Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: RED DWARF

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Red Dwarf, the British, Science Fiction comedy television series, created by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, and Grant Naylor, three times on this blog before today.

I may have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.




Emergency. Emergency.
There is an emergency going on.
 
It's still going on.


This, this right here, is why I came up with Thorough Thursdays.

How is this possible? How have I not mentioned this show more than three times in the seven years my blog has been around? I'm more than a bit of an Anglophile, and this show is British, Science Fiction, funny, and how the hell have I not talked about this program more than three times?

Red Dwarf is my favorite British comedy series ever, and one of my favorite television shows of all time. I feel like a total gimboid. A complete smeghead. Can you forgive me?





I first discovered Red Dwarf quite by accident. Thanks to my eternal struggle with insomnia, I was up late channel surfing when I came across a PBS affiliate that apparently showed Britcoms in the wee, small hours.

Depending on the night you tuned in you could catch Blackadder, Are You Being Served?, and a few others. A fan of British culture, and humor, I immediately started following the shows I liked best, and tried to catch others when I had the chance.

One night (I forget which day of the week) I stayed up past Are You Being Served? (which was all repeats, as the show had been over for a number of years) to catch an apparently new program called, you guessed it, Red Dwarf.

It was love at first smeg.

From that point on I never missed an episode, until the channel changed up its airing schedule, and I couldn't find what night Red Dwarf was on. It was around that time I met the woman who I would eventually move in with, marry, and...well...divorce, but that is a sad tale for another time. The bottom line is, I never saw the last two seasons of Red Dwarf until many years after the show had been cancelled.

I have, at this point, seen all the episodes of every single season many times over, including the Back to Earth mini-series, and the six-episode Season X (10). To be honest, I've only seen Seasons VII, VIII, and Back to Earth a few times each. Seasons I-III I've watched dozens of time. I really liked Season X.

Where was I?

Ah, yes! So what makes Red Dwarf so bloody awesome? It's a British, Science Fiction, comedy. So basically, it's made of win.
 





What I love about the series - beyond the fantastically odd-ball premise, quirky characters, and cheesy-but-cool special effects - is the way Science Fiction concepts are used to add a new spin to classic sitcom tropes. The Sci-Fi elements also allow for a few situations that would only occur in the show's unique setting.

Artificially intelligent toasters, love sick, genetically engineered monsters, a starship bigger than a city, Better-Than-Life Virtual Reality games, and a host of other possibilities, are the threats, obstacles, and irritants you'll encounter in Red Dwarf.
 
 
***
 
Of course, any television series is only as good as its characters.
 
The characters of Red Dwarf are nothing short of amazing. Exaggerated, but flawed Human individuals, combined with two all-too-human non-Humans, made for a perfect ensemble.
 
The chemistry of the actors can not be understated. These are a fantastic group of comedic actors who are either honestly, truly fond of each other, or much better actors than anyone has ever given them credit for.
 
I love these guys. Seriously. I don't know what else to say in this regard.
 
Except...well...I do a mighty good Kryten impression if I do say so myself.
 
What's next? Hmmm, ah yes. Gaming it.
 
 
***
 
I've run only one Red Dwarf game ever, which is a damn shame, as it went over incredibly well. Intended to be the 'Pilot Episode' for a new campaign, player schedules just never lined up right after that first session. What a session though. Bang on, as the Brits would say.
 
Why does this particular IP make for such a great RPG setting?

Well, first of all, it does just in case I didn't make that clear. Secondly, it combines several elements found in other well known RPGs to create a unique blending, with a dash of humor to achieve a flavor all it's own.

The Human inhabitants of the massive spaceship Red Dwarf, were essentially the working class spacers you'd expect to see in a game of Traveller. In order for the Jupiter Mining Corporation's Solar Class Mining Vessel (in some sources, Leviathan Class) to operate a peak performance, crewmembers of many different careers are required. Think about it, a Red Dwarf type ship would need Scouts, Scientists, Army and Navy, Bureaucrats, Belters, and any number of other jobs.

Even the main characters fit into Traveller pretty easily as Rogue (Dave Lister), Bureaucrat or Navy (Arnold Rimmer), Scientist with some Navy Skills (Kryten), and either Rogue or Barbarian (Cat). Your mileage may vary, but it isn't that hard to figure it out.

Now let's talk about the ship itself. I've said before that megadungeons don't impress me much because I'm used to playing in, and running, RPG campaigns where the PCs live in a huge megadungeon that takes them to their adventures. The Red Dwarf is 5 miles in length! You could easily spend a dozen adventures just exploring the vessel.

Now, what if it wasn't the Red Dwarf? What if a Scientific Exploration vessel suffered a similar accident. Lost for over 3 million years and exposed to space opera style radiation, who knows what might form on the ship. Imagine a Red Dwarf-USS Enterprise, or better yet (as I used in my campaign pilot), a Red Dwarf-Starship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha.

The adventures, obstacles and opponents potential is truly unlimited...kind of. While it is not clear if there are any sentient aliens in the setting, Humans are responsible for genetically engineering life forms (GELFs), many of which have developed their own cultures, and societies.

Mechanical lifeforms were also left behind by the long, lost Human race. There are Mechanoids, Humanoid Robots that generally aid Humans (like Kryten), Simulants, highly organized, Human hating Androids with their own empire, and Rogue Simulants, which look a lot like Borg, and while homicidal, they are considerably less likely to flay you alive, and roast you with turmeric, and a touch of Coriander.




 
If you do not run a Red Dwarf game,
I will challenge you to a duel across time, and space.
 
Oh come on. It's fun. There's nothing else to do.


If opponents you can talk to aren't your thing, there are bizarrely mutated GELF creatures, time distortions, various diseases, your own self doubt, and alternate versions of yourself from parallel universes to deal with.

I mean, how could it get any cooler? It's like every post EXONAUTS has ever made meets Monty Python!

In conclusion (if I don't conclude now I could seriously write for another hour or two on this), I highly recommend checking out the entire series, including Series X. You can avoid Back to Earth, it won't kill you, as it isn't their best work and kind of muddles the concept a bit.

After that, I wouldn't be surprised if Red Dwarf game ideas start forming in your head. You might also want to check out the official Red Dwarf RPG if you can find it. Written, designed, and published by Deep7, the game is no great innovation in the annals of system design history, but it is a very funny, well written book by true fans.

The Series Sourcebook, the only supplement produced for the game, is fantastic. An episode by episode breakdown of every season, what it was about, how the characters were different, and what the stories were about is included. It also includes stats for every single character, creature, device, spacecraft, vehicle, and anything else that appeared in each episode. Quite impressive.

One final note:

This post is notably devoid of references to Kristine Kochanski, the female character added to the series in Season 7, and appearing in 7, 8, and Back to Earth. She occasionally showed up in flashbacks, time warp episodes, and such in the previous Seasons.

While the actress who played her in Season 7 and beyond, Chloe Annett, is a lovely woman, and a very good actress, I didn't think she had compatible chemistry with the rest of the cast. I mean it worked, it was funny, but the presence of the character really threw off the show's dynamic.

The series producers, and creative team agreed, and she was not present in Series X (although she is referenced).

Onward, and remember, it's not really a party until someone wakes up with a traffic cone. Now, smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast.
 

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Barking Alien
 
 
 
 
 


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Humor Me

I picked a difficult month to focus on comedy as it turns out.

March is usually a very busy month for my dog-walking business, but this year, March has been pretty weak over all. My part-time job has been busy, as we are getting the kids at the tutoring center ready for the upcoming state-wide tests, so that's a positive. Generally speaking though, funds are tight at a time when I really need them not to be.

I don't know about you, but worrying about money, as I often do, doesn't really engage my feel for the funny.

I'm trying to regroup, and stay positive. To that end, here's a post on a few of the things making me smile lately (humor me, OK?):

***

STEVEN UNIVERSE




At the risk of sounding just like the wiki entry, Steven Universe is a Cartoon Network animated series created by the multi-talented Rebecca Sugar, former writer, composer, and storyboard artist of Adventure Time.

Arkhein, friend of this blog and proprietor of Rather Gamey, recently talked about it on his own blog. While I had seen illustrations of the characters on other sites before seeing the images from the show on Rather Gamey, it wasn't until his post that I decided to give the show a look.

I love this cartoon. It's like Dragonball Z for sensitive, creative types. It's what you would get if you crossed The Galaxy Trio with Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.

While the cool designs of Crystal Gem heroines, and weird monsters are definitely fun, what makes this series stand out is its levels of subtle depth, mixed in with the action and humor. The serious parts of are quite serious, and the characters portrayed with honesty, They are fun, fantastic, and surprisingly flawed.

Kudos to Rebecca Sugar for the development of this excellent series. When's the RPG coming out?


THE FLASH





Flash Fact: The Flash is freaking AWESOME.

I am loving this show. So much so it is causing me to un-love a lot of other shows. Basically, Flash is my new gold standard, and very few others TV programs even come close. Arrow is eating Flash's dust. Agents of Shield have nothing that can stand up to The Fastest Man Alive! Bring back Agent Carter. At least then Flash will get a run for his money.

Enough speed puns? OK, onward...

iZombie, Warner Brothers' newest comic book inspired television series, had a pretty good first episode. Nothing ground breaking, but pretty good TV. Going to give it a chance, and see where it goes.


GAMES*

To be terribly honest, and I know I have lamented on this subject before, there isn't very much out new that I am interested in.

I've seen some neat stuff on kickstarter, but generally speaking I'm pretty underwhelmed with the market of late. There are items 'coming soon'-ish that I am excited about though, such as Mekton Zero, Spirit of 77', and a few others.

It's not that aren't any interesting games being made. There are definitely some quality, new RPGs coming out, especially in the indie games department, but nothing for me. There just isn't anything out right now I personally 'have to have', or need to try.

So why list games as a category of things that are making me happy? Well, for starters, I love games, and there is always something interesting to consider, be it new, old, or something in the middle. I've been re-reading a number of older RPGs, and RPG notes, even though not all the games I'm re-examining are all that old.

The catalyst for this has been my Thorough Thursdays series. As I plan out which RPG, or other subject, I am going to cover for my next entry, I check back over stuff I love, but may not have looked at in a while. In addition to RPGs I've already covered, such as Paranoia, Toon, and Hunter Planet, I've been reacquainting myself with Stuperpowers, Land of Og, Kobolds Ate My Baby, Monsters and Other Childish Things, and a few others that may make an appearance on the blog very soon.


COMICS*


 
krrpk, by Bill Otomo


Likewise, I don't really have the money, or time for comic books right now, which is fine because there isn't a lot of stuff I'm interested in. Marvel continues to do a great job with many of its titles, DC continues to act like they are giving themselves enemas with their own heads, and the indies are putting out some truly impressive work. None of it is really what I'm looking for though, so for now I'll save my money.

I did discover the French comic book krrpk, by artist, and writer Bill Otomo. Otomo's style is So. Damn. Amazing! that I want to grab a copy of both volumes of krrpk, even though it's not available in English. Gah! No translations! So cruel.

Otomo is part of an art studio called Catfish Deluxe, and their work is outstanding, and inspiring to put it mildly. If I was thinking about doing something with Hunter Planet before, one look at krrpk and Sidera (Oh My Goddess! this thing! WATCH IT!) and now I'm chomping at the bit!

Well, that is enough of that for one day. Tonight I will try and get to a post with a little more meat to it.

Until then,

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Barking Alien


*I normally don't color anything Link Lime unless it is a link, but I didn't like the way it looked with the subject titles being different shades. I'm like that.






Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: PARANOIA

Prior to this post, I have only mentioned Paranoia, the 1984, darkly humorous role-playing game of life in a dystopian 'utopia', created and written by Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, and Eric Goldberg, in a single blog entry before this one.

That's just wrong.





GREETINGS HAPPY CITIZEN.

Um...Greetings. Can I help you?

AFFIRMATIVE. THIS IS THE COMPUTER, AND THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.

Well, that's good to know.

PLEASE STATE THE PURPOSE OF YOUR CURRENT ENDEAVOR.

Oh, sure. I'm going to tell my readers about one of my all time RPGs, West End Games' Paranoia.

THIS IS WONDERFUL! PLEASE CONTINUE! BE SURE TO AVOID ANY TREASONOUS THOUGHTS OR ACTIVITIES OR YOU WILL BE DIRECTED TO THE NEAREST DISINTERGRATION CHAMBER.

Er...OK. Thanks?

THANK YOU HAPPY CITIZEN. REMEMBER, HAPPINESS IS MANDATORY!


***
 
Stay Alert.
Trust No One.
Keep Your Laser Handy.
 

I forget how I discovered Paranoia, but I know that it wasn't long after it first hit the shelves. After playing it just once, I went to my FLGS straight away, and purchased it.

Ah, those were the days. Games came out that I wanted to buy, and I had the money to buy them. Such fond memories. Now where was I?

Oh right, Paranoia.

Everything about Paranoia spoke to me in 1984 the way few other games had, even FASA's Star Trek. Don't misunderstand, it's not that I thought it better than all of my favorite games of the time, but that it connected with me in a way the others hadn't. It made sense to me.

Paranoia was surely one of the games that contributed to the development of my personal Gamemastering outlook and style. Techniques developed reading, and running, Paranoia, factor into the way I run games today. Or rather they would, if I felt I had all of my old mojo back.

So what made the First, and Second Editions of Paranoia (my preferred editions) so special?

To begin with, the rules were simple. They weren't especially crunchy, or realistic, or complete for that matter, but they did what they needed to do, and let the PCs do the same. The rules were very much secondary to the ideas of the setting, although the weapon damage rules were nifty, and very much in line with the theme of Paranoia. They were quick, deadly, and resulted in things like Stun, Wound, Incapacitate, and Vaporize. No hits points. Saw that, loved it.

Picture if you will, that this was 1984. I started gaming in '77.

That means 7 years in, and I had already been exposed to a combat system very different from the those in the early round of games, and one that made a hell of a lot more sense to me than its predecessors. And from a humorous game no less! Big eye opener there.

Another thing that grabbed me was that it was indeed a comedy game. One of my first, along with Toon, and a welcome change from the more serious fare that permeated most of my gaming up to that point.

The comedy wasn't just from the circumstances, and characters built into the game. It also came through in the way the book was written. Contrary to the serious, and often dry manner in which most RPGs were written at the time, Paranoia was written with the author's tongue firmer in his cheek, using normal, everyday speech.

As a related aside, I often come across blogs holding high on a pedestal the writing of Gygax, Moldvay, and others of the Golden Age of Gaming. Personally, I don't think those men, creative, and skilled as they were, wrote half as entertainingly as those who worked for West End Games in the mid-to-late eighties. The WEG guys were funny, personable, and as I noted above, they spoke plain English.

YOUR ASSESSMENT OF LIFE IN ALPHA COMPLEX IS EXCELLENT SO FAR CITIZEN.

Why thanks. Um...what is that sound?

NO ONE IS SCREAMING, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION.

Oh...kay...moving on!

I have been wanting to run this game again for some time, but I have some concerns over how it would go over with my current group. Instinctively, it would seem the perfect game for a group of individualistic, espionage-loving types whose PCs often display trust issues. Thing is, it might end up as nothing but repeated TPKs. Not normally a problem in Paranoia, but definitely not conducive to a long term campaign (which is what I am hoping to build).

Alternatively, given the opportunities for back-stabbing, boot-licking, and deception intrinsic to Paranoia, I can just see my guys teaming up for once, and focusing all their efforts together, as a cohesive unit, sharing the patriotic goal of routing out actual traitors, and enemies of the Computer.

*Facepalm*

Nevertheless, I guess you don't know until you try.

Perhaps it's time.

IT IS TIME - TIME TO STAND TRIAL FOR TREASON! TRIAL COMPLETE. GUILTY!

Treason?! I just got done saying how awesome Paranoia is!

YES, BUT YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF ITS VIRTUES IS VERY HIGH. SUCH KNOWLEDGE IS WELL ABOVE YOUR SECURITY CLEARANCE. THANK FOR YOUR COOPERATION CITIZEN!

-ZAP!-






THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND.


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Barking Alien






Monday, March 16, 2015

Who Where What

This idea came to me, and while I'm sure it's not new, it's not one I've heard lately, and hopefully not in this way. It occurred to me as part of my ongoing quest to breakdown what's holding back my group, and I from creating a second really good campaign.

For the sake of argument, and to facilitate the concept behind this post, let's say there are three kinds of RPG campaigns.

[Yes, sure, of course there are more than three kinds, and the kinds I describe here don't cover everything except in the broadest sense, but indulge me so I can get this idea out, OK? Aces.]

The three types of games for our purposes here are:

Who games
Where games
What games


In a Who game, it's all about the PCs. The campaign, and the vast majority of all the elements therein, are Player Character driven. Stories focus on the PCs, their goals, their drives, their background stories, and how the world/setting relates to them, and them to it, from the PCs' perspectives.

The benefits of this type of RPG are that the players will be very invested in their characters, and there is a likelihood of deeper characterization, and more role playing.

The main drawbacks of this type of campaign are that each player could be so focused on their own PC that they may not give much thought to the other players' PCs, the setting, or any adventure idea you've developed. If it isn't about them, it isn't important.


***


In a Where game, the setting is everything. OK, perhaps not everything, but it's the most important thing. Many IP based games fall into this category.

If you are playing in the Star Wars universe for example, and the adventure takes the PCs to Tatooine, then...wait...HOLY CRAP! We're on Tatooine! How awesome is that? The PCs will want to see Mos Eisley Spaceport, grab some blue milk at the Cantina, bullseye some Womp Rats, and drive a Pod Racer through Beggar's Canyon.

It's not just location however. It's the idea that the setting is king. A game set on Middle Earth, regardless of what story you, the GM, have developed, is really about running a campaign set on Middle Earth.

The benefits of this type of campaign are that the level of buy-in for fans of the setting is instantly deep, and familiarity with it's elements lets both the players, and the GM, focus on other things (You need only mention a thing. There is little to no need to describe it).

RIFTS seems to hold this kind of sway for many people here in NYC* (myself excluded).

Among the drawbacks of a Where game are that the players will spend more time exploring the setting, and doing all the cool things they can only do there, than they will thinking about your adventure. GM-created materials might be ignored, or even looked down upon. Also, those less familiar, or unfamiliar with the setting may be at a disadvantage, or at least feel like they are.

***
 

A What game is story driven. It is focused squarely on what is happening, what's going on. The plot, or plots, direct the PCs' courses of action, and define the setting. Who is on the adventure isn't that important, and neither are the rules, or tropes, of the genre (except as they relate to the tale being told). The story, and how the PCs interact with it, is what this kind of game is all about.

Benefits stemming from this type of game are that they are usually less chaotic, having clearly defined goals and directions for the PCs to go in, and they create a more satisfying narrative at the end of the campaign (whatever its length is).

Among the disadvantages of this approach are that the players can feel it's rail-roadie if not handled carefully, and PCs may seem interchangeable (or worse, disposable) since they don't matter overly much to the all-powerful plot.


***

Now, mull this over in your head a bit. Let it percolate a moment.

Let's reason out that it's highly unlikely any campaign is comprised of only one of these concepts. That wouldn't make sense. Sure, it's possible, I guess, but it doesn't make for a great game from where I'm sitting.

The real crux of the matter is this; How much of each category, Who, Where, and What, creates the type of game you want to run as a GM, or play as a player?

Not trying to get all deep, and philosophical up in here, but ask yourself, Is the game I am currently running/playing that game, or are the amounts of Who, Where, and What not in harmony with my preferences.  

Furthermore...

Logic dictates that the best possible campaign would have these three elements in equal amounts. Right?

Well, logic has little to do with fun, so let's toss that idea aside for a second. Yes, maybe that is the right mix for you, but is it the right mix for everyone? Surely not.

What about that young lady you keep running into down at your FLGS? The one who plays a lot of Monsterhearts, and wears those horn-rimmed glasses. You know who I'm talking about. You know as well as I do that a homogeneous, play-it-safe answer ain't gonna fly with her.

Be honest with me, and with yourself. One of the elements is going to take precedent over the others at your table, or would if it was up to you. Well it is.

Point of fact, I think that over the last few years my games have been like this:





When what I would prefer would be a situation closer to:






What about you? What's your preferred percentages, and have positively positioned the parts to perfection?

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Barking Alien

*RIFTS is, for some reason, very popular with gamers in the NY area. I myself do not care for the game. I don't know the origin of it's popularity, but I assume it has something to do with availability, and access to it. It can often be found in comic book stores as easily as game shops, or at least could for many years.





Thursday, March 12, 2015

All The Gods Are Bastards

I feel, not for the first time either, that all my heroes, and inspirations are gone.

Just when I remind myself that they aren't, that this artist, actor, or that author is still with us, we lose another one.

Another bright light in an endless sea of drab darkness has gone out, snuffed from existence by fate, chance, the nature of things, or, spare me, a higher power.

Ladies, and Gentlemen, a moment of silence, and a lifetime of respect and admiration, for the passing of Terry Pratchett.






Terry Pratchett was to be one of my Thorough Thursday posts this month. Seems appropriate that I praise him now, rather than wait.

It is very difficult to know where to begin, or what to say. To speak on behalf of the life of a man who I did not know personally, and whose wit, and way with words would surely put anything clever, or poignant I wanted to say to shame, I am left feeling inadequate to the task.

The one thing I can say is this; Terry Pratchett would not put me to shame. He would not read what I wrote about him, say he could do better, and proceed to embarrass me with his gifts.

Based on everything I've read about him, everything I've ever heard him say, he would say not to put him on a pedestal, not to treat his life as any more important, or full of grandeur than any other. "Sure, I had a good run", I am imagine him reflecting, but in the end he would say that, in the end, all our stories come to a last page.

All of us meet Death. We can see him coming, and run screaming in the other direction, but it really is so much wasted effort I'm afraid. We can instead, wait until we are ready, quietly close up shop, give him a firm and friendly handshake, and say, "Well then, where are we off to now?"

Mister Pratchett, I don't know where you're off to, and I certainly don't believe there is a particular place to go in the literal sense, but I have to hope there is a new journey of some sort waiting for you. Enjoy your eternal holiday.

You will be missed.


“No one is actually dead
until the ripples they cause in the world die away...”
 

Reaper Man, a Discworld novel,
By Terry Pratchett.

Ripple on,

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Barking Alien




Thorough Thursdays: TOON

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Toon, the Cartoon Role Playing Game created by Greg Costikyan and Warren Spector for Steve Jackson Games in 1984, seven times on this blog before today.

I have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.




I love Toon.

I think, no, I'm almost positive, I love the idea of Toon more than the game.

That doesn't mean I don't love the game. I do. What I mean to say is that I love the fact that there is a Toon RPG.

I am enamored with the knowledge that amid the Rolemasters, GURPS, and Space Operas which have clogged up the annuls of Table Top Gaming History, there has also been Toon. Not just a one shot product which was gone from memory mere moments after it hit the shelves, but a game with 7, or 8* products, spanning a good 20+ years.

Actually, that may have been the production span for the game, and its expansions, and supplements, but Toon has been with us now for 32 years now, and I know a number of people who still play it from time to time.

Myself included, although its been a while.

I rarely mention it (or at least haven't in a while), but I went to art school, attending both The High School of Art and Design, and college at The School of Visual Arts. I majored in Cartooning, and Illustration, and minored in Animation.

A fan of Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies, Felix the Cat, Popeye, and numerous other cartoons practically from birth, I eventually went on to create, and draw many of my own characters.




I'm sorry, are you sure this is the 'Intro'?
 

Finding a Role Playing Game where you could play cartoon character was, for me, a natural progression. Like Science Fiction, and Superheroes, a Cartoon game made sense to me. I got it. I could easily imagine what you could play, what you would do, and what it would look like.

Between the games debut, and the mid-90s, I played a heck of a lot of Toon.

In addition to various one-shots, and short campaigns, I ran a couple of long running ones that I am still quite proud of today. Among the best were:


Bleep, The Space Guardian

From his orbiting, manned satellite, intrepid space hero Bleep, The Space Guardian, protects the universe with the help of his trusted companion, Cha-Wump.

Resembling a toothy, purple marshmallow, Cha-Wump is the real hero of the campaign, with Bleep being a brave, well-meaning, but ultimately dimwitted, klutz. Bleep's abilities come from his high tech space suit, ray gun, space battle cruiser, and his limited skills at using these. Cha-Wump can eat virtually anything, then open up his mouth to a cavernous size, enabling Bleep, or others to draw out the item latter.

There was initially only one PC in this campaign, my friend Pete who played Cha-Wump. Other PC's would come, and go, making the campaign very similar to a long running TV series with frequent guest stars (or guest voice actors). Among the reoccurring guest were Captain Cosmos (a rival space hero always trying to show up Bleep), the insidious Doctor Diode (one of Bleep's main enemies. Arguably his arch-nemesis), and Nina Nebula (Bleep's love interest/femme fatale enemy who resembles interstellar gases in a curvy, female shape).

In a classic case of goddammit-they-stole-that-from-us, the 2009 video game, The Maw, features characters who bare an uncanny resemblance to Bleep and Cha-Wump (the games lead characters, Frank and Maw).


The Boys of Cellgate

Largely inspired by the book, and film Who Censored Roger Rabbit, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, respectively, this campaign focused on a gang of 'animated' would-be ne'er do wells who become involved in a major organized crime heist, only to end up working for the side of angels, and trying to thwart the big, bad guy. The story was set in the late 1930's or perhaps early 40's.






Most of the PCs are typical Toon cartoon characters, called Toons, Toonies (derogatory), Animatics, or (as was suggested by one character) 'Animated Americans'. Instead of having a separate 'Toon Town', they live in one of many Toon ghetto sections of Los Angeles called Cellgate. Also in the area, though living in an even more run down section, are Strips, or 'Funnies', illustrated characters like those in Newspaper comic strips (and closer to Gary Wolf's original novel).

Among the PCs were Toons, Frankie the Ferret, Mr. Mooch (a Muppet-like Monster who constantly mooches off others like Wimpy from Popeye), and a Robot 'Strip' named Mal Function.

One PC was a 'Funnies' police department detective, very much in the visual style of Dick Tracy, while another was his Toon partner Robbie, a rabbit in a police outfit who could change into a superhero (Rocket Rabbit, I believe). They lived in a nicer part of town with Human neighbors (the Dick Tracy guy even had a Human girlfriend).

As in the Roger Rabbit film, Dip could cause Toons harm, and even permanent death. Strips could be 'Torn' (shredded up into bits of paper).


Zoonatics

Perhaps the most successful Toon game I ever ran didn't begin as a game at all.

For reasons I can not remember for the life of me, I was just joking around with some of my gaming friends at the house of an acquaintance of theirs, when I ad libbed a character by the name of Jekyll the Jackal. Speaking with an accent that could just as easily be Slavic, as it was South American, it often sounded like I was introducing myself as Jekyll the Jekyll, or Jackal the Jackal, thereby establishing the first of many running gags.

I continued with an impromptu 'sketch' featuring Jekyll as the host of a children's TV variety show. I would 'break the fourth wall', but not exactly, since I made it clear he was talking to the 'audience', and that they, and Jekyll himself, were aware that it was a TV show.

I also quickly dropped hints that maybe Jekyll wasn't all there. When he addresses the kids in the audience, be isn't always perfectly warm, and charming. Sometimes he can seem a tad menacing in his attitude towards children who miss behave.

From the very first ad-libbed sequence:

Me as Jekyll the Jackal:

"Well! Hello boys, and girls! Welcome to my new show! It's called, Zoonatics, yes? It is going to be so funny! We are going to have a great time. I welcome Susy, and Joey, Becky, and Juan, Kim, and Peter...

...but not you Timmy. (In a sinister whisper) Never you."

Within a few more lines we learn that Jekyll is obsessed with America's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln (including going into a tirade trying to warn him to, "Stay Out of the Thee-Tor! Don't go Mr. President! Don't! The play isn't even that good!"), he has hired a pack of over two dozen Jackal lookalikes to get hurt instead of him should be attacked, and in this first episode of his 'new show', he needs to hire the rest of his cast.

Some of my friends then began joining in on my little comedy theatre thing, creating Jekyll's slow thinking rhinoceros sidekick U-Haul (actually a brilliant, Shakespearean actor forced to take this job to pay the bills), The Killer Emu (Dressed in a Batman-like costume, this Emu declares himself the Arch-Nemesis of Jekyll, and tries to kill him, or ruin the show), the Killer Emu's sidekick Manny, the Mannequin Bird (one of my favorite characters), the Ninja Zebra, rival talk show hosts Frog, and Toad, the mysterious Flamingo Rose, and many more.

After about an hour, or so of just riffing off the top of our heads, we notice others in the house (it was the headquarters, and main hang out of at least two, or three gaming groups. Big house.) surrounding us laughing, clapping, and just enjoying themselves. One guy off to the side yelled, "Why isn't this a GAME!"

And so it became one.

I could do an entire post just on Zoonatics, it's hidden subversive humor, the depth of it's premise (once developed), and much more, but...actually...I will. Just not here, not now. Look for it in April.
 
 
***

In conclusion...

If there is a first name in comedy RPGs, I would think it's Toon.

Many humorous games have come out since the initial 1984 release of Toon, and while some may feel one of these other games are better, funnier, or more playable, I would blow you a Bronx Cheer (also known as a 'raspberry'), and throw a pie in your face.






Toon is the granddaddy of them all, and it deserves our respect.


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The Muppet-like cartoon illustrations are the (very old) work of yours truly for an unproduced RPG called, 'The Cell Project'. It was created by a really brilliant guy I've long since lost touch with. In the game you could play a Toon (Animated), a Funny or Strip (Drawing), a Felt (Puppet), or a Pix (a CGI, computer animated character a la Pixar, or DreamWorks movies).

*Apparently there is a Toon Munchkin. I don't know if that counts.





Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thrill of The Hunt

Reading through Hunter Planet is both a joy, and gives me the the odd feeling of being dislodged in time.



 
Hunter Planet, First Edition-1985
Front and Back Covers


That may have something to do with some of the background color in the game itself (more about that below), but moreover it's because, upon completely going over it, I remember why I love(d) this game, and why I think we felt it necessary to make changes to it way back when to make it work for us.

Some of the reason for this is us, that is, my friend who ran this at a local game convention, and I. We loved to tinker, especially with simpler, more rules-lite games. I still do. I find it a lot more enjoyable to add bits to a low crunch game than to need to cut whole chunks out of complex, heavy crunch game.

Another reason for the changes we made may have to do with Australian versus American sensibilities. I can't say for sure. I've only known one or two Australian nationals well as friends, and they were so American I didn't get a feel for any differences, or specifics of culture.

By contrast, as a bit of an Anglophile, I can easily identify the differences between British and American humor. I am an avid fan of British TV shows such as Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served, and Black Adder, as well as the brilliant work of the Monty Python comedy troupe. I get a good deal of the idiosyncrasies of British living.

Likewise, years of watching Anime, reading Manga, and spending time among Japanese people (friends, girlfriends, and co-workers) around my age have given me a fairly good idea of the particulars of their pop culture.

I think I might need to watch some Australian made TV shows, or movies. Are there any anyone would recommend? I concede to being woefully ignorant on the subject.

I suppose what I am saying is that my buddy, and I took Hunter Planet, and made it more American. Not with that particular idea in mind (I don't think), but I think we just trimmed here, and added there, and ended up with the 'U.S. Adaption of Hunter Planet' more so than actual Hunter Planet.

One of the interesting things I discovered reading Hunter Planet is that it shares an attitude (as well as some other features) with another game I love from roughly the same era, Teenagers from Outer Space. Not only do both games have rules-lite systems, great senses of humor, and the 'Aliens-Humans-Culture-Clash' vibe, but they both strongly advocate making up your own stuff.

Although 'these-rules-are-only-guidelines' has been part of RPG gaming since the very beginning (or close to it), Hunter Planet takes the time to point this fact out very clearer, and more than once. Considering the relatively short page count of the book (approximately 30 pages not counting the front, and back covers) it is interesting to note how much attention is paid to using your imagination, ad libbing, not adhering too strictly to the rules, and of course, downright cheating (highly recommended).

Without further adieu, lets get right to an actual review (or what passes for it on Barking Alien):


The Good

The core concept of this game is just plain fantastic. There is nothing else I can really say about it.

'Aliens on a Hunting Safari Vacation try to shoot the primitive, indigenous life forms of a world called 'Dirt'. The natives are stupid, savage, and dangerous. They think cell phones are cool, and watch golf. Seriously. Barbarians.'

What's not to love?

The game mechanics, while crunchier than I remember (only barely), are still incredibly simple.

The writing style is simultaneously humorous, personable, and a bit authoritative. Rules are referred to as 'Principles', such as The Principle of Landing, the Principle of Getting Beamed Up, and The Principle of Firing (How to shoot something). The author's voice is a commanding one, even when just telling you to have fun.

The game was made on a Macintosh Computer in 1985. It's on pale yellow paper. The fonts are wonky. These are features I tell you, features!

Lastly, there is a funny bit where David Bruggeman, creator of the game, is insinuated to be a time traveler from the distant future. He is first introduced in the games' background as a Cadet in the future, remarking how the game of Hunter Planet was found as an ancient relic, or some such, and written by a man with his very same name. While pondering this he experiences some sort of accident, and disappears.

Heheh.


The Bad

What is bad in the book, isn't really bad per se. It's more a question of, hmmm, how to put this...

Hunter Planet, at least this first edition book, is a book that was made by a guy with a great idea, in Victoria, Australia, on a Macintosh, in 1985.

It's clever, funny, and best of all, inspires all kinds of crazy ideas.

It is also oddly, if not poorly, organized, and lacks the slick, professional look of other games (even ones of the time).

But there is beauty in its rawness. There is a charm to its imperfections. It is great, and odd, and a little broken, and wonderful.


The Ugly

OK, so there is one bit about the game I find fault with. This is purely my opinion, and not a testament to anything truly ugly, or badwrong about Hunter Planet. This is simply my preference, and the reason, in retrospect, we made the changes we did oh those many years ago.

The game comes with a background to explain the universe the alien PCs are from. It has an interstellar government called the Federation of Planets, and has the people on Earth/Dirt, at some point, aware of the Federation's existence.

Furthermore, it describes a war at some point in the future in which the Earth is fully invaded by the FOPs (Humans refer to Federation of Planets citizens and military as FOPs). At some point following this, the universe is ruled by The Empire of Man, although I can not tell if that means the Humans won. It seems like they didn't, and yet 'Empire of MAN', so...

I found this background very confusing, and completely distracting to the main idea of the game.

I get that there needs to be some kind of government out there, some organization that sponsors and/or authorizes the Hunts, but I wish it had been much more vague. I don't think so much emphasis, or at least text, should have been devoted to it, and it's future history.

I would also prefer if the people of Dirt had very little idea of what was going on. Sure, there may be some secret Men-In-Black type group that has picked up some data over time, but it shouldn't be a commonly known thing. To put it another way, I'd prefer a Men-In-Black, X-Files, possibly even Close Encounters approach. The game's 'canon' (if you can call it that) implies it started that way, then gives you the diary of a Human freedom fighter fighting against the aliens.

Why? Aren't the PCs the aliens? Aren't they the 'good guys'? So much focus in the text regarding Humans holding out against the aliens really threw me off. I started to wonder who I am supposed to be routing for. When you create a game like this, it's best to have Terra Incognita, portray Whoomuns in a satirical light as bumbling Neanderthals to your 'far superior' advanced society, then show that the aliens have all the same flaws, and quirks.

That's my two credits.


***
 

In conclusion, I love that I have this, I can't wait to run it, and yes, I am going to modify the crap out of it when I finally do so. I want to add alien species abilities, more weird technology, a bit more info on the Hunting Tour company (not a lot though), and find a way to make the locals (us) dangerous because they don't know what's going on, not because they do.

Thank you once again David for sending me this.

The Hunt is on...

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: MEL BROOKS

Prior to this post, I have only tagged the one and only Mel Brooks, actor, comedian, director, composer, songwriter, and writer, one time on this blog.

What?!?

I may have mentioned him a few other times.

That's just wrong.






It's more than wrong. It's ludicrous!

In my opinion, Mel Brooks is the undisputed King of Comedy. And in his own words, it's good to be the king.


"Tragedy is when I cut my finger.
Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."
 

While a lot of people have made me laugh over the years, this is a man who is somewhere between a mad scientist, and a magician when it comes to humor. He is one of my key inspirations when it comes to thinking about comedy, and especially when working it into a RPG campaign.

His writing, and direction show an uncanny knowledge of what people find funny. His sense of humor, honed from many walks of life find funny, and his timing (both his own and how he directs comedic actors) is second to none.

Born in Brooklyn, New York (just like myself) in 1926 (that part is different), Melvin James Kaminsky, better known by his professional name 'Mel Brooks' (his mother's maiden name was Brookman), is most famous for his genre parody films such as Blazing Saddles (a farce of Westerns), Young Frankenstein (a farce of classic Horror movies), and Spaceballs (a farce of big budget Science Fiction), just to name a few.

He began his comedy career as a writer for Sid Caesar, soon after becoming part of the writing staff of Your Show of Shows, a revolutionary comedy variety show, and the precursor of everything from the Carol Burnett Show, to Saturday Night Live, and beyond.

If you haven't seen the movie My Favorite Year, see it. It is a fictional story based loosely on the making of a particular episode of Your Show of Shows on which actor Errol Flynn was the guest star. Excellent film, very funny, starring Mark Linn-Baker, and Peter O'Toole.

I could go on, and on about how much I like, and admire this man, his talent, and the hilarious films he's made. I will note that outside of Monty Python, Mel Brooks films are the most quoted movies at my gaming table.

Regardless of the game, genre, or setting, people will inadvertently speak the following quotes:

"Excuse me while I whip this out." - Blazing Saddles

"No matter what you hear in there, no matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not open this door or you will undo everything I have worked for. Do you understand? Do not open this door!"

[The Monster awakens, roaring with rage. Panicking, Dr. Frankenstein turns back to the door.]

" Let me out. Let me out of here. Get me the hell out of here. [Turns to the Monster, then back to the door] What's the matter with you people? I WAS JOKING! Don't you know a joke when you hear one?" - Young Frankenstein

"Prepare ship for ludicrous speed!" - Spaceballs

"So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb." - Spaceballs

"You do, that voodoo, that you do, So Well!" - Blazing Saddles

Yeah, there are others, a lot of others, but you get the gist.

I've mentioned numerous times that comedy, and gaming, share one crucial component: Timing. In order to improve my timing as a Gamemaster, I watch good comedies, as those that work best obviously have that element down.

To this end, I have watched Mel Brooks' movies again, and again, and again. Even if I didn't love this films personally, I would be remiss in my goal of always improving my gamemastering technique if I didn't take a close look at what this fellow is able to do.

Gary Gygax, David Arneson, Tom Moldvay, talented though they are, these men are not really my muses. Along with Jim Henson, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas (young George Lucas, not prequels George Lucas), comic book writer Roy Thomas, and a handful of others, Mel Brooks is one of my primary sources of inspiration.

The ideas his work inspires do not necessarily need to manifest as a Blazing Saddles RPG. No, it's more subtle than that. Just know that his influence is there, felt in the way scenes unfold, the way action leads to light hearted banter, the way tragedy turns into comedy, and vice versa. It is in my creative DNA.

Thank you Mr. Brooks. You sir, are a mensch.

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