical Priority: Love or Wrath

I’m going to play a game here that I don’t normally play.  I think that I’ll call it the “logical priority” game.  This is a game that gets played a lot in Reformed theological circles.  Which has logical priority, God’s decree of Redemption or God’s decree of Sin?  Or, what about regeneration and faith?  Sometimes, there are significant points of concern at stake.  Other times, I fear that it is simply a game.

But today, I’m going to play the game.  Which has logical priority:  God’s love or God’s wrath?  Or how about this?  Is God’s default “emotion” love or wrath?  But these are perhaps silly ways to ask the question.  Let me rephrase it.

What is the fundamental nature of my relationship with God?  Is it fundamentally a relationship of love, or fundamentally a relationship of wrath?  Of course, all the good Christians out there in the crowd have already answered the question.  Our relationship with God is fundamentally one of love.  That’s what we all say.


Or do we?

I’m going to stroll out on a limb here and suggest that, at least within Reformed circles, we do not really believe that our relationship with God is fundamentally one of love, nor do we believe that God’s default “emotion” is love.

I submit that, in Reformed circles, we believe that God defaults to being angry.  However, God, in His sovereign indifference, randomly selected some to be saved.  To these exceptions, He has opted to show His love, but this love functions largely to stifle His default wrath.  So, those who are elect and have been saved now have a buffer zone between God’s wrath and us.  Therefore, it’s possible to make God happy now.  Of course, God is still the Picky Stickler in the sky, so even those who are loved by God still need to tiptoe around Him.

But is this how the Bible describes God?

I’m going to start by acknowledging, nay, embracing the Biblical teaching that God becomes angry.  Only a fool or an idiot could read the Bible and say otherwise.  But, is the wrath of God really His default state?

Here’s how God describes Himself.  “Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  (Exodus 34:6-7)  Is there wrath in this passage?  Certainly.  However, what is the overwhelming emphasis?  Love.  (A side note.  As I was transcribing this passage, I was struck by the apparent contradiction.  God punishes the guilty, yet He forgives.  How do these two things fit together?)

Or what about Psalm 103?  "Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:8-12)  Notice how David starts by quoting from Exodus and then elaborating.  For some reason, David doesn't think that the point of the Exodus passage is God's wrath, but God's love.

And then, of course, one of the classic passages:  “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.   Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  (1 John 4:7-8)  God is love.  God is not wrath.  As a result, we are to be characterized by this love.

It is love that is supposed to be the root cause for our obedience.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  (John 14:15)  Jesus doesn’t threaten us with a wrathful God, just waiting for one of us to slip up.  Rather, He calls us to obey because of our desire for the One Who waits for us at the end of our journey.

There is a place for fear in the Christian life.  Our God does become angry, and we are wise to remember this.  Jesus did say, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)  And yet, I cannot help but think that this is a secondary motivation.  I compare fear to the safety net that trapeze artists use.  We are given fear to catch us when our love fails, but it is the lower motivation.

John writes, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  (1 John 4:17-18)  Perfect love casts out fear.  For now, our love is not perfect, so we are given fear.  But, in the end, there will be no fear.

Proverbs says that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).  Yet the end of wisdom is love.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Accommodated revelation?

When I'm not feeling creative, I merely link to other people's creativity. It's like I'm basking in their awesomeness and thereby partaking of it somehow. Er, or something like that. So, here, read Pastor Leithart's thoughts about how we exalt scientific description. "No physical/chemical/biological description of love is "truer" than Solomon's "Your love is better than wine." The contrary is the case." | Accommodated revelation?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

No, I'm not okay

Have you ever noticed how people tend to greet each other?  “How are you doing?” they ask.  This is supposed to be ceremonial language, merely a formality.  The proper answer, of course, is “I’m fine.  How are you?”  Because, you see, once we’ve made genuflections in the direction of caring for each other, we can get on with the business of getting what we want out of a conversation.

I’m not pointing fingers.  I’ve done this.  We’re all guilty of it.

Then one day, my father figured out that he was doing it.  So he decided that he would take the question seriously.  If someone asked him how he was doing, he would—are you sitting down?—give an honest answer.  And I, being his son, have tried to follow in his footsteps.  Of course, being my mother’s son, I can be a little pushy about it.  Not only do I give honest answers, I tend to push for honest answers when I inquire as to how someone is doing.

Be careful what you say around me.  You just might come to regret it.

Which brings us to today.

I’m still sick.

I’m still sick, and most of my family is still sick.

Justice started coughing.

I haven’t been to work or worship in weeks.

I feel lonely.

My sleep last night was fragmented, trying to care for a squalling baby and a frustrated wife.

I feel scattered and confused.

I’m scared.

I’m worn out.

I’m not all right.

So, when a woman from our church called and asked how we were, I asked her if she really wanted to know.

And she did.

So, I told her.  I told her about how we’ve been sick for so long that it’s beginning to feel normal.  I told her that I haven’t been driving, because I’m afraid that I’ll crash during a coughing fit.  I told her that Justice is coughing and we’re afraid that he’ll be seriously ill.  I told her that we’re tired and lonely and scared.

And she listened.  God bless her for it.

The Bible says, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.”  (Ephesians 4:25)  This truth-telling begins by stating what should be an obvious truth:  I’m not all right.  The Gospel tells us that we are sinners living in a broken world.  This means that we get sick and we get tired and we hurt each other and we lose heart and we fall apart and that sometimes we just can’t take it anymore.

It means saying that I’m scared that my son is going to die from whooping cough.  It means saying that I’m not nearly as good a person as you think I am.  It means saying that I desperately wish that I were at work, struggling with a stupid last-minute project because it would mean that life was normal again.  It means saying that I can’t stop coughing and it hurts so bad sometimes and I don’t have it together.  I don’t have it together.

I’m not okay.

And that’s the truth.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

aka pastor guy: Twister!

aka pastor guy: Twister! Thoughts on Twister, the human body, and kissing. All good. See? Talking about games can be profound.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Hitherby Dragons: The Arachnophobe

Hitherby Dragons: The Arachnophobe It's an odd story, but it has this great quote:
"Social security lost my birthdate," says Martin. "When you don't have good social security records, you're only as young as you feel."

Pride and the Atomic Bomb

I finished reading The Gospel According to America by David Dark. A very helpful and thought-provoking book. In order to take advantage of the opportunity to read this book, I had put down another book, and, once I had finished The Gospel According to America, I returned to my previous book. Funny, actually. I have owned this book for years, having purchased it at some used-book sale, but I have never read it before now. The title: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It’s a fairly hefty book, coming it at 886 pages (including indices and such), but I’m almost finished with it. I would highly recommend it. Somehow, Mr. Rhodes manages to take a topic that has wide-ranging connections to theoretical physics, politics, and ethics, and manages to describe all the various issues and personalities involved in the massive undertaking that led up to the development and use of the atomic bomb in World War II. I’ve been having a hard time reading the book recently, though. I’m past all the theoretical developments, the building of the Los Alamos labs, and the test firing at the Trinity site. Now, I’m reading about the bombing of Hiroshima. Seventeen pages of eyewitness accounts. Seventeen pages. Here, try these on for size:
I heard a girl’s voice clearly from behind a tree. “Help me, please.” Her back was completely burned and the skin peeled off and was hanging down from her hips. A man with his eyes sticking out about two inches called me by name and I felt sick… People’s bodies were tremendously swollen—you can’t imagine how big a human body can swell up. There was a charred body of a woman standing frozen in a running posture with one leg lifted and her baby tightly clutched in her arms. At the base of the bridge, inside a big cistern that had been dug out there, was a mother weeping and holding above her head a naked baby that was burned bright red all over its body, and another mother was crying and sobbing as she gave her burned breast to her baby. I had to cross the river to reach the station. As I came to the river and went down the bank to the water, I found that the stream was filled with dead bodies. I started to cross by crawling over the corpses, on my hands and knees. As I got about a third of the way across, a dead body began to sink under my weight and I went into the water, wetting my burned skin. It pained severely. I could go no further, as there was a break in the bridge of corpses, so I turned back to the shore. And they had no faces! Their eyes, noses and mouths had been burned away, and it looked like their ears had melted off. It was hard to tell front from back. Mother was completely bedridden. The hair of her head had almost fallen out, her chest was festering, and from the two-inch hole in her back a lot of maggots were crawling in and out.
According to The Making of the Atomic Bomb, between the initial blast and the radiation poisoning that followed, 54% of the population of Hiroshima died as the result of this atomic attack. And now, a quote from The Gospel According to America:
George Washington asserted that the Declaration of Independence was a claim, on the part of the colonies, to the rights of all of humanity, and, in an interesting paradox, he believed that the rights, for which the colonists fought, should be applied to enemy combatants. He wanted British prisoners to be treated with more humanity than the colonists received at the hands of British soldiers. When the war was over, thousands who fought against America’s independence chose to remain in the land where they would enjoy more rights than they could hope for elsewhere.
Remember what the Declaration said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” For better or worse, this is the creed that makes us Americans. But apparently, during the World Wars, we let this slip. Apparently, “all men” didn’t include Jerry or the Nips. Therefore, apparently it was okay to light their cities on fire so that their old men and women and children boiled away. Apparently then it was okay to light the atomic fire in their cities, wiping away entire cities until they did our pleasure. Apparently the rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” didn’t extend to them. Does that mean that we thought that the Japanese were merely animals, worthy of extinction? I’m not speaking here as a Japanophile. The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was an underhanded act, but oh so Japanese. Amoral pragmatism is acceptable, so long as the forms are followed. A samurai doesn’t kill a sleeping opponent; he kicks him so that he is awake, and then he kills him. It’s still a sneak attack, but the forms were followed. That is the Japanese way, and it is so very wrong. Yet the Japanese did not claim to be anything other than this. Yet America has claimed to be a champion of human rights and freedom throughout the world…unless you are on our bad side, of course. Suddenly all the noble platitudes that we mouth don’t quite seem to apply anymore. And so I begin to wonder about American hypocrisy. We are perfectly willing to condemn the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the London subway bombings, the Oklahoma City bombing, and other assaults on civilians. But bring up the Hamburg and Dresden firestorms, the incendiary attacks on Japanese cities, or the atomic destruction that we wrought on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and suddenly the justifications begin to roll out. We needed to break their morale. They would never have surrendered without these measures. We wanted to shorten the war. We wanted to save lives. Did you know that the gas attacks in World War I were justified using exactly the same reasoning? And now, we come to Hurricane Katrina. An American city has been shattered. At this point, it remains to be seen if New Orleans will be able to be rebuilt. And some choose to shake their fists at the sky and demand that God make an accounting. Recently, on NPR, I heard Daniel Schorr issue his challenge to God: “[I]f this was the result of intelligent design, then the Designer has something to answer for.” Well, sir, I believe in an intelligent Designer, and I do not believe that He has to answer to you. (Job 38:1-3; 40:1-2) But, I also believe that the atomic bomb was the result of intelligent design. Do you think that its’ designers have something to answer for? What about those complicit in its use? What about those that rejoiced as their enemies burned? What about their descendants, who continue to justify this murderous sin as a necessity? Is it not justice for our nation to have its cities shattered while we look on in impotence? Why does this make me angry? It makes me angry because we as Americans have become Pharisaical. We claim the moral high ground, demanding that all must acknowledge our rightness or be struck down. We claim that God is on our side, that our military missions have the sanction of the Almighty, that we have a manifest destiny to spread freedom and democracy across the globe. But if you stand in our way, we will destroy you, grind you into the dirt, light you on fire, nuke your cities, and then claim that it was "necessary" in the cause of freedom. What I want to see in our country is humility. I want us to repent of our pride that says that God’s Kingdom has arrived and that it flies the Stars and Stripes. I want us to acknowledge that our country has sinned grievously, that we have not lived up to our own creed, let alone the demands of the Glory of God. I want us to confess that we have presumed upon the goodness of God, claiming to be righteous when we are not. I want us to proclaim that we are not a good, decent, upright people, but that we are horribly depraved, proud people, who have laid claim to the prerogatives of God Himself. If we do this, then we will flourish. God is still merciful. We still have time. If we don’t, then we may find that Hurricane Katrina was only the warning shot. And by then, it will be too late.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What's the deal with GIPF?

So, rather than sitting here, feeling sorry for myself while I try to hack up a lung, I have decided to be productive. Yes, productive! And so, I will talk about games. Specifically, I will talk about the GIPF Project. I've been babbling about this series for a while on this blog, so I figure that perhaps I should explain why I think that this is a big deal. The GIPF Project is a series of six abstract strategy games, designed by Kris Burm, a gentleman from Belgium. In order of their release, the games are titled as follows: GIPF TAMSK ZERTZ DVONN YINSH PUNCT (to be released in October 2005) Some people have complained about the names. "What does TAMSK mean?" Well, I'll answer you when you tell me what "Chess" and "Go" mean. In the case of an abstract game, I figure that an abstract name is appropriate. Now, many of you know that I am a game nut, but these games are special. First, each of them are quality abstract game designs. Each has a brief, elegant ruleset which results in deep play. However, each of them stand out as having unique mechanisms unlike many other abstract games. For example, in GIPF, you make your moves by pushing your pieces in from the edge of the board, shoving others with you. The only control of the center that anyone has is by using lines of pieces extending into the middle. To give another example, in TAMSK you move pieces around the board, dropping rings on each space as you pass. When a space fills up, it is no longer passable. (This is similar to the lightcycles from TRON, if anyone out there knows what I mean.) This is only moderately impressive. However, the clever bit in TAMSK is that each of your pieces is a 3-minute hourglass, and the sand is running. Run out of time on a piece, and it is dead in the water. Each of the other games demonstrates equal creativity. So there is beauty of function in each game. Second, each game has a certain beauty of form. Probably the game that best exemplifies this for me is ZERTZ. The game does not really need to use marbles; checkers would have sufficed. However, there is an elegant beauty about the marbles that adds a special something to gameplay. In addition, the box art from each game seems to be able to express something of the character of the game. YINSH uses a windstorm as box art, and its play does tend to feel open and breezy. Contrast this with ZERTZ's icebergs breaking off from a glacier into an arctic sea. So there is beauty of form in each game. But there's more. Back in 1997, when Kris Burm released GIPF, he announced the beginning of the Project. He also announced that, when completed, all six games would be able to link together into a larger game. The central game would be GIPF, and the other games would each have a corresponding special piece, called a potential, that could be used in GIPF. Each potential has a special power that is thematically related to the game that it represents. So, for instance, since TAMSK is all about time, the TAMSK potential allows its user to take an additional turn. Of course, you may not want your opponent to use his potential. So, you may challenge his use of the potential. If your challenge is successful, his potential vanishes into thin air. But how do you make a successful challenge? It's simple, really. Just play the related game. That's right. Set aside the GIPF board, pull out TAMSK, and play. If you win, then your challenge succeeds. If your opponent wins, then his potential works. So, each game can function on its own but, with the potentials, they can also be welded together into an ubergame, requiring dexterity of mind as you slide from game to game. This is also a thing of beauty. So far, Burm has released the potentials for TAMSK, DVONN, and ZERTZ. A third expansion, not yet released, will contain the long awaited YINSH and PUNCT potentials. Once this expansion is released, the Project will be truly completed. Some people might think that playing the entire Project sounds like torture, but, to me, it is nearly the perfect game. Each game requires a different sort of thinking, so it is like playing out an extended a battle of wits where the opponents grapple in a changing landscape of shifting environments. Maybe I'm just masochistic. Or maybe, it's because I can appreciate beauty where I see it. (If you're still curious, and not just bored, here is a poetic review of the Project, released when YINSH was released. This was the article that finally communicated to me the niftiness of the Project.)

Day follows night

So, I'm sick. Yep, sick. Got me a wracking cough that will not go away. Right now, it's giving me a headache. Other times, it's worse. I feel like I wish I could reach down my throat and just clear away the congestion that I'm feeling there. Ugh. I feel yucky. So, of course, I find myself humming a song. "Innocent", which is performed (if I recall correctly) by Sinead O'Connor and The Edge (guitarist for U2). Somewhere in there is a line, "The night is long but the day will come". Common sentiment, especially in pop songs. And so I, with my bleak sense of humor, immediately begin to note that, while day follows night, night also follows day. It's a cycle, right? So who's really to say which comes first? (Brief break to start my tea brewing. Mmm. Tea. It's hot, so it soothes my throat, and I can pretend that it's actually doing something to my lungs.) In our culture, night is the end of the day. But, in Hebrew culture, day follows night. Check out Genesis 1. Evening and morning. Day follows night. For some reason, right now I find that to be profound. That means that the ancient Hebrews looked at the creation of their God and realized that He had built into His creation a reminder of the ultimate triumph of good over evil, joy over pain, health over sickness. Day follows night. As I go to bed tonight, I should probably try to remember that.

Word verification (aka Spammers begone!)

Comment spamming seems to be up these days, so I'm going to take advantage of Blogger's new word verification. Hopefully this won't be too onerous for those of you who actually want to leave comments, but at least this way, spammers will have to leave their comments manually.

GIPF 5 (or is it 6?) has been announced!

And the name is... PÜNCT Hooray! The GIPF Project is a triumph of modern abstract design, and I'm glad that Kris Burm has managed to achieve his lofty goal. (Well, actually he still has to provide us with YINSH and PÜNCT potentials, but I'll allow that to pass by for now.) This should be available by the Essen Game Fair in October. I'm greatly looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

simul justus et peccator

simul justus et peccator A member of a PCA church in Biloxi, Mississippi. He has pictures of the destruction in his area.

On the power of ritual...

Rituals & Reality Maybe it's the circles that I move in, or maybe there's something in the air...or maybe I'm just sensitive to it, but this sort of thinking is popping up all over the place. I don't just mean in Christian circles, either. Check out this thread on the Forge for another example.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Polaris Actual Play

(This account was also posted on The Forge. You might find the responses from the folks there to be interesting.) Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. Ever since I read a playtest version of Polaris, I have been drooling with anticipation at having an opportunity to play it. It seemed to be in a similar vein to Legends of Alyria and Nobilis, which are two of my favorite games. So, when Ben announced pre-orders just as my birthday (and gifts of cash) arrived, I knew that I wanted to purchase this game and take it for a drive. So, the other night, my copy in hand, we sat down to play Polaris. Players Seth—that’s me. I like mythic settings that are more poetic than “real”. I like stories with tragic endings. I would therefore appear to be squarely in the target audience for this game. Crystal—my wife. Crystal generally does not like heavy system intervention in her games. If she has to think too hard about how to do something, it tends to ruin the gaming moment for her. I thought that the freedom of narration in Polaris would appeal to her, and I was correct. Gabrielle—my sister. She has similar tastes to mine in roleplaying, which made Polaris almost a no-brainer for her. Raquel—our friend. Raquel had tried roleplaying with us once before, when I ran Jailbreak from Unknown Armies. That session was mixed success at best; however, her interest in the activity was peaked enough that she had expressed an interest in trying again. I sent her a copy of Polaris to suggest that we try it, and she enthusiastically embraced it. Given that there was a recent birth in our family, plus we have been dealing with possible whooping cough in our respective families, we were all a bit exhausted coming into the evening, both physically and emotionally, but still this turned into a great evening of play. Environment First, a discursus. I haven’t been really happy with the quality of my roleplaying of late. Often, I have felt too tired to summon up the necessary creativity, but for whatever reason, I have not felt like my roleplaying fu has been particularly strong. We recently attempted Dogs in the Vineyard, and I felt like I fumbled through the entire session. It didn’t have the zip that I was accustomed to. I’m not blaming the games; obviously lots of folks have gotten good mileage from DitV. However, something was off. I didn’t want Polaris to be another failure, so I started considering the last time that we had achieved successful play. When we first moved to Illinois, Gabrielle, Crystal, and I used to play Nobilis on Friday nights. It was a great success. Our play more recently had been lackluster. What had changed? As I pondered this problem, I soon identified one major change. In my house, we have set aside a special room that I named the “Quiet Room”. (I didn’t figure that my children would understand “Meditation Room”.) We had decorated it in a faux Japanese style, which means that you’re sitting on the floor around a low coffee table. My sake sets are on display in this, as is the daisho that I was given by my family before we moved to Illinois. Outside one of the windows, we planted a dwarf cherry tree, so that we can see the blossoms from the window. (Ben, you might be a China geek, but I’m a Japan geek.) Ideally, this is a special room dedicated to being a haven of peace in an otherwise crazy house. In reality, it often becomes a dumping ground for stuff, as we try to fit eight people into a house that seems to be running out of room. It is often a mess. However, it was in this room that we had achieved some of our best roleplaying. Since then, we had been gaming at the dining room table, which works fine for the boardgaming that we do but was apparently the kiss of death for our roleplaying. So that day, before Raquel came over, we completely overhauled the quiet room. We bought a new set of bookshelves to fit the additional books that had accumulated in the room. We moved the children’s books into another room. We also shuffled the furniture around, moving the coffee table to be under the window, so that the center of the room was empty and ready to receive people. We bought a special candle and candleholder for use in the game and dug out the incense. In short, we prepared the creative environment. As the rest of this post will demonstrate, our efforts paid off handsomely. We all agreed that the room had been an important part of focusing our attention on the game. Perhaps it is another aspect of creating the ritual space that Chris Lehrich talks about in his article. I bring all this up to make an important Actual Play point: the environment in which you play is not neutral. Structuring your environment to provide maximum creativity is an important part of roleplaying. Power of Ritual Now, to the game. When I had read the rules, I fell in love with the use of ritual phrases for conflict. Also, intellectually, I knew the importance of the general key phrases to open and close the game and to introduce the protagonists. However, it is a completely different thing to experience it. We all gathered in the quiet room, where I put the candle in the middle of the room. I then called everyone to order and explained that the game always opened with a particular phrase. As I was teaching the game (and had paid the money for the game), I claimed the right to be the first person to open the game. So, I lit the candle and intoned, “Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world.” Chills, folks. Chills. I felt completely on-point for the entire game, and I credit it largely to this innovation. Through this symbolic act, we were all agreeing that the time had come to focus on the game. I’m still trying to figure out how to steal this for other roleplaying games. If nothing else, perhaps I’ll use the candle. I’m not really sure. However, what surprised me the most was the effectiveness of the phrase used to introduce characters. As this was the first session that we were playing, a sizeable chunk of our time was spent on character creation. Honestly, I had thought that it was a little odd to use the “character intro” phrase at the end of chargen. However, once we had put together our characters, we went around the room, each repeating the phrase. Again, I went first: “But hope was not yet lost, for Na’ir al-Saif still heard the song of the stars.” And at that moment, I felt something stir in me. The world is coming to an end, but here is one who will not go down quietly. I could tell the others felt it as well. As we went around the room, each character’s name rang out like some mythic hero. The knowledge that only tragedy awaits each of them only added to the poignancy of the moment. I commented to Ralph yesterday that, from the outside, it all feels so silly, saying these special words. Yet, it works, and it’s almost frightening how powerful it is. The Importance of Being a Jerk As I was meditating on the lessons learned from this session of play, the biggest one was simple: when you are the Mistaken, be a jerk. I don’t mean that you should be cruel to the other player, but you should be as cruel as possible to the character. Show no mercy. The funny thing is that this actually results in better play for everyone, specifically the player controlling the Heart of this particular protagonist. Here is an example from play. So, we had been circling around some weird love triangles between a couple of the PCs and an oily fop named Marfik. That is all well and good, but I wanted me some violence. So when it was my turn to frame a scene, I dropped my character (Na’ir al-Saif) straight into a battle scene. He is walking guard duty on the walls of their remnant when a demon army hurls itself from the wilderness at the remnant. Raquel is my Mistaken and picked up this thread with relish. Suddenly the demons were flaming beasts and, at Crystal’s suggestion, they were led by a skeletal general riding a dracolich monster. This was all working for me. Then Raquel threw her first curve ball. The demons were throwing fireballs (or somesuch thing) at the wall where I was standing, shattering it and making me fall into the heart of the oncoming army. I wasn’t expecting that, but it was cool. Na’ir al-Saif is a bookish sort of fellow, trying to prove himself to his father and get out from the shadow of his older brother. So this was working well for me. An opportunity to distinguish myself in combat! Sweet! So I narrated how I stood up and slaughtered the squad of demons that I had landed in. Then I moved to attack the general on his dragon by cutting off one of the dragon’s legs. Then Raquel threw her second curveball. She cut to the ramparts where Marfik is standing on the ramparts next to Giauzar, my brother. Both are watching me in the battle. Marfik says to Giauzar, “This is not going as planned.” I was in awe. You need to understand that, while we all had this sense that Marfik was a Bad Guy, we didn’t know that it was this bad. We also didn’t know that my brother was involved at all. Up to this point, he was just the standard overbearing older brother to me and the Master Starsinger teaching Gabrielle’s character. With one brief narration, Raquel had completely rocked our comprehension of the entire story. But wait! There’s more! Much as I liked Raquel’s narration, there was no way that I was going to let her get away with such large changes without getting a little something for my troubles (both present and future). So I said “But only if Na’ir achieves great victory in the battle.” So, Raquel gets her cool cutaway scene only if I get to deal out major butt-kicking. Well, Raquel isn’t so sure of that, so she counters with “But only if Na’ir is greviously wounded in the battle.” Well, that satisfied my aesthetic sense, so I accepted. “And that was how it happened.” So, while the villain and my brother watched from the ramparts, I cut off the leg from the skeletal dragon, which promptly fell on top of me. It was probably the coolest scene of the evening, and it only worked because the Mistaken and Heart were completely biased advocates for their aspects. Had we been trying to cooperate to draft the story together, it would not have been nearly as cool as it was. Wrapping up play There are other points that I could mention, but I’m starting to run short on time. Suffice it to say that, despite the aforementioned fatigue, it was a great evening. Finally, we agreed that we were getting too tired to go on, so I said the closing phrase: “But that was long ago, and there are now none who remember it.” Then I blew out the candle. Summation Ben, this is a great game. I’m looking forward to getting a lot of mileage out of it. As it stands, this is already on my list of things that I wish that I had done. The entire group is looking forward to the next session with eager anticipation, wanting to answer that most vital of questions: “But what happens next?” But that was long ago, and there are now none who remember it (The next report is here.)