I took some time earlier this week to guest-post in the Pathfinder Online blog about my work on the village of Thornkeep, part of the Pathfinder Online setting. If you’re curious, you can find my post here:
I have a couple of other projects keeping me busy these days, but nothing else I can really talk about yet. Keep your eyes peeled for Prince of Ravens, my upcoming e-book; next time I post I’ll make sure I provide some good links or pointers to places where you can find it.Oh, and no blog entry next week: We’ve got family visiting from the East Coast. So don’t expect me back here until June 30th or so with a good long look at what’s next in Jack Ravenwild’s life.
Gaming: I’ve long held the opinion that multiplayer games without preset sides are a uniquely difficult social dynamic for many people. Games like Risk, Diplomacy, Kingmaker, Empires of the Middle Ages, or Twilight Imperium all present the player with a viciously hard decision right at the very beginning: Who are you going to screw over? That’s bad enough, because you often don’t really know what the right answer is when you make a decision that affects the rest of the game. But, even worse, there’s a metagame element to it too. When you decide to stop Joe from grabbing North America right at the start of a Risk game, maybe he shrugs it off as part of the game—or maybe he nurses a grudge against you all week. Be honest now: You’ve played Risk with Joe, haven’t you? Everybody has at one point or another.That wicked social dynamic is the reason why I’ve always enjoyed the Axis & Allies boardgames. Only the most absolutely unreasonable Joe will hold a grudge if he’s playing Russia and Germany attacks him. The game’s preset alliances provide a fig leaf of decency to that first punch in the nose. There’s no opportunity for betrayal, or even perceived fictional betrayals, when your adversaries have to announce themselves up front. It’s why I designed Conquest of Nerath to work as a faction game as well as a free-for-all game.
I think that many game designers really overlook that tough social dynamic when building free-for-all games, and count on players to self-regulate in cooperating against the frontrunner or manage the endgame. If we’re all confident, mature, thick-skinned gamers, sure, that works. But we’re not—we don’t want to pick fights, we get angry when people pick on us, we hold grudges. I sometimes wonder if games like Risk would be better if it included a spinner with the different player-piece colors marked on it, just to help out those folks who can’t stand to make friends sore at them. I bet the psychology of being able to point to the spinner and say, “Dude, I’m sorry, but the spinner says I gotta attack you” would prevent a surprising amount of arguments and bruised friendships.Back when I was first starting out in the game design biz, I had the good fortune to work with veteran TSR designer Bruce Nesmith. Bruce had a great insight about multiplayer, free-for-all games that has served me well for years: Every time you sit down to play, pick one person at the table to be your ally, and one to be your enemy. Never do anything to screw your ally (unless of course he breaks the alliance first), and never cut your enemy a break. Don’t let fleeting opportunities or setbacks change your allegiances. If you have a hard time choosing sides in free-for-all games, give this a try!
Politics/Current Events: A few months ago I wrote about the upcoming Wisconsin recall election, and why I thought it was important. As you might imagine, I was gratified to see that Walker survived his recall. Some of my Wisconsin friends have now moved on to a “well, Walker’s a criminal who is about to be indicted” argument. I really can’t speak to that, since I’m not familiar with the accusations. But I find that I’m just a little dubious about the latest calls for Walker’s head after the string of Democrat efforts to stop him at any cost. Busing out-of-state protestors into Madison, death threats against Republican legislators, Democrat legislators fleeing to Illinois to deny a quorum, the full-court press to elect a more favorable State Supreme Court and the ridiculous accusations of assault against judge David Prosser when that failed, the endless Hitler comparisons, and of course the effort to recall just about every potentially vulnerable Republican in state government… sorry, somewhere along the way you lost me.At the end of the day, the single most illuminating element of this debate might be what the public-sector union employees have done with their money since Wisconsin law stopped auto-deducting union dues out of their paychecks. Membership in AFSCME dropped from 63,000 in March 2011 to 28,700 a year later. In other words, half the union members chose to keep the money that formerly had to go to union coffers. Think about that for a moment: First of all, didn’t these former union members *gain* the right to *not* participate in a union if they didn’t want to? Isn’t that a valuable worker’s right, too? And secondly, the old system took money from taxpayers of all parties and (through public sector employee salaries) paid it to unions, who then of course donated overwhelmingly to the Democratic party. Somehow it just seems wrong to force folks to make campaign contributions to people they disagree with. How is that not an infringement on their freedom of speech?
I don’t have a problem with unions in the private sector. There is no doubt that they won many important improvements in working conditions that all Americans benefit from today. But a union in the private sector has to exist in a symbiosis with the company its workers are employed by. If you drive your employer out of business with your demands, everybody loses, so you don’t do that. The difficulty with a public sector union is that it has the ability to elect the people it will negotiate with, and that it has no fear of putting the government out of business. Who exactly is looking out for the taxpayers’ interests when AFSCME or SEIU sits down across the table from Democrat politicians they helped to elect?
The Finer Things: One thing I’ve come to look forward to each year in the Northwest is the stately progression of one thing after another playing the starring role in the spring. First it’s the cherry trees with their beautiful pink blossoms, then the dogwoods with their more modest white ones. Then we get a week or two of cottonwood blizzards, with the air full of drifting fluff. After that the rhododendrons bloom in an outrageous variety of colors with blossoms the size of bowling balls. And somewhere in there the scotch broom, a dry and scraggly weed for most of the year, covers itself in tiny bell-shaped flowers like dabs of bright yellow butter, and suddenly every hillside you can see has turned gold. I never considered myself much of a gardener, but I have to say that every year I’m just a little more impressed by the show.