Sunday, October 4, 2015

Creepy, Kooky, Mysterious, and Spooky

October is here, and I'll be damned, but the weather on the East Coast of North America is giving it quite the fitting welcome.

I'm personally a fan of the cold, yet this is a chilly, wet, blustery cold that gets into your bones. It's the perfect conditions for hot cocoa, curling up with a good book and a warm brunette (ahem...sorry, personal preference), and getting ready for Halloween.

Or a warm redhead.
I ain't got nothing against redheads.

I like Halloween, though perhaps not for the same reasons many others do. After all, I'm not into watching Horror movies, I don't go to those haunted house attractions, and I haven't been to a Halloween party in so long I can't rightly recall the last time I went to one. These are the grown-up ways of celebrating Halloween though, are they not?

I like to see people in cool looking, and clever costumes, love a well-carved Jack O' Lanterns, and who doesn't enjoy candy? I think of Halloween as fun, and I enjoy the fun of Halloween. That's what it always was for me growing up.

Unfortunately, Halloween has become a night of terror, toilet papering people's homes, throwing eggs, and watching the umpteenth story-less, gore-bore fest motion picture.

Nothing could make me less enthused.

When I planned out my theme months for Autumn, I knew October would have to be focused on the scary, and spooky, but I hoped to bring a touch of weird, and whimsy back to the 'Season of the Witch'. Instead of discussing Horror in the traditional sense, what you are going to see this month is more the odd, the quirky, and yet still slightly macabre.

You dear reader are in for, well...less Paranormal Activity, and more ParaNorman. Not so much The Green Inferno, and much more Ghostbusters.

As the title says, the creepy, kooky, mysterious, and spooky.

In addition, I am hoping to add in a few bits of real fright night plights scattered here, and there. I plan on doing a follow up entry on my Alien Dread idea, some sample supernatural things that go bump in the night, and (if I can scrounge up enough time, and/or a miracle) share what I have so far on my original RPG Unfinished Business.

That's not all, but I figure that's enough to interest you in coming back to have a look around. Just don't go into the cellar, or the tool shed out back.

You've been warned.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Closing Theme

Well everyone, that about wraps it up for us here at The Barking Alien Blog for the side splitting month of September.

We unfortunately ran long, and we had to bump some guests, but they've been gracious enough to reschedule, and of course we'd love to have them.

Barkley, and I would like to thank our guests The Peanuts,  SATASUPE ReMix, The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, and without a doubt our musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space!

From all of us hear at The Barking Alien Blog, and on behalf of the Pan-Phasic Communications Network, I want to thank you for tuning in.

Safe Travels, and Good Night!

September was a lot of fun, and I would love to talk further on the subject of humorous RPGs after I've had some time to think a little more about it.

Specifically, some of the questions posed to me in the comments this month have me wondering if I am too close to the subject matter. That is to say, since comedy, and comedic storytelling are so much a part of who I am, I may be taken for granted that what is second nature to me may be downright, um, 'alien' to some people.
I am unable to convey my interest in humorous RPG in a way the communicates to those not as interested, what the benefits of them may be. It is intrinsically ingrained in me to like comedic RPGs such that trying to explain their virtues to all of you out there is like a dog trying to explain why it's fun to bury a bone.
It just is. And yes, it has practical applications, but how am I going to get their sheer feeling of Booyah! across to a room full of cats? I know that somewhere out there, there are a few other dogs going, "Yeah! Preach it brother!", yet for the rest it just isn't clicking.
Oh before I go...
I used to watch Johnny Carson every Thursday night with my Grandma from the time I was eight years old, until I was about fifteen or so. Maybe sixteen.
I would stay over my grandparents house every Thursday, and my Grandmother would put on The Tonight Show to help her fall asleep. On a cot in the same room, albeit with my insomnia causing the show to have the opposite effect, I became a fan of the program, and after a while, when I was older, watched it myself when at my own home.
I saw the final episode, and followed Jay Leno for a while, but while funny, it wasn't the same, and I eventually stopped watching.
September was very much a love letter to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but it was also a dedication to my Grandparents, who introduced me to Carson, Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and other comedians, entertainers and entertainments that were well before my time.
Thanks again, and much love to your memory Grandma, and Poppy.
Up next, October...
Barking Alien

Direct Hits

Yes folks, I know this one is late. OK, really late. My plans for the close of my September theme had to take a backseat to my Real LifeTM, which just got a lot more interesting. I am soon to be the owner of my own business. Details coming soon.

The next few posts are not all I have to say on the subject of comedic RPGs by a long shot, but they are all you're going to see of the theme month gimmick for September. As we are now into October already, I want to switch to my next theme, Horror, and Fantasy.

Just like September, I am going to play fast, and loose with the overarching motif, so some remaining material from September may yet find its way into the new month of posts.


My next guests first hit the scene in 1987, where they found a niche with fans looking for a different kind of sound. Not truly indie, they were also not emulating the bands that were topping the pop charts at the time. In many ways, they were very much a part of the new wave movement of the late 80s.

Here promoting their self-titled album, sentients and sophonts across the cosmos, please give it up for our musical guest...

Teenagers From Outer Space!

'Ride On Shooting Star'
From the Anime FLCL, or Furi Kuri
By The Pillows

I've said it before, and I have no problem repeating it here:

Star Trek is my favorite setting to game in.
Star Wars D6 by West End Games is my favorite system.
Superheroes is probably the genre I've run the most at this point.
Teenagers From Outer Space however, that's the game that has my heart; green, eight-valved, and methane producing as it might be.

Over the last twenty-eight years that the game has been in existence, I have easily run Teenagers From Outer Space, or TFOS, dozens upon dozens of times. Sometimes, I've even used it to run Teenagers From Outer Space!

Yeah, I'll explain...

I've told this story before, but about a day after reading the rules for TFOS, I modified them by changing the D6 standard to a D10 standard.

In addition to giving the game a bit more range, it made the system more compatible with R. Talsorian Games' other 'Interlock System' games, such as Cyberpunk 2013/2020 and Mekton. Other advantages to this alteration included facilitating some additional house rules, and homebrewed sub-systems, as well as making TFOS adaptable to outside systems, most notably Ars Magica (more about that below).

At a Japanese Pop Culture convention in 1995 or 96, I met with the editor of R. Talsorian's V-Max Magazine, a house periodical dedicated to Anime, Manga, and gaming with a lean toward their Anime related titles. I described to him my modified Teenagers From Outer Space game, which I had come to call 'Advanced TFOS'. He loved the idea, and had me work it up as a full article for V-Max. Unfortunately, RTG folded up the magazine before the article could see print.

While I'm not a huge fan of universal systems (believing a game's mechanics should be tailored to the game it's supporting), I do have a scant few games that I believe can be used for a wide variety of genres, subgenres, and settings. My Advanced TFOS, and even standard TFOS, are among the most versatile, and effective in my opinion.

The main reason is their simplicity. TFOS is a Stat + Ability/Skill + Roll system, with very little else going on to get in the way. Perhaps my favorite idea in the game though, is that if you roll too low, you fail, if you roll the difficulty number or higher you succeed, but if you roll too can end up backfiring on you royally. Exceed the required difficulty number by more than double, and things can get out of control. It is recommended that the GM embellish the success to the point of extreme, over-the-top, you'll-wish-you-failed-the-roll, comedic annoyance.
As I mentioned, I've used the 'Advanced TFOS' rules to run a plethora of games, including several set in my homebrewed campaign setting of Blast City Blues. The Blast City Blues universe is similar to the default idea for TFOS, but my variant allows for more character, and story options. Magical Girls in stylized sailor suits, Giant Robot Pilots, adolescent Cyborgs, and Psychic School Kids can all be found somewhere in the milieu of Blast City.
However, the default premise of the game isn't what I want to address with this post so much as what else can be done with the system. As the focus of September's entries are comedy games, I would like to tell you all about some other humorous trips I've taken using this very versatile map as a guide.
Some of my most successful alternate uses of TFOS include:
Galaxy Quest
My first Galaxy Quest game, a one shot that turned into a campaign (that became a phenomena! Um...yeah), was originally based on my Advanced TFOS rules. I added the Jobs, and Character Types, and the rest is history. It was a hell of a thing.

Near Miss

A Science Fiction Comedy campaign very much in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy meets This Is Spinal Tap.

The PCs were members of a musical group of misfit aliens travelling around the universe getting into one crazy mess after another. The name of the band, Near Miss, was also the name of a garage band I was in with some buddies from high school (who were incidentally the players in the group plus one, or two others).

Neo-Tokyo Crimebuster - Furiransu Keikan

Using a hybrid of the Advanced TFOS rules, and the rules of Mekton II (foolishly trying to make the R. Talsorian 'Interlock' systems actually interlock), Furiransu Keikan (roughly, Freelance Police) was an Action/Comedy set in a cyberpunk future where various corporations police various regions. Citizens are welcome to chose, and pay for whichever 'Law Enforcement Provider' they wish.

The PCs represented a small-ish, independent police precinct trying to make a name for themselves in the crime ridden, high tech city of Neo-Tokyo. Inspirations for the game included (but were not limited to) Dominion Tank Police, Blade Runner, Mobile Police Patlabor, Barney Miller, and Starsky and Hutch.
Once Upon The End of Time

A Science Fiction Time Travel/Action-Adventure/Murder Mystery campaign inspired by my friend Avram Grumer in which the entire plot is revealed in reverse order, starting from the end of the story in the first session.
Each session afterwards was set a few days to several months before the previous one. The last adventure had the players joining the Time Patrol, and being confronted on their first mission by their older more experienced selves who were out to stop the campaign villain's creation.

Wizard of Oz - End of the Rainbow
I ran a campaign set in L. Frank Baum's Oz, and its surrounding magical lands, and kingdoms using my Advanced TFOS system crossed with (get this) Ars Magica. Significantly simplified though the Ars Magica elements were, the combination of the two worked incredibly well. I was very happy with the outcome, and would love to try running it again.
I haven't played, or used the game in quite some time, and that is a shame. Not just because I love it so much, but because I feel it's the kind of game my Barking Alien Gaming Group could really get behind. So why haven't I brought it to bear with my regular gang? Well, it goes with something I am hoping to bring up in a future post, but in all honesty, I may just say to hell with it, and do it. We've been experimenting with the occasional one-shot comedy game here, and there recently, so there is no reason we couldn't give it a go.

We're going to pause one last time for a commercial break, but we'll be right back after this...

Barking Alien
Belated Happy Birthdays to Groucho Marx (Oct. 2), Jim Henson, and Steve Whitmire (Both born on September 24th!). 


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

All Joking Aside

Hello again everyone, this is Barkley speaking.

On Tuesday, September 15th, this station broadcast a post advocating the increased acceptance of humorous RPGs, and identified one of the main reasons we don't already experience this.

It is the policy of this station to invite qualified spokespeople to speak in rebuttal. Here with a counter-opinion on the subject is Mister Floyd R. Turbo.

Mr. Turbo...

Hello! My name is Floyd R. Turbo. American.

What's all this hippie-dippie, claptrap about Comedy RPGs?

If God wanted RPGs to be funny, he wouldn't have created encumbrance rules, complicated initiative, or the drowning mechanics in D&D 3.0. Forget a sword. Bring a sleep spell, and a few gallons of water, and your enemies are done for.

This Nancy-Waist blog is talking about baking cookies for character creation, and suggesting gaming the Peanuts comic strips. This place is more full of it than my Aunt Edna is full of rum spiked fruit cake during the holidays.

Humorous RPGs, huh? What's next? Games with no GM? Diceless RPGs? Save that for the commie pinko gamers. That's not for this red blooded American. Oh no. I like my books thick, my four-siders razor sharp, and hit location charts capable of targeting a spleen.

In conclusion, a wise man once said you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I don't agree. I get along just fine staying serious, and laughing at others. I find it helps to point at them, and slap your knee while doing it.

Thank you.


This post was originally intended to focus on what I believe to be the biggest hindrance to the popularity of comedic RPGs among the larger gaming population (myself, and my groups excluded of course).

However, I am going to table that topic for another post. Right now, I'd like to address a comment made by my good friend Blacksteel of Tower of Zenopus on my previous entry on the subject of why we (gamers) don't play, and run comedy games more often.

Lord Blacksteel wrote:

"I can say that for some of us, identifying a game as a "comedy" game has a similar set of issues to the "horror" game."

I can not disagree with the statement, although I may have a different outlook on what it means. Remember, I am a bit of a genre junkie. Please read on...

A) you can't "force" comedy in a group any more than you can frighten players in a horror game. You can create conditions favorable for one or the other but it's tricky to guarantee it.

Agreed. Sort of.

You can't 'force' certainly, nor would you want to try, since it will only backfire on you.

However, what do you think is easier, and more likely to occur: Actually scaring your players, or actually making them laugh? Horror is often dependent on a feeling of PC powerlessness, and desperation; this is something players don't always enjoy. Comedy is dependent on the PC being inept, or too good, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being the cause, or recipient of the absurd. These are conditions most players like.

B) Describing something as a comedy game doesn't tell me much about it. That's much more tone than setting. Telling me it's a Supers game, or a Star Trek game, or a dungeon-crawling game gives me an idea of what we're going to be doing and whether I'd be interested in it or not. Comedy (to me) is a modifier to that description, not a description in and of itself. "Gritty" or "Horror" or "high-powered" work similarly.

While I agree, I also believe there are Horror games, and Comedy game, regardless of what other genre the descriptor is attached to. Toon is not Sci-Fi. Nor is it Fantasy. Nor is it a Supers game. It could be any one, or all of those things, but it's definitely a Comedy game, no? Likewise, what are Call of Cthuhlu, Dread, and Chill? What genre are they other than horror?

C) Comedy can happen in any game, and typically does with my group. If the point of a game is to have fun people are probably going to laugh at some point. I'm not sure making comedy a focus of the game adds a whole lot more to it.

Ah! It doesn't. It all depends on you, and your group.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, with movies of the Avengers, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, are full of humor, clever lines, and light hearted moments. That said, they are not comedies. They are Superhero Action movies. We like them. The humor adds something to the total package.

We still go see comedies though?

I've read posts on the internet, and heard people say, that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made. It's a joke of course, but a popular one. Why? Because although there is often a bit of humor in the Star Trek films, there is a ton of great Sci-Fi Action in Galaxy Quest, a comedy.

Both types of films, and both types of games, serve a purpose.

I know this is a big topic for you BA and please do understand that I am not disagreeing with you on this. I am glad you're doing these posts as it has me thinking about it, sometimes out loud and on your page.

Well I'm glad. If I can get even one person to stop for a few moments, and go ' about that', I feel like it's all been worth the effort.

Yes, it is a subject near, and dear. With any luck it will spawn others to talk about the topic. If not, well, at least I had fun.

One example, and maybe something you can work into a future post: I think Spirit of 77 has a ton of potential for comedy but it is not really a "comedy" game. With people who "get it" though, I think the potential for humor is one of the biggest attractions. Would that make it a comedy game? Or is it just a good game?

My post on SATASUPE ReMix addresses this somewhat. The idea being that it is not really a comedic game, but it was definitely written (and certainly illustrated) with a distinct sense of humor. I hope to have time this month to address this very element. If not, I will work it in next month when I discuss Ghostbusters, and how I approach running it.

Thanks everybody for tuning in. When we come back from commercial, musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space!

Barking Alien

BTW, this is my 950th post on Barking Alien.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Muppets After Dark

Tonight, the series premiere of the new ABC television show, the muppets aired, and unsurprisingly to anyone with even a general familiarity with me, or this blog, I was monumentally excited.

This new show is the first ongoing, prime time program to feature the Muppets since Muppets Tonight finished on The Disney Channel in 1998. That's 17 years without Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the rest of the gang appearing regularly on network television.

After the success of their 2011 motion picture, also called The Muppets, and the relative success of Muppets Most Wanted (it made significantly less than its predecessor, though on Hollywood terms it was far from a flop), the possibility that the Muppets would return to television was simultaneously a big question mark, and practically a given, at least in the minds of the throngs of Muppets fans.

So here we are in September of 2015 looking at a brand new Muppets TV show. My hearting was beating in my throat as I got ready to watch.

Now the moment of truth...Did I like it? Was it any good?


I usually do my reviews by looking at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of a given product, and while this will be not exception, I want to say a little something first.
It is really hard to review something like this. It was the first episode of a series I really want to like, because I want it to do well, and I want them to make more. I love the Muppets. I just love them. They speak to me on a creative level that is hard to put into words.
What do I do, or say if I end up not liking this show? Can I really say that I don't? Isn't that counter to my goal of keeping the Muppets in the public eye?
At the same time, they've always been honest with me (so to speak), so they deserve nothing less than me being honest with them.
Whew. Here goes...
The Muppets are back on TV! See, just that very fact is good. It's hard to be unhappy with that as your universal truth at the get go.
The puppets themselves looked great, especially in the environments they appeared in, which were in many ways not normal for them. It was sort of like the safeties were off, and the net was gone.
Fozzie is seen full body numerous times. Scooter, well, I don't want to spoil that part. While I had some issues with the delivery of the scenes humor, the scene with him, and guest Elizabeth Banks was probably the cleverest bit of classic puppetry tricks I've ever seen, all in an outdoor environment on a moving vehicle (or that's how it appeared). Brilliant technically for certain.
Lots of characters appeared, and more of them had speaking lines than I would have thought. Uncle Deadly, Bobo the Bear, Big Mean Carl all had nice little moments, brief though they were.
Kermit was...I don't know how to put this other than...extremely Human. I can't honestly say we've seen this level of character depth out of Kermit (or Fozzie for that matter), in a long, long time. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a double-edged sword, as I'll explain below.
Piggy looked great. I love her current design.
Denise, Kermit's new girlfriend, is...What's that? You didn't know?! Well, I did put up a spoiler warning didn't I? Yes, Kermit, and Piggy have officially called it quits, as you learn in the first episode in a very definitive way. That part was, wow, the feels. It touched my emotion. Seriously. The one. Now what'll I do? I don't have anymore, and I can't guarantee it'll recharge by the weekend. The cool down time on that bad boy is a pain in the keister.
Where was I? Oh yeah, so Kermit is dating this new female pig (he's got a type for sure) named Denise who is...I can't help it...adorable. I really like her. I almost instantly found her sweet, charming, and kind of cute in a geek girl kind of way due to her very modern aesthetic design. I hope we learn more about her.
The band! The band was cool, and it was awesome to have character moments with Animal, and Zoot. ZOOT! One of my favorite lines in the first episode comes from the Z-man. Awesome.
OK, I have a number of minor nitpicks, but those I can easily dismiss as this is the first episode. A few things could have been crisper, like the set of Miss Piggy's late night talk show, 'Up Late with Miss Piggy' (which sometimes looked spot on for a show of that type, and sometimes looked like a high school stage drama trying hard to look like one). There were some camera angles, and such that could've been better, but then, that might well be the idea. It's supposed to be a mockumentory, a parody of the single camera set-up seen in shows like 'the office'.
That's not what got me. What got me just wasn't Muppet-y enough. There wasn't enough wacky, off-the-wall humor, or ideas. Not even close actually.
The humor is somewhat clever when it appears, but there really wasn't much of it. The interpersonal drama of their lives was far more prevalent, and as such, although there were some funny moments, largely the episode is a downer. It's sad Muppets. I don't want the Muppets to be sad. The Muppets are there to make me happy. How am I supposed to get happy if the characters who are meant to cheer me up are sad?
Gonzo provides one of the few truly Muppet-like moments, but it's small, and over in a blink.
A brief insight into Big Mean Carl of all characters is just...well...depressing.
I loved the character moments, and depth they gave to the various Muppets in the 2011 Muppet film, especially the melancholy nature of Kermit, but this show, at least in the first episode, doesn't back the up with enough levity.

The episode also felt really short. After it was over, I kept thinking that if they had had a little more of a run time they could have gotten to more jokes, and more screen time for some of the characters.
Bottom line, there is one major league weakness to the show, and it isn't bad so much as, well, just really irksome in the extreme.
Miss Piggy.
Yes, she's a diva. Yes, she's obsessed with her own fame. But...but...she is also likeable, and vulnerable, and strong, Kermit...Human.
In this she is rude, crass, full of herself, and just so unlikable. At one point Kermit, during one of those one-on-one character interviews, says that he once thought her quirks made her attractive, but without the romantic interest it just makes her a lunatic.
Sadly, he's right. We never get a one-on-one interview with her. We never see her in the first episode as anything other than obnoxious. When her vulnerable side is finally revealed at a key point, because of something Kermit did that was insensitive, you end up feeling bad for Kermit. Why? Because by that point in the episode he is our likable everyman, just trying to do his best with a bad situation while Piggy is just a shrew.
I didn't like that at all. It was unfair to the character of Miss Piggy, and to fans of hers as well.
On that note...
One more thing that didn't work was the fat jokes. I get that it's always been a part of Piggy's tropes as a member of the porcine species, but really? That's the best you've got for the Muppets prime time television return in the 21st century?
Muppets Studios, ABC Studios, and Disney, I have a recommendation; Do better.
It is my hope that second episode, and third, and so on, get a better feel for the format, the Muppet sense of humor, and the way these things merge with the show's premise.
Well, that's all the time I have for this, as I am feeling uncharacteristically tired lately. I need to get some sleep, and recharge.
Good night,
Barking Alien