Thursday, September 3, 2015

Funny Business

While Adam attends to our guests in the Green Room, I would like to take this time to introduce a very special surprise for the studio audience, and the viewers at home. Coming to you all the way from the Trailing Extensions of the Whirlpool Galaxy comes the great seer, soothsayer, and sage, Carnac the Magnificent!

Thank you Mr. Barkley, thank you. May the filthy soap scum of a thousand bathtub rinses avoid your private parts.

Thank you Carnac, you are too kind.

Now then, I hold in my hand a set of envelopes. As a child of four Earth cycles can plainly see, these envelopes have been hermetically sealed. They've been kept in a #2 mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls' back porch on Earth West-38 since noon today. No one knows the contents of these envelopes, but you, in your borderline divine and mystical way, will ascertain the answers having never before seen the questions. correct.

Very good. Here is the first envelope.

The answer is..."Expedition to the Barrier Peaks."

Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

The question..."What is the term for attempting to look at your wife, or girlfriend's bosom, while her parents are in the room."

The next envelope.

The answer is..."Fire, Fusion, and Steel."

Fire, Fusion, and Steel.

I just said that. The question is..."Name three things easier to swallow than Donald Trump running for President."

I hold in my, the last envelope. Here you go.

The answer is..."Nasty, Brutish, and Short."

Nasty, Brutish, and Short.

The question is..."Describe the history, as you understand it, of comedic RPGs."

A [Very] Brief History of Humorous Tabletop Role Playing Games,
By Adam Dickstein

I haven't had time to do a lot of research, and as such, I am unlikely to be as thorough as Lowell Francis is when he does his 'History of...' posts (which are oddly not tagged in such a way that you can just pull them up. A tag of History would make them much easier to search for IMHO).

The very first commercial RPG with a purposely humorous focus, as far as I can tell, was called Alma Mater. It was produced in 1982 by a company known as Oracle Games. Supposedly, the art for the game, by Dungeons & Dragons legend Erol Otus, so deemed so offensive, the game was banned from the GenCon.

I don't think the game was overly popular, as I've never heard much talk about it, hadn't seen a copy until much, much later, and it's definitely not one any player I've played with regularly has ever mentioned.

And I've played with a pretty diverse bunch.

One could certainly argue that Alma Mater was preceded by another game with a distinctly humorous tone. That game was Ken St. Andre's Tunnels and Trolls. While not specifically a comedy game, Tunnels and Trolls, first published in 1975 by Flying Buffalo, Inc., had a rather tongue-in-cheek attitude to many of its elements, including spells with names like 'Take That, You Fiend', and 'Hidey Hole'.

Furthermore, Flying Buffalo put out another game called Monsters! Monsters!, in which PCs turn the tables on the traditional Fantasy character dynamic by playing the creatures that live in the dungeons being invaded by adventurers.

Over the next few years, no significant entry into the field of humorous RPGs is even made. Role Playing Games, into the early-to-mid 80s, are serious business.

Thankfully, that all changed with the arrival of Toon in 1984.

The story goes that the idea for the game originated with artist, and Villains and Vigilantes co-creator Jeff Dee. Dee was with Greg Costikyan, as well as other game designers, trying to figure out what genres where not yet covered in the field of RPGs. Dee suggested a RPG based on Cartoons. The rest of the assembled talented said, although a great idea, created a system for such a game would be impossible. A few years afterward, with the help of Warren Spector, Costikyan created Toon.

Greg Costikyan is, in some ways, the unofficial father of the humorous RPG. In addition to Toon, Costikyan was also a key designer on Paranoia from West End Game, which came out in the same year, 1984.

While the ball was now rolling, the next two entries were licensed games, and so their popularity may have been more closely tied to their IPs, at least initially. Palladium's Teenager Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, and West End Games' Ghostbusters were hits, and while no where near as big as the big boys like D&D, Call of Cthulhu, or even Traveller, the gaming consumer had spoken, and been heard loud, and clear. Comedy games were a hit.

Proof positive was the fact that it didn't end there. Not by a long shot. Teenagers from Outer Space, Macho Women with Guns, Tales from the Floating Vagabond, HoL and many, many more followed. A not really complete, though decent list can be found here.

The independent publishing movement of the last 10 years, or so really helped in this area as well. Some of my personal comical RPG favorites such as The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, Doom and Cookies, and the recently released Spirit of 77 were all made possible by the indie game boom.

Interestingly, since this is something I am going to discuss in a later post, not all this humorous games are billed as comedy RPGs. Spirit of 77 is very funny, but it isn't sold as a humorous game. Likewise, HoL, and Doom and Cookies can be quite dark, though this is a definite comedic tone to them.

Well, that's about all I want to say on the subject for now. I highly recommend looking into the history of comedic RPGs, and Role Playing Games in general, as it is some fascinating stuff.

I highly recommend:

The Designers and Dragons series and Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick. Also Age of Ravens of course, as Lowell does a bang up job in this regard.

Thanks for watching! Now, back to our show...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Opening Monologue

From the broadcasting studio on Level Zeta of our trans-dimensional headquarters,
in association with The Pan-Phasic Communications Network,
The Barking Alien Blog!

I'm Barkley, and with me as always is an unnamed, sentient saxophone riff from the Andromeda Galaxy, and The Barking Alien Band.

Now, without further adieu, your host and the master of ceremonies for the blog,

Heeeere's Adam!

Hello everyone! How are we all doing tonight?
I've got to tell you, while I was backstage getting ready, our make-up robot suggested I do a time machine treatment.
A Time Machine treatment?
Yeah. It was great. It took years off.
So, what's this in the news about a 5th Edition of D&D?
A 5th Edition! Maybe they'll get it right this time.
The thing is, do you need five editions? Did the 2nd one break? Can't they just get some tape, or glue or something and fix it?

Anyway, this month Barking Alien is going to be largely focused on humor in RPGs, specifically comedic RPGs, humorous ideas for otherwise serious games, and why you would both doing that.

I've mentioned several times in the past that lessons learned from the entertainment industry's great comedians have had a huge impact on the way I Gamemaster.

From timing events, and scenes, to creating the appropriate atmosphere, to getting dialog just right, I harken back to the masters of the craft of comedy. I can honestly say that Gygax, Arneson, and Moldvay had much less of an influence on my time in the hobby than Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and Monty Python did.

Hopefully, before months end, I'll be able to show you all how important comedy, and humor are to gaming, and how enjoyable, and even vital it is to our hobby.

So stay with us, as it looks like we're going to have a great show this month.

Our guests include Jim Henson's Muppets! {APPLAUSE} That's right, they'll be here. Hunter Planet! {APPLAUSE} Looking forward to that. Musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space! {APPLAUSE - Some whooping and hollering} Thought you'd enjoy that. And we've got much more in store for you so stick around!

We'll be back after a few words from our sponsors, and to pause for station identification.

Barking Alien


Monday, August 31, 2015

Fall Preview

Viewership is back up here on Barking Alien, showing that the old adage is true, 'If you post, they will come.'

Frustratingly vague though it was at times, doing the RPGaDay Challenge this year was fun, and completing it renewed and re-energized my desire to blog, just as I'd hoped it would. Hopefully, I can keep up the momentum going into the fall season, which is one of my favorites (that, and winter).

I have a bunch of mini-themes planned for the next few months. Largely it's just things that have been on my mind, and I needed a way to organize my ideas, while simultaneously motivating myself to post them. I'm not going to be especially strict about each theme, and you'll certainly see posts unrelated to each month's focus.

I thought I would give you some teasers though.

Shhh. The trailers are starting...

September is Funny at Barking Alien

The theme for September is Humor, and Comedy RPGs are going to get some much needed love here at Barking Alien. It's all in honor of the premiere of the first prime-time series in almost twenty years to feature my favorite fuzzy, felt covered stars, 'The Muppets' on ABC, beginning September 22nd!

Expect new material for The Muppets Role Playing Game*, some play reports about old comedy campaigns, and some new comedy game ideas for Hunter Planet, Toon, Teenagers for Outer Space, and more!

Psst. Hey Play on Target. September would be a great month to discuss Comedic RPGs, and get a certain guest on the program. Don't believe me? Check out what fans have to say!

October is Spooky at Barking Alien

What better month than October to talk about Ghostbusters, more about my Alien Dread idea, and perhaps finally lock down my original RPG Unfinished Business. Plus, it's an excuse to discuss a little frightening faerie folklore, and perhaps even some Fantasy.

Illustration by Francesco Francavilla

Barking Alien discussing Fantasy? If that doesn't spook you nothing will.

November is Super at Barking Alien

November is looking like a job for Superhero gaming! A subject near, and dear to my heart that I sadly haven't done a lot lately. At least, not in a big way (which is the way I like doing it).

By the time November rolls around, we'll have seen the new season episodes of Flash, Arrow, the new Supergirl series, Agents of SHIELD, and more. We'll also have all the latest comic book news from New York Comic Con, which occurs in October.

Mutant 009 - A Cyborg 009 / X-Men Mash-Up
by Thomas N. Perkins.

With all that Superhero goodness bouncing around, I'm bound to come up with some new Supers ideas, and insights for running, and playing Superhero RPGs. Be there! Nuff said!

December is Out of this World at Barking Alien

There is a certain little film coming out in December that has peaked my interest. Perhaps you've heard about it...

Yessiree Boba! In honor of Star Wars: Episode 7 - The Force Awakens, I will be posting some ideas, memories, and even art for the Star Wars D6 RPG by West End Games that I speak of so fondly.

December is also the month in which our three year long classic Traveller campaign finally draws to a close. I will be discussing that, as well as more details on my plans for our new Traveller campaign, tentatively scheduled to begin in January.

A Very Merry, Science Fiction, Holiday Season is coming your way this December from Barking Alien.

All this AND Thorough Thursdays is back starting this week!

As always, if there is a question you'd like to ask, a subject you'd like covered, or you simply want to say hi, feel free to comment anytime.

Are the leaves changing color yet? Are they?

Barking Alien

*Which is Unofficial. No Money is Being Made. It's Just For Fun. Please Don't Sue. ^ ^;

RPGaDay Challenge 2015 - Bonus Round

Noting my dissatisfaction with some of the questions in this year's RPGaDay Challenge, my good friend, and fellow rebel pilot WQRobb let me know that Zak (of Playing D&D with Porn Stars fame/infamy) had created some RPGaDay questions of his own.

I notice that Robb has taken it upon himself to answer said questions, so I figured I might as well do the same. 

Here goes nothing:


1. Worst game you ever played

 Ever played? As a player? So many bad ones it's hard to think of a worst. One reason I prefer to GM, and dislike playing so much is because of a lot of bad early experiences with other people as GM.

My first time playing AD&D 1st edition was very bad. I was invited by a really good friend to play with his pals who were all a year, or two older than me. I played an Elf, and everyone else was Human. In addition to the Elf abilities in the Player's Handbook, I noted that Elves are immune to the paralyzing touch of Ghouls.

I was made fun of, mocked for trying to be a munchkin, or power gamer, and just generally given the 'check out the dumb newbie' routine. I apologized, saying I could have sworn I saw it in the books somewhere. They went all rules lawyer on me, reading chapter, and verse from the AD&D Player's Handbook. They made me feel foolish, unwelcome, and small.

I didn't game with those guys ever again (thank goodness), and went home to find my Monster Manual, which clearly states the Elves' immunity under the Ghoul entry.

It was the beginning of my disinterest in D&D, where rules knowledge, or a lack there of, was a point the divided it's players, not something that united them. Whether or not you knew the rules took away from the fun, instead of adding to it.

 2. Interesting rule embedded within otherwise baleful game

While I don't necessarily think the game is baleful, my players hated Encounter Critical. However, we all agreed that the idea of needed to accomplish something related to your class to go up in level is pure genius.

In others words, in order for the Pioneer to raise in level, he or she must discover a new land, or a new secret of the wilderness. For a Warrior to raise in level she must defeat an opponent of equal, or greater power than herself.

That is sweet.

 3. Game you never played but you knew it sucked just looking at it

Hmmm. I have guessed that a lot of games would suck before playing them, just by looking at the book, but I played them anyway in case I was wrong. 

Never played but knew it sucked? No. I just don't do that. I have to play it once.

 4. Game you most wish didn't suck

Wow. Where do I start?

Decipher's Star Trek game. Goddamnit! There is no reason that had to be bad, but it is. It's like a third rack, hackneyed copy of the LUG version. Awful.

ICONS. I want to like that game so much, but it's just a slightly less smooth Marvel Super Heroes/FASERIP. And I don't like that game either!

Dungeons & Dragons.

This could take a while...

 5. Game about which you have the most mixed feelings

Shadowrun. I had so much fun with that game, but it's so not me. Especially not anymore.

 6. Old game most in need of an upgrade

Hunter Planet. And I will be the first in line to pick up the new edition.

 7. Game you can run with the least prep

Star Wars D6. I don't even need the rulebook really.

I like doing a lot of prep for it, but I've run it on the fly a number of times with nothing but dice, pencils, and paper.

 8. Game with awful art (and who you wish you could hire to fix that)

Sorry to say this, but Mekton. I would hire and actual Japanese manga artist to do it. Two actually. Once for the Mecha images, and a character design artist for pictures of characters.

 9. Best houserule you've seen in action and now use in your own games.

I gotta go with what WRobb said on this one. I already answered this.

See the original RPGaDay entry.

 10. Game you've most changed your thoughts/feelings about

Classic Traveller. I went from hating it the first time I played it, to it becoming one of my all time favorite games. I love it to the point where all the other versions pale in comparison (with the exception of MegaTraveller).

 11.  Game you'd use to run just about any setting if you had to

I tend to believe the game system should match the setting. A one size fits all game doesn't really work for me.

That said, my modified Teenagers from Outer Space game, nicknamed Advanced TFOS, is the closest to a generic, universal game I can think of. And stand.

 12. Game that haunts you and you're not sure why

Haunts me? In what way? How would I not know why? idea what this is asking.

 13. Game that would probably be most fun to play a bee in

Toon, or the Bunnies and Burrows campaign we had in the early 80's. Damn fine game.

 14. Best Star Wars game?

Star Wars D6, 2nd Edition by West End Games

 15. Game that's good in theory but you're kind of on the fence about it to be honest

 Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.

It works, it's fun, and I like it, but I can't see it as my go to game for Superheroes. Considering how much I like the Superhero genre for gaming, why then would I bother grabbing MHR? That is, if I know it won't sustain a long term RPG campaign, what is to motivate me to use it for anything, but a one-shot, or at a con.

Not bad. Some interesting, and fun questions. Thanks Zak, and thank you Robb.


In conjunction with WQRobb, and Lord Blacksteel , I am looking to have the three of us create some questions of our own for next year. Stayed tuned for updates.

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2015 - Day 31

The big finish.


About three years ago (or was it four...could it have been four? Wow), my ex-wife came up with a really unusual idea for the tutoring center she was running.

On weekends, after the conclusion of regular classes, the students would work on their creative writing, problem solving, and language skills by playing a Role-Playing Game. Basically, incorporating RPGs into a fun after class event in which the kids didn't know they were still learning, but they were.

To make this work, she needed someone with, as Liam Neeson once said, 'a particular set of skills'. They needed to be good with children, not afraid, or embarrassed to stand up in front of a large group of them, understand RPGs, write well, and who she knew well, and could trust (it was still a business after all).

She called me, and I accepted.

That was a while ago now, and although we no longer do the RPG program there, I am still a regular member of the Sunday teaching staff, occasionally coming in a few Saturdays as well. During the Summer months, I run my own Sunday creative writing class all by my lonesome.

What started as a pay-to-GM-for-kids gig, has turned in a teaching/tutoring job. Better yet, I get to work with, and trade ideas with one of the most intelligent, kind, talented, and truly special people I have ever known, my ex-wife.

I've also gotten to know some truly fantastic kids, watched them grow up, and seen them achieve so much. One young man went from barely speaking English to getting into a high school program for robotics in just three years!

Just last weekend, I helped teach two of my students to swim. One needs to past a swimming test to get into Brooklyn Tech High School, the other is overcoming a genuine fear of the water.

Role-Playing Games gave me this opportunity, and I can't thank them enough. The real thanks goes to my ex-wife though, who also loves RPGs, loves her kids, and being a teacher, and who had faith in me that I could make this work.

Man, what a good feeling to end the challenge on.

See you soon everybody!

Barking Alien