Friday, August 30, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I just finished Neil Gaiman's new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and find myself on the edge of tears. It's not a sad novel, not really, but there's something so very melancholy about it, about reflecting on the past, and the decisions people make, and the things they forget, and the other people who make them who they are.

It's not swords and sorcery, but as pure a fantasy as you might ever read, more akin to Stardust than American Gods, though it is set in the here-and-now (and the then-and-there). The Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone make appearances, and are both mundane and magical in surprising ways. Mostly, though, it's just a story about a little boy, and his brush with the infinite, with a cursory glance toward the man he's still becoming. That said, I shan't spoil it with details; I'm still working through them, myself. This is a book that has invisible pages, if you know what I mean, and I'm still looking for the word, the line, the way (with apologies to Mr. Bukowski). I love it when a book does that to me.

I recommend it to you without reservation. It's a very short book, but perfect in length, nonetheless. Mr. Martin, you could probably learn something about that from Mr. Gaiman, I think.

I've been reading a few other things, as well, and I'll be reporting on them soon.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Numenera, GenCon Swag, and Other Thoughts

Last weekend was excellent. Even though I was battling my first cold of the year (which does suck), my spirits were kept high by the receipt of two packages in the mail.

First, I got my Kickstarter pledge reward from the Numenera campaign. To begin with, the core rulebook is gorgeous. The cover is unusually bright and cheerful (lots of orange and yellow), and the layout of the book is well-conceived and executed. I like the artwork, though I understand that some people have bitched about it. Overall, the book itself is slick and beautiful. I have not had much chance this week to look at it, though, between work and feeling like crap. I will have a more thorough review of its content in a later post.

Special mention goes to my friend and compatriots +Wayne Snyder and +Harley Stroh, who gifted me with many fine things in the past week or so. Thanks a lot to both of you. You don't suck nearly as much as people say you do. (I kid, I kid!)

Wayne was my man on the scene at GenCon, and picked me up a bunch of swag at the Goodman Games booth. Two 'Con-only adventures (Well of the Worm and Tower of the Black Pearl), as well as the GG program (which also has adventures in it), a DCC button (Party like it's 1974), the gold foil edition of Harley's new adventure, Fate's Fell Hand, and--have mercy!--several books: Three Kane novels and on Morigu novel. I'm looking forward to those.

Harley, on the other hand, only sent me one thing, but it was... incredibly awesome: An early Doug Kovacs sketch of "The Band," the ever-changing group of adventurers depicted in Goodman Games' products. That sucker is getting framed as soon as payday comes, and going up on my wall.

I also got my copy of the Seclusium of Orphone of the Three Visions from +James Raggi's crowd-funded adventures campaign. +Zak Smith has already offered a review of the product, which seems like a pretty fair-minded read on it. It's a very pretty book, but one I'm not sure I will get a lot of use out of. However, it does provide content that could be adapted quite easily to our Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad DCC campaign. Wizards in that game need to be a little bit (okay, fine, a lotta bit) crazy. The seclusium generator provides a convenient starting place for making that happen. Crazy wizard towers? Check. I'll be thinking on this a bit before I try it out. If it happens, you'll hear about it here. +Vincent Baker has made a solid effort with the book, IMHO, and I'd like to see where I can take it. I can't wait to see Broodmother Sky Fortress, also from that crowdfunding campaign.

In other news, I already mentioned my intentions to go to GenCon next year. I'm also getting ready to crank up a bit of scholarship in preparation for that trip. I'm going to try for a two-fer: Work and play. The "work" part of it is under consideration right now. I'm already working on something related to hangout gaming and ConstantCon, about which you will be hearing more soon. However, I'm becoming more and more interested in the persistence and development of the OSR as a distinct cultural enclave with its own communities, products, debates and drama and petty high school bullshit, etc. I most likely will be attempting to interview members of the community on topics related to that research, and perhaps doing a bit of survey research as well. More on that later.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The die is cast!

+Harley Stroh has cast "Summon Edgar." Do you think you can handle the result, man? Do you? Don't you know that your immortal soul is in peril?

I've already booked my room for GenCon 2014. The Hilton ain't cheap, but what the hell.

Truth be told, I've never been to this kind of conference, only academic conferences. I think (just maybe) this one is going to be a lot more fun than the National Communication Association. Just a guess. It is, however, at a very unfortunate time for me, professionally. You know how professors have to gear up for the new school year, what with registration & advising, course planning, meetings, etc? Yeah, well, that happens the week of GenCon (i.e., the week before classes start), at least at my school.

Nonetheless... Sacrifices must be made!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

(Yet Another) Review: Ambition & Avarice

With all my peeps up at GenCon, gaming has been a bit sparse of late. On top of that, the school year is revving up again, and I'll be returning to the classroom after a three-semester absence for administrative work. Take those things together, and I haven't had much to post on the blog, lately.

However, I recently received my copy of +Greg Christopher's Ambition and Avarice, and wanted to provide a quick review and some editorial feedback for Greg (not solicited, but hopefully recognized as a good-faith statement on my part).

Given the sheer number of D&D-like products that have been produce by the OSR community over the last few years, any new offering in the "original fantasy" genre would have to do a few things differently, and Ambition & Avarice does so.


The first difference in A&A is the available player character races, which include "barbarian" races like Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Lizardfolk, among others. This opens up the ranks of player characters to characters taht could take your campaign in a vastly different direction. Here, we have "monster" races, and the ability to figure out what makes a "monster" campaign work differently from a campaign with only the "normal" races included--Or, perhaps, exactly the same: We're all murder-hobos here, after all. It's also nice that the different races actually manifest unique traits, with real in-game mechanical effects. For example, Dark Elves are good with poisons and with lock-picking. Dwarves are good at recognizing unusual stonework and finding traps.

A&A's take on the "normal" player character classes is also pretty cool. The game dispenses with clerics entirely, making them another sort of mage. Frankly, I like that approach. Even though a play a cleric in many games, I've never really understood why clerics had to be a separate class. They're magic users, pure and simple, but their magic is in a particular vein. Hence the Priest, Shaman, and Cultist magic using/religious classes, each with its own particular twist on the magical and the religious. This is true across the selection of classes provided. Something particularly new, though, is the notion of class-specific "companions"--henchmen/followers in the player character's service. These are mechanically intrinsic to the class itself, and not something related to 9th level domain play, as in D&D. I like this a lot, as it makes explicit the ways in which one learns the trade of fighter or priest or thief, and makes the PC a bit more... heroic in tone.

Updated Game Rules & Mechanics

Greg's take on the regular ways of accomplishing combat, magic, and dice rolling mechanics, generally, is somewhat different from normal. Yes, it's still a combination of d6 and d20 mechanics, but articulated in a way that is updated and somewhat more rational than the Original Game and its closest imitators. I'm not going to enumerate every single instance of this, as A&A has revamped a lot of the mechanics for doing what we do when we loot a dungeon. Here are a couple of brief examples.

Some mechanics are aided or focused by specific items of equipment. For example, a crowbar makes it easier to force doors. A helmet makes it easier to survive "blast" effects.

There are a lot of these little things, many of which are only modest changes to how things work in other games, a focused exposition of the results of this particular author's experiences as a GM. They may work differently from "normal," but you get the sense that it's not just because Greg's trying to do it differently just to make it different. Rather, it seems to be the result of what he's learned and how he makes things work better, an expression of his particular wisdom. While not everyone would reach the same conclusions in house-ruling their own flavors of D&D-like games, this ruleset does a nice job of articulating his approach in a clear, well-organized, and explicit way. It's worth reading in full, even if you're an experienced OSR player/GM.

Equipment Lists are Cool

The equipment lists included in this game are actually a lot of fun. They are extensive, specific, and really seem to be oriented toward making players think about what they carry into a dungeon and why they carry those things. Every weapon, armor, or equipment item is not only listed, but explained in ways that make their potentials clear. Again, sometimes these potentials even include linkage to specific types of die rolls are other means of achieving in-game mechanical effects. I think that this sort of thing would be particularly useful for GMs and players who haven't really played an old-school fantasy game, and need to make the shift in their thinking about how to approach such games differently from, for example, 3.x and 4th edition D&D. It's a small detail, but one of those things that makes explicit what many old-schoolers leave implicit. It helps to articulate the difference between these approaches in a way that makes clear that thinking and resource management (and interacting with the environment in general) are important to successful gameplay.

GM Advice

"The Judge," Christopher's take on how to be a GM is one of my favorite parts of the book. He does a great job of articulating what is different about the OSR approach, including discussion of railroading (and why it sucks), maintaining objectivity, the importance of randomness and unpredictability, and articulation of some important basic principles for world-building and sandbox play, and different ways of thinking about "dungeons" as spaces for play. I also like the section in this chapter that deals with "tropes," those narrative devices we use to create a sense of narrative frames and the characters' places in them. There's a lot more to this section, and I encourage you to take a look at it.

He also provides a sense of the reasoning behind his advice, and I think this really adds a lot of value to the product, especially for those players who are less experiences with Old School styles of play. However, even experienced players and GMs will find something to consider and/or use in their own games, in most cases.

Layout and Design

Ambition & Avarice fills a brief and useful 97 pages, including spell listings (though there are no monsters included, which tends to depress the page count a bit, certainly).

The content itself is well organized and features a detailed table of contents. There is no index, though probably a book this short doesn't necessarily need one. Use of color and tables helps to present summary information in a easy-to-spot and digestible manner. You won't have to scour this manual to find out what cool things your character's race or class furnishes, for example: They leap right off the page.

The artwork is black and white, and features line drawings of thematically appropriate content. I like its simplicity. While it's not sophisticated or complicated (or completely overwrought, for that matter), it provides a sense of thematic unity with the textual content. It provides "flavor" more than literal illustration of the textual content.

Editing (My Only Beef)

The only real negative thing I take away from A&A is poor editorial execution. As I read through the text, the number of typos and malapropisms was a bit startling to me. Now, mind you, I'm sort of a stickler about this stuff, as I edit a lot of people's work, so understand that this is something that bugs me a lot more than it might other people. That said, I was pretty disappointed at how poor a job was done in proofreading the document. Prime example: "it's" is not a possessive form; it's a contraction of a pronoun/verb pair. It's important to make that distinction correctly.

Little problems like this are minor, certainly, but after you've seen them ten or so times in the span of two pages, they start to seem like much bigger problems. I've given +Erik Tenkar shit a couple times about this (and, look, he was one of the proofreaders! Hehe hehe...), so it will come as no surprise that this is what I choose to harp on. I make plenty of mistakes, myself, but there's a big difference between doing so on a blog and in published works for which you charge money.

I think it's a good ruleset, and I think the price he's charging is very, very reasonable. Certainly, I don't mean to shit on this product because of the typos. That said, I find them distracting and I think Ambition & Avarice would be a much better product without them. I hope that Greg will take the time to fix these errata for future editions of the book. Given that it's a print-on-demand product, there's no reason not to do so. Hell, I'd be happy to go through and make another editorial pass for him, if he'd like, so I'm not just complaining.


  • Neat book
  • Decent art
  • Well worth the price of admission
  • Great starter game for people new to OSR
  • Some interesting new takes on old mechanics that could be useful to experienced GMs and players
  • Please re-edit this thing, and be a bit more careful next time.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Brief Review of Stars Without Number Supplements, etc.

I took advantage of the "Christmas in July" sale at RPGNow, probably spending a bit more money than I probably should have. But, hey, it's a sale, right? The more you spend the more you save! I'll keep telling myself that, at least.

In any case, I finally picked up the print version of Sine Nomine Publishing's Stars Without Number Core Edition, which I've wanted for some time, but I also purchased two supplements: Skyward Steel and Suns of Gold. Skyward Steel provides additional rules and setting information for interstellar naval campaigns, and Suns of Gold does the same, but for merchant campaigns.

These slim volumes are supplemental to Stars Without Number, and provide a ton of content despite a relatively low page count. In each case,, as with Stars Without Number, there are a ton of useful tables to help the GM put together a campaign relatively quickly. Each also provides the same post-apocalyptic setting/history set forth in the core game, but from the perspective of its particular focus. What happened to space navies, and what happened to interstellar trade?

I must note, here, that (once again) +Kevin Crawford's work on these books is really amazing. I am especially impressed by his advice for developing campaigns in particular genres. For example, a merchant campaign could take on a "space truckers" theme, with players navigating between star systems, moving cargo, passengers, and the like, legally or not, always chasing the next cargo and the next payoff. Crawford describes it this way:

One of the most popular forms of merchant campaign is the classic “space trucker” model, where the PCs are just small traders trying to make a living carrying goods from world to world. They may not even own their own spaceship and might be constantly pressed to make enough money to pay off the loan installments. They may strike it rich on a deal now and then, but the money usually slips through their hands without fundamentally changing their lives. (Suns of Gold, p. 56)

This makes me think about Firefly, about the Millennium Falcon, and, sadly enough, about BJ and the Bear and various iterations of Smoky and the Bandit. That would be a weird mashup, to be sure, but fun.

What strikes me most about what follows is how well the author seems to understand the sorts of situations and choices that will confront the players and GM of such a campaign. He suggests what might happen, and what the players might want as the campaign develops, and how, mechanically, the GM can deal with the evolving situation. His advice is useful and easy to read, and, as is the case with the rest of this line of products (from what I've seen, at least) Crawford has a very detailed but flexible vision. The implied setting is well-developed and interesting, but you needed feel tied to it. And these supplements just provide new ways to express your own interests, and a few rules/mechanics to manage the particular focus of the campaign. They are not stand-alone systems, but bolt-on modules to be attached to the SWN Core rules.

If you haven't checked out Stars Without Number, you should. It's a neat system. I especially like the 2d6 skills mechanic. The PDFs are relatively cheap, and the POD versions are nice looking. I enjoy having them at hand, and not just on-screen. These supplements to SWN are useful additions, and provide a lot of flexibility for GMs who are trying to put together their own space-based campaigns. There also are supplements for cyberpunk (Polychrome) and espionage (Darkness Visible), for anyone interested in adding those sort of things to their campaigns. I've also noticed that Sine Nomine has a metric fuckton of free campaign materials, including adventures, up on the RPGNow site. So, picking up SWN or Other Dust or whatever other game you might want to play means you also will be able to get additional, useful materials, right away and at no additional cost. As an added bonus, Stars Without Number also has a free version, so you don't even need to purchase the core book to play it. Nice!

So, if you haven't done so, pick up some stuff from Sine Nomine. I don't think you'll be disappointed. The products of of good quality and good value.

Oh, and another cool thing: I also picked up a hardcopy of Nova Praxis, a FATE-system-based game which I reviewed in an earlier blog post. The physical book is very nice. I'm one of those very few people who doesn't own an iPad, it seems, so I appreciate having the print edition. It's just as pretty as the enhanced PDF, but with the added bonus of me not having to sit at my computer or laptop in order to read it. I even picked up an extra, to pass along to a friend. It's not cheap, mind you, but it's very, very nice.

Just to be clear, I've been doing a few reviews on this blog, but I never seem to say that anything sucks, and that you shouldn't buy it. At some point, I suppose I'll post a negative review of something. So far, though, it seems like I'm buying things that I like, so it's pretty difficult to accomplish.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What's in it, then, and why should I care?

I just read a thoughtful piece by +Shoe Skogen, over on her blog (highlighted by +Zak Smith), and it got me thinking about why I game the way that I do, why I enjoy what I enjoy, and similar matters of the heart (as applied to gaming more generally).

To begin with, and I think my readers will probably agree, I play games to have fun. If I'm not having fun, then there'd better be some other reason to continue. Now, what is "fun" can vary widely. I've had fun as a player and as a GM. I've had fun having my characters killed, cursed, or otherwise fucked up beyond repair. I've had fun being on the verge of TPKing my players, and then had fun watching them defeat my fiendish plans through a combination of lastounding luck, teamwork, and sheer audacity. In short, there's a lot of ways to have fun with an RPG. My fun may not be your sort of fun, nor yours, mine. That's okay.

But here's what I like.

I Like Stories

The main thing that I like about RPGs is the story. I've been an avid reader since I was about 9. To quote myself (of all people) about myself:
Miss Hopkins, my first grade teacher, read to us every day. She read a lot of stuff by Beverly Cleary: The Mouse and the Motorcycle was my favorite. I was learning to read as well, and the first books I would read myself were those read to us by Miss Hopkins. We also were learning to write. That was a very different matter than reading. Each day, before lunch, Mrs. Hopkins would write five sentences on the board. Our task was to copy them into our notebooks, using one of those oversized pencils the little kids used back then. I never finished the job. Not once. It was tedious and boring, and I just couldn’t make myself do it. Instead I sat there, thinking, looking out of the window, bored out of my head, and filled with more than a little fear that I would get in trouble for not doing the work. Miss Hopkins never said anything though, not a word. Flash forward.
I was in third grade, at a new school. I had no one to hang out with, having been betrayed recently by my “best friend,” Ernie. It was lunchtime, and I was in the first floor hallway. On some impulse, I walked into the library. The librarian saw me standing there. I probably looked very small and a little lost. She walked right up to me, and asked if she could help me find a book. She was very nice, and even asked me what I was interested in. I walked out of there with The Sword in the Stone. It was a thick, heavy book, but easy to read. I read it in just two days. My life would never be the same. Within the year, I would be going through books like most people go through socks. Reading became my entertainment and my refuge. To this day, I cannot sleep at night without reading at least a few pages.
That state of affairs has persisted to this day. My shelves groan under the weight of my books. I'm always looking for new ones, and rereading old ones. They are weirdly important to me. I had a roommate at one time who was standing in our living room, looking at the TV. I was on the couch, doing the same. Then I noticed that he was standing on top of a book, which was on the floor. It was a discrete math book, if I recall correctly. I think I'd sold it to him. "Kyle," I said, "don't stand on the book."

He looked at me, uncomprehending on some fundamental level, what I was about. "Why not?"

"It's disrespectful," I replied.

This went on a bit longer, my arguing my (admittedly irrational) argument, and he his (which was more practical and which had no regard for my bibliophilic anthropomorphism). Eventually, just to humor me, he relented. So, yeah, books are that important to me. The idea that someone would destroy books is abhorrent.

Anyhow, for me, gaming is about telling stories. Given my proclivities, those stories tend to combine some elements of grittiness, intrigue, fighting, theft, wondrous objects and machines, treasures with potentially fatal flaws, villains worthy of love and respect, genre stereotypes done just a bit differently (but to the hilt), journeys to Some Crazy Place to do or retrieve Some Crazy Thing, lots of peril, long-term consequences for failure (and even for success), at least some character deaths (I'm not out to get you, I'm trying to tell a good story. It's not personal.), and as many "What the holy hell is that shit?" moments as possible.

As a storyteller, I most certainly am performing a piece. Not in the sense that I'm hamming it up. That happens, but there's only so much I can do with just the one, vaguely Eastern European character accent I have for my use. I mean I'm trying to perform more in the sense of a magician's performance. I'm trying to make like a conjure-man of skill and grace, to put this detail in the setting, to trigger that thought in the players' minds, which causes them to pursue this goal or motivation, which makes everything go fucking nuts. This usually results in my being completely stressed out for an hour or so, trying to keep track of and manage the three or four plot lines I'm working to bring together at a climax of some sort. All through this process, I have a group of people who are there for their own reasons, doing things their own ways, and my job is to try to bring all of that into the fray, as well. Sometime it works. When it works, it's like eating a good meal or getting laid or hearing a new song that rocks you all the way down to your marrow.

So, this is, for me, about telling a story, and making it as epic a tale as possible. Over time, the players in my campaigns will have a sense of the world, and (more importantly) a sense of their place in it. Even when I play in others' games, I like to make a place in it. When I play a cleric, I want to be more than a dispenser of healing. I want to witness my faith. I want to smite the unrighteous. I want to make the world a better place in which to provide glory unto my chosen deity. When I'm a thief, I want riches and to be legendary in some respect, to pull off the capers that will give people reason to be awe-stricken by their audacity and execution. When I'm a member of a party of adventurers, I want us to play like we mean to win. I also expect that we'll play our characters in ways that make sense (not meta-sense), and that, even though we might know that playing in-character could be fatal, damned if we don't do it anyway. That's the difference between telling a story right, and being more interested in winning than in making it fucking awesome. Give me awesome all day, every day. I don't care if my zero-level funnel characters are dying. Just make it awesome. I'll go roll up some more. And if an established character dies, then I will damned well mourn that character like it mattered, even if (as GM) I was the bastard what killed him.

As an addendum, I must say that I love gaming books. PDFs are fine, but give me a big, printed tome and all is right with the world. If it's got fun art and lots of little bits to play around with, all the better. A tale for another time, I think.

I Like Tweaking on Details

When I write adventures, I take it very, very seriously. I like to have them completely written before I even start playtesting. I like to write and edit and revise, over and over. I like to build in little widgets and subsystems. I like to use the details to paint in parts of the larger picture of the campaign world, and imagine the implications for the player characters and their places in that world. I like to create real-seeming NPCs with motivations and goals. I like to make monsters. I like to make places and neighborhoods, and to put people in them. Basically, I like to put into my adventures the same sorts of details that matter in a good story. Characters, settings, structural imbalance requiring some sort of resolution, and (ideally) some level of indeterminacy as to what that resolution might be.

For me, there's a strong element of craftsmanship in this task, and the process of drafting, editing, revising, and so forth, is much the same to me as what happens when I build a piece of furniture, from the rough carpentry, to the finer finishing carpentry, to the sublime joy of watching the development of a fine finish, putting on the the stain, then the polyurethane, then fine sanding, then more urethane, then increasingly fine grades of steel wool, and then polishing cloths and wax, until that finish just glows. It makes for a thing of beauty, that level of detail, whether its a game or an end table. The great thing about gaming is that I don't have to provide all of the details. I have players who help me do that, and take me places I wouldn't otherwise have gone.

When I finally get an adventure ready to go. When the maps are drawn/drafted, and the narrative established, and the NPCs settled, and the adventure areas keyed, and the monsters and traps ready to rip the party to shreds... it's just so shiny and beautiful. There's not really another feeling like it, and I find it tedious, difficult, entrancing, obsessive, and completely addictive. Getting, then, to play that adventure with a bunch of people who really want to be there, as well... that's an incredible bonus.

In fact, much of my gaming life, until recently, included more writing of adventures than actually playing them; making characters rather than actually playing them; imagining rather than playing. It's a lot more fun for me to play, but I still get a lot of personal satisfaction just from having crafted something that could be played.

I Like Love Dice

You'd think at this point that, given my obsessive control fetish with regard to adventures, I'd want to maintain as much direct influence over the happenings in my game universe as I can. That's not precisely true, as I've learned in my encounter with Dungeon Crawl Classics. DCC is incredibly swingy in terms of its dice mechanics. Those mechanics can turn shit into gold and, subsequently, turn that gold into plutonium that will FUCKING KILL YOU. I recently watched the Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad guys go from being on the cusp of a (very sad) TPK, to rolling like the very Metal Gods were on their side, and somehow avoiding what seemed like certain death. That never would have happened without the dice (a dice simulator, actually). While some people hate that sort of randomness, I love it. I like being surprised, and I like having to deal with unintended consequences of seemingly predictable actions and situations. I even like it (though less so) when it makes me fail. And fail again. And fail again. Just as an aside, I'm a shit cleric. When I cast my spells in DCC, I fail entirely too often. It's become ludicrous. Still (as I said above), that can make for a pretty good story, in itself.

I also like making things that you can do with dice. I like creating game subsystems, improvised tools using dice, and I really love random generators. I especially love random generators that use all of the dice. Most recently, I've been working on some tables that use literally "all of the dice," including d3, d4, d5, d6, d7, d8, d10, d12, d14, d16, d20, d24, and d30. No d100, though. I'm not a fucking masochist.

Finally, I love the dice themselves. I like their physicality and their various forms. I like my dice to be both useful and decorous. I like to have sets in all the colors. I like to have all the kinds of dice I could possibly use. I like to have dice I can simply give away to my players. I have so many dice. I want more dice. I want some of those metal dice, and some natural stone dice. I want all of the dice.

So I bought all of the dice.

Still, I somehow think I could use some more dice. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with me? Enough is enough... but I need some more green ones, and some purples, and...

I Hate Like People

Okay, that's not true. For the most part, I find most people fairly tedious. My job forces me into situations (teaching, committees, etc.) where I have to be "on" pretty much all the time. It's exhausting, mostly. I'm an introvert, and doing that sort of thing for long periods of time is draining to me. However, if those people are providing the absolutely correct vibe, if they're all putting out the right energy, then I actually am energized. In most of my life, outside of my wife and kid, and a few close friends, I much prefer my own company.

That said, I've been lucky to find the people I've found on G+. I never would have met them, otherwise, and I'm quite thankful that I have found them. These are the people I really like to game with, because they are people I like to talk to. I like the cuts of their jibs (to paraphrase Monty Burns). These are people with whom I think I could share a beer in person, and not just virtually. These are the people who make me laugh and laugh at the stupidest gaming shit in the world. "Herbgerblins" is a word that now makes me giggle incessantly, and my regular Metal God of Ur-Hadad group would probably laugh even harder. Even people with whom I game infrequently are a lot of fun.

There's a certain level of cross-pollination that occurs as well. Really good writers are never alone. They read other authors, and steal bits of their approaches, making them over in their own ways. Most recently, my gaming has stolen bits from +Adam Muszkiewicz's work on his Ur-Hadad setting. We've had an incredible collaboration, and our work together has taken me in very, very interesting and creative directions. Some time soon, you all will have a chance to see some things that the Metal Gods crew has been working on.

My hangout games on G+ have really been fun, too. I've gotten to play +James Aulds's version of Stars Without Number. It's a blast. Even though it's not the same adventure I would have written myself, I've learned a lot from his approach. I've also had a ton of fun playing it. I frequently play in +Shawn Sanford's Saturday games. That group is a lot of fun, as well, and I've particularly enjoyed playing with Barry, Alexei, Chris, Steven, and the rest of the Saturday crew. We've been through a lot together, and they can attest (as I've already mentioned) that I'm a shit cleric whose gods hate him.

I Love My Characters

Right now, I have two main characters, and I love both. 

My "oldest" character is Kormaki Lemmisson, a 2nd (almost 3rd) level DCC cleric of the Metal Gods. He is based, in turn, on my old AD&D cleric (also named Kormaki, but no last name) who reached 8th level. I can't find his character sheet anywhere, though.

Zehra the Archer is a 2nd level DCC thief. She's very, very good, and a lot of fun to play. She's impetuous and prone to misadventure, but she's gotten a lot better at using her best skills, lately. She earned the sobriquet "The Archer" for acing The Emerald Enchanter (with her bow) in the Joseph Goodman adventure of the same name.

There are others, though. I've got Berzerker Joe (1st level Warrior), and Grogar Nox (4th level AD&D fighter, recently killed by a shambling mound), Jotun Vargo (1st level S&W Ranger), and Lily Lardbottom (3rd/3rd level AD&D halfling fighter/thief), and a few others. They've all got some possibilities, I think, but I don't get much chance to play them.

I believe very strongly that characters, not setting, not plot, are the very heart of what makes a good story. If the characters don't drive the story (whether PC or NPC), then it's not going to be a very good story, and the players aren't going to have a very good time. At the same time, who the character is ought to be intensely personal to the player. It is derived from the players imaginings, and from what happens when those imaginings are enacted (responded to) by the GM and his/her setting, adventure, NPCs, random dice stuff, etc. I really dug something that +Zak Smith said a little while back, about character development in games without mechanics for character development
I think games with extensive personality mechanics expect that your character starts one way, undergoes Character Development in play (like they teach you in creative writing courses), and emerges another way. 
With most games I like, the character starts no way at all, undergoes experiences which reveal character and then are proved to have been a certain way all along. Then, maybe, if they survive, undergo some character development. ... 
I like the artlessness of it. I'm not choosing a character to play. I am, literally, exploring the character, as one might a dungeon--going into it to see what is there. Not pushing it along, just knowing that I can dip a toe in at any time and see who somebody is.
The "like they teach you in creative writing courses" part of that is right on with my sense of what a character is/does in his/her development. It's especially great when that happens with a bunch of other people with whom you're having the same experience. Sure, not everyone will treat character development in that emergent way. Some people have very clear character concepts, even if those character concepts don't seem to work very well in the setting. Hell, the world's got plenty of people who are the same way, so not that big a deal, is it? My ideal is fiction that's as real as reality (minus a few tedious unpleasantries, of course), about people who have the potential to be as fully-realized as you wish to make them. If they survive. Many don't, but that's why the ones who do survive are special.

So, there you go. These are a few of my favorite things. Thanks to everyone who makes my favorite things possible, from the kid in China who makes my minis, to the the authors of my gaming books and modules, to the player and GMs whose time I am lucky enough to share. My life's a happier place because of you. And thanks +Shoe Skogen for helping to prompt me to this get out on the page. It's easy to forget to celebrate the small delights, even when they are the ones that make the biggest differences.