Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance

I have reached a point of stagnation that I feel is worth discussing, if only to compare this feeling to the lack there of experienced by my fellow gamers.

Through exposure to articles, blogs, Facebook posts, and verbal discussions I have learned that many gamers, perhaps even the majority of us, play the same game year after year. There are GMs who only run some variant of D&D and players who only play Pathfinder. On occasion there are those who play a select set of games and rest assured if they are not partaking in a game of Traveller then they have gone back to D&D, Rolemaster, or any one of a small grouping of titles.

While I can understand this intellectually, the very idea is anathema to me. It goes against the very fabric of my being. It serves only to drain my creativity, harsh my mellow, and give me a case of the melancholy hum-drums. Yes. It's that serious.

At the same time, this is exactly what has been happening to me. 

Over the past year or two I've been jumping back and forth from Traveller to my homebrew D&D setting of Aerth and from there to Star Trek, and so forth. There are perhaps four or five games that I keep bouncing between, occasionally broken up by an experimental one shot here and there. 

At least that's how it feels.

Honestly though, when was the last time I actually ran a Mekton campaign? Space:1889? Paranoia? I've yet to run Tales from the Loop, and I was super stoked to do so not that long ago. 

Oh no...do you realize that means I now...own a game I haven't played or run. Have Mercy! What will become of me?!?

*sob*

I need out of this funk and I need out of it fast, and the way that's going to happen is by running something...something...different. 

But what?

For those of you who always or at least often play the same game(s), how do you do it? How come you don't get bored? How do you keep it fresh?

For those of you in a similar state to my own, how do you do when you're feeling burnt out on the same old song and dance? 

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Renewed Vitality

The past six weeks have been very difficult for me. I have been feeling down, anxious, and not particularly creative. The blog has suffered a little as a result. 

Simultaneously, I have become really close with my girlfriend, gotten incredible support from family, friends, my students, and I am really beginning to feel like myself again. 

Today I went to Bidewee, an animal welfare organization that, among many other good deeds, rescues dogs and cats and adopts them out to new homes. It is where I adopted my dog Delilah from, and where my family has adopted a number of other pets over the years. 

I have decided the time is right, following Delilah's passing, to consider adopting a new rescue dog. I have done inquiries at New York City's ASPCA, but on my Mom's recommendation I went to Bidewee today to refresh myself on their criteria and process for adopting. 

Two incredible things happened:

I explained my situation and that my dog, whom I adopted from them, had recently passed. They asked if I remembered her original name, the name the Bidawee folks had given her before I got her. I did, and they were able to look her up in their computer.

On the screen was the exact date of her adoption - 10 years, 5 months, and 2 days ago today - her original mislabeling as a Male dog; she had two brothers in her litter and they accidentally listed all three as Males. I'd forgotten that. - and best of all, photos of her at 4 months of age. My heart melted, I smiled, and yes, I cried a little too. Happy tears. 

Moments later a very self-assured female voice said, "I can vouch for this man. He really loves dogs." It was none other than my friend Emi, who volunteers at Bidawee working with cats. Not only was I overwhelmed by her statement, but I had forgotten how much I missed seeing her. She is a wonderful person and her being there was an added bonus on what was becoming a really good day.

The second thing that occurred today was that Tim Knight, aka The Acrobatic Flea, over at the blog HEROPRESS, posted an interview he and I had recently done. In addition, he added a little something nice in his opening introduction that was very kind of him to say. Please give it a look won't you? 

The end result is a sense of renewed vigor, a boost to the spirit, and the ego, which is sometimes just what is needed to get one out of a funk. 

I am looking forward to new ideas and a very productive March. I am excited about a new puppy in my life. I am happy to have such a fantastic girlfriend, great friends, my small yet awesome family, and this blog. 

Onward and Upward!

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Black Cat Come Visit Me

February is Black History Month and what better way to celebrate than going to see a motion picture that embraces and emblazons the beauty, strength, and nuance of African culture and the heroic spirit of the African people?

I am of course talking about...





All kidding aside, this movie is indeed a triumph. It was an excellent film, being both engaging and entertaining. I have to say that it was really refreshing to see this epic after the dismal experience that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Black Panther did what many other such films fail to do; It built a world, gave it grandeur, and yet it made the central conflict personal. 

Although ostensibly a Superhero movie, it felt much more like a Fantasy film, albeit one that's really more Science Fantasy. Black Panther's overall feel and aesthetic is closer to Lord of the Rings crossed with a James Bond movie than it is an Avengers/Marvel Superhero flick. I liked that. A lot. It gave it its own identity beyond the Afro-futurism look of its costumes, setting, and technology (although that was perfectly done). 

While the film has both a cool hero and an interesting villain, it has as its best feature an excellent supporting cast. Through the secondary, and even tertiary characters, the Black Panther movie creates a sense that the world within it is real and the people know each other. They have personalities, interests, and desires all their own. They are imperfect, they make mistakes, but they try to do the right thing or what they believe to be the right thing. In some ways this even extends to the the villain, which is what makes him one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. 

I can't say enough good things about the movie, so I'd like to change the subject slightly and talk about the films importance. 

Barking Alien, the blog, isn't a place where I normally put forth my personal views on subjects like politics or social issues. Not normally. There have been a number of times over the years where I've bent or broken my own rules and this might be considered one of them by some. So be it. 

For a very long time now we've seen films in which super-powered heroes and the lords of fantastic kingdoms battled the forces of evil to save the world, or even the universe. They have also largely been White. 

Certainly Black Panther isn't the very first Black hero on film. We've seen Blade, Hancock, and Spawn, but none of these have what King T'Challa's movie has. Black Panther has the main character as a rich and powerful individual, surpassing in both wealth and influence such characters as Batman and Iron Man.

T'Challa is a King. He rules a nation. His nation is powerful, beautiful, and more advanced than what we have seen so far on the world of Marvel Cinematic Earth.

T'Challa is not a freak, a wash-out, or man fighting a secret war (well, not exactly). T'Challa is a major part of a much larger universe. He is as big and as important to Marvel films as is Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Doctor Strange. 

As such Black Panther, both the character and the film, is of significance to the greater mythos he dwells within and to an audience who finally have an A-List Superhero is looks as they do.

Wakanda Forever!

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P.S.: Post title is a reference to the song 'Black Cat' by David 'Ziggy' Marley.










Saturday, February 17, 2018

Lucky Dog

Happy Lunar New Year and Spring Festival Everyone!

It is the Year of the Dog, which as you can imagine is a favorite year of mine. Heh. 





Woof Woof and Gong Hei Fat Choy!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Little Heart to Heart

Happy Valentines Day Everyone!

I am not a big believer in this particular holiday, but I will never back down from a chance to celebrate love. I love the idea of love, peace, happiness, and togetherness. Whatever else this day stands and whatever else is connected to it, I am personally going to embrace the idea that is stands for love and that's all there is to it. 

Monday was my birthday, and in absolutely perfect fashion, I received lots and lots of well wishes but no one made a big deal about it or got overly sentimental. I appreciated that very much. I often get really down on my birthday and it gets worse when people gush. A nice, quiet day, a good dinner, and a beer were more than enough. 

The one exception was the preceding Saturday, where the teachers and students at the tutoring center I work at game me a little party. That was super sweet (as was the ice cream cake) and it made me feel pretty good. 

So what's on my mind?

Ugh...

I am in a funk still and one of my players is only making it worse. He keeps trying to undo all the stupidity he generated in a previous game by trying to make basically the exact same character again for a new campaign in the same setting. 

What makes it really frustrating is that he still doesn't understand how and why he messed up the first time. He has all these ideas that we're in the game. His memory of the details are all wrong. Since I know him pretty well I know he's trying to adjust things to his advantage and get all the good parts of the old character while trying to make the botched events more palatable. 

It's really annoying and just so draining. It's the kind of thing I don't want to be a part of what I do in any way when I game. It honestly makes me not want to do it. 

In addition, I recently learned some truly double edged news. One of my players and best buds, who's been between jobs, has just recently been picked up for a new stint. He's working again and that's awesome, but there is a dark lining to this silver cloud. His new schedule will prevent him from being in our games for the foreseeable future. 

This sucks. No ifs, ands, or buts. True industrial strength suckage folks. 

With these two situations weighing heavy on my mind right now, I am feeling a little lost as to what I am going to run next long term. 

I am definitely going to be running [my version of ] D&D this weekend, but my enthusiasm for running a long term Traveller game has waned. 

Sigh.

I also have other game ideas in my head - ideas that don't fit my current group, especially if one of my key players isn't there. 

Is February over yet? No? Oh well.

Let's talk about something else...after all, it's Valentines Day and I have a great girlfriend. 

I guess I'm feeling OK after all. 


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Monday, February 12, 2018

Beyond The Need to Succeed

My previous post, You Can't 'Win' An RPG...Or Can You?, seems to have generated little interest or response if one goes by pageviews and comments. This has made me less motivated to write the follow up, but here I am writing it nonetheless. 

I started with an idea, 'What if Role Playing Games, which are games with no clear 'Victory Conditions', have the concept of winning them built into them from the start'.

My next thought was, 'What if obtaining [the traditional concepts] of wealth and power were not a factor in those games'. I felt the need to clarify this for myself to get a better idea of where I was going with this, so I quantified it a little further. "What if there was a game in which the PCs start out reasonably powerful, with no need for wealth or  in the traditional sense. What would PCs in such a game be motivated by? What would they wish to achieve?'.

That's when I remembered this image by artist Alex 'Abiogenisis' Ries...





Contact by Alex Ries



According to the artist this painting depicts 'a Metahuman' meeting the Birrin on their home planet of Chriirah. 

The Birrin are Mr. Ries' original species of which he has made numerous incredibly beautiful and fascinating images, but it is not that particular creature design (as incredible as it is) that I want to focus on at this time. Rather, I would direct your attention to his so-called 'Metahuman'.

Ries describes this Metahuman as a post-Human being, something more than the mere Homo Sapiens of the present day. He says that the scene takes place many thousands of years in the future, with Humans coming in many different shapes and sizes. Baseline Humans still exist, largely because the individuals have chosen to exist in our current, more recognizable form, though even these people would have some modifications.

The number of ideas this generated in my head is essentially incalculable. . 

The key one though, the basis for this entire post and set up by the previous entry is this:

Picture a game where you play a Metahuman of this type. A being of vast knowledge, great power, and existing in a form of its own choosing. What is this game like? What does your character, and their companions (the other PCs) do? What are their goals?

Wealth? Ha! The very idea. What is wealth to this entity? What are material things at all? 

It is possible there is a material, or perhaps several materials, in the universe/multiverse that enable their massive physical forms to function. Perhaps many of their abilities requires the absorption or similar integration of resources. It could be that while treasure is not a thing, certain materials are still needed. However, it is equally possible that can simply change energy into matter with a thought. What then?

Does their power increase? Their skills? How would experience work?

Experience, as per the true meaning of the word and not so much the abstract points used as game mechanics, would [to my mind] be one of the few things truly valuable and worthwhile to such a being. Therefore, although they might not get new abilities at certain arbitrary 'levels' [a concept I always found sort of ridiculous], when they learn something new they might somehow get the power to incorporate what they've learned into their personage.  

For Example: A Metahuman observes an intelligent species at a primitive stage of development that nonetheless has harnessed static electricity and the electrical pulses from weather phenomena as a tool/power source. They have done so in a way that other species have not. By investigating this anomaly, the Metahuman understands how to perform the effect itself, thereby gaining the power to absorb and utilize electrical current. 

The concept I am focusing on is one I've toyed with before in a different form, but it boils down to, 'Imagine an RPG that skews the basic conceit that you start off average [or even lowly] and then amass power and treasure as you go forth'. In the game dynamic I describe above, you begin as a being of immense power when compared to most other RPG characters. Being more powerful for its own sake is barely a concern, and wealth is essentially meaningless. What then is the game about? What then are your PCs goals. What would these post-Human entities, several thousands years ahead of our present, want, need, and value?

Just ruminating on a possibly impossible game.

What do you think?

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

You Can't 'Win' An RPG...Or Can You?

The Role Playing Game hobby is largely built on a false conceit, stemming from its earliest days and of course, the advent of Dungeons and Dragons.

The conceit goes that, 'You Can Not Win a Role Playing Game'. That is to say, there is no victory condition in which a single player wins the game and 'beats' the other players in the same way one does when playing board games such as Monopoly or Chess. 

At the same time, GMs give out Experience Points. Player Characters rise in Levels, get better at things, add new moves, and in that way we 'keep score'. If you, as a player in an RPG Campaign, manage to get your character to a level of power and prestige superior to the other PCs at the table by campaign's end, you may indeed see yourself as having won. You won the game. Your character beat out their characters. 

Looking at it from another angle, while it could certainly be argued that one can not truly win an RPG, one can certainly lose. Character death, and even failure to achieve a stated or personally held goal could absolutely be viewed as losing. It need not be viewed as such, but if you did view it that way I'd be hard pressed to tell you you're wrong. 

One of the reasons for this paradox is that the basic goals of old school games - and many of the games we play today are no different - boil down to:

Beat an opponent, or overcome an obstacle in order to get a reward. 

Simple enough, right? Kill monsters, take their treasure, gain experience, improve your character, become more powerful, rinse, repeat. 

If this were the formula of a computer or console game, surely one would reach a point where one could say they 'beat' the game, no? Well, video games of this nature were inspired by tabletop RPGs so...the mentality is very similar. 

What about games were you don't get treasure? Games focused on classic Golden to Bronze Age Superheroes don't usually feature the PCs getting wealthier, or adding more equipment to their hidden vaults of spoils. Sure there is the occasional souvenir placed in the Trophy Room next to the giant penny and the first steel girder you twisted like a pretzel, but who could blame you for wanting to keep a little memento? The important thing is keeping those items doesn't qualify as obtaining treasure, as they can't usually be used to help you defeat the next enemy or sold for some monetary value. 

Star Trek, and similar Space Adventure/Exploration games, are likewise RPGs without gaining wealth as their end all be all. In the post-scarcity society of Star Trek's 'Next Generation', wealth isn't even a thing for the most part (at least among the people of the United Federation of Planets). 

In either case, improving ones skills and abilities is still a factor. Well, at least that's true most of the time. Cam Banks' Marvel Heroic doesn't really have a system for improvement along linear lines (Milestones let you improve sideways, switching out your power set for an alternate one. See that game, it's interesting). Star Trek Adventures doesn't have a traditional improvement track either (kinda sorta).

What I am getting at here is that baked right into the games that can't be won is all the elements one could need or want in order to win them. The very idea of beating the game and/or the other players is an integral part of the RPG hobby, possibly placed there either consciously or unconsciously by the game designers. It's one we don't think about on its own, and many of us may not even be conscious of, but it is very much there.

This whole train of thought served as the catalyst for an idea that is not directly related to this observation, but was certainly inspired by it. 

Stay tuned...

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Of My Friend I Can Say Only This

Eff this effing year to effing hell. 





I received the news late Monday, February 5th, 2018, that my friend Pedro 'Pete' Hernandez III had passed.

I met Pete, or 'Page' as I used to call him, in high school and we became really close. We remained close all throughout our time at the High School of Art and Design and the years we attended college together at the School of Visual Arts. 

It was during this time that my interest in the hobbies of RPG gaming and Anime/Manga really exploded, and Page was with me for all of it. I ran a number of games with him as a player, and played alongside him in my friend William's epic Champions campaign, 'The Age of Heroes'.

Pete's characters became reoccurring NPCs in my various campaign worlds and still appear to this day. 

(If you search this blog for Pete H. you will see numerous references to the characters he played.)

Sometime around 1996 or thereabouts our relationship suffered a major blow; there was a terrible falling out the likes of which I can not begin to explain. I can't explain it because it was wholly on his side. One day we just weren't friends anymore, for reasons I still don't understand. I never stopped thinking he was my friend, but he, according to information I learned second hand, was very angry at me over something and that was that.

About three or four years ago, give or take, that changed. We added each other on Facebook, liked each others posts, and before long had conversations about comics, art, gaming, and the like. It wasn't as if the rift never happened, but we both agreed to let bygones be bygones and move on. Water under the bridge as they say. We'd hoped to meet up this year, perhaps at New York Comic Con. Now he's gone.

He was the same age as myself, felled by complications due to respiratory issues he'd been having of late. 

I am shocked, saddened, and disappointed by all the time we clearly wasted. 

To the funniest, cleverest, most quick-witted person I've ever known, I say good-bye. You will never be forgotten. 

In Memorium: Pete Hernandez III 



One of Pete's many T-Shirt Designs


-Adam Dickstein

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Monday, February 5, 2018

My Heart Is Not In It

This may seem crazy to some of you, or at the very least hard to relate to, but I am having a lot of difficulty blogging following the passing of my dog.

Simply put, it's hard to get motivated and excited about the prospect without her presence. 

She did very little to directly influence my posts, what with being unable to speak, read, or write English and generally not well-versed in the rule mechanics of RPGs, but she was a constant inspiration for, well, just about everything in my life. 

It isn't Meowing Alien kids.

The screen seems less bright, the ideas less exciting, the prospect of sharing holds a lesser charge. As noted in the title, my heart just isn't in it. It is currently too heavy, weighed down with sadness, to be lifted by blogging. 

At least at this moment. 

There are some ideas struggling to break through this miasma of melancholy, and I wouldn't be surprised if just posting this is therapeutic enough to get me back on track. Delilah wouldn't want me to give in to sorrow, and before long I know I will adopt another rescue because no dog should be homeless, and no home should be dogless. 

Looking forward to looking forward to more Barking Alien.


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