Saturday, February 28, 2015

Meta Humans

I had an epiphany today.

Seriously, a revelation.

It's an honest to goodness breakthrough.

I get why my current group doesn't get genre tropes, and why they don't experience full immersion.

They're Metagaming. I've noticed it before, but never realized the degree. It's sort of a constant undertone. A consistent subtext of their way of thinking when gaming.

What I mistook for overthinking is actually meta-thinking.

I am not certain why though.

To figure out the why, and the what to do about it, that is my new goal in life (OK, in my gaming life. It's right behind making more money, finding a girlfriend, and other lofty, real life objectives).

Huh. To think that that's the difference between this, and earlier groups.

Who'd have thunk it.

Barking Alien


"Of my friend I can say only this:
of all the souls I have encountered in my travels,
his was the most...Human."

Few figures in the world of fandom, and pop culture, have had the  presence, prominence, the iconic voice and image, and the pure respect given to the man who yesterday, at the age of 83, went boldly for the final time.

Leonard Nimoy, actor, director, photographer, poet, singer, songwriter, and humanitarian, passed away on February 27th, at his home in Los Angeles, CA.

Among his many achievements, he was a  'spirit animal' to the nerdy, the geeky, and the cerebral misfits of generations past, present, and hopefully future. He was a man of wisdom, compassion, and intelligence, and the world is lessened by his passing, and made greater by the legacy he has left behind.

His final message on twitter, posted repeatedly ad nauseam since confirmation of his death, shall none the less be shared here as well. Not because they are the last words he shared with his adoring public, but because they are beautiful.

Leonard Nimoy the man is as fascinating (if you will pardon the reference) as his character of Mr. Spock, and both, for a variety of reasons, are a major inspiration to me as a fan, as an artist, and as a person.

Good bye Mr. Nimoy, thank you for you.

Barking Alien

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: SPACE OPERA

Prior to this post, I have only tagged the term Space Opera,  ten times. As little sense as that makes for this blog, that is not the subject I wish to be thorough about this particular Thorough Thursday.

The issue is that few of those entries directing relate to the Space Opera Science Fiction Role Playing Game, written and created by Ed Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, and Phil McGregor for Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1980.

That's just wrong.

Between 1982 and 1984, one particular group of my gaming buddies, and myself, played a lot of this game. A lot. Believe it, or not, outside of FASA's Star Trek, this was our game of choice for Science Fiction in those years.

That's right, not Star Frontiers, not Traveller. Space Opera by Fantasy Games Unlimited.

How that is possible, I do not know.

For years now I have attempted to figure out how we played this game. Periodically re-reading the rulebooks (my original ones from 1982), I am amazed that we made sense of this monster.

Space Opera is the quintessential example of trying too hard in game design.  

Nearly every facet of the game, from rolling your PCs characteristics, to ship-to-ship combat, is overly complex with no significant benefit I can see. Not only that, but you can clearly see an easier way to do everything.

For example, you roll percentile dice, and then reference a chart to determine what your attributes will be. There are fourteen attributes. The attribute stats range from 1 to 19. There are several columns, each with two, or three stats, that you need to refer to in order to figure out what your PC's attribute is. So a roll of 54 gets you a Strength of 13, but an Agility of 12.

Why not roll two 10-sided dice for a 2-20 range for all fourteen stats. I've tried to read through it again, and again, and I see no advantage to the way they have it. I could be wrong, as math is not my specialty by any means. Still, and all, I don't get it.

Overwrought, and convoluted though it may be (and it is - the organization of the rules is nothing to write home about either), I want to make it perfectly clear that we played this game. Often. It was a real favorite for a time, albeit a brief one.

How? I am not sure.

Why? I have some theories...

Space Opera was made during a very special period in gaming, and fandom history. They were at the dawn of the height in popularity, but still so small an industry that they could get away with stuff you'd be sued over today.

In no uncertain terms, Space Opera features (that is, unabashedly copies with the files numbers all but left on):

The United Federation of Planets, and Vulcans from Star Trek.
The Lens from E. E. Smith's Lensman series.
Jedi Knights, and Lightsabers from Star Wars.
The Kzinti from Larry Niven's Known Space novels.
The Bugs from Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers.

...and much more.

My friends, and I grew up in this era, and experienced this while it was all new. We can look back on it now, and be amazing they got away with that crap, but at the time it was just pure cool. Fantasy Game Unlimited wasn't 'getting away' with anything to us. They were doing what anyone interested in those things would do. They found a way to include everything they liked, and thought was awesome into their game.

So would you! So did we!

Our Space Opera universe was an odd mix of Science Fiction inspirations, and merged universes. In addition to elements provided in the game itself, we drew tons of ideas from authors such as Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, and artwork from  Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, Epic Illustrated Magazine, Heavy Metal Magazine, the Terran Trade Authority books, and the book Tomorrow and Beyond.

A sample of one of our best, and longest, Space Opera campaigns can be found here. Hopefully, that will give you some idea of the thematic approach we took to the setting (or our version of it).

I think we knew what we wanted to run, and play. We knew what kind of stories we wanted to tell, the type of characters that should be in those stories, and what we needed out of the game to make that happen.

Somehow, I imagine that we made the game do what we wanted it to do, rather than playing it as it was meant to be played, and creating something out of that. Possibly, even very likely, this was one of my first forays into story-first, rules-second thinking.

Looking back on it now, it may have been one of the key formative game experiences that contributed to my later approach to gaming.

We made this nearly unplayable game work, because the rules of the games were less important than the yarns we wished to spin.

Barking Alien

Monday, February 23, 2015

As Time Goes By

Can you believe it's been 6 years? I can't.

Sometimes it seems like only yesterday that I started this blog. Other days, it seems like I only recently updated its look. I steal a glance at the post count, and view count, and I am just floored.

Where did the time go? Moreover, why don't I have even more material considering the six year lifespan of this strange creature? Some months are so chock full of posts I have to wonder when I slept. Others are so devoid of content I'm forced to wonder if I was in a Russian gulag, or taking a vacation in Tahiti without my own knowledge.

This year, the sixth in which I've been blogging, and the thirty-eighth in which I've been playing RPGs, is off to a great start with no sign of slowing. I've got a ton of ideas, and subjects I want to discuss, Thorough Thursdays is going over very well, and the best is yet to come.

Thanks you stopping by ladies, and gentlemen, and other manner of others. Please enjoy your stay, and come back, and visit us often.

A Happy Anniversary for Barking Alien, is a Happy Anniversary for all of its readers.


Barking Alien

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: BLADE RUNNER

I know, I know. I said before that I wasn't going to add tags. The idea here is to go more in-depth about things I've already addressed at some point. Thing is, I've been thinking about this idea, on this one subject, for a while now. I also figure this is as good a place to talk about it as any other, since it is also related to this month's unofficial theme (Science Fiction).

To go a step further, I will be cross referencing this with a few other tags, so at least they will get some much needed love.

Thank you for indulging me.


Blade Runner
Original Theatrical Release Movie Poster, 1982
Art and Design by John Alvin
Prior to this post, I have never tagged, or mentioned in detail, the 1982, Ridley Scott directed, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples written, Warner Brothers Science Fiction-Noir film, Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on this blog before today.
That's just wrong.

In one of my prior Thorough Thursday entries, I mentioned how few films had as massive a creative impact on my as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Meet the film that gives Close Encounters a run for its money.

So much of what I do in my Science Fiction games is inspired, and influenced, by this film, that I hardly know where to start in my adoration of it.

Blade Runner is, to me, much more than a great movie. It was my first glimpse into a different kind of Science Fiction than what I was used to, and what I previously enjoyed.

Prior to this film, my Science Fiction was always the relatively clean, and heroic, cooperative future of Star Trek, the campy, but lovable 50's-60's Sci-Fi of Lost in Space, or the epic Space Fantasy of Star Wars.

I had seen Planet of the Apes, and Logan's Run, but the concept of a dystopian, high-tech future, such as that portrayed in Blade Runner, was something completely new, and mind-blowing to me.

Science Fiction, it turned out, had a dark, seedy underbelly. It had people with big dreams, fleeting hope, and rain-soaked sorrows, all of whom were just trying to survive another day in a neon lit, smog covered canyon of glass, and steel.

This was Future-Noir, the predecessor to Cyberpunk. There was nothing else quite like it bad then, and nothing exactly like it has come since, even to this day.



When the movie came out in 1982, I was 13 years old.

An advanced reader for my age, I had read a number of classic Science Fiction books by the time of Blade Runner's release, but the work of Philip K. Dick was not known to me. Following the movie, I snatched up a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and marveled at the differences between the book, and the film.

While I find the book brilliant, it doesn't do to me what the film does. It shouldn't I suppose, two different forms of conveying a narrative as they are. The book showcases the subject of what it means to be Humans, and explores questions of morality, mortality, and empathy in greater depth than the motion picture. It does it well at that. However, the movie is positively drenched in atmosphere, and style.

One of the primary reasons for the films incredible visuals is the concept work of futurist Syd Mead. I believe I may have discovered Mead because of this movie. He, and his artwork, will forever forge a great deal of the technology, and architecture, I see in my mind's eye when I think about setting aesthetics for my Science Fiction RPG campaigns. From Traveller to Cyberpunk, and Shadowrun games, the look of the future (for me at least) looks a lot like the work of Syd Mead.

This is primarily a blog that discusses Role Playing Games, so it's about time I talked about the impact of Blade Runner on my gaming.
Where to start?
One of the games I ran very often in the late 80's was R. Talsorian Games' Cyberpunk (2013, and 2020). However, my impression of the genre was more heavily inspired by my love of Blade Runner.
Long before genetic engineering became a big deal in Science Fiction, and Science Fiction gaming, I was building Replicant NPCs. I 'built' them by using the rules for cybernetic parts, and just saying they were part of the design of the Replicant when is was grown/fabricated.
While PCs lost points of Humanity (and by association, Empathy) with the addition of cybernetic implants, Replicants started at zero, and their 'enhancements' added to their understanding of Humanity. Sounds crazy? I'll explain...
The idea was that as they gain experiences (not Experience Points, but life experience), Replicants develop a desire for more experiences. This often turns into a desire to live, to have more time. That's when they get a little desperate, and a little nuts (again, an inverse way of looking at Cyber-Psychosis from the Cyberpunk RPG).
What do you all think?
"I've...seen things you people wouldn't believe...
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.
All those...moments...will be lost in time, the rain.
Time to die."

Barking Alien