Incorporating Christianity into Dungeons & Dragons

One of the questions I often get is, “How can I incorporate Christianity into my game?”

Including real-world religion in a fantasy RPG like Dungeons & Dragons has its own set of risks and rewards. For the moment though, I’m going to leave off going into those for future posts and instead get right down to practical suggestions.

First of all, there’s lots of ways to go about mixing Christianity (or any real-world religion) into your play. It’s not so much an on-off switch as it is a dial you can adjust to suit your own stylistic preferences. Here are four different settings for that dial.

Setting 1: In the Bible.

The first way to incorporate faith into your game would be to run a game directly inspired by the Bible. Have the players pick Bible characters to base their PCs on, put the PCs directly into the events of a major Bible story, or do both! You can either plop them right into a Bible story.

One of my favorite stories to play out is the Sons of Sceva from Acts 19. A bunch of stuffed-shirts getting in over their heads and getting possessed. Have the PCs just happen to be in Ephesus while that is going on, then play that out! What do they do with the possessed folks? Are they strong enough to defeat the demons?Mathieu_Elias_-_Les_Fils_de_Scéva_battus_par_le_Démon

There’s a lot of places in Scripture like this that make for good campaign hooks. And there’s lots of great people described in the Bible who would make really interesting characters to explore as a PC.

Setting 2: Out of the Bible

The second approach is a lot like the first, with just a minor change. In this approach, you still take inspiration for the characters or the adventure from Scripture, but then you reskin them and plop them into whatever D&D world you want.

For example, take the Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5. Now here’s a character rich with possibilities. A possessed strong-man hanging out in a graveyard has D&D encounter written all over it. You can put that graveyard wherever you want.

Another approach that’s similar to this is to change some other aspect of an otherwise clearly Biblical story. Maybe that small change needs to be fixed and the story set right to avoid some major trouble. For instance what if Goliath had been wearing a fancy helmet that covered his forehead and the boy’s sling stone just bounced off? Or what if there hadn’t been a ram in the bush when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac?

Setting 3: The Narnia Route – Strong Allegory

You could also go the Narnia route and play a game that’s strongly allegorical. I call it the Narnia route because this is how CS Lewis approached fantasy. You make the heroes and the enemies stand for something specific. The evil sorcereress isn’t just an evil sorcereress, but the very thinly veiled incarnations of the devil. The lion isn’t just a lion, but an obvious stand-in for Jesus.

You can play a lot with allegory. Take an evil, maybe one of the seven deadly sins for example, and make the enemies a physical representation of that vice. That hill giant isn’t just a hill giant, but the embodiment of gluttony, for example.

Setting 4: The Tolkien Route – ideals and themes

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The final way to think about how to incorporate Christianity into your game is to go the Tolkien route. This is what we see in The Lord of the Rings. The story happens in the fantasy setting, and the themes and ideals of the Christian faith are major players in the story, but religion as such is often left off-screen.

In this method you resist the temptation to go for direct Biblical allegory but see the ideals and themes of Christian faith as universal truths that are at play in any environment.

Repentance. Redemption. Love. Humility. Truth. Friendship. Kindness. Trust. Self-sacrifice. Endurance in the face of suffering. These ideals are some of those that color the faith of Jesus. Meaning, these are things not about Jesus, but the ways of living that Jesus valued and tried to teach to others.

On reskinning game mechanics:

Though the standard religious lore of Dungeons & Dragons involves a pantheon of various deities spread across a multiverse of fairly well-defined planes of existence, there’s not much in the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons that gets lost if you want to strip all that out. The game itself is lore-agnostic, and nothing is lost if the lore of your game looks a little different. The Dungeon Master’s Guide specifically gives you permission to tell your stories in whatever world you want, including with whatever conceptions of deity and supernatural forces you want.

Concerning player characters:

You can substitute almost anything for the “power source” of more fantastical and magical powers pretty simply. I’ve used lots of different versions of this in my games.

For example, in games that I’ve run that are set in the world of Biblical events, I’ve reskinned many of the D&D classes and made God the power source for everything. Different classes access God in different ways, with the various class flavors coming from how people emphasize different aspects of God. I emphasized these changes by reskinning some of the character classes with new names.

Here is the class list as I present it to my players for creating characters in a game world with a more Biblical lore.

  • High STRENGTH
    • Fighter – a trained warrior. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
    • Zealot (Barbarian) – an emotional warrior. A fierce warrior who fights with their emotions and can enter a battle rage.
    • Paladin – a holy warrior. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
    • Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is a bruiser with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
  • High DEXTERITY
    • Rogue – a daring and sly opponent. A scoundrel who uses stealth and trickery to overcome obstacles.
    • Fighter – a precision sharpshooter. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
    • Monk – a martial artist. A master of martial arts, harnessing the power of the body in pursuit of spiritual perfection.
    • Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is light on the feet with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
  • High INTELLIGENCE
    • Scribe (Wizard) – accesses great power through academic study. A scholar who wields supernatural power that is capable of manipulating the structures of reality.
    • Artificer – accesses power through an understanding of the connections between the physical and the metaphysical. A master of unlocking hidden power in everyday objects, artificers are supreme inventors.
  • High WISDOM
    • Cleric – accesses great power through prayer to God. A priestly champion who wields divine force in service of a higher power.
    • Druid – accesses great power through becoming one with the natural world. A priest of the old faith, wielding the powers of nature—moonlight and plant growth, fire and lightning—and adopting animal forms.
  • High CHARISMA
    • Bard – accesses great power through personality and creativity
    • Paladin – accesses great power through willpower and spiritual disciplines. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
    • Chosen (Sorcerer) – accesses great power through natural ability. A blessed individual who draws on inherent ability to do supernatural things.
    • Prophet (Warlock) – accesses great power through supernatural relationships and bargains. A charismatic agent of God who wields power through a supernatural agreement.

One last thing before I wrap this post up. I recently created a tool that will help you add a more Biblical flavor to your D&D games called Biblical Verbal Components. It’s a collection of Bible verses that you can use as the verbal components for any of the officially published spells in D&D 5th Edition. It has components for over 500 spells, which means over 1100 different Bible verses mapped to match the unique effects of each spell. It’s available over on the DMs Guild, and proceeds from the sale of Biblical Verbal Components will go to directly supporting those in need through our local Emergency Needs Fund.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/311874/Biblical-Verbal-Components

The First 15

A group of people sit down around a table, eyeing one other warily. Each has come in search of adventure and will spend the next few hours finding it, or will leave with regret. Few talk, unsure of what to say to these strange new companions. It’s an introvert’s nightmare. And I, dear reader, am an introvert.

Games played through Dungeons & Dragons Organized Play, also known as the D&D Adventurers League, often begin in this dubious fashion. They take place at game stores, gaming conventions, and other public spaces – united in that initial awkward moment.

Thank God there is a game to play. Eventually the Dungeon Master calls the table together, you get to introduce your character, and you’re off and running with fantastic companions like Crouton the Human Barbarian and Daryush the Aasimar Bard. The awkwardness of those first 15 minutes is behind you, eclipsed by this new world of wonder that’s being created together at the table. Thank God there is a game to play; it almost makes that initial awkward moment disappear.

Almost.

A great rpg like D&D can cover for a multitude of social sins. It builds community and friendships. But in my experience, at an organized play game those friendships are often felt more by the characters than they are by the actual players. Your character may have saved the life of another character at the table, but 4 hours can pass and you can leave the table without even learning the name of the person playing that character.

Now there is a lot that I love about organized play. I love that I can drop in and out of a game according to my life’s hectic schedule. I love that I can take my character to a multitude of different tables and play them with a multitude of different companions. I love my experience as a DM, where I don’t have to manage other people’s schedules and have weeks where we can’t play because schedules didn’t line up. Instead I just announce that I’m running a table and every week it is full.

But those first 15 minutes… woof!

I love home games too. I recently finished DMing two simultaneous 3 1/2 year campaigns in a shared world. It was a blast. If that awkward initial situation was happening at a home game, it’s probably right at the very beginning of the campaign. In that case we could do a Session 0. A Session 0 is a time for you to get together as people, introduce new faces, and talk about what you hope to get out of the game. You can build your characters together, co-create the world, and importantly get to know your fellow players as people. A Session 0 is an awesome thing, lots of people have written about why and how to have them, but for Organized Play games the idea of a Session 0 is completely useless. There’s not enough time!

But there is 15 minutes. You might not build a lifelong friendship in that time, but you can at least start to build a sense of person-to-person community.

As a Pastor, one of my jobs is to facilitate community building, sometimes in these same tiny windows of time. As a Dungeon Master, I’ve been bringing those community creation skills to my Adventurers League games in something I call The First 15, and I think every Adventurers League DM should implement it, because that awkward initial moment? I don’t worry about those anymore.

first 15

THE FIRST 15

  • As the Dungeon Master, your first task is to welcome your players to the table. This is your table, and only you can share its hospitality. Make the first move and at least say, “Hello,” to each person as they arrive.
  • When your players are all there, invite them to go around the table and introduce themselves. Here’s where it gets important! As people introduce themselves, have them share their name and pronouns, their character’s name and the standard race/class/etc. AND ONE MORE THING.
  • In addition to simple hospitality, this one more thing is the crux of the whole First 15. It must be one more thing about the player, not the character. A simple icebreaker question can give the entire game session a different feel, and leave a much better impression in people’s minds when it’s over. Here is a list of great questions you can ask that will pull out that one more thing.
    • What are you excited about today/ tonight?
    • What is one thing you need to have a great game session?
    • What fear do you have as we begin this game?
    • On a scale of 1-10, where is your energy level right now?
    • What are you hoping for in this game?
    • What is one expectation you would like to set for the entire table?
    • What has been the best part of your day so far?
    • What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your character?
    • Besides your own PC, who is your favorite fictional character?
    • What is your favorite movie/book/tv show?
    • What power or ability does your character have that you wish you had in reed life?
    • What is your most prized personal possession?
    • What color best fits your personality?
    • What is your favorite pillar of play (Combat/Exploration/Role Play) and which pillar would you most like to improve your play in?

Asking even a single question about the person behind the PC lets people know that they matter. A question like one of these can uncover otherwise hidden expectations, anxieties, or dreams. Having a space, however brief, to share these things before starting to play can make the whole gameplay experience better. People might hear something that helps them remember someone’s name or interests.

It’s far from rocket science, but instituting the First 15 in your game is a simple first step to an even better game.

Announcing the 2019 Pastors & Dragons Curriculum!

We’ve been hard at work honing and preparing some really amazing learning sessions for this year’s Pastors & Dragons continuing education retreat. Each session will dial in on a particular aspect of the correlations between adventure, imagination, and spirit.

Self-Reflection through the Player Character

We’ll engage in the character creation process while asking, “How do we bring ourselves to the characters we imagine?” Whether as a reflection, an exaggeration, or challenge to grow, the characters we play on the tabletop are an opportunity to reflect on who we are, what we fear, and who we want to become.

Adventurers, Assemble!

In D&D you join a party of adventurers to explore fantastic and often dangerous locations. But what happens when you take that method of collective exploration and apply it elsewhere? We’ll engage our imaginations in collectively exploring the foundational stories of our faiths and our lives.

From DM Prep to Ministry Preparedness

What are some best practices for preparing to run a D&D adventure? What can the prep work we do for tabletop adventures teach us as we do the prep work for ministry? Whether it’s pastoral care, small group leadership, meeting facilitation, or presiding at worship – a bit of the right kind of prep can really pay off in a great experience for everyone.

More than Meets the Eye

How can Dungeons & Dragons strengthen our empathy muscles? We’ll open our eyes to the complexities of our real life stories. Then we’ll spend some time practicing using stories to help us enter into the experiences of others.

Fandoms: A Model for the Future Church

How can fandom help us better embody God’s unfolding story? Geek communities provide a fascinating new lens for how we can understand our faith communities. Cultures of imagination meet cultures of spirit and share a lot more than might be expected.

Read more about Pastors & Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination and register to attend the best church/nerd retreat around.

Diamonds & Dragons 2.0

It’s been just over a month since I put up the rules to Diamonds & Dragons, a dungeon crawling card game that my wife and I have gotten into playing.

We still really love the game, for the simplicity, the surprise, and the light layer of story that makes for an interesting card game to play when we have a spare 10 minutes.

When I first posted the rules, we mainly played with one person as a dealer and the other as the adventuring party. But since I’ve been working on a way for us both to play, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found something pretty good.

Here are the updated rules for Diamonds & Dragons, with the additional rules for playing with 2 players. It’s a great little game and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

I’m working on refining the ruleset for better use with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. In the meantime, here’s an extra page that can help you start to adapt this game for TTRPGS.

Power Sources

In Dungeons & Dragons the characters wield enormous power. That’s part of the fun of the game: trying to blow stuff up with an arcane fireball, healing a wounded party member with a divine prayer, tapping into your primal passions with a barbaric rage, or becoming one with the night with an out of this world stealth roll. Each class, even most subclasses, find their abilities flavored by what sort of power they access and how they access it.

ClassPower Sources
Barbarian Ancestors, Reckless Abandon, Anger, Storms, Beast Spirits, Religious Fervor
BardFashion, Weapon Flourishes, Stories, Bravery, Music, Secrets
ClericGods of Magic, Life, Death, Creation, The Grave, Knowledge, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, and War
DruidThe Natural World
FighterPhysical Strength & Skill
MonkInner Strength, The Four Elements, Shadows, Sunlight
PaladinA Personal Code and Devotion
RangerMastery of Relationships with Beasts for Friendship or Destruction
RogueDisregard of the Rules, Knowledge of the Weaknesses of Others
SorcererInborn Power from Divinity, Dragons, Shadows, Storms, or Chaos
WarlockPact with Someone or Something Powerful
WizardKnowledge, Study, and Understanding

These are just broad brushstrokes of the different sorts of power that can be wielded by Player Characters in D&D. They flavor the roleplay of the game and flavor the mechanics. A great way to change how a character is played is to just think about where they get their power and how they access that power. It’s also a great way to homebrew new class options, just take a standard class and change the traditional power source. How about a Druid that draws power through their relationship with machines? Or a Barbarian who rages for the sake of justice for the oppressed? Or a Warlock who makes a pact with their subconscious? Or a Cleric who serves the god of wealth?

In considering the power sources of the characters in our RPGs, I think our eyes have the potential to be opened to real life sources of power, ability, and strength. The world abounds with power. We are surrounded by it every day. Power comes from a lot of different places, and it is used for a lot of different purposes. Where we draw power and how we use power have a lot of impact on how we live our lives and the effect we have on the lives of others around us. Clarifying the sources of power that we use in our lies and identifying both our pathways to them and how we use them can be helpful for personal growth and for avoiding some major pitfalls.

Recently, as I was engaging in my own personal study, I ran across descriptions of some real life power sources for a life of faith and devotion to God. The descriptions came from the writings of Simeon the New Theologian who was alive and doing his thing exactly 1000 years ago. Simeon talks about three paths by which a soul can be lifted. Each path is a different way of paying attention and a different way of accessing spiritual power.

See the source image
Super Gut!

The first way I call the Way of the Gut. The bowels are the ancient seat of human emotion and passion. When the ancient Greeks and Hebrews got fired up about something, or were so touched by something that it had an immediate emotional impact on them, they had a gut reaction. When they were moved by something, they were literally saying they were having a bowel movement.  No matter where you think of emotion having a home in your body, accessing power from the passions is something we see a lot. People get spun up into an emotional fervor and then all of that energy and power is directed towards something. At best, that something is directing the power of affection and emotion and love towards God. At worst? Well, wars have been fought over less.

See the source image
Mind Spike?

The second way is the Way of the Mind. The mind, as you might expect, is the place for rational conscious thought. Power in the Way of the Mind comes from analyzing, studying, examining, learning, and understanding. As a way of lifting the soul, the rational mind can delve into the mysteries of God and faith and develop systems and structures of understanding. This is the power we see wielded by theologians and religious scholars. Of course, the power of the mind can also be applied towards all manner of things.

The Sacred Heart

Then there’s the third way, the Way of the Heart. Here’s where Simeon the New Theologian sees the most profound pathway to spiritual power. The heart here isn’t the emotional organ that we commonly think of it as today (that role was already covered by the gut). Instead, the heart here is understood as a spiritual organ. It’s the location of our spirits perhaps, the location of our unconscious subconscious selves. It’s where all of our secret prejudices lie (that’s what Jesus says anyway in Matthew 15:19). It’s also where we love. I don’t mean the flighty sort of love that’s idealized in Rom-Coms, but the deep real love that’s about realizing that lover and beloved are parts of the same whole. The Way of the Heart is accessed through contemplation, and being open to God in a mystical way. It is truly a still more excellent way.

These three pathways are just a few real life resources for human power and ability. Each has a home within the body, each could be understood as a sort of “inner power”, each can be seen as a pathway to accessing the spiritual power of God (who is the source of anything and everything that is truly power),and yet each is very very different. I haven’t even touched on how power comes from sources beyond our bodies, but it most certainly does. Although, if you’re out of touch with your own power it’s doubtful how well or how fruitfully you can access sources of power beyond yourself. Without being able to access inner power, interactions with outside powers like wealth, fame, technology, and even relationships with others are more likely to turn demonic (in that they control you and reduce your capacity to live more fully into yourself) or idolatrous (in that they require sacrifices of yourself without granting much at all in return).

Great power isn’t something that just exists inside the world of a tabletop RPG. Each person has the capacity to wield enormous power to affect and alter the course of the world. As Galadriel says in the movies, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” How we access and use that power can change the way our stories (in game and real life) are told?

Diamonds & Dragons

In the last few months I’ve started playing a great little game with my wife that we call Diamonds & Dragons. It’s a roguelike solitaire card game where you try to escape a dungeon full of monsters. Along the way you find weapons, drink potions, and kill monsters. The best part of all is that it’s played with a standard 54-card deck of playing cards, Jokers included.

I was looking for a game like this after I heard Sersa Victory talking on the podcast Tabletop Babble about a minigame they developed for escaping megadungeons after the party has delved deeply. Sure, the GM could handwave the whole thing and you’re out, but where’s the fun or the challenge in that? Wouldn’t monsters fill in behind the party? The other option would be to slog back through all the rooms you just went through, but that’s a long slog. What Victory developed was a simple minigame using a deck of cards, where the cards represented the rooms in the dungeon between wherever the players were and the exit.

The only problem? Those rules aren’t written down anywhere. I asked.

So I went on a bit of a wild unicorn chase to see if I couldn’t find something that would approximate this megadungeon minigame that I had imagined in my mind. It would need to be simple, straightforward, quick, and challenging but rewarding for skilled players.

After a bit of looking I found Battle of Cards on the Android app store. By Alexander Petcoglo, Battle of Cards plays just how I imagined this minigame should. Petcoglo developed it as an altered version of the games Scoundrel, designed by Zach Gabe and Kurt Bieg, and Donsol, designed by John Eternal and developed by Hundred Rabbits. My wife and I tweaked it to play with a physical deck of cards rather than an app, and Diamonds & Dragons was born.

Diamonds & Dragons is our new favorite game to play together. I play the Dealer for her while she breastfeeds our newborn son. We’ve been playing non-stop for three months now and the game is still just as good.

I’ve compiled our rules for Diamonds & Dragons, along with a sample game to teach you how to play. There’s also rules for turning it into that sought after megadungeon minigame that I went looking for months ago.

Check it out and let me know what you think. It might just be your new favorite game.

Announcing Pastors & Dragons 2019!

We’ve been hard at work recently getting the logistics in line for our next retreat and now we are excited to announce Pastors & Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination!

In 2019 we’ve leveled up and will be enjoying a new retreat center with a ton of additional amenities. Manicured trails and gardens… a pool, sauna, and spa… and chef prepared meals…nothing rustic here! It’s also a lot closer to the Twin Cities metro area, making transportation even easier.

For 2019 there’s also a new addition to the retreat organizing crew – Pastor Ben Loven! Ben has been a great friend, is an awesome minister, and is an equally avid D&D player. He brings his own unique perspective on how Dungeons & Dragons and ministry intersect, and will be sharing a bit about it in posts here in the coming months. Welcome Ben!

My Firstborn Child

My firstborn child just celebrated his first month of life. A few days after his birth, my wife and I weren’t sure what that life would look like. In many ways we still don’t know.

My son Edan was born with a gap in his DNA. A very important gene called SMN1 is missing, giving him a rare genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). A statewide newborn screening caught the anomaly, and five days after birth our doctor called us with the news. We had never heard of this disease before, yet both my wife and I were recessive carriers.

His little body doesn’t have what it needs to keep his motor neurons alive. A few years ago this would have meant that his expected life span would be somewhere shy of 20 years. 90% of people with SMA never walk and don’t live into adulthood, with 50-60% not expected to live past 2. Just a few years ago, our doctor’s advice would have been to cherish whatever time we had before Edan’s chest muscles would no longer have to power to make him breathe and he would die.

Today, because we live in one of only 6 states that are currently screening for this disease, getting this news means that as soon as possible after birth he was started on one of the most expensive drugs in the world. It’s being injected directly into his spine every 2 weeks via a spinal tap. It’s the first drug ever shown to be effective against SMA and was approved by the FDA less than 2 years ago.

Learning that your child has a rare genetic disease that you’ve never heard of before is an experience that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It takes your healthy child and turns him into a ticking time bomb of grief. Each day I have to wonder, “Will this be the day he starts to weaken? Will this be the day the medicine doesn’t work and his motor neurons begin to die?” Doubt and fear are constant companions, because while getting him treatment has shrunk them, they will never completely go away. Hopes and dreams for the future are arrested. The future becomes horrifyingly uncertain.

I had dreamed of doing so much with him. I had dreamed of camping, hiking, and playing football. Now it will be a miracle if my son even walks.

In my darker moments my mind dwells on these things. Thankfully those moments don’t seem to last. He’s still a crazy cute and awesome little newborn boy who keeps me on my toes and my mind on the present. “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Today’s troubles are enough for today.” When I’m present in the present, the weight of this trouble doesn’t seem so heavy, and I can see the multitude of hopes and dreams that have not been arrested by disease.

One such dream is my dream of introducing my son to the wonders of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. This is one game that doesn’t depend on how mobile his body is, only how sharp his mind and how beautiful his imagination. I am thankful for a game that isn’t limited by physical ability. I’m thankful for a vehicle that invites him to imagine himself however he pleases, with or without disability and disease. I’m thankful for this game that gives him an arena where he will not be limited, perhaps the only such arena he will find in life.

It is a gift and a blessing.

A gifted custom onesie from the church lady who thought Dungeon Masters were Dragon Masters. Really, it’s awesome either way.

A Hard Left

Being a person of faith in Jesus Christ has given me a strong foundation in this difficult time, and believe it or not, I think being a Dungeon Master has too. I remember the first time my players really threw me for a loop. I had prepared a multi-layered mystery in the port town of Tarsis, complete with warring city factions and a graveyard that refused to keep its dead within its gates. I was already laying groundwork for the naval adventures that were going to come after that when the party of PCs surprised me by taking a hard left turn. They left the town as quickly as they had entered and struck off into the midst of a vast and unmapped forest.

In that moment I had to improvise. I had to set aside my plans for how things were going to go and be in the moment with my players. I had to listen to them and respond to them and help them discover what it was that they were looking for.

Having my son get this diagnosis is a lot like being the Dungeon Master for a party that takes a hard left when everything you had planned was to the right. I’ve had to set aside my plans for how things were going to go. I’ve had to find ways to just be in the moment with him and my wife. As he continues to grow I will need to listen to him and respond to him and help him discover whatever it is that he is looking for in life. It might be different than what I had in mind.

The skills that you hone when you are playing a game like Dungeons & Dragons have proven valuable to me time and time again. There is so much more to this beautiful game than meets the eye.

Retreat Reflections

It’s been a minute since the Pastors & Dragons Retreat this past summer, but those August days of gaming and learning still stick with me. When I came back from the retreat we had something of an onslaught of funerals that dramatically increased my workload for over a month. Add to that preparing for and experiencing the birth of my first child (and all of our church’s fall programming), and you can see all the ways life and death can interrupt my writing here.

But there are still things to say.

The Pastors & Dragons retreat was a definite success! We had attendees from East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast converge in Minnesota for four days and three nights of gaming and learning together. It was a time of instant community and memories that I’ll enjoy for a long time. But don’t take my word for it – here’s some of what the participants had to say!

“Loved the improv games, they set a good stage of collaboration.”

“I loved the A.C.E. game. It was very good for energizing people and fostering collaboration.”

“I love exploring how our D&D characters reflect us in a variety of ways.”

“Overall it was an amazing value for the money. I would strongly consider doing it again.”

“I loved having some afternoon time to myself to rest and reflect and read.”

“Good for PCs and players!”

“Apocalypse is always fun to think about! Now I have a lot of new ideas!”

“Wished Tiamat to the Far Realm. 34/10 would do again.” 

“Awesome! A riot! Enjoyed the experience.” 

“As someone who usually has the DM role, it was a ton of fun for me to actually play. I also enjoyed interacting with all the different ministry people and building relationships with people who serve in different theological contexts.”

“Even though I didn’t volunteer, I appreciated the improv exercises. It got me thinking in different ways and was a nice way for us to start to gel as a group.” 

“The Noah adventure was on of my week highlights. I loved the adventure as a whole and I loved riding unicorns with NOAH! Amazing.”

“The Managing Group Dynamics session was very helpful for me.”

“Sharing in a variety of theological/denominational backgrounds was helpful to push me out of my ‘Lutheran comfort zone,’ aid me in continuing to think outside the box. Also, the variety of gameplay experience and new encounters was fun!”               

“The highlights were the gaming sessions (obviously). I was impressed with how well 12 people around a table could work.”                

“All the gaming sessions (+bonus free time games) were awesome.”           

“Highlights were playing with everyone. The small group sessions were amazing and so much fun. The large group games were beautiful chaos.” 

“The highlight was how D&D was a common language that brought us together. Plus it was a great group of loving people who felt like friends quickly.”             

“I had a great time DMing for the first time!”

“Meeting everyone and seeing what pastors’ lives are like. The games were really fun but connecting to people, laughing, and the comraderary and joy was really the best.”        

“Level 20 – INCREDIBLE”           

“Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful retreat! :)”                                                

“Thanks a million for running this. It was an absolutely amazing week.”                               

“Being able to think about my personality and see how I play that out in my characters was cool.”

“You couldn’t have picked a better location. Hiking was amazing here.”                                           

“The afternoon free time was absolutely necessary and appreciated! I hate going to continuing ed events where every single hour is programmed. We need time to decompress and do what we want to, even if that was playing more D&D!”

I personally learned a lot from leading this retreat. I echo many of the things said by others, but my main takeaway is that the gaming table is one of the last places of neutral ground where we can come together. This is especially on my mind after our most recent election day where it seems that we’ve seen evidence that our society is only becoming more and more polarized.

Attendees at the Pastors & Dragons Retreat came from across the spectrum of Christian experience and beyond, including non-Christians as well. Leaders from oftentimes antagonistic denominations came together to share and play. Bonds of friendship formed. Community happened.

All that I hear about these days is how divided we are as a people, but at the Pastors & Dragons Retreat we were one people united by our common love for this game that can do so much.

This was only the first Pastors & Dragons Retreat. We are already in the process of preparing for the next one – coming August 2019! You can find more information about our 2019 retreat and sign up by clicking the link below.

Looking ahead: 

Over the next few weeks I will be working on polishing and releasing the adventures that I ran from the retreat. Each explores a part of scripture or themes of faith in an inviting experiential way. I’m excited to share them with a broader community in the hopes of igniting imaginations for how Dungeons & Dragons can be a tool for ministry.

Pastors & Dragons: A D&D Retreat (2018)

Pastors & Dragons

In August of 2018, the Dungeon Master Pastor, Rev. Rory Philstrom, led other clergy and people of faith on a first-of-its-kind, 4-day, 3-night Dungeons & Dragons retreat. With a mixture of gaming, learning, and Sabbath rest, this retreat explored the connections between life, ministry, and the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

If you want to hear how it went – click here to read what the participants had to say.

The first retreat went so well that we’re doing it again! If you want to join us on our next Pastors & Dragons retreat click here. 

Pastors & Dragons: A D&D Retreat
Shire in the Woods, McGrath, Minnesota


This retreat was full!


Pastors & Dragons

ROLL INITIATIVE!

Each day afforded hours of Dungeons & Dragons play, with daily game sessions run by Rory, the Dungeon Master Pastor.

We engaged in a variety of play styles and explore all four tiers of play. People brought beloved PCs to the game or created new favorites. In addition, we explored the character creation process as modes of self-reflection and storytelling.

We also had opportunities for people to try their hands at the DM seat for the very first time, as we mined the art of Dungeon Mastering for lessons in how to lead a community, engage others, and foster a high invitation/high challenge environment.

GAIN EXPERIENCE.

Each day also featured time for plumbing the depths of the tabletop roleplaying genre for lessons in life, faith, and ministry.

Engagement topics included:

  • Creating Complex Imaginations and the Art of Empathetic Practice
  • Facing Personal Fears on the Fantasy Tabletop
  • Self-Reflection through the Player Character
  • The Purpose and Use of Apocalypse
  • Storytelling
  • Managing Group Dynamics
  • Fostering Collaborative Improvisation and Collective Exploration

TAKE A LONG REST.

At Shire in the Woods, the natural surroundings provided a rejuvenating backdrop to finally get the rest that is so hard to find in our day-to-day lives. Located 18 miles east of northern Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota, the retreat center is tucked away at the heart of the Solana State Forest and has the Soo Line South Trail running right alongside it.

Some relaxed with a good book indoors while others took a stroll in the surrounding woods. There was more gaming, a labyrinth, a nearby swimming hole, a rose garden, a labyrinth, a beaver pond, a frog and turtle pond, tree swings and hammocks.

There were many amazing options for some real life exploration and rest, and enough time in the schedule to take full advantage of it all.

THE OCTAGON

octagon-thumb-15
The Octagon was a unique structure and a great home base for our retreat.