Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: RED DWARF

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Red Dwarf, the British, Science Fiction comedy television series, created by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, and Grant Naylor, three times on this blog before today.

I may have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.




Emergency. Emergency.
There is an emergency going on.
 
It's still going on.


This, this right here, is why I came up with Thorough Thursdays.

How is this possible? How have I not mentioned this show more than three times in the seven years my blog has been around? I'm more than a bit of an Anglophile, and this show is British, Science Fiction, funny, and how the hell have I not talked about this program more than three times?

Red Dwarf is my favorite British comedy series ever, and one of my favorite television shows of all time. I feel like a total gimboid. A complete smeghead. Can you forgive me?





I first discovered Red Dwarf quite by accident. Thanks to my eternal struggle with insomnia, I was up late channel surfing when I came across a PBS affiliate that apparently showed Britcoms in the wee, small hours.

Depending on the night you tuned in you could catch Blackadder, Are You Being Served?, and a few others. A fan of British culture, and humor, I immediately started following the shows I liked best, and tried to catch others when I had the chance.

One night (I forget which day of the week) I stayed up past Are You Being Served? (which was all repeats, as the show had been over for a number of years) to catch an apparently new program called, you guessed it, Red Dwarf.

It was love at first smeg.

From that point on I never missed an episode, until the channel changed up its airing schedule, and I couldn't find what night Red Dwarf was on. It was around that time I met the woman who I would eventually move in with, marry, and...well...divorce, but that is a sad tale for another time. The bottom line is, I never saw the last two seasons of Red Dwarf until many years after the show had been cancelled.

I have, at this point, seen all the episodes of every single season many times over, including the Back to Earth mini-series, and the six-episode Season X (10). To be honest, I've only seen Seasons VII, VIII, and Back to Earth a few times each. Seasons I-III I've watched dozens of time. I really liked Season X.

Where was I?

Ah, yes! So what makes Red Dwarf so bloody awesome? It's a British, Science Fiction, comedy. So basically, it's made of win.
 





What I love about the series - beyond the fantastically odd-ball premise, quirky characters, and cheesy-but-cool special effects - is the way Science Fiction concepts are used to add a new spin to classic sitcom tropes. The Sci-Fi elements also allow for a few situations that would only occur in the show's unique setting.

Artificially intelligent toasters, love sick, genetically engineered monsters, a starship bigger than a city, Better-Than-Life Virtual Reality games, and a host of other possibilities, are the threats, obstacles, and irritants you'll encounter in Red Dwarf.
 
 
***
 
Of course, any television series is only as good as its characters.
 
The characters of Red Dwarf are nothing short of amazing. Exaggerated, but flawed Human individuals, combined with two all-too-human non-Humans, made for a perfect ensemble.
 
The chemistry of the actors can not be understated. These are a fantastic group of comedic actors who are either honestly, truly fond of each other, or much better actors than anyone has ever given them credit for.
 
I love these guys. Seriously. I don't know what else to say in this regard.
 
Except...well...I do a mighty good Kryten impression if I do say so myself.
 
What's next? Hmmm, ah yes. Gaming it.
 
 
***
 
I've run only one Red Dwarf game ever, which is a damn shame, as it went over incredibly well. Intended to be the 'Pilot Episode' for a new campaign, player schedules just never lined up right after that first session. What a session though. Bang on, as the Brits would say.
 
Why does this particular IP make for such a great RPG setting?

Well, first of all, it does just in case I didn't make that clear. Secondly, it combines several elements found in other well known RPGs to create a unique blending, with a dash of humor to achieve a flavor all it's own.

The Human inhabitants of the massive spaceship Red Dwarf, were essentially the working class spacers you'd expect to see in a game of Traveller. In order for the Jupiter Mining Corporation's Solar Class Mining Vessel (in some sources, Leviathan Class) to operate a peak performance, crewmembers of many different careers are required. Think about it, a Red Dwarf type ship would need Scouts, Scientists, Army and Navy, Bureaucrats, Belters, and any number of other jobs.

Even the main characters fit into Traveller pretty easily as Rogue (Dave Lister), Bureaucrat or Navy (Arnold Rimmer), Scientist with some Navy Skills (Kryten), and either Rogue or Barbarian (Cat). Your mileage may vary, but it isn't that hard to figure it out.

Now let's talk about the ship itself. I've said before that megadungeons don't impress me much because I'm used to playing in, and running, RPG campaigns where the PCs live in a huge megadungeon that takes them to their adventures. The Red Dwarf is 5 miles in length! You could easily spend a dozen adventures just exploring the vessel.

Now, what if it wasn't the Red Dwarf? What if a Scientific Exploration vessel suffered a similar accident. Lost for over 3 million years and exposed to space opera style radiation, who knows what might form on the ship. Imagine a Red Dwarf-USS Enterprise, or better yet (as I used in my campaign pilot), a Red Dwarf-Starship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha.

The adventures, obstacles and opponents potential is truly unlimited...kind of. While it is not clear if there are any sentient aliens in the setting, Humans are responsible for genetically engineering life forms (GELFs), many of which have developed their own cultures, and societies.

Mechanical lifeforms were also left behind by the long, lost Human race. There are Mechanoids, Humanoid Robots that generally aid Humans (like Kryten), Simulants, highly organized, Human hating Androids with their own empire, and Rogue Simulants, which look a lot like Borg, and while homicidal, they are considerably less likely to flay you alive, and roast you with turmeric, and a touch of Coriander.




 
If you do not run a Red Dwarf game,
I will challenge you to a duel across time, and space.
 
Oh come on. It's fun. There's nothing else to do.


If opponents you can talk to aren't your thing, there are bizarrely mutated GELF creatures, time distortions, various diseases, your own self doubt, and alternate versions of yourself from parallel universes to deal with.

I mean, how could it get any cooler? It's like every post EXONAUTS has ever made meets Monty Python!

In conclusion (if I don't conclude now I could seriously write for another hour or two on this), I highly recommend checking out the entire series, including Series X. You can avoid Back to Earth, it won't kill you, as it isn't their best work and kind of muddles the concept a bit.

After that, I wouldn't be surprised if Red Dwarf game ideas start forming in your head. You might also want to check out the official Red Dwarf RPG if you can find it. Written, designed, and published by Deep7, the game is no great innovation in the annals of system design history, but it is a very funny, well written book by true fans.

The Series Sourcebook, the only supplement produced for the game, is fantastic. An episode by episode breakdown of every season, what it was about, how the characters were different, and what the stories were about is included. It also includes stats for every single character, creature, device, spacecraft, vehicle, and anything else that appeared in each episode. Quite impressive.

One final note:

This post is notably devoid of references to Kristine Kochanski, the female character added to the series in Season 7, and appearing in 7, 8, and Back to Earth. She occasionally showed up in flashbacks, time warp episodes, and such in the previous Seasons.

While the actress who played her in Season 7 and beyond, Chloe Annett, is a lovely woman, and a very good actress, I didn't think she had compatible chemistry with the rest of the cast. I mean it worked, it was funny, but the presence of the character really threw off the show's dynamic.

The series producers, and creative team agreed, and she was not present in Series X (although she is referenced).

Onward, and remember, it's not really a party until someone wakes up with a traffic cone. Now, smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.
 

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Humor Me

I picked a difficult month to focus on comedy as it turns out.

March is usually a very busy month for my dog-walking business, but this year, March has been pretty weak over all. My part-time job has been busy, as we are getting the kids at the tutoring center ready for the upcoming state-wide tests, so that's a positive. Generally speaking though, funds are tight at a time when I really need them not to be.

I don't know about you, but worrying about money, as I often do, doesn't really engage my feel for the funny.

I'm trying to regroup, and stay positive. To that end, here's a post on a few of the things making me smile lately (humor me, OK?):

***

STEVEN UNIVERSE




At the risk of sounding just like the wiki entry, Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network animated series created by the multi-talented Rebecca Sugar, former writer, composer, and storyboard artist of Adventure Time.

Arkhein, friend of this blog and proprietor of Rather Gamey, recently talked about it on his own blog. While I had seen illustrations of the characters on other sites before seeing the images from the show on Rather Gamey, it wasn't until his post that I decided to give the show a look.

I love this cartoon. It's like Dragonball Z for sensitive, creative types. It's what you would get if you crossed The Galaxy Trio with Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.

While the cool designs of Crystal Gem heroines, and weird monsters are definitely fun, what makes this series stand out is its levels of subtle depth, mixed in with the action and humor. The serious parts of are quite serious, and the characters portrayed with honesty, They are fun, fantastic, and surprisingly flawed.

Kudos to Rebecca Sugar for the development of this excellent series. When's the RPG coming out?


THE FLASH





Flash Fact: The Flash is freaking AWESOME.

I am loving this show. So much so it is causing me to un-love a lot of other shows. Basically, Flash is my new gold standard, and very few others TV programs even come close. Arrow is eating Flash's dust. Agents of Shield have nothing that can stand up to The Fastest Man Alive! Bring back Agent Carter. At least then Flash will get a run for his money.

Enough speed puns? OK, onward...

iZombie, Warner Brothers' newest comic book inspired television series, had a pretty good first episode. Nothing ground breaking, but pretty good TV. Going to give it a chance, and see where it goes.


GAMES*

To be terribly honest, and I know I have lamented on this subject before, there isn't very much out new that I am interested in.

I've seen some neat stuff on kickstarter, but generally speaking I'm pretty underwhelmed with the market of late. There are items 'coming soon'-ish that I am excited about though, such as Mekton Zero, Spirit of 77', and a few others.

It's not that aren't any interesting games being made. There are definitely some quality, new RPGs coming out, especially in the indie games department, but nothing for me. There just isn't anything out right now I personally 'have to have', or need to try.

So why list games as a category of things that are making me happy? Well, for starters, I love games, and there is always something interesting to consider, be it new, old, or something in the middle. I've been re-reading a number of older RPGs, and RPG notes, even though not all the games I'm re-examining are all that old.

The catalyst for this has been my Thorough Thursdays series. As I plan out which RPG, or other subject, I am going to cover for my next entry, I check back over stuff I love, but may not have looked at in a while. In addition to RPGs I've already covered, such as Paranoia, Toon, and Hunter Planet, I've been reacquainting myself with Stuperpowers, Land of Og, Kobolds Ate My Baby, Monsters and Other Childish Things, and a few others that may make an appearance on the blog very soon.


COMICS*


 
krrpk, by Bill Otomo


Likewise, I don't really have the money, or time for comic books right now, which is fine because there isn't a lot of stuff I'm interested in. Marvel continues to do a great job with many of its titles, DC continues to act like they are giving themselves enemas with their own heads, and the indies are putting out some truly impressive work. None of it is really what I'm looking for though, so for now I'll save my money.

I did discover the French comic book krrpk, by artist, and writer Bill Otomo. Otomo's style is So. Damn. Amazing! that I want to grab a copy of both volumes of krrpk, even though it's not available in English. Gah! No translations! So cruel.

Otomo is part of an art studio called Catfish Deluxe, and their work is outstanding, and inspiring to put it mildly. If I was thinking about doing something with Hunter Planet before, one look at krrpk and Sidera (Oh My Goddess! this thing! WATCH IT!) and now I'm chomping at the bit!

Well, that is enough of that for one day. Tonight I will try and get to a post with a little more meat to it.

Until then,

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Barking Alien


*I normally don't color anything Link Lime unless it is a link, but I didn't like the way it looked with the subject titles being different shades. I'm like that.






Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: PARANOIA

Prior to this post, I have only mentioned Paranoia, the 1984, darkly humorous role-playing game of life in a dystopian 'utopia', created and written by Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, and Eric Goldberg, in a single blog entry before this one.

That's just wrong.





GREETINGS HAPPY CITIZEN.

Um...Greetings. Can I help you?

AFFIRMATIVE. THIS IS THE COMPUTER, AND THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.

Well, that's good to know.

PLEASE STATE THE PURPOSE OF YOUR CURRENT ENDEAVOR.

Oh, sure. I'm going to tell my readers about one of my all time RPGs, West End Games' Paranoia.

THIS IS WONDERFUL! PLEASE CONTINUE! BE SURE TO AVOID ANY TREASONOUS THOUGHTS OR ACTIVITIES OR YOU WILL BE DIRECTED TO THE NEAREST DISINTERGRATION CHAMBER.

Er...OK. Thanks?

THANK YOU HAPPY CITIZEN. REMEMBER, HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY!


***
 
Stay Alert.
Trust No One.
Keep Your Laser Handy.
 

I forget how I discovered Paranoia, but I know that it wasn't long after it first hit the shelves. After playing it just once, I went to my FLGS straight away, and purchased it.

Ah, those were the days. Games came out that I wanted to buy, and I had the money to buy them. Such fond memories. Now where was I?

Oh right, Paranoia.

Everything about Paranoia spoke to me in 1984 the way few other games had, even FASA's Star Trek. Don't misunderstand, it's not that I thought it better than all of my favorite games of the time, but that it connected with me in a way the others hadn't. It made sense to me.

Paranoia was surely one of the games that contributed to the development of my personal Gamemastering outlook and style. Techniques developed reading, and running, Paranoia, factor into the way I run games today. Or rather they would, if I felt I had all of my old mojo back.

So what made the First, and Second Editions of Paranoia (my preferred editions) so special?

To begin with, the rules were simple. They weren't especially crunchy, or realistic, or complete for that matter, but they did what they needed to do, and let the PCs do the same. The rules were very much secondary to the ideas of the setting, although the weapon damage rules were nifty, and very much in line with the theme of Paranoia. They were quick, deadly, and resulted in things like Stun, Wound, Incapacitate, and Vaporize. No hits points. Saw that, loved it.

Picture if you will, that this was 1984. I started gaming in '77.

That means 7 years in, and I had already been exposed to a combat system very different from the those in the early round of games, and one that made a hell of a lot more sense to me than its predecessors. And from a humorous game no less! Big eye opener there.

Another thing that grabbed me was that it was indeed a comedy game. One of my first, along with Toon, and a welcome change from the more serious fare that permeated most of my gaming up to that point.

The comedy wasn't just from the circumstances, and characters built into the game. It also came through in the way the book was written. Contrary to the serious, and often dry manner in which most RPGs were written at the time, Paranoia was written with the author's tongue firmer in his cheek, using normal, everyday speech.

As a related aside, I often come across blogs holding high on a pedestal the writing of Gygax, Moldvay, and others of the Golden Age of Gaming. Personally, I don't think those men, creative, and skilled as they were, wrote half as entertainingly as those who worked for West End Games in the mid-to-late eighties. The WEG guys were funny, personable, and as I noted above, they spoke plain English.

YOUR ASSESSMENT OF LIFE IN ALPHA COMPLEX IS EXCELLENT SO FAR CITIZEN.

Why thanks. Um...what is that sound?

NO ONE IS SCREAMING, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.

Oh...kay...moving on!

I have been wanting to run this game again for some time, but I have some concerns over how it would go over with my current group. Instinctively, it would seem the perfect game for a group of individualistic, espionage-loving types whose PCs often display trust issues. Thing is, it might end up as nothing but repeated TPKs. Not normally a problem in Paranoia, but definitely not conducive to a long term campaign (which is what I am hoping to build).

Alternatively, given the opportunities for back-stabbing, boot-licking, and deception intrinsic to Paranoia, I can just see my guys teaming up for once, and focusing all their efforts together, as a cohesive unit, sharing the patriotic goal of routing out actual traitors, and enemies of the Computer.

*Facepalm*

Nevertheless, I guess you don't know until you try.

Perhaps it's time.

IT IS TIME - TIME TO STAND TRIAL FOR TREASON! TRIAL COMPLETE. GUILTY!

Treason?! I just got done saying how awesome Paranoia is!

YES, BUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF ITS VIRTUES IS VERY HIGH. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS WELL ABOVE YOUR SECURITY CLEARANCE. THANK FOR YOUR COOPERATION CITIZEN!

-ZAP!-






THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.


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Monday, March 16, 2015

Who Where What

This idea came to me, and while I'm sure it's not new, it's not one I've heard lately, and hopefully not in this way. It occurred to me as part of my ongoing quest to breakdown what's holding back my group, and I from creating a second really good campaign.

For the sake of argument, and to facilitate the concept behind this post, let's say there are three kinds of RPG campaigns.

[Yes, sure, of course there are more than three kinds, and the kinds I describe here don't cover everything except in the broadest sense, but indulge me so I can get this idea out, OK? Aces.]

The three types of games for our purposes here are:

Who games
Where games
What games


In a Who game, it's all about the PCs. The campaign, and the vast majority of all the elements therein, are Player Character driven. Stories focus on the PCs, their goals, their drives, their background stories, and how the world/setting relates to them, and them to it, from the PCs' perspectives.

The benefits of this type of RPG are that the players will be very invested in their characters, and there is a likelihood of deeper characterization, and more role playing.

The main drawbacks of this type of campaign are that each player could be so focused on their own PC that they may not give much thought to the other players' PCs, the setting, or any adventure idea you've developed. If it isn't about them, it isn't important.


***


In a Where game, the setting is everything. OK, perhaps not everything, but it's the most important thing. Many IP based games fall into this category.

If you are playing in the Star Wars universe for example, and the adventure takes the PCs to Tatooine, then...wait...HOLY CRAP! We're on Tatooine! How awesome is that? The PCs will want to see Mos Eisley Spaceport, grab some blue milk at the Cantina, bullseye some Womp Rats, and drive a Pod Racer through Beggar's Canyon.

It's not just location however. It's the idea that the setting is king. A game set on Middle Earth, regardless of what story you, the GM, have developed, is really about running a campaign set on Middle Earth.

The benefits of this type of campaign are that the level of buy-in for fans of the setting is instantly deep, and familiarity with it's elements lets both the players, and the GM, focus on other things (You need only mention a thing. There is little to no need to describe it).

RIFTS seems to hold this kind of sway for many people here in NYC* (myself excluded).

Among the drawbacks of a Where game are that the players will spend more time exploring the setting, and doing all the cool things they can only do there, than they will thinking about your adventure. GM-created materials might be ignored, or even looked down upon. Also, those less familiar, or unfamiliar with the setting may be at a disadvantage, or at least feel like they are.

***
 

A What game is story driven. It is focused squarely on what is happening, what's going on. The plot, or plots, direct the PCs' courses of action, and define the setting. Who is on the adventure isn't that important, and neither are the rules, or tropes, of the genre (except as they relate to the tale being told). The story, and how the PCs interact with it, is what this kind of game is all about.

Benefits stemming from this type of game are that they are usually less chaotic, having clearly defined goals and directions for the PCs to go in, and they create a more satisfying narrative at the end of the campaign (whatever its length is).

Among the disadvantages of this approach are that the players can feel it's rail-roadie if not handled carefully, and PCs may seem interchangeable (or worse, disposable) since they don't matter overly much to the all-powerful plot.


***

Now, mull this over in your head a bit. Let it percolate a moment.

Let's reason out that it's highly unlikely any campaign is comprised of only one of these concepts. That wouldn't make sense. Sure, it's possible, I guess, but it doesn't make for a great game from where I'm sitting.

The real crux of the matter is this; How much of each category, Who, Where, and What, creates the type of game you want to run as a GM, or play as a player?

Not trying to get all deep, and philosophical up in here, but ask yourself, Is the game I am currently running/playing that game, or are the amounts of Who, Where, and What not in harmony with my preferences.  

Furthermore...

Logic dictates that the best possible campaign would have these three elements in equal amounts. Right?

Well, logic has little to do with fun, so let's toss that idea aside for a second. Yes, maybe that is the right mix for you, but is it the right mix for everyone? Surely not.

What about that young lady you keep running into down at your FLGS? The one who plays a lot of Monsterhearts, and wears those horn-rimmed glasses. You know who I'm talking about. You know as well as I do that a homogeneous, play-it-safe answer ain't gonna fly with her.

Be honest with me, and with yourself. One of the elements is going to take precedent over the others at your table, or would if it was up to you. Well it is.

Point of fact, I think that over the last few years my games have been like this:





When what I would prefer would be a situation closer to:






What about you? What's your preferred percentages, and have positively positioned the parts to perfection?

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*RIFTS is, for some reason, very popular with gamers in the NY area. I myself do not care for the game. I don't know the origin of it's popularity, but I assume it has something to do with availability, and access to it. It can often be found in comic book stores as easily as game shops, or at least could for many years.





Thursday, March 12, 2015

All The Gods Are Bastards

I feel, not for the first time either, that all my heroes, and inspirations are gone.

Just when I remind myself that they aren't, that this artist, actor, or that author is still with us, we lose another one.

Another bright light in an endless sea of drab darkness has gone out, snuffed from existence by fate, chance, the nature of things, or, spare me, a higher power.

Ladies, and Gentlemen, a moment of silence, and a lifetime of respect and admiration, for the passing of Terry Pratchett.






Terry Pratchett was to be one of my Thorough Thursday posts this month. Seems appropriate that I praise him now, rather than wait.

It is very difficult to know where to begin, or what to say. To speak on behalf of the life of a man who I did not know personally, and whose wit, and way with words would surely put anything clever, or poignant I wanted to say to shame, I am left feeling inadequate to the task.

The one thing I can say is this; Terry Pratchett would not put me to shame. He would not read what I wrote about him, say he could do better, and proceed to embarrass me with his gifts.

Based on everything I've read about him, everything I've ever heard him say, he would say not to put him on a pedestal, not to treat his life as any more important, or full of grandeur than any other. "Sure, I had a good run", I am imagine him reflecting, but in the end he would say that, in the end, all our stories come to a last page.

All of us meet Death. We can see him coming, and run screaming in the other direction, but it really is so much wasted effort I'm afraid. We can instead, wait until we are ready, quietly close up shop, give him a firm and friendly handshake, and say, "Well then, where are we off to now?"

Mister Pratchett, I don't know where you're off to, and I certainly don't believe there is a particular place to go in the literal sense, but I have to hope there is a new journey of some sort waiting for you. Enjoy your eternal holiday.

You will be missed.


“No one is actually dead
until the ripples they cause in the world die away...”
 

Reaper Man, a Discworld novel,
By Terry Pratchett.

Ripple on,

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