Sunday, April 12, 2015

C is for Cancelled, I Need a Rest

It is the evening of Sunday, April 12, 2015, and I am just sitting down to dinner after my 36th day in a row working without taking a day off.

I am not going to complete the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge this year. More than likely, I will not be posting very much for the rest of the month.

For those interested, I have cleared the obstacle that required me to work so much in the first place. I succeeded. I am victorious. Victory is tiring. I am exhausted.

In addition, I haven't been gaming very much as a result of my work schedule. I have managed to keep up with the Google Hangouts Supers game I play in, and ran a one-shot of Star Wars D6 for that very same group. While they had fun, it didn't feel right to me. It was a pale shadow of my former exploits running the game.

I was actually told by a friend (who is no longer with us) many years ago, "Star Trek may be your favorite, but you run Star Wars best".

I did not run it best last week.

I could easily explain away my poor performance by blaming how worn out I feel, how long its been since I've run WEG Star Wars, the fact that it was over the internet instead of face-to-face...but those are excuses, and I don't want excuses. I want answers. I want to know why I didn't run a blow-the-lid-off-it, badass session of my favorite system, and one of my top favorite settings.

There is something off. Something is not right, misaligned, not loading properly.

I've lost my mojo.

While I search for it, and perhaps until I get it back, things will be quiet here at Barking Alien.

Don't wait up, but don't worry either.

I'll be back soon.

Barking Alien

Thursday, April 9, 2015

B is for Boot Hil, Should The Young Men Go West?

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Boot Hill, the 1975 Wild West Role Playing Game created by Brian Blume, and Gary Gygax, and published by TSR, only once before on this blog.

I may have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.

Hmmm. Wrong might be too strong a word. I'll explain...

Hold it right there partner.
I plum reckon there maybe some clarifications in order.

Before I get into this in depth, I want to note that this is both a Thorough Thursdays entry, and the second installment in the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. As you can tell, I'm batting a thousand. I am a week late for both entries, which should have been posted Thursday, April 2nd.

Oh well, life goes on.

On a positive note, the albatross around my neck has finally been removed. I can afford to see a movie once in a while, take a day off, that sort of thing. Not too often of course, but compared to the past several months, it's going to feel like a vacation.

Now, in addition to having only one post tagged with Boot Hill, only three have ever been tagged with the words 'Wild West'. You'll also notice that there is only one previous entry for Deadlands (even though I may have mentioned it more than once in passing).

Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of Westerns. It's not that I really dislike them per se, I just don't list them among my top five favorite genres. I guess I would put them above D&D, Sword & Sorcery, smorgasbord Fantasy, but below Medieval Folklore Fantasy.

It just ain't my thing, the way my things are my thing.

Still, and all, there was that one time I ran a Boot Hill campaign, and it was awesome.

Boot Hill was perhaps the second, or third RPG I ever played. It is also possibly the second, or third I ever laid eyes on. This was back in the day when you could count the number of RPGs in print on your fingers.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, I had an immediate frame of reference for Boot Hill, having already seen many a Western film, and TV program by the age of 10. My maternal grandfather (who we called Pop, or Poppy) and my Dad were huge fans of the genre, and I ended up absorbing the tropes, and atmosphere by osmosis. Thanks to my Pop's love of cinema, and my father's fascination for old things, I learned to love the generation of John Wayne pictures as much as that of Clint Eastwood.

Add to the mix Wild West tales in the form I understood best, comic books. From DC's Jonah Hex, Batlash, and Pow-Wow Smith, to Marvel's Kid Colt, and the Rawhide Kid, Western comics were a staple part of my early collection. Actually, they were a staple of my cousin's collection, but I tended to read his comic books far more than he did.

All this exposure pooled together, and helped me create one rootin' tootin', sure an' shootin' Wild West campaign back in 1979.

Thirty-six years is a long time to wait for a sequel.

In my mind that means one of two things. Either, if I haven't made one yet that I don't need to make one. Some epics just don't need a '2'. That, or it's about time. Maybe even long overdue.

Sketch by Alan Robinson

As I toy around in my head with ideas for a new secondary campaign for my primary, New York group, the idea of a successor to my original Boot Hill campaign has crossed my thoughts more than a few times.

What do you think? Worth assembling a posse for, or should I just let the stage coach be on its way?

B is for Boot Hill

Barking Alien

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A is for Active, The State I Like Best

I don't do nothing well.

A better way to say it might be...I'm not very good at doing nothing.

When running a Role Playing Game, I like something to be happening, always.

It really doesn't matter if it's a fight, a chase, an investigation, an argument with an NPC, or a heated discussion between PCs on the next course of action. I just want Something. Going. On.

Is it because I'm impatient? I get bored easily? No. It's none of that nonsense.

It boils down to the fact that the people, the characters we portray in the games we play, the stories we create, are people living on a razor's edge. They aren't just accountants, farmers, or even soldiers, even when they are. They are people gambling their lives on terrible stakes, against possibly insurmountable odds, in search of fame, fortune, glory, or justice.

Sometimes maybe a little of each.

These aren't people who want safe, easy lives. If they were really those types of individuals, they would never have become adventurers. Heck, if you observe some people play, you wonder why their PC bothers to drag itself out of bed every morning. Why leave your house if you're not going to do anything when you go outside?

The point is, my point is, don't overthink to the level that you do not do. Don't contemplate, analyze, and plan, but never execute said plan. If you should execute said plan, and it becomes more complicated, or it flat out fails, don't give in, give up, or sit it out after that.

Do. Be active. Be proactive, or even reactive. Keep moving. Move the scene forward, the story forward, the game forward.

Like life, gaming is not a spectator sport. Get involved, stay involved, see it through.

Gamemasters, always have something going on. Maybe it's obvious, maybe it's in the background, but something needs to be happening. Even in the quiet break moments when the PCs are resting, and recovering, the world, the universe you're playing in moves on.

A is for Active.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What Kind Of Fool Am I?

With the month of March now over, and my real life schedule making free time a rare, precious commodity, there may be some erratic posting going forward.

Soon enough I will back to my old self, but after 25 days of work in a row as of today, with no day off, I hope you'll forgive me if I don't go out of my way to kill myself here on Barking Alien.

That said...


April is the time of year where I foolishly attempt the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge.

The exact reason I do this somewhat eludes me.

I think the idea is fun; bloggers post every day for the month of April, except Sundays, with each post title, or topic following the next alphabetically. Basically, a post with an 'A' theme on April 1st, to a 'Z' on April 31st.

Unfortunately, I've done four of these already, and I believe I've only completed the challenge once. April has notoriously been a month very rough on my free time the past few years. I am already seeing this year will be no exception.

As a female friend of mine is fond of reminding me every year, "April is the cruelest month".*

So, while it can be an enjoyable exercise, why put myself through the anguish? What anguish you ask?

It's completely self-inflicted I assure you. When I start projects like this, it's very difficult to near impossible for me to give up on it. At the same time, if I reach the point of no return, the point where I know in advance I'm not going to make it, or succeed at it, I beat myself up a bit. I get down, feel like a fool, and it throws me off my game for a couple of days at least. It's just a blog challenge, I know, it's no big deal, but I can't help it.

Knowing this as I do, what can I do to make achieving the challenge goal easier for myself?

My first outing was my only truly successful one, and it had no particular theme. Instead of making all the posts parts of a single subject, or even a group of related subjects (although I had started that way), I went with whatever popped into my head. That's going to be my approach this time as well.

Also, I sometimes wrote up the posts out of alphabetical order, even though I posted them following my proper ABCs. That is another tactic I will follow this go around.

One thing I am going to try to do, is keep with my Thorough Thursdays series during the A-to-Z Challenge. Whichever letter falls on a Thursday will receive as its post subject an under discussed Barking Alien tag.

Wish me luck, enjoy the posts, and good luck to you if you are participating in the challenge as well (and even if you're not!).

Barking Alien

*From The Waste Land, a poem by T.S. Eliot.

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.

Barking Alien