Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Funny Thing Happened Tonight at Temple Square

So, we went downtown to Temple Square tonight to look at lights and fountains. Nothing surprising there, we do that every year. This year, however, we were treated to a gem of an experience.

We had walked across the street to the City Creek Mall, to look at the fountain show (really dazzling, but so short as to not make it worth the wait), and we were lining up at the pedestrian crossing to go back into Temple Square.

At that corner was a man standing on a concrete platform holding a lit-up sign that said, “Joseph Lied”. He was shouting all kinds of anti-mormon rhetoric, mostly about how the God of the Bible wasn’t the same as Joseph Smith’s God, and bla, bla, bla.

I’ve heard it all before. I grew up with my Evangelical Christian friends trying to convince me that there were no more prophets or revelation, or that we were saved by grace, not by works, and any of a number of reasons why they were right and I was wrong. I had learned to tune them out.

Suddenly I noticed that the young family standing in front of me were singing, “Silent Night”, kind of as if in protest of the protester. I picked up on it, and started singing along.  She turned around right away and smiled, confirming my suspicion. By the time we finished and started to loop it around again, a lady behind me had joined, and my father, standing next to me was singing along.

It wasn’t long before the entire crowd standing there waiting at the crosswalk was singing strong, “Silent Night, Holy Night,...”

And he and his partner went quiet.

Then, just as we were finishing the loop, someone a few behind me started singing “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful”, and he didn’t have a chance to start up again.  We were all enjoying singing along and smiling at each other, and observing how the contention had faded, when the light dinged, and it was time to cross.  We kept singing as we crossed, and didn’t stop until the song ended, and the preacher was lost in the back distance.

On the way home, my boys commented on how the spirit was there and I pointed out how gentleness can overcome shouting.  It was a very powerful message to me.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his Dutch Oven blog.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Read the #$%^&%#ing Constitution!

I just saw this picture as a meme on Facebook, and I wanted to comment, but I realized that my thoughts would be way, way too long for just a quick response. It would be bloggin’ time!

I have lots of thoughts about this.  Let me start with this one: a long time ago, while I was in my office at work, one of my co-workers came in and started ranting about something political. This was not strange. Our whole department was quite opinionated, and we were often sucked into some pretty fun discussions of many different topics: politics, religion, even cooking.

This particular rant, while I don’t remember even the topic, was sealed in my head by my friend’s last words, “I just wish everyone would read the #$%^&%#ing Constitution!”

I was taken aback, because he didn’t usually swear like that. After that washed over me, however, I realized he was right. I also wished everyone would read the constitution. I, myself, have read it many times. I don’t have it memorized, but I’ve read it. I think more people should read it and study it.

I think that would be both a blessing and a problem. It would be a blessing because if everyone knew the original words and what it means, we would be a much better governed people. It would be a problem, because many of the options out there for us to study it, many of the books and classes that we can read or take have a particular political angle to promote.

And therein lies the real challenge. The Constitution is very much like scripture in this sense: The words are there, and the words are clear, but what they mean and how to interpret them is not so obvious. I hear it a lot: someone gets on a political rant and says that this or that thing is unconstitutional and should be stopped! This guy or that party is trampling the constitution to dust and we must save it!

And, as I listen to it, I realize that what’s really being said is that something conflicts with their particular interpretation of the words, not necessarily against the words itself.

So much effort is spent trying to prove what the founding fathers really meant when they wrote it. Much more effort is spent trying to render current situational laws into the framework that they set up over 225 years ago, and still keep it relevant.

So, yes, everyone should read it. And everyone should also realize that their own interpretation of it is not the final word. The document itself provides for a mechanism for interpretation, and even that isn’t infallible. At least, if we’ve all read it, we’ll be a bit better in arguing about it.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his Dutch Oven blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Role Playing Games, part II


How We Fix the Problems, I Hope

So, many years ago my kids began to play games with me. They started with video games, and then began to include tabletop games, like Pokemon CCG, and Yu-Gi-Oh. That was about the same time that I was getting involved in Magic, the Gathering, too.

Soon after, they began asking if they could play Dungeons and Dragons. I was very nervous for all of the reasons that I spelled out in the last post. It really has the potential to teach impressionalble children the wrong concepts. On the other hand, it can also teach teamwork and goodness. It can enhance creative thinking and problem solving.

In that sense, role-playing games are very much like life. What you get out of it depends very much on what you put into it. I definitely didn't want them to be playing under a GM that didn't understand this, or the nature of consequences for acts and choices. But then, did I really want to be the GM for a system where I had so many fundamental problems?

Years went by, and every so often, my kids would remind me how much they wanted to try it out. Sometimes I'd flat out turn them down, other times I would put them off. I looked at the newer edition rule books, and found that, even though there had been some changes, most of my core issues with the game were still in place.

I had some stock responses, like how I didn't have time to make up an adventure, or how we didn't have enough money to buy the books, or any of a number of excuses.

Finally, this last year, I could see that they weren't going to give up, and I could see that, at age 16, I wasn't going to be able to deny my oldest for very much longer. I also had been more active in game design, having worked through some years on Seeker's Quest Scripture Card Game.

Finally, I decided that I would make an RPG system that would deal with my fears and issues, and allow us to have a great time bonding and playing. So, last July, I wrote out a few quick pages of rules and tables and got started.

The rules themselves have undergone significant revisions already, and the core keeps getting more and more balanced. The adventure we've been playing has continued to grow and develop. We've had times where we've had to stop and rework the characters to reset the game balance, and there have been times when we've suddenly thought of great new ideas of things to add. There is still much to do.

But it has been a wonderful bonding experience with me and my children, and we'll continue to work on it.

Here's how we've dealt with the four issues:

The Focus on Fighting over Story and Character

First, from the very beginning, we began creating the characters by inventing their back story. Who is this? Where is he/she from? Why is he/she adventuring? What motivates him/her? What does he/she want to be when "grown up"? Then, rather than randomly rolling numbers for attributes, the players used a point system to develop the attributes and skills that fleshed out that backstory.

Secondly, I approached the entire adventuring process from the perspective of a story line. As the Game Master, I used the backstories of the newly formed characters to create the world and the opening situation. Then, as the characters began exploring this world, they encountered adversaries and others that made sense within that world. I constantly asked myself, "Why?" Why would these monsters be there? What is this Non-Player Character trying to accomplish?

Story became a very integral part of the game from the first session, and it grew from there.

The System for Magic, Spells, and Dieties

In order to fix the fundamental difficulties I had with magic, I had to abstract the system. We came up with five different kinds of "Powers" (I didn't even want to call it "magic"), and some basic abilities within each one. Each player that had powers had a certain number of "Will Points" that he/she could use in a day. The player would then be faced with a situation, and would think of an action within that type of power that might solve it. He/she would describe the action, and I, as the GM, would tell the player how many WP it would cost to do that. The points would be subtracted, and the dice rolled.

This made it so that the source of the power was vague, even inconsequential. There was no detailed incantations or "eyes of newt" to be thrown into bubbling cauldrons. The character simply willed it to happen, and if the die roll was successful, it happened.

The Alignment System

It was my son that suggested something that would end up fixing the idea of good or evil characters. He didn't even know it at the time. As we were creating the first character sheets, he said, "You should have a 'luck' attribute." I thought about that, and decided on "Karma Points". As the players did good and helpful things for each other and the NPC's in the world, they would gain KP. If they did horrible things, not only would the NPC's get upset and possibly attack or capture the characters, but they could be docked KP. The KP's could be used to artificially alter a critical die roll that failed.

As a result, the players began to conciously do things that would gain them Karma and avoid being bad guys.

The Overall Complexity and Inflexibility

Games have a tendency, over time to become more and more complex. That's the nature of game design. It's kind of an "opposite entropy". You encounter a problematic situation in the game design, and you fix it by adding some rules. That's OK, that makes it so you can get back to playing. But then, those new rules bring up other situations that beg for more rules, and more rules, etc...

I'm working to keep this game simple with guidelines for Game Mastering. This does mean that the GM has to really take charge, but it also frees him/her up for making the story happen instead of twiddling about looking up and administering the rules. He/she simply decides what's reasonable within a framework and goes with it.

It has been challenging to find the internal balances in those guidelines. There have been a couple of times when the system has essentially broken down, and we've had to rework the characters to keep them from being too powerful. In those circumstances, we've had to struggle with being responsible game designers while we like playing powerful characters!

In the process, however, we've really bonded as a family, and I haven't had the problems come up like I had feared. It really has been great fun.


Mark has a lifelong testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church). Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his Dutch Oven blog.

Mark's Other Blog Posts: name post, name post,


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