Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top 10 D&D Monsters By A Fan of Science Fiction

So the flavor of the month among my fellow RPG Bloggers is to list their top 10 favorite monsters from Dungeons & Dragons.

While I am primarily a Science Fiction RPG fan, I've played enough D&D to wax nostalgic about the various oddball fantasy beasties I've slain and (more often) sent to slay player characters. I've left out some classics such as Dragons, Giants, Goblins and Trolls, since mine have very little to do with the way they are traditionally portrayed in D&D. That said, drum roll Paul Schaffer...

10) Roper: I mean seriously, what is this thing? Is it an animal, a plant...its like that Pokemon creature Sudowoodo with vicious whips for arms. Just a crazy creature that you can't forget.

9) Leucrotta: I'm not certain why I like this creature other then it appeals to the folklore and mythology fan in me. While I'm not a fan of traditional high fantasy or sword and sorcery, I am fascinated by fairy tales, folklore and mythology. Go figure.

8) Lurker Above and Lurker Below: There was no such D&D creature called a Lurker Above. The proper name for this creature was a Trapper but having encountered a Lurker Below first only a few moments earlier my friends and I immediately referred to it as a Lurker Above and the name stuck.

7) Rust Monster: Every GM loves ol' Rusty and every player hates him. His unusual lineage, inspired by a Japanese plastic Kaiju toy and his appearance on an episode of Futurama just makes him that much cooler.

6) Blink Dogs: A big time dog lover I can't help but adore intelligent, good aligned, pack animals that can teleport. Can you imagine playing fetch with a Blink Dog? The moment the stick leaves your hand your pup is sitting right in front of you with it in his mouth. Awesome.

5) Umber Hulk: Its the Hulk and an insect mixed together. That's just a dozen kinds of sick. We used to play up the strength of these things to where they were lifting wagons or horse over their heads and throwing them at people. My D&D had heavy comic book influences.

4) The Eye of Fear and Flame: The name alone defeats you. Surrender or I'll repeat it.

3) Displacer Beast: Another 'what was Gary smoking' creature, this one I later found out had some resemblance to an East Asian mythological creature the name of which escapes me right now. It was also used as the initial design for Mughi, the cat-like creature that was the mascot of the Japanese sci-fi vixens 'The Dirty Pair' . Mughi's appearance in the animated versions was very different but on the original novel covers he looks just like a Displacer Beast.

2) Gelatinous Cube: As a visually mind person and an artist the Gelatinous Cube just always spoke to me. I could easily see it, moving slowly, silenty down dungeon corridors absorbing and eliminating refuse like old bones, dirt and adventurers.

And the number one favorite D&D creature of all time...

1) The Bullette!: Big, powerful, armor plated landsharks just trump pretty much anything else I can think of. Add to this the fact that many first edition illustrations seemed to imply that the Bullette had a car trunk-like depression on its back complete with a dorsal fin 'hood'. So its not just a landshark its a hatchback landshark! How cool is that? One group of PCs actually captured one and rode around on it (and occasionally in it) while keeping some of their gear in its back.

Good times, good times...

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Art of Aliens




The original illustration for Barkley from 2003.

He and his species are designated in my notes as:
"Spidery-legged dog things, about the size of a wolf, covered in thick, mangy, deep green to green grey fur. They speak a language of sharp barks and hissing growls that is unnerving to listen to. While smarter then stone age humans, a lack of resources, including food and water, has limited their advancement."

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Did you just make food come out of the wall?



So you've asked yourself, "Who is that smiling, green-hued, distinctly canine gentleman to the right and why is he there?" You haven't? Well go ask yourself now. Go ahead, take your time, I'll wait. There now wasn't that easy? You really should talk to yourself more often. Look, don't take my word for it, after all you have to live with you, not me.Where was I? Ah yes, the emerald pooch.

That is none other than Ambassador Bartholomew B. Barkley, interstellar diplomat, galactic entrepreneur and cosmic celebrity extraordinaire! Barkley is a non-player character I created on the fly for a one-shot RPG adventure set in the universe of Galaxy Quest, the 1999 SciFi Comedy film starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman amoung others. I love that movie and it was nothing less than destiny that drove me to try and turn it into a role playing game.

Barkley was one of several frightening looking 'spidery legged, dog things' (according to my notes from back in 2003) that seemed to attack the PCs as they approached an abandoned NSEA outpost. The player characters end up firing at the barking, growling creatures, zapping one to death before the universal translators kick in and it turns out the natives are just trying to scare the newcomers 'off'a thar property'. Read my previous post...Never trust universal translators.

Barkley proceeds to demand reparations for the poor treatment of his species and insists he is not intimidated or impressed by the strange ways or fancy tools of the Galaxy Quest crew. To calm the irate alien, the crewmembers use a 'replicator' to give him something to drink and eat. Barkley is stupified. Staring at the device he says, "Did you just make food come out of the wall? FOOD just came out of the WALL!" Barkley then changes his tune in an attempt to cash in on his situation and a chance to hang out with the 'magic food wall' people. Essentially moving into quarters on the PCs' ship, he declares himself 'Ambassador Barkley' and helps them out on their mission between bouts of creative mooching.

Barkley remains one of my favorite characters I've ever created. I can't wait for a chance to use him again. Hopefully soon...heheh...

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Beyond Human Comprehension

In an old game of Traveller I ran back in the early 80's my group encountered an alien being in a spaceport bar who wished to hire them. It proceeded to communicate its intentions through the use of a 'Universal Translator' type device around its neck. Finally, the creature explained that it wanted the adventurers to locate a "Beyond Human Comprehension", hidden in the wreckage of a downed spaceship.

The perplexed players looked at each other and then to me and said, "He wants us to find a what?

"A "Beyond Human Comprehension" !" went the mechanized voice issuing forth from the translating gizmo. The alien frantically motioned with its flipper/tentacles, drew a scribbled sketch on a napkin, waved its body parts around and all the while the highly advanced communication facilitator chirped, "Beyond Human Comprehension! Beyond Human Comprehension!"

Eventually it shook its head appendage and waddled off downtrodden.

This is how I feel when I try to explain what interests me to non-geeks. My only consulation is that like my alien friend, I know its because we fans are a far more advanced and enlightened species.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Stars Our Destination...

The subject of running a science fiction role playing game campaign prompted a friend to point out that many sci-fi games seem to gloss over what really makes a good science fiction story. He felt that in order to keep players interested, elements that would normally appear in quality books or films on the subject are rushed through in favor of faster action, weirder aliens and bigger explosions.

Science fiction is full of jump drives, phasers, alien life forms, nanotech viruses and a thousand other fascinating and exciting explorations into the what-may-be-possible. However, if that were all it were about it would be a dead medium for storytelling that disappeared in favor of subjects that were much easier for the audience (book, TV, film or game) to connect with. Good science fiction uses all its amazing devices, fantastic settings and otherworldly atmosphere to point out our all too human flaws and foils, our desires to know more then we know now and our constant challenge to use what we learn in a manner that empowers our days and still enables us to sleep at night.

In my Traveller campaigns, space pirates, the nearly magical technology of ancient aliens and the threat of war with an honorable enemy were the backdrop for stories about fear, loss, bravery, family and all the things that make us what we are. Even the questioning of who and what we are is a uniquely human trait best explored in the venue of science fiction. On the other hand, at this time we have no one else to compare notes with.

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Barking Alien: REBIRTH

Greetings all!

Welcome to the all new Barking Alien Blog by yours truly, Adam E. Dickstein.

Who? Yes, I know my name isn't famous but that, hopefully, is only temporary. Regardless of my current lack of notoriety I invite you all to enjoy my blog. If all goes according to plan, this will be a collection of (hopefully) strange, intriguing and entertaining ideas and observations about comic books, role playing and online games, movies, science fiction and other deep and meaningful pursuits. So sit back, relax, make some popcorn in the ol' replicator and have fun reading what I have so much fun writing.

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