2014-09-29

Boyhood

I saw Boyhood the other night and it was awesome. But I’m still trying to figure out whether part of its awesomeness ultimately boils down to “gimmick” filmmaking, as opposed to real art and inventiveness.

I’m sure you know the technical details, but the film was shot over ten years, with all the actors (including the two kids at the center of the story) showing the real honest-to-god aging and maturing of their characters in real time. But after watching the film, I found myself imagining an alternate version of the film, perfectly identical to the real thing — scene for scene, shot for shot, line for line — except made with entirely traditional techniques. In this alternative film, the young leads would have been played by three different actors (one as a child, one as a pre-teen, one as a teenager), with they and the rest of the cast aged up or down with hair and makeup. Which is to say, a totally normal, totally traditional biopic.

If I'd seen that alternate film, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much, because objectively speaking, the actual story in Boyhood is a little bit on the thin side. It’s a collection of great moments, but relatively few of them really connect from beginning to end. In that way, Boyhood reminded me a lot of Angela’s Ashes from about fifteen years ago — which is also a film following a character from boyhood to adolescence, but in which the central character is played by three different actors at different ages. Which is to say, a totally normal, totally traditional biopic.

So in thinking about why I loved Boyhood and why I thought Angela’s Ashes was about as exciting as warm yogurt, I start to ask myself whether the only reason I love Boyhood is for its technical side — the insane, amazing, brilliant experiment of actually shooting a movie over ten years. Or are those technical considerations totally secondary to the more important emotional connection that they allowed the story to create — the idea that explicitly knowing that I’m seeing these characters age over ten years creates a resonance with those characters that no traditional film could ever create?

2014-09-05

A Personal Thing

So this is a bit of a personal thing.

I know that everyone on the Internet stays totally on top of British Columbia's political affairs, but for those few who need the update — we're in the middle of a teachers' strike here. It's a nasty strike, driven by our provincial premier's hate-on for our education system and her love of tearing up public-sector union contracts. (For my American associates, think Wisconsin governor Scott Walker in drag.)

This strike is affecting me on a personal level because my wife is a teacher (and an amazing one, though that's beside the point), and I know how much it hurts her to not be in her classroom for the start of school for the first time in twenty-seven years. The strike is also affecting me on a personal level because our household income is taking a hit as a result of my wife and teachers across BC standing up for our education system and the kids it serves. We're not in any kind of trouble yet, and my own work continues to go well, and as a full-time self-employed creative type, I have a longstanding and prosperous relationship with our line of credit. But given that I prefer to avoid trouble before it happens whenever possible, I'm looking to keep my own side of the household income as robust as I can.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that in addition to the RPG work that I think most people tripping across this site know me for, I write books. They're good books, or so I've been told by those who read them. They're fantasy and SF, and are available in all sorts of places, and if you had any inclination to check them out, now would be a most awesome time.

2014-08-31

#RPGaDay 31

Day 31 — Favorite RPG of All Time

Because most of what I’ve talked about in this little exercise is D&D, it would seem to be a safe bet that some version of that game would top the list. But as I always do whenever anyone asks me this question, I’m going to fudge the answer by saying “My favorite RPG of all time is the one I’m playing at the time.” Because throughout many years of playing, reading, and now working on RPGs,  this has always been true for me.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was my first RPG, and as anyone who’s played it knows, AD&D has a whole host of inconsistencies, problems, and general “WTF”? moments within its ruleset. I still have personal and professional cause to read through the old rules from time to time, but I’m pretty sure I’d never want to sit down and play AD&D again in its original form. But for the years over which I played it, none of that mattered, because AD&D was the best thing I’d ever played. When I played Traveller, it was the best thing I’d ever played. When I played Champions and MechWarrior, the experience was never anything short of amazing.

When I read the games of yore that I never got a chance to play, and when I read new games now hoping I’ll get a chance to play them at some point — from Pendragon to Numenera to GURPS to 13th Age — what comes through first and foremost is the sense of wonder that’s core to the very essence of RPGs. Every good RPG has that potential to push the imagination and emotion of its players to the limits. And at that limit point, every good RPG becomes the best RPG, because that point of absolute immersion is what RPGs are all about.

2014-08-30

#RPGaDay 30

Day 30 — Rarest RPG Owned

Though the number of bookshelves in my office dedicated to RPG material is ever-expanding, I don’t own anything particularly rare. I’m not that much into collectibles, insofar as I’ll buy things for the pleasure of reading them, but not because I hope to treat them as a capital investment some day.

From the perspective of things of interest to other people, I have an almost-complete collection of Dragon magazine starting from issue 33. (I don’t expect to ever own any of the first thirty-two issues, because buying those for the pleasure of reading them is impossible as long as other people are buying them as capital investments; see above.)

From the perspective of things of interest only to me, I have my original copy of the adventure module Keep on the Borderlands. It’s not rare in any objective sense, because as one of the most popular adventures ever, there are literally thousands of copies still out there in the wild. But it’s extremely rare in a subjective sense, because it’s virtually the only one of my original high-school-era gaming works to survive. I know they’re just books, but I wish I had more of them.

2014-08-29

#RPGaDay 29

Day 29 — Most Memorable Encounter

This runs way too much of a risk of a “let me tell you about my character” moment, but:

As a player, an early high school session of AD&D. The Keep on the Borderlands. My 1st-level magic-user (Stormhand) and a couple of henchman made a not-so-stealthy infiltration of the ogre’s cave, during which Stormhand was grabbed up. With effectively 1 round in which to save his own life, he managed a shocking grasp to the ogre’s face, which the DM ruled was distracting enough to be dropped. It was the beginning of a long and auspicious adventuring career.

As a DM, a Saturday night about a month and a half ago. It was the first session of a long-awaited reboot of the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure from back in the day. I reworked the upper level of the temple (which is empty as written) to fill it with mercenary gnolls on guard for the cult. We were playing online using Roll20 and its dynamic lighting feature, meaning the characters were like little islands of light moving within this huge field of darkness filled with howling and the hiss of arrows launched by unseen foes. As an encounter I’d been wanting to play for more than two decades, it would have been memorable even if the PCs hadn’t kicked ass.