Announcing the Holy Rollers Dungeon Masters!

Holy Rollers: Blest Marches 2023 DMs

Our Dungeon Master team is assembled! Meet the DMs for Holy Rollers: Blest Marches, and don’t forget to register for this one-of-a-kind retreat experience. Earlybird pricing ends on October 31st!

The Dungeon Master Pastor – Rev. Rory Philstrom, Retreat Leader

This will be Rory’s third D&D retreat as Retreat Leader. He currently serves as Lead Pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Bloomington, MN, where he has founded a D&D Youth Group and developed a process for using the roleplaying game genre as a tool for Biblical learning and exploration. He’s also produced a resource called Biblical Verbal Components, which matches a unique Bible verse to each official spell in Dungeons & Dragons 5e (available on the DMs Guild). During the social unrest following the murder of George Floyd, Rory served as part of the Interfaith Movement Chaplain Corps, providing spiritual care at marches, protests, and relief efforts around the Twin Cities.

Outside of pastoring and dungeon mastering, Rory has been an SMA speaker both nationally and internationally, talking about life with his son, who was diagnosed at birth with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

The Geekpreacher – Rev. Derek White

Derek, aka The Geekpreacher, leads a clergy cohort group titled D&D and Discipleship showing clergy (and others) in the East Ohio Conference United Methodist Church how to use a tabletop roleplaying game like D&D as a discipleship tool. As The Geekpreacher, he has spoken at and moderated panels on Faith & Gaming at various conventions. He has also led ecumenical worship services at GenCon, Origins, and serves annually as the official chaplain for Gary Con, a gaming convention in Lake Geneva, WI that honors the life of D&D co-creator, Gary Gygax.

When he’s not pastoring and chaplaining, Derek is busy making documentaries. He’s been involved in the production of multiple documentaries, the latest entitled The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle for the Imagination which won the Best Gamer Film award at GenCon 2022.

Rev. Ben Loven

This will be Ben’s third D&D Retreat, and second as a DM. He currently serves as Senior Pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Rochester, MN. Pastor Ben loves to help God’s people imaginatively live into the mission that God gives through baptism. He moonlights as a Dungeon Master for pastors and their spouses, as well as members of his congregation.

Matt Spring

Matt co-founded Four Humors Theater in 2005, a local and touring theater company that creates original works. In 2012 he also helped co-found the Twin Cities Horror Festival, now an annual event. Since 2014 Matt has been working as a writer and consultant with Augsburg Fortress publishing house, creating materials for church youth education. When he’s not doing that, he’s parenting his two young kids and working gigs as a professional DM.

Announcing the Holy Rollers Retreat!

Back in the beforetimes (2018 & 2019) a bunch of clergy and other faith leaders got together to play D&D and learn from one another about the intersections between role playing games, faith, and ministry. We called it “Pastors & Dragons”. I am beyond excited to announce the return of this retreat under the new name “Holy Rollers“!

Holy Rollers: Blest Marches – Jan 31-Feb 3, 2023 @ ARC Retreat Center. Register now for early bird prices! Includes meals, lodging, and materials for 3 days and nights of learning, gaming, and rest.

In the midst of this coming winter, clergy and people of faith will join together for an epic 3 days and nights learning, resting, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. With a mix of gaming, learning, and rest, this retreat will allow you to explore the connections between life, faith, and the world’s greatest roleplaying game.

Holy Rollers: Blest Marches will explore emergent gameplay through a West Marches style experience. Interspersed with the gaming will be time to learn and discuss the role of faith in our world and emergent ways of being church today.

The 2023 Holy Rollers Retreat will be held Jan 31 – Feb 3rd at the ARC Retreat Community, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. In a homelike atmosphere, ARC offers 90 acres of pristine wetlands and woodlands within a majestic white pine forest. Trails are available for walking, skiing, and snowshoeing, as is a labyrinth for walking meditation.

ROLL INITIATIVE!

Each day will afford hours of Dungeons & Dragons play, with daily game sessions run by four seasoned DMs. The whole experience will be that of a collective West Marches campaign. This unique campaign structure will have some distinctive characteristics.

  • Play sessions, their frequency, and their length, will be determined individually by each party, within the time constraints of the retreat.
  • Players will form parties out of a player pool of up to 20 players.
  • The plot(s) will develop through emergent gameplay. That is, the players will decide where to go and what to do, venturing out to explore a vast and dangerous expanse of uncharted wilderness.

The West Marches were first devised by Ben Robbins around 2000 in a now-famous series of blog posts. Since then, there have been thousands of West Marches games run based off of Robbins’ original idea. The structure of our gaming will also be guided by Izirion’s Enchiridion of the West Marches, which further expounds and develops this unique style of gameplay.

GAIN EXPERIENCE.

Within each day, opportunities will be offered to go dig deeper into the role of the church in the gaming community (both the good and bad), as well as exploring emergent ways that people of faith are forming themselves for the work of God today. A highlight will be a screening of the GenCon-award-winning documentary The Satanic Panic and the Religious Battle for the Imagination and follow up conversation with the featured Pastor Derek White, aka The Geek Preacher.

TAKE A LONG REST.

The ARC Retreat Community offers a quiet place to slow down the pace of life, restore balance, and grow on your spiritual journey. Enjoy healthy and delicious meals prepared and served from the ARC kitchen. Cozy up by the fireplace or strap on snowshoes and explore the 90 acres of pristine wetlands and woodlands within a majestic white pine forest, located in Stanchfield, MN, about an hour north of the MSP Airport.

Retreat participants will have their choice of lodging.

Single or Double Room in the Lodge

  • 11 single rooms and 3 double rooms available
  • Guest rooms are private with shared bathrooms
  • Linens and towels are provided
  • Close to the action, most retreat activities will happen throughout the many spaces of the Lodge

The Hermitage:

  • a single-person dwelling in the woods
  • a bright, lofty room with a kitchenette and screened-in porch.
  • ideal for those desiring more solitude.
  • bay window faces through the trees toward Little Stanchfield Lake, which is visible in the winter.
  • heat and electricity
  • water is provided in jugs
  • Nearby outhouse, with showers and bathrooms in the Lodge also available for “hermit” use
Registration Costs: Double – $535/$585, Single or Hermit – $655/$715, Airport transportation $50

Register by October 31st for Early Bird rates!

Registration closes January 15th, or when we reach capacity.

The Holy Rollers Retreat affirms the sacredness of people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. We affirm the sacredness of all those who have experienced exclusion because of race, ability, age, or culture. We affirm the sacredness of those who wrestle with addiction, physical or mental health, imprisonment, socio-economic circumstances, or anything that too often divides us. The leaders and DMs of the Holy Rollers Retreat are committed to welcoming and celebrating all people, and strive to make antiracist choices and work toward racial equity in all areas of our lives. All people, inclusive of age, race, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, family structure, ability or disability, are invited into the sacred space of this retreat not only as players and learners but also as storytellers, leaders, and people with vast experiences to share. 

Pastors & Dragons is going to Gamehole Con!

As we seemed to be coming out of the pandemic this past summer, I was trying to figure out a good way to re-engage the Pastors & Dragons Retreat. With that in mind, I decided to try something new – taking some of that good gaming retreat content to a broader audience at Gamehole Con!

As the delta variant has come on, I’ve been a little anxious about this whole plan, but I’m thankful that Gamehole Con has had a vaccine mandate and will be enforcing that for all attendees. This makes me feel a little safer. If you are curious about what Biblical gaming can look like and you’re fully vaccinated, think about joining me for some games in Madison, Wisconsin this October!

On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday I will run eight games in a series I’m calling “Adventures of Biblical Proportions”. Each session will stand alone as a one-shot experience, though players who come back multiple times will notice ways that the stories interconnect. Each session will explore a different passage of the Bible from the New Testament, inviting players to enter into the Biblical story and experience it firsthand. These games will be part history, part legend, with each exploring a different gaming “flavor”, be it the supernatural or social horror or the backdrop of war.

These games will be run using the Cypher System, which I have found to be a more adaptable TTRPG alternative to D&D 5e. D&D 5e is a great system that I love deeply. Some of these adventures saw their beginnings as 5e adventures, and worked to great effect. However I’ve also found that the 5e learning curve can be a little steeper and I appreciate the simplicity of a more story-focused system like Cypher, especially when engaging with church groups which may or may not have any tabletop gaming background.

Alright, enough with the blathering. Let’s get to a rundown of those games!

Adventures of Biblical Proportions!

Gamehole Con 2021

  • Chains in the Graveyard – Fri., Oct 22nd, 9am
    • Protect the people from the powers of the graveyard in a supernatural horror adventure.
  • Faster Than Stones – Fri., Oct 22nd, 1pm
    • Outrun the threat of death in a social thriller adventure.
  • Release to the Captives – Fri., Oct 22nd, 4pm
    • Grant release to the captives in an adventure of angelic secrecy.
  • Island Odyssey – Sat., Oct 23rd, 9am
    • Go on an Island Odyssey in a game of fantastic adventure.
  • Idols of Athens – Sat., Oct 23rd, 1pm
    • Explore the idols of Athens in a monstrously metaphorical adventure.
  • Mystery of Ephesus – Sat., Oct 23rd, 4pm
    • Explore the mystery of Ephesus in a supernatural investigative adventure.
  • A Monstrous Appetite (Revelation Part I) – Sun., Oct 24th, 9am
    • Confront the appetite of dragons in a monstrously mythic adventure. This adventure can be played alone or as part of a two-part series based on the Book of Revelation.
  • Beasts on the Earth (Revelation Part II) – Sun., Oct 24th, 12pm
    • Confront the wide sweeping machinations of beasts in a mythic wartime adventure. This adventure can be played alone or as part of a two-part series based on the Book of Revelation.

If you’re coming to Gamehole Con, it would be great to play with you. Sign ups for these games are live over at gamehole.com!

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Healing Potion Go Down

A few months ago, my family and I went to see a movie in the theater.

Growing up, going out to see a movie was a magical experience, for a few reasons:

  1. We didn’t go to see very many movies, so when we did it was a treat!
  2. Popcorn…slathered in butter…pure decadence…
  3. The enormous screen. These were the days before 55 inch 4K ultrahigh definition televisions were even a whisper of a shadow of a dream.

Now that I’m an adult, I sometimes go to more movies in a month than I went to see in an entire year as a child.

And I can buy movie-theater butter popcorn that I can pop in my microwave.

And I’m never more than a few clicks of my smart TV’s remote away from watching tons of movies on Netflix.

But when I went with my family to that theater a few months ago, I again had a magical movie experience. No, we weren’t seeing the latest Marvel superhero movie (although those do tend to be wicked awesome!), we saw a movie from a different Disney franchise.

It was…Mary Poppins Returns!

Seriously! Sometimes we say that something, “Made me feel like a child again,” but this movie didn’t just make me feel like a child again, I actually was a child again! I was a child again, mesmerized by the fantastical mixture of live action and animation that so captured my imagination when I saw the original Mary Poppins 30ish years ago.

However, there was one thing that jumped out at me about this movie, one thing that I consciously realized that I probably wouldn’t have if I had watched this as a child. I realized that Mary Poppins was helping the Banks children process complex emotions about grief and greed through their imaginations.

I think that we adults often forget this. Kids do it all the time, playing with legos, playing with dolls, playing with pieces of paper that are actually racecar spaceships that can transform into lions.

Our imaginations are incredible tools to help us work through the ‘stuff’ in our lives. And this is one of the huge gifts of playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is a game of imagination, and not just our individual imaginations, but our communal imagination as a group comes together to create and inhabit whole new worlds. These are worlds where the fantastical is ordinary, where a well-timed joke can be as effective as the mightiest swing of a warhammer, and where players have the chance to live into a new reality.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming Pastors and Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination retreat, where we will have the opportunity to exercise our communal imaginations for the sake of ourselves, our ministry settings, and the world. Who know what dreams and visions may come from this experience? When imagination is involved, the sky’s the limit! (Well, maybe the Elemental Plane of Air is the limit…or would it be the Ethereal Plane?…the Astral Plane?…)

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.

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!

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.