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Month: January 2012

Open Licenses & Gaming Part I

A while back I promised I think Adam Jury and Fred Hicks a post on Creative Commons, the Open Gaming License, why I think the OGL has problems, why Creative Commons licenses don’t always work for tabletop gaming publishers, and so on. This is too much for a single post, so I’ll start with my technique for emulating the OGL using Creative Commons licenses. It has the virtue of being productive thought as opposed to criticism, and it seems more useful to lead with something someone might actually use some day.

Reverb Gamers #5: Gaming With Kids

Prompts courtesy of Atlas Games.

I have gamed with kids a little bit. I ran a mini-campaign which included a friend’s… 10 year old? I think? It was fine; I played to his needs a bit more than I usually do and his dad helped him on the rare occasions he needed help with dice or advice on what to do. It wasn’t his first experience with the game. I am probably not a great choice for teaching someone how to game; I’m not super-experienced with kids and appropriate educational techniques. But if the kid knows the game, I like making it fun for her or him. You get better

Reverb Gamers #4: Are You A Closet Gamer?

Dear Reverb Gamers: nope. I work in computer games, which makes it very easy to be out without consequence. It’s actually a career bonus to be a tabletop gamer, despite the fact that my day job is unrelated to game design. Even before I got into computer games, the Silicon Valley dot-com was a pretty friendly place for geeks of all stripes.

Even if I went into something more conservative, I’d still keep a D20 keychain ornament on my shoulder bag, though.

Reverb Gamers #3: What Kind of Gamer Are You?

See here for prompts.

I’m going to the old 1999 WotC survey for this one, because I kind of like it when types are developed via research than just out of a fevered gamer brain. (But I’m an Method Actor with a side of Tactician, as one may have guessed from the previous post in this series.) That said, on the WotC chart I live on the tactical side of the strategy/tactics line. I generate strategy by improvisation, which is no strategy at all, but sometimes I make it look good enough to pass. Between story and combat, I lean strongly towards story. That’s a less important division to me; I think tactics over strategy matters more.

Reverb Gamers #2: Why Game?

Prompt courtesy of Atlas Games again.

“What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?”

I think it comes down to the fantasizing. When I’m actually gaming, I love roleplaying and immersing and speaking in my character’s voice. When I’m not sitting at the table, I’m still having fun thinking about what the world’s going to be like or how those NPCs are going to act or how my character might develop. I read sourcebooks because I like things that trigger my imagination.

There is also a hefty side order of strategy here. I like moving pieces around, which is why I like card games as well as roleplaying games. Although let’s be honest here: I like feeling smart, and strategizing feeds that desire. At the tender age of 41, I have more or less gotten away from the need to win, as long as I feel like I’ve done smart things. (Sometimes I slip up there. Sorry about those twin TPKs, guys.) Other people will also do smart things, and that’s okay; losing cause someone else is also smart is fine.

It’s mostly about fantasizing, anyhow. Shadowfist was my CCG of choice because it’s the one with the resonant world.

Reverb Gamers #1: First Roleplaying Experience

Prompts courtesy of Atlas Games.

I was, I’m not sure. 14? 15? Something like that. We were living up in New Hampshire. There were these family friends, who we met I don’t know how; probably one of those hippie connections we were rich with in those days. Teo was four years older than I was. Huge Rastafarian. If I remember right, his family’s lore said they were related to Haile Selassie? Seems unlikely, but who knows.

I was over at their place one day: a little apartment, filled with tapestries and rugs, and Teo dragged out this book. I was pretty weirded out, since he wasn’t much of a reader. It was Tunnels & Trolls, with a couple of solitaire adventures. He showed me how to play, sort of, and I was totally hooked. I extracted all available information about where you could get this stuff and went home with a head full of wonders.

Next Thursday — I know it was Thursday, because Thursdays were mall days — I hit the hobby store in the Mall of New Hampshire. It’s not still there, although the Mall is. They had the old line of Steve Jackson Microgames, and Traveler (whoa), and miniatures, and Dungeons & Dragons, but most important T&T. Fifth edition, great stuff. I do still have my copy. I also have a bunch of the old solos, and the Dungeon of the Bear, and Uncle Ugly’s Underground. The dungeons were three hole punched for inclusion in a binder.

I didn’t play in groups till I hit college. I was insufficiently social to get a group going, and my school was too small to have one already. I played a lot of solo adventures, though. I suspect I could still find my way through Naked Doom and City of Terrors from memory.

The Descendants (Spoilers)

At the time, I found Sideways somewhat unapproachable. I wasn’t really sure why. Now I’m thinking I didn’t have the vocabulary, and I think it was a privilege problem. Alexander Payne made this great movie about the sad life problems of a pair of well-off guys. Yeah, Paul Giamatti is presented as a failure, and English teachers don’t make much money, but he can afford to take his pal on a week-long wine tour? That’s not realistic.

This is also the problem at the heart of The Descendants. George Clooney’s problems are more believable than Paul Giamatti’s. He’s not pretending to be more of a failure than he is. They’re still rich man problems, though. Adultery, family crisis, death — that could be anyone. However, much of the meat of Clooney’s woes are predicated on his status as one of the most important men in Hawaii. To emphasize with him, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of a guy who is about to make a $500,000,000 decision. Clooney’s a great actor, and he brings everything he has to bear in this, so it works. Still, despite his disclaimer about how Hawaii isn’t really paradise? He’s in pretty good shape.

His marital problems may also come from his money. He’s proud of the fact that he doesn’t spend the capital he’s inherited; he works every day (as a lawyer), and he spends only the interest. So he’s got a high-paying job, plus he has significant money coming from a trust. He can send his kid to boarding school and he doesn’t need to worry about health care costs. But he won’t buy his wife a boat, and there’s a strong implication that he lost her love due to his workaholic nature. It’s hard to be well-off; it’s hard when the less fortunate critique you for not spending money.

Some of his extended family have blown their money and are supposedly broke. We don’t ever see them, though. Cousin Hugh, in a very good Beau Bridges performance, is Clooney’s foil. He wants to sell the land to a local, though, so he’s a good guy. Dresses like a beach bum, drinks early in the afternoon, but he’s got a bunch of rental properties and it’s pretty clearly not going to ruin him financially if the sale doesn’t go through. He’s willing to pass up the higher sale value in order to keep the land in Hawaiian hands.

So. I don’t think Alexander Payne really has a handle on realism, as much as he likes to talk about it. Clooney made the right decision to keep the land, but Payne could and should have shown us the downside. It’s not just Cousin Hugh being pissed off, it’s someone who doesn’t have health insurance or a job and won’t get an influx of money when they badly need it. Payne’s world is a glossy one, untouched by mundane concerns. In the opening, Clooney tells us how much Hawaii isn’t a paradise. That’s the only time we see any signs that it isn’t. Show, don’t tell.

Simultaneously, he’s quite aware of race issues. The climatic speech, where Clooney acknowledges that his family — descended from Hawaiian royalty as they are — are “haole as shit.” But then he turns around and claims a connection to the land. I don’t know enough about Hawaiian issues to really judge this, so I’ll leave all that there.

All that said? It’s a spectacular movie. Clooney’s immensely good. I thought he was awesome in his supporting role in Ides of March, in the way he slowly let us see the complexities of the character. He’s better in this. I touched on it earlier: how do you create empathy for yourself when you’re as handsome and charismatic as Clooney? By being fearless about showing the character’s faults. There’s a very, very thin layer between his pain and the screen, and most of the time it dissolves. Kudos to Payne, too, because he’s good at hitting those notes.