Thursday, August 16, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 16

This one made me laugh...


You want that from newest idea to oldest, alphabetical order, most developed to least, or how likely they are to get to the table based on compatibility percentages with each group?

Seriously, this is the Barking Alien blog kids. Anyone whose been around here before knows I'm usually working on a least a half dozen new campaign ideas at any given time. Most of these concepts never get beyond the initial 'hey, you know what would be cool' stage. A select few get nearly the attention of games I manage to run before they are shelved for one reason or another. Developing a Role Playing Game campaign is, for me, very much like pitching a motion picture in Hollywood, complete with concept art that's never used and going over budget on props. 

All kidding aside, the games I plan to run next are...

The Orville

I would really love to give the Orville another chance. I don't feel like my initial attempt truly captured the feel of the series and it certainly wasn't as challenging for the PCs as it could have been. Against my own better judgement, I tried to make it 'Star Trek Lite' instead of serious Space Adventure with more quirky characters. I missed the mark big time and want very much to make another go at it. 

I would use Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures system as I like it a lot and of course it designed (or at the very least adapted) to emulate just such a setting. I want to more fully flesh out the Orville universe elements and to do that I may have to wait until after Season 2 of the series has gotten underway. 

Maybe my new campaign for 2019? We'll see.



A little secret side project I've been toying with for some time is a Wild West RPG based on the rules of classic Traveller. Right now it lives in a dusty corner of my computer under the title 'Pioneer'.

The idea first came to me about a year ago (maybe two) when I was trying to think of a system for running my very specific take on Westerns. I wanted something that had an air of realism about it but would still enable me to tell the kind of American Folklore, Wild West Ghost Story tales I used in my first and really only Western campaign up to this point. 

The project is currently a bit unfocused. I know what I want for the most part but I am not sure how to present it or where I am going with it. Yet. It is very much a work in progress, though progress does continue. 

Can I / Will I / Should I finish Pioneer in time to make it my next campaign? I haven't yet decided...

and getting honorable mention...

Sentai / Giant Robots

I have been powerfully inspired by Voltron, The Legendary Defender and haven't run a Giant Robot campaign in a very long time. I'd really love to do a game inspired by the Netflix animated series combined with more Sentai elements such as more individualized abilities and gear for the PCs and more Kaiju-of-the-Week enemies.

Maybe. I kind of like how they held off throwing a 'robeast' at the Voltron team episode after episode, making the appearances of said monstrosities extra-special. 

Shelved in my mental archives for later.

Well, that's where I'm at.

Where are you?

Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 15

For my next trick...

A 'tricky' RPG experience?

There are a lot of ways this question can be interpreted...and perhaps that's part of the point of the question. 

What's tricky? By whose standards? 

I once ran a time travel game backwards, from climax to introduction. I've run Land of Og, wherein the PCs can only speak the two or three words they know with no guarantee their follows part members understand those same words. I've GM and co-GMed 24 hour long sessions with groups of a dozen or more players...

But I don't think that's what they're getting at here. No, I think that this year the questions try to go deeper and I for one applaud that. Therefore, in the interest of a deeper meaning, here is a tricky RPG experience that I enjoyed that focused on the RP part, and was tricky...

On the request and recommendation of a friend, I played in a one-shot he was running of a game called Steal Away Jordan.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it is a 47 page, rules-lite, indie RPG written by Julia Bond Ellingboe. It covers the subject of slavery in no uncertain terms, yet also has supernatural elements to it. As is noted in the game's subtitle, it enables one to tell 'Stories from America's Peculiar Institution'. 

In addition to asking me to play in this session of the game he'd wanted to run, he asked me to help him a bit with the particulars of world-building and tone. He had been reading the works of Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and others and knew what he wanted but not exactly how to pull it off. I was deeply moved that he thought I could help.

We spent an afternoon lunch at Harlem's famous Melba's restaurant going over how to make the session work. He had something to say, in a social political sense that is, but also wanted to tell a cool story and let the players play their characters, not some pre-scripted sermon that were his words alone. I remember saying what I say to myself when I want to run a game like this...

"Ask the questions you want to ask. Say what you want or need to say. Just don't give or expect your own answers."

The game itself told the tale of a post-Civil War freed African slave, a male from Tennessee who had traveled North just a few months after the end of the conflict. He was a cook, a chef, and a very talented one. A small but booming town had offered to hire him to feed miners and railroad workers. 

One his way he is visited by a ghost or spirit claiming he left something behind and pestering him to return. He refused, angry with himself for letting his fears over his new life create this hallucination. 

He eventually finds a home in the town, with friends, a girlfriend, and the respect of at least some of the townsfolk. He also experiences prejudice and hate, the continued haunting of his past, and becomes aware of a conspiracy in which the owner of the largest mine has falsified how well the mine is doing so he doesn't have to pay his workers or the government its due taxes. 

The former slave gets a weekend and a day off because his boss has a family tragedy - his nephew, a miner, has died in a tunnel collapse. A local gambler and conman, one of the man's 'friends' reveals to the chef that the accident was no accident. The slave turned chef takes the opportunity to head home and visit what remains of his family.

He finds them poor, almost destitute, struggling to survive. They do not ask for his help or for handouts, they aren't mad he left. They are happy he 'made it out'. He speaks with his Gran (the old woman who used to take care of him, not a blood relative) and tells he about the ghost. She says it is the spirit of a man who used to teach him and play with him when he was very young. It was this man who first taught him to cook. It was this man who made sure the opportunity to leave went to the former slave turned chef. The man had saved his life in many ways.

He was now a Guardian Spirit of sorts, watching over the young man. The chef was confused, we wasn't in danger any more. What did he need to be guarded from?

Gran said, "Boy, you are always in danger. Every last one of us are and will be for generations. But boy if you feel safe, if you feel good, I am happy. We all are. Maybe he isn't there to guard you, huh? Maybe he is telling you to guard someone else? Something else?"

The former slave remembered the ghost saying he had left something behind. He found, in the old shed he once lived in an old book. The first and only one he'd ever read. It had recipes. It was how he learned to cook. In it, folded against the back cover a very strange and special desert. 

Returning North he convinced his boss to invite the town's most important folks to a grand meal to try out his new recipe. Reluctantly at first his boss agreed and a special dinner party was arranged. There would be entertainment, music, and of course great food. The mayor, the sheriff, and yes the mine owner would be there.

The appetizers were enticing and delectable. The entrees delicious. Everyone was in such a good mood. Almost unnaturally happy and joyful. The chef's boss thanked him profusely because the meal had alleviated some of his sorrows over the death of his nephew. The chef hugged the boss, who had been like a father to him. And then...desert.

Upon tasting the desert many of the attendees wept openly. Tasty beyond anything anyone could dream. Through laughter, eating, and tears of joy, the mining company owner blurted out how he had cheated everyone, cheated the government, and murdered the boss's nephew and several others as they had discovered his scheming. He couldn't stop confessing, even as the boss went for his gun in the other room and the sheriff stood up to arrest the mine owner. Finally, the mining owner shoved more the desert into his mouth, and more, and more, anything to stop himself from talking. 

In moments he lay dead, having choked on his own greed, with the ghost of the chef's past - or was it an angel, or death itself - invisibly lifting the mining owner's spirit from it's body and then down a long, dark road into darkness, smoke, and fire. 

There was a bit more, but you get the gist. The chef made sure to return home from time to time, and always sent money back as well as food. Eventually he would become modestly successful, opening two restaurants of his own, marrying his love, and helping others as he had been helped. 

For the record, the GM was Black, 39 years old, as were half the other other PCs. The remainder were a mix of White and Latino players, all ages 28-39. There were two female players, the rest were male.

I played the Former Slave turn Chef on request of the GM. I am not Black, The GM was and he told me he wanted, needed, me to do it. He need to confuse expectations, maintain a certain level of distance. I am so glad he did. It was unlike any role I'd ever played and unlike any game experience I'd been part of. 

Looking forward to the next question.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 14

Er...this is...tough...

I honestly can not think of one. 

Failure isn't amazing. Failure sucks. Failure is what I strive to avoid and work to prevent next time. 

I am a bit of a perfectionist, with a low self esteem issue. This means failure eats away at me until I do something about it. I can't view a failure as anything but a flaw to be corrected. 

I've certainly had moments in games where a botched roll has lead to hilarious results or a misunderstanding about what was going on in our story game us a fantastic moment when it finally dawned on us what was actually happening but nothing comes to mind right now as an amazing failure.

Sorry but that's the best I can do with this one.

I hope I at least gave you some insight into my thought patterns. 

Barking Alien

Monday, August 13, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 13


My play style, or at the very least my outlook on what RPGs are all about, started very differently from that of most of my contemporaries (people who started gaming in the late 70s). 

I've told my 'origin story' before so I won't go over it again here. Instead I will say that when I started in the hobby, the focus of my games as both a player and GM was on story and characters first, cool action scenes in interesting environments second, and rules third. 

As I played with more diverse groups of people I sadly learned that they weren't that diverse at all. The gaming world outside my own circles seemed to largely shame an outlook quite the opposite of my own. These other groups focused more on the rules, and more on the simplistic dynamic of kill, acquire, move on to the next less. Other gamers appeared focused less on the PCs, a plot, world-building, or the general cinematic flair my players and I had grown accustomed to. 

I decided at some point that when I was the Gamemaster and in charge of the campaign - which turned out to be the case more often than not - I would be a player's GM in addition to maintaining my own interests. I would keep the PCs the focus of the campaign and its story, with the various plots elements leading back and/or somehow connected to the player characters.

This worked very well for a very long time and I became quite popular within a wide number of groups. I also took flack from Old School Gamer acquaintances who saw me as soft, fudging the dice too often, and too 'free wheeling' (yes, that was an actual criticism I received). Mind you, all of these negative comments came from gamers who had observed my games or heard about them second hard. I never heard such complaints from anyone actually in my games. 

Now, years and years later, I have evolved into a state I am not completely satisfied with. I feel as if I have actually been in a state over the last several years in which the slights of the past ring true. I am too easy on the PCs in my games. Because the player characters and the story are paramount, I don't want arbitrary death or players disheartened by it. In the past I maintained a philosophy of making the players pay for their successes. Be creative, smart, and not boring or cowardly and you will likely survive. Now I think I just go too easy on them. 

How has my play evolved? I'm not certain it hasn't devolved a bit. 

Something I need to bare in mind.

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 11, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - 11 & 12



Define 'Wild'.

Are we using wild to mean unusual, fun, and exciting or outlandish, crazy, and out of control?

If it's the latter, I don't really have anything. Such names and concepts probably wouldn't appear in one of my games.

Yes, I admit it, I am a bit of a 'Name Snob'. I can't help it. As soon as someone says, "So that's when my character, Conan McFighty, lept to the bridge...", I have already written off your character, the game you're in, your GM, and possibly all of your friends, family, and pets. 

Likewise, as far as character concepts go, if you are playing Star Trek and you want to be a Psionic Half-Klingon, Half-Vulcan liberated Borg, you can leave my table, my house, and never return to darken my doorstep again. No hard feelings. It's just clear to me you don't understand why we play Star Trek...or perhaps even what Star Trek is about.  

Do I still have to say immersion is important to me? I don't think I do. As a GM and occasional player I try to immerse myself in what my fellow GMs are running and in the effort my players are making to fit into my game. If you call your Superhero character Super Fire Guy, or Joe because that's the real name you came up with, or don't give him a name at all, dude you take me right out of it. I can easily suspend my disbelief but give me something that fits the suspension. That is, make the name and character concept fit the world. 

If the world is gonzo and wacky then I guess your paladin named Boo Boo is fine, but know that I now believe your world to be one of silliness. It's a comedy as far as I'm concerned. Please don't get too deep or bloody as it will through me off. If the gal on my left is Boo Boo the Paladin, this is clearly a humorous, possibly cartoon-themed setting. No? Then please explain...

Now, it's not that we haven't had odd character names and strange PC concepts. It's just that I don't think of them as wild. They may seem wild to you, but to me they would be best described as 'atypical'. In nearly every case however, they fit the genre and setting in which they appear. 

Here are just a few:

[Sadly, some of the best names and character concepts I've ever seen have come from my friends Allen Halden, Pete Hernandez, and Martin King, three dear gentlemen who are sadly no longer with us. I miss them. This was not intended as a memorial post but if it is so be it.]

IM-MA-N2 (Martin K.) - Star Wars D6 - A droid built by PC Smuggler En Fochs (pronounced Ian Fox) and his NPC mentor Tiree Palmight to assist Fochs in his efforts to get supplies past Imperial enemy lines. 

Made from Astromech and Maintenance Droid parts, IM-MA-N2, nicknamed MAN-2, had a hidden priority one program to 'Continually improve yourself to better help En Fochs fight the Galactic Empire'. Tiree had placed this directive in MAN-2 without Fochs' knowledge as Palmight was certain his own rebel activities and ties were going to get him caught sooner or later. It turned out to be true and Tiree was captured by the Imperials while Fochs and MAN-2 escaped.

Over time, MAN-2 improved him programming, skills, and even replaced physical components in order to fulfill his 'mission'. He began looking like an odd mix of an R2 unit and a Treadwell Droid and ended up humanoid with an armored body and the CPU of a Bounty Hunter/Assassin Droid. MAN-2 went from helpful and cheerful with perhaps a bit of a conspiratorial undertone. He ended up a hard edged, determined combatant sworn to protect the team with,  

Ipperius 'Ip' Witspear (Pete H.) - Homebrewed Variant D&D - Elven Wizard/Thief belonging to the now virtually extinct Pale Elves of Eldrindel. A con artist magician who mostly utilizes subtle spells and fast talk to fool people into thinking he is merely a charlatan or an entertainer. After many years of adventuring he opened a shop which buys, sells, and trades magic items and material components known as Witspear's Wondrous Wizardy Emporium. Ip has a Manservant/Assistant/Employee/Bodyguard called Gronk. Gronk is not his name, that's just want Ip calls him as he can't remember his real name and has never bothered to learn to speak Troll properly.

You see, the world/setting is generally quite serious but Ipperius himself plays the fool so folks will underestimate him. He may seem a tad silly but there is a reason. 

Lt. Commander Green Shine Wandering Wave Miragh (Allen H.) - Star Trek, Last Unicorn Games - A Xelatian Science Officer and First Officer of the U.S.S. Thunder Bay, a Loknar Class Frigate in the Star Trek Original Series Movie era. In addition to his peculiar name (though he is addressed as Lt. Commander Miragh by the captain and crew), he is a primarily aquatic, squid-like being supported by an anti-gravity harness when out of water. Allen did an amazing job of utilizing his non-Humanoid anatomy, as well as developing his open, gregarious personality and welcoming culture. 

Lt. He Who Glistens In The Autumn Twilight Under The Third and Seventh Moons (Again Allen H.) - Galaxy Quest Homebrew - The second in command of the NSEA Galient, He Who Glistens in The Autumn Twilight Under The Third and Seventh Moons is a Humanoid insect being who, it is implied, is the first of his species to serve on an NSEA vessel. He possesses several special abilities based on his alien physique. The lieutenant's talents included clinging to various surfaces, communicating with other insectoid lifeforms, flying/hovering short distances (though he must remove his uniform to use this), and the ability to sense vibrations in the air with his antenna. 

There are others, in fact too many to put into any one post. If one checks back through my previous posts, I'm sure you'll find other characters as weird and bizarrely named as these. Perhaps more. 

That's enough for this question. Onward...

Barking Alien

Friday, August 10, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 10

From deep to profound...

I don't know how to answer this question.

It's like asking a bird how flying has changed its life. 

Hey, do remember Play Doh?

Imagine you have a small container of Play Doh. Had it since you were a kid. You've loved it ever since you first played with it and kept this one container. Let's say - just bare with me - that you've somehow managed to keep it soft and pliable all this time. Yeah, you just love this stuff.

This Play Doh is green. It's your favorite color and that's another reason you've kept it so long. The container you keep it in, well it's weird, but it has a blue top. You don't know why it has a blue top, don't recall if it was a factory error, or you lost the original green top, but it's blue and it's been blue since as long as you can remember. 

One day someone - someone other than you - asks why it has that blue top. 

You start to think about it and I mean really put your mind to it. It's been blue forever. As long as you can remember, right? As long as you've had Play Doh. 

Then it hits you. The Play Doh you have, the green Play Doh that you've played with for what feels like your entire life, that you love looking at on account of it being your favorite was blue. It started out blue. At some point some yellow must've been added. You sort of remember that. On the edge of your recollections you recall squeezing some yellow Play Doh to make it green but for the life of can't seem to remember the Play Doh being blue to start with. You can't visualize it. 

You remember now that it started blue but in your mind's eye it was always green. 

I've been playing tabletop, dice, pen, and paper RPGs since I was 8 years old. I am now 49. That means I've been gaming for four fifths of my life.

It's not a question of how it changed me. Changed who? Who was I before I was a gamer? I was 8. It may have molded me, taught me, provided me with an outlet, a means of making friends, but the only way I would know how it changed me would be to visit some parallel Earth where I never played. 

Gaming didn't change me. Gaming is who I am.

Barking Alien 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 9

Time to go deep...

The fourth question of the 2015 RPGaDay Challenge was 'Most Surprising Game' My answer to that is question is here

That question was poorly worded in my opinion. 

Is it asking what game that I purchased surprised me? What game I ran or played? Is it asking about the setting, the rule mechanics, a single session's story, a campaign, or what? No clue. I answered as best I could. 

Today's question is so much better as it asks 'How', as in 'in what way', has a game surprised me. This simple change makes me really think back on the games I've read, run, and played and consider which ones unexpectedly changed my thinking about RPGs.*

I'm constantly surprised by games to a certain extent. Not the eyes bulging out kind of surprise that makes you yell "WHAT THE...?!", complete with the ellipsis and exaggerated punctuation though. I'm talking about being unexpectedly impressed by what gaming can do. I've seen it bring people together, create moments of levity, moments of sadness, and a much needed release of tension and pressure. I've used it to teach English, to teach teamwork, and as a purely creative exercise. 

If I had to pick one game that surprised me more than any other [and trust me this isn't easy], it would have to Star Trek. Specifically Star Trek, The Role Playing Game by FASA, but all Star Trek gaming is included here for the purposes of this explanation. 

In my early Star Trek campaigns, which I ran more like a universe that people lived and worked in and not a TV show, I first discovered or perhaps first realized that tabletop RPGs could be about more than fighting villains and saving the day. Sure, we had that but we also had moments of discovery, investigating mysteries, and getting to know who the PCs and NPCs really were. Star Trek, far more than D&D and my Superhero games, featured truly three dimensional characters with more than cardboard cut-out friends, relatives, and enemies. 

It was one of the first games I ran wherein the players and the PCs liked the NPCs so much they were willing to protect them at risk of injury to themselves. Not in a vague 'Protect the Innocent People of This City' way you see in some Superhero RPGs, but in a direct, personal way.

I will never forget my friend Dave's Chelonian Chief Engineer trying to evacuate Main Engineering before a section of the room exploded, when the NPC Asst. Chief told him to go to the bridge. The NPC knew someone had to stay behind to activate the shielded doors that would protect the rest of the ship and contain the blast. Dave's PC said he would do it, as the NPC had a wife and a child. Besides he was the Chief and it was his duty to stay behind. The NPC insisted he be the one to do it as Dave's PC was the only one who could get the ship fully up and running after such a devastating incident and the ship was still under attack. Basically, if the PC saves the NPC the whole crew could die. After a brief altercation between the two friends, the NPC pushes Dave's character beyond the door frame and seals himself and the blast inside the chamber.

Dave almost cried. The other players needed a moment. Everyone was worried about the NPC's family.

That had never happened before. Not quite like that. Not to that degree.

I am happy to say it wasn't the last time something like that occurred.

That first time though...I wasn't definitely surprised.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 8

This one is curious...

More people? More than what amount? When was this amount determined?

Let me see if I understand...are the same number of people playing this year as last? As the year before? As when the hobby began?

While official numbers for 2018 are not in as of yet, Gen Con set a record in 2017 for its 50th Anniversary having an attendance of nearly 208,000 people. The attendance for 2016 was 202,000. As someone who once worked for a pop culture convention management company I can tell you those numbers are incredible and the increase staggering. 

I get the idea behind the question. What can we as individual fans of this hobby due to contribute to the hobby's growth? It's a great question, really, but I feel like we sometimes skip over the fact that whatever it is...we're doing it. 

Tabletop gaming, be it RPGs or boardgames, is clearly on the rise. I look at the number of titles Modiphius has put out in just the past year, the sales on miniatures games like Fantasy Flight's X-Wing, and the incredible success rates of games on Kickstarter and I have to imagine that someone out there is buying and playing these games. 

I think we as current gamers can get more people to play by asking friends and family to join in if they have an interest in fandom and pop culture things. Do you know someone who reads Fantasy Novels? Ask them to try Dungeons and Dragons. Have students in your class who are always talking about Star Wars and own BB-8 backpacks and folders with Rei on them? Maybe reward the kids with a session of the Star Wars RPG. 

Post up signs at your local game store or comic book shop saying you're looking for more players. I've learned from experience that sometimes, in addition to veteran gamers looking for a group, you'll get new people looking to try it out for the first time. 

Be inclusive. Let anyone with a passion for the hobby into the hobby. 

How did you start? Give that gift to someone else.

Until next time,

Barking Alien

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 7

Next on the agenda we have...

How can the Gamemaster make the stakes of the situation at hand or even the overall 'meta-plot' important to the campaign, the PCs, and the players?

Relate it the PCs. Make it personal. 

When developing my own campaigns I often have one or more overarching campaigns plots and ideas and numerous subplots or 'B-plots' in television lingo. What they all have in common is that they relate, directly or indirectly, to one or more of the PCs.

In the case of the primary A-plot, the story will have something to do with all the PCs. 

In order to achieve this, I take the backgrounds, goals, and preferences of the PCs into account when developing my game. Although I may start with a campaign concept, I really don't create too much material until I know who and what the PCs will be. Once I have the PCs, I look for points in their personal stories or histories where the characters might converge or where something one of them did has similarities to something another experienced. 

The best example I have in recent memory was our Traveller campaign, Operation: PALADIN.

Each player has rolled up a character and fleshed out their backgrounds based on the rolls they made. Each seemed very different and their stories unrelated except for all having taken place in Spica Sector, in or around the same subsector. 

Until...hmmm...Kael battled a hostile alien fleet before his vessel was destroyed. What alien species? Hold on...aliens invaded the Mining Colony Dr. Fujikawa was on while he was in the Scout Service. The Ithklur are near that area working for the Hive Federation. OK. When I need a hostile alien for the campaign it'll largely be the Ithklur. When they show up during the campaign the conflict now takes on a more personal meaning to many of the PCs and their players. 

"The Ithklur? Why those cold, unfeeling brutes! I owe them couple rounds of Gauss Pistol fire for...huh? You guys despise them too? Why? What did they do to you? Whoah. Really? OK, let's give them some much needed payback!"

It isn't just enemies either. One Player Character discovers her NPC son is Psionic in a society that loathes and fears Psi powers. Another PC is Psionic himself, and while the two PCs don't generally get along, the son likes his fellow Mentalist and a new relationship dynamic is formed. Meanwhile they need to keep in on the down low a bit from a third PC who, like an traditional, blue collar citizen of the Imperium, dislikes Psionics. 

Make your players care by making the campaign their story.

It might be about many things but mostly, it's about them.

Barking Alien

Monday, August 6, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 6

We are in Week Two of this year's RPGaDay Challenge, and away we go...

We RPG bloggers talk quite a lot about what the Gamemaster can do to make a campaign setting more real for the players. Of course we do. We're GMs.

I would venture to guess, having done no research and with no verified statistics of any kind, that the vast majority of gaming bloggers in the RPG hobby are Gamemasters. I'm sure gamers who primarily play do indeed blog but from what I've seen over the years they don't do so as commonly or as frequently as those who primarily GM.

Since I myself fall into the GM category, I will tell you how I think players in my group have or can make a game world come to life. 

The main thing is immersion. Immerse yourself. Buy-in to the game, your character, the setting, and it's particulars of that setting. Don't think like you. Think like your character. Even better, think like you if you lived in that universe you're gaming in and the rules of that universe applied to you.

My biggest gripe in recent years (and trust me, I have a good number of gripes) is players thinking like intelligent, 21st century, modern city dwellers with access to the internet on their phones when they're supposed to be Medieval Chinese Monks, Arthurian Knights, Superheroes of the 1960s, etc. 

Going hand-in-hand with this is Meta-Thinking. If I could punch a concept in the face it would be this one. Players trying to guess what the GM is doing instead of their PCs thinking of what the villain is doing. Trying to game the system do to system awareness instead of doing what your character would think was the proper course of action. So frustrating to me.

As a GM who tries really hard to create living, breathing settings seeped in the feel of the genre we're covering, whatever it may be, the greatest thing a player can do to help me is just follow my lead and enjoy being a person/robot/what-have-you in the fictional place and time we're sharing.

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 4, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 4 & 5

Ugh. We were doing so well. 



These are the kinds of questions I come across in this challenge [and others] that generally bore me.

Why? Well for one thing, I feel like they ask this or something like it every year. They don't, not exactly anyway, but it feels like they do. I could almost swear that some other blog challenge asked this exact question not long ago. It just seems too familiar.

Not only that, but question #5 is roughly the same question as #4. Isn't it well within the realm of likelihood that my favorite and most memorable NPCs are the same NPC? Why waste two questions on this?

Anyway...let's see...

Man oh man, I have come across and created so many memorable NPCs over the years I have no idea where to begin. In addition, I don't want to cover someone I've already covered. I think I'll avoid PCs who later became NPCs, as well as NPCs who other GMs created because it's my answer on my blog so it might as well be one of my NPCs.

Right. So...

Allow me to introduce you to Lieutenant Gravph, Assistant Chief Engineer of the USS Prosperity, NCC-1585, a Ventura Class Light Cruiser exploring the Beta Quadrant spinward of the Typhon Expanse in the Original Series era.

Mr. Gravph is a popular, reoccurring NPC in my current Star Trek Adventures campaign, Star Trek: Prosperity, and definitely one of my personal favorites.

The campaign is presently in it's third year. We played through Season 1 and the first half of Season 2 using the Star Trek Role Playing Game by Last Unicorn Games. The remaining half of Season 2 and now Season 3, has been played with the Star Trek Adventures game by Modiphius Entertainment. 

Gravph first appeared in the 'pilot' session of the game but didn't receive a proper name until a few sessions later. He primarily serves as the right hand man to our PC Andorian Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Bhoth, as well as our go-to Transporter Chief. Over time and numerous day-saving lucky rolls, Gravph became the person our PCs want at the Transporter controls when beaming under less than perfect conditions. 

The other major purpose Gravph serves is as a counterpoint to Bhoth, as their personalities, as well as their command styles, differ quite a bit.

Bhoth has little to no sense of humor, is constantly try to prove himself, takes daring risks, and adheres to a strict personal code of conduct.

Gravph has a dry, sardonic wit, is very comfortable in his own skin and in his position, makes calculated decisions, and is generally pretty flexible in social situations. That last part is interesting as he is a Tellarite, and Tellarites love to argue. Debates, disagreements, and heated discussions are an art form among the Tellarite people and Gravph is no exception. I've made it clear however [through his dialogue and actions] that he never argues just to argue. If he agrees with you about something he'll calmly admit you're right, but probably remark, "You were correct. I can not argue with your logic. Do you need a medal now? A commendation? Don't get to used to this feeling or else trust me, you'll be disappointed all too soon."

He has a gruff, deep voice, and often makes the face you see in the image above when you ask him a question whose answer seems obvious. I love doing his voice, his expressions, his mannerisms - he's just a fun character to portray and see the players interact with. 

In the past two seasons, though far more in the current one, Gravph has been given the Conn when the PCs go off the ship for a landing party. The Captain trusts him with her ship and the authority of the center chair. He's also interacted a lot more with other departments and characters as opposed to just Bhoth, such as [most recently] the Captain, the Vulcan First Officer, and more rarely our Intelligence/Communications Officer. 

What makes Gravph so special as a character is his normal-ness. He didn't graduate top of his Starfleet Academy Class. He has no special abilities or knowledge per se. Gravph is just this blue collar fellow who enjoys his job, loves giving his boss a hard time yet knows when to dial it back, and makes the PCs feel like they don't have to babysit their Starship. They can leave and go down to the planet.

They are comfortable knowing it's in good hands.

See you Monday!

Barking Alien

True Story...

This year I started writing up these posts early; most were completed a few days in advance of when they were to be posted. All but this one.

Each time I sat down to write it, I would get a quarter of the way through and suddenly feel very sleepy. It was as if attempting to answer these questions literally drained my energy and enthusiasm. I've seen boring questions but WOW! Nothing like this. 

Do not be alarmed. There are more and better questions on the horizon.

Friday, August 3, 2018

RPGaDay Challenge 2018 - Day 3

Now for Day 3 and another excellent question...

First let me define what 'staying power' means to me. 

It's meaning, as I see it, is actually two-fold:

First it means that the game lasts the test of time. It remains popular over the years, sometimes even beyond it's own publishing life. There are many gamers out there (myself included) who regularly play older editions of RPGs still in production, as well as ones long since out of print. 

A second possible meaning is that it remains popular at my table. My players and I return to that particular game again and again. This angle is especially important, interesting, and impressive to me, as I get enjoyment out of trying out new games. If in the course of doing so I return to one particular game on a regular basis between my taste testing of others it means that the RPG in question is something special and rather extraordinary. 

Now that we've established what staying power means, what gives a game this much coveted quality?

In the grand scheme of things, that is to say the 'big picture' of the RPG hobby as a whole, I have no idea. Seriously. The perfect example is Dungeons and Dragons. Why does it have such staying power? No clue really. It was first, it was marketed better than others (few RPGs are marketed at all outside of a game community that already knows about them), and it definitely functions as a game that can be played for an extended period of time (I'll get to that more in a moment). But with so many other games with more logical, simpler, more unified mechanics, why does it remain on top? I really couldn't say. 

For me personally, a game has staying power if it...

Effectively emulates the feel and function of the genre or setting it covers.

If you are creating a Star Trek game and it things within work the way Star Trek works, that game will last as a go to system for running Star Trek. A Fantasy game wherein the magic system makes magic feel powerful, mysterious, and dangerous if not handled correctly is a game I will go back to when I want to run Fantasy.

What? It happens.

Enables gradual/tempered build up of skills and abilities over time. 

As much as I play RPGs for the story, character development, world building and mystery solving, they are still, in the end, games.

There needs to be a system for expanding upon and improving your character. Said system can't see the characters improve too quickly, as that means the player will reach the end of their desire to play the character sooner rather than later. That's a staying power no-no. Alternatively, they will want to play their god-like, ultimate, ultra-character and the GM will get bored trying to come up with yet another reality shattering challenge week after week.

Don't get me wrong, I love reality shattering challenges, but every week? Enough is enough.

Characters that improve too slowly, while less common, can also be a source of frustration and the game that features such a slog to advance may also not be one the group wants to return to.

A final note: Games where you don't improve at all get really old really quickly. The GM can't increase the threat or expand the scope of the game, and after a while it tends to feel tedious.

Has enough options or a system for easily generating new material so that each play through feels different enough from the previous one. 

If I am playing a Mon Calamari Starfighter Pilot this campaign, I will probably want to play a very different character in the next one. If I can't, or if the first character and the second feel too similar, I will probably not want to play again. 

When gamers get a new game, the first thing many of us tend to do is make a character. I know a lot of fellow RPG fans who make a few characters. I tend to make up two or three of the same character.

What? Like, you make up three Dwarven Clerics? Yes. That it exactly what I do. Why? Because I want to know if a game can handle two or three of the same or similar PCs in a single session or even a campaign. I recall making three Elven Wizard for D&D 4E and being very disappointed with the lack of options. Two out of the three were so similar I lost interest almost immediately. 

You want a game that you can play, play again, and play again and again and each time it feels a little unique or you discover something new about it. A campaign that can use the same rules, rules that uphold the genre, yet let you do and say something different each time you haul it off the shelves. 

That's staying power my friends. 

The following games are ones that I find to have a lot of staying power.

Each one is a game I have run multiple campaigns with and I find myself returning to time and again. There are others, but these stand out as being notably replay-able and unforgettable.

Ars Magica 3rd Edition (White Wolf Publishing)
Champions 4th Edition (ICE/Hero Games)
Mekton, 1st and Mekton II, 2nd Edition (R. Talsorian Games)
Star Trek, The Role Playing Game (FASA)
Star Trek, RPG, Various versions (TOS, TNG, DS9) (Last Unicorn Games)
Star Wars, The Role Playing Game (West End Games)
Traveller, 1st Edition and MegaTraveller (Game Designers' Workshop)

Which ones have staying power for you?

Barking Alien