Thursday, December 1, 2016

I Have All I Need

Following our Wednesday night Google Hangouts superhero game this past week, many of us hang around post game to discuss the game, gaming in general, and what our favorite games are.

It was during this conversation that my friend +Keith Jacobson  gestured to the bookshelves behind him, and said some incredibly profound words (which I will paraphrase here as close to a quote as I can muster):

"I have been collecting superhero RPGs for a while now, but outside of supporting a creator, or company I like, I think I am done buying any new superhero games. I don't really need them. I have this big collection, but Kapow! (our current game) scratches my Superhero itch. I don't need anything else."

I've owned a lot of RPGs over the years, and played probably five times as many. I've always enjoyed checking out new games, and I still do. Yet there is a great truth in what Keith is saying here. 

I like new games. I don't NEED new games. 

If I were to consider running a new campaign, and I was limited to those RPGs that I count among my favorites, I would be very happy to do so without much of a second thought. Furthermore, if no new version, edition, or thematically identical game every came out I would still enjoy the heck out of the games I already have.

Case in point...Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment.

Here's a game I have been chomping at the bit to check out. I have the playtest rules, and I am reading through them now. I am having a little difficulty wrapping my mind around some of the mechanics, but I am curious to test them in play to see how they really function.

Now, let's say they don't. Hypothetically here, let's say the game either doesn't work right, or simply doesn't work for me. I'd be bummed, but it's not like I can't run Star Trek now. 

I've been running Star Trek campaigns since 1982 with the FASA game. I was a playtester, and writer for my favorite incarnation of Star Trek in table top form, the Star Trek RPG by Last Unicorn Games. Both of these still work. LUG's works especially good for me personally. It fits my preferred style, and approach, has very smooth, workable mechanics, and it's easy to develop your own ideas with it. 

If I want to run Star Trek, I have a game.

While I've wrestled with what superhero RPG I would want to use if I got the chase to run Supers again, I feel like...did I really? Why was it such a hard decision? You know you want to run, you're just afraid others won't take to it as you did, and do. The answer is Champions 4th Edition. I talking to myself?

If I want to run Star Wars, I have West End Games D6 RPG. Yes, I could use something else. Yes, I made a Star Wars adaption for Traveller as an experiment. That's not what I need though. All I need is WEG Star Wars. 

If I want Giant Robot Anime there is Mekton, or maybe my modified Extended Mission game. 

If I want Medieval Fantasy...ROTFL! seriously, I could want that! Anyway, I would go with Ars Magica. 

The point is, I'm all for innovation, but I have what I came for. I have a collection of games that work especially well for me. They're all on my shelves, right here, right now.

I seem to periodically go on these soul searching dream quests for the perfect game when truthfully, I have everything I need. 

Barking Alien

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fantastic Games And Where To Find Them

I really love J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, and the Wizarding World in which he dwells.

The Harry Potter crew
Art By Tsulala

If ever a subject was well past due for a Thorough Thursdays treatment, Harry Potter fits that bill in spades.

About a year ago (more or less), I had an idea for a RPG campaign set in the Wizarding World; one of many such jaunts into that universe that I've envisioned, but never quite brought to fruition. I had hoped to run it with 'Dan's Group' after finding out that we were all fans of Rowling's books.

I pitched my idea to Dan, and unfortunately, he didn't take to it. It just wasn't what he wanted out of a Harry Potter game, though he was fully invested in the idea of a campaign in the Wizarding World should one be presented that was more akin to what he had in mind.

Not long after our conversation, my friend Alex (a far bigger fan of Harry Potter than myself) announced he had a Wizarding World campaign idea, and a system to boot.

Alex's idea was more in sync with what Dan, and the group as a whole, had in mind.

I'll be honest, I was initially a bit disappointed, maybe even a little jealous. Not because I didn't like Alex's idea - on the contrary! I loved it (still do), and I can totally see why it went over well. I was more bummed out because from my perspective, I thought of running a Harry Potter game first, but didn't get the chance to see if it would work as I envisioned it.

I quickly got over those negative feelings. Like, almost instantly. It was just a case of timing, great minds thinking alike, and a little of me reading the crowd wrong. 

Alex's game has us as students at Hogwarts. The time frame has the sons of the Potters, and Malfoys as fourth years, along with Hagrid's son it turns out. 

Our characters are all in Ravenclaw, and as such, a good deal of the adventures are best solved by being clever, creative, and using wit and wisdom. It's been incredibly fun to approach the Hogwarts hijinks from a different house's point of view. In fact, the Gryffindors are subtly depicted as bull headed jocks, running into trouble without thinking first. Courageous yes, but often getting into trouble they can't quickly think their way out of the way we can.

System wise it's a simplified 'Apocalypse World' die mechanic, without the limited number of optional moves. To clarify, there aren't any moves. You have dice in various magic areas like Defense Against The Dark Arts, Transfiguration, etc., and you roll to try and get a Success, or at least a Partial Success. There is a bit more to it, but I'll save it for another post.

Our group is very diverse, and even within the one house we have four very different personalities.

Personally, I like everyone's character, but more importantly, I love mine. Unless you're a friend of mine, or a long time reader of this blog, you may not realize how rare, and important that is to me. I prefer to GM over playing (at a ratio of about 1000 to 1), and one of the key reasons is I get bored of playing a single character for a long stretch of time. 

Francis 'Frank' Pellgrove, my Hogwarts character, is just a blast to play.

He is from a lower means-to-poor family of farmers, and herders from Northern England. The land of the Pellgrove Farm has been in his family for so many generations, he has no idea how far back it really goes*.

I love playing him, as he is very much both the group's comic relief, and the guy who comes up with many of our craziest plans. A lot of stuff goes over Frank's head, and he sometimes seems naive. At the same time, he is a quick thinker who is great at coming up with ideas, and plans on the fly. As Frank himself might say, "I'm not good at planning ahead. How could I? I have no idea what's going to happen!" When it ends up happening, whatever it is, that's when his brain kicks in. 

While he is excited to attend Hogwarts, I had a big epiphany with the character when I realized he doesn't put much emphasis on grades, and tests. If he passes all his OWLS, and NEWTS with flying colors, and can basically pick any career he wants, he'll very likely go back home and be a farmer. If he fails them all, he'll go back home, and be a farmer. If he does OK, but not get the picture.

His focuses are Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology, and now Artificing (crafting magical items) and Divination (forecasting the future). Notice anything about these? Very little spell casting. Frank rarely uses his wand, or casts any spells. He refers to himself as more of a 'Hands-on Wizard'. He's short and stocky for his age, tough, and pragmatic in a do-what-works-and-not-what-doesn't kind of way. At the same time, he comes from a 'pure blood' family, and grew up around magic. The Wizarding World is the normal world for Frank.

Frank is staunchly protective of his friends, holds a bit of a grudge against enemies, and hero-worships anyone who does things a little differently. He is a fan of Hagrid (described to him by his parents who attended Hogwarts around the time of Harry Potter, and the Battle of Hogwarts depicted in the book series), as well as his present Care of Magical Creatures teacher who is an original character created by Alex. 

Frank is a kind of idiot-savant when it comes to magical creatures, and (less so) herbology. He comes off as a country bumpkin at first, until you realize he is extremely knowledgeable about how to handle faerie folk, what calms an aggressive Cerberus, or the best way to harvest and catch a Leaping Toadstool. 

Now it comes full circle...

Much of what Frank does resembles the work of one his other personal heroes, Newt Scamander, author of...

And now the twist...


Spoilers will now be invisible to Muggles, or No-Majs.

..The idea I had for my Wizarding World game was that the PCs would be Aurors (Wizard Cops) in New York City, possibly during a past time period such as the 70s, World War II, or - wait for it - the Roaring 20s! Adventures would deal with Wizarding, and Witching Bootleggers, and Smugglers, No-majs who're out to oust the secret of the Wizarding World, and all sorts of other arcane ne'er-do-wells. 

Sound familiar?

For my project I had planned on using a lighter, simplified version of Ars Magica crossed with Broomstix, a rules-lite Harry Potter RPG by Jared A. Sorensen of Memento Mori.

Yeah, my game would've been the 'Fantastic Beasts, and Where to Find Them' movie, particularly from the point of view of Tina Goldstein. 

In the end, as noted, I am loving Alex's running of our Hogwarts game, and wouldn't change it for the world. 

I also think my game idea would work, and certainly it seems that Warner Brothers, and audiences around the globe would agree. 

What an amazing setting! I mean seriously, a fictional world that can support the exploration of different aspects of itself, and two such diverse campaigns, while meshing seamlessly into a greater whole?

If you're looking for a fantastic game idea, give the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a look. If you've run a game in the Potterverse, lay it on me! Tell me all about it! If not, why not (assuming you want to, but haven't)?.

Well, gotta fly - Wingardium Leviosa! 

Barking Alien

*Francis 'Frank' Pellgrove, and the entire Pellgrove family, are descended from King Pellinore, the Knight of the Questing Beast. A bit of an Easter Egg/homage relating to the Pellgrove family's love of strange, and bizarre creatures.

In some tales Sir Percival is a son of Pellinore, in others he is not. This inspired me to make most of Frank's family either Gryffindors or Ravenclaws, with the occasional Hufflepuff I'd wager.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Was I Smarter In My Youth?

Kinga Rajzak, Photograph By Tim Walker
British Vogue - 2009

The title of this post was uttered by my friend Ray yesterday as he, myself, and the rest of the Barking Alien Gaming Group, discussed our next potential campaign.

The phrase came in response to my explaining my desire to run a Space Opera style Science Fiction campaign very much like the ones I used to run in the 'days of gaming yore'. As I've mentioned many times of late, in honor of my 40th anniversary in the hobby I want to both get back to my roots, and aim for my Ultimate Game.

Most of those campaigns were run with either FASA's Star Trek, or FGU's Space Opera

While the first of those makes perfect sense (one might even say it's Logical. Heh.), the latter one does not. 

How in the heck did we play Space Opera?!? Seriously, how did anyone? I look at it now, and it's like looking at a foreign language, translated into a code, read backwards in a mirror. Incorrectly I might add! Its rule mechanics are preposterously convoluted. Its organization cryptic at best. 

What were we thinking? No really. What were we thinking...

We somehow made it work. We not only made it work, we played it fairly often. I know I ran at least three campaigns of it myself, 'Cosmic Rhapsody', 'A War in G-Minor', and a Space Opera/Superhero kitbash that was set in the same original (-ish) universe as the other two. I played in at least one full campaign, as well as a number of shorter ones. 

How did we accomplish this? Was I more patient with rules back then? Probably. Did it make sense to my young, teen brain in a way it just doesn't now?

As Ray said...Was I smarter in my youth?

How about you? Any games you used to play that made perfect sense then, but are gibberish to you today?

Gotta figure this out.

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Ultimate Game

A November Challenge for My Fellow RPG Blogger-ites*!


What, for you, is the Ultimate Game?

Imperfect grammar aside, it's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. With my 40th Anniversary coming up next year, and my age ever increasing (can we get someone on that please? Thanks), I'm wondering if I've already run my greatest campaign, or is my greatest campaign yet to come? Would I know it if I saw it? What would it consist of?

Now this isn't necessarily the same as my dream game. My dream game would be a game impossible to achieve. It would require conditions, people, and other various elements I not longer have viable access to. It couldn't happen.

An Ultimate Game is, by contrast, possible. It is a game that, if I could meet the appropriate conditions, could be done now, or in the coming months. Not easy perhaps, not guaranteed, but likely enough to make a go at it. 

So, what would my Ultimate Campaign look like? What would yours look like?

For me...


For me it would be Space Opera Science Fiction. 


The style of game I'd most like to put together would be an open-universe, sandbox, or storybox in which the PCs start out as low-competence (but not incompetent) galactic adventurers, and can potentially go anywhere and do anything. 

Beginning as a Blaster-for-Hire, and ending up a General, or even the Governor of a Planet is not out of the question.


Fast. I want a faster paced game then I've been seeing in the last few years. I want to go back to rewarding action, even if it's social action, and penalizing taking thirty minutes of real time (or more) to decide what to do just because you think your in a 'safe area'. Screw that. I'm going back to dropping asteroids on you if you overthink what's going on.


I would really love to run a game where PCs could come in, and out of the story. This means that not every player must be there for every session (or more accurately, a session can occur even if one or two people can't make it), as well have players with multiple PCs. I've really enjoyed troupe play in the past and I'd like to try it again.


Yes, system is last. Why? Are you new here?

Just teasing. System is last because to me it's the least important element compared to the ones I've already mentioned. It's not 'not important', but it can be figured out later. 

My preference would be one in which PCs improve over time, but it happens in small increments over a long period. Alternatively, you might get middle ground competent fast, but becoming really amazing at something takes a long while.

Well, those are my general parameters. What are yours? How doable are they?

My real fear is, I've already done this. That is, I've already run my personal, Ultimate Game. What if my best gaming years are long behind me?

Surely not. Right? What about your Ultimate Game? Already happened? In your near future?

I'd love to hear from you.

Barking Alien

*Is to a word.

Goal Setting and Risk Taking

I need your opinions on an idea I'm playing with...

A little while ago I ran a game with a system I kitbashed out of a variety of different RPGs,

The primary source for the mechanics were the systems Otherkind by Vincent Baker, Ghost/Echo, and other hacks of those rules. While each of those games describes the mechanic their own way, my personal take on the mechanic works like this...


Any time you take an action [of any kind] that could be challenged in some way (by opponents, environmental issues, a looming timeline) you role two 6-sided dice.

The first die represents the player's/PC's Goal.
The second die represents the player's/PC's Risk.

The goal is what you want your PC to accomplish.

For example: Joe's PC is trying to pick a fancy lock in order to get into a safe.

The risk is what can go wrong when the PC tries to complete their goal.

For example: There is a risk that the burglar alarm will go off.

Failing to achieve the Goal is NOT a risk. If you don't make a the Goal die roll successfully, your action fails. The risk can still happen. How? As follows...

The Goal Die: 

  • A Roll of 1-2 Fails to achieve the Goal.
  • A Roll of 3-4 Accomplishes the Goal, though not complete. A partial success.
  • A Roll of 5-6 Accomplishes the Goal.

The Risk Die:

  • A Roll of 1-2 Means the Risk happens.
  • A Roll of 3-4 Means the Risk happens, but it isn't so bad. A partial failure.
  • A Roll of 5-6 Means the Risk doesn't happen.

Going back to my example:

Joe's PC rolls with the Goal of picking the lock on a safe, and the risk of setting off an alarm.

Joe rolls 6 on the Goal Die, and 1 on the Risk Die. The safe is open, but the alarm goes off.

Joe rolls 1 on the Goal Die, and 6 on the Risk Die. The safe won't open. Luckily, the attempt doesn't set off the alarm.

Joe rolls 3 on the Goal Die, and 4 on the Risk Die. The safe unlocks, but is stuck. It's going to take a little muscle, and time to pull it open all the way. The alarm makes a loud, short beep, and then dies off. A short circuit? Probably. Well, it's not on now, but someone might have heard that.

The beauty of this system is that you can succeed, but something bad could still happen. Likewise, you can fail and crap could hit the fan, or you can fail and things could still be fine. 

Plus, I love the idea of letting the player determine the nature of the Risk involved. I have noticed some players have difficulty coming up with an appropriate Risk, and in those cases I'm happy to help come up with something appropriate, and hopefully entertaining. 

n my opinion, and from my experience, this occurs because most players are wrapped up in the idea of pass/fail. They assume/expect/hope that if they don't achieve what they are aspiring to do, well that's it. Situation permitting, the status quo is maintained. If you roll to hit an enemy and miss, you didn't hit your target. They aren't injured. Nothing untoward happens to you the attacker either. The combat continues.

Imagine instead a die mechanic that says you missed, and broke your bow string. Perhaps you hit, but only nicked the opponent. What about hitting your opponent dead on, but you chipped your sword doing so? 

I think you all get the idea of the basics. Let's move on to some expanded ideas, and my issue...


Let's say you are creating a character who is a doctor. When you want to do something in the game, you state your Goal, roll the Goal Die and hope you get a high number. You also come up with a Risk, roll the Risk Die, and hope you also get a high number (and therefore lower, or eliminate the Risk).

Now, if the Goal is healing a injured person you might say, "My PC is a Doctor. Shouldn't I have a better chance of achieving my Goal?"

The answer is yes. In addition to your Goal Die, you roll an Advantage Die. When determining whether or not you met your Goal, pick the higher of the two rolls. For example: The Goal Die roll is 3, but the Advantage Die roll is 5. The Goal is met successfully thanks to the Advantage Die!



Should the situation your PC is in be less than optimal, the Gamemaster may add a Drawback Die to the Risk Die. If you were a doctor trying to heal someone in complete darkness, or without the proper equipment, it would likely increase the Risk, or run counter to the Goal.

If a Drawback Die is added to the Risk Die is might look something like this: There is a Risk of the injured person's wound becoming infected. Roll a Risk Die, and a Drawback Die, since the doctor PC is working by moonlight only. The Risk Die comes up 5, but the Drawback comes up 2. While the wound may be patched up, and the injured individual can stand, it seems infection has set in.

Alternatively, the Drawback hampers the Goal. Instead of increasing the chance of Risk, you could have the Drawback Die subtracted from the Goal Die. A roll of 1 on the Drawback Die would still allow for a complete success of the Goal if the Goal Die came up a 6 (5 still totally achieving the Goal). This kind of runs counter to the idea that you want the Goal roll high, and the Risk roll high however. 

My question is...

I want the ability to have comparative level of skill, and the capacity of PCs to improve in order to give the system the ability to run campaigns. That is to say, it is my feeling that for campaigns to go on for a good length of time, PCs should improve their skills and abilities, even if it's slow, and/or marginal.

I can't really figure out a balanced way to do that with this system.

Any suggestions?

Barking Alien