Sunday, January 30, 2011

Like A Good Neighbor




"We call them faerie. We don't believe in them. Our loss."~Charles de Lint

The fantasy stories that stir me most were not written by Tolkien, Howard or Vance. No dear friends. While I respect those men they have never drawn me in as does the will o' the wisp, wondering with no purpose except to capture its brilliance in my eyes and hands. I look to Byron, Yeats, Barrie, Baum, Froud, Black and DiTerlizzi. These are my muses for things magical. These, and others, are my guides through the secret places under the hills.

One of my favorite RPGs ever has to be Faery's Tale Deluxe, published by Firefly Games and Green Ronin. Written by Patrick Sweeney, Sandy Antunes, Christina Stiles, Colin Chapman and Robin D. Laws (Robin Laws people!), the game is a perfect introduction into the world of Role Playing for your kids while at the same time being a fun and light change of pace for adults. Of course, being Adam "Modify'em-If-You-Got'em" Dickstein, I made a few adjustments that turns the game, IMHO, into a workable long term campaign system.


 




First the basics...
 
Set in the fantastic woodland forest of Brightwood, the default fairy tale setting of the game, players choose one of four faerie types (referred to both as forms and patterns). Each has a predetermined number of dice to each of the games three attributes, Mind, Body and Spirit. The total number of dice always add up to 6. So for example the Brownie has 2 dice in each stat while the Pixie has 1 Body die, 2 Mind dice and 3 Spirit dice.

Each faerie form also has special abilities that come with their particular type. This is one area where I changed things up based on my knowledge and love of faerie folklore. I took away the Pixie's ability to fly and gave it to the Sprite, switching it for the Sprite's Animal Friend.

One figured stat is Essence, determined by doubling your Spirit stat for the start of every session. Essence goes up and down during play and you can be awarded Essence points in a manner similar to Force Points in Star Wars D6 or Hero Points in other games. Essence is used to power the more impressive feats of magic you can do with the aforementioned abilities. It is also your hit points. It is also one of the things I changed right away.

In order for the game to last longer and the magic to be more common, I determined that before a faerie takes damage to their Essence they take it to their Glamour, a new stat I added. Glamour is figured out by adding your Body to your Essence. In my games, damage, magic and last minute saves are pulled from your Glamour, keeping Essence well protected and hidden. If you have no Glamour left than Essence is used. A Glamourless character is unconscious unless a Body save is made. A character with no Essence no longer exists.

Essence also comes in two 'flavors'. Bright Essence, possessed by good natured fae of the Seelie Court and Dark Essence, the life force of nasty and foul tempered denizens of the Unseelie Court. These are handled in a fashion similar to Force Points and Dark Side Points in the Star Wars D6 game. If a Bright Faerie has more Dark Essence than Bright Essence they may find themselves changing into a Goblin or slipping into madness. Once your Essence is all Dark you change into a Goblin for sure and you loose your original form's abilities which are replaced with Contortion and Black Magic. A Dark Faerie can attempt to redeem itself and gain Bright Essence. In my homebrew a Dark Faerie with Bright Essence is a Hob (i.e., Hobgoblin, Hobnob, Hobdobie).

The basic mechanics are ridiculously simple. Good or 'Bright' faeries score a success when they roll an even number on one of their dice. Bad or 'Dark' faeries and other enemies need to roll odd numbers to succeed. Magical items (called Charms) can give you a free or bonus success. The more successes the better. Some actions may require a minimum number of successes to really work. I sometimes determine more successes than you need gives you a critical success and less gives you a less than critical failure. No successes is bad news.

There are a number of other elements to the game such as the aforementioned Charms, Titles, Boons and my added houserules of Banes and Bunks (things dangerous or detrimental to the fae - the latter term borrowed from the 1st Edition of White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming).

I could go on and on about this game and I most likely will but first I'll let you absorb this bit. I leave you with Yeats...

"Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame."

~William Butler Yeats
The Land of Heart's Desire



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Barking Alien



UPDATE: I didn't like the original title of this entry as it didn't quite have that 'double meaning twist' I like to include whenever possible. I like this one better.







Friday, January 28, 2011

You Can't Always Get What You Want

I am a little disappointed that my last post didn't get as many comment responses as I was hoping for. Perhaps I didn't quite pitch it correctly. The idea was 'What game would you want to run if it was strictly your choice without having to worry about your players' interests, opinions, tastes, etc.'

Since I run games to entertain my audience as much as myself, this question has a fairly large impact on my thinking. I'm always concerned about what my group will like and what kind of campaign best suits their preferences. As I've stated elsewhere, player input has a major effect on my plots and subplots as well as the type of adventures I design.

In the case of my running Hunter Planet for example, I don't think that game would go over well in NY. My New York crew is a bit 'too serious' and has trouble getting behind games whose premise is humorous from the start. It addition, I can't see them all playing weird aliens. Most likely you'd get very Human looking Star Trek types.

My NJ group could play this in a heartbeat. My lord it would hit the ground running and never look back. The issue here is I've promised them a serious game as a 'change of pace' from our usual comical endeavours.

So Hunter Planet, like so many other crazy Barking Alien ideas, goes back into RPG limbo for now. I will continue to tweak it and add to it and when the time comes I will unleash it on an unsuspecting world. For the time being however, I'll put it aside with my OZ campaign, FIENDish and the like. I'm sure they all have much to discuss.

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Barking Alien


Thursday, January 27, 2011

What I Want To Run

The past two posts have eluded to a very special post I've been wanting to put up and this is it. The idea for this came to me in a rare moment of quiet clarity while I was walking a dog through the hauntingly beautiful snow that came down in the early hours in New York City on Wednesday.

What do I want to run?

Let's say that player input or interest wasn't a factor. That is, assume for this excercise that your group of players would be overjoyed to play whatever you come up with. Its all you, the GM.

What would you run? What is your dream campaign or even, to pull it back closer to the doable, what do you really want to run next more than anything else if all the parts fell into place. You have the time, the system, the players, etc.


For me, it's actually Hunter Planet.


I want to run a Science Fiction, Space Opera Action/Adventure game with a touch of Comedy thrown in. The Player Characters are all Aliens who've come to Earth ('Dirt') on a Safari Vacation. Some are photographers, some are hunters out to shoot and mount trophie kills of the indigenious life (i.e. Us) and others might be campers, writers, artists or even a married couple on their honeymoon.

That's when it all goes to Roswell in a handbasket.

Whenever I think of this idea for a campaign, and I have had it pop into my head many, many times over the years, I see it as a reverse Men In Black, a Redneck Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Predator Sitcom all mixed together. I think this game would be, pun irresistable, out of this world.

Will it ever get run? I don't know. I hope so. I really, really want to run this.

I don't want to GM anything as badly as I want to GM this.

What about you? What do you want to run?

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Barking Alien




Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Calm...Before The Storm I Was Telling You About

Yeah...so, sorry about that last post. I've just been very surprised lately at how often I and other bloggers mention games and no one seems to have played them. Its disappointing to me because I've enjoyed so many different games and I think a lot of them don't get the coverage they deserve. I always attributed it to people not liking them as much as I do. Now I think that its more a situation where not that many people try out multiple games. I'm guessing most people find a game and if they like it they stick with it and expand it. I do that too but I can also say I've done it to at least a dozen systems and settings.

To each their own.

Now once more, before getting into the post I've been thinking about since early this morning, I have one more idea I wanted to talk about.

Last night, Erin Palette and I were discussing running tabletop RPG campaigns over the internet. We talked about her running a campaign and me playing in it and vice versa. About halfway through the conversation I pressed a secret button on my desktop computer that would send men in white coats over to her location. Playing a regular RPG over the internet? Obviously she'd gone mad. After a few moments I was intrigued enough to call off my lackeys. Besides, I couldn't sleep at night if I committed such a lovely lady to Arkham Asylum for the rest of her life now could I?

My questions to you out there in blogger land are simple:

Has anyone done this?
How did it work?
What was the format and who hosted it?
Is Obsidian Portal any good? Why?

Any opinion on Google Wave?

I don't have the first clue how to pull off an online traditional RPG. I seriously can't imagine how to do it. Perhaps its the last vestiges of old school flesh and blood in me that have yet to be replaced by clean, crisp new school bioware but if I can't see my players' faces, they can't see mine, they can't see my hand gestures or props or hear the weird voices and sound effects I do...it just seems to reduce the cool of what makes an Adam game an Adam game by about 75% minimum
.


Maybe I am old school deep, deep down. Or maybe the coolest experience ever is waiting just over the horizon...

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Barking Alien

Storm Before The Calm Before The Storm

So, in about 15 minutes or so I'm going out into New York City's winter wonderland once more. When I return I have a very cool post I want to make. But before that I want to make this somewhat less cool, slightly snarky post. Teasing and humor is involved. If your Wisdom and Constitution do not add up to at least 22 you may want to avoid this post.

I periodically mention various RPGs I've played, run and loved on my blog. These are not quite reviews and not quite retrospectives but they come close to both. Some are obvious discussions of a particular game like
Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space, Star Wars or Star Trek. Some are mentions of lesser known but very cool games and how I'd like to play them more than I have. Examples include Faery's Tale Deluxe, Hunter Planet and Apocalypse World.

When it comes to the comments section of these entries I often see things like...

"I never picked up TFOS as I knew there was no way it would ever get run in my rather hardcore gear-headish group."

"Never played Mekton, but I do remember the ads for it"

"Star Trek is always something I wanted to play. Way back in teh day Dragon ran an article on GMing tips for FASA's Star Trek and I was all inspired. Perhaps someday..."

And its not just here on my site but on other sites as well. People mentioning cool, not-so-obscure games and others going, "I always wanted to check out that game that was really popular 10-20 years ago but I never did."

Now comes the snarky part, purely in jest (if you are an immature dipstick with no sense of humor who thinks I'm somehow mocking you personally, please look away from my blog site now and go read the nutritional information on the side of a cereal box or something equally non-antagonizing)...I have to ask...

What the Hell were you People Playing?!?

Are you seriously telling me you've only ever played one game? Has it been D&D or the highway since 1976? There's a whole wide world out there my friends, just waiting for you to explore it. It won't bite. And if it does that'll be a learning experience. Come out now...don't be shy.

OK. Snark Wave Generator deactivated.

I'm just teasing but seriously, has anyone been playing RPGs for 15 years or more played fewer than 3 games? I'm just curious.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TFOS The Forever

Aside from Star Trek, this may well be my all time favorite game. Maybe.




TEENAGERS FROM OUTER SPACE!


Created by the maverick game inventor extraordinaire Mike Pondsmith and first published in 1987 by R. Talsorian Games, Teenagers from Outer Space was the first commerically popular non-mecha game based on Japanese anime. Of course, the mecha game actually based on giant robot anime was Mekton, also by Pondsmith.

As I mentioned before in the post on Mekton, I was a fan of Anime and Manga long before it was well known in the U.S.. This meant that I was adding Anime bits to my other RPG campaigns (such as D&D, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes, Star Trek, etc.) in the form of more cinematic combat, background pathos, crazy visual descriptions of characters, creatures, machines and the like when Mekton and TFOS rolled in and said, "Hi! Were you looking for us?" The answer was a resounding yes.

It helped a lot that the rules are super simple, the premise super flexible and the rulebook written in a humorous, "Don't take this too seriously" style that is not only perfect for the genre but also a hoot to read.

Now speaking of 'the genre', what exactly is the genre of Teenagers from Outer Space?

Well, Anime and Manga are not genres in and of themselves but rather mediums with a particular style that can be used to tell stories in a variety of genres. The basic premise of TFOS in a nutshell is aliens make contact with Earth and after a while their children enroll in our schools, hang out in our malls and discover dating, pizza and rock n' roll. The universe is forever changed. The genre is a mix of Science Fiction/Space Opera, Slapstick Action Adventure and Romantic Comedy. Its a mix that is encountered fairly often in Japan (Tenchi Muyo, Birdy the Mighty, Dirty Pair) but much less so in the U.S. (though European comics seem to get it pretty well).

I've used the game for Western Superheroes, Medieval Fantasy, straight up Space Opera and a host of other things, though usually also adding a dose of comedy.


 
 


The system is your basic Stat + Skill Rank + Die Roll familiar to most D20 fans. The 'Interlock System' was extremely influential to game design of the era and the following years, obviously all the way to the design of 3rd Edition D&D. Unfortunately, Mekton and Cyberpunk used a D10 but Teenagers used a D6 for some reason. I switched TFOS to D10 right away, making the three games much more compatible.

Another adjustment I made was to give the Special Powers and Abilites ranks similar to skills. The idea was simply to not have everyone with Superspeed be the same speed for example. Player Characters in my house rules all start with 10 points and can either roll randomly or assign points to the powers they want. For example, my friend Dave's character 'Blitz' had Superspeed 10, while Pete's teenage cyborg had Superstrength 3, Invulnerability 3 and Micro Missiles (Zap) 4. We also added a lot of new powers and abilities.






I've run at least two or three long term campaigns using the game's default premise, modified by settings of my own creation. The most successful was a game I ran in high school entitled 'Blast City Blues' in which alien refugees escaping a deadly enemy come to Earth with a warning and an offer. The warning is that the menace of three galaxies is hot on their heels and the offer is to give the Earthlings super powers and advanced technology to fight off the coming invaders. The offer is excepted but the menace never arrives. Now, 20 years later, the refugee ship is an island city that houses a school for the superpowered offspring of Earth's original volunteer protectors.

Going to leave it there for now but I'm sure I'll be coming back to this subject again in the future. The products of R. Talsorian Games had a pretty profound effect on me and my gaming style. I can easily see analyzing and discussing them further.



Until then,

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Barking Alien






Monday, January 24, 2011

The Flood Gates Have Opened

After my earlier entry today I started thinking about all the gaming related ideas I am thinking about. There's a lot. A lot of a lot. There always is.

Among the concepts blowing about in the windmills of my mind are:

Favorite Games I Want to Post About!
Most notably Teenagers from Outer Space, Toon, Sketch! and Faery's Tale Deluxe. In the cases of the first and last of those listed, I should also post up my houserules for each.

Why Am I Playing So Much D&D Lately?
OK, so its my own D&D-But-Not variation but still. It seems like over the last two years I've played this more than I've played almost anything else. That stinks. I want to go back to Sci-Fi!

One Shot Fever!
I currently have this uncontrollable erge to run a one shot of something at a convention or the like. I'm thinking of doing something at the next RECESS in NY but that's still months away.

Aliens & Astrobases is Taking Too Long.
That is, I expected to be done already but I'm not even close. I don't know why but I'm being really slow and meticulious with this thing. I guess that's a positive but I'm not used to taking so much time on rules.

Who or What Are These Creatures?



This is the cover for the Japanese TRPG Crash World, which takes place some time after a Human Starship has crash landed on an alien world. Now dwelling in this post-apocalyptic extraterrestrial environment, the remains of the crew and passengers must scavenge for advanced technology to survive.

Interesting group no? Tell me about one or more of them.

Well that's all the time I have for now. If I don't pass out early tonight I'll probably post one more time today.

Take that procrastination!

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Barking Alien

Brain Freeze


One of my unspoken New Year's Resolutions (hmmm...does typing this out right now still qualify it as 'unspoken'?) is to blog more often and more regularly in 2011. So far I've been doing just that and it seems to have paid off. I've got 75 followers and I get a lot more comments on the posts I make. Thanks to everyone who visits and joins in the fun!

Unfortunately, I don't have much to say right now, partially because I've got to run off to work, which mostly consists of walking around outside in New York's 8 degree weather (yes, that's right Eight Degrees). I love the cold but that is pushing it.

The other major reason I don't have a real subject for this post is because I'm trying to concentrate on the actual development of my new campaigns. Once I have a more solid idea of what they're all about I'll be able to discuss them in what I hope will be an interesting and entertaining way.

That said, there are a few floating games and ideas I would love to discuss. I'm sure I'll post something more meaningful tonight when I have more time.

Well, Hoth...er...the city awaits,

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Barking Alien


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Same Old Song and Dance

While I work on my ideas for my new Star Trek campaign (NY) and my new Post-Apocalypse campaign (NJ), I head out today to run my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D game.I may have mentioned this before but Erin Palette said to me not long ago, "For someone who doesn't like D&D you sure seem to play it a lot."

She's right of course. I feel like Al Pacino in Godfather III..."I try to get out but they keep pulling me back in."

It seems my approach to D&D, whatever it may be, goes over really well among the gamers I know. Generally speaking the usual response is, "This is not D&D. This is something totally different." In reality, its not. That is, its not really that different in game terms. Mechanically its a blend of AD&D first and 3.0 with no feats. Instead, I injected my Talent System and that seems to make all the difference. That and my style of play is very fast when action of any kind is involved. I've removed the need to look up anything, consult charts or roll anything that isn't a contested challenge (meaning you roll to hit, save, 'Talent' checks but not for every little thing every moment. A Fighter is going to recognize most weapons and armor without needing to roll. A Ranger familiar with a given terrain doesn't need to roll to determine which berries in his home turf are edible.).

Currently, our group of freelance Monster Hunters are in a region of what on our Earth would be Canada. Originally they went their on their own volition to locate a creature known as The Ghost Wolf, a massive, spirit wolf whose fur, if it can be obtained, will make the perfect component for a magic bow one of the players wants to have constructed. While in the area, they stopped at a trading post and discovered several other potential jobs.
Miners in the region need help getting rid of Wendigo that haunt the hills where the mines are.

A Mage from a prestigious Wizard's College and Guild is doing research on plants useful for alchemical purposes but is constantly being hindered by tree spirit creatures.

The local trade authority has revealed a desire to get the exclusive mining rites to a dried up lake area where they believe there is oil (Yes oil. Black gold. Control of the area would also enable them to develop a road North to what is essentially Alaska and perhaps more of the stuff). Unfortunately for them, this desire puts them in conflict with a small but tenacious mining outfit that is already staking a claim to the lake bed, originally unaware of the potential oil deposits. The PCs have since negotiated a deal that looks to benefit everyone involved. The only snag is that a previous Monster Hunter of some notoriety was sent to scout out the Alaska region and never returned.

The PC group's 'leader' (guy who owns their ship) also discovered an Elven Fighter/Mage whose father may have been friends with the PC's father. Both men disappeared 10 years ago. One went looking for the other.

The PCs are...
Male, Half-Elf*, Ranger/Shaman, Levels 3/3
Male, Grey Elf, Mage (Illusionist Specialty), Level 5
Female, Human, Cleric (of Poseidon), Level 4
Male, Half-Orc**, Fighter, Level 4
Male, Human (Appears Native American), Ranger, Level 4

Several NPC companions accompany them at this time including three Male Dwarves (all Fighters), a Male Half-Elf* Rogue (More Sailor/Pirate) and a Male Human Barbarian (of sorts).

Anyway, off to the races. Take care and I hope your day is as gamey as possible!

AD
Barking Alien

*As I may have mentioned, Half-Elf is a misnomer. While there are Half-Elves on my world, both of the characters noted are from this nearly Australia sized island where Humans and Elves have lived together so long that any given individual can't really determine how much Human and how much Elf is mixed into their genes. Some 'Half-Elves' are more like three quarters Elf while others are about 85% Human. The Ranger/Shaman's dad was 50% Human and 50% Wood Elf, while his mom was a pure blooded Wild Elf.

**Orcs are rare on my world, having largely been killed off and driven to extinction by Humans, Elves, Dwarves, etc. Half-Orcs might as well be aliens. When people see him the basic reaction is either 'What the hell is wrong with your face? Are you cursed?" or "Damn that guy is ugly. If I didn't know better I'd say he was half Orc." "Half-Orc? Don't be silly dear...".


Friday, January 21, 2011

Its The End of The World As We Know It


...and I feel fine.

Had another of my gaming epiphanies last night.

I am considering running a Post-Apocalypse campaign for my New Jersey group.

This would represent a serious departure in tone for me and it would be a subject I haven't really covered in depth since running Gamma World in the early-to-mid-80's.

I am considering use a hacked and expanded variant of the free to download RPG COLLAPSE, combined with some ideas from Apocalypse World, Fiasco and the Japanese TRPG Crash World.

The key elements to consider for me will be:

The nature of the Collapse/Apocalypse
When did it occur.
How much time has passed.
Is the end result Gamma World or a more realistic approach.

I have some ideas brewing that may answer these questions but open up a whole boatload of new ones. My favorite!

More to come...

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Barking Alien


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Monsters Versus Aliens

What is the difference between a Monster of the Medieval Fantasy variety and an Alien of the Sci-Fi/Space Adventure tradition?

Numerous blogs before me have addressed this issue and I'm sure many will after today but I was thinking about it and I have a blog so I figured I'd give my two cents on the subject.

Honestly, I see them as fundamentally different from an atmosphere and purpose angle, at least as it relates to RPGs.

A Monster is a creature of myth and folklore that represents humanity's fears, brings to light a trait in the human character or otherwise illustrates a lesson or failing in our collective experience. It is this description which makes me so fascinated by medieval bestiaries and less than enamoured of the D&D versions of monsters. Unlike the lesson in humility of yore that the Manticore represented, the D&D Manticore is a big thing with sharp teeth that you kill for stuff. The story of the Minotaur is a story of a unique creature resulting from a most unique situation that mirrored political and social elements between Greece and Crete. In D&D its a big thing with sharp horns that you kill for stuff.

I digress...the thing about monsters is, for them to be monstrous in my opinion, you can't know too much about them. They shouldn't, in a manner of speaking, make too much sense. Descriptions of monsters with No. Appearing, Alignment, % in Lair and the like do the Monster a disservice. Monsters are weird, mysterious, menacing and information on them differs to region to region and storyteller to storyteller.


As awesome as the old Dragon Magazine 'Ecology of...' articles were I eventually started to really dislike them. You want to know the Ecology of the Tarasque? Fine, here it is; Twenty minutes after a Tarasque comes into your region there is no ecology. Everything is dead. This thing is a ~#$king Monster! A Monster doesn't belong in your local ecology. Its an X-Factor, an afront to or freak of nature. Monsters are supernatural speed bumps on the road to evolution that Darwin missed on his last drive by.

Aliens on the other hand are a whole other...er...beast. Aliens need to make sense. They need to fit. They need to be a part of the package that includes an exoplanet's temperature, weather conditions and terrain. If a 50 ft long serpentine Dragon weighing in excess of 5 tons (about the height of a T-Rex but lighter in my mind) moves stealthily through a misty forest no one shouts "How? Where does it find enough food to support its size? How can it fly with that size wingspan and a weight of 5 tons?". Its a Dragon. Its there. Now run for your lives! If that were an Alien though it would need a darn good reason to be where it is. This makes Aliens much harder to design than Monsters but to me much more rewarding.

If an Alien works, it not only becomes a memorable element of an adventure but it makes the whole planet the PCs are on seem more real. Every time I've used a really good Alien my players are all, "Whoah now I get it. Its perfectly adapted to swim through this muck/climb this mountain/detect us without visual senses, etc. We need to change tactics!" They remember the planets and their unusual conditions as well as their encounter because these elements are intrinsically related.

An Alien is all about how it fits in to the world it lives in. A Monster, at least to me, is all about how it doesn't.

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Barking Alien




Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gauntlet and Mouser

What kind of Superhero Comic Book RPG fan would I be if I didn't point out this incredibly cool interview with Villains and Vigilantes creators Jeff Dee and Jack Herman.

Super Interview!

V&V is one of my all time favorite RPGs from two of the nicest guys in the business.

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Worlds Apart


I am currently contemplating running a campaign for my New Jersey crew based on my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D game.

The reason is that my good friend Dave has stated, repeatedly and rightly so, that my best group should get the chance to play in one of my best games (My best according to Dave). Also, I wanted to run something for that crew this year that I've never run with them before and this does indeed fit the bill. Yep, in the 15 years or so we've been gaming together, I've never run them through a campaign of D&D.

Well, you can't get away scott free forever, so it looks like its gonna be medieval fantasy. As you can probably tell, I'm elated. As you probably can't tell on account of its the internet, I'm being sarcastic.

So what can I do to jazz this baby up a bit and make it fun for them but not boring for me. I know! New world!

Most of my D&D But Not games take place on my 20-25 year old campaign world of Aerth, which is designed to resemble a parallel Earth. It looks like the Earth, though slightly altered and it has numerous places, peoples and myths that reflect those found on our own real planet. There is a Minotaur on an island near my Greco-Roman area, Tengu in the mountains of the Far East and Vikings in the icy, snow crested lands of the North.

For this new campaign, I'd like a new world. I want something a bit less superheroic and a bit more sword and sorcery-ish. At the same time, I'm not sure if I can pull off a Fritz Lieber/Michael Moorcock inspired world any longer. Its so far from my experience I don't know if I can truly relate to a creation like that.

So what than shall I do?

Any ideas?

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Monday, January 17, 2011

I Have A Dream

video


Happy Birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

If These Were The Voyages



Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending
NERDNYC's two-day gaming event/convention known as RECESS.


I had a lot of fun, met some very cool people and played two very good games. I also discovered some surprising things that struck me as quite amazing considering I've lived in New York all of my life.


First, there is only one real
FLGS in the five boroughs that really matters and yet there are still gamers close to my age that don't know about it. I find that mind boggling.


Second, apparently there ARE a number of very attractive and intelligent gaming girls in the New York area. I have to assume that they either fall into the category of the above (not knowing about the Compleat Strategist and hence I've never seen them), only come out of temporal suspension to go to conventions or are otherwise normally cloaked to hide their identity (possibly using shapechanging abilities, advanced holographic technology or super-hypnosis).It all makes perfect sense now.


Third, the internet is a terrible depiction of how the old school and new school interact with each other. While diehards exist on both sides of the fence, I found a lot more people who blur the line like myself. Most play the same way they've played for a long, long time, but story and character do matter to them. One fellow said, "I don't want to go all 'Forge'-y. No GM, bizarre cards or things like that but I do want a story. The hack and slash days are over for me. I've grown up. I want more than that."


On another, though related, note, I want to give kudos to a fellow named 'E.T. Smith'. An Old School Sci-Fi chap if ever there was one, he ran a game of
Starships & Spacemen which I have to say was excellent. He brilliantly simplifed and expanded the game simultaneously, with custom character sheets, starship reference sheets and a really cool way of depicting space combat. Smith made starship operation, not just combat, a real resource management mini-game within the game which limited what we could do will at the same time making our decisions matter a lot more.


The setting of his 'adventure' (it really wasn't an adventure but more on that in a moment) was Starships & Spacemen's alternate Star Trek-like universe of the Galactic Confederacy; with its logical, green, pointy eared Taurans, blue furred, pacifist Andromedans (which we apparently believed to look like a cross between a Wookiee and Cookie Monster) and the dread Klingon-esque Zangid (who started as swarthy and orange only to be described as giant, angry Oopa Loompa's later on). The session had a feel far more akin to Galaxy Quest than Star Trek but we had a fantastic time. If Goblinoid Games is thinking of bringing this classic game back, they could do far worse than to talk to this fellow first before expanding on the game.


One last point, E. T. Smith didn't run an adventure. What he ran was a series of random encounters based on which of several different hexes on a star map we (the PCs) scanned and than went to investigate. As we scanned more and more systems and random rolls told him what was in each, he started to tie together certain elements of the rolls and soon a plot of sorts made itself known. It was a very Sandbox-y approach that I was incredibly impressed by. I have to say it gave me a new perspective on how to develop stories and adventures for my own Star Trek games. Awesome stuff.


I'm looking forward to going to another of these RECESS events. Sadly I could only go yesterday as I have to work later today.

 
Until next time, 'Exist For A Large Period and Do Well'
 
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Friday, January 14, 2011

This Is What Happens When You Blog Sick - Part 2


The Top 10 Things Most Likely to Occur
in a D&D Campaign
Run by Me

With 10 being, "Its highly likely to happen at least once per campaign. If hasn't occured yet expect to see it sometime soon." and 1 being, "Guaranteed! That is going to happen constantly. Possibly once every few seconds."


10. You will discover something on my world no one else (including no other PC) has.
9. You will make one NPC a staunch ally and another NPC an arch-enemy.
8. Your party will fight a creature, while solving a puzzle, while in a difficult environment/terrain.
7. Someone will be brought to tears or very close to it.
6. Someone will laugh so hard as to eject liquid from their nose or have trouble breathing.
5. You will want to play a wizard 'cause they're just so damn cool.
4. You will fight a creature that isn't in any official Monster Manual but can be looked up in a book on folklore or mythology.*
3. Something is going to explode, implode or possibly both simultaneously.
2. A philosophical debate will save the world.
1. You will leave the game wanting to play again.

*I have not read every Monster Manual ever made and its possible the name is being used for a similar creature but based on previous experience (over 33 years) the D&D version and my version will essentially be two completely different beasts. Literally.

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Barking Alien

This Is What Happens When You Blog Sick - Part 1


The Top 10 Things Least Likely to Occur
in a D&D Campaign
Run By Me

With 10 being, "Its possible but highly unlikely. If it occurs don't expect to see it again for a while." and 1 being, "Are you out of your mind? That is not going to happen in a million billion years."

10. You will come across a Magic Item you've seen before.*
9. You will encounter a Monster inappropriate to the culture of the region you're in.**
8. Every Spell you encounter will be familiar to you.
7. You will enter a dungeon.
6. You will leave a town, city or country and not remember it for something.
5. Only travel by foot or horseback.
4. You will remain in the exact same environment for more than 4 sessions.
3. You will fight a bunch of Orcs.
2. You will fight a Dragon without loss of life, property, collateral damage or sanity.
1. You will hear the GM say, "No. That's impossible" and I'll actually mean it.


*The exception would be those magic items mass produced in times of war such as items of protection and arrows of slaying. Potions are also not counted in this category unless their are of superior quality.

**My Gaki are found in my Japan, my Minotaur in my Greco-Roman area and Scottish Faeries live in and around the Highland hills and forests of my Scotland region. The random appearence of a Genie in the frozen north is highly unlikely without a very good backstory.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Breast Fire, Rocket Punch, Form Blazing Sword




I find it surprising, and not for the first time, that the tags for some of my favorite subjects have but one or two entries on them after all this time. One of the items that struck me as being especially under-discussed in one of my all time favorite RPGs, R. Talsorian Games' Giant Robot Anime classic, Mekton.

As with numerous other aspects of my time with the hobby of gaming, it would seem my exposure to Mekton's original source material was somewhat atypical. By the time the original white box Mekton and the later book version was released I was already an Anime fan. Yes kids, before the 'R' word*, before Power Rangers, Toonami and every Best Buy in America having Japanese cartoons, I was already familiar with the 'Japanimation' phenomenon.








A good friend of mine in Junior High School, 'Buzz', was originally from Burma and clued my friends and I in on the fact that Battle of the Planets was really Gatchaman and robots could get big. Really, really big. This same fellow would later introduce me to a club that met one a month in Manhattan to view episodes of TV shows currently running in Japan which had been recorded on VHS tape. You could record a TV show on a machine and play it back later like a cassette tape? The mind boggled...

A fan of anything with robots, super fast action and a cool story, I was immediately in love with Anime and Manga. I collected tapes, bought magazines I couldn't read and put together plastic model kits that towered above my friends' measly miniatures.

When Mekton came out my good friend Nelson purchased it right away and we played it constantly...well...on and off. See there we're only a few of us who were keyed in to this 'underground fandom' and we still spent most of our game time on Star Trek, Star Wars (homebrew before West End's D6), Villains & Vigilantes, Champions and other supers games and pretty much anything else we could get our ravenous creativity on.






Mekton would stand the test of time however as my purchase of Mekton II in 1987 would renew my interest in the game and the subject. I ran several successful campaigns between 87' and the release of Mekton Z in 1994 (and have run several since). The vast majority of these campaigns have been rather limited in duration however, averaging between six and a dozen sessions. I do recall two long term campaigns however; World Guard Tri-G'Kura which ran for around 24 episodes and Distant Soldier Herakles (later changed to Be Forever Distant Soldier). The nature of the original material seems to lend itself to keeping the story short or, for longer term campaigns, running a number of short interconnected mini-campaigns (like OVAs).

Anyway, this brief trip down mecha memory lane has me wondering if they'll ever give the game a reboot. I would certainly support a Giant Robot Renaissance.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Postcards From Memory Alpha

I'm finally starting to feel a little better and I hope to be blogging about something of meaning very shortly.

In the meantime, I thought I'd show off some of the material from my past Star Trek campaigns.
Back in one of my earliest posts on the subject of Star Trek gaming, I mentioned that I keep all the material from all my past games in a huge three-ring binder. The binder is divided into two main sections, a collection of the character sheets, rules notes and such and than an alphabetical listing of all the people, places, ships, aliens, devices, planets and whatever we encounter.

I've scanned in a few sheets here from that book/binder. These examples come from various campaigns and different eras of Star Trek history. I hope they come out clearly on the blog. Let me kow what you guys think.






This first image is of the PCs' ship the USS Gryphon from a TOS Era Campaign. Design by Masao Okazaki of the website Starfleet Museum.



 

A list of NPCs onboard the Gryphon. Seperated by department; Command Gold, Science Blue and Support (Engineering/Security) Red. Includes Name, Rank, Species, Most Important Stat/Skill and little notes like 'Grav-Racing Fan' or 'Plays 3D Chess'





Our local Starbase in that campaign, Starbase 19, aka Starbase Olympus Zeta. Another Okazaki design.





The front of a PC sheet belonging to my friend Lynn, featuring her Half-Human, Half-Orion Intelligence Officer Lt. Shilana Kincaid.




Page two of the same character sheet showing her past history and vessels she served on. Note some details of her assignments are classified.





Finally a custom bridge design, by me, based on a cool idea someone had for an Akira Class bridge.

Most of the artwork is taken from various sites on the internet, although in some cases I've modified them a bit. Some of the graphics are clip art meet Photoshop and there's also an original character sketch by one of my extremely talented players (that is a PC Character Record Sheet from one of my old campaign, shown front and back).That's all the time I have for now. Be well and stay warm,

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Vital Signs


My work day finally ended around 9:30 pm last night and I immediately returned to sickbay (that is, my apartment). I still feel pretty sick but better than I did that first night. I now only feel like crap and not worse than crap! Kudos to me.

I woke this morning to find I know have 72 followers. 72! That's...like a lot for me. My goal of 100 by next Christmas is probably conservative. I'm feeling better already.

I haven't had much time, energy or focus to think about my various gaming projects over the last few days as nearly every iota of my mental and physical fortitude has gone toward trying to feel better. I literally can't afford to take off from work so everything not related to ditching the flu has gone on the back burner.

At the same time, the one idea, concept or whathaveyou that has repeatedly popped into my noggin' at near random intervals is how much I like Space Adventure and how rarely I've gotten to play it in the last few years. Sure there's been a short campaign here and a one shot there but a solid, long term series has eluded me.

Why? I'm not sure. Is it me? Perhaps. I haven't had the time to devout to such an endeavour as is needed for the way I like to run Sci-Fi. I've also been gaming with different groups and needed to adjust my style a bit to accomodate the type of game where we'd all have fun.

Bottom line is I really want to run a good, long term if possible, Star Trek game. I'm going to putting a lot of thought into this before I get started but I want to get started by next month (February).

Before I go, let me know if you're in the New York area for a once or twice a month Star Trek RPG campaign. I've only got two confirmed players and I'd like to see if I can get a few more. Also, I will be attending RECESS this coming Saturday (and maybe, hopefully Sunday) in New York City. Check out NERDNYC for details. Hope to meet you there.

Peace and Long Life,

AD
Barking Alien



Sunday, January 9, 2011

Paging Dr. McCoy


I'm sick.

I'm pretty sure it's Altairian Chest Flu. I could be wrong. I'm a gamemaster, not a doctor.

Like much of the blogosphere, I am taking the opportunity (between bouts of passing out) to look through the World Creation rules/mechanics of Stars Without Number.

I've got to say, I like them. I'm not normally all that enamoured by random charts but sometimes, certain ones are fun and do inspire ideas. I would want to expand the Tech Level list a bit. It's also customized for the setting of the game which I'm not as into (I'd prefer to create mine own background). The idea of the tags, similar in someways to Tags and Aspects in FATE related systems, is very useful here, helping to paint a picture more thoroughly than can be done with 'Breathable Atmosphere, Cold Temperature' etc.

That's all I can say right now. Feel like crap. Maybe not as good as crap. I strive to improve my status and feel like crap actually.

Hasn't McCoy cured the common cold yet?


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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dramatic Experience

I thought I'd open with a brief update.

As of this moment the campaigns I am running or plan to run are:
D&D-for-those-who-dislike-D&DWith my NJ crew. Once a month (hopefully), 4 Players plus myself as GM, 6-8 hour sessions. Creating an original world (in other words not my default milieu for this game). In truth I'm revamping and souping up another world I haven't used in many, many years. I'm looking forward to seeing new players unfamiliar with my changes to the game in a Sandbox/Anything Goes kind of world. Don't worry Dave, it'll still have a heavy dose of 'Awesome Anime Fantasy Adventure!'
Star TrekA few NY players. Once or twice a month if possible. Only 2 players confirmed and myself as GM. One of the players and I prefer 6-8 hour session whereas the other seems to like 4 hour. Gah. I can't imagine motivating myself to leave my apartment for a game that's going to last only 4 hours. We'll work something out I'm sure.

Right now we are looking at a Post-Star Trek:Nemesis setting, likely around 2391. The PCs are the crew of a Defiant Class vessel assigned to protect a Scientific Research Outpost in a newly explored region of space. Sometimes they will travel with the under-armed scout and research vessels to new planets or anomalies, sometimes they'll be needed back at the Outpost and I have a few other tricks up my sleave to keep things interesting.

In addition to these full campaigns I'm going to be doing some playtesting for my various RPG projects such as Aliens & Astrobases, Project X (no peeking!) and possibly even my D&D-for-those-who-dislike-D&D system. I've been developing that game for 25 years so I figure I might as well do something with it.

Here's a quick sample of the games Experience Point system:

Event - Awarded Points

Amazing Feat Accomplished
- 300 per feat
Challenge Bested - 200 per event
Creativity (Creative Problem Solving/Unusual Use of Ability/Spell/Weapon, Etc.) - 100 bonus
Dialogue, Amusing - 50 per line
Dialogue, Deep/Philosophical - 150 per chat
Dialogue, Plot Driven/Driving - 150 per chat
Enemies Defeated (Minor Enemies/Henchmen, 1-3) - 200 per fight
Enemies Defeated (Minor Enemies/Henchmen, 4-6) - 300 per fight
Enemies Defeated (Leader) - 400 per fight + 50 bonus for Hit Dice Over PC's Level
Enemies Defeated (Monstrous, large) - 600 per creature
Enemies Defeated (Monstrous, med) - 400 per creature
Enemies Defeated (Monstrous, small) - 200 per creature
Enemies Defeated (Magical/Supernatural/Special Abilities, 1-3) - 300 per fight
Enemies Defeated (Magical/Supernatural/Special Abilities, 4-6) - 400 per fight
Good Deed Accomplished - 100 bonus
Heroic Action, Selfless Act - 300 per event
Plot Development, Background - 200 per adventure
Plot Development, Story - 200 per adventure
Plot Secret Revealed - 300 per secret
Role-Playing in Character -200 bonus
Romantic Development - 150 per adventure
Teamwork - 250 per event per participant



This isn't the complete chart but it does give an idea of how my campaigns work and what gives you experience. You'll notice that fights don't do much. Well, that's a bit of an illusion since in a single session you could have multiple battles that really add up. Also, no XP is given for finding a magic item or gold. Disliked that since 1979. Why would you get Experience points for that. What did you learn other than 'look down'.



We used to end our sessions by going over XP but now its been much more fun to open the next session with it. The players each, one by one, go over all the stuff they did, fought and said in the previous adventure. Players vouch for each other and try to combine their efforts more.



Player 1: "OK, remember when I got that Orc Chieftain to talk about his people's dealings with the local Human tribe? He told us about the curse in the Burial Ground. That's Plot Secret Revealed right? That was the curse that the witch warned us about a while back."



Player 2: "Right and when you told he we were heading there to undo the curse he got very edgy..."



Player 1: "Yeah, yeah! But you and Steve spoke his particular Orc dialect and convinced him we were trying to help."



GM: "All true. Hmm...Ok, 150 for Plot Driven Dialog for Dan, Vinny and Steve. Dan, add another 300 for Plot Secret Revealed. Everyone also gets 250 points for Teamwork."


That's basically how it works at least. I'm always tweaking it and modifying it to better reflect our style of play.



Anyway, I'm off (as if that wasn't readily apparent)...


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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Design Parameters

Zak S. posted an interesting bit about what the 'Design Specs' of his group are.

I thought it might be fun to do the same, though I have two primary groups so I will have to denote which is which when explaining each element.

Now, Zak didn't exactly spell out what the definition of 'Design Spec' was so I'm going to go with my best understanding. To me its means the parts/factors/elements a game needs to include or be capable of simulating to get us to like to play it.

The following Design Specs mentioned by Zak are pretty much the same for both of my groups though not always for exactly the same reasons.

-Fast, Obvious Ways To Make Villains.
-Lots of Setting Room To Maneuver For The GM.
-GM Supplements Should Have New Ideas In Them Rather Than Providing Crunch For Genre-Expected Stuff.

I would add the following note with a slight alteration...

-The System Should Provide Lots of Optional Rules That The GM (and Players) Can Use.

I like to have cool toys I can use to create new things but I want the players to understand them to so they can suggest ideas to add in. For example, Players in my Star Trek games have come up with Overlays ('Professions') and background Packages to better illustrate no only their characters origins but those of character types that should be familiar to Star Trek fans but aren't always represented in the rulebook.

You'll notice that these are all basically GM related. That's because in both cases, the GM is me and I can vouch for what I need the game to do. The players of each group are pretty different in play style from those of the other.

My Group(s)'s Design Specs Are:

In NJ:

-Fast Character Generation.
-Easy Character Generation With An Option To Do It The Hard Way For People Who Are More Comfortable With The System. (or Have Very Specific Ideas on How They Want Their Character to Be)
-Characters Made The Hard Way Shouldn't Be Automatically Better Than Characters Made The Easy Way
-That Having Been Said, Game Balance Is Not Such A Big Deal.
-A Generic Setting That Is Easy To Communicate.
-Don't Require Players To Know Fiddly Details of The Setting In Order To Make Decisions During Character Generation (Also how I, the GM, feel)
-A System Where Player Innovation Requires Imagining The Situation In Detail Rather Than Knowing The Rules Back-To-Front (Also how I, the GM, feel)

In addition, I would add...

-Role Playing In Character, Social Interaction With NPCs, Solving Puzzles, Learning About The World/Milieu and Pro-Active Ideas for Adventures and Subplots Should Be Just As Commonly Occuring and Important As Fighting.
-All of The Above Should Be Rewarded Just As Much If Not More Than Fighting
-Character Individuality Comes From Who They Are Not What They Do (This group excels at games where everyone is a Ghostbuster or a Starfleet Officer or a member of an Order of Knights. Their imagination is sparked by trying to be different even though they may have the same job)
-Vague or Open To Interpretation Abilities Are Prefered Over Specific, Detailed Ones
-Attention To Genre/Setting Trumps Attention To Rules. If It Don't Feel Right It Ain't Right.

In NY:

The NY crew are much more into crunch and so easy/fast character generation isn't a big deal. They don't want it to be so complicated they can't figure it out but if it takes three hours or three days to make the 'perfect character' then that's how long it takes.

In connection to the above some of them (maybe a third of the group) pride themselves on their rules knowledge. Elements of game mechanics that the NJ group couldn't give a Womp Rat's ass about become a Design Spec in the Big Apple. In NY, rules matter.

They also prefer a more detailed and specific setting, more fighting and less investigation, exploration and problem solving.

Also...

-Players Should Have Easy Access To Information Their Characters Should Now. (My NY crew gets very upset when data that would be second nature to their characters because of their species, culture, job or whatever is treated like difficult to obtain, top-secret info.)
-Creative Writing Appreciated (That is, a few of them want to make a lot of background info and want you to appreciate the time and care they put into writing it. This isn't really my thing but if they think its fun I try to accomodate it as best I can within reason).

Obviously you can see these are two very different groups. The former (NJ) is more new age, new school, story over rules, relaxed attitude hippies. The latter (NY) is more old school, hack-and-slash, rules oriented and they-like-what-they-like.

I tend to fall more in line with the NJ gang as far as my interests.

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