It was June when I saw the post on the Facebook 5e forum that there was going to be a retreat looking at spirit and D&D. It was called Pastors and Dragon and it was happening in August of this year.
It was right after I started to really tune into this idea that there was more going on in D&D than what we were seeing. That perhaps there was a way to work with Spirit while we played D&D and then this Retreat manifested. I discussed it with my wife and she said, of course you have to go! Another big YES!
I was a little nervous, as often I get before I do a retreat. I was going halfway across the country to play D&D with Christian Pastors. A few decades before 2018, D&D was being demonized by Pastors and it was now being embraced and explored. Plus, although I am a Reverend, I'm not a Christian and would they be accepting of me? I did not want to be a firebrand, I wanted to relax and learn from everyone and have fun playing D&D for a week.
I didn’t want to agitate the group or cause unrest. I wanted to learn about how D&D might connect to Spirit and be with other people who think about religion and community as much as I do.
The conference was well run by the DM Pastor Rory and everyone was great. It challenged a lot of my preconceptions of Christian Pastors. The final ride back to the airport culminated with listening to Iron Maiden in a pastor's car, heading back to the airport in Saint Paul on the last day.
The conference was great and being an introspective person, I did some deep thinking about bullying and the game. During the first session, my dragonborn volcano worshiping paladin strong-armed a traitorous acolyte and I realized during the game that this was really the group’s first impression of me. When the Dungeon Master (Rory) said to me that the NPC (Non-player-character) didn't like me. A NPC is a character run by the Dungeon Master (“DM”). I wondered, did the group not like me? Someone asked me during game play ,what alignment I was playing, and another mentioned later he thought I was a Barbarian. Alignment is whether your character is good or evil. If they adhere to a system of laws or were they in things for themselves (chaotic)
This experience gave me pause. Was I playing too much the fighter part of the Paladin and not enough of the healer? It led me later to reflect where in my life I was a bully. My mind started reflect back through experiences of my childhood and how I discipline my children.
In the Tier 2 game, my character, Peryl was level 7. My attempts to persuade a group of women to allow us onto a ship peacefully was helped with a Perfume of Bewitching. This perfume gave my character advantage on Persuasion checks for 1 hour. One of the women started to give me extra attention and a fellow character made an aside that I shouldn't be "rapey". I was aghast by this comment and again had to pause. This was a group of pastors I was with and wasn't sure how comfortable they were with with any sexuality in the game. I also paused just to reconsider my actions and how the Perfume of Persuasion might affect the NPCs. I backed off this path in the game as I personally wholeheartedly wouldn't go down this path.
Later, when we reached the drunken and depressed Captain of the ship and Father of woman who allowed us on, I was able to cast Lesser Restoration on him and cure him of his alcoholism. It is a disease.. I tended to him, brought him on deck and cared for him. He started to come to his senses. We realized soon that this was Noah's arc.
Meanwhile our 'not a rogue' Chef, a dagger-weilding cook, made a meal for everyone on the ship. This really helped morale. The ship was not only filled with 2 of each animal but some sort of demonic force on the lower level and hundreds of demonic stridges on the lowest level with the animals. We decided to try to deal with the stridges first and then the demon.
Noah, feeling much better now, decided to come with us to battle these creatures. During the battle, I came across 2 sickly unicorns. I laid hands on them and was then able to mount them!
I quickly asked the DM, "Can Noah ride a Unicorn as well?"
The stridges escaped to the deck and reformed into demons.
It was an amazing moment to be riding into battle with Noah, mounted on Unicorns! My volcano worshiping dragon-born paladin then asked the Unicorn for more help and a rainbow shield covered us!
We were swept into battle and smiting the demons. Unfortunately, I was unable to help other party members as Chef was killed by an angry Treant he summoned from a Magic Bean and my comrade, a pike-wielding bugbear, was murdered by.a Tiamat workshop mer-creature. Balancing the combat effectiveness of a paladin and call to heal was a challenge. Plus I was swept up with riding a unicorn.
After two of the players suffered character deaths, I again had to reconsider how I was playing my character. I tried to rescue the Chef from the Angry Treant but I myself was knocked down before he was killed. Also two other players had healing potions. Did I do the right thing? Was that the most effective strategy? I had feelings of remorse and guilt. I also felt exhilarated and excited about the Unicorns and riding into Battle with Noah!
I named the Unicorn, 'Pelé'.
We played another session and Peryl was 14th level. We were battling a beholder and Samson was there. The pastors said Samson was the worst. I am not as familiar with the story of Samson so I didn't understand why. This time we battled a Beholder. I was very ineffective against the creature as he was 20' above us and I had no effective ranged attacks. I then found myself in more of a support position and healed Samson.
During our final session, Peryl was 20th level now and our party found ourselves in battle against Tiamat. Another Paladin in the party rushed into combat against her and was almost killed in own round. I held back again. We were trying to protect her Mother who was giving birth to a baby. Tiamat was planning on trying to destroy the baby as soon as it was born.
My unicorn and I were pushed out of this celestial fortress and into free-fall. I used the unicorn's teleportation to bring us to the newborn and I cast Death Ward on the child. Another player teleported the child away. When asked if I would come with the child, I decided that the unicorn should go. I really bonded with this Pelé and knew it would not survive another round with Tiamat. With the child gone, Tiamat was turned temporarily lawfully good with a Wish Spell and we were able to flee.
Over the last few days, I have spent time contemplating how Peryl changed over the sessions. At first he was a bruiser, a young Paladin trying to prove his strength and then he found purpose on the Arc. He bonded with Pele the Unicorn and soon was more strategic and more reticent to rush into battle against overwhelming odds.
There is a life lesson here and one that I am still unpacking. These are the scenarios we get to play with, not only in this game but also how they bring up things in real life. We can reflect on and bring mindfulness to these events. If these same feelings come up for us in real life maybe we can make different choices and bring more peace and love into our lives.
Maybe we can change from being a bully to being a glorious rainbow-shielded unicorn-riding hero.