Monday, July 20, 2015

Long Term Goals

I was hoping after the move things would calm down a bit for me, but such has not been the case.

I have been working my butt off this week to get the place looking, and feeling like a real home, yet sadly I haven't gotten very far. I'm also working on a slightly different time schedule with my job due to travel distance, and the fact that it's been a relatively busy period (thankfully).

Each day it gets better though. A new, and happier normal is right around the corner.

Now then...

I get it. I do. Not everyone's life is like mine.

People have [even more] complex work schedules, kids, other family obligations, and all manner of reasons why they can't assemble for more than three, or four hours at a time, and probably no more than once a month.

What can I say? That sucks. Alright maybe that's a bit harsh, but it does seem to be something of a bummer. As noted by good ol' WQRobb in this response post, desire is one thing, reality quite another. He notes "[But] short-term gaming is better than no gaming, and can be good in its own right." I'm going to agree on the grounds I can't rightly disagree. At the same time, a lot of gaming is better than short-term gaming, and while I am able, I want to get in as much as I can.

As often happens when I am especially passionate about a subject so very personal to me, I'm not sure I explained why a session that is shorter, or happens less often, or both, doesn't work for me. My previous post conveyed by point of view, but not my reason for it.

*Why I Prefer Long Campaigns*
By Which I Mean
Long Sessions, Fairly Often, Over a Long Period of Time.

I generate a lot of material if I am interested in, and excited by, the campaign I am running. It bothers the heck out of me when I create all this stuff for a game, and the players/PCs don't see to see much of it.

Having less 'screen time' means I either have to stifle my creativity, or pick and choose what I'm going to use more often than I otherwise would.

I like layers, and depth, and I want them to build organically. I don't force deep characterization of the PCs, and NPCs, but over time it comes out. Often, especially with new players, or players new to gaming with me, it takes longer as they are less familiar with my approach, the other players, etc. Maybe they feel silly role-playing out certain aspects of the character, or story until they see others do it.

Less time to game means some of the slow building depth, and characterizations get short changed, or cut out entirely.

Combat takes time, and I like to give it time. Combat in my games is usually very fast paced, yet it can still take up a significant portion of a scenario. It is not unusual for my combats to involve multiple tough opponents (or a large number of lesser ones), difficult environmental, and terrain conditions (fighting in the snow, during a rainstorm on a hill side, or while leaping from floating platform to floating platform) , or occur concurrently with another sequence of events (during a chase scene, while one member of the group is trying to hack into the enemy's security system, or aboard an aircraft plummeting toward the Earth).

Although fights move fast in my games, that doesn't mean I want them to feel rushed. Combat, like everything else, needs the appropriate amount of time to develop it's feel, and pacing. Furthermore, I want sessions to be filled with more than just combat. When I here someone recapping their group's session, and the entire thing was just a big fight, it irks me so much I can't tell you. It shouldn't. There is no reason it should bother me, but it does. It's like a pet peeve. Largely because I know if I were a player in that game it would drive me nuts.

A longer session means you can get into an epic fight, and still get non-fighting things down (and vice versa).

The title of this post is Long Term Goals. So based on 'Why I Prefer Long Campaigns', what are my goals when it comes to GMing long term games?

Taking a look at my own preferences, I'd say:

  • Generate a lot of material, and get the chance to use it.
  • Allow time for the characters, the plot (and subplots), and setting to develop.
  • Allow time for action, be it cinematic, and rapid fire, or methodical, and tense.
  • Have the campaigns elements come forth, and develop organically.

Do I always achieve all of these elements? The answer, I am happy to say, is yes. Yes I do. With the following caveat...I do when I have the time to do so. When a campaign runs for dozens, and dozens of sessions, at 8 hours a session, yeah, I am able to do all of the things I love to do for my games.

In a three session story arc, lasting 4-5 hours a session? No, not always.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Long Term Commitment

I am liking my new apartment.

I'll be honest, it took me a few days, nearly a week really, to feel this way. The place needs some things, it has some quirks, and it took Delilah (my dog) quite a bit of time to get used it. If she isn't comfortable, or happy, neither am I. Luckily, we've both warmed up to the new digs.

Posting should be a bit more frequent, work schedule prevailing.


What constitutes a campaign these days?

In a recent conversation with my good friend Dan, we both touted how much we are looking forward to being part of a new, long term, RPG campaign. Something played often, say once a week, and with regularity. Sure, there might be an occasional need to skip, but it would be nice if we knew that every Friday night let's say, barring hell, or high water, we would be meeting at his place at 7 pm to run, or play X.

While we agreed on that wholeheartedly, how long that would go on for was the subject of some friendly debate.

For Dan, a campaign should go on for 6 months or so, with each session firing on all cylinders, and all the fat cut off. He wants a game that's lean, and mean, which ends with a satisfactory conclusion.

I see campaigns differently (big surprise - I tend to have a skewed perspective on many things).

I want a campaign without a predetermined endgame; one that lasts as long as it needs to in order to tell not just a meta-plot story, but the individual stories of each of the PCs. I want it to go on, and on...until it doesn't, or needn't, anymore.

It's also hard for me to 'cut out the fat', because frankly, what is the 'fat' in this case? Don't get me wrong, I don't want to waste valuable game time, but who determines value? To put a finer point on it, I don't want twenty-four sessions of action, and adventure, with no character development. I don't want twelve with character development, and twelve with action either. I want to the adventures to flow organically, the way the best of my adventures do. If the players feel the need to get into a fight, they can, and they will. If they'd prefer to emote, and role play out a deep philosophical discussion, I have no problem with that. More power to them.

What I'm saying is, the whole idea of a pre-set number of adventures, running for a pre-set number of hours, while all well, and good, and something I've certainly done, is not really what I want to do. I want my next great campaign to be like my current Traveller campaign, in that the PCs the players have created live in this universe we've developed. Stuff should take as long as it takes, as long as the players find what they are doing entertaining.

Some years back (and I know I mentioned it on this blog before) a friend of mine named Lee had the idea that a game session should only last four hours, or so. Around the same time, Zak Smith, and some other bloggers made mention that their sessions lasted about that long.

Then, as now, I would have to ask HOW? How is that even possible? Why is it so even if it is possible? It takes me about forty-five minutes to my Traveller games now that we run them at one of the player's homes. Round trip I'm spending $5.50, and it's taking me an hour, and a half to travel to, and from (45 minutes each way). If I'm not getting at least six good hours of gaming out of the that, I'm staying home.

Also, while I will tell the gang to 'get back on track' if we veer too far into out-of-game conversations, or references too long, I rarely put a time limit on in-game conversations unless there is something particularly pressing going on (i.e: the PCs are being chased, they are chasing someone, a time bomb, or some other proverbial clock is ticking, etc.). I like to let the players (through their PCs) explore the universe, and their relationships with each other, free of some scheduled agenda looming over their heads (even if there is one behind the scenes). PCs should experience the consequences, and ramifications of their actions, in a way that feels nature to the story, and setting.

Yes, sometimes I'm running The Muppet Show, and there needs to be a more directed, well-timed, and carefully thought out sequencing to the session so that it's A) funny, and B) feels like an episode of the show. Likewise, a Star Trek game where sessions are designed to be wrapped up in a single get together are very much designed, and run, with that criteria in mind.

What I want however, is a real deal, full on, no-holds-barred, long term campaign. I want the characters to eat, drink, and sleep in that universe. I want the kind of character depth that comes after 30+, 8 hour sessions. I want time taking up by seemingly mundane activities like talking to the local blacksmith, repairing the starship's phase regulating stabilizer coils, and arguments over whether young vigilante Lady Blue is a criminal, or a misguided hero.

I've rambled on long enough. In the end, I would be happy to run, or play, in a six month, action-packed adventure series that hits that target for all of its twenty-four sessions. But...if it doesn't...and I don't see how any campaign can hit the nail on the head perfectly every time your group gets together...if it doesn't I'm going to be really bummed we didn't give it forty sessions, with twenty-four great ones, and a whole lot of good ones.

Barking Alien

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The D&D Thirty Day Challenge in Thirty Minutes!

I discovered this on The Old Dragoon's Blog:

To get back into the swing of posting, I thought I would be fun to waste valuably time, and energy, answering all 30 Questions in 30 Minutes! Just Because!

Disclaimer: I am not a D&D fan. While I have played, and run it many, many times over the last 38 years, it is not a game I particularly like, or enjoy. That said...


1) Like this.

2) Don't really have one in D&D per se, but I've always gravitated to playing Dwarves, Gnomes, and Halflings.

In my own D&D-But-Not universe (IMOD&DU) I think it's the Elves.

3) I hate Classes. If I had to pick one...Cleric maybe.

IMOD&DU, probably the Cleric, Sorceror, or Ranger (all quite different from their standard D&D counterparts).

4) Mine.

5) My favorite die is the standard, everyday 6. After that, the versatile 10.

6) This is tough. I love many mythologies. I'd have to say the Norse, and Egyptian pantheons are among my favorites.

In D&D all the gods & goddesses suck. They are so mortal in their lack of divine-ness.

IMOD&DU, possibly Thor, Hercules, or Arigon, The Patron Saint of Dragon Slayers (unique - former PC).

7) Gah. My least hated edition is probably either 5th, or 3rd.

Again, my own version is my preference.

8) My favorite of my own D&D PCs was likely Redsand Thickstone, Heir to one of the Dwarven Thrones of Throal, The Tri-Throned City.

9) I do not understand this question. How could it be a favorite if I haven't played it yet?

10) This would be far to long an entry to place here. It could be it's own post. Rain check on this one.

11) Favorite Adventure or Module? I've run hundreds of D&D adventures, but I've only run from modules maybe a twenty times (and on every one of those occasions I've modified the modules considerably).

It's very hard to pick a favorite. The time travel adventure I ran with my ex-wife was pretty amazing (it made her cry), and the one where the PCs have to defend an extra-dimensional ally of theirs in a court of his brethren really stand out.

My favorite module I've run would be Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

12) I don't have a favorite Dungeon location, or type. I'm not even sure how type is defined. I don't tend to like Dungeons in Fantasy settings.

13) Oh so many. I have a think with a circular tower, and a moving floor, and the rooms spin slowly you see, with the floor being slightly askew, would take too long to explain.

14) Almost all of my best NPCs IMOD&DU are former PCs. That said, Pete Hernandez's Ipperius Witspear tops them all. He runs Witspear's Wondrous Wizardry Emporium, a shop that sells material components for magic spells, as well as a variety of other magical paraphernalia. He can also be contracted to identify magical items, profile intelligence on famous Mages, and their spells, and is well acquainted with arcane history, and general knowledge.

He appears to be an 'older', very pale Elven male, with a bumbling, foppish persona. He is of course, not quite what he appears to be.

15) In regular D&D...none. Never liked D&D undead. Wait, there is one I like. The Eye of Fear and Flame. Great name.

IMOD&DU there are so many, it's impossible to choose a favorite.

16) Really? Gelatinous Cube I guess.

17) In D&D? Do these matter in D&D? I mean, my favorite animal in real life is the dog, but I've never formed an opinion about D&D animals worth noting.

18) None come to mind. Really, I don't think I've played enough regular D&D to get that into these minor categories.

19) I like Golems, or at least the idea of Golems. Homunculi are also cool, conceptually.

20) I don't know why, but I've always liked Gnolls.

D&D giants (or as we used to call them, 'Very Bigs'), and fey bore me. They are really the least interesting creatures in the game when they should be awesome.

IMOD&DU, gosh, there are sooo many to choose from. Can't pick a favorite.

21) Ugh. Another area where D&D forever disappoints. D&D's video game boss dragons don't interest me at all.

22) The Bulette. It's adorable.

23) The Orc. Damn I dislike Orcs.

24) Hmmm. Not sure. Don't know if I have a favorite. Maybe Prismatic Spray. That one is fun.

25) The Might Servant of Leuk-O, or The Machine of Lum, The Mad. Giant robots in D&D are cool.

26) Um...a rock?

27) How does on have a favorite curse, or cursed thing? I sure don't.

28) What does this mean? Why would someone swear off playing a character they themselves create? D&D-isms confuse me.

29) 12. I despise the D20.

30) My best playing/DMing experience with D&D? Well first, it would definitely be DMing. I can count the number of times I've played D&D that I'd qualify as 'good' on one hand, and I'd have digits to spare.

It would either be the first campaign I ever ran in my D&D-But-Not setting, or the first of those that I ran with my ex-wife (same setting/milieu).

Well, that's that. Took me just over thirty minutes. Not bad. Getting back in groove! Looking forward to seeing what I talk about next. The anticipation is killing me!

Barking Alien

Livin' la Vida Loca

Greetings All,

I want to talk to everybody for a moment about the status of Barking Alien, both the blog, and it's proprietor, me. This is a personal post, and a positive one in the end, but it has nothing (or very little) to do with RPGs, Comic Books, Science Fiction, or other fandom related subjects. If you're here for those things thank you, but check back with me on my next post.

If you're interested in what's been up with me, and why I haven't posted, or commented on others' blogs, or generally been on the internet much in a while, well, here's the explanation. If you're a friend of the blog, and I consider any visitor to this blog a friend in some capacity, this one's for you.


For sometime I have been experiencing financial difficulties resulting from my two jobs, and my freelance, not quite covering my living costs. I knew I needed to find a less expensive place to live, but didn't want to leave NYC because everything I have is here. My friends, my family, my businesses, and everything I love is located in the Big Apple.

Finally, my lease was up, and I had to move. Moving proved tricky, since my finances are tight, my credit isn't great (but it's not terrible), New York City is experiencing its lowest vacancy rates in decades (too many people, not enough available apartments), and time was of the essence.

I am happy to say, I found a place.

It was not easy however, and it took me well over three weeks of searching, applying, getting rejected, searching again, getting approved, and finally moving.

My current apartment is a bit larger, and a bit cheaper than my previous one, which saves me money. It is a little further North than I would've liked, which means I need to pay more in transportation (an increase in the occasional use of buses, and trains).

I am located in New York's East Harlem section, sometimes colloquially referred to as 'Spanish Harlem'. While technically my last apartment was in East Harlem as well, I was really where it began, and now I'm in the area proper.

I like it. It's taken me a few days, a couple of freak out moments, and a lot of physical work, but it's beginning to feel like home. Even my dog, who did not acclimate to the new apartment as easily as I'd hope, is finally relaxing, and settling in.

I just got my computer up, and running an hour prior to making to post. Before that, the machine was off since the late afternoon of June 30th. This, combined with the craziness of the past three weeks, and change, has made it impossible to post, or comment.

I want to apologize to Charles Atkins of DYVERS, who invited me to participate in an awesome project, but my circumstances, and mind set during the process, have prevented me from getting my part done. I'm really sorry Charles. I wanted to be part of the project so badly. Is there still time?

As for the rest of my fans, and followers, (yes, you too Hobo Joe), I intend for July to fairly relaxed, so posts should build up again slowly. I am hoping to do something big for August, as it commemorates 38 years of my being in the RPG hobby.

Until then, sit back, chill out, enjoy the remainder of the Fourth of July Weekend (Happy Birthday America, and a Happy Illegal, Low-to-Medium Yield, Colorful Explosives Day to everyone!).

I hope to see you back here soon.

Peace, and Love,

Barking Alien

Monday, June 22, 2015

Space Madness

I've been apartment hunting for the last few weeks, and it has put a serious damper on my ability to post, my time for thinking about much else, and my mood.

I love my city. New York, NY remains the greatest place on Earth in my opinion, but it is a hard place to live if you aren't making a lot of money. It's not just expensive, it demands you have more than adequate funds for practically every facet of life.

I will endure. Just over the horizon is my home sweet home, my next big pay check, and my happily ever after. I am sure of it.


I know, I need to get back to Superheroes. I know. Just bare with me for a bit longer.

My last post on Science Fiction gaming received more views, and responses than I've gotten in a while. That's interesting to me, and fuels my desire to talk a little more about Science Fiction RPGs.

What I think is really wonderful about gaming in the Science Fiction genre, what I'd really love to run, is...

Have any of you seen the trailers, and related footage for the upcoming video, and computer game No Man's Sky?

No Man's Sky is an action/adventure Science Fiction game designed for both the PC, and Sony's PlayStation 4. The game consists of an open universe, sand box of procedurally generated planets complete with extraterrestrials animals, terrain, starships, space battles, and more.

The procedurally generated nature of the game, based on recently revealed information from game creator Sean Murray, means that players will be able to explore as many as 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets. Yeah, that's not a typo. That's A LOT of frickin worlds.

During his demonstration of No Man's Sky for the E3 Game Convention this year (2015), Sean Murray played through taking off from a planet's surface, and going into space. From a space view map, he was able to pull back the camera, and show the audience the local stellar group. It looked something like this:

Which then became pulled back a little further to reveal this:

The image above was then followed by this ridiculously fast cascade of stars, nebulas, and void, rushing past like a raging river, a deluge of light and color too vast, and moving too rapidly to fully comprehend.

THAT is what I want my next Science Fiction RPG to be like, because THAT is what Science Fiction RPGs are all about.

As noted in my previous post on Science Fiction RPG podcasts, one thing they never seem to do is go into why those who like Sci-Fi games think they're fun. Another thing they don't tend to cover is why you (the player, and Player Character) actually do in a SF RPG.

Questions about the second issue came up a few times during the Play On Target podcast, with Lowell Francis specifically noting that he didn't grok* what PCs do in a Sci-Fi setting.

Let's see if I can't address both of these points simultaneously.

What's So Great About Science Fiction?

Underwater on the planet of New Eridu
From No Man's Sky

Well, to begin with, at the very core of a Science Fiction RPG for me is a universe of nearly endless possibilities, that must still make relative sense. In truth, it is more an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what constitutes sense based on what we know now.

For example, could life form in a place with no water? Can anything ever really move faster than the speed of light? If genetic engineering eventually enables us to live for hundreds of years, what will it mean to our cultures, and industries from medicine, to cosmetics?

Well...Carl Sagan was among the many scientists who theorized that life could exist in ammonia, or use hydrogen fluoride. Four years ago, an experiment by CERN seemed to indicate the neutrinos may potentially move faster than light. Sadly, the data was discovered to be incorrect, but it resulted in a much greater understanding of particle physics. Who knows what the future might hold in that area? The Transhumanism movement believes we can fundamentally alter the very nature of the Human condition by improving, and enhancing our physical, and mental capabilities through science.

It is this kind of speculation that fuels plots, and Player Character goals in an SF game. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? How can we do the impossible? What will we become?

Can you explore these ideas in Fantasy? Yes, I guess so, but in what way? Seems to me the answer to all of these questions in Fantasy is 'Magic'. Everything interesting is answered through the word Magic. Much easier, and (IMHO) much less satisfying.

What else is cool about Science Fiction?

Certainly exploring, and expanding the limits of our knowledge, and imagination are fascinating, but sometimes you just want to zap a robot with a ray gun, right? Science Fiction has cool stuff like spaceships, laser guns, anti-gravity vehicles, and thinking machines.

Fantasy Player: "I went on an adventure, and found a +2 Sword!"

Science Fiction Player: "Cool. I went on an adventure, found a component that enabled me to design a hazardous atmosphere, remote drone."

Fantasy Player: "I used my +2 Sword to kill a Goblin."

Science Fiction Player: "Wow. I used my drone to make first contact with a sentient species of methane breathing, gas giant dwelling starfish/squid creatures. They informed me about this unusual hydrocarbon material in their lower atmosphere that we are now trading with them for. I'm rich, famous, and I've developed a group of allies, and enemies who have expanded the campaign setting."

Fantasy Player: "The...the Goblin had 12 copper pieces on it."

Science Fiction Player: "Uh-huh. Congrats."

OK, personal bias against D&D Fantasy aside, the awesome tech is pretty awesome in a lot of Sci-Fi.

Is it about the tech, or the science?

No, it's not really. Good Science Fiction has all that cool stuff, but it isn't about the cool stuff. Not unless the wild concept, or the fancy gizmo is going to be a major plot element.

Science Fiction is about people, and how people deal with the science, the technology, and the big ideas they find themselves confronting. Star Trek is a perfect example. Star Trek at its best is not a story about warp field anomalies, phaser fights, and transporter accidents. It's the episodes that ask "What does it mean to be Human?", "Should an artificial life form have rights if it proves to be sentient, and self aware?", "If the death of one  innocent person would save the life of millions, do they deserve to die?".

What do I do in a Science Fiction game?

I've listened to a number of podcasts, watched a slew of videos, and read a bunch of articles on Sean Murray, creator of No Man's Sky, and his least favorite question.

"What am I supposed to do in this game?"

If you had a universe, and the means and gear necessary to explore it, what would you do? How can I possibly tell you how to have fun? Do you like exploring, and discovering alien life forms? Yeah? Do that. Don't like that? Well, if you think that's boring, go do something else. Want to get into epic space battles, with starfighters dogfighting between massive capital ships as they hurl blasts back, and forth? Go for it.

Science Fiction, especially open universe, sandbox Science Fiction, isn't about holding the PCs' hands while you guide them from Point A to Point B. More than any other genre, I like to see pro-active players, and PCs, in my SF games.

Where do YOU want to go? What do YOU want to do? Find a way to go there, and a way to do that. This is basically how most of my Traveller games begin. It's how my current one began. It's a challenge, but very rewarding, and creates a much deeper connection between the players, and the game setting, and story.

Something I am no relearning for the first time. ;)


Barking Alien

* I found it especially interesting, and humorous, that he used the phrase 'grok' to imply that he didn't quite 'get it' when it comes to Science Fiction gaming, since grok comes from a Science Fiction novel. The term originates in Robert Heinlein's 1961 book, Stranger in a Strange Land.