Monday, January 16, 2017

Painful Experience

It is to me a sad, and painful irony, that we celebrate the wisdom, dedication, and dignity of Martin Luther King, Jr. today, a mere five days before a person who is the antithesis of these qualities takes the highest office in the free world.

Doctor King,

Individuals have benefited greatly from your words.
Communities have risen on your ideals.
A society continues your dream.
But the nation?

The nation has learned nothing.

"We know through painful experience
that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,
it must be demanded by the oppressed."

Happy Birthday Martin Luther King, Jr.


Barking Alien


I return you now to the year 1987 (or was it '86?), and my friend William C.'s 'AGE of CHAMPIONS' Champions RPG campaign, now in its sixth, and a half year.

A year and a half into the second chapter, 'The Bronze Age', things have taken a most unusual, epic, and challenging turn...

A new player had joined the fray as the heroic, technological genius Christian Scaramangler, heir to the Scaramangler Foundation, and Scaramangler Technologies. With his father having been accidentally killed by aliens, Chrisitan Scaramangler has embraced the world-wide distrust of extraterrestrials. And then some.

While simultaneously standing side-by-side with the heroes of UNTIL's Project: UNITY, Scaramangler (and his player) secretly used his money, influence, technology, and most of all his devious brilliance to waylay the team's leader, Omni.

Omni you see is an alien, and one of the most beloved heroes in the USA. Scaramangler's player spent a good deal of time, and effort trying to embarass, frame, beat-up*, and otherwise hinder Omni at every turn.

The key element is that while all the players involved were aware of what was going on, the characters in the story were largely unaware of Scaramangler's participation in the plots to sabotage Omni (as well as any other aliens - good, or evil). Scaramangler's player, my friend Eric, was incredibly good at covering his character's tracks.

The end result was an amazing multi-layered story, featuring deep characterization, and complex plots within plots. As the game was primarily run in the lunchroom of our high school, many people watched and listened to the narrative, and eventually wanted in on the action. A number of new heroes, and villains appeared at this time.

While the game appeared to be going great, there was real concern behind the scenes on the part of Will, and Dave (Omni's player). How long could they all keep this up? Would character animosity bleed over into player animosity? How would Omni, and the other heroes balance the scales as more new players came in wanting to play villains?

Most of all, how could they find a way to counter the Machiavellian cunning of Eric/Scaramangler? What they needed was a special kind of hero PC - a good guy as good at being good, as Scaramangler was at being bad.

One day, with no particular fanfare before hand, as the group assembled to play their next session, I sauntered over to say hello to Dave, and some of the other players. I then sat off to the side, and waited for an appropriate moment to make my entrance.

The scenario that day was that Scaramangler Industries was unveiling the new Mark IV  (I think) Minute Men robots - good guy versions of the Sentinels from Marvel Comics that helped protect the Scaramangler Foundation. Some were to be shipped to PRIMUS, some to UNTIL, and a few were going overseas to Britain's MI-13, and Japan's Superhuman Self-Defense Force.

The Scaramangler Industries 'Minute Men'

In the livery of:

(Left to right) the Scaramangler Foundation, UNTIL, PRIMUS,
and The Japanese Superhuman Self Defense Force

As the robots were loaded on to ships, and into warehouses by PRIMUS, UNTIL, and Scaramangler Industries personnel, all under the watchful eye of several member of Project: UNITY (the heroic PCs), I got up, walked over to the table, and stood with my arms folded next to where my friend Dave sat. The GM, Will, described an object, no a caped humanoid, descending slowly to hover some 30 feet in the air over the loading dock.

Heroes, military, and police prepared for a fight, but Omni stayed them all with a subtle shaking of his head, and a raised hand. He was told by the GM that Omni was familiar with this being's species, an alien race known as the Pleiadesians.

The alien identifies himself as StarGuard, leader of The Protectors of Pleiades, guardians of the Pleiades Imperium.

"What is it that you want here on Earth 'Imperial'?", Omni asked.

StarGuard informs Omni, and those gathered, that he knows Omni is actually the heir to the throne of the planet Mandaar. The Pleisadesians, and Mandaarians have been rivals for centuries. Now they are locked in a Cold War that could result in a devastating conflict between the Imperium, and the Mandaarian Empire (though I think they called themselves a Republic). StarGuard insisted that Omni return to Mandaar and retake the throne from the fascist government currently in charge.

Omni simply refused, saying he was more a citizen of Earth than a ruler of Mandaar. He refused to abandon the place he called home, and the people he'd sworn to protect.

Finding honor in his words, StarGuard would not force Omni to break his vow to Earth, but nor could he let the only chance of peace between their two peoples be harmed. StarGuard vowed to remain on Earth to protect Omni, until such time as Omni agreed to return to Mandaar.

Scaramangler was not pleased. (Heheh) A new alien superhero had literally dropped into their midst, and one with experience, and power. Furthermore, he was being played by me, an 'X-Factor' to a group in which not everyone knew me well.

And so began...The Age of Chaos!

Barking Alien

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Approaching on Impulse

I've been having a little difficulty progressing on this project. I'm definitely interested in doing so, but there are a few factors holding me back.

First, and foremost, I am not really in a 'Star Trek Mood' at the moment. I mean, I love Star Trek, and I'm always in a Star Trek frame of mind to some extent, but there hasn't been a lot lately to fire up the old mental warp drive. Instead...

I'm in a Star Wars mood. The Force Awakens, followed by Rogue One, and the steady flow of Rebels has me really interested in running that universe long term. Maybe more Star Wars Traveller? Flesh that one out some more, and give it another go? No sure. I really love the WEG D6 version of Star Wars so if the opportunity to run Star Wars comes up, why wouldn't I go with my favorite?

Lastly, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think I'm finally reaching that point where I'm as interested in learning, or even developing new systems. 

Learning new games was once something that defined my time in the hobby, and as a result I've played way more games than the average RPGer (or so it seems from conversations with my peers). Now, I really don't get as jazzed by new rules.

Part of it is that I'm old enough, and have enough experience to realize I have favorites that work really well for my personal style of play. I must have run and played a dozen Superhero RPGs this year, many of them relatively new, and still I end up going back to Champions 4th Edition again, and again. Fourth Edition. Why? It works, I've got the book and charts down to memory, and I enjoy it. Do I need ten more Supers games? Do I need to relearn Champions with a few dozen tiny tweaks? No. I really don't.

So what does this mean for Star Trek Traveller?

Well it means I'm working on it, but it isn't a priority right now.

At the top of my gaming To-Do List is developing my new Champions campaign, which begins with Dan's Group this Friday. Then, I need to work out the second half of my ongoing monthly D&D-But-Not/Ars Magica game. After that, I want to figure out what that group's (The Barking Alien Group) next ongoing will be.

It could be Star Trek Traveller, but it could just as easily be something else.

We'll see.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


One of the games I was able to run over the holiday vacation was Champions 4th Edition, my favorite version of one of my all time favorite Superhero RPGs (probably my current favorite - sorry Mutants & Masterminds 3E. I still love you man). 

The sessions were designed to teach the game to a few friends who'd never played it before, as well as giving a refresher course to some ol' Hero System veterans who hadn't played in a while (or were more familiar with other editions). 

The group I ran for [Dan's Group] responded positively to the game, so it looks like I'll be running a full on campaign with them. 

Running Champions always takes me back to our absolutely incredible high school campaign. It's one I have mentioned many times on this blog, though I don't feel I have ever given it the justice it deserves (pun intended). 

Consider this a prelude to a Campaign I Have Played

In order to tell the tale of Will's epic Champions game, the backstory of it needs to be told as well.

You see, my friend William started his campaign in 1981, with the first edition of the game. That first team of PCs and their formed campaign form the early canon for the subsequent adventures William would run on his world of Champions Earth-Wilco Charlie-1 for over a decade to come.

Through middle school, high school, and early college, his campaign would cover an eleven year history in real time. In game, it would detail Champions Earth-WC-1 from the pre-historic era to the distant future, across the stars, and onward, and outward to parallel Earths, and other dimensions.

The world was grounded in our reality, so there weren't any fictional cities as one would see in the DC Comics universe. Most of the action took place in New York City, New York, and other real world locations. Just as in many comic book settings, secret lands, alien civilizations, and even the occasional fictitious nation could surely be found.

Real world people, and events also played a role. 

Each 'chapter' of the campaign was a mini-campaign onto itself. One might even say they were separate campaigns, with a 'meta-campaign' based on their shared history uniting them all. They emulated [sometimes on purpose, sometimes accidentally] different eras of comic book history as well, and received titles based on said periods.

The Silver Age of Champions:

The Champions (of the Silver Age)

Left to Right:
a teenage Omni, Tachyon, Garrison, Tower, and The Legionnaire***

The first campaign was entitled Champions: The Silver Age, and lasted from 1981 to about 1983. It began thematically Silver, but was very Bronze by the end of it. 

It featured a team of traditional costumed, and code named superheroes who inherited their team name from their long defunct predecessors, the Golden Age* Allied Champions. The team consisted of...

Garrison (a Super Soldier created to deal with the Iran Hostage Crisis)
Legionnaire (Scientist who can swap himself with one of his parallel Earth duplicates)
Omni (An alien teen with mental powers who joins as a rookie/sidekick member)
Tachyon (Super Speedster who converts to an Energy Form, and can absorb Energy)
Tower (Team Leader - a man with growth powers)

As I understand it, there were a few other PC, and NPC members of the team that I sadly don't recall. 

They took on evil organizations such as VIPER, and DEMON, as well as costumed criminals, and malevolent masterminds. Major enemies included Dr. Destroyer, Eurostrike, Sundown, and Kineto**.

In the campaign's finale involved a feud between two supervillains (Sundown and Kineto), and the heroes stepping in to prevent their battle from destroying Manhattan. The heroes had intel about roughly when, and where the fight would occur, but were dramatically divided over how to proceed.

Garrison insisted that the only way to stop what could be a terrible catastrophe was to kill the two villains. The rest of the team refused to kill anyone, even major bad guys, in cold blood. Unable to reconcile, Garrison quits the team before the final battle.

At the battle, Sundown prepares to unleash an attack that would certainly destroy most of the city. He kills the Champions' leader, Tower, when that hero tries to sneak attack him from behind. A number of Champions members are also injured in the battle fighting Sundown, and Kineto. 

Tachyon uses his energy absorption powers to reduce the power of Sundown's attack, which unfortunately overloads his own powers rendering him unable to use his abilities ever again less they go out of control. Tachyon is aided by Kineto in the conflict. Kineto uses his inertia and kinetic energy control to deflect Sundown's remaining Solar Sphere attack into space. 

The conflict ends when an unknown sniper, making an impossible shot with an incredible projectile weapon, shoots Sundown in the head. He falls from the top of a tall building, and dies. Kineto escapes. The Champions, crestfallen by the outcome, the death of Tower, the neutralizing of Tachyon and other issues, disbands.

The Bronze Age of Champions:

A new campaign kicked off in 1985, with the timeline forwarded a few years.  

Tachyon (now an NPC) had retired from active superhero work, but served as a media personality and superhuman advocate. The events of the Champions' final mission, as well as subsequent situations, had caused superheroes to fall out of favor. Few Supers were still active. Most superhuman crimes were handled by special forces of the police, the organization known as PRIMUS (in Will's campaign, 'ParaHuman Response and Intelligence Military for the United States'), and UNTIL (the United Nations Tactical Intelligence League).

One of the superheroes still superheroing was Omni, that former junior member of the Champions who was now one of the only costumed crimefighters to have the public trust. This was no small feat either, as Omni was an alien, and aliens suffer a prejudice in Will's universe like that of mutants in Marvel Comics. 

Thanks to Omni's continued good deeds, and Tachyon's spin-doctoring of those deeds, the tide began to turn. More new superheroes began to come out in public view. After Omni, and several other heroes saved the President of the United States, and a group of UN Ambassadors, UNTIL decided it was time to implement a plan they'd been considering.

UNTIL contacted Omni and asked him to help organize and lead a new team of supers that would be available to respond to situations in countries all over the world. UNTIL would oversee the teams, each with its own leader. The US, experiencing the most superhuman crime, would get the first team, based in NY, and lead by Omni. Omni agreed, but nixed a plan to refer to the teams as the World Champions. Instead, he wanted the team to be referred to as Project: UNITY. 

The Champions (of the Bronze Age)
aka Project: UNITY

Left to Right:
Steel Hawk, Ice Queen, Pulse, Omni, and Vector

The initial line up for UNITY consisted of:

Ice Queen (NPC - Female Doctor, and Medical Engineer with Ice/Cold Powers)
Omni (Team Leader - Psi-powered alien all grown up)
Pulse (Super Speedster with Electricity Powers - Popular Local NYC hero)
Steel Hawk (Winged Vigilante in Armor with a number of crime fighting Gadgets) ****
Vector (Physicist, and Mathematician with Teleportation Powers)

Legionnaire joins as a scientist for UNTIL/UNITY specializing in alternate Earths, fractured timelines, and extra-dimensional research. Although technically retired like his friend Tachyon, Legionnaire's powers still worked just fine, and he lent a hand on several adventures. 

The team was very successful, and public opinion was soon swayed heavily in favor of superheroes returning. Superhero fan clubs, dedicated news shows, and magazines, and much more started to appear. The team expanded, and teams started appearing in England, France, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere. 

Unfortunately new villains (PC and NPC alike) started to appear as well, and old one came out of hiding. Major enemies of this campaign included a returning Doctor Destroyer (until his final defeat and apparent death), Prof. Muerte & Terror Incorporated, Genocide (an anti-Mutant group - but with a twist), Shark &  Viper, The Grand Scheme, and many more.

Just as anti-superhuman sentiment dropped, anti-alien notions were on the rise. Although Omni was still a beloved hero, alien villains, and an attempted invasion made people very leery of strange visitors from other planets. This was further instigated by a well-connected conspiracy theory group called The Extra Solar Society that claimed aliens had secretly taken over the government. 

In one story arc, aliens scouting out the Earth for a possible invasion kidnap Joseph Scaramangler, a reverend and the founder of the Scaramangler Foundation, an organization that helps super-powered people learn to control their powers and lead productive lives (imagine a global version of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngster crossed with the Red Cross, and Amnesty International - one of my favorite elements of the setting). 

Joseph is killed accidentally by the aliens before he can be rescued. His son Christian, a metahuman with super-genius level intelligence in the field of technology, joins forces with UNITY to defeat the aliens. He is asked to join UNITY, and accepts, but secretly does so in order to keep an eye on Omni, who Christian is convinced is secretly out to take over the world. 

IMPORTANT: Omni and Christian Scaramangler are both PCs. Imagine Superman and Lex Luthor are now on the same team - both members of the Justice League. They will fight side-by-side against supervillains, but Scaramangler secretly hates Omni, and tries to undermine him at every turn. 

It made for a fantastic dynamic, but one that soon got out of hand. Scaramangler was often two, or three steps ahead of Omni, and his friends, none of whom knew Scaramangler was actually a villain in many ways. 

This situation prompted Will, and Dave to invite me to join the campaign, and ushered in...

The Age of Chaos.

Stay tuned...

Barking Alien 

*Although heroes, villains, and events of the setting's Golden Age (the late 1930s to the late 1950s) are referenced often during the campaigns, Will never ran a Golden Age specific campaign.

**Kineto is the big bad of The Silver Age, one of the biggest bads of The Bronze Age (although occasional acted heroically), and the biggest of the big bad of The Age of Chaos (while still sometimes coming off as heroic). 

He is a complex, multi-layered villain with a long history dating back to being a kid Superhero in World War II. He has personality, charm, gravitas, and a ton of baggage. 

He is one of the most interesting, awesome, and frustrating villains I have ever encountered in a RPG, and a primary example of why my buddy William C. is the best GM I've ever had the pleasure to play under.

***I don't recall Legionnaire's original costume at all. I put him in his later UNITY/UNTIL uniform instead. 

***I may have this character's name wrong. It might have been Steel Wing, or City Hawk. I forget.

UPDATE: See comments below for additional information!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Don't Tell Me...You're From Outer Space

Picture this...

Everyone familiar with classic Traveller will know this refrain:

Oh no! The ill-fated Beowulf is done for!

Wouldn't it be awesome if this were followed up by:

It that...Starfleet? Thank goodness!
We're saved!


I've been putting some additional thought into this project, and more so than others I've worked on, I think it sounds great, but even I am a tad skeptical as to how it will be executed.

Don't get me wrong, it's a cool idea, and I am up to the task, but when all is said and done, I have to ask myself, 'Does this work better than what I already have?'

This is a common question we in the RPG hobby ask ourselves, or at least it should be IMHO. 

Does the newest edition of a game give my players, and I a superior gaming experience to what we already have, or have had? Often the answer is easy. Sometimes not so much.

In the case of many games, I prefer older editions. I still run Champions 4th Edition (though they're up to 6, or 6.1 with Champions Complete), Ars Magica 4th, Star Wars WEG D6 2nd Edition, and my preferred Mekton is actually Mekton II (trying desperately to get a copy of the first edition).

For Traveller, I tend towards classic, original Traveller with some additional material from MegaTraveller.

For Star Trek, the tendency (by a wide margin) is to go with Last Unicorn Games' ICON System. When I feel like doing something different, I go for the older FASA game. 

Do I need another Star Trek RPG? That question came up as I discovered the upcoming Star Trek Adventures RPG by Modiphius Games. I am very excited to see that game, and happy to be part of the playtest, but I think I am more interested in the new material it will present (adventure ideas, ships, aliens, NPCs, etc.) than I am about a new set of rules.

That brings me back to Star Trek Traveller. 

Can I not run the above scenario in a previous version of a Star Trek RPG? No, I can. There is nothing in the USS Traveller's attempt to rescue the Free Trader Beowulf that can't be done with FASA, LUG, Far Trek, Where No Man Has Gone Before, or any number of other RPGs.

So why Star Trek Traveller?

I'm not entirely sure. I feel part of my desire to put this together stems from my love of both things (Star Trek and Traveller), and part of it comes from my wanting to run Star Trek this year for a group of people who don't have quite as strong an attachment to Star Trek as I do. They do have a strong attachment to Traveller though, and that is 'my in' you might say.

What it all boils down to is that I just love Science Fiction. I especially love Space Adventure Science Fiction. 

I love the idea of a diverse, heroic, good natured, and well meaning (though not perfect) group of people banded together to explore, learn, create, grow, and defend their principles against the forces of tyranny, hatred, fear, and ignorance. 

I love Star Trek.

I want to live in that future. I want to investigate it. I want it to challenge me.

I want to pass that love onto others. 

This just might be the way.

Barking Alien