Monday, February 8, 2016

Open Says Me

Hell of a week.

I am really under the weather, hit with throat ick, chest bleh, and other symptoms that make my already limited hours of sleep even harder to come by.

As if that weren't enough...

Lowell Francis at Age of Ravens diverts me from my daunting deed of daring to detail my dazzling days-gone-by to indulge in one of his dizzyingly distracting discussions!


Barkley, put the Wayback Machine on 'pause', and hand me some Dayquil TM, and some Nyquil TM while you're at it. Heck, do they make Allquil?. I've got something I need to do...


Lowell has an interesting post in which he asks the question, "When Does Your Game 'Open Up'?"

By 'Open Up' he means the point at which the game the GMing is running gives more freedom, or the illusion of freedom, to the players and their PCs. At what point in the campaign experience do the players get to stop following the adventure path laid out before them, and start getting to do what they want to do, and go where they want to go.

It's an interesting question, and one with a multi-tiered answer from your friendly neighborhood Barking Alien. I don't really have a fast and loose answer to this, even though I want to. To me it depends on so many factors that it's difficult to quantify in general terms.

I do have my personal preferences though, as always.

I can say usually, or perhaps most often...hmmm...maybe I could say, "When running 'X' ", or even 'knowing my players', but all these conditions and many other things apply, and greatly change my verdict on the subject.

For the majority of my games (at least the ones run in my preferred style) I'd like the answer to be 'right away'. From moment number one of Act One, Scene One the players should feel like their PCs are their avatars living in whatever world/universe the game is focused on.

Unfortunately [for me] I am learning that the kind of open world, full sandbox style I enjoy most (see Storybox) is pretty intimidating, even off putting, to many players.

What comes naturally for me (as it was just the way we played in our earliest days in the hobby) is quite a shock to the system for some. The main issue it seems, is that when give the chance to go anywhere, and do anything, most people will sit tight, and wait to be told where to go.

Even when given a general idea of what is going on in the story, and giving free reign on how to accomplish the task at hand, many gamers look for the arrow pointing to directions on how to proceed. It's a bit of the video/computer game mentality.

"Isn't this the Quest-Giver? He should tell us exactly where to go, who to meet with, and that person will tell us exactly how many of what type of creature to slay for their pelts. Right?"

Humans disappoint me so.

Now, let's assume, for the sake of being able to respond to Lowell's query in a reasonable fashion, and post length, that we are talking about an average Barking Alien campaign the way I run them now.
    • When do your games “open up”?

    Usually around session four or five. The first 3-5 sessions are often the opening story arc designed to get the players familiar with the setting, the system, campaign plots, etc. After they have a handle on things, they are free to go about their business.

    • How much set up and establishment does a game need? What do you gain?

    As I've mentioned in previous posts, I do a massive amount of pre-production game prep. Weeks, to months in advance sometimes. The benefit is that for a monthly, or even weekly game, I barely need to do any game-to-game prep after the first three sessions.

    • Are some reasons for keeping things locked down more valid than others?

    I am not sure how to answer. The only reason I can see for locking things down is to help players paralyzed by their freedom of choice. Perhaps (and this is a big perhaps) to nail down the atmosphere, and general feeling of the setting that the GM is looking for. This should be easy to establish before the game begins, but I now know from experience that this isn't always the case.

    • What makes you feel like the campaign’s given you choice and freedom? ...Character choices, options for solutions, going wherever you want?

    This one is hard to answer for me because it's one of the examples of something being very dependent on the nature of the game I'm playing (genre, theme, etc.).

    Character choices? Is that really included in what we're talking about here? I wouldn't have put that in the same category as a game 'opening up'. I have seen many games with plenty of character customization options that are hell-a-ton railroad-y, and very closed in over all feel.

    It's pretty easy to find a path to one game in particular that fits that bill...Find a path. Teehee *snicker*

    • Is not opening up the same as railroading? Do players read this in different ways?

    I can't really say if players in general read this in different ways, I can only say how I read it.

    It's a matter of degrees. Not opening up at all is the same as railroading, but the iris valve can be adjusted to open to varying sizes. You can open it anywhere from all the way, to half way, to pinhole sized, to not at all.

    • Why would tabletop GMs hold off opening up? Do they have different reasons than a video game?

    I am not able to speak for video games, or video gamers. I haven't been truly into video games since the World of Warcraft MMORPG was on it's second expansion (I think). I find them pretty, but inevitably boring. Occasionally I will get into one, but the magic lasts about six months to a year at best.

    Some games, like Alien: Isolation, are awesome for that first run through, and have maybe a bit of replay value, but generally speaking it's like saying, "Yes! I saw that movie. It was great! I might have to watch it again one of these days", and I just never get around to it.

    I'd rather be playing tabletop.

    The open nature of tabletop RPGs, and the many combinations of players, GMs, characters, events, options, choices, and motivations make it an entirely different animal in my opinion.

    Even the best computer or video game RPG is but a single, albeit beautiful shell on a vast beach; that beach is tabletop RPGs. Infinitely superior graphics, unlimited options, and the most life like AI you can imagine, largely because it's missing the 'A'.

    Now, to answer the question, 'Why would GMs hold off opening up?', my answer would be nearly identical to what I already mentioned above.

    First, if a was trying to set the tone, and illustrate the overall premise of the campaign, I would probably have a less open initial storyline to get the ball rolling in the right direction. I would still allow for virtually any reasonable (within the context of the campaign) approach to solving the situation that the players want to take, including not solving it at all (unless we agreed before hand that that was the sole purpose of the game).

    If I have players who I can tell are intimidated by an open world, I will likely give them a mission to start them off. In some instances, I will simply direct them to a few local goings-on, and see if anything catches their interest (or inspires them to do something else).


    In the end (and in conclusion), like oh-so-many things, it depends. It depends on the game, the genre, the GM, the players, and the style of gaming you prefer.

    For me as a player, I prefer an open world, right from the get go, with places to explore, activities to engage in, disrupt, or ignore, villains to battle, and treasure to seek. I might also want to invent a time machine, investigate an age old, unsolved mystery, or go hunt a dangerous beast. I haven't decided.

    Have you, the GM decided for me?

    Barking Alien

      Monkey Business

      Gong Hei Fat Choy!
      Happy Lunar New Year - Year of The Monkey to All!
      Oil on canvas, 8"x10"
      A very special thank you to my old friend Paul David Elsen, an accomplished painter, and truly decent Human being for allowing me the use of his painting for this blog post.
      Barking Alien

      Tuesday, February 2, 2016

      Campaigns I Have Known

      I once knew a game,
      Or should I say
      It once knew me.

      Characters of Future Past
      By Me, Keith Conroy, Keith Conroy, Aris, and Aris.

      I've been experiencing a serious case of RPG nostalgia of late, harkening back to the thrilling days of yesteryear when gaming was simple, sessions were often, and campaigns were both long, and varied.

      I've dug up some old notes, old artwork, and spoke to a few old friends, and all in all it was a pretty great trip into the past, barring the fact that 'old' was a reoccurring theme.

      Over the course of this month, I intend to share some magnificent memories of those bygone campaigns with you, the fans and followers of Barking Alien.

      The five of us should have a wonderful time.

      I'll make hot cocoa.

      Barking Alien

      Monday, February 1, 2016

      The Big F

      Welcome to February.

      Is it over yet?



      February is a pretty crazy month for me. It always is.

      It's the month that contains (among other things) my Birthday, my ex-wife's Birthday, my Dad's Birthday, my maternal Grandma's, my former Wedding Anniversary, Valentine's Day, Chinese New Year, and The Anniversary of Barking Alien (the blog itself).

      It's also traditionally been the month in which we, my various gaming groups and I, have started new, long term games over the years. We always intend to begin in January, but usually it ends up being February for whatever reason.

      Unfortunately, I'm in a bit of a gaming funk. Not creatively mind you. Oh no, the ideas are coming fast, and furious (but without the cars and with substantially more meaningful plots).

      I've reached a realization that I really don't know what to do with. That is, I don't know what to do about it. I am hoping that this month provides me with some kind of clarity.

      I feel as if the in-person gaming groups I have are not necessarily conducive to the types of games I want to run. I've actually felt this way for a while now, but kept dismissing the idea as merely brought about by temporary frustrations. I then decided that even if it were truth, there is always a way to overcome any such problem. All it requires is careful analysis, and being more clever than the situation is problematic, or so I thought.

      The thing is though, Marvel and DC Comics are pretty much done making the kind of comic books I want to read, and so a while back, I stopped buying comics.

      Paramount is done producing a Star Trek I am interested in, or care about, so I'm pretty much done getting excited for new Star Trek products.

      Times change, things change, and things fall out of favor.

      I think the kind of game I want to run, the feeling I like my games to have, may be things of the past. My preferred kind of game is not longer a viable option, at least not with the gamers I currently interact with.

      My old gaming program is not compatible with the most recent operating system.

      What to do?

      Well, I could continue to try and explain/enforce/push for my preferred style, but I am really tired of that. It is becoming more work than fun, and if it ain't fun, I don't want to bother. One can only push a boulder uphill with banana peels strapped to ones feet for so long before the effort loses its luster.

      I could try to game their way, which I sort of did with Traveller, but I found it a little tedious at the end. It seemed like a lot of nothing when it should have been at it's most dramatic, although the grand finale was excellent.

      I have one group that's great for short series, and one-shots, but they are less keen on my favorite aspect of gaming - the long term campaign. Where as one group will spend hours, and hours on character development stuff, with little to no action, the other is mostly action, preferring to keep character stuff to a minimum. We've had a little success recently with more 'living in the world' moments, so maybe there's hope.

      What does the 'F' stand for when I say The Big F?

      February, and a feeling of frustration, and failure that has me in a funk, for sure.


      Barking Alien

      Sunday, January 31, 2016

      I Will Finish What You Started

      Star Wars Traveller ain't over yet...

      My original plan was to spend the month of January dedicating my blog entirely to this project, and in that regard I feel that I accomplished my goals. I'm pretty happy about how the posts turned out. I've received a nice bunch of comments, and more hits then the previous two months combined!

      I had also really hoped I'd be able to cover all the subjects I wanted to, and put this baby to bed by month's end. That I was not able to do. Real life, some personal stuff, and spending too much time thinking about the game, and not enough posting about it means I still have a good bit of work left to do.

      I have a lot more entries planned, and a lot more material to cover, but a new month dawns and there are other subjects I want to talk about in addition to my Star Wars Traveller project.

      Expect this month to be an odd mix, as that is what February always is for me. A wave of nostalgia, a bit of frustration, and the random resurgence of a few areas of interest I hadn't addressed in a while are going to make for (hopefully) some really interesting entries in the coming month.

      Star Wars Traveller will continue, popping up out of Hyperspace when you least expect it.

      Now I've started a lot of projects over the years, and either let them drop, or simply forgot about them. This is different. Like The Muppets RPG, this one is something special. It speaks to me. I not only want to finish this, I don't want to every be truly finished with it. It's a work in progress that I want to see progress further and further, getting better and better.

      As a token of my promise to keep at this, here's a little present from me to you for stopping by, and supporting my fanboy folly...

      Star Wars Traveller Character Sheets!
      Page/Side 1
      Page/Side 2

      Until next time, Goodnight from Jakku...

      Barking Alien