Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Temporary Loss of My Superpowers

This month was supposed to be dedicated to Superheroes.

I've just been so busy. That, and...I've lost a little of my enthusiasm honestly.

It's not as if there isn't a lot to discuss. Oh, no siree Bob. There is a veritable plethora of Superhero material out there these days to inspire a Superhero campaign.

Yet now, I just can't get into what the genre has become in the mainstream, which seems to be the primary exposure gamers I'm meeting have had. Television is doing a decent job, movies are a mixed bag of fantastic, and terrible, but comics...sigh...the next generation just aren't into comics they way my friends, and I were back in the day, and if they are it's not the same kind of comics.

There are some good books, though they are few, and far between, and nothing, but nothing is putting the fire in my heart that I had for them in my youth. Hell, that I had pre-DC's Flashpoint, and New52 crap. That wasn't that long ago. Maybe 5 years or so?

I just finished watching Jessica Jones. Boy, oh boy, am I depressed.

Whatever. The magic is gone. At least for the time being.

Besides, it's not like I'll be running any Supers campaigns anytime soon. While one group loves Superheroes, but not long term games, the other likes long term games, but doesn't get the kind of Supers I like. The end result is that there just isn't enough juice to get the Superhero fan in me excited enough to talk about Superheroes this month.

Next month is Science Fiction, and Science Fantasy.

Hopefully, I'll be recharged, and ready by then.

Barking Alien

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Inconsistent Truth

Nothing irks me as much as inconsistency. My own that is.

Although I understand intellectually that not every session is going to be perfect, or 'the best session I've ever run', it still bothers me when there is such a significant difference in quality from a given session to the next.

I mean, I've been doing this a long time. I've run literally, easily, hundreds upon hundreds of RPG sessions for dozens, and dozens of people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds. I've run at schools, homes, parties, and conventions. By this point in time, you'd think I would have running sessions down to a science. You'd think a successful game is pretty much a given.
It is not.

A weekend, or so ago I ran the penultimate session of The Barking Alien Gaming Group's three-year, thirty-six session, classic Traveller campaign, Traveller - Operation: PALADIN. This was the last episode prior to the big finale in December.

It went...OK.

There were some issues, most of which have plagued this particular group in one form, or another for some time now. There were also some factors unique to this particular day (a few people were running late, myself included, one had been working over time for a few days prior, that sort of thing).

The main issue I had with the session was that it meandered at the onset, as well as right before the end, and felt very light on drama, and emotional resonance.

Which sucks.

Time to Leave - Traveller Art by Ben Wootten

There's espionage, giant robot battle armor, futuristic guns, spaceships, aliens,
psychic powers, loved ones in danger, romance, and the threat of all out war!
You'd think it would be more exciting.

It not only sucks because, hey, who isn't hoping for excitement, emotional impact, and dramatic weight in a story, but also because we're almost at the end of the run. The next episode is the last episode. The curtain is coming down for the last time, and soon. After three years of build up, and struggle, I want to end with a bang, not a whimper.

Now there were a lot of reasons it wasn't as good as it could have been, and I take full responsibility for some of it, and as GM, for not reigning in the issues that were caused by the players, and not by me personally. I'm the Captain of the ship, and I should have seen the hazards, and steered us clear before they became a problem.

But I didn't. Why? Because sometimes you don't. You don't see it in time. You see it, but can't figure out what to do about it. You figure, they'll get it any minute now. Give' em time.

Before I continue with this, let me tell you about a very different game I ran about three weeks ago...

The PCs' unnamed, customized Nova Drive Z-3 Light Freighter.
I did this image after the game. No picture was used during play.
Through the players' ideas, and in-character dialogue, the ship
obtained numerous details, and an easy to imagine layout.

I had the pleasure of running a one-shot of my favorite system, and one of my favorite subjects, Star Wars D6 by West End Games. Truth be told, I didn't really use the system so much as the Star Wars setting, and lessons learned from years of reading the West End Games books, and running the game. Mechanically, I simplified things a lot.

There were three players: My friend Dan, who is a few years my senior, and two recent acquaintances of his, a guy and a gal, who were both in their mid-to-late twenties. I had never met the others two prior to that day.

I have to say, it was one of the best single sessions I've had in a long time. It reminded me of my old NJ group days. Everything just clicked. The players quickly created, and connected with, their characters. Their individual goals were simple, clear, connected to the setting, and not specific as to how they could accomplish them. They established their relationships with each other through the course of play, but in very short order.

No long backstories, but they had backstories. No convoluted plans, but they had plans. The characters didn't all get along perfectly, and yet they perfectly cooperated with each other to get things done.

No one was the 'star', no one was trying to be, and as a result, each one shined.

It was nirvana. I think I heard angels. Seriously, angels. I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them...

Probably the most notable thing about the adventure was that it moved fast. Incredibly fast.

In the past, I always prided myself on my pacing. Fast, and exciting during battles, or chase scenes; measured, and tense while attempting to infiltrate a location, or hide from overwhelming opposition, etc.

For the past year, or so though, this has been very off.

Reluctant to push the players in a particular direction, and take agency away from them, I all too often let them endlessly discuss, debate, and overthink their situations (this is true in both of my current groups).

Unfortunately, they don't know how to police themselves (or so it seems). Many of them forego what would be the most interesting, exciting, or cinematic option, instead looking to the most logical option; often making certain it is the surest, safest plan, devoid of conflict, drama, tension, and sadly, emotional impact, and resonance.

I realize my particular style of play is not for everyone. It is often best suited for a pro-active player who gets really immersed in the setting, and who works with the group (as well as with the flow of the game) to come out smiling on the other end.

The worst part is, I don't want to ask for that. I want to find it, just have it, you know, 'be'.

I guess it's asking a lot, although I've never thought of it as such.

In conclusion, they can't all be winners. Not every game will go exactly the way you want it to. And, surprise, you want it to go well. No great insight there, eh?

Now, how much of the responsibility for the game's success is the GM's, and how much of it is the players'? Equal? That would seem logical. Yet...there is but one GM, doing a lot of work, putting in a lot of love, and usually two, or more players. Surely, if you were helping a friend move a piano, you wouldn't have one friend hold fifty percent of the weight while three others support that other half.

If there is a place where a fair dialog needs to take place, it's probably here, in that special place reserved for friends who help friends move pianos.


Barking Alien

Sunday, November 15, 2015

That's Entertainment!

A week or two ago, news hit that two of my favorite television IPs are getting new life on the small screen.

And I couldn't be more...hmmm.

First, there's...

The Greatest American Hero is set to return, thanks to FOX, and the talented team of Phil Lord & Chris Miller, the dynamic duo behind The Lego Movie, and other successful comedic films.

It's weird, but I feel like someone mentioned this not that long ago. Getting that deja vu feeling, ya'know?

Between then, and now I've been following whatever information I could get on the story. I've actually heard a bit of inside information, and numerous rumors about the new version, and so far I like what I've heard.

FOX has confirmed that they are backing development of a TV series pilot, and if they use even a small amount of what I've come across, I think they'll have a real winner on their hands. A key element will of course be its budget. In the era of The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl, the special effects have to be on par with those programs to compete in an increasingly crowded Superhero entertainment market.

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but I have a really good feeling about this one. I can't wait for this show to start. Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.


The possibility of a new Star Trek series fills me with equal parts hope, and dread,. The explosive force of my geek freak-out at the news of this project made the Matter/Anti-Matter reactions within the Enterprise's engines look weak in comparison.

I want a new Star Trek series on the air so very badly, but everything I'm hearing about the project is filling me with concerns.

To begin with, the television series will not be a television series at all, airing instead of CBS's 'Pay-Us-To-Watch-What-You-Are-Already-Paying-For-Cable-To-Watch streaming service CBS All Access. This means, you need to pay to watch the new Star Trek. Okay...I don't love that idea, but if it's not too expensive, and the show is really good, I probably would. Why? Star Trek is why.

But wait..."Alex Kurtzman, co-writer of the films Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, and Heather Kadin will serve as executive producers."

Kurtzman, eh? Well, I despised both Abrams Star Trek films, and Kurtzman's connection to them does nothing to endear him to me, but he's done other stuff that was good, so I'll try to keep an open mind.

Except...rumors abound that the new show will be set in the Abrams-verse, and if that's true, I really have not interest in the program whatsoever. Hopefully those rumors are but rumors.

What's this?...January 2017? 2017? Really? That's quite a way off. I guess there will be ample time to fret, and postulate about the show before we get any real details.

My sincerest hope is that both of these programs will be great.

Fingers crossed.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Hey everyone.

The blog is on an unanticipated hiatus at the moment while I take care of some real life stuff. I am now a business owner, and have to deal with business owner type things.

I will post off, and on as time allows, but don't expect a lot of material until December. I do intend for, and expect, December to be a pretty full month for Barking Alien, with a lot of things to discuss, so please bare with me until then.



Noted scholar, and sage Lowell Francis of Age of Ravens, also known as 'Lowell The Lister', and 'He Who Knows The History of Fun', recently posted a series entitled RPG Top 100.

Oddly, this isn't a list of the 100 Best RPGs in his opinion, nor his 100 favorite RPGs, and it isn't the 100 most popular RPGs in the history of the hobby. No, in Lowell's own words, these games are notable by the following designation:

"...these aren't necessarily the 100 Best RPGs, but they're ones I want to play."

He goes on to note that those identified by an asterisk ( * ) are games where he enjoys the setting, or premise, but would want to use a different rule system to run, or play it.

An interesting exercise, but one that left me with a lot of questions. Such as:

  • Are these games you (Lowell) have never played?
  • Do you want to run them, play them, or both?
  • Why haven't you played some of these? I can understand it being tricky to find someone who knows about Wrath of the Autarch (a game I've only ever heard of from seeing it listed on peoples blogs!), let alone who's running it, but Mutants & Masterminds? It's hard to trip without knocking into someone running that game in my experience.

I don't know that there are 100 RPGs I've never played, that I'd want to. I'm serious.

Surely there have to be numerous games I've not tried out, but the idea that there are more than a few dozen Superhero, Sci-Fi, Giant Robot, Anime, or Folklore Fantasy RPGs out there that I haven't tried is hard to imagine. Honestly, I wouldn't be able to list them either. If they exist, and I haven't played them at least once, it's because I do not know of their existence.

Now, let's say I know about them, I've read them, or I've spoken to friends who gave them a rave review, but I haven't tried them yet, and really want to. That sounds fantastic! It also sounds...just...I don't know...utterly unlikely. If there is a game I want to play, or run, I do so. Often I do it as a one shot just to say I have, and to have the experience. If I liked the game, I would probably find a way to get it, and run it at some one point.

I know I sound a bit matter-of-fact, and perhaps even unrealistic in my simplified answer to the situation of wanting to try new games, but that's just how I've always been, and how I continue to be.

However, the bigger issue is that I just don't see that many new games coming out that I feel I have to play. There are very few that I am chomping at the bit to try out. I would be very interested in checking out The Warren, Spirit of '77, The One Ring, and maybe...well...I'm curious about 13th Age, and Fantasy AGE, but it won't kill me if I don't get to play those.

I was going to try, and challenge myself to come up with a similar list, but I just can't do it. There simply aren't enough games that fall into that category for me. Instead, here is a different kind of list.

The Barking Alien Blog Proudly Presents, The BIG DAMN LIST OF RPG LOVE!

Here are 100 RPGs that I just love. I love to run them, I'd probably like to play them I guess*, but they are the games I love, and that's what counts.

So, without further adieu, in no particular order, here are my 100 favorite most beloved games:

  1. Star Wars D6 (West End Games)
  2. Star Trek ICON System (Last Unicorn Games)
  3. Star Trek, The Role Playing Game (FASA)
  4. Champions 4th Edition (ICE/Hero Game)
  5. Traveller (Classic, and MegaTraveller, Game Design Workshop)
  6. Teenagers from Outer Space (R. Talsorian Games)
  7. Mekton (Especially Mekton II, R. Talsorian Games)
  8. InSpectres (Memento Mori)
  9. Ghostbusters (West End Games)
  10. Mutants and Masterminds (Especially 1st and 3rd Editions, Green Ronin)
  11. Faery's Tale Deluxe (Firefly Games / Green Ronin)
  12. Ars Magica 3rd Edition (White Wolf/Wizards of the Coast)
  13. Changeling: The Dreaming (White Wolf)
  14. Aberrant (White Wolf)
  15. Monsters, and Other Childish Things (Arc Dream Publishing)
  16. Wares Blade (Hobby Japan Games)
  17. SATASUPE ReMix (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  18. Peekaboo Horror (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  19. Paradise Fleet (Fujimi Dragon)
  20. Alshard (Enterbrain)
  21. Risus (Cumberland Games)
  22. Paranoia (West End Games)
  23. Toon (Steve Jackson Games)
  24. Sketch! (Corsair Publishing)
  25. Red Dwarf (Deep 7)
  26. Meikyuu Kingdom (Make You Kingdom) (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  27. Pendragon 3rd, and 4th Editions (Chaosium, Green Knight Publishing)
  28. Bushido (Phoenix Games / Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  29. Hunter Planet (TAGG)
  30. Golden Sky Stories (Star Line Publishing)
  31. Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games)
  32. Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game (Margaret Weiss Productions)
  33. DC HEROES (Mayfair Games)
  34. Bunnies and Burrows (Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  35. Cyberpunk 2013 / 2020 (R. Talsorian Games)
  36. Metal Head (Hobby Japan Games)
  37. Mobile Racer Championship (Hobby Japan Games)
  38. Wares Blade (Hobby Japan Games)
  39. M.I.S.S.O.N. (Kabal Gaming Systems)
  40. Happy Birthday Robot! (Evil Hat Productions)
  41. The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men (Itesser Ink / Wicked Dead Brewing Co.)
  42. Doom and Cookies (Andrew Peregrine / Corone Design)
  43. Steal Away Jordan (Stone Baby Games)
  44. MAID (Sunset Games in Japan, Star Line Publishing in the U.S.A.)
  45. Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  46. The Muppets (Barking Alien Games - What? I can't love my own game?)

Er...um...give me one second here...everything's fine here, now, thank you. How are you?

Psst. Barkley. I need you help.

What seems to be the problem?

I can't think of any more games that I love!



Well, you liked Space Opera when you were younger, right? And Star Frontiers?

Liked yes, but not loved. If I did, it was a long time ago.

Yes, yes. How about...wait...perhaps...no. Hmmm.

Well now, this presents a bit of a conundrum does it not? What am I to do?

As noted above, there are a lot of games that I like, even like a lot, but I don't drop the 'L' word lightly, and I really can't say I love something I don't love.

Now, it's possible, even likely, there are games I love that I'm not thinking of right now. To those games, I apologize. Seriously, I love ya man. I think.

A few games I like a lot (and I mean A LOT!) include (but are by no means limited to):

Adventures in Oz (F. Douglas Wall Publishing)
GODLIKE (Arc Dream Publishing)
James Bond: 007 (Victory Games)
Mouse Guard (Archaia Studio Press)
Ryuutama - Dragon's Egg (Kotodama Heavy Industries)
Star Frontiers (TSR)


Dread (The Impossible Dream)

What does it all mean? Is there some grand purpose behind it all? Is Humanity missing out on a great insight into its higher nature by not being able to unravel the hidden truths these lists hold within them?

No. Probably not.

At the same time, I believe I see some interesting insights into my own preferences. I see some consistency, and a few things in my personal tastes that strike me as odd.

Of course, in the surprises-no-one category, there is a distinct lack of Fantasy RPGs. There are a decent amount of comedic games as expected, as well as Science Fiction, and Superhero games, although the former is somewhat spread out over a number of subgenres. Nonetheless, Space Adventure Sci-Fi, and Comic Book Superheroes do rule the day.

Perhaps less obvious, and more surprising (to me anyway) are the number of games listed that have crunchy, more mechanically heavy systems. My appreciation for rules-lite games is well known, but I do not appear to disdain the more complex ones as much as I initially thought.

This warrants further study. I hope to get back to you soon with the results of my research.

Barking Alien


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts

One of the great, long lost, elements of Halloween, oft forgotten in the modern age, is that the holiday was not originally a time to embrace horrors, and cheer for the slasher in gory movies, but quite the opposite.

Essentially, as it was explained to me as a young boy, people dressed up as scary creatures on Halloween to make fun of the real scary creatures, and in some cases trick them into thinking their brethren are already about, and doing naughty things, so that they would go away. That, or the costumes of the people were frightening so as to scare away the actual beasties of darkness.

In his book Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Reverend Doctor Edward J. Smith offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows' Eve, originally called 'guising' (as in disguising ones self). The Reverend suggests that by dressing up as spooky, and nightmarish boogies, people, especially children, are able to poke fun at the Devil, his evil, and the things we fear.

The last sentence in the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Halloween says,  "the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."

So as an advocate of humorous games, this got me to thinking...

We tend to think of the Halloween holiday themed game as a chance to run something really frightening, perhaps with a touch of tragic irony, and who can forget, gore.

Yet according to my research, the proper way to participate in the holiday is to run something humorous (albeit perhaps darkly so). I might even go a step further, and suggest that this might be the best possible way to tackle both genres.

Puttin' on the Ritz

As I and other RPG bloggers have mentioned in the past, both Horror, and Humor share certain challenges to both the GM, and players that make them tricky to run. And yet, combine the two, and I feel like the juxtaposition of their natures works to highlight the strengths of both.

For instance, if you've been chugging along with as a gang of two-bit, underachieving, ne'er do wells, jokingly going from one misadventure after another, and suddenly one of your NPC contacts is found dead, and half eaten...s^%* just got real REALLY fast. This would work in a Medieval Fantasy, or Cyberpunk setting, but imagine It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia with Zombies! Yikes!

Don't forget to kill Philip.

Likewise, periodic bits of comedy can prevent a Horror, or chilling Crime Thriller from getting too dark, and depressing. The television show Dexter was darkly humorous at times.

Of course, perhaps the best way to create a gestalt of these two genres is to observe the relative absurdity of modern Horror. While I am hesitant to recommend deconstruction of any kind, in the effort to find what's funny about ghosts, the animated dead, and demons coming to steal your soul, look no further than the worst examples of the genre (or the best comedic examples of it).

No End To The...Rabbits.
Freakin' rabbits.

In conclusion, if we're supposed to be celebrating All Hallow's Eve by giggling at the devil, and his minions, I say bring out the chips, and dips, roll some dice, and chuckle his candy-arse back to the abyss where it belongs. Have some laughs at evil's expense.

It's on me.

Barking Alien