Monday, February 28, 2011
The A-to-Z Blog Challenge For April Taichara pointed out this idea and I think, if March goes well, I may follow this challenge/theme idea for April. Could be fun.
Views are up again, comments are down againWhy is this? I really like it when people discuss the ideas posted on various blogs, my own included. I need to find a way to get more conversations going. Hopefully March will contribute to this, though many of the comments will likely be in the vein of, "Is Barking Alien out of his mind?! Let's discuss..."
Good Sci-Fi is catching lightning in a bottle.
Good Supers is like catching air in a bottle.
For various reasons discussed in previous posts, making a Sci-Fi game work has been tricky lately. Every Superhero game I run however has gone over swimmingly and caught on like wildfire. Why? Very likely the picture of Supers in my head is the same as the one in my players' heads while the pictures we have for Sci-Fi differ. Hmmm.
I haven't purchased a new game in a while.Finaces have been crappy and its been forever since I've purchased a new game, other than the occasional $5 PDF here and there. Mostly I've been playing games I already own or can get free from one of the many sites that put up cool free RPGs (The Free RPG Blog, Mystery Men, etc.).
This bums me out a bit because it reminds my of how dire my money situation is but also because I want to support my FLGS. Those guys are like family.
I am not entirely not old school and largely new school somewhat...though not completely. This makes perfect sense to me. I never liked school.
And now random images I think are cool...
OK, that's all the time I have for now.
See you when I see you.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
"The new school ethos you represent requires everybody be very serious about the fiction that the game creates."
To which Velaran said in my defense of sorts,
"Plenty of his previous posts would seem to say otherwise. BA seems to like a lot of games across the genre spectrum. 'Fiction'? Saying a game generates 'fiction' (rather than anecdotes or memories, whatever...) sounds kinda fringe 'New School-y', don't it?"
I wouldn't be so quick to discount what Zak S. is saying here. As a matter of fact, he is on to something that is further illustrated by my latest failed attempt at testing out a new campaign idea. I throw fish at porcupines until one sticks. Its frustrating but at least I'm not a fish or a porcupine.
The games I run do require a bit more of a buy-in to the universe and/or genre I'm covering then I think most old school and even some new school GMs ask of their players. In many cases, I don't care if you're familiar with the subject's specifics as long as you 'get' what I (and the rest of the group) are trying to create, a shared world to set our games in.
For example, I've said numerous times that you don't have to be a Star Trek fan to play in one of my Star Trek RPG games. If you are, hurray for you, as you'll love all the Easter Eggs and side references I throw in for guys and gals like us. Rarely will knowledge of a given episode or element be mandatory to accomplish the goals of the adventure/mission.
Its not important that you know DC Comics if I am running a 4-Color Superheroes game, even one set in the DC universe. It is important (vitally so) that you understand you're going to be in a 4-color campaign and not a gritty Iron Age one.
Today, I tried running a modified version of Starships & Spacemen, largely inspired by the one run by E. T. Smith at RECESS in NY. Another major influence however was my desire to get a new side Science Fiction game started and to make sure I've given every Space Adventure game ever made a fighting chance to prove itself. Stars Without Number...you're up next.
Now I did make some changes from Smith's version and the classic incarnation. I tried to expand the game into more 'Next Generation And Beyond' territory since that is the Star Trek style mode preferred by many of my players. At the same time, I wanted to keep the old school mechanics and the Sandbox feel that Smith was so good at portraying in the game I played it. Somehow, none of this worked.
Why? Well for starters, the buy-in price was a bit too high. I'm asking a bunch of new school, tech loving, serious business, setting fans to play an old school, limited gear, slightly tongue-in-cheek*, sandbox style game. Not my best plan ever to be certain.
While the idea of a sandbox game is something that sounds good going in, many of my players**, including and especially my good friend Dave, are setting junkies. They need a good setting to get into a game. Telling them that are going to play a Space Adventure game or a Star Trek like universe gets some nods and "ok"s. Staying your going to run Star Trek, Star Wars, 'canon' Traveller or Galaxy Quest is met with enthusiasm. When I asked, "But you wanted to play in my D&D-But-Not world and that's sort of Sandboxy. How come?" I was told, "All the stories you've told us about it from your old groups make us feel like we know enough to want to play there."
It's not about a licensed world or even a familiar one. Its, for many of them, about a world/universe with a history, theme or overarching idea they can learn and get behind. I can understand where they are coming from to some extent but I do miss the world-build-as-you-go style we use to have in our games.
As Dave put it, "I'm about the setting. Supers is one of my favorite genres but tell me Supers and it doesn't excite me. What kind of Supers? What's the world like? Who are the major players? I need to know a bit more then just the genre to get me pumped."
For the most part this is not true for me. Tell me we're running Supers and I'm excited. I love Superhero games. Tell me we're playing TFOS and I'm beside myself. I sometimes find too much setting stifling. World of Darkness drove me away with that years ago (except Changeling: The Dreaming which is just so cool).
RIFTS is therefore popular while I dislike RIFTS.
What is the best buy-in? How do you balance sandbox and predetermined setting? Can you get players excited about a world without giving away too much of it?
I will ponder this some and we shall reconvene. Until then.
*To say tongue-in-cheek may not be quite right. There is however a certain degree of parody felt when playing Starships & Spacemen. You know you're in a no-frills Star Trek.
**Many of my players but not all. Specifically, none of my NJ players or players who are part of that extended group (including my ex-wife Selina). These people are eager to discover and build a setting as the game is played. Having a known setting is fine with them but they excel at contributing to the world building process bit by bit as the campaign progresses.
Friday, February 25, 2011
Since I'm on a bit of a session report kick, here now is that adventure, told to you after it was told to me by my own memories and those of a good friend.
Star Frontiers: The Sky is Falling.
On a distant frontier planet far from the core of galactic society, a mercenary company fights a losing battle with the native species who are determined to drive the alien invaders off their land. The PCs are the mercenary alien invaders, hired to track down a renegade U.I.A.* scientist who has set himself up as a medicine man and healer among the locals. He is wanted by Star Law, several Megacorporations and a number of Underworld figures for a rather unique virus he developed, the specifics of which were beyond the team's security clearance to know.
As the team of PCs fought their way through crowds of nearly fanatically devoted local followers toward the rogue doctor's hidden refuge, more and more of the natives started to attack, crawling out of nowhere it seemed. Some were hiding in the trees, some in disguised foxholes, etc. Surrounded, outnumbered and running low on ammo, power and other supplies, the PCs called in their orbital support vehicle, The Dark Sky.
The Dark Sky was a long range, Hyperwarp** capable ship about the size of a Star Trek Runabout or maybe just a tad bigger. 'D' called it in. His PC requested an immediate air lift for his team out of the combat zone. When he received no response he initially got suspicious and headed for slightly higher ground and called again. While all he received over his communicator was static, he could see the blue-black ship approaching in the cloudy, early morning sky. He immediately called to the unit commander to let him know, only to find the commander dead from several spear wounds.
'D' took command of the unit and had them all reconvene at the rendezvous point they had already agreed upon. Looking up, the group of mercenaries could see their guardian angel in midnight armor heading toward them...smoking. Smoke billowed from the rear of the craft as sparks and licks of flame jetted out from panels in the aft and port sides. The natives had given chase and we're now firing a hail of arrows at the PCs. Several of the characters were hit, one wounded badly, as 'D' focused on The Dark Sky's descent. Its flight path was a bit erratic. A stabilizer blew. No landing lights were on.
"CLEAR THE RENDEZVOUS POINT! GET AWAY! GO! GO!" 'D' screamed at his men and into his communicator. "The Sky is Falling! I repeat, The Sky is Falling!"
The PCs scrambled to safety as the ship crash landed directly where they had been standing to wait for it to land. Not everyone made it. The craft landed right on top of one poor fellow and several others were injured by flames and flying debris.
Terrified the natives ran for the valley and the forest nearby. The PCs waited for some of the flames and smoke to fade and then attempted to pry open the airlock and see if anyone had survived. 'D' and another player tried to salvage any power batteries, food, shelter or similar equipment. They lucked out with an intact suit of powered armor***(low end with limited batteries) and an astromech like robot*** in additional to a few of the essentials they needed. There were only two survivors from The Dark Sky itself. The medical officer and a technician.
From that point on it was about survival. Until they could get a communication unit powerful enough to send an interstellar signal up and running, they were trapped in the enemies backyard.
According to 'D', the way I had originally described the ship and its approach actually made him feel like they were going to be pulled out, have time to rest and think up a new plan, etc. There was, for him, an 'Oh S*#T!' moment that completely changed his attitude and set up a sense of urgency, not just for him and his team but for the poor blokes on The Dark Sky.
My Star Frontiers universe diverged somewhat from that of the game's canon background.
*United Interplanetary Alliance or U.I.A.
I am too much of a Star Trek fan to let the main government of Star Frontiers call itself the 'United Planetary Federation'.
Borrowed from my Space Opera campaigns, the drive of my Star Frontiers universe is called Hyperwarp. Essentially a ship generates a force field bubble of subspace similar to Star Trek and this causes it shift into 'hyperspace' where it remains until reaching the coordinantes of its destination and turning off the bubble (which pops you back into real space).
Some of the technology of my campaign differed from the standard game because I wanted a bit of an anime feel. As a result their were more and more varied robots and some really cool powered armor.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Shawn is a bit more old school then the rest of us. 'D' and I teased him about it a bit, asking if he was comfortable and telling him it was going to be ok as we set him up with both a dungeon and a dragon. "Wouldn't want you to stray too far from your comfort zone", we snarked.
Shawn took it well and retorted that up until now we'd had it easy. Now a real man was in the driver's seat. We all laughed. Good times.
Anyway, for the most part Shawn delivered a pretty standard dungeon crawl with a few twists. As standard dungeon crawls go this one was damn good and that's coming from the guy who doesn't like standard dungeon crawls all that much.
For one thing, getting into the dungeon required us to overcome this puzzle/riddle trap that either hurt you but good or let you in the dungeon. Shawn used some of the sinister sounding sing-song dialog of my SodDobbies as clues to answer the riddle and figure out how to get in. Thank goodness he and Wendy took notes. Ten minutes after delivering the dialog you couldn't pay me to remember what I'd said. I ad lib well but have to make a concentrated effort to track what I'm saying or I have trouble recalling it later.
Once inside we faced a series of traps, a group of orc like creatures and eventually more flaming zombies. The orc things were not orcs, I'm sure of that, but I'm not sure what they were. The creatures we encountered were Human sized but stooped over a bit, pale grey, hairless and afraid of bright light (like torches or a light spell). They were quite adept in the dark however. Anyone recognize this particular humanoid? They were nasty and we got hurt pretty bad. We ended up blowing our healing potions (we had two amongst the whole party) so as not to face the big baddy low on hit points.
Finally, we confronted the dragon/drake/demon creature in this room that I'm going to have difficulty describing. It was like a round peg had been slammed through the bottom of a square hole. You entered a large square shaped room and in the middle was a round pit that took up about 75-80% of the surface of the floor. The drop was about 15 ft. and was littered with treasure and bones. The dragon creature was down there performing some ritual, complete with a magic circle of sorts carved into the bottom of the pit.
As the Paladin and I engaged the creature with the Ranger providing back up, the thief and the 'Holy Mage' tried to undo the circle and figure out what was going on. Unfortunately the beast was tough as nails and dished out a world of kick ass on the Pally and yours truly. At one point it even caught on to what the others were doing and nearly killed the Magic-User/Cleric (down to one hit point in a single attack!).
We discovered between bouts of getting our butts handed to us and a few lucky shots that the dragon creature was, in fact, THE BARON! He was transformed into this creature when his castle was decimated centries ago. It is the form of a demon who he made a deal with to obtain the Sceptre in the first place. He is cursed to remain in this form forever unless he can perform a magic ritual that sends the Sceptre back to the Abyss.
My character actually offered to help him thinking it would get him back to normal and that dangerous magic item would be gone but the others thought it best to destroy the item.
To that end, the Paladin rushes over to the Ranger and comes up with a plan. The Holy Mage will bless one of the Ranger's magic arrows, the Paladin will hold the creature or otherwise render it immobile and the Ranger will attack the Sceptre! The Thief had slipped into the shadows at this point and came up behind the creature intending to back stab it. It almost noticed her until I used an illusion spell to draw its attention toward me (really good bad move on my part I thought).
What followed was pretty sweet. The Paladin got in close and grappled Baron DracoDemon while the Thief backstabbed from behind with...a Natural 20! Super-duper double dipper damage on the backstab. Arrow away and a spell from the Holy Mage and the Sceptre was a thing of the past. It broke, releasing and then sucking back into itself a deluge of violet flame and electricity until finally exploding into a million pieces. What remained behind was the Baron's original human body, now hundreds of years old, which proceeded to crumble into dust.
In conclusion, no one died (though the Holy Mage and I can close a few times), the monster and the item were destroyed and peace one again reigned over the land.
A good time was had by all and I really hope these guys and I get a chance to run something together again sometime soon. I rather liked the round robin GMing within one game idea. It suits a one shot best but its a cool idea not matter how you slice it.
Questions and Comments Away!
I apologize everyone but I made a slight miscalculation. The 21...that's in dog years. It's 3. I've been doing this for 3 years.
Nonetheless, 3 years is nothing to sneeze at. As a matter of fact, the blog has really only been getting attention over the last year* or so how long is not as important as just celebrating the fact that it exists, people like it and I like doing it.
Happy Birthday Barkley!
We return you to our regularly scheduled programming...
*I highly recommend going back and looking over some of the older posts. I'm being absolutely serious when I say I think some of my best stuff never even got looked at. Let me know what you think of Barking Alien's humble beginnings.
Thanks and enjoy!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I decided the best thing to do with my part of the game was to not even try to one-up my buddy but instead go low key and focus on plot and investigation. We know what just happened. Now why did it happen?
I borrowed an idea I've used for many years but which I've had more at the forefront of my thinking since reading the game InSpectres by Memento Mori. Essentially, instead of creating a story or plot and having the PCs ask questions until they guess the 'right' answers (and having to drop clues if they don't see what I want them to see), I went with the idea of setting up certain events and ideas and letting the players questions and decisions actually establish what was happening.
So basically, now that I was DM my Gnome was an NPC. Established as a Bard of sorts (regardless of his actual class - loved that) I figured he knew a little something about the local lore. He described a legend he had heard as a youth that involved a rod of magical power similar to the one they had seen the dragon creature holding.
"The Sceptre of the Scarlet Storm was once the prized possession of a Baron who ruled these parts many generations ago. He would flaunt the power of his Sceptre, which could make lightning and fire, thunder and smoke and could carry him away on bolts from the sky. He invited nobles and merchants to witness his great and terrible magic and always noted he would never actually use such power on friends. As such he had many friends.
Finally the King of the time, wary and weary of the stories of the Baron and his Sceptre, paid the man a surprise visit. The King was accompanied by his wife the Queen and the loveliest of his daughters. So smitten was the Baron by the Princess's beauty that he showed off as never before. The storm he brew was so bright and terrible it destroyed his keep and him with it. The King and his family escaped but just barely."
That was all the Gnome knew. Soon the PCs were discussing and debating what they believed to be happening and eventually decided to interview the Merchant, the First Mate and the Merchant's assistant, the learned Young Woman. The players asked the usual questions as to what the Sceptre was doing on the boat, where had they obtained it, what were they going to do with it, etc.. They believed some answers and not others and soon painted a picture of what happened that they explained to me as the DM (kind of in reverse of what you'd normally experience in an RPG investigation).
The Merchant obtained the item in the market place of a far away nation for a fraction of what he thought it was worth. He showed it to his assistant, a young woman studying ancient art and artifacts as part of her journey to become a respected sage some day. The Merchant hoped she would evaluate the price they could get for the item but she recognized it as likely being the Sceptre of the Scarlet Storm. She recommended they buy it but bring it to the Duke or King of their land to keep it safe or dispose of it. The Merchant was none to happy with the idea but was convinced there would be a reward for bringing it in.
The Paladin's feeling was that the drake or dragon might well be a demon sent by the old Baron's restless spirit to retrieve the item. The Thief seemed to know of the ruin of a keep three days Northeast that may have been the Baron's home. When asked, my Gnome could not confirm this but said he did know there was a ruin there and that many travelers say its haunted. That was all the team needed to decide to head for the ruins in hopes of finding the beast and the stolen scepter.
On the way I threw in an un-random encounter (as my friend Shawn called it - "Watch out! Its one of Adam's un-random encounters. This isn't just some wandering monster. It might mean something." lol). Basically the PCs get a bit lost on the way to the ruins and discover the ground has been shifting beneath their feet. Eventually they discover SodDobbies (or Soddy Trow, as the Gnome called them), a cross between goblins and stray sod.
Another Adam signature move it seems; I sometimes create original monsters that sound like they could be from folklore but aren't exactly.
As the party battles the little bugaboos, the Ranger figures out a way to get his bearings using the road and the position of the Sun as guides. As more and more of the SodDobbies are defeated (driven off or slain), the easier it becomes to find the correct path. Eventually the creatures also drop hints and cryptic, rhyming clues as to how to get into the dungeon beneath the ruins so we'll stop beating the tar out of them. I guess it worked since we proceeded forward. We did manage to obtain a few faerie magic items and weapons to help us in our final battle however.
A battle I will describe tomorrow in the final chapter of 'The Sceptre of the Scarlet Storm'.
Monday, February 21, 2011
We met up along with a mutual friend (who I also hadn't seen in a while but more recently as least) and popped over to my boy's cribe to hang with his posse'. Or something. I'm never sure I'm saying it right. The guys laugh when I talk street since I do it very rarely and only in the most proper, uptight, whitebread voice I can muster.
When I get there I'm introduced around to some friends and some family and I find myself wishing I could add a least one or two of these guys to my regular group. They were a cool bunch and 'D''s cousin is easy on the eyes in addition to being a good player (oops, was that my outloud blogging again? Think it don't write it, think it don't write it...). We'll see...
Immediately 'D' says, "Shit. I forgot to tell you to bring something. To bring a game." Apparently they wanted me to GM which was flattering but also surprising as he hadn't said anything about it before this. "All I got is D&D."
Heh...of course. That's my lot in life.
Lemons into Lemonade my friends.
I said, "How 'bout we all make up characters and take turns DMing. You start, I'll take over after say an hour or two and than you can finish up." The idea went over pretty well and my friend Shawn even worked out that he would take over for the finale. Three GMs. Roughly running two hours each (more or less). Crazy but cool.
The D&D my friend had was AD&D 1st with a whole mess of 2nd books. We basically played it as 1st but allowed for the possibility of players choosing spells, equipment, weapons, etc. from 2nd. That also let us GMs choose 1st or 2nd monsters though I went custom creation of course (more on that later). We didn't get crazy about race and class and the character's were made to be roughly 5th level (which incidentally can take too damn long to generate. I much prefer starting at 1st. Luckily 'D' kept everyone motivated.)
The PCs were...
A Human, Male, Paladin, Level 5 - played by my friend Damian aka 'D'.
A Human, Male, Ranger, Level 5 - played by JJ, 'D''s friend.
A Half-Elf, Male, Magic-User/Cleric, Levels 3/3 played by my friend Shawn.
A Half-Elf, Female, Thief, Level 5 played by 'D''s cousin Wendy.
A Gnome, Male, Fighter/Illusionist, Levels 3/3 played by yours truly.
Small group but still pretty cool.
'D' set up the premise...The group were all old friends who grew up together in a trading outpost town nestled between a river, a major trade route road and a forest. Half-Elves were common because the forest had a large Elven settlement. At the far western edge of the woods was a small Gnome village which is where I was from. I added that I was a travelling entertainer who sometimes went to the Elven and Human settlements to amuse the kids or brighten up a dreary work week.
Apparently, one Friday night while I was in town doing just that at the local tavern, a large boat came down the river, burning and cracking apart. As the townsfolk gathered at the pier to stare in horror or in some cases try to help, several people thought they saw a fiery beast of some kind inside the merchant ship. The ship crashed into the side of the riverbank and began to fall to pieces.
The PCs lept into action - The Paladin (being run as an NPC at this time) rushed over and tried to board the boat as did the Ranger. I organized a line of people with pails and water to try and douse the flames. The Magic-User/Cleric, or 'Holy Mage' as he called himself, prepared to receive the wounded survivors if there were any. Meanwhile the Thief played the crowd, asking for anything they could contribute to help with this emergency. "Please, we'll need blankets, coats, food, water...gold, furs...anything you can spare." She embelished her background story later and it was very cool. But first...
So finally the PCs are onboard and we manage to rescue the first mate, the merchant who owned the boat and a young woman who was described as looking like an 'artist, sage or other learned person.' Those crewmembers who burned to death rose up as these sort of Burning Zombies which was pretty cool and bad ass if you ask me. Don't know if 'D' got those from a book or made them up but they were freaking mean. Since they were undead and on fire the usual 'Fire vs. The Undead' idea was right out. We did discover that Holy Water was like Kryptonite to these things though and once we realized this we made short work of the nasty things.
Just as things were settling down we were told that our characters saw a flash of red-violet lightning and heard a growling laugh mixed into the crack of thunder that followed. Racing up and through the wreckage of the vessel we finally reached what remained of the main deck and saw a flaming, dragon-like shape about the size of a large dog or small pony climbing the mast. It was night time obviously, a bit hard to see, though lit by it own flames and crackling electricity we could tell it was carrying something. The creature raised the item in the air, some sort of sceptre, and then a bolt of lightning came out of the sky, hit the scepter and the creature disappeared in a brilliant flash.
Next Up...Part 2...My Part!...of 'The Sceptre of the Scarlet Storm'
I have taken to downloading Starships & Spacemen, looking over all my ol' Star Frontiers stuff and generally trying to come up with a way to finish my Aliens & Astrobases project.
None of which seems to be getting me anywhere.
I know what I want. I want fast action, blaster battles, exploring weird planets and meeting strange aliens, operating a starship, messing with psychic powers, robots, a little tactical stuff, a little resource management and some fun PC/NPC interactions. Sounds like a typical Adam game but for some reason I can't put my finger on I'm having difficulty locking down the specifics.
One issue is I think my brain is in one mood and my spirit* is in another. I'm in one of those 'I want to try a new game' modes. That or an old game I haven't played before (which is much harder to find than a new one). I also miss my 'Serious Comedy' games. Oh man I miss those. Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters...See, here's where Hunter Planet would totally rock! Maybe West End Games' 'Men In Black'. Maybe mix InSpectres with Men in Black.
Madness I tell you. Madness.
On a related note, I have big plans for posting in March that revolve around a project I've worked on on-and-off for the better part of 15-20 years. Its nuts and I doubt I can get anyone to play it but I feel its high time I talked about it so expect something very strange in about a week.
It could be that thinking about this side project is distracting me from the now. It could also be that I am secretly a bit scatterbrained and indecisive.
Anyway, Happy President's Day to all and I'm sure I'll post something more meaning meaty later on.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
And so is Barkley.
We were hoping for more interest in the last two posts, though I reread them and they are not quite up to my usual caliber of faire. The ideas are too disorganized and while they tell you what I've played they don't always give a good sense of why I played them. I may need to rethink my approach.
I haven't actually played anything since my Supernova Brown one-shot and that was the first time I'd played in weeks. Its hard for me to focus my thoughts when they clutter up the small space inside my skull. If I don't periodically clear them out and use them, the mess in there depresses me. Tonight on Mind Hoarders...
Anyway, then came two posts on other sites that activated my usually well buried nerd-miff-o-meter (Nerd Miff. Not Nerd Rage. I rarely rage about anything).
From Zak S. and PDADWPS...
-I think D&D works like this: the rules, setting, and DM are relatively serious (or at least intense) so you--the player--don't have to be. You can be drunk and play the goofiest half-troll half-gnome bard in the world and the game will keep chugging along and being a game full of twists and challenges and unexpected delights for all (including the drunk gnome) because it's pre-loaded with serious business. Unless pretty much everyone playing S/Lay With Me is earnest about playing S/Lay With Me, the game will crumble. If they're not, they might still have fun, but it doesn't seem like a lot more fun than if the same funny people were just riding around in a car bullshitting about what the next Conan movie would be like if they got to direct it.
I don't know if I agree. I don't know if I disagree either since sometimes Zak and I don't always speak the same language.
If I'm seriously into the game as GM and the players are not, it takes me out of it. That is, if I work for weeks to create a cool setting, interesting NPCs, good looking art and maps and a kickin' adventure and you the player aren't going to invest as much into it as I did, why the hell did I bother?
Jeff Rients responded with...
I agree with this assessment. As long as the DM is taking the game seriously the players can fart around in several different ways and you still have a game of D&D. N.B. Taking the game seriously is not the same as being a humorless prick. That's taking yourself seriously, which is not helpful.
OK, I agree with the last sentence but the rest...really? If you're farting around, I am going to want to fart around too. I'd probably say (and I have said), "Guys...if you're not in the mood for this we can scrap it and play Toon or Land of Og or something." I mean if the players are gonna be piss drunk when playing, how come I have to be sober?* No fair. No way Jose'.
When I am describing the twisted visage of a Huwawa, a creature I took the time to research from multiple sources and illustrate, and I ask one of the player's his character's name as the beast is attacking him, I don't want to have this conversation...
GM (Me): "As the Huwawa lunges toward...um...Stan what's your character's name again?"
Stan: "Oh I still didn't name him."
GM (Me): "Really? We've been playing for hours. No ideas?"
Stan: "Whatever...um...Stan Dirtypants."
GM (Me): "Really? Stan Dirtypants?"
Stan: (Laughs) :Yeah. Whatever. It doesn't matter."
Its at that point I want to go home and watch a movie or read some comics.
All I'm saying is I think everyone involved in a game needs to put roughly the same amount of mental investment in it or it just doesn't jive for me. I feed off the actions, reactions and vibes (for lack of a better term) I get from my players. If they are not 'into it' there is no way in hell I'll keep my enthusiasm. Its like the coach of a sports team saying he's ready to do his best and the players are like, "Sure. Uh huh. Pass me another beer before I throw that ball thing."
Now obviously that doesn't mean you gotta be serious the whole time. It doesn't mean we don't joke and make side comments and have wacky things happen.
James from Grognardia had this motto for the Dungeons & Dragons old school quoted from Stefan Poag of Aldedoran who got it from a Dragonsfoot poster named Evreaux...whew...
"We don't explore characters, we explore dungeons."
Right. Agreed. Ya'know how its usually really boring to hear about someone else's character? IMHO, this is why.
This is why I don't consider myself old school. I want the characters to be cool, not just the holes in the ground they visit. After all, you usually visit each dungeon only a few times but you have your character for many adventures and through many dungeons. If that character is the same person at 12th level that they were at 1st I'm never gonna remember them. They'll just be another set of stats in an endless line of sets of stats. I guess they're still fun to play but its not my bag.
*That's just an analogy. I don't get drunk. For one thing I hardly ever drink, never anything other than beer and it takes a number of beers to have any effect. That effect is sleepiness. I have no idea what drunk is like.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
In 1982 I discovered the Star Trek Role Playing Game by FASA during my first excursion to my FLGS. I was 13 years old. It changed my life. Basically.
I won't recount that tale just now as I have already covered it in the past but for those who don't know it it's a fun read if I do say so myself. You can check it out here.
Just a few months before finding the FASA Star Trek game a friend and I had purchased Villains & Vigilantes. Between the two games, D&D got pushed further and further aside in favor of exploring the final frontier and leaping tall buildings. Drudging through yet another dark, dank dungeon had lost its appeal.
Star Frontiers by TSR had also come out around this time and I did purchase it and play it fairly often. Unfortunately for SF, ST existed. Star Frontiers might've gotten more play if there was no Star Trek RPG but there was and it rocked.
Star Frontiers also suffered from a few handicaps. Its alien species were limited (only 3 PC species other than Humans) and came off as a bit silly. The mechanics of the game made actions feel too easy somehow. When compared to the 'Am I going to make it?" percentages of Star Trek, Star Frontiers made everything feel like it was a breeze. Not having my books in front of me I forget why that was. I seem to remember many skills starting at 100%, being brought down by difficulty levels/numbers and than you add percentile bonuses from your attributes. I remember one player having a 110% chance of doing something. I guess that's what all those football coaches are talking about when they ask you to give 110%. Who knew?
After about 82-83' it became 'a thing' for my group and I to experiment and try new games. We played a lot of Space Opera I recall (though for the life of me I'm not sure how. I looked at it again recently when James M. at GROGNARDIA was talking about it and I couldn't make heads or tails of the damn thing). Though the focus was primarily Sci-Fi and Superheroes, comedy games got their fair share of attention as well. For the most part, I wouldn't try or play many Fantasy games until the late 80's or even early 90's. We weren't rich, so we only tried games one guy or another in our group was willing to purchase and few of us were that into Fantasy. That changed a bit when our group expanded and many of my new friends had very different interests.
By 1988-89 the Science Fiction related games (other than Star Trek) I had played or run included...
Cyberpunk, FTL: 2448, Gamma World/Metamorphisis Alpha (we often combined these two), Mekton (love me some Giant Robots), Paranoia, Space Opera, Star Frontiers, Star Wars (WEG D6 and a lot of it!), Starships and Spacemen, Traveller (Gave it a second chance, loved it, still do), Traveller: 2300 (awesome Aliens, only an ok game) and probably a dozen more I don't recall.
When all was said and done...eh, who am I kidding. We never really stopped loving the idea of trying new games. Still and all, Star Trek, Star Wars and Traveller always won the popularity contests in the end.
Which brings me to an interesting observation that I've noted before but feel is very important...
For a good chunk of my time in the hobby of RPGs I've played Sci-Fi and Supers campaigns. These are games that often share a few key elements for me...
1. They are modern or future settings with a greater focus on or importance of laws than traditional Fantasy. Kill a guy, take his stuff, get in really big trouble.
2. The players are often law abiding or they are the law. Again, no killing enemies and taking their stuff. Not so much a rule from the GM, just not in genre unless you're playing the crooked cop.
3. Its not about stuff. Starfleet officers have stuff like Tricorders, Phasers, etc. I don't need your stuff. I got my own stuff. Superheroes don't need stuff. Some are richer than Richie Rich (Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne). For others, why take the bad guy's ray gun when I can shoot rays from my own eyes. End result, no culture of adventuring to gain treasure.
4. No (or rarely any) arguements over whose the leader. In Sci-Fi, the Captain is usually the leader. In Superheroes, whoever best fits the mission is leader. Going into space? Lead the way Silver Surfer-type guy and Green Lantern-type guy. Tracking down a serial killer? What do you think we should do Daredevil-type dube and Batgirl-lady?
5. Easier to explore the milieu when you have a homebase to go back to. For Sci-Fi its usually your ship or a space station. Why wait til '10th level' to have a castle. Start with one that flies around with you to each adventure local. For Supers its your headquarters. No roaming endlessly with no real purpose or sense of community. Side benefit: PCs care about NPCs because they see them all the time. They're part of the neighborhood. They become family.
I veered a bit too much toward talking about Superheroes in this installment then I wanted to but I have been playing both genres so long they often play off each other in my mind. That said, more differences between Sci-Fi and Fantasy (as I see them) in the next post.
Have a Great Weekend!
Friday, February 18, 2011
A word of warning...this one is long. I have actually broken it up into multiple parts, the first installment of which begins below. Enjoy.
I need my Space.
Superhero comic books most assuredly lead me into gaming and the Superhero genre remains my second favorite subject for RPG campaigns.
My first love is, as has been noted many times, Star Trek and Science Fiction.
It feels like it's been forever since I've run a really good, long term Science Fiction/Space Adventure campaign.
As I've discussed before, I grew up in a time and place where Dungeons & Dragons was the accessible game but the subject matter it focused on was not really accessible enough for me to really embrace.
While television, movies and comic books were full of Science Fiction elements, fantasy was to be found in fairy tales, Disney movies, the works of L. Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll but not really in any form similar to the way it was presented in D&D. I started gaming early remember, at the age of 8. The Hobbit would not be animated until a year after I started playing D&D and I was a bit young to have read Michael Moorcock or Fritz Leiber. I understood the ideas of Wizards, Knights, Castles and Dragons but I did not 'know' them.
My best analogy would be...
I'm at a party, event or similar gathering with my best friend, Star Trek. We are surrounded by its relatives and my closest friends, various Science Fiction stories, comics, TV shows and movies.
My other good friends and old pals are Superhero comics, especially DC, Marvel and Charlton, who all come over, say Hi and we slap each other on the back.
On the far side of the room I spot Medieval Fantasy. Fantasy and I are acquaintances. We know each other but not well. We've passed each other at the comic shop and bookstore. I am pretty familiar with its cousin Folklore. I understand Conan is a comic book and married into the Fantasy family. In the end though, Medieval Fantasy and I just nod politely to each other and go our separate ways. We just don't have that much to talk about.
I played my first Science Fiction RPG in 1979 (I believe), when a friend of mine brought Traveller over. I was very excited by the prospect that there was a Science Fiction game like D&D (actually just the fact that other RPGs existed was pretty damn exciting). My buddy decided to run a quick adventure just to show us how to play. For the most part I'd played D&D and little else by the summer of 79'. It's possible we had tried Boot Hill and Gamma World by then but I'm never as good as I wish I was with exact dates. An experienced gamer I am, a RPG historian I am not.
Anyway, we sat down to create characters and knowing this was a Science Fiction game I asked the GM, "What kind of aliens are there?", eager to play some pointed eared, purple skinned, antenna headed something or other. The conversation that followed went something like this...
GM: "There are no aliens. Everyone is Human."
Me: "...?..Huh? No aliens?"
GM: "Right. Everyone is Human."
Me: "I thought you said this is a Sci-Fi game."
GM: "It is. It takes place in the future."
Strike one in my 10 year old mind. Aliens are one of my favorite things about Science Fiction. No Aliens meant not Sci-Fi.
As I grudgingly make up a Human character I noticed he could die while I was creating him. One of the elements I love today (albeit houseruled and expanded), I thought was absolutely the dumbest thing I had ever heard back then. Strike Two. Finally, I look at the weapons and equipment section for the ray guns and notice that the vast majority of the weapons shoot bullets. No significant energy weapons. Wait...there are lasers. OK. That was close.
The scenario seemed simple and straightforward. The party was a team of mercenaries hired to extract researchers from an archeological site on the surface of a nearby planet. The science team had failed to report in and we were on a search and rescue mission to get them off the planet safely or in lieu of that (say, if they were all dead) retrieve their equipment and findings.
It would take us two weeks to reach the planet and...
GM: "It will take two weeks to get there."
Me: "Don't we go Faster-Than-Light?"
GM: "Yeah. We have Jump Drive. It's like Hyperdrive in Star Wars. The planet is two parsecs away. That's six light years."
Me: "Oh...ok."(Still thinking it seemed really slow).
Anyway...and when we get there I decided to use the ship's communications to let our employers know we arrived safely.
GM: "You can't. There is no Faster-Than-Light radio."
Me: "So let me get this straight...we're playing a Science Fiction game with no Aliens, no Faster-Than-Light communications, slow Faster-Than-Light engines, almost no energy weapons and your character can die while making him up?"
GM: "Well...not exact...I mean...yeah I guess."
Needless to say I finished that session and didn't go anywhere near Traveller until MegaTraveller came out in 1987. By then I was mature enough to comprehend and appreciate what Marc Miller and company were trying to do and I went back and purchased a massive amount of the old stuff. At 10 years old however, I desperately wanted to zoom through space meeting aliens, shooting lasers and discovering crazy, high tech devices. Traveller, at least as presented to me by that first experience, was not the game I was looking for.
I wouldn't find that for another three years. In 1982, I went where no man...er...no one, had gamed before...
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I have in the works what is turning out to be a long post so in the interim I thought I'd post this link to a thread I started back in 2007 on EN World. In a nutshell it describes some of my most off beat and unusual campaigns and encourages others to post theirs. There is some seriously strange stuff there and I highly recommend checking it out.
Incidentally, the ideas for this post and the long one I'm working on come from recent posts by Blacksteel over at the awesomely named Tower of Zenopus. If you haven't been over there I suggest you go. Go now! Good luck and godspeed. Blacksteel has been a great supporter of mine and I'd like to return the favor. Besides his recent reminiscing really brings back memories.
See you something new later tonight,
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
A few final notes about my Blaxploitation Sword and Planet one-shot...
The game was run as a 5 hour session using Risus, more or less unmodified. Over the last year I've learned that a large number of gamers seem to prefer 4-5 hours sessions and for the life of me I can not fathom why.
When you hardly get to game I say game as long and hard as you can. Also, in 5 hours I barely got to half of all the crazy crap I wanted to use. Lastly, considering travel time and cost, food and other expenses, if I'm only going to play 4 hours I'd just as soon pop on my computer, order a pizza and play World of Warcraft. Cheaper and I never have to leave my favorite chair. Of course I love RPGs and would rather play 10 minutes of one than 12 hours of WoW but after a week of working on my feet my legs do not necessarily share my opinion or enthusiasm.
Risus is awesome, especially for this type of game. While I'm sure it could be used for more in depth play I think it works best for high adventure one-shots like this. Its clever and fast paced but not overly deep and that suited us just fine.
Cliches: Big Daddy (3), Jim Kelly Jr. (3), Cool Hand Luke (2), Smooth Operator (2)
After playing the game the player noted that he should have reversed those numbers making the first two '2' and the second two '3'.
Prof. Winston Tycho
Cliches: Fountain of Trivia (3), Obsessed Genius (4), Overprotective Father (3)
Mira Sunshine Tycho
Cliches: Damsel in Distress (3), Beacon of Hope (4), Idealistic Freedom Fighter (3)
Cliches: Sci-Fi Geek (4), MacGyver Meets Scotty (4), Love Sick Puppy (2)
Humperdink had a serious crush on Vulpurra
Cliches: One with Nature (3), Red Hot Momma (3), Smart Mouth (1), Warrior Princess (3)
The place where we ran the game was an open public space. Speakers played a radio station in the background whose focus appeared to be rock and R&B of the late 60's and 70's. We had the perfect soundtrack for the whole game. Seriously it was almost eerie. The first time Vulpurra went into action "Brickhouse" started playing. For the second and much larger battle she was in, Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" was on. The rest was a mix with a lot of the Doobie Brothers, Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' and Lady Marmalade were definitely well received.
The In Jokes:
Vulpurra's kick leaving a go-go boot print on a Bugman's chest was a reference to Karem Abdul Jabar leaving a foot print on the chest of Bruce Lee in 'Game of Death'.
Some of the sound effects I made were inspired by the sounds from various 1970's TV shows and movies.
Numerous references, voices and jokes from the players and GM (myself) alike were inspired by the animated series "The Boondocks".
Poindexter Humperdick is not only the token white guy, he's also got a name I've been using for NPCs since the early 80's. This is the first time a character by that name was played by a player.
"My starship is purple because purple is the color of kings baby.""The say insects like sweet things. Well, I'm about to do some real sweet talkin'."
"Nobody likes a sick ass plant."
"Flying motorcycle? That's cool. I've got to steal me one of those."
"Danger is my middle name."
"Danger? I thought you said your middle name was Irving."
I haven't had time to do any artwork unfortunately but I may get the chance and do a art dump this weekend. We'll see.
Well, on to the next crazy idea.
Back at the Soul Flyer, the group is attacked and captured by the big bad ass Bugmen of Betelgeuse Prime who have discovered their ship and overwhelmed them with sheer numbers. Unbeknownst to the bad Bugs, Humperdink has eluded detection and sneaks off to find Supernova. Meanwhile the captured crew are loaded into a hover truck type vehicle and taken to the Bugmen's headquarters (that's one way to find the base! Sheeeit.).
On his way through the dense, alien jungle Supernova has a run in with one of the local fauna, the dreaded Wiretongued Turreting Mantis! Using its long, thin, flat and razor sharp 3 1/2 foot tongue and pivot jointed head, this living weed wacker tries to decapitate our hero but some kung fu action and fancy jet pack flying and the creature was finished. Supernova made a makeshift monowire whip out of the beasts tongue and started bookin' for the base. Yeah. He is just that bad a mo'fo.
Humperdink eventually finds Supernova and his Pygmy scout group and reveals what happened back at the ship. While Supernova insists the Pygmies head back as its now too dangerous, one Pygmy (who they named 'Steve') wants to stay to repay the life debt he owes Supernova for saving him from the Wiretongued Mantis. Humperdink than lets Supernova know about a new pistol he's been working on, the Oscillating Deciminator. Supernova is happy to hear it since one of his Dyn-o-Mite Ultra Beamers got destroyed battling the Mantis.
Ok, so Supernova, Humperdink and Steve the Pygmy Bugman approach the enemy base just as the hover truck containing the rest of the group drives up a hill toward the garage entrance. The truck is escorted by a bunch of Bugmen on hover cycles. Using the Wire-Whip-Tongue weapon, Supernova lasso's a rider off his cycle and steals it. As he rockets toward the truck his runs into a swarm of small, four legged insect-crustaceans that shock him and cause his vehicle to malfunction. Humperdink mentions running into the little critters earlier and they messed up his communicator and Compucorder (Tricorder meets hand held computer).
After a brief discussion and some experimenting, the team discovered the EM frequency that attracted the creatures (called Nitpickers). By setting a communicator for the right frequency and throwing it, the Nitpickers will give chase and short circuit or screw up most of the tech in the vicinity of where it lands.
So...Supernova waits for the Bugmen to pull all their vehicles, including the truck with the 'prisoners', into the garage and then sets the communicator on his stolen hover cycle to emit the right frequency, then sets the bike to autopilot and sends it careening into the garage. Dozens and dozens of Nitpickers pour out of the jungle and fill the garage causing all many of havoc. Lights go on and off (mostly off), doors fly open or jam shut, weapons fail, vehicles go dead, etc.
Amid the chaos, Supernova, Humperdink and Steve rush in. Two Bugmen come out of the truck with the heroes inside and then a third is suddenly hurled out the door with a go-go boot imprint on his chest. Vulpurra pops out and starts wailing on the stunned insect soldiers. Supernova acquires another hover cycle, this one deactivated during the initial wave of Nitpickers and thereby spared. Using it he navigated the huge hangar like garage and took out a number of Bugmen including a commander type and a big bruiser type.
Humperdink located a secret hatch to an underground starship hangar whose bay doors were hidden behind a waterfall. In their supply depot area he found an Aetheric Stabilizer, which the team immediately loaded onto a Betelgeusen spaceship they found. Before leaving, Supernova instructed Humperdink and Prof. Tycho to get into the base's computer system and make their primary communication unit (a big 70's radar dish looking thing on the roof) emit the same Nitpicker summoning signal. Soon the entire base was overrun by thousands of the little gremlins, causing untold amounts of damage and discord.
The group lands the Betelgeusen ship next to the Soul Flyer, gets on board and quickly installs the new stabilizer. Humperdink apologizes to the ship for leaving it to which the ship replies, "Ain't no thing little man. Why it ain't no thing but a chicken wing." Powered up and ready to go, the team says goodbye and thanks to Steve and says they'll be back since they never found the secret weapon they were originally looking for. The camera pulls back, back, back until the image is on a TV screen/monitor in a dark room where a very short man (almost a child) and a beautiful black woman in a Ming the Merciless type outfit view the events surrounded by Bugmen.
"Oh yes Supernova Brown...we'll see each other again soon. Very soon."
Watch this blog for the last notes on my epic Blaxploitation Sword and Planet adventure complete with some character write-ups and artwork. Catch you on the flipside.
Monday, February 14, 2011
Happy Valentine's Day to All.
And now back to Supernova Brown...Funky Space Ranger!
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Blaxploitation Sword and Planet.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, at the risk of being denied the right to celebrate Black History Month for the next decade, my group and I decided to delve into the thrilling and incredibly groovy adventures of that funky space ranger...Supernova Brown.
You know how the narrator opens every episode... so don't be a jive turkey and say it with me...
Children gather round,
We're gonna hear a story now,
About the baddest cat in town
And how he was lifted off the ground.
He was brought into the sky
by a funky beam of light.
He sailed up through the clouds
And on into the night.
He travelled past the stars,
Flew past Jupiter and Mars
And when he finally touched down
There were spacemen all around.
Up walked a strong and pretty lady,
Whose hands were kinda shaky.
She said, "We don't wish to bow down,
Can you help us now?"
He said, "Don't you worry sweet space baby...
I'm Supernova Brown."
Imagine a cross between Shaft and Adam Strange. Picture the Flash Gordon serials from the 1930's and 40's created in the 1970's and staring Tamara Dobson and Jim Brown.
Our story goes something like this...
Sometime in the early 70's, Professor Winston Tycho invents a device the transports him, his assistant Poindexter Humperdink, his daughter Mira Sunshine Tycho and his mysterious and sexy female bodyguard Vulpurra to a distant planet orbiting the star Rigel. The transporter beam damaged, the group is unable to return to Earth.
Not long after their arrival, the team learns that the native people of Rigel are constantly being besieged by invading insectoid aliens from Betelgeuse. The Earthlings try to help the Rigellians but it only doubles the efforts of the Bugmen of Betelgeuse, especially after they learn of Prof. Tycho's Translocationizer Beam.
Battles between Rigel and Betelgeuse are only barely a stalemate, with Betelgeuse sure to win eventually, when the Rigellians offer to add their mysticism to Tycho's technology. The Translocationizer comes to life and fires beams across the galaxy, searching for a champion destined to defeat the bad ass Bugmen of Betelgeuse.
The beam finds its mark in downtown Detroit in the form of a womanizing, hard-living, hero for hire by the name of Irving 'Supernova' Brown. With smarts from books and life lessons learned in the school of hard knocks, Supernova Brown is just the man to put those pests from Betelgeuse in their place. That place is often under his boot or at the end of his Oscillating Deciminator Pistol.
Today's episode saw Supernova and the gang going down over Betelgeuse II while on a spy mission to discover the source of the Bugmen's newest weapon. Yes fans, the Soul Flyer, Brown's purple starship with silver trim, had been hit by enemy fire, though they managed to destroy the Betelgeusen gunship that clipped them.
Even with a ruined Aetheric Stabilizer and reduced power, The Soul Flyer (whose AI sounded like Barry White) was brought to a relatively safe landing by young genius Poindexter Humperdink. The area of the planet they were in appeared to be some sort of tropical jungle. Supernova and Vulpurra went outside the ship to check out their surroundings and discovered the ship being watched by strange Pygmy Bugmen. Fearing the large aliens and their craft, the Pygmy Bugmen attacked and then quickly ran into the jungle. Supernova and Vulpurra gave chase, caught up with them and sweet talked the little fellas into helping the team out.
Turns out the Pygmies are constantly getting bullied by the bad ass Bugmen of Betelgeuse Prime (IV). The larger Bug brethren regularly steal resources from their smaller cousins and the tiny green dudes are sick of it. They've heard about the Rigellians and the heroic alien who helps them named Supernova Brown. The Pygmy Bugmen decide to help the Earth people get a replacement Aetheric Stabilizer and get off the planet if they'll put a dent in big Betelgeusen operations on their world. Supernova Brown can't resist a cry for help anymore than he can resist the smooth taste of Colt 45. Works every time.
We'll be back with more funky fly space action after these messages...
Saturday, February 12, 2011
So to cheer myself up I'm giving myself a little present and running a one-shot tomorrow of whatever I want. But what to run?
The obvious choice for a cheerful pick-me-up is Star Trek (which pretty much always puts a smile on my face) but I could also go with something a bit wilder since it is a one-shot.
I'll entertain ideas and suggestions for all of you out there in internet land.
What should Adam run? The suspense is killing me.
I am 42 today.
While I should know all about life, the universe and everything, I feel I know less than I ever have before.
As we get older, we hope to gain knowledge about how to live life better based on the experiences we've had. The truth however, is we only gain knowledge of things we have done and have happened to us. This means as the world advances and new ideas develop, our understanding of our world is still woefully insufficient. If I am correct than it always will be.
I'm also not entirely sure I learn my lessons in many cases. That is to say, I'm not sure I make decisions any better now than I did 10 or 20 years ago. Perhaps that has less to do with experience and knowledge and more with how my mind works. I could have all the knowledge in the cosmos and still make a bad call or two with the information I've collected.
In case you haven't gleaned it yet, I am not a huge fan of my Birthday. I love celebrating other peoples but I find my own to be my least favorite day of the year. I always get a little down as I reflect on years past and where I am now, which is not really where I want to be.
Well, that's enough of this mess. Thanks to those who read this diarrhea of the brain for putting up with my melancholy. I needed to do it so I can get on with the stuff you really come here for, my stunning good looks and sparklingy personality. OK, the game stuff. I'll get back to the game stuff.