Off Topic: Why I’m Still Catholic

This isn’t a post about Dungeons & Dragons Online or anything about gaming in particular. It’s a response to a challenge by Elizabeth Scalia, a Catholic writer and blogger. I’m merely taking a liberty in using my blog to meet her challenge. (There have been far fewer clever internet challenges lately.) If you’re not interested in my personal insights on my faith, do ignore this post.


The Anchoress, also known as Elizabeth Scalia, made a public challenge to anyone with a web presence to explain why they remain a Catholic, especially during this time where many people warp their desires into political and social pressure to intimidate those who fully practice their faith, not restraining it behind the church doors.

My blog typically restricts itself to discussions about Dungeons & Dragons Online, a multiplayer online world based on the popular tabletop game. So I’m doing something that blogs shouldn’t do much, if at all: Speak off-topic.

I’m going to do so, just this once. I might even be able to show how my faith even intersects with my gaming.

I’m not known anywhere outside of this blog. I’m just a father and husband. As a kid, my family wasn’t particularly religious, although my grandmother was raised Catholic. I did grow with a respect that God existed, but could never understand that “Jesus” thing.

For some reason, God has surrounded me with German Catholics. My high school best friend, my college best friend, and my wife are German Catholics. That was the catalyst that, in 2005, made me enter into the faith. But that’s a story in itself.

In mid-2004, I divorced from a civil marriage. I felt lost, guilty and broken. Despite not looking for anyone, someone appeared at a science-fiction convention I attended. In these gatherings most people have several things in common, and this young woman and I had an interest in wearing costumes the following evening. Specifically, I was going to make an effort to look like the character of Morpheus from The Matrix films, and she as the character Trinity.

While my costume at the time was nothing to speak of, the young woman’s rendition was breathtakingly accurate, and her facial contours were nearly identical to the actress that played the role.

I was smitten. We spent much of the day looking for someone who we heard had dressed as the central character of the films, Neo, also known as “The One.” We never found that costumed man, but the young woman and I found each other.

Over the weeks, she introduced me to the Church again in a more formal way, and I decided, a few weeks later, to enter RCIA (the teaching and discernment classes available at Catholic churches if you are interested in becoming Catholic or want to learn more). Like radio host Matt Swaim of “The Sonrise Morning Show,” I became part of the Catholic Class of 2005.

Thanks to Catholic radio and TV, especially Catholic Answers, I gained a reliable grounding in my faith. I became Catholic and stay a Catholic because:

  • We are founded on history. We mention Pontius Pilate in the Nicean Creed because Christianity came from a real man, in a real place and in real-time. We have witnesses and documents and thousands of years of history as proof of this.
  • We codified the sacred writings that codified what we call the Bible. Other Christians may declare the Bible as the sole rule of faith, but they neglect the point that Christ didn’t found a book, but a Church, and empowered successors to the Apostles to determine what the “table of contents” of Sacred Scripture would become, in the 4th Century.
  • We believe that science is supportive, not exclusive, in our faith in God. We have many, many scientists who, among other things, founded genetic theory, developed the heliocentric theory of the Solar System, and developed the Big-Bang Theory (the science, not the show).
  • We have survived the march of history, as Christ stated. From horrific falls of empires, many many wars, even bouts of corruption within the Church clergy have not toppled the Church. In fact, it seems to have strengthened its resolve to feed the poor, clothe the naked, bury the dead, and bring the word of Christ to a frightened, confused world. Many other Christian faiths, if they haven’t faded away, are changing so radically from their roots–from the teachings of God Himself–that they are shades of what they once were.
  • The Catholic Church sees the teachings of God as supernatural laws of truth, and defends them just as scientists do the laws of the scientific world. Just as the physical laws of the speed of light, mass, energy, and mathematics do not change based on whims, opinion or consensus, nor do the truths that God has revealed to all. While other faiths bend to the winds of culture (which, often, discovers its idea of “truth” was a bad idea), the Church knows that such truths, such as respect for human life, the purpose of marriage, and our ultimate destiny and reason for being on earth, aren’t subject to change, and are just important now as they were 2,000 years ago, today, and 2,000 years from now.

You can find many sources of my faiths on this document from Catholics Come Home.

Some of you who’ve never read this blog before (or likely will again) might find the blog’s title familiar. That’s because my central gaming character, Syncletica, is also the name of one of the first Desert Mothers, a Catholic saint and monastic (an early nun). In the game, I play the Monk class, which has a quasi-religious nature in the concentration of their inner self to perform martial arts feats. I try to reflect the reverence found in the Catholic monastic world within the game’s parameters.

That is, I created this blog (and a guide on the Monk class) to pass on what I’ve learned and to aid others in gameplay, just as St. Syncletica had forsaken her wealth in the 3rd Century to serve others and the Lord.

I was able to re-marry (see this link if you’re a Catholic and wonder how that happened, since you normally cannot divorce and re-marry in the Church) and, soon after, bring my mother and son into the faith, too.

catholicpriesthoodGod wanted me to know that I made the right decision in a personal revelation. 

One day, not long after entering the faith, a friend of mine gave me a poster she created to promote more priestly vocations in the Church.  This one, on the left.

This is Father Jonathan Meyer, a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He normally wears a cassock, a long black coat that happens to look a lot like the coat that the enlightened Neo wore in the second and third films.

I had found the One after all. (My vocation is to marriage, not to priesthood, however.)

That man is one of many ones who become in persona Christi during the Holy Eucharist, celebrating the holy sacrifice of the One Holy Priest, Savior of Mankind, the Christ.

Yep. The Matrix made me Catholic.


The Dojo Seals its Doors…Temporarily

They've come.

They’ve come.

The extraplanar portal’s swirling maw appeared a day ago, near the meditation pond. Shavarath’s legions began pouring out, bearded devils and roaring orthons with tieflings and other foul creatures of that accursed plane.

It was Ryncletica that spotted the invasion first. Applying the Diversion technique to slow the surprise attack by drawing the invaders to a false hate-generator, she was able to alert others to help before she become overwhelmed.

The many students swarmed the glade and were able to push back and stop the initial invasion for most of the day and night.

A second portal arrived early the next morning.

“There are too many, teacher Syncletica!” Quintessica shouted to me, her mystical quarterstaff a blurred spinning shaft of fire and force that slammed into several devils. Lynncletica protected Quin’s back, stunning and Jading enemies, knocking them back with a seemingly endless applications of the Drifting Lotus.

“Who did you piss off?” shouted Kiricletica in Ryncletica’s general direction. Those two always blame the other for fights that go badly as a matter of sport.

Szyncletica, our shuriken master, stood where she could see both portals. Her arm whirled in a continual deadly spiral through the air, spitting shurikens to destroy anything that escaped the portal perimeters. I stood behind Szyn to kill what few enemies could bypass her star attacks.

Kiricletica and Ryncletica teamed up with younger students at the second portal when a third portal appeared.

I halted myself from gasping and kept my focus, assaying the situation as the old master taught me, hoping I would draw the same conclusion I would if he stood here.

I decided. We were a disciplined and skilled monastery. But we could not fight this storm–only weather it.

I dispatched a handful of enemies while working back towards the main doors of our home. “Ninja team: Diversion at each portal on my mark,” I shouted. “All others, prepare to retreat. We are cloistering!”

With little else said, the three ninja instantly separated and sprinted to a portal, cutting down anything in their path as the hordes closed in and the other monks ran to the dojo.

Quintessica knew what I needed. First to enter  the dojo, she dropped her staff, sat in the center of our large shrine room and began her meditation.

I counted to 30, then shouted “Mark!” to the ninja. They applied their Diversion techniques almost simultaneously, drawing all the enemies towards their intimidating dummy duplicates  while cloaking each ninja in shadow to aid their escape. If their timing had been too far off, more than a few demons or devils would have spotted our ploy and teleported at the retreating students or even inside the dojo itself.

“Everybody! In!”

Ryn and Kiri were at the door fastest, running hundreds of meters in a few seconds. Szyn ran backwards, picking up any stragglers not attracted by their false fighters. A few wounded students moved slower to shelter and I and Lynn ran out to pull them in.

More than a few small glowing soulstones littered our glade-turned-battlefield. We couldn’t save them now.

As Szyncletica entered, I shouted, “Now, Quin! Seal the dojo!” Lynncletica and Ryncletica disappeared with a couple of others to close and bolt every door and window.

An ominous hum grew near my hand as I began to close the last door. Several shuriken from Szyncletica and two others flew by my face a hairsbreadth away, killing a devil trying to enter through the waning crack of the door.

As they were trained to do, everyone else sat in concentric circles around the meditating Quintessica and began to meditate as well. Quin groaned a bit as her focus reached its peak and her consciousness moved out.

A sudden cold warmth spread through us all, amplified by the circle. The energy quickly enveloped the entire building in a what would look like a scintillating and impenetrable green globe of energy to anything outside. Candle flames throughout our home that glowed an encouraging white-orange now turned blue, burning and sparking in fits and starts. The air hung about us, lifeless and stagnant.

Quin sat motionless, her skin stony as a rest shrine. Something about her body shifted to my eyes, as if she became translucent as well as unfocused, phasing between a here and a there.

“Globe of Jade,” Quintessica once called it–an emergency technique she learned in her esoteric Mystic training that pulled our location into two planes of existence simultaneously, making it impossible for anyone standing in any one plane to enter as long as the meditation lasted.

The hellish legions of Shavarath could not enter. But, sealed inside like figures inside an ornamental globe, no one inside our home could leave.

Lynncletica moved to my side. “How long do you think we can last here?” she whispered.

“As long as we must, Lynn,” I said. “As long as we can.”

That dramatic tale of my dojo of Monks trapped by Shavarath armies is my more enjoyable way to tell everyone that my game computer is offline for the moment, felled by the demons of overheating.

I share it as my work computer and am hopeful to have it repaired or replaced soon. I’ve got a few general posts stored up to publish while I cannot play.


Off Topic: “Log Horizon”

Log Horizon: A "kinder, gentler" trapped-in-game experience...but no less entertaining.

Log Horizon: A “kinder, gentler” trapped-in-game experience…but no less entertaining.

I’m a big fan of “Sword Art Online.” It’s an anime adaptation of a very popular manga series of an excellent gamer that is among the first to use a virtual reality MMO where you are the avatar, within the digital world, a’la The Matrix, and interact completely as a three-dimensional being.

SAO has some critics, as all things do.

Its first story dealt with being trapped in such a world as a death game. Players were forced to complete the game, or die trying permanently–both in-game and their body dying in the real world.

There’s much fridge horror and nightmare fuel for viewers of this show when you consider that, of the 10,000 players trapped in that game by the first story, there were only around 6,000 that survive. SAO’s drama, even when later games that the main characters play aren’t filled with death stakes, still have a sharp edge of gloom and doom.

There have been other manga/anime where you can exist (somewhat) in a virtual reality, but now, riding on SAO’s success and catching up fast is a less-dark but no less dramatic take on the trapped-in-a-video-game concept.

“Log Horizon” centers itself not on a swordmaster like SAO’s Kirito but a spellcaster, a college-age man by the name of Shiroe. He’s a rather introverted sort but has Chessmaster-like thinking.

The game that Shiroe plays, “Elder Tale,” is a 2-D fantasy game set in a long post-apocalyptic Japan, with elements of classes and gameplay like DDO or similarly-themed MMORPGs that’s had a long prosperous life. Shiroe’s been playing for eight years of the game’s 20 year life and knows it well. He even plays it as we play DDO now, at a desk with a display and keyboard and mouse.

He’s logged in at the time as a new update of the game is being applied when something happens.

Suddenly he’s inside the game as his Shiroe character, as are some thirty thousand others on the Japan server that hosts his game. Later you learn that there are many other linked servers that form a worldwide virtual world with many players also mysteriously trapped.

But this is where Log Horizon plays things differently. There isn’t any malevolent entity that explains what the players can or should do. They’re just now inside this world with no instruction and no information about why, what to do or how to leave it.

Most of the players panic but also are quite genre savvy (a poke at SAO), realizing that death in this new world might mean that they might die in the real world, or that the game mechanics for resurrection are still present, where death means revival in a cathedral in town, with no real harm. They thankfully and quickly learn the latter, resurrection, is still true.

Like in SAO, the characters have a virtual floating interface of controls (with a log-out button that fails to work) but they soon learn that the controls aren’t how to play. They need to feel, not think, and eventually have to learn to fight all over again, not by “clicking” buttons but calling out their attacks and behaving as they should as their character (think of the many animations and gestures that we see our MMO characters do after we command them and you get the idea).

Mostly out of fear but for power for some, the guilds in this world start to consolidate players while people figure out what’s going on.

Needs such as food are readily available, but while food looks appealing, almost everything tastes like wet soggy crackers. Shelter is also handy, and there are monsters to kill to earn a little living.

Most interestingly, the NPCs, from shopkeepers to villagers, are now as interactive and alive as you are, although they lack immortality and are a bit suspicious of you.

But now what? What’s an immortal and increasingly bored adventurer to do?

“Log Horizon” is a fascinating deconstruction on the trapped-in-a-game concept. As with other people in the chaos, Shiroe meets up with an old friend, Naotsugu, a guardian (tanking fighter) and Akatsuki, a female assassin that thinks of herself as a ninja, with very strong tracking, sneak and invisibility skills. (You know by now who’s my favorite character.)

From a game mechanics standpoint, these three players fight extremely well–and without any healer in their party. That’s Shiroe’s art. His spells aren’t great offensively but he likes his class, the enchanter, because it allows great party support. Those friends in the past, like Naotsugu, are tuned in to Shiroe’s style and can beat a larger force through cunning and intimidation.

Like SAO’s Kirito, Shiroe is also reticent at joining a guild, even with “The Apocalypse,” (what players call the event that threw them all into the game) but not because people don’t understand him, but because his game knowledge is so vast that people bugged him constantly for game tips. For quite a while until maybe a year or so before the Apocalypse, Shiroe was once part of a mega-party calling themselves the “Debauchery Tea Party,” which were able to complete high level raids and adventures that challenged more organized guilds. The story takes us forward and back in Shiroe’s time with this group, and these three characters soon ally themselves with a few former members of the since-disbanded Tea Party during their adventures.

Log Horizon isn’t like SAO in that, as Shiroe says, this is their reality, not a game. While this world is inspired by the Elder Tales game, its inhabitants that defined the game’s quests no longer behave as they once did. Serious problems involves plots such as kidnapping and slavery, the rights of non-adventurers, establishing a purpose in this world and interacting with the former NPCs, the “People of the Land.” If Shiroe’s new world were merely a game, the People of the Land would be handing out quests to complete, but that’s no longer the case, with ramifications that build up because of this change. In short, for those familiar with SAO, imagine a game world filled with not NPCs but characters like Yui–interactive and very much alive.

To give you one hint without spoiling things terribly, take “The Reaver’s Fate,” the raid and concluding story for the Heroic Gianthold story arc in DDO. In this raid, the Stormreaver has returned and decided that the giants and Eberron itself are not fit to survive. He’s switched on a doomsday device and players have 20 minutes to end the Stormreaver (after he activates several game mechanisms) and turn off the doomsday device. If you fail, Eberron explodes.

Of course, in your reality, with you, the player, sitting in front of your keyboard, only your party dies should you fail, and you can try again, Eberron and Xen’drik none the worse for wear.

But what happens if you have game events like these in progress in this new reality, whether you the adventurer or the People of the Land know or care of them, with obvious epic and disastrous consequences that could destroy the world?

Kawara, a Monk in the West Wind Brigade guild.

Kawara, a Monk in the West Wind Brigade guild.

Log Horizon has many characters, all with interesting stories. Among the many things I like is that there are Monks in this world. I’ve seen an evil Monk and a good Monk in battle, and they behave very much like their DDO counterparts.

Lovers of Bards and Wizards and Fighters and Druids and Rogues will find something to associate with as well.

I won’t spoil things further. If you’ve enjoyed SAO, “Log Horizon” will appeal to you with its humor and very unique take on the game world inverted as a true reality. You can watch the show on Hulu Plus or for free (with more episodes available) on the Crunchyroll website.

Not-So-Off-Topic: Rusty and Co.

"Eat post?"

“Eat post?”

A few weeks ago, a little bored while waiting for some work at work, I started to browse through one of my web pleasures: TV Tropes.

As I was pursuing something D&D related that I’ve long forgotten, a stray link kidnapped me as always, pointing me towards a webcomic called Rusty and Co.

If you play DDO or D&D, this is a must-read with only one downside.

Rusty and Co. is (mostly) the story of three adventurers. What makes them different is that they are themselves monsters that jumped sides to work as Good or Neutral mercenaries.

There’s Rusty, an adorable little rust monster with a simple vocabulary to resolve many plot issues. (“Eat sword?”)

There’s Mimic. He’s a Mimic. He shapeshifts, finds work for the trio and is the most (only) competent spokesman. Good Diplomacy skills, for a box.

Lastly, there’s Cube. He’s a gelatinous cube, the team’s muscle, the very silent type and a complete badass.

None of them have hands. That might make an adventure hard to start when you can’t open the door to it. But that doesn’t slow them down.

Over the course of their adventures, they find human and humanoid allies. All of them have their appeal.

There’s the Princess. She is a powerhouse unarmed fighter that is anything but a damsel in distress and is barely Lawful Neutral. Sound familiar?

We have Madeline, the Paladin. Cute, severely brave, a bit of a ditz (low WIS), and relentless. Has the most awesome fighting style and smites evil with mere gardening tools (you’ll have to read to figure out why).

There’s Roxanne, an elven Bard with incredible cunning. Can weaponize sticks of wood but not in the way you think.

We also have Prestige, a young wizard and a bit of a detective. She gets involved in the Mob–run by a bunch of illitids.

And there’s Stabs, a halfling Rogue that totally lives up to their reputation.

Through the trio’s adventures, you are assaulted with incredible bits of D&D and fantasy lore, puns from the hells, other monsters and tons and tons of laughter, not to mention wonderfully drawn panels by the web artist, Mike R.

To give you a sample, I present this panel. Here, our paladin and cube are fighting an elder god that stopped by Reality for a cup of coffee, maybe, while threatening to destroy all life as we know it…

Madeline the Paladin + a Ninja Gelatinous Cube = Sheer Badassery.

Madeline the Paladin + a Ninja Gelatinous Cube = Sheer Badassery.

The downside to the laughter and drama and D&D kitsch? It’s a weekly webcomic.

So start from the beginning from the Archives, read it slowly and digest it well.

By the time you’ve caught up, you’ll be dying from anticipation. And don’t forget reading the comments below each panel–they’re just as funny as the comic.