Finding Time: Google+ Saved my (Gaming) Life

I self-identify as a gamer more readily and/or instinctively than any other social sub-caste, up to and including “parent.” Good or bad, that’s the way it is.

(To be fair, I’ve been dropping dice on various flat surfaces and expressing their results as bloody narrative for something like 32 years, which is four times longer than I’ve logged as a shaper of innocent human larvae, so maybe that’s okay.)

The thing is, if you consider that randomaverage (which is effectively the oldest blog I have) has no other purpose than to provide a space upon which I can scratch my game-related sanskrit, and you disregard the stuff I’ve written about EVE (which while voluminous was basically a paid gig), it becomes glaringly obvious that despite my well-documented interests, I haven’t been doing a lot of gaming recently.

(Recently: the last three years.)

2010 was essentially the last great gaming hurrah around Casa Testerman — a drought whose origin can be directly tied to the arrival of my son, and with Child3 just arrived, it would be fair to assume another third of a decade wandering the non-gaming wasteland.

And yet.

2013 has, instead, seen the first green shoots of gaming life pushing up through the smothering mulch of diapers and dried formula that lies deep and crisp and even out to the edge of my personal horizon.

How can this be?

Some of it – a precious and important part – lies with the fact I’ve been able to start gaming with my daughter, but (so far, at least) that’s an unreliable and infrequent event, thanks to school and the mountains of homework we both have to deal with every week.

But aside from that, in the last fifteen weeks I’ve played in a dozen game sessions, which is the most proper gaming I’ve managed in the last three years, and the most time I’ve spent playing and not-GMing in… I think, ever.

The reason: Google+ Hangouts.

MMOs aside (and, really, they aren’t relevant to this discussion), I’ve never enjoyed much success with online gaming; things like play-by-post or play-by-email games just move too slowly to hold my interest for more than a few weeks. I tried out a Heroquest game via IRC text chat at one point, but even then the glacial pace was an issue – it was simply compressed into six-hour sessions instead of stretched over a month. Voice chat by itself never grabbed me – too much going on, and no way to easily sort out what was happening.

But Hangouts? Voice, video, dice rollers, shared maps/images… all available nigh-instantly, in one place, via a technological platform so simple my parents use it as a regular means of keeping in touch with their grandkids. I and the other players might as well be in the same room, with the added convenience that we aren’t — there’s no travel time, no room cleaning, no packing and carrying of game books, and your entire personal library of stuff remains immediately at hand because you haven’t gone anywhere. More than any other game sessions I’ve played, nearly 100% of the time you’ve allocated to playing is spent playing, instead of Getting There or Waiting For The Last Guy To Get There.

I think about how hard this all would have been as little as three years ago…

Screw jetpacks. THIS is the future.
Screw jetpacks. THIS is the future.

Now, I’m not a hermit – I don’t hate the idea of gathering together for gaming, nor do I even hate people (much).

But gathering is hard. Schedule a game session for even a modest 3 hours and you’re locked in for (at best) an hour on either side where (thanks to travel time, packing, prep, and the niceties of modern hygiene practice) you are essentially unavailable for any other purpose. As a parent who’d very much like his spouse to keep talking to him on a nigh-daily basis, that’s very nearly a non-starter right there.

But three hours when you don’t have to go anywhere and (in moments of need) can step away to help your understanding and supportive spouse for a few minutes? That’s good stuff.

This is all aided by the degree to which Google+ ties into the rest of the Google ecosystem. Schedule the event in your calendar and you (and your other players) get an emailed reminder at the right time, with a link to click on that will automagically open the hangout in a new window – no muss, no fuss. Pop an earpiece in or on, and you’re at the table. Better yet, wrap up, close the window, and you’re home. A three hour game session largely free of distraction, with the entirety of your home within easy reach, that starts and ended within minutes of the scheduled time and drops you right back into your family’s orbit? Nearly perfect, and no more disruptive to your home life than a long phone call. (I know I’ve spent more time providing long distance tech support to my family members, without forewarning, and didn’t feel nearly as good when the conversation wrapped up.)

“I have to get out.”

I’ve gotten excited about G+ gaming to the point where I’ve tried to set up regular gaming sessions on Google+ with people I actually know and see locally, because (a) I like playing with them and (b) even though they’re here, sitting down at the same table with them isn’t any easier just because we share a zip code – and it won’t be for at least another couple years (just for me, ignoring anyone else’s situation).

This desire to invite local friends to an online game led to an interesting conversation that exposed a fascinating misconception from one of my friends. I was talking about the game I was potentially planning, and asked if he’d be interested in joining. He replied:

“I really need to get out of my house and go meet with people to game.”

I asked if that was because of some technological problem.

“No. It’s that gaming is how I get out and see people. I don’t have the same opportunity you have to visit with interesting people at social events all the time.”

I laughed.

Loudly.

Because crying would have been awkward.

It should be obvious from what I’ve already written, but in case it’s not: I don’t find G+ useful because I’ve already had my fill of face to face contact. I enjoy G+ because it’s the best and often only regular option I have right now to have a conversation that doesn’t involve toilet training or homework assignments, without become completely unavailable as a husband or parent for five or six hours.

“I Don’t Know How You Do It.”

So this is my life right now:

  • Three kids: Infant, 2 year old, 8 year old
  • Two dogs
  • A marriage of which I’m rather fond
  • Full-time job
  • MFA program (writing workshop, directed reading, thesis, et cetera)
  • Part-time technical support for a forum
  • Guest speaker at a writer’s conference
  • Kickstarter project
  • Writing

And yet I fit in:

  • A regular weekly gaming session
  • A regular weekly writing workshop unrelated to the MFA (also online)

The reason it’s possible is:

  • My wife, who is awesome and supportive
  • Google+, which handles scheduling, reminders, play space, logs, dice rolling, voice, video, map sharing, doc sharing, and asynchronous communication between sessions, all via a platform that is low tech enough for nearly everyone I know

So… there you go. I don’t have a fancy wrap-up. Truth be told, I’ve been meaning to write this post for nearly a month, but I haven’t been able to find time. Funny and sad, when you think about it.

But I made time, because I think this is something more adult gamers need to know is out there. I’ve said before that I’m spending more time on Google+, because it’s the best online space for people who share your passion, and this is part of that. If you’re ones of those gamers who, if you’re honest, is really someone who used to be a gamer, you owe it to yourself to check out some of the Google+ communities and see what’s out there.

Hidden Things Audiobook kickstarter

[This post originally appeared on my other blog at doycetesterman.com.]

I’m a writer.

I write for a living and, more than that, I write because I love it. I always have: my first coherent story (a taut action-mystery-thriller in the ageless style of Alvin Fernald) is… let’s say “stored for posterity” in an old steamer chest in my garage. Handwritten, hand-bound, and illustrated in pen AND crayon – indisputably the best work I produced, circa 1979.

I’m proud of that little book, and the kid that wrote it. I’m proud of all the stories I’ve written since (even the ones consigned to my “still needs work” folder), the ones I’m working on right now, and (of course) Hidden Things. It’s a hell of a thing, to hold a book in your hands and see your words made solid in the world.

Things that make me happy.
Things that make me happy.

But I’ve never quite felt I was done with Hidden Things. Not quite.

Because for me, part of a story is telling it; actually speaking the words. Putting your characters’ rage and fear and joy into the air. Making listeners laugh, or cry, or groan. It’s simple: I was surrounded by storytellers as a kid, and that was what they did.

Now, I get to do it too.

Thanks to the efforts of my amazing agent and the fine folks at HarperCollins (who returned audio rights to me simply because I asked for them), I now have the opportunity to record the Hidden Things audiobook and make it available exactly the way I wish every audiobook could be.

I’m going to tell you a story.

More than that, we’re going to make it happen, together. Please, visit the Hidden Things Audiobook Kickstarter page to find out how.

I’m excited.

I’m a little scared.

I could not be happier.

HTAudio-cover draft Q


Interested in backing this project? Head to the Kickstarter page to find out more!

Want to find out more about the Hidden Things novel? We’ve got you covered.

Want to know why I’m so against DRM? Here you go.

Where I’ve Been

I haven’t been logged into Eve for awhile. Or DCUO. Or LotRO, or really anywhere online. Gaming has, in short, taken a bit of a back seat for awhile, though I doubt that’ll last.

The summer turned out to be a lot more busy than I’d expected.

One of the reasons is this guy.

2011-11-12 Jake

That’s Jake, my best buddy, who passed away yesterday. I wrote about it on my other blog, if you’re interested.

Atomic Robo, Some of the Most Fun You Can Have with Action Science!

Guaranteed* 98% free of unexpected explosions.

#wp  #gaming

* – Should not actually be considered any kind of guarantee. At all.

Atomic Robo & the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne | TheMittani.com
Let’s start with a quick questionnaire. Do you like: Buckaroo Banzai; Indiana Jones; Doc Savage; Hellboy (movie or comic); Science, especially when it is followed with an exclamation point or preceded by the words “violent,” “adventure,” or both; Nikola Tesla; Wisecracks; Beating up Nazis …

Fate: Trouble Magnet – Session Three

We picked up the action from Session Two the following day. Hooray for weekends and little brother’s naptime.


Matthew Cuthbert drives a beautifully preserved old pickup that purrs down the highway like a sleeping lion. Inside the cab of the pickup, the old man and young girl are quiet: Matthew seems a bit uncomfortable with small talk, now that he’s on his own, and the Nataly has always been comfortable entertaining herself — she pulls out several of her comic books once it’s clear Matthew isn’t going to spend the drive quizzing her, and dives in.

After a half-hour or so, he clears his throat and asks what she’s reading.

“Just… my comic books,” she says, looking at the covers as though she wasn’t sure the covers matched the contents.

“Ahh, I see…” he mulls that over. “Which, ah… which ones are those about?”

She shrugs. “Superman. Captain Spectacular. The Clue. War Witch. The Inspectre.”

“Well, now…” he says, smiling a bit, “I’ve even heard of some of those.” He frowns. “You know… it’s a puzzle. There’re superheroes out there, and there’s superhero comics, but a lot of the comics you mentioned are made-up people, instead of the real ones. I wonder why that is.”

[Note: I had not talked this idea over with Kaylee beforehand — we were just roleplaying through the car ride and I lobbed this at her to see what she’d do.]

Nataly considered for a few seconds, then shrugged. “People read the comics to have fun. If they read something that happened to a real superhero, that’s just… news. Nobody likes news.”

Matthew pondered that, then nodded. “I reckon that’s so.”

[The next day, I asked Kaylee which of the superheroes she mentioned were ‘real’ and which were ‘just comics’ in Nataly’s version of the world. The answer she gave told me that we’re in somewhere in the DC multiverse (I’ll call it Earth-23), albeit with a few unfamiliar names in the headlines. I suspect this is at least partly because she’d rather Nataly meet Robin than read about him.]

The drive was a long one — her new home wasn’t anywhere near Clearwater Campus, and Nataly wondered how her new family had even heard of it, let alone her. She asked about her new home, but Matthew didn’t know much.

“We just moved in a few days ago,” he said. “Marilla – my sister – picked it out, while I was coming to get you. Have you ever lived on a farm?”

Nataly shook her head.

“Me neither,” he confided. “I guess we’ll all figure it out together.”

“What did you do before you moved?” Nataly asked.

“Well, now…” he thought it over. “I suppose we were just… looking around for the right thing.”

Nataly dozed for awhile, and Matthew woke her when they got close to their destination.

“Now, Marilla is… really excited to meet you,” he said, “but she gets stern when she’s nervous, so don’t hold her first impression against her. She warms up over time.”

Nataly nodded. A veteran of uncounted “family interviews”, she had no fear of meeting new people.

The farm house looked as though it hadn’t been lived in for quite awhile. It was nice, just a bit run-down.

“We’ll have lots to work on,” thought Nataly.

A woman about Matthew’s age was waiting in the yard, and Nataly got out and walked over right away to shake her hand.

“So,” said Marilla, “you’re the girl.” She tried on a smile, though it didn’t look especially comfortable. “Good.”

Marilla and Matthew give Nataly a tour of the rambling old farmhouse, and she’s encouraged to unpack, but that really doesn’t take very long. The two suggest she ‘do a bit of exploring around the place’, which she does, though she purposely does not do any experimentation with her bracelet at this time, her reluctance explained as a desire to have at least one day go by at the farm with nothing going wrong. Supper and bedtime are pleasantly uneventful, and Nataly dozes off while (re)reading comic books.


The next morning, after helping with breakfast, Nataly is directed back outside for more ‘exploring’, and her own meandering and boredom eventually get the best of her and lead her to more messing around with her bracelet. This goes quite a bit better than the previous morning’s misadventure with Kendra, and after a few hours she finds she’s able to fly reliably and even get up a kind of ‘force bubble’ semi-reliably — it seems to be more of a flinch reaction when she’s about to smash into something hard.

She’s surprised to realize that flying is hard work: something that leaves her quite as winded as she would be from a long run or a series of sprints — it’ll be in her best interests to continue to ‘exercise’ her new abilities.

She returns to the house at lunchtime, washes up, helps lay food out, eats enough for three grown adults, chattering the whole time, and then actually falls asleep sitting in her chair. Matthew carries her up to her room and she naps for almost three hours, then helps her new family unpack and organize the house. Marilla doesn’t think much of her comic books, but does have a surprisingly broad selection of science fiction novels that Nataly has never heard of and which Marilla seems eager for the girl to read.

Nataly wakes in the middle of the night unsure what’s jolted her from sleep, but doesn’t have to wait long — the strange skittering across both the roof of the house and the floor of her room answers that question quickly enough.

She’s still trying to decide if she should go and explore or call for someone when a large, clicking, metallic spider-creature-thing jumps onto the foot of her bed.

The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.
The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.

Nataly, never a big fan of spiders in general, much less big robo-spiders the size of dobermans, lets out a shriek, shoves at the thing and… blasts it back off her bed and right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole between her room and Marilla’s.

There’s a moment of stunned silence, then Nataly shouts:

“Marilla!”

Just as Marilla shouts:

“Matthew! They’re here!”

Who’s here?” Nataly hollers, and jumps out of bed.

“Get downstairs!” is her only reply, and she does so, stopping only long enough to grab her backpack.

The outside of the house is crawling with spiderbots.

Spiderbots
Metal Shell, Spindly Legs

+2 to Creepy Spider Stuff
-2 to everything else.

No stress boxes.

Four of the ‘bots leap down, a silvery web spread out between them like a net. Nataly throws a force field up that’s too big for the web to surround, the spiders themselves hit it and bounce away. Matthew tries to grab one and smash it, but it crawls up/wraps around his arm and grapples with him.

Marilla emerges from the house carrying a bag that would intimidate Mary Poppins and snaps at Nataly to get to the barn, but the girl isn’t going to leave her new friends… family. Whatever. She drops her own force field and creates shields around Marilla and Matthew instead, which give them more than enough of an edge against the spiders to do some damage. Matthew peels his loose and smashes it against a second one, destroying both, while Marilla’s arm seems to… fold apart, revealing a very large gun barrel that spews bright blasts of energy that make short work of several spiders (though they also damage the house and start several small fires).

Matthew, at least, is willing to listen to Marilla, and heads to the barn to get his pickup out so they can get away.

Nataly’s a bit traumatized by her brand new home being on fire, but Marilla’s grim determination helps her stay focused. Marilla’s unexpected offensive has the spiderbots reeling. [Rather than going for damage, she created an Advantage for Nataly to exploit, and the dice were very kind, giving Nataly two free +2 aspect invocation bonuses to use against the enemy.]

Nataly takes advantage of Marilla ‘grouping’ the stunned spiderbots into several large clusters and tries to repeat the trick she did to the bot that jumped on her bed, hurling several ‘balls’ of force energy at the clusters of spiders.

[[Between the two free invokes, the +2 bonus she gets from one of her stunts, Kaylee’s insistence on using a Fate Point to invoke her ‘bracelet’ aspect, a good dice roll on her part and a bad dice roll on my part, she ended up with something like fourteen (!) shifts worth of damage to dole out amongst the ‘bots. Not enough to take them all out, but more than enough to cut their numbers by half and give her and her family plenty of time to drive away.]]

It’s quiet in the cab of the truck. Nataly is looking out the back window at her first real home, burning, dwindling in the distance.

“Well…” Matthew finally says. “I’d guess you did a bit of something or other with your bracelet today?”

Nataly doesn’t know what to say, or how he knew, so she simply nods. He nods in return, glancing at Marilla, who’s mouth gets tight.

“It’s our own fault,” she says, “this foolishness about living out in the country. There’s no other anomalous energy signatures out here — anything the girl does will stand out like a spotlight.” She shakes her head.

“I’m sorry,” Nataly’s voice is small, sure that this is all her fault.

“Oh, girl, don’t be silly. We should have known better.”

“I could… just…” she swallows “…not use the bracelet?”

“Well, now…” Matthew drawls. “That won’t do, I don’t think.” (Which is a great relief to Nataly.)

“No it will not,” Marilla agrees, primly. “The problem is being out here in the open.” She considers. “What a body needs is camouflage — the more strange things going on around us, the less likely anyone’s going to notice the girl.” She looks at Matthew.

“City it is, then,” he replies, and spares a smile for Nataly. “Best you get some sleep. It’s a long drive to Mercury Bay.”

Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

So I'm thinking about Area of Effect attacks in Fate, and came up with a stunt for same. 

AoE Junkie. +2 to any Magical attack action where you split your final total between multiple targets.

The basic idea is a Stunt that makes attacking a few people at once a decent option, while still resulting in attacks that are weaker, on a target-by-target basis, than a single-target version would have been. Thoughts?

[I reallly want to add follow-up "Lina Inverse" stunt that gives an additional if you target allies as well as enemies, indiscriminately. :)]

#gaming   #fate