Tuesday, December 3, 2019

This Is The Way

I followed this Tracking Fob based on the Bounty Puck I picked up from the Guild and it lead me to...




I am in love.

As of this post we're four episodes in and it is already my favorite Star Wars production since the Star Wars: Rebels animated series. I would place it as one of my favorite Star Wars projects of all time. The Original Trilogy, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and then this. In some ways, I could see it overtaking the animated shows but for now, I will stick by this placement. 

As a fan of Star Wars since it first appeared in 1977, I have to say that this series feels more like the Original Trilogy than any other live-action feature so far. This is Star Wars more than the Prequels are Star Wars. This is Star Wars more than the Sequels are Star Wars. Same for Rogue One and Solo.

This. Is. Star Wars.




SPOILERS!
Blogging is a complicated profession...


The GOOD

I was grabbed by the first episode right away; I was impressed by the music, the scenery, the world-building, and of course the characters.

I am absolutely amazed by the acting and directing in the series that enables us to get a show that features a character with no face in the starring role. I mean...WOW. Every Superhero movie and TV series, please take note.

As a fan of the universe it was awesome to see some many of my old favorite elements like landspeeders, Rodians, R2 unit Astromechs, and Jawas. Of course they're Offworld Jawas (which incidentally is the name of my new Alternative Prog Rock Band) and that leads into the next great thing about The Mandalorian - New Stuff! New Jawas, New Weaponry, New Starships, Tracking Fobs, Bounty Pucks, some dangerous Alien Walrus Monster under the ice of a New Planet, and an unknown type of R Unit piloting a speeder dolly/platform. Sooo cool! 

Plus, like any good Star Wars installment, each episode brings in new characters and furthers the overall plot that explores the people involved and their situations. I can't wait to find out what happens next, who it happens to, and why it's happening! 




Every being put your appendages together and welcome...Offworld Jawas!


The BAD

There isn't any! 

Seriously, I can't find anything bad to say about this show so far. While not every episode is as spectacular as every other, nor is every scene and moment Star Wars fandom perfectnon, nothing I've seen makes me feel any part of any episode has been poorly done. In fact, as I said to a friend recently, it's reassuring that the weakest episode of The Mandalorian is still ten times better than the strongest of the Prequel or Sequel films. 

High praise? It is indeed and I stand by it all the way. 


The ADORABLE

No review of the show would be complete without addressing the seven pound, fifty year old, womp rat in the room - BABY YODA! He is super cute, super well handled, and super interesting. Is he another member of Yoda's little known about species? A clone of Yoda himself? Something else? I don't know yet but I would gladly mow down a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers or wrestle a full grown Mudhorn to keep him safe. Just try me!


***


Needless to say the series has really bitten me with a major Star Wars RPG bug. I am extremely interested in running a Star Wars campaign at some point early new year, regardless of how good or bad The Rise of Skywalker is. 

Needless to say, I am really eager to see more of The Mandalorian. As with other, similar material, I absorb these episodes as much as enjoy them. They are definitely entertainment, but as a fan and a gamer it's also source material. Based on what I've seen so far, all I can say is keep it coming.


I have spoken. 

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Barking Alien




Sunday, December 1, 2019

Feeling The Force

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away...






Actually, the last two months of 2019, right here on Earth! We are about to receive not one, not two, but three new visions of the Star Wars universe, and I for one am extremely excited about that. 

In two weeks [from this posting], Disney+, the Disney Streaming Service, will air the first ever live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian. Set a few years after Return of the Jedi, the story follows a lone Bounty Hunter trying to survive in the lawless frontier of a post-Galactic Empire region of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. 

I am more excited about this particular series than anything else slated, as it looks awesome, has a neat premise, and is being put together by the talented duo of Jon Favreau (the lead developer, head writer, and showrunner) and Dave Filoni (of Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance fame). 

The first episode comes out on Disney+'s launch day of November 12th, with a second episode on November 15th. Do you know what else comes out on the 15? 

Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order, a video and PC game I have been looking forward to for some time will release two Fridays from today. In it, you play Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis, a survivor of Order 66 who is on the run from the Galactic Empire. After accidentally revealing his Force abilities in front of an Imperial Probe Droid, the Empire sends a team of specialized Stormtroopers and an Inquisitor (or two) to hunt him down. 

Wow. Such a great premise for a Star Wars tale. I love the designs, the ships, the aliens, and the Imperials. As for gameplay, it resembles and has been described by reviewers as a mix of Uncharted and Dark Souls. Sold. I am there. 

Last, and sadly least, December 20 sees the final film in the new Sequel Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker. I am truly interested in seeing this movie, but perhaps not as excited for it as I am the other two things I've mentioned here. The recent trailer looked great, and I love me some Star Wars, but after the horror that was The Last Jedi I find I have had to work myself up to the level of cautious optimism. So far it's working! I have my ticket and I'm going to try to enjoy the ride. 

Not included here as it won't appear until next year is another product I am super jazzed about which is The Clone Wars Season 7, coming to Disney+ in February I believe. I will discuss that in greater detail as we get closer. 

What does all of this mean besides the obvious joy I feel in being honestly happy about promising new Star Wars material? Um...what part of The Barking Alien Blog did you not understand? GAMING my friends! It all comes back to Gaming!

Yes, I am Feeling The Force something fierce these days, eager to consume and process all of this entertainment and the new info that comes with it in order to apply the items and ideas to a new campaign of Star Wars, The Role Playing Game (West End Games, D6 version of course) sometime in 2020. 

Anyone else feeling this or did The Last Jedi turn you to the Dark Side? 

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Barking Alien

*Originally written and published on November 1st, 2019, I have moved this post to December as I will be largely dedicating this month to Star Wars related entries. I apologize for any confusion but it is easier for me to organize my thoughts this way.



Saturday, November 30, 2019

Just Out of Reach

I found it extremely difficult to blog this November. 

There are many reasons, not the least of which is a [more than] mild dissatisfaction with my gaming this past year. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of silly.

I feel like I've played and run a lot this year, especially over the past few months, and many of those sessions have been really good, great in fact. Unfortunately that doesn't change the feeling that quantity hasn't equated with quality. 

ALIEN FRONTIER, my six month old ALIEN RPG campaign hopefully benefiting from 30 years of prep-work, has been really excellent. I am quite proud of it. 

My Star Trek: Prosperity game, using Star Trek Adventures by Modiphius, is now four years old (give or take). It continues and, thankfully, continues to be pretty darn good. I really enjoy it and it seems the players do as well. What more could you ask for?

What more indeed.

I am playing in a regular, ongoing Harry Potter/Hogwarts/Wizarding World campaign that is likewise around four years old now. It is run every two weeks, alternating with the Star Trek game. It is truly fun and fantastic, notable for, among other things, the fact that I really love my character. 

There are other games I've run and played as I mentioned in the opening of this post; a great many one-shots and even short campaigns have been explored in 2019 to varying degrees of victory and loss. 

As the year draws to a close, I am feeling an overall sense of...ennui perhaps? I am not entirely sure how to describe it. Something is definitely missing. It's as if the brass ring is out there somewhere, just out of reach and I am getting frustrated trying to grab it over and over again without complete success. I say 'complete' because I've gotten close. The tips of my fingers have touched it, grazed it, but a solid grab has thus far eluded me. 

Writing it down, getting it out there, I feel I am getting closer.

Soon...

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Barking Alien





Monday, November 11, 2019

Initiate This

I ran a one shot just the other day of one of my favorite Japanese tabletop RPGs, Wares Blade. While gearing up for the game (pun intended) I was reminded of the games somewhat unusual Initiative rules and thought I'd share them with you.

Initiative, as I have discovered over the past ten years or so of blogging, is an extremely popular subject among the participants of the gaming blog-o-sphere. Oh yes! It seems that gamers, especially D&D types, are absolutely obsessed with Initiative. I see more posts and articles about that aspect of the game than any other single subject.

This has lead me to the conclusion that A) those who have created and worked on D&D over the years have no clear idea what they were doing when that designed the Initiative system B) since the rules they designed are absolutely daft! Just terrible. C) Those who play the game and blog about it on the internet definitely feel this way. 

Wha...? I'm wrong? How could I be? I am merely an outside observer taking in what I see. If the Initiative system isn't woefully flawed why is it remade so often in so many ways? 

Humans are so confusing. 

Back to the Initiative rules from Wares Blade. I simplified things a little and will try to keep the description of this idea pretty simple as well. 

Basically, Initiative is a number on your character sheet, you roll one 10 sided die, add the result to the number on the sheet, and you get your Initiative for the combat you're about to be in. Now here's the fun part...You can take away points from your Initiative Number and use those points to 'Avoid Attacks'. 

Imagine you have a 5 Initiative, you roll a 5, and now your Initiative for the battle is 10. You take away 4 points and now have an Initiative of 6. Your 4 points buy you two Avoids. Twice during the combat, you can say that your PC avoids an attack that would have hit them. 

In game, the idea is that you are quick enough, perceptive enough, and skilled enough to predict an enemy's move and dodge or deflect it. Mechanically, this gives characters with low Health Points and poor Armor a better chance of survival. In Wares Blade, where early stage Wizard and Clergy PCs have more support style abilities and magic in addition to being rather fragile, having the capacity to Avoid a good number of attacks while going last each round is a pretty fair trade off. 

Anyway, I just thought the idea was interesting. In play it worked pretty well, with the Avoids giving the feel of a fight where blows and slashes were deflected by the Warrior's sword, the Wizard's cleverness, and the Professional's skill and agility. 

Are there any other systems that use something similar? I'm curious as I am still planning to devise a Dark Crystal game. 

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Barking Alien




Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Song of Thra

This is my third entry for the month of October on the subject of The Dark Crystal. It will be the last for a while.

I have been in an odd funk this month gaming wise and it's been directly effecting my ability to post. I sit down with enthusiasm and ideas in my head, then rapidly the ideas become muddled and I get distracted, which makes it nigh impossible to finish. This post should have been completed a week ago for example. 

Although I definitely have more thoughts on The Dark Crystal film and series, not to mention adventuring on the world of Thra, I also have a lot of other thoughts on a lot of other subjects as well, and they seem to be getting in the way of a clear and concise treatment of this particular project. If I don't give myself a cut off point, I could just ramble on and on and I don't feel that gives my Dark Crystal ideas, or my other ideas, the thorough consideration they deserve.

With that, let's discuss a The Dark Crystal role-playing game...







The Mystic Prophets Warn of Spoilers



End. Begin. All The Same.

Let's start the way one should, IMHO, start any RPG game endeavor, which is with the questions, 'What is this game about?' and 'What do the Player Characters do in this game?'

Campaigns set on the world of The Dark Crystal would, for the most part, be very similar to those on any Fantasy world.

The peoples of Thra explore ruins, fight monstrous beasts, and save each other from dastardly villains of one sort or another just like the heroes of a thousand other settings. The major difference between a traditional Fantasy RPG and a Dark Crystal RPG would be the themes explored and the PC motivations that propel the game forward.

The Dark Crystal is very much a setting tied to very particular ideas not normally associated with Fantasy adventuring. Concepts like protecting and working with environment and the ecology of the land, spiritualism but not religion, and a sense of family, friendship, and community in the face of outside forces attempting to divide the people are very much aspects of stories set on Thra. 

Depending on the era you set your game in, the kind of tales you might tell well differ but overall I'd like to think they would be a bit less shallow then those of a typical Sword & Sorcery or Dungeons & Dragons game. Ruins may be explored, but not with the goal of finding wealth and treasure. Great creatures may be slain but reluctantly, as all creatures large and small are part of the Song of Thra. Dastardly villains must be battled and bested for they are stealing from the world itself to benefit only themselves. 


Their Harsh and Twisted Bodies. Their Harsh and Twisted Wills.

The villains of The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are more than just murderous monsters, yet they execute evil acts far worse than any mere ogre or wizard. They divided the Gelfling Clans, kept them distrustful of each other, consumed resources and enslaved the less physically powerful in ways that reflect the overindulgence and lack of concern beyond themselves associated with the wealthy aristocracy. The Skeksis embody all the worst traits of classism and colonialism. They are not abstractly evil. They are literally the worst thoughts, feelings, and attitudes given form. 


Dark Signs, Strange Storms, Sand Where There Used to Be Sea.

Thra itself is alive and is in a sense an ever present NPC that constantly and continuously impacts the lives of PCs in a Dark Crystal game. The Song of Thra resonates in the world's rocks and trees, it's flowers and animals, and in every one of it's native peoples. The presence of Skeksis and the darkening of the Crystal of Truth - also known as 'The Heart of Thra' - disrupts the Song and puts the entire planet out of sorts with itself. This leads to blights that kill crops, animals going into vicious rages, and a host of other ills that strike the environment of Thra along with its inhabitants. 

A considerable portion of any Dark Crystal RPG, regardless of era, should deal with how what is happening in the story effects Thra and vice versa. 





Map of the Skarith Region of Thra

Based on the map from the J.M. Lee Young Adult Novels
Modified by Yours Truly.



By Gelfling Hand or Else By None

Regarding Player Characters; I would say that while the role-playing potential of portraying a Skeksis or an urRu is definitely something to consider, there are various reasons why I don't think I'd personally open up these beings for use as PCs. This doesn't mean I don't think you could do it but I will hold off on discussing this approach myself, at least for now.

My default idea would go with Gelflings as Player Characters. The Gelflings are the most common sentient species of Thra and the focus of the original film, the novels, and the Netflix series. In comparison to other Fantasy RPGs, this makes them the 'Humans of Thra', yet they are wonderfully, delightfully not Human.

Gelflings come in a variety of physical and cultural variations, possess a number of special abilities, unique gifts and mystical talents, and reinforce the feeling of the setting being at once exotic and familiar. This paradox makes them the perfect PCs for a Dark Crystal game. 

If your story is set after the film you run into the problem of there being only two Gelfling in the entire world. It is one of the elements that has prevented me from creating a Dark Crystal RPG before now. However, with the addition information provided in the novel series and streaming series, a post film campaign becomes more viable. 

To begin with, the film does note that the Crystal of Truth - the healed, previously 'dark' Crystal - has the power Jen and Kira (the film's last remaining Gelflings) need to restore or rebirth the world of Thra. This is [in part] why the UrSkeks (the recombined urRu and Skeksis) leave the Crystal in the care of the Gelfling pair. In my mind, listening to and joining in with the revitalized Song of Thra, Jen and Kira are able to cause new Gelfling to be born into the world. 

Initially these Gelfling would rise out of the Swamps of Sog, step out dryad-like from cracks in the trees of the Dark Wood, and so forth. They will likely have no knowledge or memories associated with the past and would need to learn about their world like early Humans did. Of course they have the benefit of the teachings of Jen and Kira, as well as a wiser and more careful Aughra, who is in many ways almost as important to Thra as the Crystal of Truth. 

This leads to some interesting Character Creation options. Imagine if each of the Seven Clans of Gelfling have their own specific skills and gifts, perhaps three special to their type, along with abilities all Gelfling have such as Dreamfasting and Winged Flight for females. Post film Gelfling may be able to choose a mix of Clan traits, since the idea of Clans has been long forgotten. Personally, I notice that while Kira in the original movie looks a lot like Vapra, she has capabilities that remind me of Deet from the Netflix series, who is a Grottan. 


There Is No Filthier Creature In All of Thra

Another Player Character option I would gladly entertain would be a Podling. The Pod People, such as the character of Hup in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, are a simple, rural dwelling, agrarian species living in homes made in the bases of large trees. They are about a head and a half shorter than Gelflings, have a potato like head, and are skilled farmers, gardeners, musicians, cooks, and brewers. 

They are a somewhat hedonistic people, living for life's simple pleasures. The love food, drink, celebrating with banquets, and when young they enjoy rolling around in the dirt and mud (which they sometimes eat for reasons unknown). They remind me of naughty hobbits to some extent and for that reason alone I would be happy to see someone play a Podling. My only stipulation is that not too many people play them. They are not generally seen as adventurers and Podlings willing to stand up and fight terrible danger should be rather rare. 


Where Once Was Great Knowledge, Like Smoke, It Slips Away

The hardest part of this endeavor to create a Dark Crystal RPG has been choosing a system. There are three games that have caught my eye as possible choices and they are Mouse Guard, Ryuutama, and Tales from The Loop.

Mouse Guard was going to be the basis of the official Dark Crystal tabletop RPG when it was originally announced a few years back. The idea of having a number of dice in 'Nature', as in the character's nature, seems to work really well with the themes in The Dark Crystal. Referencing what I said about Gelfling characters above, think of each Gelfling Clan being defined by three Natures, with an addition two or three defining all Gelfling. In a prequel era campaign each play would pick a Clan and get the appropriate Natures for that group. In a post film campaign, Gelfling PCs could pick two from Column A and one from Column C so to speak. 

I also like the basic die mechanic of Successes and Failures (called Cowards in the game, which I find downright hilarious and immersive). The only drawback is that Mouse Guard can be, like its predecessor Burning Wheel, a little over written. There is an awesome, really simple and fast system them that sometimes seems slowed down and made less elegant but very sub-systems and addition rules that I don't find particularly necessary. I would have to trim it down a bit and simplify various aspects of the game to make it work, then add back in the mysticism, Dreamfasting, and other fantastic elements. 

Another option I considered is Ryuutama, The Dragon's Egg, a Japanese TRPG translated into English by Kotodama Heavy Industries. It is a fantastic, heartwarming Fantasy game that de-emphasizes combat and focuses on the journey itself. The game has the right feel and some really cool ideas but the dice mechanics are my favorite. I prefer games that utilize dice pools or simple roll-and-beat-a-difficulty using a single die type, 

Finally, I have been really enamored with Free League's games lately and have considered the idea that the system found in Tales from The Loop might work well with this concept. Among the nifty mechanics found in Tales from The Loop (a variant on the Year Zero System I am currently enjoying in my ALIEN RPG campaign) is the way you don't take Damage in the traditional sense so much as get stressed out, frightened, and injured. You can decrease stress by being taken care, talking to, or generally being in contact with another character, PC or NPC. This effectively reflects the strength Gelflings get from one another, evidenced in scenes between Brea and her sisters, Rian and Deet, and even Deet and Hup (though Hup is a Podling). 

I feel like I may be headed towards some 'Great Conjunction' of these three systems. I am still researching and experimenting. Remember, Garthims we'ren't built in a day. Oh wait...nevermind. 







Anyway, this brings me to the end of this post and my final thoughts on The Dark Crystal for the time being. I am so eager to bring this world to the gaming table I can't quite express it. It's a burning, nagging desire. It calls to me as the Crystal calls to it's Shard. I am not positive that I will get to it any time soon however, and they makes me kinda sad. 

Still, it gives me more time to develop ideas and hopefully a second season of the Netflix series will bring more of my fellow gamers around to the concept. Until then...

Come again when the last sister kisses the horizon, and don’t be late.

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Barking Alien