Realism vs. Optimism

“I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” ~ ‘That Guy’

I used to be ‘that guy’. Not in every way all the time, but enough ways enough of the time to look back and cringe. I was raised to focus forward, plan ahead and expect the worst; not because it would happen, but because that’s part of good planning. Now, whether I was told to expect the worst or simply plan for it; I don’t know. That knowledge is lost to morass of my childhood memory, where more is supplemented by photo albums and stories than not. But I digress.

I was having a discussion with That Guy the other day (sidenote: this particular Guy also happens to be a self-declared antagonist; to quote him, “…being antagonistic is who I am…”). We were disagreeing on a topic when That Guy dropped his classic defensive line, “I’m just being realistic.”

“I’m just being realistic.”

I’d heard the line, or its brethren, hundreds of times; including from me. Why did it stick out this time? It stuck with me the rest of the day, and then it hit me.

I was being realistic too.

I wasn’t being delusional. We were considering the same facts. All that was different was our choice of interpretation. I was focusing on the better points, and he on the worse.  The opposite of optimism is pessimism, not realism; and the opposite of realism is delusion (or idealism but that’s not the tack we’re taking today).  My mistake during my time as That Guy was thinking optimists were delusional, living in some fairy world where everything was magical and wonderful all the time. Some probably are, but some doesn’t define all.

I think that’s all I have to say about this.

Basically remember that how things are doesn’t dictate how you have to feel about it, or interpret it; and that there is always hope for a better situation.

D&D: An introduction to the famous table top game.

For this post I’ve asked my friend Bill Notnel to interview me, thanks for coming in Bill.

No problem Dave, ready?

Let’s do it.

Dungeons & Dragons…

If you have never heard of it before, it’s a table top fantasy game.  Actually Bill, it’s the table-top fantasy game, played mostly by those who would call themselves ‘nerds’.  If you have heard of it, you might picture this as your average player:

Courtesy of

I wouldn’t say you are ‘wrong’ so much as uninformed for taking this view; let’s fix that.  By the end of this post, you should know what D&D is, if it could be your thing, and hopefully how cool it can really be.  I have asked my friend Bill Notnel, to interview me today.

So what is D&D?

Dungeons and Dragons is a game that started in the basement of a man named Gary Gygax (sweet name), who wanted to give his friends an adventure to play through.  The tale goes that Gary had his friends explore a vast network of dungeons underneath a castle, fighting monsters and finding treasure.  While the origin is far more complex, it conveys the spirit of the game: a way to let you play pretend with friends.

That’s really all it is: so little, and yet so much.  It’s a game of imagination where you play and explore worlds as vast as planes of existence or as confined as village, playing as a character that can be a noble Elf Lord with a long and detailed lineage, or an Orc thief with no memory of where she’s from.  While the game is designed principally for a world of medieval fantasy, borrowing from and building off a host of authors over the last century; a skilled DM can make the game suit their needs as they require.

What’s a DM?

Excellent question, dear reader!  A Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM) is the person responsible for the world the other players play in.  Let me back up.  To play D&D you need a group of 4-6 people (3-8 is possible but not advised.)  One person, usually the best storyteller or most versed in D&D mechanics, is the dungeon master; everyone else is a Player. Each player has a character who acts as an avatar in the world the DM creates. So, players play Player Characters (PCs) in the world created by the DM, optionally populated with Non-Player Characters (NPCs).

So what do you do?

Broadly speaking, whatever you want.  Typically the DM has planned at minimum a quest, some sort of task, to present the party (characters played by the other players) with.  Quests can be anything from delivering a letter, to killing a beast, to solving a mystery or crime, to rescuing a princess.  If the task is very large, then the DM will usually break it up into smaller quests or milestones, with the overarching storyline being called a campaign.

But wait, you said whatever I want, can I ignore the quests?

Well, yeah, you can hang out at the local inn and get drunk, you can walk around town, you can sleep all day for all I care.  Remember that the DM does have a general plan in mind, so at least give them a heads up if you plan on doing something else.  Messing with the DM’s plan is allowed, but by no means wise, since they are essentially God; a fickle DM might have you trip and break your neck if you make them invent whole new towns and areas on the spot.

You also can’t technically do whatever you want; but you can try to do whatever you want.  Success is not guaranteed.

Can you elaborate?

Of course.  D&D has, over decades of refinement, developed a fairly rich set of rules to give structure to your play.  In simplest terms, you tell the DM what you want your character to do, and the DM asks you to roll a d20 to determine your success.  Your character’s abilities and skills are factored into the roll.

Hold up, d20?

Right, in D&D and dice enthusiast parlance, ‘dX‘ is the short form of ‘a die with X sides’. Also NdX is the short form of ‘N dice with X sides’.  In Monopoly, Craps, and Yahtzee, d6 dice are used (2d6, 2d6, and 6d6 respectively).  For most can-I-do-this? rolls, you use a d20, or icosahedral die:

Must be a planet of giants
A green d10 and red d20 (not the typical scale)

Fine, back to determining success?

Ok, so let’s say you are playing a strong, brutish dwarf. You want to break down a door.  The DM will ask you to roll a strength check. This means you roll a d20, and add the number to whatever your character’s strength is (let’s say it’s 9).  Breaking down a wooden door requires a total of 16 or higher, meaning you have to roll a 7 or higher.  Rolling 7-20 will result in success, or 80% of the time that door will fall.

But what if you aren’t strong? If your character is more of a lover than a fighter, and has a strength of 3, then they’d have to roll 13 or higher, resulting in a 40% chance of success.  This is where the rules keep you from doing whatever you want, but not from trying.

It also keeps any one person from being perfect at everything, which makes playing balanced; if you can remember games of shoot ’em up as kids where you argued about whether you ‘shot’ someone and they had to play dead, you can see the value of having rules to settle it.

Alright, you mentioned strength, what other traits are enumerated?

Promise not to freak out?

Uh, sure yeah.

Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are your basic stats.  Then there’s defense: Armor Class, Fortitude, Reflex, and Will; which are derived from your character (Str & Con determine Fort, Dex & Int determine Ref, Wis & Cha determine Will).  Then you have your skills:  Acrobatics, Arcana (magic), Athletics, Bluff, Diplomacy, Dungeoneering, Endurance, Heal, History, Insight, IntimidateNature, Perception, Religion, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thievery.

Point is almost anything you want to do falls into a category, and building a character requires assigning points to the… you know what?  Suffice to say it can get complicated, there are tools to expedite this process, and that’s not what I want to talk about.

Fine, so is it just dwarves and elves and orcs?

Like I said, the DM builds the world. I’ve heard of sci-fi, cyber/steampunk, 50s style, and even ancient roman worlds.  The sky is the limit, and the DM has the power to pick the colour.  Any rule that restricts too much can be ignored or enforced at their discretion; though typically it’s considered sporting to state this in advance.

D&D is designed with fantasy in mind, so the races and worlds they offer pre-built will be presented as such, but a few creative twists can turn a griffon into a steam-powered automaton, a katana into a lightsaber, or a shield into …a shield.


Shut up, next question.

So who plays D&D?

More people than you might think.  Though typically avoided for its label as ‘uncool’ or for ‘nerds’ (I too used to picture that guy at the beginning and cringe at the idea of falling to the terrible level of the D&D player), it’s actually played by a lot of really cool folks.  Here are some famous folks who’ve been known to play:

Actors: Mike Myers, Wil Wheaton, Matt Damon, Dame Judy Dench, Jenny McCarthy, Jon Favreau, Ben Affleck, Jack Black, David Boreanaz 

Tough Guys: Vin Diesel (huge fan), Dwayne Johnson,  Hulk Hogan

Comedians: Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Eddie Izzard, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, David Cross (who’s hinted at playing with other comedians)

TV Show Hosts: Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert

Bands & Artists: Metallica, Andrew W.K., Thrice, My Chemical Romance, Alice Cooper

I Could Go On: Joss Whedon, Stephen King, David X. Cohen, Seth Green, Matt Groenig, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, Kevin Smith.

Historically it’s a closet hobby, something you don’t brag about but share with someone you trust to avoid ridicule.  I have no doubt that some these guys and gals introduced each other to it and play together (which is just an awesome thought.)

So what is D&D to you?

To me D&D is an opportunity to build worlds and stories that you can tell with friends; to play a game that relies on imagination and cooperation to be fully realized.  To you it might be a way to kick-ass, or just escape life and daydream for a while.

I want to play, how do I get started?

Well, there’s an easy way and a hard way.  The easy way is you know someone who wants to be a DM and who has the expertise to do it.  The hard way is you don’t.  D&D is owned by Wizards of the Coast, and has a lot of support material. They can sell you miniatures (custom figurines to move around the board), rule books, guides, and stories to play.  Poor people like me use coins, chapsticks, or other small items.

Look at his pointy little ears!
A male elf ranger mini

If you can’t find a copy online, you’ll want the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), Player’s Handbook (PHB), and either the Monster Manual (MM) or Monster Vault (MV, and my preference).  You’ll also need dice, or a dice rolling app (there are tons).  Rolling real dice is more satisfying, but I’m a writer not a cop, do what you want.

I should mention somewhere that there is a starter kit you can buy for around $25. I have not used it, but I hear it’s grand:

Cool cool, coolcoolcool.
So cool….

You’ll also want pen and paper to write down notes and keep track of things. Your character’s information is written on a character sheet; and your DM will walk you through how it works.

Unless you have a super-powered imagination, I find a map to place your minis, NPCs, and monsters on easier to work with. How elaborate you want to be is up to you. I go cheap and draw maps on paper, like so:

Typical D&D set up: character sheets, dice, minis, and a map (not mine).

If you buy campaigns from Wizards of the Coast, they’ll often come with maps:

A typical D&D map (this is from the Cathedral of Chaos)

And if you have a flare for crafts, and are meticulous, you can try to be as cool as Penny Arcade’s co-founder and illustrator, Mike Krahulik:

Seriously, this is mind blowing.
Rotating spheres of ice and lava in the elemental chaos? Sign me up.

If you want to see some excellent playing of the game, Penny Arcade Expo actually has an ongoing campaign that they’ve put on YouTube, featuring D&D’s senior designer Chris Perkins as the DM, Wil Wheaton, and three of the PA staff.  It’s hilarious to watch, and hard to duplicate (in terms of both talent and money), but it’s also inspiring.

Fair warning, there is adult language.

Alright, I’m going the ‘hard way’, any advice on finding friends?

Well, first you’ll need friends, which is beyond the scope of this post.  Assuming you have friends though, I’d talk about role playing games in general, ask them questions like, “if you were any character from Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/…/A Song of Ice and Fire which would you be and why?”  See if they have fantasies of their own, or if the idea of playing a game like D&D would appeal to them.  Remember that the game has a stigma, so try not to emphasize it, use cool examples like NBC’s Community:

Also shows the different kinds of characters players will play.
Abed is a great DM, and this episode is a great litmus test.

If you’re going to be the DM, you’ll want to see if you can get a mix of player preferences.  A diverse group will survive better, but will also be harder to please.  For instance, cloak and dagger political coups will entertain different people than battling wizards, or fighting goblins, or picking pockets.  A little bit of each is best, so they can each specialize and cover each other’s weaknesses.

You also want to think about the story you want to tell.  If you want to tell a cloak and dagger tale, avoid picking the shoot-first-questions-second people; or wait to tell that story some other time.  The first time I played I was a striker because hitting things requires little thought, it allowed me to get used to things; but by the end I realized I enjoyed narrative more than combat.  So the second time round I played a bard named Atalanta, who was much better at talking than hitting.  My third time was as the DM, and I recruited the party myself, if you have more questions in that regard, let me know.

I think we’re almost out of time Dave, is there anything else we should know?

Hmm, well there’s tons of advice I could dump on you but I’ll share what tied me in at first:

  1. Who you play with affects the entire game.  If you’re laid back, avoid legalistic players or you’ll have a bad time.  The more you think alike, the easier the collaborative imagination will be.
  2. Unlike most video games or all board games, your characters persist between sessions. So if you die in the game, it’s permanent, there is no reset; this adds an element of fear, and makes you a lot less reckless.
  3. A session typically takes a whole afternoon or evening (2-4 hours). You will get faster as you learn how to play, just like any game.
  4. I highly recommend limiting the level of complexity if it’s your first time. Leave out yuan-ti and psions, stick to dwarves and rangers (at least keep it to Player Handbook 1.)
  5. Do your homework, nothing shatters the illusion like stopping to look something up.
  6. Players: the DM is always right, they command the utmost respect.
  7. DM: You are there for the players, try to be nice.
  8. Remember to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, you are probably doing it wrong.

In closing, I’ve had great experiences with D&D. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment, and if you have big questions maybe I’ll write another post on this.

A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition – Part 4

Welcome to Part 4 of ‘A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition’.  Let’s recap:

Part 1: Housing, Jobs, Finances, Food

Part 2: Getting Around Town, Things To Do, Keywords & Phrases, Making A Revival Group Map

Part 3: My Bethel Is Not Your Bethel, Class Life, Out-of-Class Life, Why You’re Here

Part 4: Bethel: Relationship Powerhouse, Relationship with God, Revival Groups, Small Groups, Spiritual Parents, Being Social, Dating

This is obviously a multi-faceted and far-reaching topic, so what am I trying to say in this part of the guide?

I want you to walk away with a better understanding of how relationship is seen in a general sense at Bethel, give some examples, and then give general advice pertaining to specific types of relationships.

Bethel: Relationship Powerhouse

Bethel is a church founded on relationship and honour, and so is BSSM.  Let’s compare this to a university, which is governed by rules.  At BSSM, if you are late on a financial payment, they meet with you and work out a plan.  At a university, they simply kick you out.  At BSSM, you are known to the staff by your face and name.  At a university, you are known by your student ID.

In general, BSSM is more like a family than an institution, with Kris & Kathy, Bill & Beni, Danni & Sheri, your RGPs, and many others acting as parents, while the students are like children.

It is important to learn that everyone is different, yet we are all people.  In the same way, everyone is given grace differently, but are asked to follow the same rules.  Here’s an example:

Ruth is a student who didn’t read the guide and now lives way out of town without a car.  Because of this, she is often late to class.  Sven, however, did read the guide, and got himself a bike to make sure he can get to class on time.

Good on you, Sven.
Good on you, Sven.

While Ruth and Sven both have to get to class on time, Ruth will be given some more grace about being late, given her situation.

Now, don’t misread this and think your situation can exempt you from the rules.  Ruth will be in for a confrontation if she doesn’t work on her problem.  But BSSM is more interested in seeing you succeed and grow past your problems, than discarding you for having them.

So what kind of relationships will you run into here?

Relationship with God

This is the first one, and the last.  More than anything you are here to cultivate a relationship with God, and he’s there (well everywhere) to do the same with you.  To any of the social butterfly types that are reading, remember to put God first.  Part 3 has some great points on making time for God, but generally your mornings are free, so use them for God!

Ok, now human relationships.

Revival Groups

The revival group was an idea from Paul Manwaring, to help keep the family feel of the school’s students as the school grew.  Treat yours like a second family.  Every week you have the privilege of meeting and growing with these brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents.  I think of interns as big brothers and sisters.

Staying close with your revival group is a key way to staying in the body, to finding support, and to finding fellowship.  You make friends with people you spend time with, and when you spend time with a lot of people, you don’t miss the ones that are not around.  So go to your revival group and connect with your family because, sadly, you probably won’t be missed if you don’t.

Life Building Tip: Use RG time to get to know someone you haven’t met before; and non-RG time to strengthen relationships you have already started.

Small Groups

The tight, inner circle:  small groups are your accountability group, your confidants, and your stalwart friends.  Whether you are a group of guys, or a group of girls, make sure to meet at least once a week.

Life Building Tip: Our group always could have used more time.  Meet at other times to activate yourselves, or discuss/share life that may be beyond the topic of the week’s discussion.

Spiritual Parents

Being a spiritual parent means different things to different people.  I was not a spiritual parent myself, so I asked two couples for help with this section.  Thanks to my own parents, Jon and Kathleen Lenton (class of ’12), and Momma and Papa G (class of earlier) for their help.  In both cases, most of the conversation was from the mom, and I’ve paraphrased and distilled to help with the flow.

Q:  Were you asked directly or did it just happen organically; and would you have had a preference?

J&K:  Both, but more asked straight up.  Being students ourselves, we preferred being asked directly.  It was a DTR (define the relationship) moment right away, and gave us more access and input to the student; because we’d been invited. Either way being a spiritual parent is an honour and a joy.

G&G:  Just let it happen naturally! God knows which students He will highlight to ask you.  That has happened a lot; in conversation someone will just ask, “will you be my mom?”  God is so good!  He brings those connections together in His timing.

Q:  What does/did being a spiritual parent mean to you?

J&K:  It was different for each student, it depended on what their need was.

Ask them what their expectations might be.  For some it’s praying together and occasional encouragement.  For others it was regular coffee dates and mentoring.  Some students want more connection than others, and asking shows what they are hoping to gain. You can make a decision if that’s something you can offer.

We discovered at the end of the year that one young man, had been blessed and comforted just knowing that we were there in the same seats every day. He offered an emotional thanks for helping make him feel safe. (I had never met him!)  For another student, sitting together in class was huge for her. Just being a physical presence, a comforting back rub and feeling part of a family was what she needed.

It makes you realize how easy it is to give love and give life. As a natural parent, it is really an extension of your established identity.

G&G:  It is not as time consuming as some might think.  You can have them over for dinner or go for a walk.  Have them join you for something that you are going to do anyway.  Invite them to sit with you at church; save a seat or two and see who the Lord brings to sit with you and then have lunch together after church.

Most of the students we have relationship with (from 20’s to 80’s) just like knowing that you are there.  Knowing that they can call or visit, borrow a book, ask a question, or run an idea/thought by us.  Usually these are fairly quick and always interesting.

Q:  How many children did you have?

J&K:  Twelve (12) close ones, and twenty (20) that just needed occasional encouragement.  More for Jon who was more available and present at many off school events (I homeschooled our daughter.)  He connected to varying degrees with several dozen young people; he loved it!

G&G:  We have now been a part of two RGs that we can say call us Momma & Papa.  It’s possible over 250 students of all ages call us their California/Bethel parents.

Q:  How do you keep in contact with your spiritual children after BSSM?  How often?

J&K:  Very often on Facebook, but also with Christmas cards and Skype.  Reaching out to your parent is your best bet.

G&G:  Staying connected is challenging, but the ones who really need a connection will be intentional about asking for time together.  No matter the reason those times are really special.

Staying in touch by text, email, or Facebook is great for the ones who are back in their homelands.  The ones who are still in Redding we may see in a church service or in the community.  You can see the change in their countenance! They may take a moment to share a testimony and we will celebrate with them.

Advice for Parents?

Stay open to the possibility:  It’s a very enriching experience, an opportunity to grow and give, to love on people in a time when there’s so much change.  It was a surprise to discover that it was much easier than I would have thought.  Just being real and ‘soft’, your heart turned towards them, is really all that is required.

Manage yourself first:  Whether it is your time, your money, or your spirit; you have to manage yourself before others.  Know how much time you have to give, especially if you are a student.  It’s supposed to be a fun thing that adds to your experience, not a drain.

You should find someone you yourself can connect with, even if you are an older student. At the very least, a peer group of similar life experience (married, children, job, retired, …)

Have good boundaries:  Know how far you are willing to go for a son or daughter.  If you cannot keep that level of commitment, don’t accept the responsibility; again, ask how much responsibility is being asked of you before saying yes.

Advice for Kids?

Be intentional:  Tell me!  I’ll pencil you in!  You matter!  We will have coffee, a smoothie or a walk’n’talk!

Seek God on who to approach:  Don’t just look to the nearest parent-figure.  The relationship should be life giving for all concerned.  If you ask someone and they turn out to be broken or have a lot going on, you are not committed to this connection, be released.  If something arises that should be brought to the RGP’s attention, then as a parent make sure it is.  As Danny Silk would put it, “are you going to tell the RGP, or would you like me to?”

Final Thoughts

J&K:  In hindsight, some of those relationships [with our children] are the ones that hold the most meaningful memories from our time at BSSM.  It is an honor to be invited into someone’s life and break off pieces of your own to help them on their journey. It’s humbling to have strangers see value in what you have to offer.

The response of their natural parents when we met them, was one of overwhelming gratitude, for us to have loved on their kids. It caught us off guard. It was cool that they didn’t feel threatened, but were rather encouraged and thankful. It feels good to know other people think your kids are amazing!

G&G to parents:  We have found in God’s economy love and get more love back, bless and you receive more blessing, give and receive abundance, it’s the way of the King.  So I would say to those couples that are thinking about doing what we do, start small and bless two or three students and then see what God does to your heart.

G&G to kids:  It means the world to us that you would invite us in to your life!  Humbled that The Lord put us together.  He knows what we have to share with one another. So many times He knows exactly what is needed at the right time!

Being Social

There are no great mysteries here, it boils down to being available and being open.

Be Available

Be reachable:  Get a phone, get a Facebook account, and connect with some of the myriad of Facebook groups.

Be around:  Hang around after class, get there early, make a point of talking to someone new.  Same goes for church.

Start early:  The start of the year is the best time to meet people because nobody has anything to do yet;  so everyone is willing to hang out as long they’re willing to take a chance (see Be Optimistic).

Do Your Homework:  Amazing how this keeps coming up, maybe because it’s important.  Get it done early so when opportunities come you have the chance to take them and aren’t stuck at home.  Or you can kill two birds with one stone, and:

Start a study group:  Even calling a friend over to do homework in the same location is great if you are a quality time person; and talking through an idea is essential for external processors.

Be Open

The first step to something new is outside your comfort zone.
The first step to something new is outside your comfort zone.

Keep an open mind:  Never roller skated before?  Try the rink.  Not a fitness guru?  Go on a short hike.  Not a film buff?  Go to the dollar theatre.  Not a prophet?  Renounce that lie and start encouraging someone in faith.  Be willing to try things you never have before, it’s the only way you’ll change; and if you don’t change by the end of the year, what was the point?  Plus, you may actually enjoy it.

“When it looks like everyone knows each other, and you think you’re the only one that doesn’t know anyone, it’s not true! Just start talking, think about it later.”  ~ Alumni Advice

Get out of the house:  Being friends with roommates is great (and important) but you need to remember to get out of your house once in a while, so if all you do is stay at home then you should think about widening your friend group.  Sven, who read Part 1, knows that eating together is a great bonding experience.

Branch out:  Be willing to make new friends even after you have an established circle.  Welcome new people into the fold, and spend time hanging out in other people’s circles.

Believe in the relationship:  Do not make the mistake of avoiding connection because of the impending severance.  It’s true that most people don’t stay over a year, but it’s still important to develop meaningful relationships, even if you might never see these people again.  These relationships are life-giving, affirming; and increase your capacity to love by showing you different situations and perspectives.

Saying ‘no’ is ok:  Never feel guilty for turning something down, just know that every decision has pros and cons.

“There will be tons of opportunities to get involved, parties to go to, people inviting you to things.  It is ok to not go to all of them.  You will miss out on some things, and that is totally healthy.  Be intentional in your ‘yes,’ because every ‘yes’ to one thing may be saying ‘no’ to something else.”  ~ Alumni Advice

“You only do first year once in life; so max it out. Take advantage of every opportunity.  Absorb.  Soak.  Rest.  Work.  Play.  Socialize.  Love.  And most important trust in, and lean upon, Him.”  ~ Alumni Advice

Single Life Workshop

Besides reading up on Things To Do for inspiration (like Sven has), I encourage single people to consider signing up for Single Life Workshop.  It’s a great way to meet people and learn how to do life better.  I personally learned a lot. The downside to this is that one of your nights each week is taken, but it’s time spent building relationship, so your call.


There is an entire week dedicated to relationships in first year (a whole month in second year.)  Dating, courting, pursuing is a big enough topic in both that I don’t have much to add, except:

Hold your horses! So many stories of students meeting in September and being married by the next year.  To these couples I wish nothing but the best of love and life.  That said, if you are in first year, then you probably are in the process of learning about who you are; and the last thing you need is someone else’s processing to confound your own.

“Don’t waste your time looking for your better half. Become a whole person [first] looking for another whole person.”  ~ Danny Silk [emphasis mine]

“Wait until the new year before you pursue someone, you’re in the middle of figuring out who you are, and so are they.”  ~ A wise pastor’s wife

Men, be honourable: If not, I just explained above how this girl has a huge family (her RG, small group, and spiritual parents), so watch it.

Because we’re watching you. Punk.

“That there are big brothers that will hurt you if you mess with their sisters.”  ~ Alumni Advice

Ladies, be forthright: This isn’t high school, the games are over.  If a guy isn’t catching on that you like him, just tell him; we won’t think you are pursuing us.

Her name is "Good Girl Gina" for a reason.
Don’t be weird, just tell us.

I’ll close with this:

“Stay intentional with the people around you. Live in community, even if it’s just a few.”  ~ Alumni Advice

A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of ‘A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition’.  Let’s recap:

Part 1: Housing, Jobs, Finances, Food

Part 2: Getting Around Town, Things To Do, Keywords & Phrases, Making A Revival Group Map

Part 3: My Bethel Is Not Your Bethel, Class Life, Out-of-Class Life, Why You’re Here

My Bethel Is Not Your Bethel

“throw out the rulebook and be flexible, listen with your heart.”  ~ Alumni Advice

All the advice/wisdom from me, or other alumni, has to be taken in context.  The BSSM experience of this year (Your Bethel) is not the same as last year’s (My Bethel).  Every year the staff at BSSM spend hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours pouring over feedback from their students and seeking God for the ways the school can be improved for the following year.

This means that advice from students of previous years can be inaccurate, so before talking about class life at BSSM I wanted to confess my potential wrongness.  Side note: If I am wrong about something do tell me, no need to stay wrong, right?

Because of BSSM’s radical growth over the years, most classes will have new, challenging problems that didn’t need to be addressed previously.  According to Kris Vallotton, my first year class (2012-2013), had a problem with authority.  We’d ignore direct instruction from RGPs and Mark Brookes, and were talked to by Kris Vallotton and Mark Brookes on more than one occasion.

Now this doesn’t mean that 2013-2014 even has a problem, our ceiling your floor right?  What it does mean is that in general the leadership is going to focus on different topics with you guys than they did with us.


Speaking of ways that the school improves, here’s an example of how a new mandate was integrated into BSSM over time:

  • 2011-2012:  Bill feels God stressing the need to collect testimonies accurately and thoroughly to edify and encourage the body.
  • 2012-2013:  This becomes a growing initiative and is talked about at the start of the year
  • 2013, February/March: is launched
  • 2013, May: Testimony book is published (credit Dave Harvey)
  • 2013-2014 (Present): is on the back of your name tag

Another example could be the city project, how it’s gone from a few dozen people to an army of over a hundred, transforming the city on a weekly basis.

Let me summarize all this:

  1. The school is always transitioning positively, from glory to glory as it were.
  2. If you hear complaints from alumni, assume they’ve been fixed.
  3. If they haven’t, see if you can help fix it.

Class Life

Ah, class life; homework, due dates, assignments, lectures, notes, what a wonderful time!  You’ll be exposed to a ton of information while you’re at Bethel, so let’s compartmentalize class life to make it less overwhelming:

Your schedule! Once things settle into a groove.

Your day: Class is from 10:30 to 17:45 (5:45pm), Monday to Thursday.  This is the best way to think about it, because then:

Days are the same length: Plan to be busy in between these times.  Do reading, homework, reserve seats in the morning, meet and talk to people upstairs at the civic.

Everyone’s more available: If you plan hangouts or gatherings outside of this time frame, way more people can come.


There are morning and afternoon schedules.  Morning means 10:30-12:00 and afternoon means 16:15-17:45.  Monday and Wednesday this will involve your revival group or small group; on Tuesday it involves your AMT/Track, and Thursdays, for most people, means your activation.


Each day has a similar “middle schedule,” from 12:00 to 16:15:

Prayer/Worship  [12:00-12:30]

This is a time for you to press into God and join in some amazing corporate prayer, or get drunk as a skunk with Holy Spirit.  This is not a time for:

  • Talking with friends or catching up in the auditorium
  • Reserving a seat (do that before)
  • Being obnoxious or loud in any sense (unless that’s how the prayer is going)

If you see someone you want to talk to, and you are in the auditorium, quietly ask to talk to them outside or upstairs.  If it isn’t worth the 15 second walk, it can wait.

Announcements  [12:30-12:45, varies]

Pay attention!  If there are announcements on the overhead screens read them, they aren’t always read out loud.  This is not talking and catching up time, or coffee time, or potty time (note: coffee time and potty time are tied together, avoid entirely if possible).  It isn’t getting settled in your seat time either, because you were already sitting in your seat, eager to learn about all the awesome opportunities BSSM is offering at announcements today!

Side note: last year, our class would yell, “ANNOUNCEMENTS!” whenever someone at the podium said they had announcements.  I endorse this tradition, it’s fun and it helps the delinquents pay attention.

Bible  [12:30-13:30, varies]

What an amazing opportunity to dive into the Word of God, to enrich your spirit.  In my year this was usually taught by the zealous Bernie Ooley or the emphatic Dann Farrelly.  Whoever teaches it, take in all you can.

Worship  [early afternoon, about an hour a day]

“It’s a totally new place where you’ll probably see some things you haven’t seen before.  Different manifestations, different ideas. The best advice I heard in Redding is don’t be suspicious and use discernment!” ~ Alumni Advice

Refresh yourself, soak in the presence, go deeper in intimacy with God.  This is a time of praise and worship, try not to be distracted.

Bring recording material:  Carry something to record with so if you’re struck by a sudden awareness of your need to do laundry, you can write it down and release your mind to focus on higher things.

“Have a recording device handy everywhere you go. Start a filing system early so you can categorize: homework, proph.words, notes, bills etc..”  ~ Alumni Advice

If this is really new for you, here’s a look at some beginner moves for worship.

Grasping God’s Word  [12:30-13:30, varies]

Taught by the scholarly Dann Farrelly, you will learn so much here it’s crazy.

Bring the book to school: If GGW is scheduled that day, bring the book so you can write in notes and comments.

Read the book: at least the day before, more on this later.

Core Speakers  [Last thing before break]

This is probably why you came to BSSM, to hear Kris, Bill, Jason, and others dispense distilled wisdom into your earholes.  Their talks are sometimes marathons (it can be over two hours at times) so when you are asked to stand and honour them, sneak a stretch into your applause.  Stay sharp, you do not want to miss a word, or expression, from these brilliant orators.

Let’s look at some of the people you’ll be hearing from:

  • Bernie Oolie:  Excitement embodied, Bernie has a passion few can match.  She believes strongly in empowering women in the church.
  • Dann Farrelly:  The scholar of the bunch, Dann is a gifted teacher who delivers his material in an easy to follow along manner.
  • Kevin Dedmon:  Inventor of Treasure Hunts, Kevin’s passion is for the lost, and to say he likes getting drunk with Holy Spirit is an understatement.
  • Chris Overstreet:  Your local motivational speaker, Chris will also likely be the one who releases you to street ministry (more later).
  • Kris Vallotton:  A father of the house and a powerful prophet, Kris has a great passion for the city (City Project was his baby) and for raising a generation of young people with a value for purity.
  • Bill Johnson:  Considered the father of the house, Bill is a great apostle with a sincerity and humility matched by few in this world.
  • Mark Brookes:  Overseer of first year, he’s kind of like your surrogate father for the year, treat him like it.
  • Jason Vallotton:  Kris’s son, Jason’s passion is helping broken people.  He’ll talk a lot about counselling and inner healing.

There are many others besides these select few, including guest speakers and revival group pastors.

Ear protection: My year the sound guys (who were awesome) didn’t have much control over outbursts from speakers.  The resource table has free earplugs to take the volume down a notch.  I recommend having them handy for Bernie, Kevin, and Chris O depending on where you are sitting.

Stories: Bill and Kris lose track of what stories they’ve told to whom.  Your job is to remind them.  Just remember that if you always say, “no tell us!” they will repeat themselves and you’ll miss out on other, different stories they could be telling.

Break Time  [15:45-16:15]

Do not leave your seat until the speaker dismisses you.  Be honourable and give them your full attention for the whole time.  When it is break time, this is your phone-checking time, your potty-break time, your catching-up-with-friends and your making-final-notes time.

If someone has an afternoon schedule that day, don’t keep them, and that someone is you, don’t be kept!  Excuse yourself and get to where you need to be on time.

Ok, deep breath.  That’s the day-to-day, what about the special stuff?


Let’s pretend your Revival Group meets on Mondays (if they don’t flip Monday and Wednesday when you read this).  We’ll be talking more about RGs in Part 4: Relationships, but for now think of them as extended family reunions, every week!

Seriously though Revival Group time is awesome, make it a first priority.


AMT/Track time!  These are amazing opportunities to customize your experience and get the most out of your time at BSSM.  Advanced Ministry Training (AMT) is like an elective in school, whereas a Track is like a taking a minor on your degree, in that you take the same AMT for the whole year.

Unless you are absolutely certain you want to take a track, I recommend the AMTs; you can try more things that way.


Small Group time!  Of course your small group can meet any time you decide on, but the default is the same slot as your RG time on the alternate day.  Small Groups will also be talked about more in Part 4: Relationships, until then, consider them to be your best friends, your brothers or sisters in your immediate family.


Thursday is Staff Speaker day, where you’ll hear from someone you normally don’t.  Did you know Bethel has around 500 staff?  They won’t all talk to you, but you should know how many people work to keep the place jumping.

Finally, before city services is the City Services Speaker.  For us it was usually Chris Overstreet.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man more passionate for the lost.  I find that if you do whatever he asks to get you pumped up, you’ll have a better day for it.

Activation!  Or is it City Services now?  Either way, this is the time when you get your hands dirty for the Kingdom.  You want to know what’s had the most profound impact on the City of Redding’s leadership?  It’s been us happily, hardily, and humbly serving them in any way they need.

Tips for Class Time

To talk to someone about it:  Just had a revelation?  Blown away by that last talk?  If you really want to get that awesome stuff locked down talk it out with someone.  Explain it to each other, write it down, discuss alternate interpretations; attack and defend it with reason and scripture.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

But don’t talk during class: Just don’t, it’s rude and dishonouring.  Take it outside if you must.

Keep the phone off:  Turn it on during break, but its function should be to record the talk or take notes only, everything else it does distracts you from what you are here for.


Do your Homework: Do it, do it, do it now.  Read your books, read your bible, write and take notes, do your 30 days starting 30 days before it’s due.

Reserve your seat clearly: This was a pet peeve of mine.  Reserving seats is an accepted practice at BSSM, finding a friend on the morning schedule ups your odds of getting good seats.  Just make sure your reservation is clear:

  • Not a pen or torn piece of paper
  • Not something half sitting between two seats
  • Use your binder (no one will steal a binder, and the name helps friends find you)
  • Backpacks are cool too (think big here)
  • Extra classy people put something across the top of the chair so you can tell from a distance that the seat is taken.

Stairwells are for going up or down: Not for hugs and hellos.  There is only one stairwell in the Civic you can use in the entrance area; think of it like cars on a highway.  You wouldn’t suddenly brake in bumper-to-bumper traffic to roll down your window and say hi to a friend.  If you want to talk, wave them over to a place that’s off the “road.”

Coffee timing: If you can’t get your coffee from River Rock and be in your seat on time, you need to find a coffee place on the way to school, or save money and bring a travel mug.

Be Flexible: The schedule will change, mistakes will happen, have grace and roll with it.

Be aware of yourself: Don’t be like school kids who are too self-absorbed to realize they are blocking people’s way.  Avoid standing in doorways or near stairwells, fountains, or RG tables; unless of course you are using them.

Find out who’s taking the great class notes: I recommend you still take personal notes, but official notes can be found if you ask around, or you make your own!  These give you a chance to review what you might have missed.

Out-Of-Class Class Life


“Do your h-work before you go out on fri and sat….” ~ Alumni Advice

Do it, do it, do it now people.

There’s a method to the madness: If you are doing your homework, you’ll notice that bible, kingdom foundations, GGW, and the speakers afterward end up talking about the same topics at the same time. For example, about halfway to when ‘Culture of Honor’ was due Danny Silk, the author, gave a talk on the fivefold ministry that tied in perfectly with the early chapters of the book.

Challenge yourself: Challenge what you believe and what you are being told.  If something a speaker said didn’t sit well with you, talk to your intern or RGP about it, or your roommate, small group, or friend.  Stay sharp.

Dann will talk to you about logical fallacies and reasoning.  I urge you to do everything you can to understand his talk.  Why?  Because the stereotype that Christians believe whatever sounds good and are uneducated or ignorant doesn’t need any help.  Be smart, you may need it.

Representing Bethel

As a student of BSSM you are a representative of Bethel, and an ambassador of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Just as a diplomat isn’t simply sent to another country with no training, you aren’t being released until you’ve learned how to carry the culture of honour when you speak and minister.

In general, consider how people would perceive your actions, as an ambassador you are being watched every time you are in public.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23


You’ve already been told I’m sure, but in case you haven’t: you don’t have permission to minister to people outside of BSSM, yet.  You will be released later this year when the leadership knows you are ready.

Ministering at Church

You also cannot minister at church, yet, unless you are a second or third year.  There will be training for this, and seek approval from your RG pastor before doing it.  In this case it is better to ask permission than forgiveness.

Why You’re Here

You are here for whatever you and God decide you’re here for.  If you don’t know what that is, press into God and he’ll help you out.

“Don’t get behind in your homework, and pursue Him; not just the signs and wonders.  You’ll see all the signs and wonders you could imagine but if you don’t allow Him to change you, you won’t have the character to hold onto what He wants to do through you.”  ~ Alumni Advice

“Stay focused on the one thing God has called you to no matter what. Stay on task in the path where his clarity is acute.”  ~ Alumni Advice

You get what you put in: If you don’t work at problems, they won’t be solved; and nobody will work on your problem harder than you will.

2nd or 3rd years aren’t perfect: That sounds mean, but I want you to understand that finishing first year shouldn’t be your goal.  Your goal should be figuring out what you need to deal with, what stands between you and God, and then working everyday to bring that barrier down.

I’m also saying this so you won’t be discouraged or surprised if you meet a 2nd year who seems worse off than you; instead be encouraged that they are further ahead than they were last year, and if you work hard, you will be too.

Deal with it now: There is no better time to fix your hurts or problems than right now.  This has always been true, but it’s more true now, if that’s possible.  Just think, a year from now, you’ll be glad you started today.

You are here for you: Not for your church, or anyone, or anything else.  This year is ultimately about you.  Take the time you need to take care of you.

That’s all for now folks.  Tune in next time for Part 4: Relationships!

Agrin’s Gate – Part XI: Endgame, Epilogue, Afterword

Last time in “Agrin’s Gate”

“NOO!  My spiders!  My workers!  They will pay with blood for this!”

And now, the exciting conclusion.


The cry echoed across the dark expanse.  Aelar, hovering near the crystal, rose above to see.  Squinting against the light of the sunrod in his teeth, he could make out a faint glimmer opposite the ledge where the party was.  As the glimmer grew, so did the ranting and raving of the voice.

Realizing his friends couldn’t see the approaching threat because of the enormous crystal blocking their view, he hurried back.  Landing on the ledge, he put the sunrod away.

“Whoever that is, he’s angry, and he’s coming this way,” said Drel.

“He’s coming from an opening on the opposite side of the crystal.”  Aelar added.

As he stood on the ledge facing the party, he noticed the shape of the hallway was the same as the one he saw the glimmering light in.  The voice cried again.

“All of my spiders, a lifetime of work, whoever you are, you will surely die for this!”  The voice cried.  There was a hint of age in the man’s voice.

“Where are you?  What have you done to my laboratory!  I hope you are ready for a fight you fiendish knaves… you monsters!”

The party made sure the ledge was clear of debris and readied their weapons as the sound of mechanical spiders began anew.  They prepared for the worst as a peel of thunder rang out.

The crystal lit up like a star and shot lightning in all directions.  Aelar and Drel narrowly dodged the bolts as Balthazar, Ashar, Drull, and Vore were knocked to the ground.  As they helped their companions up, the crystal went dark once more, but the thunder didn’t subside; instead it shifted, the reverberations of exploding air giving way to a mechanical sound, as spiders whirred to life below.

Below the thousands of drones could be spotted, their dull red eyes a swirl of motion in the blackness.  From the far side of the expanse, more whirring could be heard, mixed with crunching metal.  Rounding the side of the crystal was a slow-moving wave of spiders, spilling over themselves to form an oncoming platform upon which stood – a wizard.

He was human, shoulder-length hair blowing about his face, jet black with streaks of silver.  He wore a long robe of crimson red with gold trimming and a high collar; other than that there he wore no jewellery, held no wand or staff.  His hands were flexed as if they were each crushing the life from a small creature as he approached without flinching.

Hundreds of spiders climbed vainly to serve their master, locking together to make the approaching platform.  Below it the spider’s dull-red eyes could be seen shifting around, vying for dominance.  Drones crippled in the deactivation from falling formed  a foundation, crushed to oblivion under the weight of the throng.

Still some distance away, the party worked out a quick plan.  Aelar would carry Balthazar on his back to the floating platform where they would battle the mage.  Vore would cast light and heal allies when he could.  Ashar’s swordmage skills gave him the ability to defend from a distance.  Drel would fire with arrows while Drull, the strongest, would hurl what he could find at the mage.  Iltani was still nowhere to be seen.

The mage came within range, fire in his eyes.  “You will rue the day you crossed the great mage, Rossar Nold!”

Aelar, Balthazar in tow, flew clumsily toward the platform, barely able to keep them in the air.  Rossar saw them and fired an arc of lightning at them.  Robbed of his usual agility, Aelar was helpless to dodge the attack.  The bolt struck him high in the chest, doubling him over and knocking Balthazar off of his back, sending them both to their doom.

Aelar could hardly breathe, but he fought the instinct to panic as he focused to restart the flow of psionic energy.  He regained control and directed all of his effort through his palms.  In moments his fall was stopped and he looked down.

Balthazar could barely be made out against the abyss, his silhouette shrinking as he fell into the sea of red eyes.  With a sickening thud, a burst of flame erupted from him, and then went dark.  Himself now furious, Aelar shot upward toward the electromage.

Drel was hiding behind Ashar’s shield as he deftly fired arrows at the mage.  The ones that weren’t incinerated by lightning were stopped by drones, leaping to protect Rossar, and tumbling into the blackness.  Aelar flew around the platform, keeping low and out of sight.  Then rushing from behind, let loose a blood curdling war cry, giving Rossar the moment he needed to sidestep the Elf’s flying kick.

“So, you wish to duel with a master?  So be it!”  Rossar said as he took on a fighting stance.  Aelar matched his stance and they began circling each other, looking for a opening.  Then, with a twist of his hand, Rossar fired another bolt at Aelar.

The elf, no Tiefling on his back, dodged it easily and moved to deliver a flurry of blows.  Rossar Nold moved like water, shifting and swerving around each blow.  It was as if he knew what Aelar would do before he could think it.  Drel didn’t dare risk hitting Aelar, and so he, Drull, Vore, and Ashar watched helplessly as they dueled.

Rossar fired more bolts, but Aelar deflected or absorbed them with psionic barriers around his hands.  They kicked and punched until finally they locked in a grapple.  Aelar thought he had the advantage when one of the spiders reached up and bit his ankle.  Wincing, he lost focus and with it his psionic protection.  Rossar shot lightning through his palms and into Aelar, who fell limp beside him.

As the Drel strung another arrow, Vore cried.  “Look, below!”

In the darkness a bonfire appeared to be moving up the side of the spider column.  Balthazar invoked the wrath of the Abyss, and a flaming cloak swirled around him as he clawed above the drones, having orders to climb only.  Drull roared with glee and he and the others fought to distract the mage with renewed hope.

Rossar, unaware of Balthazar’s ascent, resumed his defensive posture.  “Fools!  See now the eve of your destruction, your friend lies dead beside me, a bad omen for yourselves, yes?”

“Not likely.”  Balthazar lunged across the platform at Rossar.  Once again the mage was too quick, and nimbly dodged his charge as Balthazar tripped and crashed into Aelar’s body.  Rossar raised his hands, his eyes looking like a viper about to strike.

“A great deal more likely than you think Tiefling.  Die like your fallen comraaaAAAH!”

Rossar’s right hand was being coated in shards of crystal, forming a frost over his fingers.  He tried in vain to use his other hand to rub it off, but it only stuck to the frost as it crept up his right arm.  His hands stuck together, he watched in horror as the frost thickened into a layer of crystal, shards now gathering around his feet and legs.

Within seconds the shards had formed a thick crust around the mage, rendering him totally immobile.

“Did I miss something important?” Balthazar smiled in spite of himself.

“Iltani, you magnificent bastard!”

“In the flesh, or should I say around it. He’s unable to move for now, he will pass out from lack of air soon enough.  How is Aelar?”  Inquired Iltani.  Balthazar checked for signs of life.

“He’s dead Iltani.”

“Very well, this mage is unconscious.”  With that, Iltani dissociated and reformed in his traditional self.  Searching Rossar’s body, they found a small vial.  Iltani examined it closely.

“Hmm, it appears to be for repairing electrical damage, likely a safety measure for accidents,” he surmised.

Balthazar desperately administered the vial to Aelar; as Aelar had to him on that first day in the Goblin’s den.  “Don’t you die on me Aelar.  Don’t you dare.” 

The Tiefling’s eyes blazed with mixed rage and fear as they looked at Aelar.  Black lines traced across the monk’s face, the fluid flashing through his nerves.  Then with a sudden convulsion Aelar doubled over, gasping and coughing up blood.

As this was happening the platform of spiders started to sink as the energy Rossar had been supplying them personally had stopped.  Picking up Aelar and Rossar, Balthazar and Iltani braced themselves as the column sank into a heap of debris and machinery.

“How are you doing?”  Shouted Vore into the renewed blackness.  “We’re throwing down a rope!”  Drel and Drull quickly took the rope they had between them and fashioned it into two strong cords.  Lowering them down, Vore cast sunlight where he’d last seen them.

“We’re alive, more or less.  Get ready for some heavy lifting.”  Balthazar shouted back.

Balthazar took what rope he had and bound the mage’s hands and feet.  Iltani saw the dangling lines, in Vore’s light, and made a sling for Aelar.  Giving his rope a quick, double tug, Aelar started to be hoisted up in heaves and hos.  Balthazar climbed the other line while Iltani waited with the mage.

Reaching the ledge when the mage did, Iltani sat with him as Vore saw to everyone’s wounds.  Finishing, everyone feeling refreshed, they shook the mage awake.  The rage in his eyes had subsided somewhat, giving way to fear.  Balthazar assumed a wrathful aspect, fire dancing around him and twisting off of his horns as he spoke in a voice that would make a demon quiver.

“You will talk, or you will die.”  He growled.  Rossar nodded dumbly, trembling.

“Who are you?”  He asked.

“I am Rossar Nold, electromage of the Ninth Order, emissary of the Blood Prince.”  He stammered.

“You mean Orcus?”  Ashar said.


“What is your purpose under this forest?”  Vore asked.

“I was constructing the great crystal behind you.”

“Go on.”

“Well, that crystal wasn’t always so big, it used to be much smaller, only a few feet across.  It sat in a room, acting as a portal between planes.  The problem was that my Lord needed it to be much larger.  You see, the bigger the crystal, the larger it’s sphere of influence.  It’s original size was barely large enough to move a small town, like Agrin’s Gate.”

“So that’s what the crystal was for.”  Said Ashar.

“Wait, you are the ones who took the crystal down the hall?  It does explain why you are down here…”  Began Rossar.

Aelar interrupted, “Rossar, why did demons come out of the crystals when they were touched?”  Remembering the demon’s bite sorely.

“The crystals were possessed.  For control and defense.  If the right hands were laid on the crystal, it would allow them to control their destination to anywhere in the ring.  The wrong hands would release the demon to dispatch them and return to its crystal.”

“What ring?  Like a chain of crystals?”  Ashar guessed.

“Yes, each crystal is tethered to one before and behind it, together forming a ring you can travel along.”  Rossar had calmed down somewhat, excited to boast of his knowledge.

“If the demon defending a crystal is defeated, it is designed to travel to its tethered cousin, near enough to lure the foe into another trap, but not so close that the enemy could make a surprise attack.  Such was the belief at least.”

“And the ‘spheres of influence’ as you call them, why do they swap places?”  said Iltani.

“Well, all of the material you displace, it has to go somewhere.  When it’s just a person,  and it’s only some air, a brief rush is often felt as it pushes out of the way.  But a town or city requires a different solution.”

“Fair enough, and what did Orcus want with this crystal?”  Iltani pressed.

“I don’t know.”  Rossar said.  Balthazar fingered the hilt of his sword.

“I really don’t know! I think he was planning an assault on the Shadowfell, maybe to swap the Raven Queen’s palace with his own.  Maybe to move a great army in an instant, but I swear he never told me.”

“Why do this Rossar?”  Vore could tell this man hadn’t always been so evil.

“He said… he said he could bring her back.”


“My wife, Elara.  Orcus said that once he ruled the dead, he’d restore my wife to her living self.”  Rossar, realizing that his dreams were crushed, began to weep.

“She was everything I had, my light, my whole life!”

Vore sympathized.  “I too lost someone dear to me, and for a long time I let it rule me, but I’ve moved past it.”  He looked at Iltani, who nodded back.  “Your loss was terrible, of that I have no doubt; but that demon would have betrayed you, it is his nature.”

“You don’t know that!”  Rossar cried through hot tears, “you don’t, oh what’s the point.  It doesn’t matter anymore I suppose.  Are you satisfied?  Are you going to kill me now?”

“No.”  Aelar said.  Balthazar began to protest, but Aelar lifted a hand.  Kneeling in front of the mage sitting on the floor, the elf looked deep in his eyes.

“No Rossar, we aren’t going to kill you, though I’m sure no one would object.  We even have an executioner’s axe should we change our mind.”  Drull grinned as Aelar continued.

“Rossar, you will pay by restoring the wrongs your actions have led to.  You will use your knowledge to control a fragment of that crystal, bring back Agrin’s Gate, and send the Lizardfolk and their patch of swamp back where it came from.”

“Well that’s quite complicated. I don’t…”

“I wasn’t finished,” said Aelar sternly.  “After that, we will contact the Raven Queen’s Shadar-Kai and put this whole matter in their hands.  As far as I’m concerned it involves them, and their queen, most.  The Gate, the townsfolk, us, are all just collateral damage.”

Rossar was silent, thinking.  “I can’t promise anything, but I can try.”

– The End


Rossar, with help from Iltani, extricated and duplicated the crystal the party had first found, and through a series of trial and error, restored both the Lizardfolk swamp and the Gate to their proper place.  The swamp was easy enough, and the Gate was found, snap frozen, in ice in the Elemental Chaos, unharmed.

The capital was notified with an unofficial report delivered by Drull, who was freed from the party’s service, and went on to other heroics, mostly as a goblin clan infiltrator.

The capital, having also received an official report from The Lieutenant, and an addendum from Bryne himself, notified the refugees in Mirehaven of the Gate’s restoration.  Over the next year the wall’s breaches were repaired and the town was put on a path to restore it’s former wealth and renown from trade.

The party handed over Rossar to the Shadar-Kai authorities, who kept him for information and research on crystals and mechanical constructs.  The crystal was taken to the shadowfell and sealed away for future use.

For their heroics deeds the party became myths of song and poem across the Prime and the Shadowfell.  They were called Keepers of the Gate, Slayers of the Vampire and Lamia, Protectors of the Shadowfell, and servants of the Raven Queen.

The party continued in service of the Raven Queen for many years to come, becoming paragons of justice and might wherever they went.


I hope you enjoyed this revised and expanded version of Agrin’s Gate.  It was originally the product of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign run by the dashing Karl Reimer.

A combat-heavy campaign, there was little emphasis on character background, coherence, or conversation.  This proved to be a double-edged sword because while it afforded me more freedom in adapting our story into a narrative, I also had much more work to do in terms of filling gaps and making sure things made sense.

Let me introduce the cast:

  • Karl, Human Dungeon Master (Karl Reimer)
  • Baarda, Human Lieutenant Dungeon Master (John Baarda)
  • Aelar, Elven Monk (Dave Lenton, myself)
  • Ashar, Genasi Swordmage (Jonathan Baarda)
  • Cordus, Minotaur Warden (Grant Davis)
  • Drel, Human Ranger (Jake Redekopp)
  • Drull, Bugbear Barbarian (Grant Davis)
  • Iltani, Shardmind Psion (Andrew Alkema)
  • Vore, Human Cleric (Rylan Halteman)

Over the course of nine months, we laughed and fought as members of a rag tag party, hurtling through planes and villains.  I tried to keep up but got distracted and rushed to complete the story for a college newspaper.

Fast forward a year, I’m on my way to New York City for a mission trip and looking to raise funds.  I offer to write stories featuring donors if they give a prescribed amount.  My friend Ross Arnold is very generous and donates… enough.  That’s all I’ll say.

Having wanted to re-write the tale for a while, I think to write him in and kill two birds with one stone.  Originally part of a band of soldiers who were impressed by the party in the swamps near Mirehaven, Ross opted for a more villainous role.  Happy to do it, he became the fearsome Rossar Nold, electromage, and underlying villain to the whole tale.  Hope you liked your part Ross.

Now, being an engineer, I have a love/hate relationship with statistics.  In this case, love.  Before this, Agrin’s Gate was the longest thing I’d ever written.  But I wonder, how much longer is the Revised and Expanded (R & E) Edition?

Section Name

Original Ed. Word Count

R & E Ed. Word Count

Foreword & Acknowledgements N/A 309
Prologue – The Gate N/A 815
The Contract 448 662
On Route To The Cave N/A 708
First Blood 350 1 019
Bugbears and Krenshars 663 818
Vore 576 679
The Crystal 472 1 334
The Incident 795 1 005
The Swamp 445 539
The Fortress 939 1 011
Cordus 170 212
Bryne’s Suspicion 394 434
Dinosaurs 352 807
Bryne’s Refusal 297 355
Dragons (Finally) 624 887
Tales of their Pasts 1 259 872
The Feywild 523 572
The Town N/A 272
The Widow 878 1 450
A Change of Plans 194 265
Here We Go Again 489 619
Drull 519 828
Surrounded 596 775
Credit Where Credit Is Due 241 429
The Shadowfell 862 1 375
It Comes Full Circle 1 056 1 614
Endgame N/A 2 355
Epilogue 38 235
Afterword N/A 526
Totals: 13 180 23 781

This is almost longer than every major report or essay I submitted for my university degree, combined.  Am I proud?  Yes, very.

Don’t forget to be awesome,

Dave Lenton

Agrin’s Gate – Part X: The Shadowfell, It Comes Full Circle

The Shadowfell

Unlike the portal into Mirehaven, nothing could be seen through it.  But, seeing the confidence with which the Shadar-Kai strode through, and not wanting to give them an excuse to call them timid, the party followed without delay.

The change in atmosphere was tangible as they stepped through the portal.  What used to be humid, wild, and heavy forest air, had changed into something faintly acrid tasting, and much thinner, as if the air itself weren’t as real.  They entered a large, circular room of dark grey stone with vaulted ceilings.  The dimness of the room, in contrast to the saturating hues of the Feywild forest explained why the destination of the portal had seemed somewhat, abyssal.

The room was mostly unadorned, save for six engraved black pillars surrounding the teleportation circle, where the party had first stepped, and a painting on the ceiling of a large black raven, the Queen’s sigil.  Arrow slits were inlaid along the walls, and peering through them afforded a look across a bleak landscape with char-black trees and a haze of silvery mist.  They were on an upper floor of some sort of keep.

“This is the Shadowfell,” explained Iltani to the group.  “It is one of the six principle planes of existence.  To those who travel them, the ‘World’ is more commonly called the ‘Prime’.  I hail from Astral Sea, home to immortals and most Gods.  If you consider the world to be a template plane, the Feywild is a hyper-vivified version, full of light, magic, and colour.  On the other end of the balance is the Shadowfell, a hypo-vivified version, practically void of life or light.”

“Unlike other Gods, the Raven Queen chooses to reside in this plane, to stay close to death, over which she has dominion.”

“That is only four planes Iltani,” observed Vore, “what of the other two?”

“They are the Elemental Chaos and the Far Realm, but enough of that.”

The Shadar-Kai who had escorted the party exchanged kurt nods with three more waiting to receive them, some murmured brief greetings to each other.  A few from the escort immediately headed off toward the keep’s inner chambers.

“We’ve been expecting you,” said one of the receiving officers.

“Please follow me to the audience chamber.  It is a more suitable place to recognize your accomplishments and discuss your reward.”

Travelling through the hallways of the keep, the utter lack colour became increasingly obvious.  Even the colour on the party’s packs and clothes washed out.  Occasionally they caught a glimpse of what appeared to be ghosts gliding purposelessly through the halls, but whenever they turned to look at them, they disappeared.  As the companions passed Shadar-Kai in the halls, eyes drifted inquisitively towards them.  Some of them decided to tag along in their wake.  They kept their distance, but their curiosity had obviously been piqued.

Eventually the guide led them to a hallway with a large set of double doors made of pure black stone at its far end.  The hall appeared empty, but the Shadar-Kai who entered performed a rigid salute.  Their eyes were fixed on a corner that was darker than the others.  Try as they might, not one of the adventurers could fix their gaze as their saluting peers did.  Their eyes kept drifting away from it against their will.

Piecing together sideways glances, they could just make out a dangerous looking Shadar-Kai sitting on a stool, idly sharpening his daggers.  He practically exuded darkness, or perhaps he was consuming light, it was hard to say.  Even after they knew that he was there the party found their eyes slipping off of him and looking anywhere but at the corner in which he was sitting.

“Well I hear you’re the ones who killed the vampire lord.  Took you long enough,” he sneered.

“Who are you?” Asked Balthazar.

“I,” he paused for effect, “am Serbahn.”

“Tell us then, Serbahn,” Aelar said, “what is your greatest feat?”  Aelar had overheard other Shadar-Kai talking.  Their greatest accomplishments were who they were, it was how they measured their greatness.  Serbahn’s eyes flashed excitedly before resuming their indifferent look.

“I slew the mighty demon Saulknor,” a cold chill went down the spines of those who knew the name, “and took from him, Kalina Ia: the light eater.”

He stood, “a High Priestess of the Raven Queen will be addressing you personally.  Behave yourselves.  Speak only when spoken to.”

He walked into the next room, the black doors sliding back silently, opening into a hall with galleries on either side.  The Witch and Serbahn walked onto the dais at the end of the hall, standing in opposing corners.  The group was ushered forward as the entourage of Shadar-Kai that had been following filed into the galleries.  The Witch began a recitation which the assembly continued.  Vore knew it and spoke with the assembly, some of the party mumbled along, and the rest kept silent.

The Witch addressed the hall, “why are you worthy to receive the honour of High Priestess’s presence?”

At this the Shadar-Kai took turns either praising their accomplishments or cutting their hands to cover their iniquity.  Balthazar, Drel, and Drull all cut their hands, unsure of what to say.  Vore, Ashar, Iltani, and Aelar spoke of the demons, Lamia, and Vampire Lord they’d defeated; and the town they’d defended.  The Witch nodded with approval.

She took a drink from a pedestal on the dais and muttered under her breath.  The pedestal sank into the floor, light vanishing into the space it left, and a blast of cold air rushed out, forcing Aelar and Iltani to shudder.  Out of this void stepped the High Priestess.

“You have done well mortals, this ceremony is reserved for acts of great courage and valour.  It is our custom to tell the story of the honoured,” said the High Priestess.

“In the beginning you were a motley band of mercenaries, tasked with eliminating a trivial goblin threat.  Fate, it would seem, had greater designs for you.  A crystal of immense power was discovered, which you took to your captain.  When it was activated, the whole town you’d been asked to rid of goblins was thrust through the world to a swamp where you fought Lizardfolk and their kin.

“Your Arcanist determined that the crystal was being drawn by others and their possession would grant you the power to restore the town.  Through a swamp fortress, a desert, a frozen wilderness, and the Feywild, you sought out and retrieved these artifacts.

“We found you in a cave in the frozen wilderness.  On a different mission we left you to your goal.  When we learned of the crystal’s true nature, that it was being used for the designs of Orcus, may he die…”

“May he die,” the hall echoed in unison.

“We tracked you to the Feywild and evacuated the people of your town in exchange for killing the Vampire Lord and his thralls, servants of Orcus, may he die.”

“May he die.”  The group chimed in.

“What say you to these things?”

Each member responded in turn.  Most gave an, “all in a day’s work,” response; some flowered it up with words about service in battle against Orcus and his forces. Iltani had the unwitting audacity to correct the High Priestess on the nature of his mortality, in that he wasn’t, earning himself a disapproving glance.

“For your service in these days past, you will each receive ten thousand gold pieces, and a selection of weapons and talismans from our armouries.  For those who demonstrated the confidence to state their accomplishments before my arrival, you may receive a tattoo to mark your deeds forever.  Go now; live to die!”

“Live to die,” repeated the Shadar-Kai, and the High Priestess walked back into the void she came from.  As the pedestal rose back to its place, the crowds stood and filed out of the hall.  The Witch and Serbahn stepped down from the dais and faced the group.

“You may rest here and select your items and tattoos in the morning, after that we will allow you passage to whatever place you choose.”  The Witch said.

It Comes Full Circle

The next day the group discussed where they’d like to go next as they excitedly picked out their new armour and clothing. The Astral Sea, the Feywild (Aelar’s choice), the Prime, so many options.  They decided, at Iltani and Ashar’s behest, to return to Agrin’s Gate, or at least where it was, and examine the magical barrier they had encountered in the goblin cave at the beginning of their journey.

For Ashar, that barrier was the magical power source he’d traveled to the Gate in search of.  He had hoped the crystal might sate his thirst for knowledge, but it had not.  That barrier was powerful, and whatever lay beyond it must be equal, or greater.  The others, save Drull, who had never been to the cave, relished the thought of adventure, the satisfaction of seeing what had been beyond their grasp.

After donning their new accoutrements, Drel, Drull, and Balthazar took some time to test their gear by sparring in the barrack’s arena while the others received their tattoos.  When the tattooing was finished, they met their companions and went for a few rounds.  Panting heavily, the first three called for a break, and as if on cue the Witch entered the arena.

“You have received your rewards, have you found them acceptable?”  She asked.

The party gave a cheer, and each demonstrated what they had, banging a shield, setting a target on fire, warping a rock into gravel.  The Witch grinned wryly.

“Excellent, then the only thing left is to send you off.  Have you made a decision?”

Aelar stepped forward, “yes, a portal to Agrin’s Gate.”  The Witch was confused.

“The town is in the Abyss right now, are you certain?”

“Apologies, we mean it’s original location, on the capital road if possible.”

The Witch nodded with a certain knowing, as if that had been her understanding all along.

“Very well, stand back.”

Once again, she create a ring which sank part way into the arena floor, forming an arch.  Through it could be seen swaying trees and dappled sunlight.  With brief nods they saluted the Witch and walked through.

The air seemed to fill with life again, it was like breathing all over again.  Within minutes even the more battle-weary were refreshed and invigorated.  They were on the capital road, not far from where the Gate had been.  Going to see what was left of it they came suddenly upon a dried out swamp.

In the distance they could see Lizardfolk who had been carried along with the swamp when the town and swamp had switched places.  They seemed less at home in the temperate forest clime, but were keeping to themselves.  The group ignored them and walked back up the road toward the goblin cave.

“I’m new here, but I can guess that the swamp was a surprise to see.  Why?”  Asked Drull.

“I think I’ve worked it out,” said Ashar.  “I think that whenever the town teleported, everything that got moved switched places with the destination.  That’s why when we were in the Feywild there was an enormous ice sphere.  In the elemental chaos a floating iceberg isn’t uncommon, the town likely teleported inside it.”

“Oh,” Drull was lost, but that happened to him a lot.  Instead of pursuing it he kept quiet and focused on his axe, rehearsing battles.

The road, the path, the cave, it all seemed almost quaint and nostalgic to the companions now.  Since their first battle they had become a lethal force, and they had been rewarded handsomely for it.  As they passed the pit Vore recounted his outburst at leaving the goblin bodies around.

“While I maintain my position on disposing bodies, which I thank you all for respecting; I was a little hot-headed that first day with you guys.”  He admitted.

When they got to the second dirt chamber they found the entrance to the crystal chamber had been boarded up again.  Not noticing anything dangerous about it, they broke down the boards and moved onward.  Once again they descended deep into the mountainside with Vore telling Drull about the battles they’d had since they first met.

Reaching the end of the passage, Vore suggested they go left to stop by the crystal chamber.  Like the entrance though, all evidence of their presence had been erased: the chamber looked exactly like they had first found it before, save for the crystal not being there.

Confused but undaunted, the group doubled back and went to the barrier. Iltani, much more versed in the nature of magic, barriers, and doors than last time, tried his hand at the barrier.  After what seemed like an eternity, Ashar stepped in to assist.  When the barrier fell, a surge of energy hit both of them.

Ashar’s armour carried it around him, leaving him largely unscathed.  Iltani wasn’t so fortunate.  His crystal frame seemed to be a perfect conductor, and absorbing most of the shock he burst into a thousand shards. The group was silent.

“I’m IMMORTAL.  I can pull myself back together but it will take some time, probably an hour or so.  Go on without me, I’ll catch up when I’ve re-corporealized.”

It was then that they noticed the sound of scurrying.  Like thousands of tiny feet, or claws, were wandering; chittering about.  Taking the cautious route, Drel volunteered to be the vanguard, creeping ahead; but without Iltani’s usual telepathic link Drel was unable to concentrate as he usually did.

The group worked they way down to a narrow corridor with a vaulted ceiling, much like the way to the crystal chamber.  The corridor opened up to a great laboratory: the walls were marked with runes and glyphs in various dark tongues, and vats of acid sat in a corner near some towering bookshelves.  In the room were three mezzodemons, two immoliths, and a beholder.

The insectoid Mezzodemon with a trident.
A foe to be avoided, the Immolith.
A hovering monstrosity, the beholder
A hovering monstrosity, the beholder

Drel was noticed immediately, and the group rushed to assist him. They were making quick work of their foes when one of the Immoliths retreated to a control room and activated a panel.

Suddenly the scurrying they’d heard before became much louder, and a deep roar resonated from the back of the room.  As they continued fighting mechanical spiders began pouring in, scurrying up the walls and ceilings and dropping down on the party.

About three feet across, not a problem unless there are hundreds of them...
About three feet across, not a problem unless there are many of them…

Surprised by the sudden onslaught the party regrouped and redoubled their efforts.  They began to hold ground when a crashing noise came from the spider’s entry point. Whatever was back there had reached the door, and was too large to fit through.  Aelar signalled to Ashar that he should examine the panels in the control room and see if there was a way to disable these spiders.

Backing into the corner of the laboratory that held the control room, almost seventy spiders had entered the lab as the party covered Ashar.  He managed to find the deactivation switch, but it was encoded to only work with the handprint of a mezzodemon or immolith.  With a sudden crash the thing that had been breaking the entrance down burst in.  It was a bebilith, a great demonic spider that dwarfed its smaller copies, its legs spanning fifteen feet.

Ashar called to Drull to grab the nearest body he could find and bring it his hand. With a dull THUD Drull’s axe came down on a mezzodemon’s wrist, hewing two spiders as it traveled.  He hastily grabbed the severed claw and threw it to Ashar who slapped it on the panel.

With a whir some of the spiders began to slow down as the bebilith pinned them in the corner. The party fought to hold their ground as the spiders began to pile around them.  The bebilith began spewing flaming webs at the men, their odds shrinking with every shot.

Then with a chug and a sputter, the bebilith and spiders simply broke down. The chattering of mechanical feet gave way to crashing commotion beyond the lab as spiders fell from the walls and ceilings.

The party found themselves up to their waists in spiders. Clambering through to the opposite side of the room the adventurers found a strange glowing orb surrounded by rubble.  After some experimenting it became clear that the spiders were used for excavating, and the orb had some sort of nullifying capacity that allowed it to absorb anything it came into contact with.  The spiders had been dumping rock and debris into it.

Continuing past the laboratory they came upon a sheer drop.  In the darkness spiders could be seen falling by the thousands.  Channelling psionic energy through his palms Aelar placed a sunrod between his teeth and hovered into the blackness.  Vore cast motes of sunlight on the walls.

They found that the drop they’d encountered was actually a curving slope within a gargantuan sphere, thousands of feet in diameter.  In the very center lay an enormous crystal, larger than any they’d ever seen.

Before they could guess the crystal’s purpose, a foul, panged cry rang about the sphere.

“NOO!  My spiders!  My workers!  They will pay with blood for this!”

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of ‘A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition’.  Let’s recap:

Part 1: Housing, Jobs, Finances, Food

Part 2: Getting Around Town, Things To Do, Keywords & Phrases, Making A Revival Group Map

Getting Around Town

In the housing section we touched on having a plan on how to get to key points in Redding.  Here we’ll look at some of your options in more detail.

Getting Around by Car: Buying a Car

I didn’t buy a car myself, but the DMV website is full of useful information.  You can also go to the DMV in Redding and pick up a brochure on almost any topic.

There are two mechanics I can recommend for getting the car looked at, based on testimonies from other students:

Getting Around by Car: Car Owners

There are pros and cons to having a car.  As I said I did not own one myself in Redding, so I had a friend who did shed some light on the subject:

Having a car requires boundaries: If you’re anything like me, you love to help people out.  Arguably, the number one way you will be able to demonstrate that is by giving rides to those not blessed with a car.

Rides to school, rides home, rides to a party, rides home, rides to the grocery store, rides home again.  Are you getting this?

It may feel good the first or second time you help a brother or sister in Christ out to say, “don’t worry about gas money! I’m happy to help!” But what about the third, fourth, tenth time?

Let’s face it: as much as we would all love to say God will miraculously fill up our gas tanks every time we give someone a ride, it won’t happen (trust me, I actually tried that a time or two).  You have to be brave and let people know you are not a free taxi service, because you’re not!

You are NOT this person.
You are NOT this person.

You need to pay for that gas somehow, and yeah, your friends are probably broke, but chances are so are you.  If you can give them a free ride because you love them, they can open their wallet and hand you a couple bucks for the same reason.

If they literally do not have the money, there are other ways to pay you back (my two favorites: dinner and back rubs).  Chief author’s note: I have also offered to wash and vacuum my benefactor’s car, you have no idea how much appreciation that can bring.

You are not obliged to say “yes”: It’s your vehicle.  If you’re tired, heading in the opposite direction, or too busy to make an extra stop, just say “no.”  Your friend will find another ride, I promise!

Getting Around by Car: Non Car Owners

You will be borrowing or bumming rides, so listen up.

Have a list: Try to keep a shortlist of people whose car you can borrow, one of whom has a truck for moving and such.  See the bottom of this post for more information on making a good one.

Have some cash on hand: Always have a couple bucks in pocket to cover their gas/maintenance.  In Canada, $0.40/km or $0.60/mi is what a company would shell out to an employee, and you like your friends more than their boss does right?  Offering $2 for a grocery run or errands is fair.  If they refuse payment, you tried, though I’ve left money in a person’s car while they weren’t looking before.

Stay close: If you aren’t going to have a car, then get yourself close to where you need to get on foot or by bicycle.  Do not make yourself a burden on your friends by living out-of-the-way.

If you live in the following areas then you should be, most of the time, close enough to someone to bum a ride.  This list isn’t complete, but “close to the Civic and cheap” are the basic criteria for student housing, and where drivers live.

  • Clay Street
  • Hilltop Drive
  • Ridgecrest
  • Browning/Churn Creek
  • Mission De Oro

Be ready: Set times and places for pick up and drop off, and stick to those times.  When your ride wants to leave, either stick with them or tell them you’ll find another way.  Don’t make them search for you, or wait around forever.  Respect your driver!


Getting Around by Bike (Bicycle)

Since people don’t generally borrow bikes this’ll be shorter.

Terrain:  There are some killer hills in the area but apart from that bikes are a quick, cheap way to get around for short distances.

Bring spare clothes: Unless you bike in the cool, early morning, or are incapable of sweating, have a plan for cleaning yourself up for a day of close quarters with classmates.

It's hot in Redding, don't be smelly at school.
It’s hot in Redding, don’t be smelly at school.

Stay on the pavement: Word of warning, avoid going off trail unless you have very durable tires.  There is a weed grass around town that produces sharp spiny seeds.  In the fall, I met someone with a flat tire almost every week.  So stay in the clear, paved areas unless you have puncture-proof tires.

Keep a pump on hand: Have a bicycle pump with you when you bike.  The seeds end up everywhere, and if you spring a leak, pumping up as a temporary fix is the fastest way to get on with your day.  As a bonus precaution, have a tire repair kit at home to fix the bike at the end of the day.

Offer to pay for damages: If you do borrow a bike/car, and you get a flat, or worse, offer to pay at least half, if not all, of the cost to repair it.

Things To Do

There’s too much awesome where you are right now to ignore it.

“Don’t hide!” ~ Alumni Advice.


“Tucked away in Northern California’s Shasta County is the charming town of Redding, which over the years has worked diligently to become one of the premier trail destinations in the West.”  ~ TrailLink on Redding

Redding and the surrounding area is a model for beautiful hiking and biking trails, as well as access to rivers and lakes for swimming.  Most parks have an entry fee, check before leaving.

Sacramento River Trail: This trail has multiple access points along the river, and runs past the Sundial Bridge, outside the Civic, all the way to the Keswick Dam.  In general, the area around the Civic is full of beautiful trails for walking and biking.

Whiskeytown: A short, 15 minute drive from downtown Redding, Whiskeytown is home to a man-made lake (great for swimming or kayaking), and a host of trails.  I recommend Brandy Creek Trail as a starter (I don’t recommend hiking the full distance).

I love a beautiful lake.
I love a beautiful lake.

Lassen National Volcanic Park: This state treasure is roughly 2 hours East of Redding.  See boiling mud and steam geysers, or hike to the summit of the dormant volcano itself!  Note: park access subject to weather and season, check before going.  I recommend the Bumpass Hell Trail, the elevation of 8000 ft (2500 m) gives you a certain breathlessness that is quite exciting.

Lava Beds National Monument:  On the topic of volcanoes, this park features numerous caves, some filled with ice year round!  You have to book in advance.

This is an ice cave, outside it was 85 ºF (29 ºC)
This is an ice cave, inside it was below freezing, outside it was 85 ºF (29 ºC)

Castle Crags: Near Dunsmuir, a moderate hike with amazing views and rocky crags.  Mounting points for rock climbers can be found along the way.

You can climb to those peaks in the back. I'm the guy in white!
You can climb to those peaks in the back. I’m the guy in white!

Henderson Open Space: I’ll be talking more about this place in Part 3, but for now I’ll say that it’s a beautiful example of riparian savannah, and it’s in the heart of Redding.  Great for walks and picnics.  I should point out that this place has had vagrancy issues, so don’t go alone on a prayer walk there.

All An amazing site for finding places to explore and hike.


A great way to spend time with people is eating together.  If you don’t want to do a potluck (where you all bring a dish to someone’s house to share), here are some great places.

restaurant sign

Chipotle Mexican Grill (Chipotle): This place is a delicious food maker for a good price.

In-N-Out Burger: The owners are members of Bethel Church, which gives the place a lively atmosphere.  Besides awesome food, a secret menu, and the fact that you almost always will find Bethel folk to hang with, it’s a great place to work.

Razzlicious: Another fro-yo place, there are at least three in Redding, one in the new downtown.

Spoon Me: A delicious frozen yogurt (fro-yo) place in Redding’s old downtown.

Westside Pizza: Another Bethel-member-owned establishment, this place fast became a Bethel favourite after Friday night service last year.  Why? $1 slices after 10pm on Fridays.

Yaks Cafe and Eatery (Yaks): A popular destination for small group meetings.

Tipping: For all non-Americans out there, you should know that tipping is how many servers get by financially.  Use these rules:

  • 10% – The minimum
  • 15% – Good job.
  • 18% – Great job!
  • 20% or more – Blessings upon you!

Also note that if you don’t order while in a restaurant, you are not blessing them.  You are using the restaurant’s space and atmosphere, and you should pay for it.  Freeloading in restaurants give Bethel students a bad reputation.  Consider leaving some money if you didn’t order anything.  Tip your servers!

Day Trip Destinations

Redding isn’t the end of civilization in northern California, or “Nor-Cal” as some call it.  Here are some great day trip destinations (within 2 hours drive).

Chico: It’s the nearest city, lots of stuff to check out.  The Naked Lounge is well-known for its great coffee, and not nakedness.  There’s also a Sonic Drive-In you can stop at on the way there with tasty milkshakes.

Dunsmuir: Cool little shops, train stuff, antiques, and some hiking, a great historical town for walking around.

Mt. Shasta City: Near the base of Mt. Shasta, and you can skate in January!  I had no idea how much I’d missed skating.  There’s also a ski hill.

Here’s a pretty map for you, including some of the ‘around town’ stuff.  See the bottom for instructions on making your own.


There  a lot to see and do, but what about besides eating and hiking?

Dollar Theatre: There’s a cheap theatre that plays movies about six weeks after they premiere at the main theatre.  The tickets are $0.75 to $2.50 depending on the time and if it’s in 3D.

Love Lounge: Monthly live music/coffeehouse all put on by BSSM students.  They have a Facebook page, which is a good place to look for the month’s “dress theme,” which of your friends will be going.  The location has moved so check the page for details.


I’m a dancer, mostly swing, but I’ve done salsa and ballroom in the past.  One day I’ll write a post just for dance, but until then I’ll quote ‘Take The Lead’.

“You see… if she allows me to lead, she’s trusting me.  But more than that, she’s trusting herself. Now, if your 16-year-old daughter is strong and secure and trusts herself, how likely is she to let some idiot knock her up? And if your son… can learn to touch a girl with respect, how will he treat women throughout his life?”

~ Mr. Dulaine, defending his program to his student’s parents

Besides those awesome reasons, it’s fun and social.  Here are three places to get your dance on:

Let’s Dance Redding!: My personal favourite, I worked with these amazing people, you should really give it a shot, September is Salsa month, no partner needed.  Weekly lessons, and you can learn California’s state dance (West Coast Swing)!

A Step Ahead Ballroom: These guys are all about the more formal dances.  You’ll know what to do at the next wedding you go to.  Which you may find to be often.

Ceilidhs (pronounced cay-lees): These are Irish/Scottish (different students argue) festivals with a dance as a centerpiece to the event.  Outside the UK, ceilidh refers to the dance.  If you’re interested in putting one of these awesome things together, leave a comment, and I’ll connect you with some people.  It’s something that can be done for all ages and physical abilities.

Keywords & Phrases

Many of the people, and the speakers, at Bethel and BSSM have a condition I call ‘Professor Syndrome’.  When I was in university, I’d run into professors who used expressions or phrases I had no context for, because they’d been teaching this material for longer than I’d been alive, and they would forget that I didn’t know it all yet.

If you’ve already read all the assigned books for the year, you’ll be fine.  Or you can read some that I came across.  In general, Google can help a lot with this.

“Five-Fold Ministry”   This phrase wasn’t explained until October but they used it like everyone knew.  It refers to the five offices of the church and their order of importance, as described in Ephesians 4:11, and detailed in Danny Silk’s book ‘Culture of Honor’.  Here’s the list with some examples.  This list is not exhaustive, and many of these people fill more than one of the categories.

  • Apostle (Bill Johnson, Heidi Baker, Randy Clarke)
  • Prophet (Kris Vallotton, Stacey Campbell)
  • Evangelist (Chris Overstreet, Kevin Dedmon)
  • Pastor (Danny Silk, Jason Vallotton)
  • Teacher (Dann Farrelly)

“That’s a good word”  Originally meant like saying ‘amen’ as a sign of affirmation over a prophetic word or declaration; it is also used in joking suggestion that the previous statement was a prophetic word, and God’s with him on it

“Pull out the gold”  A call to find the best in people and call it out through exhortation and encouragement.  Think about it, in a gold mine, which is easier, to dig up dirt or pull out gold?  Be a gold miner with people.

“I need a Sozo”  A sozo is a spirit led inner (emotional/psychological/spiritual) healing session, one which you can learn how to do while in Redding.  People will use the term to indicate they’ve been exposed to something ‘yucky’, or been ‘slimed’.

It is also used in a jocular tone to indicate a false trauma.  “I just spent four hours watching 12 preschool kids on sugar by myself; I think I need a Sozo.”

“What’s your Love Language?”  There are five principal love languages, or means by which a person communicates emotionally.  They are listed below, and you can take a quick test to see what your mix is.

  • Words of affirmation: compliments, sincere statements
  • Acts of Service: washing dishes, doing laundry.
  • Receiving gifts: a thank you card, made you cookies, “got this cause I thought of you”
  • Quality time: hanging out, going out for coffee or on a date
  • Physical touch: hugs, cuddling, pat on the back

There is a lot of hugging!  You will get used to it, and you will learn all about various types of hugs; which are deemed appropriate and which ones are not.

~ Alumni Advice

“I’m processing”  This has two important meanings.  The first you see after a meaty, deep, or densely packed talk.  It means something to the extent of, “my spirit got ahold of everything but my mind has yet to catch up.”  In other words, “processing” was getting alone, going through the day’s notes and scriptures, and letting your mind soak in more of the day’s revelation.

The other meaning is means emotional processing.  Maybe they are going through a crisis of identity, or a crisis of faith; confronting deep-rooted issues is a lot of what BSSM first year is about.  If you are close, politely ask if you can help.  If they say no, give them space until they figure it out.

“Truth in tension”  A favourite phrase of Dann Farrelly, a brilliant teacher.  We have all met people who say, “the Bible is full of contradictions.”  There is a reason for this.  To quote “Hermeneutic Guidelines” from your binder:

“The Bible never contradicts itself unless it intends to do so, as this might be the best way for the infinite mind of God to communicate truth to finite humans.  In holding to both sides of the “contradiction” we find more complex truth.  For example, we are told to honour and hate our parents.  The drive to solve or wrestle with this idea leads to understanding.”  ~ BSSM Student Guide

As a side note, you should read that entire section now, as well as “The Bible Jesus Read, Phillip Yancey”.  These are indispensable for keeping the right perspective with the Bible and God moving forward.

“RG” or “RGP”  Revival Group, or Revival Group Pastor

Making A Revival Group Map

Welcome to the bottom, where I promised to help you with making a shortlist of drivers.  Last year my brother’s RG made a map of all the people in his group and where they lived.  I thought it was cool so I did it too.

This is probably the fastest way to figure out who has a car and lives close to you, especially because all the road names aren’t clear yet.  Once I’d done this, it was also way easier to find people to hang with or ask for a ride.

I used Google Maps to do this, here are the steps:

  1. Get this info for each person: address, name, phone number, and if they have a car.  I used a spreadsheet, but whatever works for you.
  2. Open Google Maps and make sure you’re signed into Google (note: you will need a Google Account to do this).
  3. Read this and watch the video.
  4. Use the address to pinpoint the spot to add, use the name for the name, put the number in the description, and change the icon of the point to a car if they can drive.
  5. Ok, now if you are clever with technology, you should have a map.
  6. The last step is sharing it.  In all likelihood, your RG has a Facebook group, which you are a part of.  Read this and watch the video.
  7. I recommend selecting ‘Get short link’ and posting that URL to the Facebook group.

Agrin’s Gate – Part IX: Drull, Surrounded, Credit Where Credit Is Due


The party met the Shadar-Kai next to an enormous dome of ice where the town had been.  The townspeople had set up makeshift tents in their wait, as the dome slowly melted, forming icy rivulets and a pool that had fed the streams the men had noticed.

The Shadar-Kai could not have looked more disinterested.  Babysitting weaklings had to be the most degrading activity they’d performed in years.  Drel chuckled as he thought about the lie of omission they’d make concerning this escapade.  Especially since they brought an undead drake with them.  It was still circling over the townsfolk, huddled around fires to keep the ice’s chill off.  The Witch read their expressions and saw the triumph missing.

“You did not kill the Vampire did you?”  She said.

“Now wait just a minute lady.”  Balthazar stepped forward.  “We have our, or should I say your, crystal right here.”

“But you did not kill the Vampire did you?”  She repeated.  At this Vore stepped forward, looking somewhat dejected.

“My lady of the Raven Queen.”  He began, Drel rolled his eyes.

“The Lamia, the Vampire’s companion, is vanquished.  The Vampire Lord possessed an object that shrouded the sunlight Pelor gave me to use as a cleric.  With the sunlight concealed, he was able to regenerate more quickly than we could injure him.  When she fell, he became insubstantial and risked travel in broad daylight.”

“This was not our agreement,” said the Witch, taking the crystal.  “Did he escape with this sun shrouding implement?”

“He did not,” Vore’s expression brightened, “Ashar.”

Ashar stepped forward, producing the object from his bag.

“My knowledge of the arcane is extensive, but the Feywild is an unfamiliar realm brimming with magic.  The best Iltani and I can work out, it can do more than shroud light, but neither of us know what.”

Aelar stepped forward to finish the report.

“Without our Minotaur, who has left, I fear the Vampire’s defeat is hopeless,” he said.

The Witch snorted with derision, “I shouldn’t have expected you lot to be able to accomplish this task.  Very well, I anticipated this eventuality.  We have a warrior with us who owes a debt.  Drull?”

A brutish bugbear, not unlike the one they killed in the goblin cave, stepped out from behind a tree.  He was a berserker, wielding a *subtle* executioner’s axe, subtle in that its full power was released by wearing no armor, only cloth.

“Drull owed us a debt, so I had him brought here in the likely event that you would fail.  Drull!”  She barked, “you are to follow this party’s instruction now, do as they do.  When the Vampire is dead you will be released from your debt.”

Drull, despite being immense, cowered under the Witch’s glare, and scurried behind the party.

“Now don’t expect this brute to come for free, we’ll be taking that totem from you.”

Ashar handed her the artefact, and taking it, the Witch commanded, “wait here,” and left to consort with the others in a tight circle of trees.

Aelar snuck behind the circle and attempted to listen in.  Focusing his mind, he attuned his aural senses outside of the area he was in, and into the tree circle.  Oddly, the number of voices among the trees was greater than the group of warriors he’d seen.  Focusing harder, he projected his vision into the circle as well.

Looking about, he saw the Shadar-Kai conversing with faintest of shimmers, outlines of even greater Shadar-Kai commanders and mages.  They were discussing the artefact, and what to do next with the group.  It turned out the Vampire Lord was a servant of Orcus, who had been protecting the town in exchange for dark deeds.

Orcus, a powerful demon lord and god of undeath, is a sworn enemy of the Raven Queen, goddess of death.  The Shadar-Kai, as agents of the Raven Queen, took interest in the town’s mage when he had made a pact with Orcus.

When the group first told the Witch of the lost brother and the vampire they found, the town mage become a greater threat, bumping him up the watchlist.  This was the real reason Drull had been summoned.

The ‘totem’ as the Witch had called it, was really for communicating with Orcus, who had been fighting the Raven Queen for control of death since she first seized it.  The demon god had been using the crystals to move demons in and out of the Abyss, which is why the Witch wanted them.

Aelar left before the end so as not to arouse suspicion, and when the Witch returned she communicated some of this.  She added that the vampire’s heading had been located, and that if they started now they could reach him before he regenerated fully.  With that the party set off again, uplifted by their reinforcements, even if he didn’t talk.


Following The Witch’s direction, the party walked until they saw a glade.  Hiding behind the treeline, they spotted an Eladrin hunter.  Being the only person who really belonged there, Aelar stepped out and greeted him. Getting a better view of the glade, he could see that the icy rills from the sphere had reached even this far.  There were three or four trees, large and leafy, a wooden shack a distance away, and a great oak on the far side; patches of tall grass were scattered through the field.  Looking closer at the trees, Aelar noticed monkeys, big ones, in all of them.

“What brings you here, friend?”  The hunter asked, he seemed distracted, but managed a smile.

“I search for a man, a human that ran from a town not far from here.”  Replied Aelar, finding his face lacking a certain sincerity.

“Are you alone, friend?  Do you search by yourself?”  The hunter was scanning the forest beyond Aelar.  Knowing he was a terrible liar, Aelar called Balthazar and Iltani forward.

“These are my companions…”  It dawned on Aelar.  The Eladrin was stalling, the monkeys were moving.  Not giving another moment of preparation for his alleged ‘friend,’ Aelar issued a mighty battle cry Cordus had taught him, signalling the others.

In a flurry of foliage the monkeys sprang from the trees and the party rushed to meet them.  It turned out that a second hunter had been hiding in the tall grass, and proved difficult to hit.  As the monkeys began dying a deep growl rose from the shed. In an explosion of wood splinters and framing timber a shed wall gave way to a Banderhobb, a ten-foot-tall, frog-like creature that swallows you whole and kidnaps you.

The Infamous, Foe-Swallowing Banderhobb
The Infamous, Foe-Swallowing Banderhobb

By the time the monkeys were finished off the Banderhobb had reached the party, striking and attempting to swallow them.  It succeeded in swallowing Vore before bounding off towards the great oak.  Aelar and Ashar, the swiftest, gave chase as the others finished off the Eladrin.  Despite Aelar’s Elven speed, and his psionic flying powers, the great frog’s head-start was too great to overtake it.  The beast ran behind the tree vanishing from sight. When the pair arrived the Banderhobb, and their friend inside, could not be found.

Noticing something off about the tree itself, Aelar examined the striations in the bark while Ashar searched for magical properties.  A hidden door was discovered as the others caught up, Ashar opening it cautiously.  Aelar went down a spiral staircase and short passageway before stopping short of the entrance to another room. Drel snuck a bit farther and signalled Iltani to connect them.

“The room is small, the frog…” began Drel.

“Banderhobb.” Interjected Iltani.


“It’s not a frog, it’s a Banderhobb.  A creature with a history of kidnapping people, usually children, in their sleep.  I read about it in a book of bedtime stories.”

“First, that’s just wrong.  Second, who cares?  Where’s the Banderhobb Drel?” thought Balthazar.

“The far side of the room, it seems to be stuck in an opening.  There’s also a coffin.  Just like the one from the basement.  Hold on, I’m going to cast a mist.”

Using some tricks he’d picked up in his ranging days, he cast a mist in the room, obscuring his allies from the Banderhobb.  Ashar moved into the mist and dealt a blow to the Banderhobb blocking the doorway.  Drull and Balthazar, still outside, hacked at the earth, hoping to literally shed light on the situation.  Iltani hovered above, maintaining a psychic link and facilitating communications between forces.

Aelar squeezed around the Banderhobb, flanking him.  This distracted the beast from Ashar’s killing blow.  With a disgusting sound, Vore was vomited up as the slimy creature died.  The Vampire had risen from his coffin and was trying to land a blow through the mist.  With a thundering roar Drull leapt down the hole and with a mighty blow drove his axe straight through the ground above the Vampire, bringing a rain of earth, stone, and steel upon his head.

At this point the Vampire was totally surrounded, with Aelar’s owlbear, Iltani, and Balthazar waiting to strike should he try to fly off. The Lord became insubstantial and made a vain attempt to escape, but as each fighter laid blow after blow as he passed them, he finally dissolved into ash.

Searching his room they found a reserve of gold; presumably this was some sort of safe house. In triumph the group returned to the Shadar-Kai and made their report.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

When they returned, and as they told of their exploits, the Shadar-Kai were visibly impressed.  They had not expected the companions to succeed; in fact, they weren’t certain if success was even possible.  The Witch, looking less haughty than before, addressed them.

“You have done well warriors, and you have fulfilled your end of the deal.  It is time for us to do the same.”  She gestured to the huddled townsfolk.

“We will let your people return where they will.  The town’s captain, Bryne, has asked that it be Mirehaven where their kin were headed, does this sound suitable?”

The party murmured in acknowledgement.

“Very well.”

The Witch recited an incantation that lasted for several minutes, gathering a crowd as she did so.  Many marvelled at how such a lengthy spell could be remembered.  When she finished, a large spark of electricity flared and grew into an orb.  The orb then flattened to a disc, reaching fifteen feet across, penetrating the ground to form the shape of a circular gate.

From one side the disc looked transparent, but from the other, a small town market could be seen, with a thick morning fog not quite burnt off yet.  Early rising merchants were taken aback in shock at the sight; but as the first townspeople went through and explained their origin, they calmed down.  The people walked through the gate in single file, taking what belongings they could on their back or by horse.  When the guard took its turn, Bryne stopped to speak to the group.

“This wasn’t what I signed up for, Gods know I’m getting too old for this.” He sighed. “But I should be grateful, without you all our town would have suffered great loss. Thank you.”

He moved to the gate, taking post next to it, ensuring everyone got through. The Arcanist approached, but before he could say anything he froze.  He just stood in place for a few seconds before resuming his motion jerkily.  He blinked hard, staring at Iltani, who nodded.

“Thank you, oh thank you all!” and off he went through the gate.

As it closed, the Witch faced them, Aelar noticed the shimmering he’d seen in the tree circle, and relayed this to the others through Iltani.

“You are all deserving of more than praise, follow.” She turned and recited the cantation again, opening a second gate, this one dimmer in appearance than the last.  She and the other Shadar-Kai stepped through.  Sensing no danger or ill will, the party followed.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

Agrin’s Gate – Part VIII: The Widow, A Change of Plans, Here We Go Again

The Widow

Knocking on the widow’s door, a beautiful woman answered.

“Yes, hello?”

“Good day, we’ve come in hopes of finding a crystal, and possibly your husband too,” said Aelar.

The widow let them in, her beauty only growing as their eyes adjusted to the dimness.

“That is, if you still want him to be found,” added Iltani.  She gave him a black look.

Aelar frowned and turned back to the widow.  “So, what can you tell us about the night he disappeared?”

“Well, he was out gathering herbs one night for his research.  He was always looking to improve…” her voice fell away as a tear came to her eye.

“And then he… he just never came back,” she sobbed quietly

“We may be able to learn more from his study or laboratory,” Ashar offered.

The widow dried her eye as she nodded and led them to a door in the parlor.  She made an intricate series of motions, her fingers tracing serpentine symbols in the air before the door.  With a shimmer, the face of the door lit up in a pale blue, then the glow withered as if an ethereal wind were carrying off flakes of it.  Vore stood next to the widow as she did this, and kept track of the tracings she’d made.  While he couldn’t be sure, he thought the symbol was that of a beetle, a scarab.

The protective ward dissolved, the door swung open of its own accord, to showcase a staircase leading below the house.  The party followed the widow down the steps, lit by flickering torches, descending for what seemed like an age.  The widow stepped into a large, natural, stone cavern with a dressed floor and raised ceilings.  As the party filed in, they could make out a set of long, stone chests at the end of the cave.  When Iltani, who had taken up the rearguard, reached the cavern, a slam echoed down the stairway from above.  The chest lids made a loud rasping as they were pushed back, stone rubbing against stone.  When the party saw fingers curling around the chest lids from the inside, they realized two things; they were trapped, and those chests weren’t chests at all:  they were coffins.

From the coffins rose three pale figures, one clearly more powerful, a vampire lord.  Behind them they heard an chittering sound that made Balthazar turn and gasp.

“The widow!”  He cried.

As the others turned they saw the widow’s hands and feet were covered in beetles, forming a writhing mass spreading toward her chest.  Balthazar’s first instinct was to warn her, but as a wicked grin twisted across her face, he realized that she wasn’t a widow at all; she was a Lamia; a temptress who devoured foolish men who fell into her snares.

Iltani rallied the thoughts of the party together, coalescing them into a vision, a realization that had eluded each but not all, and formed a story from their individual thoughts.  The chieftain’s brother had not died, but had been turned into a vampire, likely for the increased arcane ability (Ashar).  The widow was a Lamia, and had lured them, and surely others, down here to die (Balthazar).  She keeps the widow story so adventurers come to find her and are never seen again, or missed (Drel).  Everyone in the town is fooled by this (Aelar).  The door upstairs is magically controlled so that prey are trapped without while the Lamia plays the weeping widow, and within when she’s dropped the gauntlet (Iltani).  The only way out will be to fight (Cordus).  As a Pelorian Cleric, I can cast radiant light down here to weaken the vampire lord and his spawn (Vore).

The Widow, or Lamia rather
The Widow, or Lamia rather

All of this flashed by in an instant of thought.

“Iltani works quickly,” thought Aelar.  He looked to his Shardmind friend and, for a brief moment, glimpsed a smile.

As they fought a pile of beetles on one side, Vore cast a mote of sunlight that glowed in the air, taunting the vampires.  Unable to regenerate in the mote’s radiance, the two sides were evenly matched.  In time the lesser vampires fell, being converted more recently than their sire, the vampire lord, the mage, the brother.

The vile couple continued fighting, and held their own through a half dozen rounds of blows before Aelar threw up his hands to call a cease-fire.

“Clearly this is getting nowhere, you aren’t strong enough to overpower us, nor us you.  Let us leave and we’ll simply never speak of this again.”  The couple, seeing that victory was by no means certain, conceded.

Returning to the tavern, battered and bruised, the townsfolk gave the group some odd looks, which the group returned.  The town seemed to be composed on a hodgepodge of creatures that had wandered into the Feywild by one method or another, none of them really belonging.  Likely chased by the Bralani lord while hunting or the hideous, ruthless Fomorian giants, they’d found sanctuary in the town’s walls.  A Halfling named sat at the bar, drinking alone. This gave Balthazar an idea.

A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair
A Fomorian Highway Raiding Pair

He approached the halfling, “Halfling, what is your name?”

Startled by the sudden interest the tiefling had taken in him, the halfling looked up from his drink.

“People call me Pincher.”  Halflings have a reputation for being light-fingered, and Balthazar’s intuition had paid off.

“I think my friends and I could make use of your talents.”

“Talents eh?”  Replied Pincher mockingly, “state your business Tiefling, don’t waste my time with your riddles.”

“Very well, follow me.”  Leading him back to a table, the group sat and explained to Pincher that there was a crystal they were seeking and that they were almost certain it was in the widow’s house.

“So you want me to get it, fine.  And what would I get, besides this beer you bought me?”

“We would pay you 1,000 gold pieces,” said Aelar.  Drel hung his head in disbelief, mortified.  Paying Vore to join, bribing the bartender with a gold piece when that was enough to rent out the inn for the night, and now offering a few year’s wages for a single theft?  Monk’s should not handle money.

“That,” said Pincher, eyes bulging greedily, “sounds like a fair trade.”

Finishing his drink, he staggered out of the tavern, woozy from downing what for a grown man would have been three pints.  The group ordered dinner and ate in silence, either too sore or too hungry to talk.  Iltani, after smelling a selection of wines, since he couldn’t drink, returned to his watchful thinking position; sitting silently, letting his eyes wander around the room, picking up bits of conversation and piecing them into interactions, needs, desires, and other mortal concerns.  If someone didn’t address him directly, Aelar wondered if he’d ever move of his own accord.  As if on cue to disprove him, Iltani spoke.

“I think the crystal is alive.”

The group stared.  Iltani continued, nonplussed.

“Whenever the town shifts, it’s always on level ground, and level with that ground.  It has never been underwater or underground, in a mountainside, or in the air, ever; at the very least it must have a sentient nature to it.

“Also, the Arcanist said that the crystal was being drawn to these places, so it stands to reason that the town is traveling along this sequence of planes. When the Abyss is reached there will be no more crystals to draw us away from there.”

Ashar considered this.

“So, the best thing to do would be to leave the crystal here, in the Feywild. Otherwise if we fail to control the crystals in the Abyss, we’d be stranded there,” he suggested.

“Precisely,” replied Iltani.

“So what do we do when the Halfling gets back?” Asked Drel.

The group mulled it over, and agreed that the Chief should be given the crystal for safekeeping.  When Pincher returned, they paid him his new-found fortune and gave the crystal to the Chief, “as a gift to your town,” Aelar said.  The chief accepted it, puzzled, and the group left accompanied by Aelar’s Owlbear, making for the Gate.  When they arrived they were surprised to find the Shadar-Kai warriors there, the Dracolich from the winter land flying above silently.  Bryne and the town guard were in formation in the town square, kneeling with their hands behind their heads.  The town was being held hostage.

A Change of Plans

“We’re here for the crystals,” said the Witch as she approached the party.  The group kept their weapons sheathed, they knew too well how powerful the Shadar-Kai were from when the Dracolich was still alive.

“Our superiors have shown interest in the crystals. We’ve been instructed to take them back with us.  Your Arcanist gave them up easily enough, and told us you’d have one.”

Balthazar cursed the Arcanist under his breath as Vore made an appeal.

“We encountered a Vampire Lord and Lamia in a town near here, he was in possession of the crystal when we arrived.  The crystal is now with the town chief.  In exchange for helping the people of this town get home safely,” Vore nodded towards Bryne and his men, who were shaking visibly.

“If you get them home, we’ll get you this crystal.”

The Shadar-Kai considered this among themselves before making a counteroffer.

“We’ll open a gate to a location of your choice, within reason, in exchange for your group getting the crystal, and killing the Vampire Lord,” said the Witch.

“Very well, but you have to stay with the townsfolk while we are gone.”


Having nothing more to negotiate, the group took a rest before setting off again. As they laid down in the enchanted forest outside the Gate’s perimeter, Bryne’s voice could be heard ordering the evacuation of the town before it was carried to the Elemental Chaos.  The party drifted into a black, dreamless sleep before waking and making for the town again.

Here We Go Again

Returning to the town, the party went to see the chieftain, only to be stopped at the door to the hall, again.

“Is this really necessary?”  Asked Cordus, growing impatient with the guards.

“What is your business?”

“To see your chieftain, what else?  Have you forgotten me so quickly guard?”  Balthazar stepped forward but before he could utter a threat the guard spat back.

“Our chieftain has taken ill after you gave him that so-called ‘gift’.  He rests now in his home, weak.”

Ignoring the guard’s insolent tone, the party proceeded to the chief’s house. After scouting the basement and main floor, Drel gave the all clear and the party entered. Moving up the stairs, Drel entered the bedroom, dark from heavy curtains blocking the sun.  Seeing the chief, he prodded him gently.  Rolling over, a pale chief opened his eyes and leapt off the bed, fangs bared.

Drel thought one word to the group, “Vampire,” and they were on it.  Eager to use his Owlbear in battle, Aelar sent his companion up the stairs to tear down the curtains and let the sun shine.  It wouldn’t kill the vampire, but it would stop him from regenerating in the darkness.  The poor beast, still new to his master’s commands, misunderstood, and clawed aimlessly at the wall.  Rolling their eyes, the others charged in and dispatched the chief in short order.

Searching the house they found nothing.  Figuring that the chief’s brother, the Vampire Lord, had taken the crystal and turned the chief in the process, they made for the Lamia’s house.  Checking the door for traps they found an ominous one.  Cordus suggested they use the window to get inside instead.  Balthazar checked the window and, finding no trap, gave Cordus a nod.  Head-butting the window, a burst of darkness enveloped Cordus, blinding him and drawing from his life force.

“Was that nod supposed to mean there IS a trap!?  Who does that?,” he roared at Balthazar as he clawed at the darkness in vain.

“I didn’t find any traps!  I guess it was very well concealed.”

“Well concealed my hooves.”  Cordus stood and faced the group.

“You’ve been good companions in these last days, but with this fight I will take my leave, and my debt will be repaid.”  The others nodded respectfully.

Entering the house, Iltani entered the combination Vore had seen the previous day making a point of channeling all magical power as he did so.  Apparently overdoing it, he too was shrouded in soul-sapping darkness.  It seemed that the Lamia had anticipated their return, and changed the tracing pattern.  Proceeding down the stairs they charged once again.

With fewer minions it seemed the fight would proceed faster, but changing the locks in the house wasn’t the couple’s only surprise.  When Vore cast his mote of sunlight, the Lord shrouded it in darkness, making it useless.  Being able to regenerate, the Lord outlasted his companion, and as the Lamia fell into a heap of dying scarabs, he became insubstantial and tried to get to his coffin, but was cut off by Aelar.  With that he fled, flying off faster than the group could run.

Searching his coffin they found the crystal and the artefact he’d used to shroud Vore’s sunlight, and with this partial victory they returned to the Shadar-Kai; Cordus taking his leave along the way.  They were sad to see him leave, but a warden must keep his ward, and Cordus was no exception.  As they got closer to the town, they noticed tiny streams of water building strength along the forest floor, where none had been previously.

Agrin’s Gate Chapters

A Guide to Life at BSSM: 2013 Edition – Part 1

Hey there! You’re reading this because, well, ok to be honest I don’t know why; but I’m going to guess.  It’s because you are, or were, a student at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM), and you’re looking for advice, or to laugh at some of the things you wished you had known.

I am writing this guide because I think there are many things students would have benefited from knowing when I was at BSSM.  I’m an engineer with a knack for teaching, so seeing how things work and educating are parts of my ‘gift mix’.  I hope this guide, part 1 so far, helps you have a smoother time in Redding.


Finding A House

Finding a house is, hopefully, something you’ve already done.  But you may find that the accommodations you have now aren’t a good fit.  Here are some tips and info you will want to know.

Questions To Ask:

  • Are utilities, internet, laundry included? If not, who provides them and what did it cost the last tenant(s)?
  • Ask for photos if you are unable to physically visit, make sure they are recent.

According to, the cost of renting in the 96001, 96002, and 96003 zip codes (a.k.a. Redding area) are in the table below.  Note that this is the base cost, no utilities included.  If you find places to live at in these price ranges, you are likely getting a fair offer.

Rental Type Price Range
Studio Apartment $670-740
1 Bedroom Apartment $680-760
2 Bedroom Apartment $860-960
3 Bedroom Apartment $1,270-1,410
4 Bedroom Apartment $1,410-1,580

Now, you’ve found a place you can afford, but is the location right?  Look at a map of Redding, how close are you to ‘it all’?  Consider the primary locations:

  • Bethel campuses (College View or Main, and Twin View)
  • Commercial Downtown (Hilltop, Churn Creek, Dana, Browning area)
  • Old Downtown (Market and Placer area)
  • The Civic (school for 1st years)

The further you get from these places, the more fuel you, or your chauffeur, will burn.  You will be less likely to go hang out on a whim, or be spontaneous.  Perhaps this isn’t a goal for you, but at the very least make sure you have a plan for getting to the locations above from where you will be staying.

Running A House

This is advice on how to run a household, or the operations of a home.

Pick An Executor

Executor is a fancy dancy legal term for ‘the person who makes sure it gets done.’  Essentially, the executor is the financial face of your household.  They pay the bills, deliver the rent, and collect money from the rest of the house.  This is a lot of responsibility, but picking someone to handle it means that you have someone to thank when everything’s fine, and someone to confront when it isn’t.

The executor should have a small reserve fund to cover emergency expenses; such as rent.  As a Bethel household you already have a reputation for paying your rent, on time and in full.  Beyond that, it is the honourable thing to do.  If you have a roommate unable to make rent then you deal with that internally (i.e. do not involve the landlord/landlady).  Confronting a broke roommate is never fun, so I recommend you meet as a household to discuss what to do (see Have House Meetings below).

Finally, consider that being executor is a burden.  Think about giving the poor soul a break on their rent, or free internet, or pancakes on Sunday?  It’s hard work and can be stressful.  Remember, somebody’s managing a part of your responsibility so the household can run more smoothly, how can you help them out?

Have House Meetings

As a passive aggressive person, I still struggle with communicating my needs clearly.  But if you give me a lay-it-all-on-the-table situation, I’ll do just that; because that’s when I feel safe.

Having semi-regular house meetings is an amazing way to clear the air, to get people talking about what’s on their mind, what their struggling with, what they need, what they can offer, and so on.

How often should you meet?  As often as is necessary.  Schedule time now while you still have it and make it a priority, Tuesday night lets say.  Plan to have Tuesday night free, it is time you spend catching up with your family, or at least time time to air out concerns before they fester into resentment.  It is a sacred time that takes precedence over the coffee date with that cute guy/girl, to talk and share with your mates on what’s up with you.

If the meetings are less than ten minutes, have them less often.  Don’t let them get longer than a half hour though; after that people start to get impatient and the effectiveness will break down.

Final thought: Talk to each other about what’s an issue for you.  In this time of rapid growth and change expect that ‘issue-list’ to change with you, and with your mates.

Build relationship

When you think of the place where you live (in Redding), are you in a house or a home?  Are you 3-12 people who happen to live in the same house?  Or are you a household, a family?  The benefits of having roommates be like family are many, I hope that, at the very least, your Revival Group, and later your Small Group, show you what I mean.

Until then, I recommend you do things together!  Spending time together is a prime ingredient in bonding; sharing experience is another.  “But author,” you ask,  “however will I/we do this?”

  • Game night: Board games, card games, poker, D&D

  • Movie night: Seems everybody watches Father of Lights, but any movie y’all can agree on will do.

  • Drunk Holy Spirit party: If it’s going to be loud make a plan on how to handle it, because your roomies may be tuckered before its over.

  • Worship session: Soak, sing, play, listen

  • Friday morning pancakes: Any morning really, but make it a tradition.  Krusteaz pancake mix can be found at Winco, $8 for a 10lb (4.5kg) bag.  Our house used three in the year.  Invite neighbours to mix it up!

  • Friday night pizza: Westside Pizza has $1 slices after 10pm on Fridays.  Most of the students from the Friday night service go there.
  • Frisbee or some sport at the local park/field


This next sentence could be misconstrued so stay with me.  Unemployment is not ‘living by faith.’  Every Christian lives by faith in God every day.  We rely on God for everything, and that includes our ability to work.  You have a responsibility to do all you can use what God gave you to take care of yourself.  I’m an engineer by trade, but right now I’m working landscaping and construction while I go after the job I really want.

International Students

The official law is that it is illegal to work under a student visa; notice how there’s nothing in the Bethel info package.  However, a charitable donation to your missions account, or a gift, is not income.  That’s all I’ll say.


If you have been looking for work in Redding, you may have already noticed that it isn’t a walk in the park.  There isn’t a lot of industry or manufacturing, the city’s biggest source for work is the medical field.

However!  That’s no reason to give up.  Look for work with the big retail chains, see if you can get a reference from another student.  Working for Walmart or Starbucks isn’t glamorous, but you can transfer to your home one, and back again, consistent work through the year and the next summer is huge.

A popular source for work is sitting.  Babysitting, house sitting, pet sitting/walking.  It’s most effective if you build relationship with the people you are looking to sit for.  In general it’s an organic business.  I babysit for the Parkers, they are friends with the Marleys, who mention that they need to find a sitter, the Parkers recommend you, and so on.

I’ve found that if you visit with someone and ask them about what they need done, you open a door for some labour.  Forty dollars for a morning of work is better than nothing right?

This guide is a little late for this piece of advice.  In general, moving here earlier means less students looking for jobs at the same time.  The early bird gets the worm.

Job Sources

Ask around, always

“Seek and you shall find….”  If you don’t look, you will never find anything.  As Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky said,

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

iBSSM Bulletin Board

This place is a gold mine for all kinds of things.  Make it a part of your daily internet check-in.  Link Here (you’ll have to login to iBSSM.)

Craigslist  This is the jobs section, read and apply.


A lot people seem to find jobs at restaurants and cafes; especially ones owned by Bethel associates, so they are a good place to start the job hunt.


Let’s talk a little bit about money management.  In Redding, not spending a dollar is easier than making a dollar (see Jobs).  The general pay rate is lower than you may be used to, but everything important is cheaper (except dry cleaning, don’t get things dry cleaned in Redding).  Because everything is cheaper, saving money will be more effective than working more hours.

There are two amazing tools I use to help me with my, and my household’s, finances.

This site connects to your online banking and reads and categorizes your spending.  I have found nothing that was as easy when I wanted to see how much I was spending, and where I was spending it.  You can set limits on spending, and alerts if you’re spending too much in a particular month.

We Split It

Track any shared expenses between your roommates.  I was an executor for my house (see Elect An Executor) and put all the house bills here.  

WeSplit.It Summary of my apartment.
WeSplit.It Summary of my apartment.

Ways To Save

Go easy on the climate control:  Pay attention to the thermostat, windows, AC/Heat, and temperatures during the night and day.  We were diligent in opening the windows and blinds at night and closing them during the day, and we allowed the temp to go from 68-80 °F (19-26 °C) on our thermostat.  Because of those two things, our power bill was half that of comparable houses.

Our utility bill was so much lower we thought our friend’s houses had insulation problems.

North Valley Bank: They don’t charge huge transaction fees for withdrawing cash from international accounts.  They also have drive-through ATMs, and that’s pretty cool.

Thrifting: Technically this is also a fun way to hang out.  There are five or so thrift stores in the area (it fluctuates).  Salvation Army, Goodwill, and A Second Time Around were my favourites, but there are many more to check out.  Get clothed for a pittance, arrange it correctly and you can be a hipster.

Just don't be uppity about your new found coolness.
Just don’t be uppity about your new found coolness.


Originally this was under finances, since food is such a big part of where and how we spend our money; but then it almost became bigger than the finance section itself, so here we are.

There are five main places to get food:

Walmart: cheap, and you can one-stop-shop.  Quality varies with product, great tea though.

Winco: cheap-er, but avoid the meat (I never had a problem, but friends with more refined tastes told me it was questionable).  I found the quality fine for most things, great bulk section, and organic greens.

Trader Joe’s: It’s where the cool people shop for their ovo-lacto-organic probiotic yogurts and such.  It’s expensive compared to pretty much everywhere else but you can’t deny the quality of their products.

Costco: You’ll have to be sharing food to really take advantage of this (see Sharing Food below), but Costco carries very good food at excellent prices.  I recommend the meat and pretty much everything else.

Roadside fruit guy: Ok, so there are two fruit stands you’ll see often.  They sell whatever is in season, it’s super fresh and tastes amazing.  Support local economy!

  • One is at the end of Hilltop Drive, across the road.
  • The other is at the corner of Browning and Churn Creek

Share Food

Unless you have crazy allergies, or are really picky, or hate each other, as a household you will mostly definitely save money, time, and heartache by sharing food.

Read on!

You cook less:  Agree to cook once or twice a week, pick a day.  Now you are cooking less, and still enjoying the benefit of hot or prepared meals most nights.  Also, when you do cook it isn’t for just one person, which makes following a recipe easier.

You eat better:  In general, if you cook less often, you can take time to make better food when you do, and you don’t have to do dishes; which brings me to my next point.

When you cook, you don’t do dishes:  That’s the deal, every time.  The cook always works more than the dishwashers anyway.  Now your kitchen is being cleaned completely several times a week, how awesome is that?

You are bonding and sitting as a family several times a week:  Eating together helps build intentional community; and you are happier when eating with friends, so you’ll like your roommates more just by eating with them.

You save money:  I spend about $160-240/mo on food when I don’t share.  When I do share it can be as cheap as $80-120/mo.  That’s over 50% in savings, and over the course of the year, you’ll be able to eat out more, or grab that coffee, or take a weekend trip out of town.  The low end of the budget is a leaner lifestyle, less beef more chicken; less juice, more water, choices like that.  How is this possible?  Three things:

  1. Costco: You can buy lots of really good, quality food here.  The problem is that you have to buy them in quantity.  Milk? At Winco the cheap brand is about $3.50 for a gallon; Costco is $3.25 for better milk, but you have to buy two gallons at a time.  Sharing food with other people allows you to take advantage of the savings.
  2. Big meals:  Pasta and soups are cheap and nourishing.  Learn how to make them.
  3. Avoid meat: If possible, try other foods to get your protein, have a meatless Monday.  I’ve made a spaghetti that was half chick peas half ground beef, delicious and affordable!

I hope you’ve found this informative, I’ll be releasing more sections, be sure to comment on what you think I should be covering!