Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Closing Theme

Well everyone, that about wraps it up for us here at The Barking Alien Blog for the side splitting month of September.

We unfortunately ran long, and we had to bump some guests, but they've been gracious enough to reschedule, and of course we'd love to have them.

Barkley, and I would like to thank our guests The Peanuts,  SATASUPE ReMix, The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, and without a doubt our musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space!

From all of us here at The Barking Alien Blog, and on behalf of the Pan-Phasic Communications Network, I want to thank you for tuning in.

Safe Travels, and Good Night!







September was a lot of fun, and I would love to talk further on the subject of humorous RPGs after I've had some time to think a little more about it.

Specifically, some of the questions posed to me in the comments this month have me wondering if I am too close to the subject matter. That is to say, since comedy, and comedic storytelling are so much a part of who I am, I may be taking for granted that what is second nature to me may be downright, um, 'alien' to some people.
 
I am fear I am unable to convey my interest in humorous RPG in a way the communicates to those not as interested, what the benefits of them may be. It is intrinsically ingrained in me to like comedic RPGs, such that trying to explain their virtues to all of you out there is like a dog trying to explain why it's fun to bury a bone.
 
It just is. And yes, it has practical applications, but how is the dog going to translate that sheer feeling of Booyah! to a room full of cats? I know that somewhere out there, there are a few other dogs going, "Yeah! Preach it brother!", yet for the rest it just isn't clicking.
 
Hmmm.
 
Oh before I go...
 
I used to watch Johnny Carson every Thursday night with my Grandma from the time I was eight years old, until I was about fifteen or so. Maybe sixteen.
 
I would stay over my grandparents house every Thursday, and my Grandmother would put on The Tonight Show to help her fall asleep. On a cot in the same room, albeit with my insomnia causing the show to have the opposite effect, I became a fan of the program, and after a while, when I was older, watched it myself when at my own home.
 
I saw the final episode, and followed Jay Leno for a while, but while funny, it wasn't the same, and I eventually stopped watching.
 
September was very much a love letter to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, but it was also a dedication to my Grandparents, who introduced me to Carson, Mel Brooks, the Marx Brothers, and other comedians, entertainers and entertainments that were well before my time.
 
Thanks again, and much love to your memory Grandma, and Poppy.
 
Up next, October...
 
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Direct Hits

Yes folks, I know this one is late. OK, really late. My plans for the close of my September theme had to take a backseat to my Real LifeTM, which just got a lot more interesting. I am soon to be the owner of my own business. Details coming soon.

The next few posts are not all I have to say on the subject of comedic RPGs by a long shot, but they are all you're going to see of the theme month gimmick for September. As we are now into October already, I want to switch to my next theme, Horror, and Fantasy.

Just like September, I am going to play fast, and loose with the overarching motif, so some remaining material from September may yet find its way into the new month of posts.


***

My next guests first hit the scene in 1987, where they found a niche with fans looking for a different kind of sound. Not truly indie, they were also not emulating the bands that were topping the pop charts at the time. In many ways, they were very much a part of the new wave movement of the late 80s.

Here promoting their self-titled album, sentients and sophonts across the cosmos, please give it up for our musical guest...


Teenagers From Outer Space!





'Ride On Shooting Star'
From the Anime FLCL, or Furi Kuri
By The Pillows



I've said it before, and I have no problem repeating it here:

Star Trek is my favorite setting to game in.
Star Wars D6 by West End Games is my favorite system.
Superheroes is probably the genre I've run the most at this point.
 
Teenagers From Outer Space however, that's the game that has my heart; green, eight-valved, and methane producing as it might be.

Over the last twenty-eight years that the game has been in existence, I have easily run Teenagers From Outer Space, or TFOS, dozens upon dozens of times. Sometimes, I've even used it to run Teenagers From Outer Space!

Yeah, I'll explain...

I've told this story before, but about a day after reading the rules for TFOS, I modified them by changing the D6 standard to a D10 standard.

In addition to giving the game a bit more range, it made the system more compatible with R. Talsorian Games' other 'Interlock System' games, such as Cyberpunk 2013/2020 and Mekton. Other advantages to this alteration included facilitating some additional house rules, and homebrewed sub-systems, as well as making TFOS adaptable to outside systems, most notably Ars Magica (more about that below).

At a Japanese Pop Culture convention in 1995 or 96, I met with the editor of R. Talsorian's V-Max Magazine, a house periodical dedicated to Anime, Manga, and gaming with a lean toward their Anime related titles. I described to him my modified Teenagers From Outer Space game, which I had come to call 'Advanced TFOS'. He loved the idea, and had me work it up as a full article for V-Max. Unfortunately, RTG folded up the magazine before the article could see print.

While I'm not a huge fan of universal systems (believing a game's mechanics should be tailored to the game it's supporting), I do have a scant few games that I believe can be used for a wide variety of genres, subgenres, and settings. My Advanced TFOS, and even standard TFOS, are among the most versatile, and effective in my opinion.

The main reason is their simplicity. TFOS is a Stat + Ability/Skill + Roll system, with very little else going on to get in the way. Perhaps my favorite idea in the game though, is that if you roll too low, you fail, if you roll the difficulty number or higher you succeed, but if you roll too well...it can end up backfiring on you royally. Exceed the required difficulty number by more than double, and things can get out of control. It is recommended that the GM embellish the success to the point of extreme, over-the-top, you'll-wish-you-failed-the-roll, comedic annoyance.
 
As I mentioned, I've used the 'Advanced TFOS' rules to run a plethora of games, including several set in my homebrewed campaign setting of Blast City Blues. The Blast City Blues universe is similar to the default idea for TFOS, but my variant allows for more character, and story options. Magical Girls in stylized sailor suits, Giant Robot Pilots, adolescent Cyborgs, and Psychic School Kids can all be found somewhere in the milieu of Blast City.
 
However, the default premise of the game isn't what I want to address with this post so much as what else can be done with the system. As the focus of September's entries are comedy games, I would like to tell you all about some other humorous trips I've taken using this very versatile map as a guide.
 
Some of my most successful alternate uses of TFOS include:
 
 
Galaxy Quest
 
My first Galaxy Quest game, a one shot that turned into a campaign (that became a phenomena! Um...yeah), was originally based on my Advanced TFOS rules. I added the Jobs, and Character Types, and the rest is history. It was a hell of a thing.


Near Miss

A Science Fiction Comedy campaign very much in the vein of Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy meets This Is Spinal Tap.

The PCs were members of a musical group of misfit aliens travelling around the universe getting into one crazy mess after another. The name of the band, Near Miss, was also the name of a garage band I was in with some buddies from high school (who were incidentally the players in the group plus one, or two others).


Neo-Tokyo Crimebuster - Furiransu Keikan

Using a hybrid of the Advanced TFOS rules, and the rules of Mekton II (foolishly trying to make the R. Talsorian 'Interlock' systems actually interlock), Furiransu Keikan (roughly, Freelance Police) was an Action/Comedy set in a cyberpunk future where various corporations police various regions. Citizens are welcome to chose, and pay for whichever 'Law Enforcement Provider' they wish.

The PCs represented a small-ish, independent police precinct trying to make a name for themselves in the crime ridden, high tech city of Neo-Tokyo. Inspirations for the game included (but were not limited to) Dominion Tank Police, Blade Runner, Mobile Police Patlabor, Barney Miller, and Starsky and Hutch.
 
 
Once Upon The End of Time

A Science Fiction Time Travel/Action-Adventure/Murder Mystery campaign inspired by my friend Avram Grumer in which the entire plot is revealed in reverse order, starting from the end of the story in the first session.
 
Each session afterwards was set a few days to several months before the previous one. The last adventure had the players joining the Time Patrol, and being confronted on their first mission by their older more experienced selves who were out to stop the campaign villain's creation.

Wizard of Oz - End of the Rainbow
 
I ran a campaign set in L. Frank Baum's Oz, and its surrounding magical lands, and kingdoms using my Advanced TFOS system crossed with (get this) Ars Magica. Significantly simplified though the Ars Magica elements were, the combination of the two worked incredibly well. I was very happy with the outcome, and would love to try running it again.
 
 
***
 
 
I haven't played, or used the game in quite some time, and that is a shame. Not just because I love it so much, but because I feel it's the kind of game my Barking Alien Gaming Group could really get behind. So why haven't I brought it to bear with my regular gang? Well, it goes with something I am hoping to bring up in a future post, but in all honesty, I may just say to hell with it, and do it. We've been experimenting with the occasional one-shot comedy game here, and there recently, so there is no reason we couldn't give it a go.

We're going to pause one last time for a commercial break, but we'll be right back after this...


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Belated Happy Birthdays to Groucho Marx (Oct. 2), Jim Henson, and Steve Whitmire (Both born on September 24th!). 






 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

All Joking Aside

Hello again everyone, this is Barkley speaking.

On Tuesday, September 15th, this station broadcast a post advocating the increased acceptance of humorous RPGs, and identified one of the main reasons we don't already experience this.

It is the policy of this station to invite qualified spokespeople to speak in rebuttal. Here with a counter-opinion on the subject is Mister Floyd R. Turbo.

Mr. Turbo...





Hello! My name is Floyd R. Turbo. American.

What's all this hippie-dippie, claptrap about Comedy RPGs?

If God wanted RPGs to be funny, he wouldn't have created encumbrance rules, complicated initiative, or the drowning mechanics in D&D 3.0. Forget a sword. Bring a sleep spell, and a few gallons of water, and your enemies are done for.

This Nancy-Waist blog is talking about baking cookies for character creation, and suggesting gaming the Peanuts comic strips. This place is more full of it than my Aunt Edna is full of rum spiked fruit cake during the holidays.

Humorous RPGs, huh? What's next? Games with no GM? Diceless RPGs? Save that for the commie pinko gamers. That's not for this red blooded American. Oh no. I like my books thick, my four-siders razor sharp, and hit location charts capable of targeting a spleen.

In conclusion, a wise man once said you have to be able to laugh at yourself. I don't agree. I get along just fine staying serious, and laughing at others. I find it helps to point at them, and slap your knee while doing it.

Thank you.


***

This post was originally intended to focus on what I believe to be the biggest hindrance to the popularity of comedic RPGs among the larger gaming population (myself, and my groups excluded of course).

However, I am going to table that topic for another post. Right now, I'd like to address a comment made by my good friend Blacksteel of Tower of Zenopus on my previous entry on the subject of why we (gamers) don't play, and run comedy games more often.

Lord Blacksteel wrote:

"I can say that for some of us, identifying a game as a "comedy" game has a similar set of issues to the "horror" game."

I can not disagree with the statement, although I may have a different outlook on what it means. Remember, I am a bit of a genre junkie. Please read on...

A) you can't "force" comedy in a group any more than you can frighten players in a horror game. You can create conditions favorable for one or the other but it's tricky to guarantee it.

Agreed. Sort of.

You can't 'force' certainly, nor would you want to try, since it will only backfire on you.

However, what do you think is easier, and more likely to occur: Actually scaring your players, or actually making them laugh? Horror is often dependent on a feeling of PC powerlessness, and desperation; this is something players don't always enjoy. Comedy is dependent on the PC being inept, or too good, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being the cause, or recipient of the absurd. These are conditions most players like.

B) Describing something as a comedy game doesn't tell me much about it. That's much more tone than setting. Telling me it's a Supers game, or a Star Trek game, or a dungeon-crawling game gives me an idea of what we're going to be doing and whether I'd be interested in it or not. Comedy (to me) is a modifier to that description, not a description in and of itself. "Gritty" or "Horror" or "high-powered" work similarly.

While I agree, I also believe there are Horror games, and Comedy game, regardless of what other genre the descriptor is attached to. Toon is not Sci-Fi. Nor is it Fantasy. Nor is it a Supers game. It could be any one, or all of those things, but it's definitely a Comedy game, no? Likewise, what are Call of Cthuhlu, Dread, and Chill? What genre are they other than horror?

C) Comedy can happen in any game, and typically does with my group. If the point of a game is to have fun people are probably going to laugh at some point. I'm not sure making comedy a focus of the game adds a whole lot more to it.

Ah! It does...or...it doesn't. It all depends on you, and your group.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, with movies of the Avengers, Ant-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy, are full of humor, clever lines, and light hearted moments. That said, they are not comedies. They are Superhero Action movies. We like them. The humor adds something to the total package.

We still go see comedies though?

I've read posts on the internet, and heard people say, that Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie ever made. It's a joke of course, but a popular one. Why? Because although there is often a bit of humor in the Star Trek films, there is a ton of great Sci-Fi Action in Galaxy Quest, a comedy.

Both types of films, and both types of games, serve a purpose.

I know this is a big topic for you BA and please do understand that I am not disagreeing with you on this. I am glad you're doing these posts as it has me thinking about it, sometimes out loud and on your page.

Well I'm glad. If I can get even one person to stop for a few moments, and go 'Hmmm...how about that', I feel like it's all been worth the effort.

Yes, it is a subject near, and dear. With any luck it will spawn others to talk about the topic. If not, well, at least I had fun.

One example, and maybe something you can work into a future post: I think Spirit of 77 has a ton of potential for comedy but it is not really a "comedy" game. With people who "get it" though, I think the potential for humor is one of the biggest attractions. Would that make it a comedy game? Or is it just a good game?

My post on SATASUPE ReMix addresses this somewhat. The idea being that it is not really a comedic game, but it was definitely written (and certainly illustrated) with a distinct sense of humor. I hope to have time this month to address this very element. If not, I will work it in next month when I discuss Ghostbusters, and how I approach running it.

Thanks everybody for tuning in. When we come back from commercial, musical guest Teenagers from Outer Space!


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BTW, this is my 950th post on Barking Alien.




Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Muppets After Dark

Tonight, the series premiere of the new ABC television show, the muppets aired, and unsurprisingly to anyone with even a general familiarity with me, or this blog, I was monumentally excited.

This new show is the first ongoing, prime time program to feature the Muppets since Muppets Tonight finished on The Disney Channel in 1998. That's 17 years without Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and the rest of the gang appearing regularly on network television.

After the success of their 2011 motion picture, also called The Muppets, and the relative success of Muppets Most Wanted (it made significantly less than its predecessor, though on Hollywood terms it was far from a flop), the possibility that the Muppets would return to television was simultaneously a big question mark, and practically a given, at least in the minds of the throngs of Muppets fans.

So here we are in September of 2015 looking at a brand new Muppets TV show. My hearting was beating in my throat as I got ready to watch.

Now the moment of truth...Did I like it? Was it any good?

Well...



 
SPOILERS!
 
 
 
I usually do my reviews by looking at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of a given product, and while this time will be no exception, I want to say a little something first.
 
It is really hard to review something like this. It was the first episode of a series I really want to like, because I want it to do well, and I want them to make more. I love the Muppets. I just love them. They speak to me on a creative level that is hard to put into words.
 
What do I do, or say if I end up not liking this show? Can I really say that I don't? Isn't that counter to my goal of keeping the Muppets in the public eye?
 
At the same time, they've always been honest with me (so to speak), so they deserve nothing less than me being honest with them.
 
Whew. Here goes...
 
 
THE GOOD
 
The Muppets are back on TV! See, just that very fact is good. It's hard to be unhappy with that as your universal truth at the get go.
 
The puppets themselves looked great, especially in the environments they appeared in, which were in many ways not normal for them. It was sort of like the safeties were off, and the net was gone.
 
Fozzie is seen full body numerous times. Scooter, well, I don't want to spoil that part. While I had some issues with the delivery of the scenes humor, the scene with him, and guest Elizabeth Banks was probably the cleverest bit of classic puppetry tricks I've ever seen, all in an outdoor environment on a moving vehicle (or that's how it appeared). Brilliant technically for certain.
 
Lots of characters appeared, and more of them had speaking lines than I would have thought. Uncle Deadly, Bobo the Bear, Big Mean Carl all had nice little moments, brief though they were.
 
Kermit was...I don't know how to put this other than...extremely Human. I can't honestly say we've seen this level of character depth out of Kermit (or Fozzie for that matter), in a long, long time. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a double-edged sword, as I'll explain below.
 
Piggy looked great. I love her current design.
 
Denise, Kermit's new girlfriend, is...What's that? You didn't know?! Well, I did put up a spoiler warning didn't I? Yes, Kermit, and Piggy have officially called it quits, as you learn in the first episode in a very definitive way. That part was, wow, the feels. It touched my emotion. Seriously. The one. Now what'll I do? I don't have anymore, and I can't guarantee it'll recharge by the weekend. The cool down time on that bad boy is a pain in the keister.
 
Where was I? Oh yeah, so Kermit is dating this new female pig (he's got a type for sure) named Denise who is...I can't help it...adorable. I really like her. I almost instantly found her sweet, charming, and kind of cute in a geek girl kind of way due to her very modern aesthetic design. I hope we learn more about her.
 
 
 
 
 
 
The band! The band was cool, and it was awesome to have character moments with Animal, and Zoot. ZOOT! One of my favorite lines in the first episode comes from the Z-man. Awesome.
 
 
 
 
 
 
THE BAD
 
OK, I have a number of minor nitpicks, but those I can easily dismiss as this is the first episode. A few things could have been crisper, like the set of Miss Piggy's late night talk show, 'Up Late with Miss Piggy' (which sometimes looked spot on for a show of that type, and sometimes looked like a high school stage drama trying hard to look like one). There were some camera angles, and such that could've been better, but then, that might well be the idea. It's supposed to be a mockumentory, a parody of the single camera set-up seen in shows like 'the office'.
 
That's not what got me. What got me is...it just wasn't Muppet-y enough. There wasn't enough wacky, off-the-wall humor, or ideas. Not even close actually.
 
The humor is somewhat clever when it appears, but there really wasn't much of it. The interpersonal drama of their lives was far more prevalent, and as such, although there were some funny moments, largely the episode is a downer. It's sad Muppets. I don't want the Muppets to be sad. The Muppets are there to make me happy. How am I supposed to get happy if the characters who are meant to cheer me up are sad?
 
Gonzo provides one of the few truly Muppet-like moments, but it's small, and over in a blink.
 
A brief insight into Big Mean Carl of all characters is just...well...depressing.
 
I loved the character moments, and the depth they gave to the various Muppets in the 2011 Muppet film, especially the melancholy nature of Kermit, but this show, at least in the first episode, doesn't back that up with enough levity.

The episode also felt really short. After it was over, I kept thinking that if they had had a little more of a run time they could have gotten to more jokes, and more screen time for some of the characters.
 
 
THE UGLY
 
Bottom line, there is one major league weakness to the show, and it isn't bad so much as, well, just really irksome in the extreme.
 
Miss Piggy.
 
Yes, she's a diva. Yes, she's obsessed with her own fame. But...but...she is also likeable, and vulnerable, and strong, and...like Kermit...Human.
 
In this she is rude, crass, full of herself, and just so unlikable. At one point Kermit, during one of those one-on-one character interviews, says that he once thought her quirks made her attractive, but without the romantic interest it just makes her a lunatic.
 
Sadly, he's right. We never get a one-on-one interview with her. We never see her in the first episode as anything other than obnoxious. When her vulnerable side is finally revealed at a key point, because of something Kermit did that was insensitive, you end up feeling bad for Kermit. Why? Because by that point in the episode he is our likable everyman, just trying to do his best with a bad situation while Piggy is just a shrew.
 
I didn't like that at all. It was unfair to the character of Miss Piggy, and to fans of hers as well.
 
On that note...
 
One more thing that didn't work was the fat jokes. I get that it's always been a part of Piggy's tropes as a member of the porcine species, but really? That's the best you've got for the Muppets prime time television return in the 21st century?
 
Muppets Studios, ABC Studios, and Disney, I have a recommendation; Do better.
 
It is my hope that the second episode, and the third, and so on, get a better feel for the format, the Muppet sense of humor, and the way these things merge with the show's premise.
 
Well, that's all the time I have for this, as I am feeling uncharacteristically tired lately. I need to get some sleep, and recharge.
 
Good night,
 
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Twice As Thorough Thursdays: THE SECRET LIVES OF GINGERBREAD MEN

So, funny story...

I put this post together last Thursday, September 17th. It was meant to be a companion to the previous post, resulting in two Thorough Thursday entries on a single Thursday. Wow!

Then...I forgot to hit publish. I thought I did, but I guess I didn't.

So embarrassed.

As promised, here is your second helping of Thorough Thursdays for today, which I hope will fill you up until my next post.

It's a taste of something strange, and a bit different, designed to add a little spice to your holiday gaming. Normally I would've waited until December to serve this up, but I intend to focus on Science Fiction, and Space Adventure gaming in the last month of the year. Since this dish has a comedy flavor, I figured why not give it to you now while the thought of it is still piping hot in my mind.

Had enough of the food puns yet?

Several lines ago actually.

Ha! Well then, let's dig in...

Our next guest can be seen in a few places all year round, but is really a traditional holiday favorite. Here today with a somewhat non-traditional approach to fun, ladies and gentlemen, and other things please welcome...

 
The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men





Prior to this post, I have only tagged The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, the 2004 independent Role Playing Game designed by Annie Rush, and published by Itesser Ink and Wicked Dead Brewing Company, one time before.

That's just wrong.

Not only is it wrong because it's a game I am quite fond of, but also because its become something of a holiday tradition for me at the tutoring center where I teach on Sundays.

Before I get into that however, a little background on the game, its origins, and because they are so damn delicious and fun, Gingerbread Men.

I would like to point out that although I will more often than not refer to them as Gingerbread Men, I am a strong advocate of Gingerbread Women, trans-Gingerbread People, and any other incarnation of sexuality, and/or gender in Gingerbread form.

The Gingerbread Man is believed to date back to 15th century, although they became popular in the 16th century. Queen Elizabeth I of England is noted as having used Gingerbread figures as decorations at a party. These early Gingerbread people resembled some of her more noteworthy guests, and were later given to those people as gifts.

The existence of this baking phenomenon inspired the fairy tale which is itself known as The Gingerbread Man, or alternatively The Gingerbread Boy, or Gingerbread Runner. It is also possible that this story was simply a modern (for the time) take on a classic folklore theme of talking, runaway food.

There are a number of variations of the story, though the most well known comes from the first time The Gingerbread Man folk tale was put into print. In 1875 it appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine, a popular American children's magazine of the late 19th century. The story has the newly baked bugger run from the oven of a childless old couple, all the while taunting them with its now well known refrain:


"Run, run as fast as you can!
You can't catch me. I'm the Gingerbread Man!"

 
Originally the words were different, but over time, and numerous reprints and retellings, it has become the famous lines above.

Now, let's look at the game shall we? On the surface, it is a relatively simple D6 dice pool system, easy to learn, and teach to others. It's the premise is what makes it special, as well as the unique, and dare I say charming nature of character creation. Add in some house rules by yours truly, and you've got a game that's fun for the whole family. And then some.






The key element that makes this game special is that, if played by the book (I'll explain what I mean a bit later), characters are generated by making Gingerbread cookies. I crap you not. You bake Gingerbread Men, and Women, and you decorate them in order to create your characters.

The various decorations you put on your cookie determine it's unique abilities, and gimmicks. Gumdrops, M&Ms, Icing, and all other manner of tasty, and colorful add-ons can give your Gingerbread Person powers ranging from Invisibility, to Floating on Water, to Frosting Melting Heat. Many sweets provide weaponry, or equipment, such as the various colors of M&Ms, black licorice for a ladder (or rope in my house rules), or flying around on pretzel rod broomsticks.

I established a different, and greatly expanded, set of guidelines as to what items did what. My original players, a group of students from my Sunday classes at the tutoring center in Brooklyn, demanded a larger, and somewhat more flexible array of items, and confections. For example, in my game the effects of M&Ms are categorized not by their color, but by the type of M&M (Plain/Milk Chocolate, Peanut, Almond, Mint, etc.). Icing and other such decorations provide direct bonuses to defense (like armor), speed, etc.

Combat consists of breaking, mostly in the form of limbs, and your head. While the head is kind of essential (and always the last part to break), limbs can be repaired, and 'healed' to some degree. I expanded on this a bit as well for my game, enabling the sessions to last a bit longer if needed. It's also greatly expanded our collective mythos. Icing, and eggs are a good bandage, but not a permanent fix. Finding batter and re-baking the injured area is the key, but it takes time.



 
 
Oh the Humanity!


One of the biggest differences between the games I've run with this RPG so far, and the game as written, is that I haven't used actual Gingerbread Men, as is suggested, and recommended in the rulebook. In all honesty, I would love to have done it that way, even preferred it to be sure! Unfortunately I didn't, and couldn't for very practical reasons.

As I've stated, I've mostly run the game with students at the tutoring center where I work part-time. Without access to a kitchen, kids with possible allergies (although I don't think we actually have any of those), and all that sort of thing, an alternative form of character creation was developed.

Using either paper, or the dry erase board at the tutoring center, we drew out the shape of Gingerbread Men, and Women, colored them in, and then drew on, glued, or otherwise attached the decorations. In our home version of the game, Chocolate Chip Cookies (the crunchy kind) are used as Shields, and Candy Canes serve as a hooked staff, useful as a tool for climbing, or pulling, as well as acting as a weapon when needed. If drawing your Gingerbread People on paper, consider attaching the items with removable double-sided tape, or simple weak tape folded over on itself. This makes the items easily removable if you should lose your Shield, or need to give your Staff to an ally.

Lastly (as I could really go on, and on with another post this size on cool ideas for this game), there is the matter of the 'Secrets'.

Yes, every Gingerbread Person has a secret, and they give the game a bit more depth, even if the secrets are often downright ridiculous. They could be anything.

You're secretly in love with the Angel at the top of the Christmas Tree. You must tell her before she, and the tree are taken down this year.

You panicked last time the Burnt Sugar Cookies attacked. We lost a lot of good Gingers that day. You seek to avenge them, but the Burnt Sugar Cookies scare the bejeebers out of you.

After the Holiday, one cookie is covered in a glaze, and can no longer be eaten. It has the honor of adorning the tree as a decoration the following year. You must be that cookie! No matter what...

So this is just a taste (HA!) of the awesome that is The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. I have a session of it planned for this coming December, and a second one with another group possible around the same time. If anyone is interested (or if it's so much fun I can't help myself) I'll post play reports afterward.

Check it out for yourself, and if you have kids, consider letting them in on the action.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Twice As Thorough Thursdays: SATASUPE REmix

I missed last week's Thorough Thursday, so this week I'm giving you two!

Welcome back to the program.

During the commercial Barkley, and I were talking with the audience about genres that are difficult to identify, or more accurately, name. Since you can breakdown most genres into subgenres, it's funny when you find it difficult to pin-point a genre at all. There are very few, but they're out there.

My next guest, who comes to us all the way from Japan, represents one such difficult to pin-point genre.

While not a name known here in the United States, my next guest has been a star in the field of Japanese table-top RPGs since the late 1990s. Its revised edition, essentially it's second edition, came out in 2003, and remained popular all the way to its next revision in 2008. The 2008 version of the game is still being played, and remains popular to this day.

Let's have a big round of applause for SATASUPE ReMix!




SATASUPE
The Asian Punk RPG
1st Edition Cover

Prior to this post, I have only tagged SATASUPE REmix, the Japanese 'Asian Punk' Role Playing Game, produced by Adventure Planning Service, twice before, with both blog entries referring to a single game idea I would like to explore.

That's just wrong.


SATASUPE, the original edition depicted above, was one of the first Japanese table-top RPGs I ever played, and it remains a favorite of mine for reasons I will go into in a bit.

First, a little in the way of introduction...

I am not entirely sure when the first edition of the game came out, as I recall seeing ads for it in Japanese RPG magazines prior to 2000, but I can confirm that Satasupe REmix was published in 2003, and became the definitive version of the game until a new, even further revised edition came out in 2008.
As with many Japanese pop culture product titles, Satasupe is actually a play on English words. In this case, 'Saturday Night Special'.

The game was created by Touichirou Kawashima and as noted above, published by the game design studio, and publisher known as Adventure Planning Service, for book and game company Shinkigensha, Hobbybase.

The game is set on an alternate history Earth, where World War II, and its aftermath, went very differently. The default setting of the game is therefore a fictional city of Osaka that has been divided up by the numerous government superpowers that exist in the game's modern era. Among these are:

The District of Kinki - Under the control of the United Nations. Considered neutral territory.
Huogeshan - Controlled by the People's Republic of China.
Osten Schloss - Under the control of Nazi Germany.
The People's Democratic Republic of Japan - A pro-Soviet government in Northern Japan
The Republic of Japan - A pro-American government in Southern Japan.

(Personally I think those last two should have their names reversed, but what the hay, right?).

Curiously, when I've played, and/or run the game, I did not use the RPG's default setting, and neither did my GM. We tended to set it in an indeterminate Japanese city, not exactly Tokyo, but not not-Tokyo either. Basically, we simply ignored the specifics of the story's location for ease of story telling.

The game is relatively simple, using only a pool of six-sided dice. In some aspects, the mechanics remind me of the old World of Darkness by White Wolf, with a few differences.




Satasupe REmix Character Sheet
Translated into English



I wish I could recall all of the details. My memory is a little sketchy on the specific mechanics of the game, which were explained to me by friend who spoke, read, and wrote Japanese, but whose command of English left a little something to be desired. I will say that their English improved over the course of our friendship much more than my Japanese.

For the most part the game is a fairly traditional approach to die pool mechanics, reminiscent of both World of Darkness, and West End Games' D6. Your character is largely defined by stats such as Crime, Life, Love, etc. Your Profession, which felt a bit like a class, but more akin to a [LUG Star Trek] Character Temple, gave you your skills, starting equipment, and access to various abilities particular to your job [like special class features, or feats only someone of your Profession would have].

Now that I think about it, the game may have Star Wars D6, and WoD as its ancestors, but it certainly has Fiasco, and Apocalypse World as its descendants (not literally of course).

Anyway, the thing that makes this game special for me (aside from a few nifty mechanical bits) is that it covers a genre, or more accurately a related series of genres that are rarely covered in Western RPGs.

The Japanese sometimes refer to it as 'Yarou', which translate roughly as 'bastard', 'tough guy', or occasionally 'macho'. The game itself is labelled, the 'Asian Punk' RPG.

The genre basically covers all those films, TV shows, and even Anime and Manga, in which the hero is just thoroughly badass. Examples include: Swallowtail, Ichi The Killer, the animated film, The Professional: Golgo 13, and animated series, and manga Wild 7. At the same time, it certainly fits American films like The Warriors, Die Hard, Ocean's 11, and Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction.

Interestingly, if you look up the links for the American films, you'll see that they can't even decide what genre they are. Pulp Fiction is noted as a 'black comedy crime film'. Reservoir Dogs is a 'neo-noir crime thriller'. Warriors is listed merely as a thriller. A thriller? I guess. It's a lot more than that in my opinion.

Over the years, SATASUPE has expanded into other genres, and subgenres, all the while maintaining the themes of action, suspense, crime, honor, tradition, rebellion, and a healthy dose of 1970s cool. Supplements for the game add John Woo style Gun-Fu, Rockers, Street Fighter style Martial Arts, and even the Undead (mainly Vampires, and Zombies).






Now here is the real kicker...

It could be argued that SATASUPE REmix is not a comedy game. That argument is silly of course. It isn't a comedy game. There is no need to argue that point at all.

At least, it's not really billed as such, nor is humor the key element of the game's premise, or rules. Combat is cinematic, but extremely deadly. Themes, and subject are pretty mature. Yet, it is definitely funny in a darkly humorous way. The art, by popular Japanese table top RPG artist Hayami Rasenjin, contributes an oddly whimsical feel to the games otherwise dystopian atmosphere.

Without its sense of humor, SATASUPE would be a very depressing game, and probably not nearly as popular as it has been.

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Barking Alien








Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Jokes On You

Ladies, gentlemen, and little, blue, furry things from Antares IV,
we here at The Barking Alien Blog are proud to present,
(well maybe proud is a bit of an exaggeration)
 
The Tea Time Movie
with your host, Art Fern!
 
 
 
 
 
Good afternoon feature film freaks, and friends, welcome one, and all to the Tea Time Movie. We have a wonderful, classic selection for you today.
 
Sean Bean, Orson Bean, Mr. Bean, Mr. Potato Head, and the ghost of Orson Welles star in, 'One Ugly Spud'.
 
Yes friends, but before we get to our film, your dollar doting pal Art Fern has a double-down deal for you. The kind of deal you can't pass up, though you could pass out. Friends, we're talking about a sure fire, firecracker, of a crack up for sure. And to assist me in introducing this miraculous product is a miracle of modern medicine herself, our very own Matinee Lady!




 
Um...Barkley?
Why are you dressed like that?
Where's the beautiful woman?
 
This is the best I could do on such short notice.
And with our budget.
 
We don't have a budget. We're not paying.
 
Exactly.



Friends, do you tire of the same old routine? Have you gotten stagnant, lazy? Has your get up and go, gotten up, and went, refusing to send you a forwarding address?

Do you need a boost of adrenaline, a shock to your system, a Bang Bang in your Chitty-Chitty?

Well then friends I have just the thing for you. Comedy!


***


Let's face it, the best laid plans of mice, and men often degenerate to Yoohoo shooting out of someone's nose.

Gamers, generally speaking, prefer their games serious, but drop puns like Taylor Swift drops boyfriends, quote Monty Python more often than Picard quotes Shakespeare, and often can't keep a straight face through some Eldritch Horror tearing one of the party members' faces straight off.
 
All this laughing, joking, and clever wit, yet few things frighten even a seasoned gamer like being asked to run, or play in a humorous game. Why?

Well, in the first of a series of posts*, I'm going to try to look at that very question. More specifically, I'm going to break the big question of, "Why don't we all run, and/or play, more humorous games, more often?", into several smaller queries.

The first of these, this one, is really, "Why do [most] gamers shy away from comedic RPGs, and what can we do to change that?"

The first, and most basic reason (although not the biggest reason - which I will get to in one of the follow up posts) is simple:

Most people think, "I'm not funny."

Now there are variations on this. "I'm not funny" could mean:

"I'm not very funny/funny enough [to run an ongoing humor game]."

"It's hard to be funny on purpose."

"It's a lot of pressure to be funny all the time/consistently."

These concerns are valid. As in, yes, these are real anxieties around the subject that people have, and it holds them back from trying, and therefore gaming comedic games.

What? You thought I was going to say "Popycock", "Rubbish", or "Get Offa Yer Candied Arse, and Man Up Ya Wee Scunner."? Shows what you know.

OK, normally I would, but comedy is different. Not everyone is funny.






It's true sadly.

Everyone has a sense of humor. There are always things that a given individual finds funny, although it certainly differs from person to person.

Being funny however is a skill, a knack of sorts, and involves empathy, timing, a good grip on language, and in some cases being physical adept. Sure some people have a gift, and in a way it is not unlike a person gifted with artistic ability. You either have it, or you don't, but it can be practiced, honed, and expanded to a greater level.

So if you weren't intimidated to run a humorous game before, how ya feelin' now?

Yeah...sorry. Let's get back on track.

So you think you're not funny. What can you do about it?

Well the first thing you should know is you don't have to be the king of comedy to run a comedy game. That is the first, and biggest misconception. You do need a sense of humor, and like I said, we all have one of those, but you need not be hysterically funny.

Remember back up above when I mentioned that nearly every game eventually degenerates to movie quotes, humorous analogies, and terrible puns? Great. Let it.

Who says you have to do all the heavy lifting? Very likely, two thirds of the humor in your comedic game will come from the players, just as two thirds of it does in your usual campaigns. You need to get good at recognizing humor when it happens, so when they (the players) set off some crazy joke you can run with it, and incorporate into the game.

Case in point:

Akuma is a Japanese word meaning demon, devil, or simply evil spirit. It is the name of a character in the Street Fighter series of martial arts video games (he is called Gouki, or 'Great Spirit' in Japan).

Kumite (Japanese - literally translates to grappling hands) is a sparring match associated with a particular form of karate. Sometimes in English, it is pronounced koo-me-tay, and means "a karate match".

Some friends, and players tripping over the words gave me the idea for a Teenagers from Outer Space adventure in which one of the PCs, a huge martial arts enthusiast, wins tickets to a kumite. He later discovers that A) it's an Akumate - a martial arts tournament of supernatural, underworld beings, and B) the tickets are not for watching the fights, but contracting the bearer to be in the fights.

If you win you get riches, or increased powers or something, but if you lose you are banished to hell where your soul rots for eternity. Muhuwahahaha!

When trying to explain to the head demon lord that he didn't belong, one PC said he wasn't a demon, but a mortal Human. His buddy backed him up saying, "He not akuma!"

Cue another player doing a Schwarzenegger impression, "It's not Akoomah!"


 
 






The joke later found it's way into a Marvel Comics RPG game referring to Attuma, the mad Atlantean nemesis of Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner.

"I don't know who attacked the Navy Base, but it's not Attoomah."

Remember how I mentioned the common lament that it's hard to be funny on purpose?

True, it can be, but it's easy to be funny by accident. Sorta kinda. I'll explain.

The story I told above is one of many where the adventure, the humor that went into making it, and the jokes that came out of it, were all a series of accidents.

I hadn't initially planned a session where the PCs get involved in an infernal mixed martial arts championship. No, no, no! That is not how that went down. I heard some buddies talking, there were some mispronunciations, a play on words, and the next thing you know I had an adventure idea. The rest came out of the players mouths during the game. Seriously, I had little to do with it.

In a future post I will talk a bit more on this subject, and hopefully give the fledgling comedic GM some pointers on being funny on purpose, or at least excellent ways to fake it.

For now let's end with the last of the major obstacles noted above, the pressure to consistently be funny.

This problem, like so many others, is one of perception. In all seriousness, no one is pressuring anyone to be funny all the time, except you. What I mean is, you're doing to yourself, so cut it out. It doesn't help. There is enough pressure in life. Don't add any to yourself, or your game.

And who says you have to be funny all the time? The best comedies, be they television shows, movies, games, or what have you, must have drama, action, mystery, suspense, perhaps a bit of romance, in addition to yuks, and guffaws.

I ran a Ghostbusters game that made a grown woman cry. I had people at the edge of their seats in Galaxy Quest. I've added a strong humor element to many games that are generally thought of as serious as well, such as Traveller, Mekton, and Japan's SATASUPE Remix (more about that awesome game this Thorough Thursday!).

The trick is, control the amount of comedy you're comfortable with, and you can easily run a humorous game because you control how often 'all the time', and 'consistently' happens. Place one to three oddball NPCs, and a wacky situation in one session, a play on words in the next, and then have the following session be downright serious outside of the side jokes you know full well your friends are going to make.

Again, the best comedies have stretches of seriousness. The Incredibles is a very funny movie, but Syndrome really is an evil bastard, and the Omnidroid could really have wrecked the city. Galaxy Quest is hilarious, but Saris has tortured, and would kill the Thermians. Gozer wasn't kidding around in Ghostbusters, whether it looked like a sexy lady, or a giant man made of marshmallow**.

Well, that's some of my thoughts on the subject, with a lot more to come. This post, this one right here, is why I really wanted to dedicate this month to humorous games. I hope this helped those who are a little comedy game shy to at least think about them a bit more...er...seriously.

Heh.

Any questions, or comments on the subject are more than welcome. I'd especially like it if you have some aspect of comedic gaming you'd like me to address. If you do, let me know!

And now back to our show...

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Barking Alien


*Yes! It's a series of posts during the month of September, which is itself a themed month about Humor. It's a series within a series! Whoah. Mind blown.

**Why is it spelled marsh-MAL-low, but said marsh-MEL-low?