Thursday, January 16, 2020

Fits and Starts

One of my skills is seeing patterns in separate bits of information and then putting those bits in order in a way that makes the pattern work better overall. 

It is this skill that got me jobs working as an Event Coordinator for a Comic Book/Fan Media Convention company and as a Dog Walking Manager managing over 200 walks a day in six different locations across New York City. 

It's all pieces of a puzzle and knowing where the pieces fit.

At the beginning of the month - and therefore the year - my good friend Dave mentioned that one of his hobby goals this year is getting into an ongoing Fantasy game. 

Now that may sound easy to all of you, as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder campaigns are all over the place these days. It seems you can hardly walk ten feet without tripping over one. That may be true in most gaming circles but if you've ever looked at this blog before today you'll surely know that this isn't the case with my groups. 

Let's break it down:

The primary GM in three different groups of players, totaling around 15 individual gamers between them (some members overlap a couple of groups) is me, and I don't run Fantasy very often. Given the last dozen campaigns I've run and any I am currently running, I think one of them was Fantasy oriented. Maybe two. 

So finding someone to run a Fantasy game requires that Dave look outside the core groups,

Unless...

My friend Leo was getting a little frustrated with the Numenera campaign he's been running for almost a year now. The games' schedule is supposed to be monthly but it's been inconsistent due issues ranging from player availability to holidays to people being out sick. Even when the regularly scheduled sessions are run, inevitably one person is missing and with only a GM and three players one can feel like a lot. 

Recently we had to reschedule and when it came up, no one responded with their ability to make it until a couple of days after the date announcement. No one said anything to the effect but it was feeling like there was a lack of enthusiasm. Leo was starting to get a little down. 

Then it hit me...

I asked Leo, who I know likes Dungeons & Dragons (yes, we remain friends), if he would run a D&D 5E campaign for Dave and I and whomever else he wanted to add. At the very least he'd have Dave and I who are generally quite consistent and we'd be two players who wanted to play the game he would be running. After all, we asked for it. 

Now I know what you're thinking (I have that power), "Wait...D&D for YOU and Dave? YOU'D play D&D?!? On Purpose???"

Well sure...I'll explain.

It wouldn't be my first choice for an RPG campaign (let's face it, it wouldn't be my 51st choice) but I could tell Dave was really eager to play some Fantasy and I also knew I wasn't in the mood to provide it. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for a change. 

In addition, Leo had said to me recently, on more than one occasion , that "You would probably like D&D 5E with the right DM". Challenge accepted! Let's see what this hunk a'junk can do.

Meanwhile, our next regular Numenera session has been preempted as a buddy of ours wants to test out a Star Wars homebrew system. We're getting together for a one-shot and I get to play Star Wars as a player. 

This year is already starting out with bang and a twist. A Twang? A Baist? Well it's starting out interesting I'll tell you that. 

Now...characters...

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Vision

The year is 2020!

Cybernetic limbs with built-in smart weapons. United Defense Force troops battling the alien Mimics. Arno Stark becoming a villainous version of the superhero Iron Man. Gipsey Danger defends Anchorage against a Kaiju attack. The sport of robot boxing sweeps the world. 

Yes! None of that @%*^ is happening!

This is 2020 however, the year of renewal, new beginnings, and perhaps a good strong dose of unfounded optimism. Hey, any optimism in a storm right?

So what's the plan for The Barking Alien Blog in 2020?

A major directive to myself is to blog more than I did in 2019. Last year didn't see the lowest post count in the blog's 11 year existence - that occurred in 2018 - but it was definitely too low for my personal liking. It makes me sad to see a number below 120 for the entire year. It's disheartening in a way that is difficult to rationalize, let alone explain, but it does bring my overall mood down something fierce. 

Thankfully I have some big ideas for 2020 (One big idea in particular) and I am definitely going to want to share my thoughts.

Additionally, I have been inspired and energized by several friends, including some fellow game bloggers, who have told me they enjoy my blog. A few, who have renewed their own dedication to communicating their love of RPGs, have spurred me on even further with their reaffirmed zeal.

Love promotes love. You feel me? Righteous.

So what exactly is my vision for 2020? A concentrated effect to do what I [hopefully] do best; think about games, think about gaming, think about gamers, and maybe have some laughs along the way. 

Join me won't you?

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Friday, December 27, 2019

Playing With Action Figures

I wasn't going to post again until next year but...

Much of my love of the Star Wars universe was conveyed through playing with the old Kenner Action Figures.






My friend Joe and I would spend hours upon hour on complicated stories and involved scenarios, often involving other toys or playsets and occasionally bumping up some minor character to the level where they could join in the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, and of course the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2.

I remember we even had our own rules of a sort for figuring out if the heroes or villains hit each other with their blasters. It was the pre-cursor to Star Wars RPG gaming and evolved from playing with earlier action figures like G.I. Joes or Mego Superheroes and Star Trek figures. 

Since we didn't have a lot of money back then, other toys would sometimes be added to our Star Wars playtime if we thought they fit.





Marx Toys' Comanche Pass (also known as 'Ambush at Falling Rock) made a great Tatooine. The MB Electronics Star Bird Avenger served as a Rebel or Bounty Hunter spacecraft, while Milton Bradley's programmable Big Trak become the evil Empire's latest secret weapon against Rebellion forces on the ground. 




Sometimes, you'd find a toy, an action figure or vehicle or something, and it just wouldn't fit in with the rest of the game. It might be cool but even as kids we would through the kitchen sink in only so far. No Cowboy figures, Knights, or other such playing pieces were allowed on the field when Jedi, Biker Scouts, and Sand People roamed it. No modern car, boat, or even airplane toy had earned the right to travel across the snow covered hills of Hoth or burning gray ash of my original planet of Gardine. 

There is something about The Mandalorian that really feels like Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are two kids in a playground having an absolute blast playing with their Star Wars figures. And that, my dear viewers, is the feeling of fun, wonder, and excitement I want in a Star Wars campaign. 

Grab your character, figure out what is going on, then do something about it. Not after you've discussed all the options or after you consider a complicated plan to...NO. Stop. Just play. Just be in that moment in Star Wars. 

Think of what you or your character would do now. Plan only long enough to get you out of a mess or into one. Now make a new plan. Whatever you decide to do, DO IT! You could consider all the possible outcomes that might result from your ideas but in Star Wars, Now is Not The Time! It's always now by the way, so it's never the time. It's Do or Do Not. There is no try.

The Sequel Trilogy lacks this feeling. It feels padded, stretched out, and never 'now'. It always feels way back when, soon, or eventually. Never now. That suddenness is not there. The drive to do a thing and make a difference seems lost in the shuffle of over-the-top special effects and waaay too meta humor. 

Personally, I don't want anyone playing with multi-million dollar sets, vehicles, and action figures if they've never played with real ones or don't feel a passion for what that was like. I want people to make Star Wars to do so for the same reason I love to run the RPG, that is because I simply Love Star Wars.

I want to live, work, and play in that universe because I always have.

And I always will. 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Taking One Last Look At My Friends

I suppose it's time to give my opinions and impressions of the final film in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

I have been thinking about this for some time, a few days in fact, and I am still not entirely sure how to begin. The issue I have is that I know what my bottom line feeling is, making my feelings about individual characters, story beats, or even action scenes largely irrelevant. 

You see, I enjoyed watching the film. I had a fun time hearing the sounds given to the CGI and practical effect starships and alien creatures. I liked watching the cool designs of speeders and the bright colors of the lightsabers and the blaster bolts as they sped past my eyes.

In the end however it felt like some much cotton candy. It was all fluff and no substance. It added nothing new to the Star Wars mythos, did not really advance the story of 'The Skywalker Saga' in a meaningful way, and to have seen this trilogy or not seen it made no really difference to me whatsoever. 

Ya'know what would have been nice?

A trilogy of films with the original actors, playing their original characters, exploring their kids or proteges in a brand new story, featuring a brand new threat, and then ending with some heroic legacy with which to carry the franchise into the future.

A few years later we meet Rey, a young, female scavenger on a junk covered planet who discovers she has the Force. She meets up with Poe, a Starfighter Pilot and Finn, a former indoctrinated soldier of some empire on the fringe of space who has shaken off his programming to help Poe escape. Finn also has the Force and the three new characters go on a harrowing adventure to try and reach the New Republic and join the re-established Jedi Order. 

Basically, a Skywalker Saga Trilogy, Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, actually continuing the tale from I to VI, and then a single film or unrelated trilogy about new characters and events in the Star Wars universe. 

What we go instead was a rushed, cash grabbing, muddled mess of three films not really about anything. Three tales, loosely connected due to no single over-arching narrative being written or put forward, that either aped the original three films or ignored their continuity completely. 

The only emotion I am left with after seeing The Rise of Skywalker and hereing about it for the many months before its release and the several days after is exhaustion. Exhaustion and the relief in knowing it's over. 

Now I can look forward to The Mandalorian and the future of Star Wars unencumbered by this disappointing missed opportunity.

May The Force Be With You...Always,

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Happy Holidays from Barking Alien! I'll see you in the New Year!





From The Journal of The Whills

We are three days away from The Mandalorian's eighth and final episode of Season 1 (which airs in the United States this coming Friday) and it has been five days (or so) since the official wide spread release of the final film in the new Star Wars trilogy, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

For better or worse, what a time to be a Star Wars Fan!






I have seen The Rise of Skywalker and while I had fun watching it, I also found it very disappointing over all. I don't want to discuss it in detail here but what I will say is any  negative feelings I have regarding The Rise of Skywalker are greatly offset by my love for The Mandalorian. 

All this Star Wars - The Light Side, The Dark Side, and The Bendu - has re-ignited my interest in the running a Star Wars RPG campaign. As I've mentioned in the past, nothing inspires my desire to game a particular genre or setting like seeing it done really well or really poorly. Here we have both!

The good in Star Wars - The Original Trilogy, The Clone Wars CGI Animated Series, The Rebels CGI Animated Series, and The Mandalorian - is so good to me, so deeply inspiring and meaningful, that it sparks in my heart and mind the ideas and passion to put my own Star Wars story together. 

The bad in Star Wars - The Prequel Trilogy and The Sequel Trilogy primarily - call out to me with what could have been and therefore beg to be healed, improved upon, or simply replaced with something better. 

My love of the ol' D6 Star Wars RPG by West End Games is well known. My renewed and dare I say emblazoned desire to revisit Star Wars leads me to immediately reach for that game. I have even been considering a project to reorganize all my old Star Wars D6 notes from every one of my previous campaigns into a single, enormous master sourcebook. 

While I will definitely still do that...

My thoughts today are drifting towards revisiting a concept I don't feel I gave enough attention to, namely Star Wars Traveller

Clearly my love for Star Wars D6 has not faded in the least, but I haven't been able to get a dedicated, long term campaign of it going for a while and that may be, in part at least, because the system doesn't quite generate the level of excitement and dedication in my players that it does in me.

Traveller on the other hand, being both simple in its base mechanics and yet detailed in it's extensive secondary rules and support products, makes for a game that my particular band of gamers can really sink their teeth into. 

Much like Star Trek games run using FASA, Last Unicorn's Icon System, and Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures systems feel very different from each other, so too does changing up the D6 system to the classic Traveller system add a level of grit and texture you might now see in the West End rules alone. 

Maybe.

I am not entirely sure I am right about this. That is to say, I am not sure I should switch to different set of mechanics when Star Wars D6 has served me so well through so many great campaigns. Changing the core of what Star Wars gaming has always been might treads into dangerous waters...like the difference between The Mandalorian and the new Sequel Trilogy.





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