Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rebel, Rebel

I apologize for not posting much so far this month, but I've been busy. I know that's not much of an excuse, but seriously, I've been working late every weekday night for the last two and a half week. I am just so tired.

Tired is a new state of being for me, and one I will freely admit I am not particularly fond of.

I've had insomnia for most of my life (Seriously. Since Middle School at least), and as such, developed the belief that sleep is for the weak. It's bad. You get nothing done. I mean, Mozart, Shakespeare, Jack Kirby - it's a good bet they did most of their great works while awake.

The point is, I'm used to not sleeping very much. I am used to being active for a good 18 to 20 hours each day. Feeling tired, and needing to sleep, throws off my whole schedule.

How do you Humans do it?

Anyway...enough about my peculiar, alien, physiology. Have you seen this?:

Star Wars Rebels is a CGI animated television series produced by Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm Animation, in association with the Disney Channel (for Disney XD). It is currently up to its seventh episode I believe.

It's good. Really good. Not great mind you, at least not yet. It's getting there, and it has tons of potential.

While it shares many of the same staff as Star Wars The Clone Wars, this newer show somehow doesn't look, sound, or function quite as polished as the last seasons of its predecessor. Seems odd to me that this doesn't look even better right out of the gate, but instead Star Wars Rebels more closely resembles Clone Wars' first or second season.

That reminds me, did you get to see or hear about this:

The upcoming Star Wars Episode VII is going to be called The Force Awakens according to a plethora of sources on the internet. This means there is a 45% chance that it's true. OK, maybe 50%.

Not the worst name I've ever heard (The Phantom Menace anyone? Yeah.), though not super exciting either.

Name aside, I am starting to get more excited about this movie. Generally I've become very wary of sequels, especially those looking to continue a popular franchise I love. J.J. Abrams, who directed the two reboot Star Trek films, Cloverfield, and other bad movies, has been given the helm on this new Star Wars installment, and that certainly doesn't fill me with confidence. At the same time, the Star Trek films sucked because they were too Star Wars-like. Maybe he can get his space IPs straight this time.

Now that I look more closely at the title logo, I'm not particularly keen on it. I'm hoping this is preliminary, and they go back to the style we've seen with the past films.

Will the lens flares be strong with this one? That's the real trick isn't it?

All of this has put the bug of running a Star Wars RPG game in my mind. Perhaps just a one-shot or short campaign series to get it out of my system. Who knows? At present, extra time, and players with open schedules, are definitely not 'my thing'.

Trust in the Force.

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Expect The Extraordinary

Don't be surprised if this month is kinda Superhero heavy.

MARVELS Panel By Alex Ross
In addition to the weekly online Superhero game I'm in as a player, and the bi-weekly (or so) Supers game where I switch between player (mostly), and guest GM (occasionally), I am gearing up for a new Superhero RPG campaign with my regular group to begin (hopefully) in December.
Dang, but that was one of my most annotated paragraphs in a while. Sheesh.
Back to the subject of this post, it looks like my group may finally be getting the Four-Color Superhero genre the way I see it, and that is a big plus in my attempt to run something with a little staying power. Our last few attempts at Superhero campaigns have often experienced great starts, but quickly buckle under a combination of the players being unfamiliar with the tropes of the era of comics I like, and my frustration with them not comprehending what to me is so second nature I don't even think about it.
Truly this is unfair of me, I know. I can't expect them to understand something largely foreign to them, which I've spent almost 40 years being engrossed in (See my recent post, A Secret War). At the same time, as I've said before, I have tried to provide them with frames of reference, and a few of them are familiar with the era, and style of comic books I'm talking about.
On the suggestion of my good pal Dave*, I have attempted to approach this campaign, and character creation specifically, in a slightly different manner than that which I've used in the past. In my mind, I have been a tad more heavy-handed in telling the players what I'm looking for with this game. Dave was insistent that I had to be if I wanted to run a particular type of Superhero game. I do believe he's right.
It may not be my preferred way of doing things, but the results have been pretty good so far.
As expected, I still have two players who's characters are a tad off, although mostly in their powers. Their backstories and such are excellent. They are coming around, albeit a little slowly. That's OK by me. Take all the time you need to get the parts to fit together I say.
Expect updates on the PCs and the setting (still a mystery to most of the players! Yay!), ideas and attitudes toward running Supers, and anything else that pops up while I develop this campaign.
Questions and comments are always welcome!
Oh, and if you know of any good Superhero tabletop RPG blogs or podcasts, send them my way. Thanks!
Barking Alien
*Dave is/was, surprisingly, having the most trouble with the overall feel of the campaign, even though he is my biggest advocate for the running of Superhero games.
Dave is not a fan of the Silver/Bronze Age periods of comics. I find this somewhat perplexing, even knowing the reasons for his opinion. My point to him was, "utilize the tropes and style, but add what you felt the comics of that era were missing".
It's comic books, not brain surgery, yet sometimes I think it would be easier to assemble a Brain Surgery RPG than one of the former type.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday The Thirty First...The Thirteenth

Today marks the 13th day in a row I've worked.

The thirteenth, and coincidentally on Halloween by jove! Couldn't have planned that better if I'd tried. Only because if I tried, it surely wouldn't have worked out this way.

I find myself considerably lacking in Halloween spirit this year. I'm just too damn beat.

No costume, no jack o' lantern, no horror movies from Netflix (not that I really ever watch horror movies). None of that this year. Not even in the mood for candy corn.

Maybe next year.

I'm going to bed.

Barking Alien

Thursday, October 30, 2014

From Splash Page to The Silver Screen

As a fan of Superheroes, comic books, movies, and Superhero RPGs, I feel obligated to say something about the recently updated Marvel Cinematic Universe film release schedule.


The Black Panther! Yes! Captain Marvel? Oh yeah! The Inhumans...wait...really? AWESOME!

I am told DC is also going to make some movies. *Yawn*

Here's the thing...I love Superhero movies because I love Superheroes. I love Superheroes because I grew up on comic books. If the movies are awesome, but the comic books suck, I am less likely to be jazzed about the films.

Marvel is doing a pretty good job on it's comic books right now. Not perfect, and there's lots of room for improvement, but generally speaking, Marvel comics are good. Since their comics are good, I am interested in their movies.

Since the DC characters I love are really no longer around, and the films seem more aligned with the newer incarnations, I really have no interest in the DC movies at all.

At least I have The Flash TV series. I am really liking The Flash.

Barking Alien

Monday, October 27, 2014

Prepare Yourself For Being Unprepared

Welcome back to Barking Alien.

Sorry it's taken me so long to do this follow up post, but things have been hectic (in a mostly positive way) here at Barkley's Den (mostly positive. mostly).

Today, we're going to teach you how you can prepare a four course Dynamic Dungeon for five or six people, in half the time you'd think it takes.

To start off, you have to understand that most Gamemasters ^#@*ing over-prepare.


What Other GMs Do Wrong: Over-Prepare

I'll be the first to say that I over-prepare myself on occasion. It usually ends up happening when I am running a one-shot, especially at a convention. Additionally, I would definitely prefer to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Just makes sense.

That said, the key to an ongoing, dynamic, 'living' (or whatever you want to call it) setting, be it a dungeon, a city, or something else, isn't piles of notebooks, and a metric ton of spreadsheets. No, no, no, my chart and table obsessed cousins.* The secret is preparing not to be prepared. Carefully planning to ad lib. Focusing less on what might happen, and more on what would happen.

Enough fancy word play, eh? Straight talk...

Basically, you need not know the ins and outs of every denizen of a Dynamic Dungeon, anymore than you personally know the comings and goings of every person who lives, and/or works in your home town or city. I am certain that in many very small, rural, and even suburban towns, it can feel like you really do know everyone's business, but lets get some perspective.

I live in New York City, and more specifically the central borough of Manhattan. Manhattan alone has over 1,625,150 people. The city, complete with its infrastructure of maintenance personnel, police, firefighters, EMS workers, sanitation workers, and those who run our mass transit system, work and function on a daily basis completely independent (and likely unaware) of me. I benefit greatly from the system of people and services that make this city run, but I don't have much impact on their lives, nor they on mine in a one-on-one sense.

This is how your basic Dynamic (and potentially Ideal) Dungeon works. You don't manage, or worry about, every single individual being in the place anymore than you are currently worried about what that nice fellow who works at the newspaper stand is doing right now. What's he going to have for breakfast tomorrow? Oh no! How can I plan my day not knowing what he'll have for breakfast?!

Chill the hell out.

He will have breakfast, more than likely, and then he will be there when you go to get your paper in the morning. Some stuff just works, and keeps working.

Think in broader strokes. Focus on ways to portray the dynamic nature of a setting so that it feels dynamic. Don't get caught up in the minutia of running a town, and trying to determine every last detail. It serves no purpose, and only bogs you down and burns you out.

Think about it for a moment; how much of the complex economic and sociological matrixes you've developed to explain how the dungeon as living environment works are the PCs actually going to see and interact with? Probably very little. So there is not need for them.

All you need is a little common sense.

Let's look at some techniques for prepping a Dynamic Dungeon.


#1. Back to Basics (Of Information)

In your GM notes, place a sheet of paper with the name of your dungeon, and the elements of it's nature that you need to know to run an adventure there. What do you need to know? Well, it will be different for different GMs, but mine would look something like this...

The Endless Labyrinth

The part of the Endless Labyrinth
will be played by the labyrinth from Labyrinth.

Concept: Greedy Merchant Baron commissions massive, underground labyrinth to hide his treasure, and his daughter. Is tricked by daughter's true love to use his friends as the Architect, The Builder, The Trapmaker, and the Artificer. Friends than tell true love how to get in and past everything. True love runs away with daughter, leaves note to Baron that he left treasure behind. Merchant Baron enters his own labyrinth to find his own treasure, gets lost. Forever.

Design: Seemingly endless maze. Cursed. Many traps. Few monsters, mostly undead and The Juggernaut.

Inhabitants: Undead adventurers who tried to find the treasure in the labyrinth and never escaped. Skeletons, Ghosts, Zombies, etc. Unique Monster(s): The Juggernaut of the Endless Labyrinth, a clockwork/near-robot metal golem. Super strong, super tough, smart. Knows all the secret ways around the maze.

Special: Cursed location. If you die of starvation, dehydration, old age or other natural causes while lost in the maze, you resurrect as undead and continue searching for the treasure or a way out. If you are killed in the maze, you return in a lesser fashion - pretty much a mindless guardian of the area where you died.

Undead are explorers who died search the labyrinth for riches and/or a way out. Very few static monsters. PCs are in motion, undead are in motion.

Notes: Possible society of living people or humanoids (Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, etc.) who took up residence in maze when they realized they couldn't find a way out.

That's it. That is the entirety of my initial write up on this dungeon, which incidentally is a major, mythic site on my campaign world of Aerth (for my D&D-But-Not games). No one has ever even found the place. Why do I need more than this?

#2. A Sense of Purpose

For the denizens of your dungeon to have a dynamic society, there must be a reason they're there, something they are doing there, or need to do, that requires they live in the conditions of a dungeon. It need not be a complex, 'ecology of the...' reason, but it definitely should make sense.

Why? So that when encountered, the creatures therein act first and foremost, based on the motivation that this [the dungeon], is their home, their fortified, base of operations, or what-have-you. When PCs do something in the dungeon, and you as GM need to determine what course of action the inhabitants of this domain take, it is imperative you know why they are there in the first place.

Is this their only home after being driven out of the nearby caves by Dwarves? Is this the only place they kind find the rare plant or foodstuff they need to survive? The inhabitants of such a place will likely defend it to the death!

On the other hand, are they just hired help, brought in by some evil priest or mad wizard to protect a project their employers is working on? If so, do they feel it's worth dying for?

#3. Where Do We Go From Here?

Quo vadis? Where are you going?

Why is this a dynamic environment? It's a dynamic environment because the elements of it move and change.

That is to say, once you know why the beings in this dungeon are in this dungeon, and you know why they'll move about, and what their motivations are for doing so are, you have think of where they will go and what they will do next. By putting some thought into the destinations of the populace should an emergency arise (like an invasion by PC adventurers hell-bent on killing them all, and stealing their livelihoods), you make your Dynamic Dungeons actually feel dynamic without A) having to do too much prep, and B) not having to worry about every, single, individual beastie.

Some will never move because they are mere monstrous beasts, locked in a room to guard something, or because they were caught and kept as a pet by the inhabitants of the dungeon. Perhaps the non-combat types such as children, the elderly, the infirm, etc. will be escorted to safer rooms deeper in the complex by more able bodied, but still non-warrior, denizens. Combat types will move to engage, or search the corridors for the sneaky intruders.

Having a rough idea of who is in there, and where they will go, is what will take you from static to dynamic without making you spastic.*

#4. All Dynamic Dungeons Start Static

Take a mental photograph of your Dungeon. Imagine this snapshot is a typical day in the life of all the denizens of this Dungeon. Unless something significant disturbs the routine, this picture you have is a perfect representation of this Dungeon at whatever time of day or night you imagine it depicts.

This is how your Dungeon looks when the PCs enter it. This is your starting point. Regardless of what they are doing back in town, unless it somehow specifically messes with this picture, the PCs will find the Dungeon looking like your snapshot. when they enter it. You need this base picture the way a marathon runner needs the starting line to run a race, or a fairy tale needs some point to serve as it's 'Once Upon a Time'.


I could easily go on, and on with this, but I hope what I have put here so far will help take the edge off attempting to run a Dynamic Dungeon. I mean, IMHO, if you are running a dungeon crawl, you're already running the most boring type of adventure possible. At least these notes may help pump a little life into it. :p

Now let's get to something more interesting. Like Superheroes!

Heh. Just being snarky. Good gaming all!

But seriously...let's get back to Supers.

Barking Alien

*I apologize to my British readers. I am aware that 'spastic' has negative connotations in your vernacular. Here in the USA it's a slang term meaning clumsy, goofy, uncoordinated and frazzled to the point of making stupid mistakes.