Make a List

Today, we have so many apps and tools available at our fingertips. How far away is your smart phone from you right now? Maybe on the table, a docking station, or upstairs on your bed, or possibly in your hand at this very moment.

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Have you ever seen someone tie a string around their finger? This old trick reminds the person that they wanted to remember something in particular and the out of place string wrapped around their finger reminds them of that memory.

Since we don’t normally keep strings on our finger, it can serve as a reminder to get something done. And we need reminders, otherwise, the day drifts into hours passed and minutes spent until the cycle completes and we witness the sun sinking behind the western wall with the same pressing feeling that we didn’t get anything done.

May I suggest setting aside all of the screens for a moment and do this one simple thing: make a list. Grab a mundane piece of paper, a blank one that allow you to freely express your handwriting. Retrieve a pen or pencil, depending on whether or not you like to scratch a hard line through your editions or buff them away with an eraser. Place the instrument on the paper.

Write anything that arrives at the top of your mind. Lay everything out on the hospitable parchment which holds all of the space for you. Without consideration, pour out your hearts desires, whether it arrives as a grocery list, unpaid bills, goals for schooling this next year, dream vacations or something you have been meaning to say to your mate. Deliver it up to the paper.

Watch in wonder, as your breathing changes. There it lies before you in honesty. Your thoughts, now in broad daylight, appear before your overarching witness. Whereas before, the jumble of activity in your brain looked more like a soup, this collection of words map out the recipe for how you think, how you dream and how you feel. Appreciate this feedback.

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Finally, it all of it’s glory and imperfection. Post it. Not for anyone else to see, but give it just enough light to oblige your attention on a daily basis. You will thank that list many times over as it holds your thoughts for you. For now, my friend, your mind begins to create. Without clutter, and without encumbrance, it sets itself alight with the wings of the spirit and begins to fashion a life for you with the list in view.

Learning to Listen by playing Dungeons and Dragons

I want to be a great listener and I thoroughly enjoy hearing people tell stories. I love playing around the table, Dungeons and Dragons because by listening actively, searching for meaning, we can share our stories to end up becoming even better listeners.

Very quickly, I say that listening includes taking in necessary data from another person, but active listening hers and searches for meaning in the words. It asks, “yes I hear and this is how what you say means something to me.” By doing so, I can help the other person feel like I’m in the story with them.

The way Dungeons & Dragons work is by using the storytelling method of “yes and”. “Yes and” simply means that I accept reality and I build upon it. But how do we make this work? The answer is to search for meaning. Ask yourself “if this reality is true then what does this mean to me?” This is IMPLICIT reality. Only listening to a description the dungeon master gives you does nothing more than store new data into your brain. But by actively listening, searching for meaning, then together, we can share stories.

Example

  • Dungeon Master says, “a storm arrives on the hill.”
  • Players say “aha, we walk through the storm.”
  • The above example simply states an explicit reality. Something happens and you do something about it, and at best this informs us, but also bores us incredibly. However, Active listening takes what I describe to you and build up on it to tell a story.

Better Example:

  • Dungeon master: A storm arrives on the hill.
  • Bard says “I accept reality and prepare supplies so they are not damaged.”
  • Cleric says “I accept reality and bite on my lip for a fear being struck by lightning.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality, hold up my sword and anticipate the thrill of meeting a storm giant, face to face.”
  • Warlock says “I accept reality and I remove my robe down to my linens, kneel down and ask forgiveness to Tempus God of the storms for my many sins.”

While not necessary to always preface your implict statements with “I accept reality”, the statement alone provides a sort of training wheel as you get used to sharing the narrative around the table. The explicit means that a storm has arrived and presents a challenge to the players, but the players take responsibility to search for meaning. This moves the story from explicit information to implicit meaning. The story continues.

Example 2

In this example the dungeon master gives yet a very simple encounter as an ogre attacks the party in camp. However, we can use the same method of “yes and”, in that the players accept the reality and build upon it within a story format. Notice the similarities between the two encounters.

  • Dungeon master says, “oh no! an ogre attacks your camp!”
  • Bard says, “I accept reality and prepare to defend the ponies.”
  • Cleric says, “I accept reality and fear being taken alive as a meal.”
  • Fighter says “I accept reality and anticipate the opportunity to collect an ogre’s hide to profit in town.”
  • Warlock says, “I accept reality and pray to Tempus to forgive me for taking a life.”

In this example, it explicitly states that if the characters want to live, they must fight. However, the characters must search for what this information means and state the implicit reality. By using this technique of “yes, and” and then moving from explicit reality to implicit meaning brings the table from simply saying the mundane and obvious and into collaborative and exciting storytelling!

So remember, when presented with a reality say “yes, and”. Take the responsibility to search for meaning by taking the explicit information, and gift your table with a story, and share the implicit reality. If everyone performs in such a way at the table, we enjoy a sojourner’s tale of adventure.

Good morning

Even if you don’t play Dungeons and Dragons, or any roleplaying games at all, I hope you can appreciate that by using these storytelling techniques, even in your own life can your communication improve. Think about it! By actively listening, you are connecting your own personal meaning and investment into the information the other person tells you. If you then use the “yes, and” method, you agree with the narrative and build upon it. You are saying, “I am playing in your reality, and I will add to it with my own meaning.” Of course this doesn’t mean that you blindly agree with every statement any more than a hero agrees with the ogre that humans taste the best over an open barbecue! By saying “yes and,” you keep the communication moving and alive, even if your following statements and actions divert from the original intention. “Yes, Mr. Ogre, you do want to cook us all up, however, I believe there is a win-win situation we can also cook up.”

Enjoy those around your table and play Dungeons and Dragons and learn to actively listen, search for the meaning and build upon a great story.

Out of the Abyss

Sojourners Awake!

presents the first three sessions with a Dungeons and Dragons group. I drafted together a simple narrative based on the actual play during the game. Sharing stories and collaborative creativity is like making music together and no experience is necessary! We all improve the more we play. Enjoy!

An Underdark Adventure

Elient 21, 1453, autumn

In the mighty city of Neverwinter, also known as Tethyrna, we meet our sojourners. Roanoke, an air genasi woman, spent her downtime living in the graveyard, working there in the day and camping out at night. She met Krag, an orchish man, descended from the line of Tresendor, mighty giants of old, who was the groundskeeper and servant of Kelemvor. Roanoke uncovers a mysterious plot invoking “sacrifice, feeding someone and prisoners” between a hooded female character and a wizard skulking in the graveyard.  Krag lectures her on the ways of the gods (he is very knowledgeable about the business of the religious establishments – he even has a pristine collection of books that he keeps in his home) and how they manage their domains with followers. She acquired a flask of fungal mead, a book on Tymora, goddess of luck, and learned how to dig a fashionable grave. She hears whispers and people moving around the graveyard at night but has not encountered anyone.  A foul odor lurks from the entrance to the forbidden catacombs. 

Another one of our members is Rico Redbeard, a strong dwarf. He and his band of dwarves, Graeco, Machaela and Fezzu, met to discuss the future of dwarven business in Tethyrna. After deciding to spend their profits going into the brewery business, they successfully set up Ricos Red Ale Tavern, possibly upsetting the economy in the city. Rico was also able to establish sale of his brew in the Howling Wolf owned by Grimm Holt the gnomish proprietor. Finally the group were introduced to Bardock, who showed off his painting, musical and jack of all trades proficiency and became a welcome member of their group.

Rico and Roanoke meet periodically to swap news and gather information about potential job opportunities.  Many times the meetings are in a public area where it looks inconspicuous and no-threatening to any of the locals of the area. Rico has taken up a stall at the local market place and barters his beer to anyone who will stop by.  This is his opportunity to hear local news and also become a local presence in the community.  He hears all the gossip and shares when they meet. Roanoke has spent most of her time in and around the graveyard.  Something is amiss and she is drawn to the people who frequent this place of solitude and death.  Many times in their grief they will share information that would not have been brought to her ears.  She is fascinated with Krag and his weird ways but trusts nothing.  She doesn’t trust easily and will hold back information even from Rico if the mood suits her.  She doesn’t eat or drink any items that she has not gathered or prepared herself. Paranoia has set in but she hides it well. The party in a little bit of gossiping and carrying on about the town discovered that many gangs had risen up such as the Yearscats, the red brands, Zhentarim and various Cults rising boldly in this wild Northern Territory. The party encounters Krag at the tavern and Roanoke introduces him to the party.  Krag asks Roanoke to not come into work because of some goings on that he is concerned about with the catacombes. Roanoke asks Krag about these suspicious things and he warns her away from the Catacombs – but asks if she knows of a group who might be willing to investigate (only).  Roanoke says she will ask around. Krag outlines the specifics for  investigating the catacombs (forbidden because of danger to the community.)  He warned to be careful but to find out if anyone was meeting down there. 

Marpenoth 1, 1453, autumn.

Rico establishes his Rico Red Ale Brewery and Tavern, leaving Graeco, his cousin, in charge of the establishment. 

Marpenoth 2, 1453

The sojourners entered catacombs at night, Rico was possessed by a ghost seeking vengeance on an aberrant monstrosity deep in the ground. The ghost led Rico below and the party followed at a distance. The team discovered a collection of undead plant life assembling corpses together, guarded by undead warden supposedly reporting to someone outside through a gem necklace. After bravely destroying the carnivorous plant, the team met Thumbletop. Unable to escape the room, Rico, in his rage, kicked open a secret entrance to the catacombs which lead into a series of tunnels beneath the ground, leading them deep into the Underdark. Krag is very fearful, but remorseful over the loss of his reputation as a safe guards keeper. If encouraged he will take up the mission to safeguard the team. Thumbletop is wary of entering the Kobold Camp as he knows gnomes are the favorite enemy of Kobolds. . He retains the necklace and will do his best to get it returned to the plane of air for his friend Zahida. After the sojourners leave, a drow searches for her missing scrying necklace given to the wight. She explores the catacombs but fails to see the hollowed out stone where the sojourners descended.

and so our story continues.

Homeschool like a Dungeon Master, Share a Story and Find your Values

Back in the 80s, my family homeschooled. I remember the days of workbooks, reading assignments, playing outside and household chores. Right now, we have experienced the COVID – 19 pandemic of 2020 and overnight, public education closed for the year. This landed most everyone staying at home with their children while performing online calls with teachers and classmates. My family of 5 was already homeschooling during this time so not too much for us changed. Although I remember that homeschooling usually involves playdates, field trips, and trips to the library, during this crisis, we aren’t truly homeschooling. That being said, I do think that this time can provide some much needed reflection on how to identify our values. As I mix together tabletop roleplaying games and homeschooling, think about your own values that you have had time to realize.

When I thought a little more about our situation, I realized that homeschooling is so much more than completing your textbook at home as if it was a sick day or if you were snowed in and the country shut down. During this time, we played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, having no real place to go and recreate anymore. Quite a few people joined me with online calls as well and we had a great time. So I thought of some ways that home schooling was a lot like playing Dungeons and Dragons.

First, I decided to identify my values with homeschooling. As of now, we live in the information age. Find an opinion on a topic, and I’ll find a counter opinion. Find a truth and I’ll expose it as a lie. Find a fact and if we dig deep enough, science is just science and nature is just nature. Even reading through history, I’ve discovered that there are many takes on what happened in the past based on perspectives and sometimes, editing or omission of information.

Dungeons and Dragons can be a lot like that. When the story teller describes a scene of welcomed oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, they’re not going to give you every detail of information. Nor will each player experience the scene in the same exact way. When I’m done with my description, I ask each player to then ask me a question about the scene. This tells me #1 what I failed to inform and #2 what the players pay attention to in settings.

  • Do I see any animals?
  • How deep is the oasis?
  • What time of day?
  • Does anyone look thirsty?

These example questions prompt me to continue on with the description before assuming I know what they want to hear. It’s not that there are no caves nearby, but only that none of the players really care if caves exist. Theoretically, if a cave existed in that scene, no one remembers or their brains just simply blocked out the info so they could see what gave them interest.

Now tie this back into homeschooling. We see what gives us interest. And these lenses help inform our view of the world. The practice I’ve implemented is asking the children more questions. What do you see? What do you notice? What would you like to know more about? What questions do you have about your reading?

The next point is that on the opposite end of the table, the reason Dungeons and Dragons works as a collaborative story telling game is because every player and the story teller agree to share the same reality.

When the story teller describes a rickety rope bridge over a river of snapping crocodiles, the players then share that reality by testing the bridge, attempting to fly over using magic, befriending the crocodiles by feeding them a prisoner. You get the idea. If the players disregard the narrative by announcing they walk along the bridge with no consequence then the information given by the story teller is invalid. Now, some story tellers will then describe the consequences to the players careless actions, but even then, the players have to continue to agree that what the story teller describes is the same story they play in their minds.

Along with sharing the narrative, players agree to enhance the narrative by adding dialogue, describing responses to the sway of the bridge, tossing a rock down to the crocodiles to see how hungry they might be. This not only agrees with the narrative collectively, but builds a world that can further expand into another story. Like roots from a seed, they expand out and down to create a system of thought with a story.

Homeschooling requires agreed upon values. Teaching your kids at home is not just about handing them information to memorize, although most of study can be about memorization, kids love trivia! Teaching values using rhythms of life, routines and honoring choices with consequences impart the worldview that one is to adopt. How we spend our resources defines our values and homeschooling can really drive a person to identify the treasure they protect, the values of their life. Once they agree upon those values, then watching a child enhance them is one of the most innocent and beautiful events in creation. Their radical adherence and promotion give radiance to the value, arguably increasing its worth. Stop and take a minute to think about what you have found important during this time of repose.

Values are the last of ourselves to remain in the flames of trial.

Dungeons and Dragons. Homeschooling. I’m sure that like myself, you have little teachers in your life that show you the path. Gardening. Photography. I hope that when the rats begin to crawl back into their wheels, that when the bright lights and hum of activity increase back to “normal”, that you have made friends with your values. Shelter them. Grow them. And teach your kids to love them as well.

Consumer? Or Creator?

I’ve been reading this book entitled The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. She gives really insightful exercises on increases your creative energy. She surmises that’s every one of us is an artist. Although not a traditional artist with paint or music, you might have another kind of art. Either way, we all have creative potential energy.

Creativity lies dormant within you

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a painter and then again, maybe you have talent for oils and watercolors. Think of these activities as a means for releasing creative forces in the world.

Gardening. Dog grooming. Journaling. Interior design. Event planning. Auto mechanics. Carpentry. Real estate sales. Home care bathing for disabled. Nursing administration. Cleaning your kids room. BBQing. Preaching. Surfing. Playing the guitar. Playing the drum. Defending a criminal case. Starting a campfire. Organizing your desk. Writing a blog. Making dinner. Playing softball. Dungeons and Dragons.

Begin with an idea and nurture it to life

Dungeons and Dragons: A storytelling tool designed to spark imagination in anyone’s mind. When we sit around the table and collectively agree on a shared imagination, we create stories, characters and adventures.

By playing Dungeons and Dragons, we can learn to commit to another’s understanding and perspective. People enjoy each other’s company when they agree upon a shared reality. Many times we learn it too late. Play D&D. Learn to communicate your thought and feelings. Practice shifting perspective and realize the skills of this fun pastime spill over into your life as you level up.

The rising tide raises all ships in the harbor.

Dungeons and Dragons – Online!

Never has there been a better time to try new things! I keep looking for “100 things to do when bored,” and it’s not that I’m bored, but certainly I have a lot more time on my hands lately.

Honestly, I believe it’s better that we have slowed down. I hope that after the 2020 quarantine passes, that we can remember to take more walks, play more bored games and spend more time with family. Also, I hope that companies realize it’s WAY more profitable to allow employees to work from home.

In the meantime, I play dungeons and dragons! It’s a way to tell stories as much as it is a game, but it doesn’t involve screens or video. Traditionally, we gather around a coffee table with pencils and papers ready, and a sweet set of dice to roll when describing our exploits.

Lately, though, I’ve resorted to setting up online sessions for my D&D parties and much to my enjoyment, it has worked and benefits reaching out to long lost friends to play some much needed entertainment.

So, if you’re interested, check out my session page or email me . I set up games for kids, adults, families and you’re sure to have a good time. Since I’ve been a stay at home, homeschooling and homemaking dad, I’ve tried to come up with creative ways to bring in money so we can continue to educate our children, giving them memorable experiences.

Dungeons and Dragons is a great way to spend time together, whether morning, afternoon or evening, Mondays or Weekends and anytime in between. So, if you’re ready to create entertainment and memorable experiences, grab your pencil and paper, a nice set of dice and let’s play!

Three ways playing Dungeons and Dragons improves family dynamics

Do you have a family game night? I have heard of families getting together on a Sunday afternoon after a meal and playing cards, board games or video games. It’s hard to find something that everyone enjoys. Sometimes families simply put money towards dinner and a movie. All those are popular and fun, but think about this.

When you watch a movie or play a board game, you are being entertained. This is a form of passive entertainment. You take in the fun and that’s all well and good!

But what if you shared the creation of that entertainment with your friends and family?

Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative role playing game. Three ways to collaborate means we engage, entertain and entrust.

Engage

When we sit around the dining room table, the coffee table or outside on the patio, we face one another and engage. Armed with a pencil, paper and imagination, you are part of the storytelling process in the game. The Dungeon Master, who operates as the storyteller, referee and other characters in the game, sets the fictional stage where each of the players around the table build upon the ideas infusing their own created characters as heroes of the tale. Each game lasts from 2-4 hours with breaks and with about 3-6 players, the most interesting and exciting adventures can unfold!

Entertain

Telling stories requires your imagination, along with collectively sharing that imagination with others. This means you entertain! You may not consider yourself a comedian, but each of us have some form of creative energy whether humor, descriptions of brave deeds, revealing hidden backstories or simply sharing in the laughter. As opposed to simply watching a movie, you make the movie. Using tried and true techniques of improve such as the “yes, and” method, you actively listen to what’s going on, engage your part of the story and entertain your fellow travelers. This level of creativity rewards your brain with the feeling of success.

Entrust

Most people have a fear of public speaking. Role playing games can be daunting at first because so many questions arise in our minds.

  • Do I have to talk with an accent?
  • What if l say the wrong thing?
  • How will I know if it’s my turn to speak?

The truth is role playing comes more natural than you think. No one around the table is trying to impress or outdo anyone, and there’s no pressure to give a stellar performance. Much like anything, practice makes your art better. The Dungeon Master should be like a guide helping your stretch your acting skills and build creativity. Remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right. There’s no real “right” way to be creative. Think of it as a pool party. If you just show up, you may be nervous about getting in, but once you see others enjoying themselves, you’ll be tempted, even if to dip in your feet, to join the party.

This leads to a surprising level of trust between you, the Dungeon Master and your fellow players. We build bonds over time by telling stories around the campfire. For as long as our civilization has existed, we have told stories in one way or another. Some stories were factual, some were exaggerated for effect, some written and some transformed into memorable songs. Either way, at it’s heart, Dungeons and Dragons is primarily a way to tell stories. You become a better story teller. You become a story maker. This builds trust between those you care about the most, because you begin to ask yourself, “what stories am I telling now?” And believe it or not, this greater level of awareness happens all while you are having fun!

So, consider this your new recreation! Dungeons and Dragons can become a great family pastime and what a wonderful way to express yourself creatively. With no instrument to learn, or serious rules to memorize, you can just jump in and explore the world of role playing games.

Photos used with permission by Wizards of the Coast

Ideas that nourish us

photo of smiling woman in black hijab standing in grass field with her eyes closed
Photo by Akhmad Wirawan on Pexels.com

People fund their livelihood by perpetuating ideas in the garden of their minds. These ideas feed us. We need them. We need to believe. But the idea that feeds me may not be your nourishment. I taste another idea from your garden and consider it’s taste. After a day or two, I consider its effect on my body, my mind and my soul. I sell your ideas that grew from a garden in your mind connected to another’s garden. Another tastes. Another is nourished. Over time, we perceive whether or not the idea not only feed us, but also regenerates the minds from which it grew.

We move. We live. We have our being.

Ideas are like seeds. You hold them in your hands to plant in your mind. Be aware of what grows. Not all that holds sweet heals and not all things bitter poison. Sample all the flavors of nature, both bitter to heal, sweet to laugh, sour to cleanse and salty to incite. Balance ideas and grow many samples, allow them to nourish each other from within and your practice outside will produce wholeness.