Sunday, April 6, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z: Distant Soldier Herakles

D is for Distant Soldier Herakles

Title: Distant Soldier Herakles

The title mecha, the OCA-X10DS Herakles
with Thruster Pack and Rail Gun Rifle

System: Mekton II

Circa: 1989-90. Two follow up one shots, entitled 'Distant Soldier: The Twelve Labors War' and 'Be Forever Distant Soldier', were run in 1991.

Player Base: 6 players, four males and two females, ages 20-23.

Characters: All but two PCs were Mecha Pilots serving the Outer Colonies Alliance, a group of off-world colonies set up by the Earth but now banding together to seek their independence.  One PC was their Mechanic/Engineer and one was a sort of Politican/Bureaucrat doing shady dealings with the mercenaries, pirates, OCA sympathizers in the United Terran Space Government (UTSG) to keep the fledgeling rebellion supplied and protected.

The UTSG-AST9 Harpy
A Transformable Aerospace Mecha
Markings indicate it's from the 70th Squadron stationed at Pollux.
Above, Soldier Mode. Below High Speed Flight Mode. 
Synopsis: In the late 22nd century (originally 2189 I think), the United Terran Space Government and many of it's most distant colonies are at war as the latter attempts to gain it's independance from the former.
Wrongs in the conflict have been perpatrated by both sides and eventually a cease fire is called to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Unfortunately, the peace talks are a ruse and a young pilot, learning that the UTSG intends to strike hard at the OCA while their leaders are in arrested at the bogus negotiation meeting, steals the prototype UTSG 'Distant Soldier' Mecha codenamed 'Herakles'.
The young pilot convinces his friend, a Harpy pilot, to assist him in saving the Outer Colonies Alliance leaders and forces and join him in eventually defecting to their side. He and his friend are labelled traitors and ruthlessly hunted by a female UTSG politican who wants them dead but the Herakles robot returned as intact as possible.
Many of the adventures and plots were based on or at least inspired by Greek Mythology, crossed with classic Japanese Anime space-war-soap-opera such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Macross. The technology of the Earth and it's colonies was akin to Blade Runner or the fairly recent Sci-Fi film Elysium.
Distant Soldier: The Twelve Labors War focused on a mission in which the UTSG had set up 12 different 'secret weapons', hidden in various facilities in different star systems. The team of PCs had to destroy the 12 items or devices or whathaveyou before the UTSG could begin putting them into action. One wasn't an item at all but a young girl with vast psychokinetic powers who was brainwashed into being a sleeper agent.
Be Forever Distant Soldier revisits the setting 5 years after the end of the original campaign. The Herakles (upgraded during the series to the Herakles-Champion) and it's pilot (PC) are stranded on a planet inhospitable to Humans with limited resources, including food and air. In flashbacks we learn that the war is over and what happened to everyone.
In the final 'scenes', the female pilot of the Harpy (also upgraded to the Harpy-Zephyr), now the captain of a starship in the Outer World Confederation fleet, detects the distress call of her marooned long time friend. As he begins to pass out from lack of oxygen and sends a farewell communication into the stars, the woman's cruiser pulls into orbit and launches a rescue shuttle.
End credits roll. Totally Anime.
Bonus Features: I loved building and customizing Gundam model kits back in the day and builts and painted several as 'minis'/props for the game. I later lost or sold most of them.
This is another campaign with a theme song. Several in fact. I don't recall any of them except for the closing to Be Forever Distant Soldier (at least part of it).
Be forever my distant soldier.
Be forever my distant soldier boy.
Be that one in a million.
Be the one that made it out alive.
Don't be the one who went down fighting.
Don't let only your memory survive.
Don't let them say he went out a hero.
Don't let them say in the end he was so brave.
Be the one that knew when to call it.
So at least yours was the life you saved.
Well, I don't know if they told you,
But you'll always be forever my distant soldier.
The one I'll hold so tightly,
The I one I pray for the gods almighty,
To bring home.
To bring home.
Barking Alien
OK, so far so good. I can do this. I can make this challenge work. Go me!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z: Cosmic Rhapsody

C is for Cosmic Rhapsody

Title: Cosmic Rhapsody

Gamemaster's Commentary: The fellows over at the Play on Target podcast once noted how "cringe-worthy" it would be to go back in time and listen to recordings of the games of their youth. The inference is that they have learned so much from the mistakes they made in their earlier days in the hobby.

I often feel the opposite is true. I am missing something in my GMing skill set that I had when I was younger. I've lost a bit of my edge over the years. I'm too easy on my players. I'm too nice.

This campaign for example, in contrast to my current Traveller campaign, would be viewed as downright brutal.

Additionally, this game began as a traditional Science Fiction space adventure campaign in the vein of Poul Anderson, Alfred Bester, Gordon R. Dickson and E. E. Smith. A true 'Golden Age of Science Fiction' campaign with a strong feeling of 'Hard Science Space Opera' as I like to call it.

Somewhere just past mid-way through, things started to change and become closer to the 'New Wave Science Fiction' of the 1960s and 70s, with a powerful undertone of influence from Heavy Metal magazine. Anderson and Smith gave way to Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg and Norman Spinrad.

System: Space Opera (Fantasy Games Unlimited - Possibly Modified)

Circa: 1983

Player Base: Five players, all male, 14-15 years of age.

Characters: Initially, the group consisted of the types of characters you'd expect to see in a Sci-Fi/Space Opera game by 15 year olds in the early 80s. You had your Han Solo-esque Smuggler/Pilot, his Co-Pilot/Engineer buddy, a Lizard Man Alien Mercenary, a mysterious Psychic/Mystic type and an Alien Scientist/Explorer.

The game was kind of deadly and I recall we lost the Co-Pilot and the Scientist early on. The Co-Pilot was replaced by an Alien Engineer who couldn't pilot at all but was better at all things mechanical. The Scientist was eventually replaced by a Human Explorer/Scout type fellow.

Synopsis: On the brink of a war between, well, everybody, an invading armada consisting of the Klackons (cross a Klingon with this cool lobster dude), the Mertuns (War of The Worlds-esque alien tripods) and 'The Bugs' (Starship Troopers) threatened to conquer all of known space in the chaos.

Putting aside their differences in order to kick space invader butt, the nearly warring factions of the galaxy called a truce and teamed up to face their combined enemies. Afterward, they called a truce to their own instellar hostilities. They weren't suddenly friends, but they all agreed to hating the Mertuns, Klackons and Bugs more than they did each other.

A neutral zone sector in the middle of the various interstellar government domains was created, and it quickly became a hot bed of smuggling, piracy, corporate and military intrigue and planetary exploration. Enter the PCs as your typical band of freelance troublemakers.

By the end of the campaign things had gotten very weird. As mentioned in the 'commentary' above, we left the classic space opera of the Golden Age of Sci-Fi and entered into a sort of Psychodelic-Heavy-Metal-Magazine type of Science Fiction.

The Explorer had merged with some female alien intelligence/spirit/anomaly thing that had killed the Mystic as he turned out to be both secretly evil (true) and overconfident in his ability to mentally communicate with the entity.

She/He/It/They became a new life form/cosmic entity and decided to leave this plane of existance, but not before teleporting the Pilot/Smuggler guy back to Earth. Literally, back to the middle of the small, midwestern town where he was born from a site half way across the galaxy.

The Lizard Merc left the ship and crew to fight off an incursion of the Klackons. He died in battle and took hundreds of them with him thanks to an experimental explosive (a Quasar Bomb or something. I forget).

The Alien Engineer, left alone and unable to pilot the ship effectively, is last scene sending out a distress call and waiting in his quarters for someone to find him and rescue him.

One of our sadder endings.

Appendix N: 2001: A Space Odyssey novel and film - author Arthur C. Clarke, Epic Magazine by Marvel Comics, Heavy Metal Magazine by Metal Mammoth, Inc., the Heavy Metal animated film, Solaris novel by Stanislaw Lem, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress novels by Robert Heinlein, Trader to the Stars novel by Poul Anderson and many other science fiction stories of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and early 80s.

Bonus Features: This campaign featured several firsts and unusual approaches for me.

I was the GM of this campaign for about 75% of the sessions. My friends Martin and Jerry GMed for about 25% of it. I ran of the ending of which I am quite proud. This was the second time I ran a co-GMed campaign and the first time with more than two GMs including myself.

Looking back at the rules for this games many times over the years since this campaign was run, I haven't the faintest idea how we played it. This has to be one of the most overworked, convoluted games ever made.

We used minis for characters and spaceships on occasion, something I have rarely ever done when playing RPGs.

This is one of the first campaigns I ever ran that I actually gave a title to.

Cosmic Rhapsody is the first campaign I ever ran to have a direct sequel. I ran a follow up campaign called 'A War in G-Minor' about a year and a half after this Cosmic Rhapsody ended.

Sometime later, a Superhero game with a sort of classic 'Guardians of the Galaxy' flavor was set in this same universe.

Barking Alien


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z: Blast City Blues

B is for Blast City Blues

Title: Blast City Blues

System: Teenagers From Outer Space (Modified)

Circa: 1987-1988 (Follow up campaign in 1989).

Player Base: Three players at the start, male, ages 17-18. Eventually added three or four more, same age range. A follow up campaign in the same setting occurred a year or two later and included one additional male and two female players.

Characters: PCs were Human and extraterrestrial high school students attending Blast City High, hoping to graduate and get the chance to attend Blast City University. Each of the PCs had a superhuman power or skill, including super speed, super strength, energy blasts, super intelligence, supersonic screams (like Marvel's Banshee or DC's Black Canary) and many others.

I expanded the rules for powers so that each PC started with 10 Power Levels. You could have Super Speed at Power Level 10 and be as fast as the Flash, or, as was the case with the character 'Mech' Herrera, a teenage cyborg, you could break those Power Levels up into different abilities. Using Mech as an example, he had Super Speed 2, Super Strength 2, Invulnerability 3 and Micro Missiles 3.

Magical character could change up what their PL 10 abilities were but has to pay a price (Needed to rhyme to cast spells, spells that hurt opponents bestowed bad luck on your allies for an hour, etc.).

Synopsis: 25 years ago, an alien spacecraft of considerable size landed just off the tip of Long Island Sound in New York. A plethora of extraterrestrials emerged from the vessel, proclaiming to be members of the United Galaxy Alliance. The Alliance was invaded and every last one of it's worlds conquered and stripped of their resources of the terrible Dreggetti. Like space locusts, they swarm across planet after planet, consuming all in their path. Now, they are heading for Earth!

Luckily, thanks to their superior Star Drives, the refugees of the United Galaxy Alliance have arrived in our solar system at least 1 year ahead of the Dreggetti fleet. They've come to Humanity with a secret weapon that might just have a chance at defeating the evil aliens.

The greatest minds of the UGA have developed Polytransmorphic Metamutagen Alpha! This chemical, well, it's a compound actually, can...I suppose gaseous gelatin would be more accurate. Where was I? Oh yes, so there's this process involved and, you see it's all very complicated. The end result is that PM Alpha can give Humans superpowers. Sadly, it doesn't seem to work on any of the UGA member species since may of them have superpowers of a sort built into their genetics. Since Humans don't, the potential of the PM Alpha on them is unknown and potentially limitless.

After meeting with the world's political powers, the Earth unifies under the banner of the United Earth System Alliance and begins developing superpowered soldiers and learning all about the incredibly advanced technology and scientific knowledge of the UGA aliens. At the end of one year, they ready themselves for what is destined to be the war to end all wars, deciding the fate of the Human race and perhaps the entire Galaxy, once and for all.

Only...the Dreggetti never arrive. Time passes. The aliens settle down on Earth, the Moon, a terraformed Mars and a few other spots in the solar system. Still no Dreggetti. The UGA starship is converted into a city, dubbed Blast City, which contains additional housing, training facilities and business and government offices for many of the aliens and superpowered population. More time passes. The Dreggetti are still a no show.

Fast forward to the present and the sons and daughters and unisex, undulating, spore blobs of the superpowered Humans and alien refugees are going to school, printing spread sheets, watching Zero-G Boogie Ball (a sport I created) and just trying to get live with each other and not destroy any private property in the process. Some superpowered individuals are part of the United Earth System Alliance Defense Force, which others have more 'normal' jobs.

Adventures ranged from wacky 70's ,sitcom fare mixed with sci-fi or comic book themes, to fairly serious disasters and villains that forced to PCs, none of them old enough to graduate high school, to really work together and be courageous.

Appendix N: Galaxy High animated cartoon series, Legion of Superheroes comic books from DC Comics, Sidekicks comic book from Oni Press*, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (In the USA, Part 1 of the R-word ** series: The Macross Saga) Japanese anime series, Teen Titans comic books by DC Comics, Urusei Yatsura (Those Obnoxious Aliens - Lum) Japanese manga and anime series.

Bonus Features: A short comic book featuring the setting and characters was created by our high school RPG club and sold at the school's annual art faire.

One of the coolest things we ever did for a game was create both an opening and closing theme song for our Blast City Blues series. The song was written by me, and performed and recorded on a cassette tape (long since lost) by a garage band my friends and I had put together.

A friend of mine (one of the players incidentally) translated the entire opening into Japanese, complete with minor changes to make it sound and read more sensibly in the Japanese language.

The opening song's overall styling matched the Japanese pop-music of the era, while the closing had a more blues-rock n' roll sound. I don't recall much of the closing theme (I Love Blast City) but the English opening goes like this:

Well hello!
Hello, how are you?
I'm doing fine.
I'd really love to talk, but I don't have time.
What do you mean?
I'm off to school and I can't be late!
I want to learn the golden rule and take a chance on fate.

Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, Oh School House Rock!
Nothing to dread, when you use your head.

Tell me more!
Well, my school, it's a little strange.
Why don't you come and see it, 'cause you'll be amazed.
There's a boy who can fly,
A girl shoots rays from her eyes,
And the teachers walk through walks to no ones surprise.

Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, Oh School House Rock!
For Heaven and Earth to be seen, you must stand in between.

Oh no, the bell!
That's the bell and I have to run,
But it was great talking to you. It was lots of fun.
Think about checking out the school.
The light in your eyes tells me you're no fool.

Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, School House Rock!
Ohhh, Oh School House Rock!
Nothing to dread, when you use your head.

Barking Alien

* Sidekicks was not yet created when I ran my Teenagers from Outer Space/Blast City Blues campaigns but it has some remarkable similarities and is one of my all time favorite comic books. Highly recommended.

** Adam does not say the R-word.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Campaigns A-to-Z: Aerth and The Legends of The Winghorn Guard

I feel it only fitting that I begin the A-To-Z Challenge with A for Aerth.

Title: Aerth

Aerth is the name of the homebrewed setting I created in association with my homebrewed Dungeons & Dragons variant, Dungeons & Dragons AD.

Numerous campaigns with and without titles have been run in this setting. Among them are such titles as The Winghorn Guard (original), The Chronicles of the Winghorn Guard (sequel), The Black Omen Saga and many others. As all are set or related to the same world, I collectively refer to these campaigns (which share a continuity and 'canon') 'Aerth'.

System: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition (Modified), Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition and 3.5 (Modified very little) and Dungeons & Dragons AD (A homebrewed variant of AD&D 1st and 3rd, merged and then simplified).

Circa: First Campaign - 1982-83-to-1985. A number of short campaign spinoffs - 1984-88. Second campaign (New campaign with elements that were made it a roughly direct sequel to the original) - 1998-2004. A short campaign - 2010-2011.

Player Base: Originally there were six or seven male players, 14-15 years of age. Over time there have been many players of different ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and genders.

My ex-wife created a character for the Second/Sequel Campaign to the original as her first D&D character ever.

Characters: The majority of our Aerth campaigns have had the PCs as members of The Winghorn Guard, a multi-national, multi-species order of heroes sworn to protect the people of Aerth from all manner of evil, injustice and threats to the sanctity of life. The heroes (and setting) are styled after Superhero comic books more so than Fantasy literature.
Imagine the Winghorn Guard as a medieval Legion of Superheroes or Justice League Unlimited (the animated series).

Synopsis: About 50 years prior to the first campaign, a group of adventurers saved the world of Aerth from a dire evil, the entity known as The Great Chimera. These heroes were than visited by an Alicorn, a Winged Unicorn, and told they had been chosen as guardians and protectors of the planet. They were instructed to find and train others to join them, and if approved by the Winged Unicorn, these brave beings would aid in the constant struggle to prevent chaos and evil from consuming Aerth.

By the time of the first campaign, the group is nearly 250 members strong and protects the world regardless of the borders of Kings, the decree of Churches and the whims of the petty, the wicked, the frightened and the unjust.

The Winghorn Guard knows only one allegiance...Aerth and the Winged Unicorn, thought to be the spirit of the world or an avatar of Mother Nature and Father Time. Others believe the great Alicorn to be a god itself, perhaps a one, true god or the herald of such. The truth is not yet known.

The first campaign dealt with a being known as Neuron, The Neutral Man, an entity from the Concordant Opposition, the realm of true neutrality, who had come to Aerth to warn a particular group of Guard members of a terrible evil from beyond the stars that threatened the world. Neutral in their outlook on all things, the Neutral Men are charged only with observing and recording the events on the Prime Realm they are assigned to (like Marvel Comics' Watcher). Neuron, realizing the threat he viewed was a danger to law and chaos, good and evil alike, felt the need to take action.

He would assist the Winghorn Guard numerous times in the following years, until his fellow Neutral Men felt he's been tainted with 'Good' and imprisoned him. Similarly, this particular team of Winghorn Guard members were accused of treason, as they had been working with and following an outside entity (Neuron) while serving with the Guard.

Eventually they disobeyed direct orders, travelled to the Concordant Opposition, freed their ally and friend and gave an impassioned speech on the nature and purpose of what it means to be 'good' and subsequently left the Guard, going their separate ways.

The sequel campaign, set 25 years later, deals with a mad Elf named Shadowhaunt who is amassing arcane power in an attempt to rewrite history. He is a member of the now extinct Pale or Ash Elves and seeks to alter time and space to bring his people back. He is being aided by a secret organization known as The Circle of The Shattered Rainbow, which also seems to periodically help members of the Winghord Guard! Hmmm. Is Neuron the enigmatic leader of The Circle?

Appendix N: The Chronicles of Narnia novel series by C.S. Lewis, The Fantastic Four comic books from Marvel Comics, Folklore and Myths from all over the world, The Hobbit, Justice League Unlimited animated series, The Last Unicorn novel by Peter S. Beagle, Legion of Superheroes comic books from DC Comics and the Vlad Taltos novel series by Steven Brust.

Bonus Features: Games set on Aerth are among my most successful and popular campaigns. A bit of a bittersweet victory as I am not a D&D fan and would prefer to run something other than Fantasy 9.5 out of 10 times.

Much of the material from the early campaigns were generated by combining several separate campaigns together. Many of my players were involved in campaigns at school and when we met at camp to run The Winghorn Guard I merged all the stuff from each of their school games into one world (Aerth) and than modified it as needed.

My ex-wife is largely responsible for much of the cultural elements of the Elven people, based on the historical information I provided from the campaigns background.

Barking Alien

One down, 25 campaign universes to go!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Campaigns A-To-Z!

Before we begin this trip down memory lane, a little about the format I am using for the descriptions.

First, you'll get the campaign's Title. As best as I can remember it. Not all my old campaigns had titles, but many did and as the years went on it became common practice for me to title them.

This will be followed by what System was used to run the campaign.

Next, you'll get roughly when I ran the game, under the designation 'Circa'. I'm 45 now and these campaigns date back over 36 years or so, so please forgive the imperfection of Human memory. I strive for better.

Player Base will tell you roughly how many players there were and what their age and genders were. Again, I am going to be general here and try to recall the participants as best I can without driving myself nuts.

The Characters section will be used to describe the primary PC characters, major NPCs and secondary or alternate PCs if they proved important to the story.

The Synopsis section will give you the overarching plot or theme of the campaign. Occasionally, this section might include major story arches, subplots or the like. I will also give you how the campaign in question ended.

Which brings me to this...

The campaigns described here are ones I consider complete. They had a beginning, a middle and either an end or were created to be never ending (like a comic book soap opera). The original Star Trek series didn't really end at the end of the show but it had a final episode.

Lastly, the post will end in an 'Appendix N' for that campaign; a list of references and inspirations that lead to the campaigns design.

As always, please ask me any questions you like regarding the campaigns described and tell me about any similar gaming experiences you may have had.

I look for to telling you these tales and reading your responses.

Barking Alien