Tag Archives: Jack Chick

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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Scaring The Hell Out Of You For Jesus

Okay, hopefully Wednesday, when work finally goes back to normal daylight hours, I’ll be fixing up the past few more-pathetic-than-usual posts. It figures that the month when many of my friends are striving to write 50,000 words, I can barely get out 500 a day. I’ll be sure to tell everyone when the quality of those posts increases… And then spam links to them everywhere.

I’ve been reading a comic called Something*Positive recently. I had been introduced to it long ago, but I kind of do some of these things in waves. I’ll get a new comic and sit and read all of it, then forget it. Or read it regularly for a while, then come back to it 5 years down the road. In this case, the comic is (I believe intentionally) drawn decently but not amazingly, the humor is often crude, blunt, scathing or violent, the comic has a cynical, off-color tone to it, when it goes into a nerdy area it goes WAAAAAAY into that nerdy area, and the author doesn’t really care what you think.

All in all, I like it.

The really fun thing is when he starts to make poignant statements. Or statements in general. That’s usually where everyone gets upset at him, it seems, because the moment you voice a strong opinion, even if it’s well thought out (and almost especially so, it seems sometimes), people will Be Upset.

Well, I’ve caught up to the year 2006 (don’t look at me like that, it’s a long comic and I’m occasionally not on the internet). In that year, comic creator R. K. Milholland tackled an ever popular, completely non-controversial topic.

At least, I think he did. But whether he did that or not isn’t the point. I want to talk about the topic he focused on starting on October 4 and ending on October 19. That’s right, it’s Christianity, and with a slight Halloween focus, the subcategory of hell houses.

If you don’t know what a hell house is, allow me to explain. A hell house is, generally, a “house of horror” run by a Christian group with the goal of converting you to Christianity. Typically, they guide you through a series of rooms that have “moral horrors” depicted in them, rooms that portray the world in its most sinful states. Some of these hell houses have a bit more class than others, of course. And some of them are actually just there to spook you like a normal haunted house attraction with no moral frills until the end when they invite you to talk with them about Christ.

I can’t say for a fact whether or not Milholland’s fictional, proposed hell house presented in his comic is leaning more toward exaggeration or realism… but there are hell houses that are less than classy. That basically spout out room after room of “sinful nature,” depicting them all as crazy, gruesome evils. Abortions become the slaughters of babies, homosexuality becomes baseless debauchery and orgiastic sex that innocent heterosexual couples get dragged into, drinking becomes keggers and sexual assault parties… So on and so on.

Oh, and then there apparently were (since I hope the present tense is NOT applicable in this case) hell houses that included 9/11 rooms, which would condemn America for its sins and boast 9/11 as punishment on our country from God for our debauchery and sin.

Milholland actually hits several topics in this brief comic arc, and you should definitely read the letters he includes at the bottoms of some of the comics, like the final October 19th one. I won’t bother repeating them, because that’d be more uselessly redundant than even I like to get.

He does grant that not all Christians are like this, as am I. Being that I am one. And while I could talk about the loud, boisterous Christians (or “Christians” as the case may be) that keep saying idiotic stuff and making Christianity look like a terrible, biased, inhuman religion, I won’t do that too much. Not this time. I could talk about the abuse of tragedies like 9/11 or Katrina to attempt to scare people into morality in a more specific sense, but I’ll be a tad more general with it.

I want to talk about this theory of “scaring the Hell out of people” for Jesus.

First: Is Hell real to Christians? Yeah. The book of Revelation is pretty clear, as is Christ’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man. There is a nice place, and there is a not so nice place. The Bible has four words that are translated to hell throughout: Sheol, Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus, the first two being used in the Hebrew Old Testament, the next two in the Greek New Testament. Sheol and Hades can pretty much be equated, as can Gehenna and Tartarus. Sheol is the grave, a place of darkness, but it seems to usually come off as a holding place for the dead. Gehenna/Tartarus, however, is a place of pain. Not so nice. As you may know if you know any Greek mythology.

Second: Is Hell ruled by Satan? No. Not even a little bit. Revelation, which is the book the majority of descriptions of the places of the afterlife are found, states pretty clearly that Hades, the Beast, the devil and all his merry men get tossed into the lake of eternal fire.

Third: Do we know what Hell actually is? …No. The afterlife is perhaps the single most confusing, slippery concept to nail down in Christianity, and I include the triumvirate God in that. While we know there is a Heaven and a Hell, and we know (with some amounts of disagreement on certain specifics amongst Christians at large) how to get there, we don’t actually know what it does. As often as I’ve said Revelation is clear on a subject, it’s only clear to a point. It is HUGELY vague on the specifics of Heaven and Hell when it comes to some things, and the introduction of the “New Heaven” and “New Earth” and “New Jerusalem” really throw a wrench into the entire deal. Some Christians believe Hell to simply be separation from God. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, there is a great abyss between the rich man and God that cannot be breached. However, fire and burning show up often. The rich man was in pain and could not quench his thirst, and Revelation talks of a lake of fire. But 2 Peter holds verses that some interpret to mean the fire is a cleansing fire, like the purification of gold, and only the devil and his “angels” are to be stuck for eternity.

Fourth: Did Jesus preach messages of fear or of love? Give you a hint: It wasn’t fear. And this is my ultimate point.

Sure, Christ put the fear of God/him into people from time to time. Flipping the tables in the marketplace was probably an eye-opener for some. And the tale of Lazarus and the rich man isn’t the least frightening thing to talk about.

But how many times did Christ preach about love and faith in God and caring for our neighbors? And how many times did he say, “Do it or you’ll burn in Hell?”

Go ahead and count. Take your time.

Did you count? Well, whether you did or not, I’ll go ahead and spoil it for you: Christ talks FAR less about Hell than all those other topics I mentioned.

Should Christians fear God? Sure. It’s a bit of a reverence and awe thing. Just like kids who should fear, but more love, their parents. Should Christians fear hell?

No.

That’s right. I said it. Christians should NOT fear hell.

If you’re Christian because you’re afraid of the alternative, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. And all these people that attempt to scare people to Christ are doing Satan a far better service than God.

If you are a Christian, if you are truly saved, then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. But if you keep looking over your shoulder, fearing that your very next step could lead you on the road to damnation, then you aren’t saved. You’re fooling yourself.

People should dislike sinning not because they’ll be hell-bound. They should dislike it because it lets God down. Because it hurts Him. Because it’s breaking the rules He asked us to follow.

I feel like I could rant on this all day. And I likely could. Were I a preacher, this could likely become an entire month of sermons. Because treating God like a boogeyman is NOT the Christian attitude to have towards God. And treating sin like it is a vile, repugnant malformation, a blotch on humanity itself, is also wrong. We are sinners. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. Just look at Peter and Paul, two of the first Christians, and see how many mistakes they made throughout their ministry. Paul even chews out Peter for doing it once.

Yes, sin is bad. Yes, we shouldn’t do it. No, we shouldn’t beat ourselves up every time we sin. We should ask forgiveness and strive to never do it again.

And to convert non-believers? Pointing at them and shouting, “Sinner, you are condemned! Change your ways!” is not the right way to do that.

…I’m sure people aren’t going to be terribly happy about this post. But, you know what? Christ was crucified for what he said. Having the right ideas and speaking your mind has never really been all that popular.

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