Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Sunday Times

I know, I know, I've been quiet again. I've been racking my brain trying to think of something to talk about.

I am in one of my moods...again. Ya'know the kind. Too many ideas, none with enough of that certain something, that je ne sais quoi to stand out above the rest. I'm excited to run something but there is nothing new I'm especially excited to run. 

Still largely pleased and satisfied with the games I am running and playing in, I am nonetheless feeling down that this is my 45th Anniversary in the Tabletop RPG hobby and nothing particularly Wow has come of it. Not at the table, not on the blog...nada. 

August is still a couple months away and with any luck I will have some special things to share by then. 

In the meantime, keep on keeping on, get inspired, inspire others, and good gaming.

Barking Alien

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge June 2022 LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and pass on my solidarity and support. If you know someone or are someone in this community or simply think and feel we all do better when we all do better, I highly encourage you to learn more, love more, and do what you can to embrace peace and harmony among all aspects of Humanity. 

We aren't the best carbon-based, oxygen breathing, iron-blooded sophonts in the universe but we're the only ones we have. 

Also, today is Juneteenth (public holiday date, Monday 20th, 2022). While generally commemorating the emancipation of the African American slaves in the U.S.A., it specifically marks the anniversary of Union Army General Gordon Granger's announcement of General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, proclaiming freedom for the enslaved people in Texas. I am particularly pleased by the animated Google made if you do a Juneteenth search. Try it. Very cool. 

Finally, it is also Father's Day. I wish a Happy Father's Day to all those dads who are indeed good dads. 

Talk to you all again soon. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Definitely Worth The Wait

It's out and it's AWESOME!

It's also quite different from what many expected. Let's discuss that.

What I am referring to is...

The first episode of the third season of Seth MacFarlane's Science Fiction Action-Dramedy The Orville, titled 'New Horizons', has aired on the streaming service hulu.

Before we go any further I want to give everyone both a SPOILER and CONTENT WARNING. This episode discusses some serious subjects and goes to some dark places and some of that will be talked about here.  

You have been advised to proceed with caution.
As I am using the universal translation software and am incapable of stuttering, 
I must assume you understand me.

This discussion has concluded. 

Following a delay in the production of Season 3 due to both the COVID-19 Pandemic and the sale of Fox to Disney, the season was further delayed a bit by the reorganizing of the Fox properties Disney obtained. It has finally been released, starting on June 2nd, 2022 with the first episode, Electric Sheep.


Following the events of the previous season's episodes Identity - Parts 1 and 2, the USS Orville is at the Earth orbital Dockyard undergoing a refit. The ship is being heavily upgraded in order to handle the potential threat of their new, highly advanced enemy, the Kaylon, a species of artificial beings. A member of the Kaylons, an individual called Isaac, has served on the Orville for approximately two years or so as its Chief Science Officer.

Isaac was originally on the ship as a supposed cultural exchange between the Kaylon and the Planetary Union. It was a hopeful precursor to the possibility of the Kaylon joining the Union. As noted, in the Season 2 episode Identity - Part 1, Isaac suddenly shut down and was brought to the Kaylon homeworld in order to repair him. It is revealed that his mission to the Planetary Union was a farce designed to amass knowledge on the Union's combat capabilities and weaknesses. The true end goal of the Kaylons being destroying the Planetary Union and all biological life in the universe (see the episodes for why - trying to keep this as brief as possible.). 

So here we are a year or so after the Kaylon-Union conflict, the battle at Earth that saw the Planetary Union Fleet team up with their enemy the Krill Empire, to defeat a genocidal attack by the robotic Kaylon.

[Actually, I don't know the exact time difference between the last season and this new one. I assume some time has passed since the USS Orville and other ships of the Union Fleet have under gone considerable refits and upgrades.]

Some members of the crew - including the newly added Chief Navigator Ensign Charly Burke (played very well by actress Ann Winters) - have grown to distrust Isaac and his presence on The Orville. Many blame him for the actions of his species and for the part he played in helping the Kaylon get through the Union's defenses. 

From there the episode explores the ramifications of these events, the actions taken, and the feelings they left behind. It looks into some philosophical and social themes related to anger, grief, trauma, and goes to some dark places. It is quite an impressive episode but I will finish my overview here so you can enjoy the show if you haven't watched it already. If you have, please continue reading. 

New Horizons

This episode may appear to those familiar with the previous seasons to be a 180 from the what we expect from The Orville. I can definitely understand that viewpoint and to some degree I even agree with this assessment. 'Electric Sheep' is quite serious and dark, missing the typical lighthearted approach that has become synonymous with the show up to this point.

To me this isn't a 180 but it isn't a straight line progression either. The Orville has definitely made a hard left into more mature and serious territory. In my opinion it could have used a bit more humor sprinkled through out in order to ease the audience into the deeper, graver elements so it didn't come off as so drastic a change in atmosphere.  

The show's identity thus far has been directly linked to the comedic tone it has had since the very beginning. It's a key element that separates The Orville from its Star Trek inspirations and makes it a unique outing in the Science Fiction TV/Streaming landscape. That said...

The Orville was initially sold as a comedy because that's how Seth MacFarlane was able to pitch it to Fox and get the funding to make the series happen. As the show has progressed through the first two seasons, the humor has been toned down more and more and the serious subjects have been brought closer to the forefront. The Orville has already generated some thought provoking stories and addressed numerous social topics. The Season 3 premiere isn't a new direction, though it is perhaps atypical of the balance between the earnest and the funny we've grown used to.

Season 3 Episode 2, Shadow Realms, brings the humor back in tiny trickles. There is some great lines and banter here the there but an overall horror tone in maintained for this very creepy installment into the franchise. Another excellent episode and highly recommended, definitely more 'fun' than the premiere. 


We are only two episodes in so it is too soon to make a final assessment but so far I am loving it. The Orville is my kind of Science Fiction and it's definitely inspiring thoughts of another attempt at an Orville campaign. Interestingly, it impresses me and satisfies me in a way Star Trek's new series, Strange New Worlds, has not.

For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, Strange New Worlds is not connecting with me. I don't find the characters all that engaging (with a few exceptions) and their need to bring up TOS elements before (chronologically) the TOS crew first encountered them is irritating. It isn't a bad show, not poorly written or executed the way, say STD was in its first two seasons but it isn't WOWing me either. 

Anyway, that's all for now. More thoughts as they come to me.

The Orville airs on the Hulu streaming service in the USA, Disney+ in many parts of Europe, and on other services elsewhere. Check your local listings. New Horizons, Season 3, puts out new episodes every Thursday in the US.

Fan Poster by PZNSGAZ

Barking Alien

Friday, May 27, 2022

A Star Wars Celebration

As we all know, the film that started it all opened in movie theaters on May 25th, 1977. We, the fans of that galaxy far, far away, observe the 4th as a celebration of all things Star Wars because even Jedi and Sith enjoy a good pun. Hmm. Do you think it's a Banking Clan Holiday? Do New Republic Pilots gets the day off or maybe time and a half if they work that day?

Today, the 27th of May, we celebrate the premiere of the Obi-Wan Kenobi streaming series on Disney+, which just so happens to fall on the second day of the Star Wars Celebration 2022 event in Anaheim, California.

That's a Bantha load of Star Wars and Celebrating going on!

This year just so happens to mark the 45th Anniversary of the Star Wars franchise and as I've been mentioning over the past five months and change, it's also my 45th RPG Gaming Anniversary! Too cool!

I'm currently running a Star Wars tabletop RPG campaign using West End Games' classic D6 system (Second Edition) entitled, Star Wars: Gray Territories. I've mentioned it on the blog before and even recapped one half of the first session. The game turned out great and we've kept going so I thought a great way to celebrate May the 4th, and the 25th, AND the 27th this year would be to talk about why Gray Territories works so dang well. 

Inspired by Tim Knight of HeroPress, I declare this the first of a possible series of posts called: What Went Right?

Let's get started...

Corellian Gunship Design and Model by Edoardo Figini
Rendered by Howard Day

It felt like Star Wars

When running a game based on an IP (as I so often do) it's vital to get the feel of the film's/show's/comic book's/whatever just right (or as close as you can get it). If it is supposed to be taking place in the Star Wars universe, it better remind everyone playing of Star Wars and not make them think of something else. This is done not just by adding in familiar aliens, droids, locations, or concepts, but also by analyzing the particulars of Star Wars and embracing them. 

For example, Star Wars never spends too much time on a single world. When I run Star Wars I make sure we are only on a given planet for a single adventure. That adventure may last a couple of sessions but my preference is no more than one story on one planet. More than one planet in a story is fine, great even, but you should never spend too much time on a single world since Star Wars [usually] doesn't.

When playing Star Wars: Gray Territories over Discord we only really play for 2 to 2 1/2 hour sessions. Very short by my standards but that's all we've got. My usual in person games are 6-8 hours. So this means we are only on one particular planet for three online sessions, tops. 

The players contributed to the Star Wars feel by making very Star Wars oriented characters; PCs who you could see as protagonists in a Disney+ live action or animated series. This particular group has a real knack for this. In addition, they deeply invest and immerse themselves in the setting and create characters they really want to play, mentally go over them to make sure they do something both familiar and a little bit new within the particulars of the IP. 

Bohde, Former Guardian of the Whills (Maybe),
Dunbolgo the Dug Mechanic and
Ex-Imperial Army Commando Xim Darrol

We were on the same page

You might think that this is a given. How could the players and I not be on the same page when we all decided to play a Star Wars RPG campaign. Oh, if it were only that simple.

There is a lot of Star Wars out there. We've had nine movies, four animated series, three seasons of live-action television/streaming, innumerable novels, comic books, reference books, video games, and a plethora of lore in other forms. That is a lot of material and let's be honest, its quality and consistency varies wildly. 

When running a game based on an IP, it's easy to assume that all the participants are seeing and thinking about it the same way but that most assuredly isn't always the case. Not everyone has watched all of the CGI animated Clone Wars and Rebels series episodes. Some players love Star Wars Legends (the pre-Disney Expanded Universe), while others aren't overly familiar with those stories. Some love the Sequel Trilogy and others have taste. 

Heheh. Sorry. I kid, I kid. 

One reason Gray Territories works so well is that all the players and myself as GM agree that the core of Star Wars is the Original Trilogy and that The Mandalorian rocks. That's it. That's all that absolutely matters to us and to the campaign.

Sure we have a Dug, an alien species from the Prequel Era. One PC is a former Guardian of the Whills, an element of Star Wars lore we first see in the film Rogue One. The point isn't that we all think the Original Trilogy is AWESOME and everything else sucks and doesn't count as 'REAL' Star Wars. It's that we all agree that the Original Trilogy and The Mandalorian are what we like best and what forms the core of our game. These things matter the most to our campaign and everything else is viewed, 'that might be in there too'. 

It moved quickly

Time is a commodity and speed is of the essence, so it is vital that a session flow at a solid pace. As I've mentioned before, 90% of the games I've participated in for the first 35 years of my time in the hobby have moved incredibly fast. By comparison, those over the past 10 years have gone much too slowly. Much. Too. Slowly. Slow pacing is awesome for the purposes of drama or getting to know the PCs in a role-playing sense but the rest of the time things should move at the speed of excitement. 

Games that fall within the Action/Adventure genre should vary between fast and breakneck speeds much of the time. Things that help or hinder this pacing include the GM implying a sense of urgency, complexity and execution of the rules, and the players matching the implied urgency and thinking rapidly. Stopping the flow of the game to spend twenty minutes figuring out how you're going to walk into a room completely drains the excitement out of the moment and many players I know take more time than that. Often a lot more. 

Nothing irks me more than listening to players planning out every detail so as to avoid any sort of potential energy a sequence might have. Players want to avoid harm to their PCs, ensure their chances of reaching their objective, and/or impede the bad guys. Understandable. Unfortunately, a lot of players seem to feel that until that one perfect strategy that accomplishes all these goals can be constructed, they'll just keep talking about doing something rather than actually doing something. 

This group does not do that. This party of PCs realize #1) nothing and no one is perfect, #2) Star Wars goes fast, and #3) if they think and react quickly than I as GM must think and react quickly.

Newsflash Gamers: The longer you take to come up with a plan and the more complex it is, the more time you are giving the GM to find holes in it. Think fast. Do something.

Everybody wanted everyone to have fun

This can't be emphasized enough: Far too many times, I've participated in games where one person thought they [or their character] were the focus of the game. This player, or even a GM, would make it clear that the game had to contain X elements, or not contain Y elements, and Z absolutely HAD to happen or they weren't going to have fun. As such, they would make sure no one else has a good time either since they didn't get their way. 

Don't be that person. 

Be like the guys from my Gray Territories group. If someone makes a suggestion, 'Yes and' it. If they aren't sure about something and they solicit advice, give them some options. Don't be bothered if they don't take your suggestions because maybe something you said inspired an idea of their own instead and that is awesome!

Don't be a player who suggests additional obstacles or negative consequences for another player at the table while they are taking their turn. If you are thinking, 'What? Who does that?!', than you are where I am fairly frequently in my other groups. I have one or two players who are constantly reminding me, the GM, of some penalty, an opponent I seem to have forgotten, or a condition that should make things harder for someone else; always someone else. We sometimes call it the, 'Teacher, you forgot to check our homework' syndrome. 

Be fans of your fellow gamers and their characters. Players, be a fan of your GM and GMs - obviously - be a fan of your players and their characters. This group definitely takes this to heart. Each player is supportive of all the other players moves, as well as the GM's plot and the collective creative choices made together by the group. 

We also have it where all those involved trust each other and trust is essential. If all the participants trust each other, they will ensure it all goes right.

There is more I could say on this group, this game, and all that is great about it but for now let's leave it here. I have some other things to discuss coming up this weekend so I will likely see you all soon.

Barking Alien

Hey, while I have you here don't forget...

The first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now available on Disney+.

Hmm. Do you think they mean old Ben Kenobi? We will see...

May The Force Be With You...Always.


Monday, May 23, 2022

Side Quest

Recently I've been considering starting a new campaign to replace my Wednesday night one, albeit temporarily.

Our Traveller campaign is on hold as one of the three players has just become a parent and is realizing just how much time and energy it takes caring for a tiny human being. While he and his amazing wife do time...sorry...take the time to do the whole 'have a baby' thing, he suggested the rest of us do a fill-in game..

The problem is, there are only two other players not including myself as GM. I can certainly run for two players but that isn't my preference [at all]. Followers of the blog know that I am both accustomed to and have a love of larger groups. Three is pretty much bare minimum for me. I've run 1-on-1 and two person games, a few with great success, but those feel like special cases and were all in-person. Online, if there isn't at least three, I always feel like I could be doing something else (including prepping material for another game).

There is also the matter of what to run. This group, with one removed, is very methodical, cautious, and hesitant to engage in bold, cinematic action. I on the other hand really enjoy bold, cinematic action. Big fan. This begs the question: Do I run a game that forces them outside of their comfort zone or that caters to the style of play they default to? Also, do I get another player who compliments the group by matching their approach or someone who will shake up the status quo and give me some daring-do?

Finally and perhaps most importantly for me as GM: What [kind of] game works best for strategic, mindful players prone to being a tad overly leery of taking chances?

I posed this question to one of my Social Media groups and was surprised by the responses I received. OK, that's not entirely true. I was not especially 'surprised'. I get that most people think a little differently from me on gaming subjects. It was more that in this particular case, I know it wasn't me; it wasn't the way I worded it or some failure in communication as some people did get it and so the answers from those who didn't stood out even more. 

A large number of responses suggested a Game System. Not a type of game, a genre, or a setting but instead a way of addressing this situation mechanically. Furthermore, they were particularly interested in supplying me with games that rewarded strategic planning and combat options. The remedy for risk adverse players is a more dangerous game?

Maybe. These players are quite accustomed to or at least familiar with playing such games. Ya'know, an RPG heavy on tactics and specific abilities given for dealing with specific situations. Games in which the Referee, perhaps best called a 'Danger Master' (wink), is out to get the Player Characters by making everyone and everything they encounter a deadly enemy or fatal trap. Likewise it was the Players' job to see that their PCs outwitted the DM and survived the constant onslaught to become rich, powerful, and famous. At least that's what'll happen if dice probability randomly allows them to survive to that state. After all, that's where the 'fun' comes in, right? (Eye roll).

I have met dozens upon dozens of gamers over the last decade or so who grew up on these types of games, resulting in Players whose instinct is to cover their private parts before entering a room or talking to an NPC. Players feel the need to cross all their Ts and dot all their Is less their PCs get killed off unceremoniously.

Now, not all Player cross Ts and dot Is as quickly as others do and so this phase of the game can therefore stretch out the time it takes to engage with and complete a given task. This makes what should be the most exciting part of a game - having a battle, dealing with a trap, negotiating with a potential patron, ally, or adversary - take way too much game time, making it feel tedious, even boring, and pulling the drama, thrill, and energy out of the scenario. 

Sorry, ranting a bit as I go through my thoughts on the subject. Where was I? Oh yes...

I guess there is some validity to suggesting a rules system to solve the problem of what kind of game works best for a particular gaming group and their dynamic. I tend to think system is the least of our concerns. What the game is about, how it rewards or discourages certain actions/approaches over others, and how the setting deals with PC life, death, and combat is far more important to me when developing a campaign. Once all that is worked out I can always find or make some system to support it. In fact, it is easier to do it this way, as I can customize the mechanics to showcase the feel and atmosphere of the game once I determine exactly what that is. 

Anyway, I already have some ideas and maybe, just maybe, a solution to the third player issue. 

We'll talk again soon,

Barking Alien

Sunday, May 15, 2022

New Horizons

A bold new chapter in one of my favorite Space Adventure franchises is about to begin...

Kenobi? Oh, right there's also Kenobi. I was thinking of...

Engage Quantum Drive and get some music for these elevators!

The third season of The Orville, entitled The Orville: New Horizons, begins on Thursday, June 2nd. In the United States it will air on the streaming service Hulu. There will be 11 episodes, two less than the previous season but each episode will be roughly 15 minutes longer. 

In addition, the make-up, sets, and effects - already incredibly impressive for television - looks  to have gotten a heck of a boost. A new bridge set, improved practical effects, new uniforms, and a brand new cast member! Ann Winters will be joining the crew as Ensign Charly Burke, the USS Orville's new Navigator.

Could I be more excited? Let me check...nope, I don't believe so. 

The first season was funny, fresh, and yet shimmered with the light of classic and Next Generation Star Trek. The characters were likeable, the stories and relationships engaging and clever, the ship designs were awesome, and I was definitely looking forward to the second season. 

Season 2 was almost a different beast. Everything except the humor was turned up to 11. The humor was actually turned down a bit, giving the series a more serious Science Fiction tone. The overarching plots running through the show over the two seasons really came to a head, some stories colliding with each other to create a new status quo. 

An incredible set up for season three!

And now, the future of the future is upon us. 

As you can see, no spoilers here. If you want to know what happened in the first two seasons you'll have to watch this fantastic show for yourselves. I highly recommend it. Besides, you'll need to prep for Season 3! What are you waiting for? 

Now, this is primarily an RPG blog and yes, I have a strong inclination to run an Orville RPG campaign. I should say an inclination to try again. I've tried three times in fact, with the last one being the most effective overall. I can only imagine that after this new season, I will be all the more jazzed to give it another go. 

I can't wait to post all my thoughts and ideas on the subject and I don't even know what they're going to be yet! I just know I was really inspired by the previous seasons and I can only imagine what MacFarlane and his team have instore for us next. Expect to see some posts on converting Modiphius's Star Trek Adventures to The Orville universe sometime this Summer. 

Once again, we need not fear the banana,

Barking Alien