At around age 10, I read the Dragonlance Chronicles, my first real introduction to the world of fantasy fiction. When I discovered they were based on a series of D&D modules, I immediately wanted to run them.
In 2000-2002ish, Nick did just that. I played, along with the usual suspects, and though the game was excellent, it was different to what I expected. For me, the books were emotionally saturated with in-character tension, atmosphere, and tragedy, while the campaign ended up emphasizing combat much more than the intense characters and grand scope I remembered.
Looking back, I think this was just the type of game we wanted to play. I recall the group’s preferred style being fairly humorous and oriented towards tactical combat, with in-character interaction being fairly rare and mostly reserved for critical plot elements. Characterization in such a game still happens, but it tends to focus more on individual characteristics than on relationships, often centering around combat roles or special abilities. Furthermore, D&D 3 had just come out, and we were enthusiastically exploring (and breaking) its rules, and since the bulk of D&D 3′s rules focus on combat, so did we.
None of this is to criticize Nick’s handling of that game – as I said, it was an excellent game, with some fantastic and memorable moments. Nor am I trying to say that there’s something wrong with tactical play (there’s not – it’s a lot of fun). It’s just that it was different to what I thought playing the Dragonlance campaign would be like.
I think this partly stemmed from the way in which the experiences one has when one is young and impressionable are indelibly etched in one’s emotions with a nostalgic perfection, and it’s simply irrational to expect that adult experiences will as easily match up to them. Furthermore, while I think role-playing games as a medium are certainly capable of such emotional saturation, I think D&D is less so, for several reasons:
One reaction to this, of course, is to do away with a lot of this detail with a low-mechanics system like Savage Worlds, or similar. That works great, but the problem is that there’s a lot of good, fun, things that come out of the complexity and rigor of D&D, and I very much want my games to include the best of both.
I want to be able to run games where the arbitrariness and fast flow of rules-light systems allow me to play fast and loose with details in favor of atmosphere and story, but I also want the rigor and detail of a game like D&D to lend structure to my environments, to create consistent and realistic confrontations, and to more firmly establish the game world as a shared place that the whole group has in common, rather than a set of lightly related games limited to each player’s interpretation and memory of what I told them the weeks previous.
A couple of months ago, I began running the Dragonlance campaign with my current group of players. So far, it’s been an immensely rewarding experience, precisely because I’ve gone into it with the goal of finding ways to fuse these two styles of play. It’s not that I’ve never tried this before, or that it’s a new idea, but that I’m taking such a conscious attitude towards doing so that I’m finding rewarding. It’s like that quote of Socrates, applied to games – ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ – except that I’ve played plenty of games unexamined that were certainly worth playing.
Anyway, I’ve been learning a lot from running this game, and plan to think, and hopefully write, more about it. Here’s a couple of topics that are on my mind:
I’d very much welcome suggestions and reactions to all of this. Hopefully you’ll see some posts from me getting into it more in the weeks to come.
I need to plug this site: Skyscraper Page.
Despite its not so imaginative name*, the site is a veritable gold mine of information both awesome and mundane, listing skyscrapers all over the world, with their construction dates, heights, floor count, and other information, along with scale sketches for most. Sadly, though it lists every building in Christchurch over 10 floors, the only one with a sketch is the Hotel Grand Chancellor, but I guess that’s reasonable, seeing as they’re all being shaken to pieces.
Really, though, it’s all about comparing ridiculous mega-engineering projects – check out this diagram of the likely world’s tallest buildings in 2015..
That’s a seriously huge clock-tower (click to zoom).
* I can’t help but think that web pages named with the word page at the end just sound silly, like “Lord of the Rings Book” or “Moby Dick Book”. I guess “The Jungle Book” is a good counter example, but doesn’t “The Page of Skyscrapers!” have more of an impressive ring to it?
Even though much art is concerned with representing the real, it’s not about photo-realism so much as it is about interpretation and re-presentation. Spotted this lovely quote which captures that:
Drawing is a struggle between nature and the artist, in which the better the artist understands the intentions of nature, the more easily he will triumph over it. For him, it is not a question of copying, but interpreting in a simpler and more luminous language.– Charles Baudelaire, On the Ideal and the Model, 1846
I like that, and it’s interesting to think about how applies to games as an art form – unlike the overt intentions of painting or sculpture, games are not about representing the visual or tangible features of a thing, but about representing its internal structure – its workings, the interactions within the thing that lend it its essential character. Coupling the game structure itself with the three art forms necessary to make an actual game product – these being writing (literature), visuals (painting/sculpture), and sound (music) – a game designer strives to interpret and re-present real or imaginary thing in a simpler, more luminous language.
NB – you’ll notice I separate design of the game itself from design of its aesthetics and writing. Not everyone likes this distinction, and it’s true that they tend to merge somewhat in practice, but I find it useful for analysis.
Played Cellcraft this morning, which turned out to be one of the best science education games I’ve seen in a while.
First off, here’s a screenshot of my cell being attacked by viruses (click to zoom). Note the various organelles, as well as the use of ATP, nucleic acids, amino acids, fatty acids, and glucose as game resources.
Cute, huh? Here’s what I like about it:
All in all, a very strong game – if you’re not familiar with basic cell biology, play it; you’ll learn a lot. You can download it to play on your own machine, or you can play it online. For more information, check out the designer’s blog for some interesting discussion including a entertaining piece about how they’re NOT creationists, even though they’ve got platypus “designers” creating cells..
So, it’s my birthday, again. This is, in fact, a very important one, as I’m 32, which is 25; in binary, I’m 100000, a suitably venerable age, I think. Only 224 more years until you can’t encode my age in a single byte anymore.
A couple of people asked what I’m doing to celebrate…
For a start, Vladimir, a friend of mine who happens to share not just the same birthday, but same birth year with me, has organized a get together of sorts at the Seattle Art Museum’s Remix party. I’ve no idea what to expect, really, but it should be interesting, at the very least.
Then, tomorrow, I’m hosting a six-hour lunch, which, for the uninitiated, is basically an excuse to sit around and drink a lot of port. The story goes that the English owners of port wineries in Portugal would all gather in Oporto every Wednesday to wait for the mail boat to arrive. Unfortunately, the arrival time was always a little uncertain, and so they had to do something else with the time. Like sit around and drink a lot of port. Oh, and eat lunch, talk, and other incidental things like that. Following that, there will be BBQ, board games, and blissful sleep. For an idea of what this is all about, check out Gold’s sequence of blog posts and my photos from a previous event.
Finally, later in the month, I’m treating myself with a trip to Origins, in Columbus, Ohio, where I shall geek out for several days. Following that, I’m off to Cleveland to visit Cat & Dan.
So, yeah, looking to be a good celebratory month for me.