Monday, May 21, 2018

RECONSTRUCTION

I was able to run the second session of my group's new Champions campaign, Champions: REVIVAL, this past Sunday, the 20th of May.

I was excited. Really, really excited.  The feeling of potential this one has is hard to describe. It's off the charts.

It's like I've discovered a door in a house I've lived in for many years that I've never seen before. Upon opening this door, I see an entirely new floor, with dozens and dozens of rooms that seem familiar though I've clearly never visited them. I can not wait to investigate further!

Since the world I'm using is one I previously played in and used with prior campaigns, much of the material is well known to at least three of the players. They love the setting and are looking forward to 'seeing' familiar faces, locations, and discovering in what direction their favorite plot lines have gone.

At the same time, the campaign needs new material as well. This is a world they once knew, now about four years on. It has to have changed, grown, and suffered loss along the way. It should be easily recognizable and yet totally surprising at the same time.

For the other two players who are coming in cold, how do I introduce over 10 1/2 years of backstory without losing their interest during the telling? They'll be right there for the new but will they be overly confused by the old?

Going through the campaign development process for this bad boy is therefore less about Campaign Construction as it is Campaign ReConstruction. 

I had to take everything I knew about the campaign up to the last point in which I was a participant and say to myself, 'That's not the end of the story. That's the beginning of it'.

This was followed by contacting several of the players and getting their accounts of the game post-me. I did some research into the canon of Champions as per the official products, the canon I could recall or get an account of from the old players, and then cross reference my own personal notes from previous games I'd run in this setting.

Finally I mapped out the logical (to me) progression of various character journeys, plots, and subplots, as well as throwing in a few surprises. 

Next, and perhaps most importantly, I took at look the Player Characters my group and created and got a handle on their various backstories and particulars. Using these write-ups as a base, I envisioned how the PCs would interact with the world I'd built, and vice versa. Modifications were made to the setting - nothing huge, a nip here, a tuck there - and I was able to organize what I believed to be a working replica of the game universe as it would be some six months after the final session of the original campaign.

Luckily, another element I remembered to include was room. I left room for new heroes, new villains, unexpected turns of events, and additional player input. 

The results have been awesome so far.

They say you can't go home again. Maybe that's true, but you can recreate your old house and start a new life there from that point forward. 

More as it develops.

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Barking Alien






Friday, May 11, 2018

RESISTANCE

I originally planned to post this entry on May 4th, for reasons that will be obvious in just a moment. Life got in the way and here we are. Where is that? Well, at least while you read this, it's a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...






After the disappointing outing that was The Last Jedi, I wouldn't fault anyone their skepticism about the future of the franchise. It's enough to curb your enthusiasm something awful. At the same time, the finale of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels was absolutely excellent.

For me, it's hard to resist getting excited about anything Star Wars. I can't help it. I love that universe. Done well it's so much fun, and it's easy to do well. I'm actually amazed when the powers that be don't get it right. When they do...well when they do it's magic.







I already have my tickets for Solo: A Star Wars Story (for my girlfriend and I - Opening weekend, though not opening day). I am pretty excited.

The film has a lot going against. It's production has been wrought with directorial changes, acting challenges and issues, and it's lead actor has some very big boots to fill. All in all, things don't seem too promising. So why am I so jazzed?

Well first, I've watched the trailers and the films looks great! Funny dialogue, amazing visuals, and just the kind of story you'd expect from a movie that focuses on everyone's favorite space pirate and smuggler. 

Second, Chewbacca! It shouldn't come as any surprise to my readers that I am a BIG Chewie fan. I do it all for the Wookiee, you feel me? Having another film where Chewie gets to do his thing - his thing being, ya'know, being Chewie - is pretty awesome in my book. 

Lastly, I've noticed a number of references and homages to the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian novels of the late 70s and early 80s. It might just be me, but the Millennium Falcon's droid pilot reminds me of Blue Max and Lando's strange pilot robot from the books. In addition, one of the characters not shown on the poster above (aside from said Pilot Droid) is an alien named Rio Durrant, who greatly resembles a Ph'Pheahian, a species first introduced in the novel Han Solo's Revenge.







Left, Rio Durant, an Ardennian Pilot and Gunner from Solo: A Star Wars Story
Right, an illustration of a Ph'Pheahian from Han Solo's Revenge.

Separated at birth?


To me, this just looks like a fun movie. That's all I hope it is and all I need it to be. 

We shall see...


I'm even more excited for...






The Star Wars powers that be have announced another animated series! Following the excellent Star Wars: Rebels - which in turn followed the amazing Star Wars: The Clone Wars - the Disney Channel will be producing a brand new show set just prior to the events of The Force Awakens. 

The story focuses on a young Resistance pilot named Kazuda Xiono who, along with her fighter squadron, undertakes a secret mission to scout out the growing threat of the First Order. Much like its predecessor Rebels, Resistance will primarily feature new characters, but well known characters from the new sequels will make guest/cameo appearances. 

There are several things I love about this premise. 

I think there is a lot of untapped potential in the Sequel Trilogy setting. I foresee this series doing for the Sequels what Clone Wars did for the Prequels.Just as Clone Wars fleshed out the characters and situations of those terrible films. This new series will likely turn the First Order, Snoke, Captain Phasma, and the Resistance into actual, full formed concepts (unlike the films, which had a vague set up and very little follow through so far).

I also think making the main characters fighter pilots is brilliant! Starfighter pilots and dogfights in space is so specifically a Star Wars thing I'm amazed its taken so long to devote an onscreen story to such a group. I can hardly wait to see their fighters in more detail (assuming the fighter in the logo is the basic design concept).

In conclusion, the Force is still very strong in the entertainment world and our fandom. I may be labelled a die hard optimist, but I'm got a good feeling about this.

Green Leader, standing by.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

REVIVAL

With the exception of a single, personally significant post, I decided to take the month of April off from blogging. 

It hadn't been planned ahead of time and I'm not sure at what point during the month I made that formal decision, but I am very glad I did. Things were especially busy and hectic and I really didn't know what, if anything, I wanted to say regarding the hobby. 

It's a new month and I've had experiences that I want to discuss. I took a break and now I'm born anew, ready to talk about my new campaign, TV shows, movies, and my ideas for the future.

Praise the dice and Hallelujah!





The Gospel According to Champions

We have returned once again to the universe of my old friend William Corpening, whose epic 10+ year Champions campaign was as deep and layered with mythology and pathos as anything Marvel or DC Comics has created. 

In the past, when I have adapted Will's Champions Earth-Wilco Charlie-1 to my own games, I designated it Champions Earth-Alpha Delta-1, a variant timeline/parallel world in which the story continued after I left the original campaign along a different path. 

Since my last major event in the game was an alien invasion (The Invasion: Earth War crossover to be exact), I usually start my campaigns six months after that occurrence. It should be noted however that while that was the last time I was in the game, the original campaign continued for another two and a half years. 

My newest campaign is set in yet another universe, Champions Earth-Alpha Delta-A, with the idea of being a direct sequel to the original. Our story begins not six months after my last time playing Will's game, but rather six months after Will's game actually ended. The status quo is quite different. The major NPCs are different, with some heroes and villains gone, some returning, and many new ones entering the arena. 

It is a world many of the players find familiar and yet this take on it is almost equally surprising and fresh. Win-Win!


Preaching to the Choir

One thing that has been reinforced to me time and time ago over the past few years is that you need to have the right people for the right game and vice versa. Sometimes matching the group up with a game such that we're all on the same page feels like a monumental task. Other times, it just works. The parts all fit together with hardly any effort. 

Champions is that game for this group.

After such false starts and failed attempts, we have returned to the game that four out of six of us love. The remaining two are new to the setting and the system, having never partaken in them before.

My girlfriend is just learning to play RPGs in general, but she is clever, creative, and gets the general idea of Superheroes. She is a self-proclaimed problem solver, so she gets jazzed by the idea that figuring out a crime or defeating a villain is simply an obstacle to be overcome. 

Our other new addition also gets Superheroes and is well versed in Anime, Movies, and things that can easily be tied in. He represents an area of the game universe that hasn't been explored very much, but it's out there just waiting to be investigated. 

Basically, this is a group that understands the genre and is primed to be immersed in a campaign that embraces it. Those who know the setting really enjoy it. Those that don't are curious to find out about it. 

Since I tend to focus my games on the Player Characters, the universe they live in, and how they interact and relate to it and one other, I'm over the moon to have players with solid character ideas that link into key aspects of the setting. 

All in all this is looking very promising largely because of the people involved. 


Amazing Grace

To this very day I'm stunned that I love this crunchy, math-heavy system as much as I do, but Champions (specifically Hero System 4th Edition) is by far my favorite Superhero RPG. 

I've been playing (as a player) a rule-light Supers game over Google Hangouts for a few years now and while I have been enjoying it, the system is starting to get to me. It feels flat. The characters are not mechanically different from each other as powers have little variation in how they apply to the situations in the game. Skills are an after thought. There really isn't a feeling that one particular attack is better than any other in a given moment except you might have higher dice. My 10 Power is better than your 8 Power for example, but what power it actually is seems inconsequential. 

Champions not only gives you options, it gives you variety. It allows you to play the character you want to play the way you want to play it. It lets me, the GM, dial up or down the detail, the difficulty, and the scope based on my preferences and the story I want to tell. 

Every ability, every power, every situation or condition is able to be translated into the games mechanics. In it's crunch and rules-heaviness there is a certain elegance, a beauty in its complexity. . 

I love that it works, that it works well, and that my players get it. 

As the month goes on I will include more details regarding this campaign including information on the Player Characters, the plots and subplots, and anything else that seems interesting enough to share. If anyone out there has any questions about the campaign, please feel free to ask.


Can I get an Amen?

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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Player Profiles - Allen Halden

I had always intended on posting a Player Profile of my long time friend, and gaming buddy Allen Halden, but never in a million years would I have imagined I'd be doing it posthumously.





The most recent photo I could find.

This man's pinky knew more than your whole head.



I first met Allen about 25 years ago, when two of my New York friends introduced me to a group of like minded individuals who all met at the home of twin brothers who lived in New Jersey.

The brothers Moriarty had a pretty big house, and it had apparently become a mecca for gamers, comic books fans, Anime/Manga otaku, and pop culture geeks of every shape, size, and denomination. All races, cultures, ages, religions, genders, income levels, and every other manner of people were (and are to my knowledge) welcome. 

The house, to this day, is known by the nickname, 'Strike Force Moriarty' (bonus points if you get that reference). 

Allen and I didn't immediately become friends. Barely acquaintances. There were just too many people coming in and out of the house, talking about too many things. It would be a handful of visits before he, and I spoke at length. 

There was one particular RPG campaign being run at the house that some friends I already had, or had made, were involved with, and that's where I first connected with Allen. The game was based on Sentai, the Japanese live-action superhero phenomena that we Americans appropriated and turned into the 'Power Rangers' franchise. The number of players in this campaign was huge, a dozen or so, though neither I, nor Allen were involved.

It was a running gag that Allen wanted in, and he said that alongside Red Dragon, Blue Dolphin, Golden Hawk, etc. he could be...(looking down at his own violently chartreuse t-shirt)...The Lime Green Wombat!

Ah, yes...one of Allen's many nicknames. The Lime Green Wombat. The Finicky Barbarian. Player of Freaks.

I digress...

Anyway, I knew at that moment this fellow was my kind of guy. 







Photo of Christmas Past



Over the next two decades and change, he and I would become close friends, and game together a lot. For the majority of our RPG interactions I was the GM, but on rare occasions I would get to play in one of his games. He was an excellent GM, but I will speak more about his GMing legacy a bit later.

Allen was an amazing player. Amazing.

He was equally adept at logic puzzles, combat tactics, and in-depth characterization.

I was the best GM I could be with Allen as a player. I could create complex mysteries, tough opponents, and challenging environments, because Allen could handle them all. Best of all, he knew how to work with the strengths of the other players, and how to compensate for their weaknesses, as well as his own. 

Over the years this became more than a gaming group, and Allen more than my friend. We were brothers, and this was our family.






Here he is demonstrating how foolish it is for normal crooks
(represented by yours truly) to go up against Superheroes,
or as he called them, 'Gods in Long Underwear'.



He had an incredibly analytical mind, with the kind of deductive reasoning capabilities that would make Batman and Sherlock Holmes jealous.

He was an extremely knowledgeable fellow on a great many subjects, including but not limited to military history (including extensive Naval history), ancient history, the Victorian era, classic, Golden Age era Science Fiction, and Fantasy novels, and so much more.

His knowledge of gaming miniatures was quite uncanny. He could identify who made a particular figure, when, and in many cases who the sculptor was. If you said, "I need a mini for this game I'm in, but...I'm playing a dinosaur riding cowboy with a laser gun. How am I ever going to find something to represent that?" Allen would most assuredly reply, "I believe Ral Partha made that in 1980-whathaveyou...", and likely go on to find one in his massive collection.

He himself was a fantastic minis painter, and custom built all kinds of vehicles, terrain, and various sorts of accessories. You can see some of his work in this area on his websites, RavenFeast's Mead Hall, and Rivets & Steam. Although perhaps not as often in recent years, he was a regular attendee of numerous gaming conventions, especially Winter War, and Historicon. 

He was an incredibly funny individual. Smart, sarcastic, dry of wit, and clever with puns, Allen was great at delivering comedic lines, or serving as the straight man (usually for me). He was an integral part of my Galaxy Quest, and Ghostbusters games. My long history of running humorous RPGs probably wouldn't have been possible without him.







Allen and Rebecca, the latter in her usual state
of being virtually paralyzed with laughter.



He and I agreed on a lot of things, and shared very similar views of how games can work. I know this sounds selfish, but with Allen gone I feel like there is one less person in the world who really understands what I am trying to do at the gaming table.

We didn't agree on everything, though Allen was rarely if ever the argumentative sort. He was the last of truly great 'discussers'. He would listen to your ideas and opinions, calmly site ones he agreed, or disagreed with, and give you his own in a measured, reasonable fashion.

He liked war games, miniatures games, and fantasy. We both loved classic Star Trek, but he was not a fan of Star Wars, or Superheroes. We still got along (heheh), and I played the best minis game ever with him as GM/Referee. I convinced him to play both a Supers one-shot, and a short campaign of Star Wars. We always trusted in the ideas of the other.

One subject we both enjoyed immensely was giant robots. It was he who introduced me to some of the Mecha Anime I came to love, including Aura Battler Dunbine, Panzer World Galient, and Combat Mecha Xabungle (the latter two being Allen's absolute favorites). Mekton was a one of his most beloved RPGs. 

The game we played together the most was probably Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games' Icon System). I can easily recall his characters for three separate campaigns. His favored approach was to take an obscure alien in the background of an episode, or film and flesh out their species enough that he could play them with considerable depth. Over time, he would expand on his initial ideas, adding to the milieu as a whole and not just his own PC. Other games I got to run for him include Faery's Tale Deluxe, my homebrew Galaxy Quest game, Ghostbusters / InSpectres, Mekton, Wares Blade, and many more. 

His best, and most memorable characters [in my opinion] were:

Bloodstone Deepforge, Dwarf Craftsman, and Artificer (Wares Blade, Hobby Japan Games)

Dr. Ezeriha Herbert Croftman, Ghostbusters NJ franchise, Hoboken, NJ (Ghostbusters / InSpectres, West End Games, Memento Mori) See this as well.

First Prefect, Alien Super Soldier from Beyond our Galaxy (Deeds Not Words)

Lt. Commander Green Shine Wandering Wave Miragh. Xelatian First Officer, and Chief Science Officer of the USS Thunder Bay (Star Trek, LUG)

Lt. He-Who-Glistens-In-The-Autumn-Twilight-Beneath-The-Third-and-Seventh-Moons. Insectoid Token Alien, and Chief Science Officer of the NSEA Galient. (Galaxy Quest, Barking Alien Productions).

Owen Blackfjord, Medieval Warrior, Keeper of the 'Unseen Sword' (Not sure - Possibly Ars Magica, Atlas Games).

These are but a handful of examples of his varied, and diverse cast of characters, across a plethora of genres, and systems. Others I recall include his his Edoan First Officer in a Classic Star Trek campaign (FASA), a Watchmaker/Tinker Brownie in Faery's Tale Deluxe, and of course the superheroic First Prefect, from our single Superhero outing.
 
Any tribute to Allen would be incomplete without a reference to his Panzer Dreams campaign. 






Panzer Dreams was Allen's magnum opus, his masterpiece. It was a dark, romantic, action packed fantasy tale set in a world of his own creation that resembled 15th century Europe with giant robots. 

Although I only made a guest appearance in a single session, I am well aware of the impact this campaign had on the players who participated in it. They still talk about it to this day, fondly and often, and as I've noted in the past there is no greater evidence of a successful campaign then that.

People were moved. They were touched. Like the man himself, it left a lasting impression that made you think.

I usually include something written by the person themselves when I do these Player Profiles, and this case is no different. 

Here is the last thing he wrote, read aloud by his sister at his funeral...


"The painting bench has been cleared for the last time; toy soldiers, ships and mecha packed away, never looked upon again by me. Tiny, little dreams that, perhaps, someone else will one day finish. May whoever they are find a bit of the happiness that I did in that old chair, under those lamps, brush in hand. Mayhap, even be lucky as I have been: to have made it around the table, rolled dice amongst friends, old and new, and laughed."



This is not the first time the name Allen Halden has graced this blog, and it will not be the last.

This post is a tribute, but no more than a raindrop in a bucket, or a grain of sand on a beach in its capacity to convey what my friend meant to me.

It is my hope that in reading this you will feel you knew him a little as well. Please don't feel sorry for my loss, or sad at his passing. At least not so much that you miss the greater message.

Be kind. Be inclusive. Remember. Learn. Teach. Use your head. Invest emotion. Try new things. Love old things beyond their apparent usefulness. Create. Make changes. Enjoy what others have made. Add to it. 

Be a little more like Allen than you were yesterday.

That's what I hope to do.







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Barking Alien


Today, April 7th, 2017 would have been Allen Halden's Birthday.

Happy Birthday old friend.












Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Alternative Timeline - Part II

Continuing my rather academic trip down memory lane, I bring you all to the end of 1987, and the start of 1988, my first year of college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. One of my classmates is the brother of an employee of West End Games, makers of the first official Star Wars RPG, which remains one of my all time favorite games (mechanically it is probably my favorite). I find myself running a lot of Star Wars.

It is also around this time that my friend Jason M. (or 'Big Jay' as I used to call him) reintroduced me to the Traveller game and universe via MegaTraveller. Around the same time, he and I discovered Japanese Tabletop RPGs existed and the next generation of my gaming style took hold.


Take Two: The Next 10 Years


1988-1989:

I am GMing around 95% of the time I am gaming, maybe morer. I occasionally get into one-shots or very short campaigns, but they are few and far between.

Although I am working part-time while going to college, I still get the chance to game fairly often. I have a game running at school and another every other weekend.

My games are primarily Star Wars, Star Trek (FASA), Mekton II, Teenagers from Outer Space, Champions (4th Edition), and the occasional game or short campaign of Paranoia.

I still get the opportunity to run and play other systems and settings, but these are almost always one shots. 

Between 1987 and 1989, my good friends Nelson and Anastasia introduce me to friends of theirs living in New Jersey and meeting at the house of two fellow Anime/Comic/Gaming geeks. Many fans of many subjects saw this house as a Mecca of all the things we enjoyed and it would eventually be a place I visited many times to run and play in games. 

As mentioned above, my buddy Big Jay sold me on trying Traveller again and I loved it. Soon after the introductory session he ran, MegaTraveller was released and I purchased it. Not long after that I ran my first Traveller/MegaTraveller campaign. 

Big Jay and I also began investigating the Japanese pencil and paper RPG market and started buying magazines that talked about them (though we couldn't really read Japanese). One of the first RPGs I am able to learn anything about is Wares Blade. 

After a year at Pratt Institute I transferred to The School of Visual Arts. There I reconnected with some old gaming buddies and made some new ones. One of the first campaigns I ran there was a Shadowrun game.

1990-1991:


While I tried many games during this period, none really stuck. My various groups and I kept returning to our favorites. At the same time, my homebrew one-shots and short campaigns became more experimental. I tried to do games based on unusual topics and settings. I ran a game in which the time frame went backwards. I ran a musical RPG.

The most significant game to come out for me during this time was Vampire: The Masquerade, the first introduction to the World of Darkness. Next would be Cyberpunk 2020 by R. Talsorian Games. While the latter was played a lot more often, the subject and nature of the World of Darkness intrigued me. It was different from what I was used to and 'exotic' in a fashion.

I was also able to play a few Japanese RPGs at Gen Con. Members of the staff of Fujimi Shobo - Japan's Dragon Magazine - are present at the convention and showcase Sword World (The Record of the Lodoss War RPG), The Gundam Sentinel RPG, and a few others.

I definitely ran some epic campaigns during this time including a somewhat short but awesome Shadowrun (FASA) game and a Superhero game set in the Victorian Era using a modified Space: 1889 (GDW). 

1992-1996:

New games come and go, but my ability to try new ones is becoming more limited. A lack of funds, people wanting to stick with ones they like, and availability of those with smaller distribution hinder my hobby within the hobby [of trying out new games just to try out new games].

The tried and true preferences continue to see play. Star Wars, Star Trek, Mekton, TFOS, Cyberpunk, Ars Magica, World of Darkness (combining Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, and several other titles), Champions, and Traveller top the list. 

At this point I haven't played D&D in a long time. A friend had run one short campaign some time between 89' and 93' (I think) but I hadn't run it myself in many years. I all but completely missed out on AD&D 2nd Edition. 

At this point my games have several things in common.

Story and Characters (especially PCs) are paramount.

The style and approach of my games are based on the subject matter. 
Star Trek is largely episodic. Superhero games are short arcs like the comics of the era. Etc.
If not based on a pop culture IP, like Ars Magica, Traveller, or the like, the games are fully open world, sandbox, or 'Storybox'. 

I play some crunchy games to be sure, but my personal preference remains simpler, less rule-heavy RPGs. What rules exist should support the genre, setting, or 'feel' of the game's subject matter.

More to come,

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Barking Alien