Monday, May 22, 2017

Space Is The Place

It seems like the idea of a television show featuring a starship exploring outer space and battling evil is a fairly popular concept. Why, just last week there were two trailers for two different programs with this very same idea.

The first trailer was for the FOX Television Science Fiction Comedy-Drama The Orville. I liked that a lot. It really had that classic Star Trek feel, and a look that merged Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Galaxy Quest. I think The Orville has a lot of potential.

Now the second trailer is for a new series that should be familiar to many of you...

Star Trek: Discovery is the newest television series - the sixth - in the long standing Science Fiction franchise that has been my favorite example of Silver Age Space Opera since I was a wee lad. Anyone who knows me, or who visits this blog knows how much I adore Star Trek. That said...

Star Trek: Discovery looks good. I mean, its production values are top notch, and it has some really good actors attached to it. The camera work is more 'movie cinematic' than is typical of modern television, and lens flares aside it has great lighting. Very atmospheric. 

Sadly, if the best things I can say about an upcoming Star Trek project are that is has good camera angles and decent lighting, that's kind of unfortunate. Star Trek: Discovery didn't grab me. It didn't excite, or interest me overly much. 

The setting is supposed to be 10 years prior to Kirk, Spock, and the Constitution Class Enterprise, but it definitely doesn't look it. The starship exteriors, interiors, and pretty much everything looked too advanced. Isn't Captain Pike out there somewhere, with Spock as his Science Officer and 'Number One' as his First Officer? Isn't the Enterprise the state-of-the-art vessel of the time period? What the heck?

Also, are those Klingons? They are? What the heck? Why change their appearance yet again, and have it look so...not like Klingons. What is the purpose? Does CBS not understand that Star Trek is something beloved, and familiar to a lot of people?

The main issue however is that it didn't look special outside of the cinematic way it was presented. The uniforms*, the aliens, everything just looked generic. It could be any Sci-Fi universe if it wasn't for the title, and the arrowhead emblems (which shouldn't be there at this point in Star Trek's fictional history).

"Now hold on Adam", you might be saying, "Orville looks that way too."

True, but I would remind you Orville is a parody. Orville is trying to emulate Star Trek. At the same time it looks more like Star Trek than ST:D does (what an unfortunate abbreviation). Also, the more I look at The Orville the more I see the originality and attention to detail in it. For example, note that the uniforms feature four different division colors, and their insignia badges have different designs. 

I am griping a bit, but understand it's only because I love Star Trek so much. I think it deserves to look and feel better than a parody of itself. While I am happy, and thankful that we are getting more Star Trek on TV, we the fans have to pay for the show. If you want to be able to watch the first season of Discovery, you'll have to get CBS's All Access network. That doesn't feel right. It seems almost 'Anti-Federation'. 

In conclusion, my fingers are crossed that it will be good, but I am not holding my breath. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Star Trek: Discovery's trailer doesn't have me hyped to run a Star Trek game though. The Orville's trailer on the other hand does, parody, or not.

Barking Alien

*The uniforms...I really don't like them. I am not sure why, but I am not into them at all. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Slippin', Slippin', Slippin' Into The Future

Yesterday FOX Television released a trailer for a new Science Fiction Comedy-Drama created by, and starring Seth MacFarlane. It's called The Orville, named for the Planetary Union exploratory starship whose crew is the focus of the series.

Take a look.

Is it wrong that I'm already working out the game mechanics and adventure ideas for an 'Orville' campaign? 

No. No it is not. Before I get into that...

I'm pretty impressed with what I am seeing. Although I'm not a huge fan of MacFarlane's, I enjoyed the early seasons of Family Guy, and American Dad, and I found the humor in the trailer to work for him - and for me - even if it isn't lose-your-breath hilarious.

What was far more intriguing was the universe they are putting together - a definite parody/homage to Star Trek, but getting right a lot of the Space Opera tropes the recent efforts have gotten wrong.

This looks fun, features neat looking tech, cool spaceships, and interesting, genre appropriate aliens (including a gelatinous crewmember, and a weird, water dwelling, Muppet snake-worm-thing - haven't seen that in Star Trek). I like that the female alien security chief has seriously formidable super strength, and that the big alien Bortus is shown in command of the ship during a space battle at some point. Add in a robot crewmember who looks classic 60s-70s Sci-Fi robotic, and I'm totally sold.

Now back to gaming it...

My very first thoughts after seeing the trailer were, 'How best could I run this as a game?', and 'What system says, 'The Orville'?'.

Obviously I could simply adapt an existing game such as Starships & Spacemen (which this show basically is), the recently released Retrostar (that'd be neat), or even my old homebrew Galaxy Quest RPG.

At the same time, I'm getting a vibe off the show that a better approach might be a hybrid. It seems like it has funny characters, but a fairly serious premise. I am looking at something crunchier, and more serious than my Galaxy Quest rules, but at the same time lighter, and more - I don't know, 'wacky' maybe - than Starships & Spacemen. 

I have some ideas rolling around in my head already. I'll develop them a little further, and see where it takes me. If anything pans out, I'll share them with you guys. If you have any ideas, please pass them on to me.

Looking forward to the adventures of the USS Orville, and whatever they inspire.

Barking Alien

Monday, May 15, 2017


It's been a while since I was really excited about a published RPG.

I've looked forward to things that were lackluster upon release, just weren't what I thought they'd be, or that never ended up coming out at all. As noted on the blog several times, especially here, I not only have enough games in my collection to last me a lifetime, I also tend to go back to the same five, or six games again and again and don't need new ones to do what I like to do.

At the same time, I like trying new games. That's a thing with me, and it always has been. I like discovering a new approach to the craft, or being inspired by a new take on things. 

Periodically I will hear about a new game coming out, get interested, do some research, and more often than not take a look at a friends copy. What I mean is, my excitement wanes and I don't feel driven to buy it when it comes out. Sometimes I do, but it is very rare these days.

However...I just found one that I really like. Maybe even love. I'm talking about...

Inspired by the art book of the same name by Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag, Tales from the Loop is an RPG set in an alternate history 1980s.

In addition to catching the thrilling adventures of Knight Rider, and the A-Team on television, listening to the music of Bonnie Tyler and Culture Club, and going to the movies to see The Breakfast Club, or Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, you can watch industrial robots, flying cargo haulers, and ominous towers pass by as you bike home with your friends.

The premise is that The Loop, a massive particle accelerator first built in the 1950s, and active recently has caused weird machines and strange occurrences to happen around your otherwise normal suburban home town. You play kids, between 10 and 15, who investigate the odd goings on and try to unravel the mysteries behind them. 

The setting that comes with the game postulates the creation of one such Loop on islands just offshore of Stockholm, Sweden, and another not far from Boulder City, Colorado and the Hoover Dam in the US.

The feeling evoked by the game's concepts are reminiscent of films like E.T., The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, Back to the Future, and the recent Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things. 

Perhaps it should be...

I think the game is brilliant, with an easy to understand and play set of rules, and an intriguing premise. I have a plethora of ideas for running it, but I would definitely change some things.

I am not a fan of the alternate history where advanced technology openly exists along side analog devices like the walkman, and the Sega Master System. That just doesn't make a lot of sense, and more importantly it doesn't fit the genre.

In all the cases I mentioned above - The Goonies, Stranger Things, etc. - the world is normal, without any fantastical elements prior to the situation that arises. It is the very fact that the world perceived by the characters and the audience matches the real world that makes the events that take place in the story so extraordinary.

I would set my game(s) in a world with the only amazing thing being that some government, or independent scientific research foundation/corporation has built a super collider near the PCs' home town. After the particle collider is tested, strange events start happening, and fantastic elements are introduced to the world. Also, when I say the world, I am really talking about the immediate vicinity of the Loop, and the PC's town. 

I am also thinking of moving the central location to somewhere in the North Eastern United States. Why? Well, simply put, I know it better. Stalenhag obviously based his book on the suburban region of Sweden where he grew up. I would probably go with the suburban/rural areas of Upstate New York where my father lived during the 80s. The low mountains, the large number of rivers, and streams, area weather, the small town feel coupled with isolation in the winter - all these components are familiar to me and would be easier to convey to players than Sweden or Nevada, which are places I've never been, or haven't spent much times in [respectively].

Anyone else check this game out yet? Curious to hear what others think of it. 

Hopefully more to come on this...

Barking Alien

Monday, May 8, 2017

Saving The Galaxy...Twice

It was a very 'The-Future-By-Way-of-the-70s-and-80s'  weekend for me, and I couldn't be happier.

To begin with, I went with a bunch of my friends to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 on Friday night. It was welcome both for the camaraderie, and the fact that the majority of my day consisted of walking in a torrential downpour. A warm, dry theater full of Marvel Cinematic Universe geeks was just what the doctor ordered.

I loved the movie. Loved it. As much as the first. It was a bit more talky, and perhaps the character arc elements were handled in a somewhat heavy-handed way, but these minor flaws were expertly balanced by loads of action, humor, cool special effects, and more Easter Eggs than a church social on the third Sunday in April. 

While I have traditionally been more of a DC fan than a Marvel one as far as comics go, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the Marvel properties I was really into as a kid. I mean, a team of outer space superheroes battling alien oppression in the distant future - what's not to like?

The more modern incarnation of the Guardians, which resembles the movie team a lot more, has also been pretty good overall, and so when the Marvel Cinematic Universe decides to mix both new and old together for a film, well, they're playing my song. 

In addition to seeing the movie, I got together with some friends I don't get to game with all that often to run a one-shot of Star Frontiers.

I modified one of the classic TSR modules, Mission to Alcazzar, and ran the three players through it with a focus on fast paced, zany combat and snappy dialogue. Seeing Guardians of the Galaxy 2 obviously influenced my approach. 

Well that's all for now, back very soon with some additional musings on Space Opera Science Fiction role playing. 

Thrusters to Maximum!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


After a bit of a hiatus we're back with a continuation of my Campaigns I Have Known recap series entitled Paradise Fleet - The Long Way Home. 

I highly recommend checking out the previous Paradise Fleet entries in order to get the full story. Essentially, Paradise Fleet is a Science Fiction/Space Opera Comedy focused on a fleet of starships, and crews formed by a special treaty between three separate, normally competing/antagonistic interstellar governments. 

The 1st Combined Operations Space Fleet (nicknamed 'Paradise Fleet') of my campaign had been hurled across the galaxy following contact with a mysterious spatial anomaly. Forced to work together in order to survive, the men, and women of the fleet fought against their own personal prejudices, and/or the bias of their companions in order to ensure the safety of the entire armada. 

The Main Story campaign featured a team of Mecha Pilots, and supporting characters doing just that, protecting the Paradise Fleet from threats within, and without, while exploring space in search of resources, allies, and a faster way home.

Then there was the Side Story...

Synopsis: Side Story

The Gaiden, or Side Story, is a common feature in the word of Japanese Manga, Anime, and video games. It features an anecdotal, or supplementary tale that runs roughly simultaneously with the events of the main story. In modern times this is often used to create a spin-off, with ancillary information that enhances the world building of the setting in addition to adding new characters, technology/magic, and happenings.

That was the idea behind this campaign-within-a-campaign. A number of my friends who heard about the Main Story wanted in, but the number of players, their schedules, and such made it infeasible to add them in. Instead, we ran a separate game occurring at the same time, with the same setting, and a connected plot.

An Older Model
Corporation Alliance Escort Corvette

Our Side Story begins sometime around the third, or fourth session of the Main Story. A High Nobel Nation Destroyer/Escort leaves the fleet, intent on blazing its own path in an effort to get home. A Corporation Alliance Escort Corvette (Slightly smaller and faster than the Escort/Destroyer, but carry less offensive power) gives chase. As the CA Corvette, and its squadron of (PC) Mecha Pilots draws nearer to the renegade vessel, the squad is informed that the Destroyer is carrying an experimental super-weapon. It can not be allowed to escape.

Things escalated very quickly. The HNN ship's Commanding Officer claimed the entire transportation of the Combined Operations Space Fleet across the galaxy was a set up. According to him, it was perpetrated by an alien entity, and that the Fleet's Upper Echelon Command knew it would happen. Rather, the Upper Echelon's of each interstellar nation's government knew it would happen. It was all planned...

To what end? Why go through all that trouble? It didn't make sense.

As the Corvette's squadron tussled with the HNN Destroyer, and its Mecha Pilots - in both physical and philosophical combat, a Corporation Alliance Light Cruiser scouting far ahead of the rest of the Fleet was alerted to the situation. Placed on stand-by in case the Corvette needed back up, the Corvette's Mecha Pilots were spurred on - none of them wanted to have to call for help from the Scouts. 

Meanwhile, there was a clear sense that the Mecha Pilots of the Corvette were considering what the Destroyer's commander had said. Was there a conspiracy here? Was the Combined Operations Space Fleet's predicament someone, or something's, conscious decision instead of an accident?

Eventually the Destroyer, and its Mecha were defeated, and captured. Unfortunately, the ship's commander escaped in a smaller craft, along with the super-weapon. The first session ended with the PC group in hot pursuit. 

Over time, various incidents turned the allegiance of the PC squadron from dedicated protectors of the Combined Operations Space Fleet to pursuers of the truth. Labelled Renegades by the COSF, the team strove to prove what had really happened to the Fleet, and why. They didn't have animosity towards the fleet, but rather a powerful desire to know what was really going on.

The campaign progressed with a hearty mix of action and intrigue [unlike the discovery/exploration theme of the Main Story]. The Renegades were sometimes seen as heroes, sometimes villains, which in all honesty confused the heck out of the the COSF's powers-that-be. Likewise, in crossovers with the Main Story characters, the two group were never sure whose side each was on.

At least twice the two teams joined forces - once to defeat the HNN Destroyer Commander, and eliminate his stolen super-weapon - another time to stop a group of alien Michians who were worshiping a negative energy being, the dark counterpart of the true architect of things - the spatial anomaly with good intentions who set the entire epic in motion.

Unlike the heroic efforts of the Main Story PCs, who in the finale of the their campaign fought to protect the Positive Entity from the Negative Entity, and its minions, the Renegades fought a small group within the COSF Upper Echelon Command who had plans to steal the power of the entities for their own purposes. 

Next...The Battle of Outer-Sight...Main Story Heroes versus Side Story Renegades.

Be There!

Barking Alien