Sunday, July 5, 2015

The D&D Thirty Day Challenge in Thirty Minutes!

I discovered this on The Old Dragoon's Blog:

To get back into the swing of posting, I thought I would be fun to waste valuably time, and energy, answering all 30 Questions in 30 Minutes! Just Because!

Disclaimer: I am not a D&D fan. While I have played, and run it many, many times over the last 38 years, it is not a game I particularly like, or enjoy. That said...


1) Like this.

2) Don't really have one in D&D per se, but I've always gravitated to playing Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings.

In my own D&D-But-Not universe (IMOD&DU) I think it's the Elves.

3) I hate Classes. If I had to pick one...Cleric maybe.

IMOD&DU, probably the Cleric, Sorceror, or Ranger (all quite different from their standard D&D counterparts).

4) Mine.

5) My favorite die is the standard, everyday 6. After that, the versatile 10.

6) This is tough. I love many mythologies. I'd have to say the Norse, and Egyptian pantheons are among my favorites.

In D&D all the gods & goddesses suck. They are so mortal in their lack of divine-ness.

IMOD&DU, possibly Thor, Hercules, or Arigon, The Patron Saint of Dragon Slayers (unique - former PC).

7) Gah. My least hated edition is probably either 5th, or 3rd.

Again, my own version is my preference.

8) My favorite of my own D&D PCs was likely Redsand Thickstone, Heir to one of the Dwarven Thrones of Throal, The Tri-Throned City.

9) I do not understand this question. How could it be a favorite if I haven't played it yet?

10) This would be far to long an entry to place here. It could be it's own post. Rain check on this one.

11) Favorite Adventure or Module? I've run hundreds of D&D adventures, but I've only run from modules maybe a twenty times (and on every one of those occasions I've modified the modules considerably).

It's very hard to pick a favorite. The time travel adventure I ran with my ex-wife was pretty amazing (it made her cry), and the one where the PCs have to defend an extra-dimensional ally of theirs in a court of his brethren really stand out.

My favorite module I've run would be Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

12) I don't have a favorite Dungeon location, or type. I'm not even sure how type is defined. I don't tend to like Dungeons in Fantasy settings.

13) Oh so many. I have a think with a circular tower, and a moving floor, and the rooms spin slowly you see, with the floor being slightly askew, would take too long to explain.

14) Almost all of my best NPCs IMOD&DU are former PCs. That said, Pete Hernandez's Ipperius Witspear tops them all. He runs Witspear's Wondrous Wizardry Emporium, a shop that sells material components for magic spells, as well as a variety of other magical paraphernalia. He can also be contracted to identify magical items, profile intelligence on famous Mages, and their spells, and is well acquainted with arcane history, and general knowledge.

He appears to be an 'older', very pale Elven male, with a bumbling, foppish persona. He is of course, not quite what he appears to be.

15) In regular D&D...none. Never liked D&D undead. Wait, there is one I like. The Eye of Fear and Flame. Great name.

IMOD&DU there are so many, it's impossible to choose a favorite.

16) Really? Gelatinous Cube I guess.

17) In D&D? Do these matter in D&D? I mean, my favorite animal in real life is the dog, but I've never formed an opinion about D&D animals worth noting.

18) None come to mind. Really, I don't think I've played enough regular D&D to get that into these minor categories.

19) I like Golems, or at least the idea of Golems. Homunculi are also cool, conceptually.

20) I don't know why, but I've always liked Gnolls.

D&D giants (or as we used to call them, 'Very Bigs'), and fey bore me. They are really the least interesting creatures in the game when they should be awesome.

IMOD&DU, gosh, there are sooo many to choose from. Can't pick a favorite.

21) Ugh. Another area where D&D forever disappoints. D&D's video game boss dragons don't interest me at all.

22) The Bulette. It's adorable.

23) The Orc. Damn I dislike Orcs.

24) Hmmm. Not sure. Don't know if I have a favorite. Maybe Prismatic Spray. That one is fun.

25) The Might Servant of Leuk-O, or The Machine of Lum, The Mad. Giant robots in D&D are cool.

26) Um...a rock?

27) How does on have a favorite curse, or cursed thing? I sure don't.

28) What does this mean? Why would someone swear off playing a character they themselves create? D&D-isms confuse me.

29) 12. I despise the D20.

30) My best playing/DMing experience with D&D? Well first, it would definitely be DMing. I can count the number of times I've played D&D that I'd qualify as 'good' on one hand, and I'd have digits to spare.

It would either be the first campaign I ever ran in my D&D-But-Not setting, or the first of those that I ran with my ex-wife (same setting/milieu).

Well, that's that. Took me just over thirty minutes. Not bad. Getting back in groove! Looking forward to seeing what I talk about next. The anticipation is killing me!

Barking Alien

Livin' la Vida Loca

Greetings All,

I want to talk to everybody for a moment about the status of Barking Alien, both the blog, and it's proprietor, me. This is a personal post, and a positive one in the end, but it has nothing (or very little) to do with RPGs, Comic Books, Science Fiction, or other fandom related subjects. If you're here for those things thank you, but check back with me on my next post.

If you're interested in what's been up with me, and why I haven't posted, or commented on others' blogs, or generally been on the internet much in a while, well, here's the explanation. If you're a friend of the blog, and I consider any visitor to this blog a friend in some capacity, this one's for you.


For sometime I have been experiencing financial difficulties resulting from my two jobs, and my freelance, not quite covering my living costs. I knew I needed to find a less expensive place to live, but didn't want to leave NYC because everything I have is here. My friends, my family, my businesses, and everything I love is located in the Big Apple.

Finally, my lease was up, and I had to move. Moving proved tricky, since my finances are tight, my credit isn't great (but it's not terrible), New York City is experiencing its lowest vacancy rates in decades (too many people, not enough available apartments), and time was of the essence.

I am happy to say, I found a place.

It was not easy however, and it took me well over three weeks of searching, applying, getting rejected, searching again, getting approved, and finally moving.

My current apartment is a bit larger, and a bit cheaper than my previous one, which saves me money. It is a little further North than I would've liked, which means I need to pay more in transportation (an increase in the occasional use of buses, and trains).

I am located in New York's East Harlem section, sometimes colloquially referred to as 'Spanish Harlem'. While technically my last apartment was in East Harlem as well, I was really where it began, and now I'm in the area proper.

I like it. It's taken me a few days, a couple of freak out moments, and a lot of physical work, but it's beginning to feel like home. Even my dog, who did not acclimate to the new apartment as easily as I'd hope, is finally relaxing, and settling in.

I just got my computer up, and running an hour prior to making to post. Before that, the machine was off since the late afternoon of June 30th. This, combined with the craziness of the past three weeks, and change, has made it impossible to post, or comment.

I want to apologize to Charles Atkins of DYVERS, who invited me to participate in an awesome project, but my circumstances, and mind set during the process, have prevented me from getting my part done. I'm really sorry Charles. I wanted to be part of the project so badly. Is there still time?

As for the rest of my fans, and followers, (yes, you too Hobo Joe), I intend for July to fairly relaxed, so posts should build up again slowly. I am hoping to do something big for August, as it commemorates 38 years of my being in the RPG hobby.

Until then, sit back, chill out, enjoy the remainder of the Fourth of July Weekend (Happy Birthday America, and a Happy Illegal, Low-to-Medium Yield, Colorful Explosives Day to everyone!).

I hope to see you back here soon.

Peace, and Love,

Barking Alien

Monday, June 22, 2015

Space Madness

I've been apartment hunting for the last few weeks, and it has put a serious damper on my ability to post, my time for thinking about much else, and my mood.

I love my city. New York, NY remains the greatest place on Earth in my opinion, but it is a hard place to live if you aren't making a lot of money. It's not just expensive, it demands you have more than adequate funds for practically every facet of life.

I will endure. Just over the horizon is my home sweet home, my next big pay check, and my happily ever after. I am sure of it.


I know, I need to get back to Superheroes. I know. Just bare with me for a bit longer.

My last post on Science Fiction gaming received more views, and responses than I've gotten in a while. That's interesting to me, and fuels my desire to talk a little more about Science Fiction RPGs.

What I think is really wonderful about gaming in the Science Fiction genre, what I'd really love to run, is...

Have any of you seen the trailers, and related footage for the upcoming video, and computer game No Man's Sky?

No Man's Sky is an action/adventure Science Fiction game designed for both the PC, and Sony's PlayStation 4. The game consists of an open universe, sand box of procedurally generated planets complete with extraterrestrials animals, terrain, starships, space battles, and more.

The procedurally generated nature of the game, based on recently revealed information from game creator Sean Murray, means that players will be able to explore as many as 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets. Yeah, that's not a typo. That's A LOT of frickin worlds.

During his demonstration of No Man's Sky for the E3 Game Convention this year (2015), Sean Murray played through taking off from a planet's surface, and going into space. From a space view map, he was able to pull back the camera, and show the audience the local stellar group. It looked something like this:

Which then became pulled back a little further to reveal this:

The image above was then followed by this ridiculously fast cascade of stars, nebulas, and void, rushing past like a raging river, a deluge of light and color too vast, and moving too rapidly to fully comprehend.

THAT is what I want my next Science Fiction RPG to be like, because THAT is what Science Fiction RPGs are all about.

As noted in my previous post on Science Fiction RPG podcasts, one thing they never seem to do is go into why those who like Sci-Fi games think they're fun. Another thing they don't tend to cover is why you (the player, and Player Character) actually do in a SF RPG.

Questions about the second issue came up a few times during the Play On Target podcast, with Lowell Francis specifically noting that he didn't grok* what PCs do in a Sci-Fi setting.

Let's see if I can't address both of these points simultaneously.

What's So Great About Science Fiction?

Underwater on the planet of New Eridu
From No Man's Sky

Well, to begin with, at the very core of a Science Fiction RPG for me is a universe of nearly endless possibilities, that must still make relative sense. In truth, it is more an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what constitutes sense based on what we know now.

For example, could life form in a place with no water? Can anything ever really move faster than the speed of light? If genetic engineering eventually enables us to live for hundreds of years, what will it mean to our cultures, and industries from medicine, to cosmetics?

Well...Carl Sagan was among the many scientists who theorized that life could exist in ammonia, or use hydrogen fluoride. Four years ago, an experiment by CERN seemed to indicate the neutrinos may potentially move faster than light. Sadly, the data was discovered to be incorrect, but it resulted in a much greater understanding of particle physics. Who knows what the future might hold in that area? The Transhumanism movement believes we can fundamentally alter the very nature of the Human condition by improving, and enhancing our physical, and mental capabilities through science.

It is this kind of speculation that fuels plots, and Player Character goals in an SF game. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? How can we do the impossible? What will we become?

Can you explore these ideas in Fantasy? Yes, I guess so, but in what way? Seems to me the answer to all of these questions in Fantasy is 'Magic'. Everything interesting is answered through the word Magic. Much easier, and (IMHO) much less satisfying.

What else is cool about Science Fiction?

Certainly exploring, and expanding the limits of our knowledge, and imagination are fascinating, but sometimes you just want to zap a robot with a ray gun, right? Science Fiction has cool stuff like spaceships, laser guns, anti-gravity vehicles, and thinking machines.

Fantasy Player: "I went on an adventure, and found a +2 Sword!"

Science Fiction Player: "Cool. I went on an adventure, found a component that enabled me to design a hazardous atmosphere, remote drone."

Fantasy Player: "I used my +2 Sword to kill a Goblin."

Science Fiction Player: "Wow. I used my drone to make first contact with a sentient species of methane breathing, gas giant dwelling starfish/squid creatures. They informed me about this unusual hydrocarbon material in their lower atmosphere that we are now trading with them for. I'm rich, famous, and I've developed a group of allies, and enemies who have expanded the campaign setting."

Fantasy Player: "The...the Goblin had 12 copper pieces on it."

Science Fiction Player: "Uh-huh. Congrats."

OK, personal bias against D&D Fantasy aside, the awesome tech is pretty awesome in a lot of Sci-Fi.

Is it about the tech, or the science?

No, it's not really. Good Science Fiction has all that cool stuff, but it isn't about the cool stuff. Not unless the wild concept, or the fancy gizmo is going to be a major plot element.

Science Fiction is about people, and how people deal with the science, the technology, and the big ideas they find themselves confronting. Star Trek is a perfect example. Star Trek at its best is not a story about warp field anomalies, phaser fights, and transporter accidents. It's the episodes that ask "What does it mean to be Human?", "Should an artificial life form have rights if it proves to be sentient, and self aware?", "If the death of one  innocent person would save the life of millions, do they deserve to die?".

What do I do in a Science Fiction game?

I've listened to a number of podcasts, watched a slew of videos, and read a bunch of articles on Sean Murray, creator of No Man's Sky, and his least favorite question.

"What am I supposed to do in this game?"

If you had a universe, and the means and gear necessary to explore it, what would you do? How can I possibly tell you how to have fun? Do you like exploring, and discovering alien life forms? Yeah? Do that. Don't like that? Well, if you think that's boring, go do something else. Want to get into epic space battles, with starfighters dogfighting between massive capital ships as they hurl blasts back, and forth? Go for it.

Science Fiction, especially open universe, sandbox Science Fiction, isn't about holding the PCs' hands while you guide them from Point A to Point B. More than any other genre, I like to see pro-active players, and PCs, in my SF games.

Where do YOU want to go? What do YOU want to do? Find a way to go there, and a way to do that. This is basically how most of my Traveller games begin. It's how my current one began. It's a challenge, but very rewarding, and creates a much deeper connection between the players, and the game setting, and story.

Something I am no relearning for the first time. ;)


Barking Alien

* I found it especially interesting, and humorous, that he used the phrase 'grok' to imply that he didn't quite 'get it' when it comes to Science Fiction gaming, since grok comes from a Science Fiction novel. The term originates in Robert Heinlein's 1961 book, Stranger in a Strange Land.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I am Sci-Fi

I've been on a pretty strong Superheroes kick lately, but getting back to my roots for a moment, this blog owes much of its genesis to my desire to talk about Science Fiction gaming.

For my tastes, not enough people talk about Sci-Fi RPGs.

Remember, it isn't called Barking Cowboy, Barking Faerie, or even Barking Cape. It's called Barking Alien and there is a reason. Science Fiction is my first love, my default field of interest. It is my go-to genre when I'm running what I love to run most.

Mars 2030 - Concept Idea and Art by Рем Борейко

The Play On Target Podcast recently posted an episode in which the group discusses Science Fiction gaming. You can, and you should, listen to it here.

This isn't the first podcast on Science Fiction gaming, and it won't be the last, but it is, in some ways, typical of the SF RPG podcasts I've heard before.

It is also a Play On Target episode, so it has an identity all its own, and for that it is definitely worth listening to. It made me think, and to me there is no greater praise I can give to such an endeavor. At the same time, it didn't do what I was hoping it would - explain why Science Fiction gaming is so awesome.

I'm in space, by M0tt0M0

Although it was the Play On Target episode in question that inspired this post, I don't intend this to be a review of that episode. I don't really feel much would be served by overanalyzing the podcast, and what each individual said. Rather, I want to address the big picture elements I heard, and didn't hear, from the discussion, and tell you my feelings on the subjects. This is more what I took from it, mixed with what I already think, if that makes any sense.

First, there seems to be (generally speaking) a difficulty in locking down what one is talking about when they say Science Fiction. This was evidenced clearly by the PLOT hosts, who seemed to feel that everything from Shadowrun, to RIFTS is Science Fiction. is. And, it isn't. I'll explain...

I have one hard and fast rule for identifying the genre, or subgenre of something (be it books, movies, games, etc.), and that is:

'If you can identify something by a name, other than the genre heading, then it is that thing, and not the genre heading'.

In other words, Cyberpunk 2013-2020 are considered Cyberpunk games (duh). Although Cyberpunk is a subgenre of Sci-Fi, it is also it's own entity. There for, Cyberpunk isn't (IMHO) a Science Fiction game. It is a Cyberpunk game.

Eclipse Phase is Transhumanist Science Fiction.
Gamma World is Post-Apocalypse, though possibly crossed with Science Fantasy.
RIFTS is a Multi-Genre game. If you Google, 'What Genre is RIFTS' it will say just that.

So what qualifies as straight up Science Fiction for me? Anything that doesn't easily qualify as something else in Science Fiction, is plain ol' Science Fiction.

Traveller, especially 'Classic Traveller' is to me, Science Fiction.

I guess it could be said there are few others. At the same time, I would place Star Trek, Star Frontiers, Ringworld, and Dune in this category as well, even though it could certainly be argued that some of these are also Space Opera.

Second, I often find these kinds of episodes are done by a group of people who aren't especially fond of the subject. A Science Fiction podcast by people who aren't into Science Fiction...well...perhaps not the easiest thing to do.

The members of the group who do like Science Fiction didn't really assert their opinions, or their past, successful experiences, over those who haven't had such experiences, or have negative opinions.

Taken from the final thoughts, it felt a little like a Science Fiction podcast that said, "Yeah, Sci-Fi is OK I guess, but isn't Fantasy awesome!"

Sardu Reef, By Alex Ries

At one point Sam notes that modern gamers are more sophisticated because of our increased exposure to both Science Fiction, and Science Fact. I would word it differently. Spoiled is the term I would use.

Because of this more extensive exposure he speaks of, modern gamers expect to be spoon fed all the ideas they will need to play Science Fiction (or any genre for that matter, but that's a different conversation).

When I started running, and playing Science Fiction games, we made up a lot of stuff. How? We read freakin' books. We loved Science Fiction novels, and comic books. We looked at issues of National Geographic, DISCOVER Magazine, and other sources of information on technology, and science. Also, tons of easy reference existed/exists for Science Fiction in pop culture in the form of movies, TV shows, computer and video games, and animated series.

For reasons I've mentioned before, but to this day do not understand, D&D, and Fantasy overall has always been viewed as more understandable, and accessible, but there is barely 1 Fantasy movie for every 5-10 Sci-Fi movies. I don't remember a single Fantasy TV show on television while I was watching Lost in Space, Star Trek, and Space:1999. Somehow everyone knows what medieval Europe looks, and feels like. How? How at 8 years old was I supposed know Fantasy better than Sci-Fi?

Sorry. I was ranting. A little.

Lowell notes that Fantasy is easy, conceptually. It is. And how much is an easy thing worth?

The thing is, if Science Fiction, the genre, is something you know, and love, you will make the effort to understand the elements that make it work. This goes from the basic tropes, to the basics of the science, to more advanced theoretical concepts.

You will then figure out what works, and what you want, in the Science Fiction Role Playing Game you want to play, if indeed you really want to play a Science Fiction Role Playing Game.

Barking Alien

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Precious Metals

It occurred to me the other day while re-reading my last two posts...

"Crap, I love running Superhero RPGs, and I'd LOVE to run one in a DC Universe".

Damn. Grife! Sprock it all!

Excuse my language*, but Great Krypton folks, what am I to do?

Left - Superman in the Golden Age - 1942
Center - Superman in the Silver Age - 1962
Right - Superman in the Bronze Age - 1982

I've mentioned that my group is a bit, er, unfamiliar with the type of Superhero comic books I love most. Through a discussion with my players this past Memorial Day, I discovered that one in particular really doesn't comprehend the distinctions between Silver Age, Bronze Age, and how either of them differ Modern.

I tried very hard to understand where he was coming from, and attempted, perhaps unsuccessfully at the time, to explain the distinctions. I believe I focused on the variations between Silver and Golden, and by comparison, Modern.

I don't feel I did a respectable job of explaining the differences though. Possibly because I was internally, mentally, losing my s#^t, and had to focus all the power of my indomitable will to prevent myself from flipping out.

More over, I think it was because I'd never had to explain it from scratch before.

You see, to me, the eras of comic book history are clearly defined, if not by exact dates, then by tonal changes in the fan base, in society in general, in the comic book industry, and in aesthetics.

You don't wonder why the Bronze Age of Man was called the Bronze Age of Man in Human history. The name comes from the growing use of copper, and tin ore smelting to create bronze. It followed the Neolithic, or 'Stone', Age, and was in turn followed by the Iron Age.

Most (although perhaps not all) individuals living in our modern day, advanced civilizations, with a high school level of education, should be generally aware of this chronology of 'ages'.

Now, I am not so foolish as to assume that the average person on the street is as knowledgeable about the history of comic books as they are the history of our species.

I do expect that anyone even remotely familiar with comic book fandom, and the Superhero genre, be generally aware of the various ages of comic books. I can comprehend not knowing exactly when each era starts and stops, what age a given character is identified with, or even why some like a given era over another. Not knowing what it means to say Silver Age, or Bronze Age however, is very hard for me to fathom.

 I will never comprehend what people see in the Iron Age, but I know what it is. As a matter of fact, knowing what it is, or was, allows to realize why I don't enjoy comics from that period of time.

I think my best bet is going to be doing a few posts that define these eras, at least as I see them. I can, hopefully, make it clearer as to the feel, and atmosphere I'm going for by pointing out the specifics of the periods I'm most interested in. By identifying the tropes of each age, the comics that are so precious to me, won't seem such a mystery to others.

It's worth a shot.

Barking Alien

*Grife, and Sprock are expletives used in the 31st Century of DC's Legion of Superheroes comic. I assume they are untranslatable from the common interstellar language of the United Planets of that era, known as Interlac.