Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book #5 - Ready Player One

I met Brooklyn and Coy Lindsey a couple years ago at NYC. I'm not sure if either of them would remember me, but she was a speaker at NYC and was one of the emcee's of the entire event. Her and Coy both grew up in south-central Ohio (the Lancaster/Logan area), so there was (at least on my end) some sort of connection there. I connected with her through facebook and twitter after the event.

Actually, there's a funny story about Brooklyn. Francis Chan also spoke at NYC, and anyone who knows me knows that I have a slight infatuation (man crush) with Chan's writing and preaching. So, Brice (my friend) and I left the arena early that night to try and intercept (seriously, we're not creepers or anything) Francis Chan on his way back to the hotel to get his autograph and get to meet him. We waited at the hotel, but at some point, I had to leave so Brice hung out and waited to see if he could meet Chan and get his autograph for me.

When I reconnected with Brice later that night, he handed me Francis Chan's autograph! But not really, he had run into Brooklyn and she signed the paper in Chan's name for me.

Anyrate, Coy posted a list of books he was reading on his blog and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline caught my interest, so I added it to my list. I went to the library and checked it out, not sure what to expect.

Best. Book. Ever.

One of the reviews summed it up perfectly, it's like Dungeons and Dragons and the 80's had a child and raised it in Azeroth! I like all three of those things, therefore the book was a major hit for me.

It's the literary equivalent of a Summer Blockbuster, so it won't make you sit and scratch your head in deep thought for the next two weeks, but it sure was an awesome read! I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants a few days of awesome reading material!

I also can't wait for Cline's next book, called Armada, which should be out sometime in the future (no dates announced yet).

There's also a pretty elaborate contest that coincides with Ready Player One. (Similar to the entire plot from the book, actually).

Check out Ernest Cline's website here!

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Importance of The Journey

I love gaming, and I love the fantasy genre of movies/novels. One of the large consistencies I see in fantasy works (especially Tolkien, who is undoubtedly the grand-father of fantasy gaming) is the importance of the journey.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are both primarily stories about a journey. In the former, Bilbo and the company of dwarves take a journey to The Lonely Mountain with the goal of defeating the dragon at the end. The Lord of the Rings is a three book tale profiling a number of journeys, mainly that of the ring back to Mordor, but also the internal journeys of a number of characters (most notably Aragorn's internal journey to his destiny as King).

As a GM, the thing I've struggled with the most is making the journey a key part of the tale. In the first campaign my gaming group ever played together, we essentially handwaved months of travel for the sake of time, just because we wanted to flesh out this world we had created (there's probably a whole other series of posts that I could write based on the world-creation).

But my point is this, if the 4 hobbits hadn't stopped at weathertop, and it hadn't been included in the journey, would the story have lost a bit of its poignancy?

We watch Sam and Frodo's journey with such anticipation, partially because we can see the profound impact that they journey itself is having on them.

I've struggled with making the journey feel epic because I thing I fall into one of two traps.

First, the journey become too epic. I played through the first two books of Jade Regent from Paizo publishing and felt like the whole thing was too bogged down in the journey. It just... took forever and felt like we weren't making any progress along the way! We could really make sure that we track the days/nights, set up watches for each night and roll perception checks each night while on watch. But, after then tenth night of "you all sleep well because nothing happened," it gets pretty mundane!

On the flip side of that, if you handwave the nights when nothing is going to happen, and only concern yourself with the nights that the bandits try to rob the camp, all the sudden your PCs think they sleep in their full plate armor and the magic users have scrolls and spell components in hand while they sleep.

The other trap I already mentioned, we just assume that over a few months the party gets from point A to point B. They gain no XP along the way, we just pick the story back up once they get to the place you want them. This is completely against everything I'm trying to accomplish in a game and therefore I try to avoid doing anything of the sort. I believe that the journey itself does shape the characters. Their destiny is forged in the difficult journeys.

My final problem with journey-based storytelling is that I feel like they severely railroad the players. We know they are supposed to get from Point A to Point B, and I can even plan 3-4 things along the way. This is literally the railroad we try to avoid when planning out games.

So, what do you do when thinking of the journey? How do you tell the epic tale of characters getting to their destination to kill the dragon, destroy the ring, and/or find the treasure?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book #4 - The Land Between

A few years ago, when I was pastoring at High Street, a church on the district got a new youth pastor. He literally started just a few months after me, but I had "seniority" on him, since I was on the district first.

Joel and I quickly became friends. We directed a district retreat together, attended events together and basically just started really enjoying each other's company. We actually were pitted against each other a couple years ago for District Secretary (I won). He went through a difficult time at his church which ended with him leaving for a church in Michigan. He's not an OSU fan, so this didn't bother him nearly as much as it bothered me that he ended up in Michigan.

We've stayed in contact since he left the district (and now that I've left the district in any sort of official capacity). He and his wonderful wife had a baby a few months ago and they instagram tons of pictures so that we can keep up.

Anyrate, a few weeks ago, Joel asked me for my address because he wanted to send me a book. I gave it to him and a couple days later a book called The Land Between arrived in my mailbox. Written by Neil Mancini, this book parallels the difficult times in our lives (like being between jobs) and the struggle that the Israelites felt when they were between Egypt and The Promised Land.

The book was fantastic! If you saw any of my instagram/facebook/twitter (social media junkie!) activity while I was reading it, you know that I was touched by the honesty of the book and the way that it connected with my life.

This past year has been incredibly difficult. Without a doubt, it's been the most difficult thing I've ever gone through (and that includes an almost-cancer scare). But, Mancini summed it up so well as he wrote about his son (who is, coincidentally, named Alex too):

"Though it was a difficult [year] for Alex, I am grateful he had to endure it. I believe God is molding him into a leader, and this molding will require pressure as part of his formation. I am thankful for the trials [he] experiences and for the hardships he faces. It is my belief that he is not only maturing as a man but also as a man of God. I trust that God will use the difficulties and challenges in Alex's life to transform him. Far from being alarmed by [his] burdens, I give thanks, because I know that he is being stretched and pulled for a reason. Alex is being provided with an opportunity to become a man of faith, a man of trust." (emphasis mine)

My prayer is that these things are true, that my "Land Between," my "Exile" has provided me with the opportunity and proven me to be a man of faith, a man of trust.