Saturday, March 16, 2019

Do Onto Others

This is a rant brought on by recent feelings of gaming melancholy and ennui. 

You have been warned. 

Few things in our hobby frustrate and irk me more than the Old School mentality of Gamemaster vs. Player. 

The idea that participating in an RPG is like participating in a game of strategy in which the GM and Players are on opposing sides of a conflict between the two parties.

In this school of thought, the Gamemaster's purpose is to dispose of, or at the very least make miserable, the lives of the Player Characters involved in his or her campaign. 

Likewise, the Player's purpose in such a game is to 'beat the game', defeating the murderous enemy GM by thwarting his or her minions, be they monsters or kindly old beggars, if not the very plans the Gamemaster has for the campaign. 

Would they be wrong to kill the poor, destitute sot down on his luck? After all, he could secretly be a diabolical assassin who will be their undoing. In their defense, that's what happened the last three times.

This all makes me want to vomit. 

Yes. Or get a new one you do trust. 

From a Youtube video by Nerdarchy

In two recent, unrelated games I was in I saw a single player exhibit both sides of this disgusting dynamic and it seriously took the wind out of my sails. Not just because it brought down an otherwise good time I was having in both cases but because I game with this guy pretty regularly and now I know I am dealing with someone who thinks this way. 

I am neither amused nor enthused for future sessions. 

In one instance, the GM had revealed a villain with a secret power that made things a lot more complicated and challenging. The player in question, whose PC was not under attack at that moment, whispered to me, "Any GM worth their salt would take advantage of that power to screw the players."

It isn't that I disagree that the power could have some serious consequences if used in a logical way by an enterprising opponent. It's the attitude and mindset of the statement itself that makes my skin crawl. It's that a GM isn't a good GM if he doesn't use a sneaky power that is difficult to stop in a way that most harms the PCs. 

Why not say, "Wow, that's going to be one difficult ability to counter. We'd better think of a plan!"

The second instance is related but in a sideways rather than linear fashion. In a separate session of a different game, the GM (a different fellow from the first) gave the players a choice...

Take damage but accomplish your goal or avoid injury but fail at what you are currently doing. 

For example, say you are trying to catch a falling McGuffin but if you do so an enemy will blast you. You can opt to dodge the blast, but you need to move away from the item and thus it will fall past you and you will lose it. 

I will point out that this is narrative rather than mechanical. In fact, the entire campaign, which we've been playing for over three years now, has been played this way. The narrative is more powerful than the rules. No one dies, though they can suffer injury, lose a beloved item, suffer personal consequences, etc. 

The same player as before, the one who thinks GMs should be tough on PCs, chooses the option of being hit. When the GM colorfully describes the injury, an injury that sounds kinda serious but isn't enough to stop the PC from doing what they are doing, the player went into an uproar saying that their PC would have to stop what they were doing to get medical attention

Again - at a dramatic moment, in a narrative focused game, the PC would have to stop the action to address an injury the GM made clear would not impede their current activity or goal. 

The reason for this, we would learn from the player, was that the description of the injury was, to them, something a Human Being could not or would not continue on with in the given situation. 

OK, I could see that. If only...if only...wait. 

No grinning and bearing it, biting down on misfortune while fighting on? Why would this be when it took place in a game well known to lack serious or fatal results to our PCs. Even though we have seen the very same injury in action movie after action movie, comic book after comic book, here it doesn't work? People in heroic fiction have lost eyes and limbs and kept going. No, for some reason in this one instance, absolute adherence to gritty realism was the order of the day.

Would you be concerned about blood loss in Teenagers from Outer Space and Toon?

Dungeon Master Disaster
Art by Mike Kaluta

Why? What would make one think that? Simple - That's what someone who thought as they did in the first instance would do to you if they were GMing. 

Basically, if you are a GM who assumes most Players tend to cheat it's because as a player you tend to cheat. If you are a Player who throws a fit when you are hit but a surprise NPC attack or sudden terrain condition it's probably because you are a Killer GM who tries to do in your players using similar tactics.

The funny thing is, the player in question is not that guy. Well...he has been that guy for a while. When we first met and for some time after he would heavily railroad as a GM, rule and reality nitpick, and limit Player Agency in favor of his own narrative. 

He got better though. Much, much better! Then this...

It is discouraging and only adding to my recent dissatisfaction with my gaming.

While I am in a great game, and running two great games, I still feel like I am not hitting the peak performance level of my potential. I don't know why exactly and I am certain a good portion of it is me, moments like these here remind me how fortunate I was to play with my old group where this sort of thinking was foreign, even anathema to us. 

I am gripped by the saddening realization that my old groups were more than good, there were exceptions to the rules. Most RPG gamers of my age group and experience don't think the way I do. The grognards are real and they do not fade easily no matter how much they've worn out they're welcome at my table. 

Deep cleansing breath. Focus.


Barking Alien

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Machine Shop

Last night I got to play a session of my friend Justin's Mecha Combat RPG Beamswords and Bazookas, which has been successfully backed on Kickstarter. Congratulations Justin!

You may notice that I describe it above as a Mecha Combat RPG. That's because that is what it is. That wasn't exactly what I was expecting and in truth, not exactly what I am looking for in a Giant Robot game.

Chirico Cuvie, Armored Trooper VOTOMS

I want to make it clear first and foremost, this is a good game. A Really Good Game! You should definitely get it if you want a medium to low crunch, tactical, tabletop Mecha miniatures game with RPG elements. It's like, if Battletech actually wanted it's robots to be cool robots and not just boring tanks with legs that are less effective than conventional military hardware.

There are a good number of options for Characters and Mechs alike, with skills, weapons and special abilities - called Traits - that can give your PC and robot combat advantages in various situations. Combat is generally fast and the mathematical calculations are kept small and not at all cumbersome. There are some particulars to the rules regarding hit and defense that are good to memorize and the game has a bit of resource management when it comes to PC Stress and Mecha Energy but it's all pretty easy to handle. 

Now, the big question...would I play it again? Sure. It would be fun to revisit for another one-shot here and there.

Would I want to play or run a campaign of it? No. I am afraid not. 

Scopedog with Ground Troops
Armored Trooper VOTOMS

Beamswords & Bazookas is fun but it is not the kind of game I am looking for. It isn't an Anime game. There aren't any elements in it that really speak to the genre of Japanese Anime and Manga Mecha stories except that it features some of the same trappings, most notably Mecha. 

B&B is a War Game with RPG elements as opposed to Mekton which is a Role Playing Game with a Mecha Construction and Combat System. As it is, I feel that each edition of Mekton got more and more complex, and tactical-simulation orients and further away from the fun of it's earlier incarnations. 

Personally I am looking for something a little less tactical, combat focused. Something more genre and story driven. If you could switch the percentages on this game, the Tactical Combat to RPG ratio as it were, it would probably be more my style. 

I am still 100% pleased with the game, with the session we had, and with the fact that I backed it. I am certain that most gamers will get a lot of fun out it. There are RPG elements in it. I did have a Player Character I kind of liked. I just don't think the overall purpose and focus of the game clicked with my sensibilities. Nothing wrong with that. 

In conclusion, you should definitely give it a look. It is definitely a game worth your time and money. 

I remain in something of a Mecha mood...Hmmm.

Fang of the Sun

Barking Alien

Monday, March 11, 2019

Marooned on Mecha Island

I had a another purpose to the post I made about Beamswords & Bazookas, the Mecha Tabletop RPG being Kickstarted by my friend Justin (with just 5 days to go!).

There is a reason I wanted to talk about Japanese Giant Robot gaming beyond shilling my pal's game (though honest, worthwhile, and unsolicited was said shilling I'll have you know!).

The fact is, I went over my most recent list of favorite RPGs, I one I post just last month, and was very proud of the fact that I have run the majority of those games as full campaigns, short campaigns, or one-shots within the past year or so with but a few excepts. 

Among these exceptions was Mekton. 

Scopedog from Armored Trooper VOTOMS Redesigned
Artist Unknown

It has been about 2 years since I've run any kind of Giant Robot RPG, Mekton or otherwise, and the last time I played one as a player was so long ago I can't even recall it. It is a genre that received a lot of attention from my friends and I from 1985 to roughly 1995. While there were certainly campaigns and one-shots both before and after those years, it was within that 10 year spread that Mecha received the most love from yours truly and company [my old New Jersey crew especially].

Mobile Suit Gundam, RX-78-2
By Jake Parker

Nowadays, it's a tougher sell. 

My current groups contain a wide mix of people whose opinions on Giant Robots of the Japanese Animation variety vary widely. Some love Mecha Anime, some like it, some of them kind of like it, some don't care about it one way or another, and lastly and most problematically, people who just don't have a clue about it.

That last one is a difficult hurdle to leap...if not impossible. If a genre doesn't connect with you it doesn't connect and there is really isn't anything anyone can do about it. 

In the past, as with many other elements of my time in the hobby [I am sadly discovering], things were just easier. Everyone I knew and gamed with was either a huge Mecha Anime fan or really into getting really into whatever everyone else wanted to play. Many shared both of these attitudes making Giant Robots games a shoe-in for a new campaign whenever they were suggested. 

I find myself in a major Mecha mood once again but alas adrift in a sea of maybe and meh, searching desperately for safe harbor on Giant Robot island. 

Art by Scott Kikuta

Wish me luck.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Machine Head

Recently I discovered that one of the fellows I game with pretty regularly has developed a brand spanking new Anime/Manga themed Mecha Tabletop RPG and put it up on Kickstarter.

Art from Beamswords and Bazookas
By Jeffery Chen

It's called Beamswords & Bazookas and it is already full funded! Woohoo! That said, if you want to contribute to the coming awesoneness, the Kickstarter has 10 days left to go as of this post date. Click on the game's title. 

I don't participate in Kickstarters very often. First, I don't have that much disposable income. Second, I contributed to a few early on that didn't pan out and I don't like how I end up feeling when that happens. I don't gamble. The thrill of a maybe is not a thrill for me.

I am more than happy to buy a thing I want when it comes out. Heck, if I really love it I might buy a second copy so I don't wear the book out reading it. Asking me to pay the cost (or more) of a game before it comes out, in the hopes that it will, ehhh, not for me.

For me to partake in this kind of endeavor, I have to deeply, sincerely believe in and want to support the concept and/or its creator. 

This is why I absolutely backed Beamswords & Bazookas. 

Even if the guy making it wasn't a cool dude I happen to know personally, the fact is that there just aren't enough great Giant Robot Role Playing Games on the market.

Are there any?

I mean there's Battletech and Mechwarrior but those are to Giant Robots what the AMC Pacer is to automobiles. Yes, a Pacer is a car, but it can only barely do the things you buy a car to do.

Then there''s...well damn. 

The greats of the genre, Heavy Gear, Jovian Chronicles, and Mekton are all out of print. Mekton being a very special case. Remember that thing about backing Kickstarters that don't come to fruition? Disappointment, thy name is Mekton. 

The Mekton Zero Kickstarter was effectively funded in 2013. In 2018, one year after the last prior update, Mekton creator Mike Pondsmith issued a statement of which this is an excerpt:

"While I still intend to finish Mekton Zero, I have come to the conclusion that it is not fair for me to continue to commit the time and money you have invested in this project any longer, or to make you wait until I wrap Mekton Zero up.

Therefore I'm going to REFUND everyone who has committed money to this project (and who hasn't already taken advantage of our previous buy out offer). We are in the process right now of setting this up (via Paypal) and sending out refunds to all of you. If you no longer have a Paypal account or have changed email addresses, please contact us through this site and let us know to make other arrangements.

We WILL finish Mekton Zero, but since how long that will take is indeterminate (due to all these other commitments), I feel this is the best option for now.

However, when Zero finishes, EVERYONE who has still been committed to the project will still receive their copies of the book, their figures, their t-shirts, their bumper stickers and all the other paraphernalia that we planned. This is the only fair thing to do for our fans who have faithfully stuck with us through the long haul."

It is now 2019 and there is no sign that Mekton Zero is coming anytime soon. Things went from promise and excitement, to stall tactics, to excuses, to an honest but disappointing message of accepting responsibility that I appreciate but still ends in no new Mekton. 

Where does that leave us Japanese Mecha fans who want a good Role Playing Game?

Well, I'm putting my money on Beamswords & Bazookas. Literally. 

Oh, did I mention I am going to get to test it out in a week or so?

Let you guys know how it goes? Will do.

Barking Alien

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Barking Alien's Top 10 Favorite PCs of Others

When I decided to make a post about the 10 favorite PC's I've played, I knew I'd also want to/have to do one about my 10 favorite PCs played by others. 

Why did I do this to myself?

How in the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth I am supposed to pick just 10 PCs from the hundreds, perhaps thousands I've seen in 42 years of gaming?

I have been exceptionally lucky to have played with what I can only assume are the greatest RPG players in the world. Seriously. The entire world. Possibly the galaxy. Maybe even the universe. 

From hilariously funny to deathly serious, wild action heroes to sublime character actors, I have seen players who have made PCs that actually made me stand up and cheer or sit down and tear up (It was something in my eye. I'm not crying, You're Crying!). 

I wish I could list my Top 100 favorites but I guess you and I will have to settle for 10.

As before in previous posts, these are in alphabetical order that has no bearing on how much I like the character. I love them all. I should note that this is focused on the PCs and not the players themselves. Nearly all the characters played by my ex-wife, our dear friend, the late Allen Halden, and my pal Jeff are freaking awesome. 

Not that it really needs to be said but the Gamemaster in most of these cases was yours truly. Only the Savage World Western game, run by my friend Dan R., stands as the exception.

Here goes nothing...

#10 - Belarus Hosta

(Traveller - Classic/MegaTraveller House Ruled Variant, Played by William L.)

It pains me to say that Will and I are no longer speaking. Frustrations over each others play styles eventually lead to us parting ways. A shame. As a person, I like Will very much and as a gamer he is capable of amazing things, such as his character, Belarus Hosta. 

A 38 year old single mother, former diplomat, and heir to a powerful business position with the Solomani genetic engineering megacorporation SuSAG, Hosta was the driving force of the early part of our Traveller campaign, 'Operation: PALADIN'. As time went on she went from driving force to the glue that held it all together and the one element that could tear it all apart. 

What a deep, rich, layered character. Also, the best portrayal of a female protagonist by a male player I have ever seen in all my days.

See these entries for the merest glimpse of how good this character was. Honestly these posts don't even scratch the surface. It was amazing stuff. The campaign lasted three years of real time and the character evolved, changed, and yet stayed true to its origins.

#9 - Buddy Thatcher

(Savage World - Modified w/ House Rules, Played by Alex B.)

My own character in our Western game set in Dunton, Colorado, 'Professor' Milford Thatcher, ranks as one of my favorites largely due to my pal Alex's PC, Milford slow, sweet, well-meaning to a fault nephew, Bartholomew 'Buddy' Thatcher. We only learned Buddy's 'Christian Name' recently, as indeed Uncle Milford and Buddy himself thought Buddy was his given name. 

Strong as an ox and nearly as smart, Buddy is one half of the duo of 'THATCHER & Thatcher' ("I'm the lower case Thatcher", Buddy is quick to point out), who are out to mine silver using Uncle Milford's 'Thatcher Process' ("Scientifically speaking", notes Buddy, not completely sure what that means and totally clueless as to how the process actually works). 

I love Buddy. Love him! He is a breath of fresh, the perfect sounding board, and often a much needed laugh in tough times. At the same time, he is a more nuanced character than is immediately apparent, as his innocent and naive romance with a Native American girl and his belief that all of Humanity share the same faith, views, and emotions deep down completely elevates the material. 

Kudos to you Alex. Kudos. Beautiful. 

#8 - Ceren-Dee WindDrake

(Dungeons & Dragons - Advanced 1st Edition w/ House Rules, 3rd and 3.5 with House Rules, played by Selina W.)

No list of great RPG characters would be complete without my dear friend and ex-wife's incredible character, High Elven Warrior/Wizard Ceren-Dee WindDrake. The character enabled me to share my favorite hobby with someone special to me and reignited my enjoyment of D&D for a brief time. It also got me to resurrect one of my best settings, the World of Aerth and the Order of the Winghorn Guard.

What can I say about Ceren-Dee. Empathic, determined, and three dimensional to a fault. There were sessions which made Selina cry and others where she laughed so hard she could barely breathe. I have never enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons so much and it's not been easy recapturing that level of awesome. 

I could spend time writing a dozen posts detailing this PC, her trials, tribulations, and triumphs and probably only scratch the surface of all she did and all she is.

Like all good Aerth characters, she remains a part of the world's lore and can be encountered in sessions set there to this day. 

It's also Selina's birthday today so, Happy Birthday Selina!

#7 - Ipperius Witspear

(Dungeons & Dragons - Advanced 1st Edition w/ House Rules, played by Pete H.)

The late, great Pedro 'Pete' Hernandez was a natural born character actor. He could instantly create a character, oddly accented voice and all, and make said character come to life in no time flat. Unlike a lot of my other wonderful player who created characters with developed stories based on research or knowledge, Pete was a build-as-you-go type. His PCs came about their origins through playing them. He detailed them in the moment and then built on what he'd made as he went forward. 

This is especially true with the swashbuckling, often wildly eccentric Ipperius Witspear, an Elf of initially indeterminate origin who went through numerous riveting, harrowing, and yet often hilarious adventures before being retired as we moved on to our next game project. 

Of course, no longer being regularly played is not the same as dead. Ipperius Witspear, 'Ip' to his friends, popped back up in other Aerth campaigns from time to time, eventually becoming a major NPC when I brought the Winghorn Guard back after a long hiatus (see Ceren-Dee WindDrake above). 

I love Ip because there is so much more to him than meets the eye at a passing glance. He comes off as a typical devil-may-care, somewhat foppish scoundrel. In truth his personality is more robust, his tactics more subtle, and his story much richer than the usual roguish hero. Also, he is just so fun to play as an NPC.  

There have been a few references to Witspear on the blog, though not nearly enough. 

#6 - Jeard’en Kaine

(Star Wars, The Role Playing Game - 2nd Edition (WEG D6), played by Keith C.)

Like so many of my favorite characters, this one was played by a true character actor player, the amazing Keith Conroy. A multi-talented fellow with a portfolio of both great artwork and excellent RPG Player Characters, Keith has the ability to make the mundane seem amazing and the amazing just another day at the office. Case in point, Star Wars Smuggler Jeard'en Kaine. 

Jeard'en Kaine can best be described as a Blue Collar Han Solo or the Working Man's Buck Rogers. He is the coolest guy, the best looking guy, or the greatest pilot in the galaxy. He is cool, he cleans up pretty well, and he is A great pilot, don't get me wrong. What makes him special is...well...his normalcy. He's you or me in the Star Wars universe. Just another Joe Blaster trying to make a living and stay out of trouble. 

Unfortunately for Jeard'en he has too big a heart and trouble has a way of finding him. His generally calm and level-headed demeanor was as real as seeing him freak-out or even faint when things just weren't within parameters he could wrap his brain around. The addition of Jeard'en Kaine to a game is adding 100% pure, grounded humanity.

You can read a bit more about Jeard'en Kaine in this post here.

#5 - MAN-2

(Star Wars, The Role Playing Game - 2nd Edition (WEG D6), played by Martin K.)

It saddens me to note how many of these characters are tied to friends who have passed on. What memories remain are sweet but also serve to remind me they're no longer with us.

MAN-2, or more properly IM-MA-N2, started as a quirky R2-like repair droid but grew in capacity, depth, and scope throughout the course of the campaign. The character was comic relief early on in the 'series' and it worked thanks to Martin King's incredible skills as an improv actor and comic. However, as with many others on this list, MAN-2 became more than the sum of his parts if you'll pardon the pun. 

Great visual design work went into him as well, with players Martin King and Nelson Marty sketching out a number of concepts for MAN-2's ever evolving appearance throughout the course of the campaign.

MAN-2 has been mentioned here and here

#4 - Night Knight

(Champions - 4th Edition, played by Dave C.)

Dave C. should not be confused with David C. Simple right? Riiight. 

OK, Dave C. refers to my both Dave Cotton, whom I first met at my FLGS about 10 years ago or so. Wow. Have Dave and I really known each other 10 years? Anyway, he joined in a Mutants & Masterminds game I was running at the store and he's been a regular part of my groups ever since. 

Dave has a lot of great characters, especially Superhero characters, but Night Knight is probably my favorite. His character Impact is a really close second but I only have 10 slots and have to spread the love. 

Night Knight is the type of Superhero I am not generally into at first glance, falling into the vein of Daredevil, Batman, and other brooding, grim, street level crimefighters. At the same time, he does have powers, an origin he related directly to the world/setting mythology, and played him as reluctantly accepting the bigger role of being a member of the campaign's major Superhero group.

This evolution from street hero to world hero felt organic and necessary given the circumstances of the campaign and Dave did an amazing job of showing Night Knight's struggle with his position in the grand scheme of things. 

Night Knight appears in this post about my New Age of Champions campaign. 

#3 - Omni

(Champions - 4th Edition, played by David C.)

See now here is the other David C., David Concepcion, who has been profiled on this blog and whose characters have been mentioned at least as often as Dave Cotton's, if not more. 

While I've know Dave C. about 10 years, I've known David C. since high school. He too has a lot of PCs who could have made this list [being another amazing Player Character Actor] but if one stands out above all the others it has to be the Psionic Alien Superhero OMNI! 

I love Omni. He is just so - damn - good. I mean morally good. Just. Fair. Upstanding. Empathic. Kind. Determined. Dependable. He's what Superman is one paper at all times, but only actually is with a great writer. Omni out Superman's Superman in my opinion. 

Omni has been addressed a number of times as it was due to this character and its player that I joined in on the original Age of Champions campaign that he was a part of. You can see those posts here, here, and most recently here

#2 - Owen Blackfjord

(Ars Magica (?) - 3rd Edition, played by Allen Halden)

Boy oh boy this trip down PC memory lane is a rough one. Like Martin King, and Pete Hernandez, Allen Halden is no longer with us. Hmmm. Scratch that. He has departed this mortal coil but he is always, and will always be with us. Always.

Allen and I were close and like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, I miss him most of all. 

Though I know it sounds selfish, I especially miss his contributions to our RPG campaigns. There are times when I come up with a game idea and think how perfect it will be, then scrap it because Allen is gone. How will my outlandish ideas work without Allen and his characters. 

The Character Actor's Character Actor, Allen was almost the opposite of Pete H. in approach. Allen would do research, plan, and thoughtfully consider his characters before playing them. This was used to fantastic effect when he portrayed the token, weird alien in one of our Science Fiction games or an English Brownie in our Faery's Tale Deluxe outing.

One of his most memorable characters was the Medieval European Warrior-for-Hire, Owen Blackfjord. Of Northern English or Orkney origin I'd wager, with his odd English/Norwegian accent and name, Owen was a lower class, poorly educated, not-that-well-meaning sell sword living some time around the 12th century.

He was most famous for being upon the handle of a sword, a handle with no blade, and being it was an enchanted weapon of great power. So proud was he to be the bearer of 'The Sword Unseen', and to have gotten a deal on it I might add, that he became adept at convincing others of it's majesty and prowess.

When he faced off with an opponent of note, he would draw The Sword Unseen and give his adversary pity and an ample chance to stand down. So sure was his resolve that many enemies did just that. 

#1 - Sovok (Doctor Sollock actually)

Star Trek, The Role Playing Game - 1st Edition (FASA), played by Joe C.)

I was starting to get nervous that this list wouldn't include a Star Trek character. 

Truth is I've seen so many wonderful PCs in our numerous Star Trek campaigns over the years that picking one...ugh. It's like trying pick a favorite child. I love them all! That said, one did stand out when I put my mind to the task and that one is one of the first two I've ever had.

My friend since 2nd grade, Joseph Cangelosi and I have played a lot of a lot of games together. Few as memorable as our very first Star Trek game, and those he had some great characters, I dare say none compare to Doctor Sovok. 

Sovok was a half-Human, half-Vulcan doctor serving as Chief Medical Officer on the covert operations starship USS Alliance during The Original Series era. He was raised on Earth by his Human father as his mother was an instructor at the Vulcan Science Academy School of Medicine. It was hinted at, though never made clear, whether or not his parents were estranged. 

Sovok was a character with just so much, well, character! He had habits and idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, beliefs and things he stood for. He was a wonderful paradox of Human emotion and Vulcan logic, arguing with his owns views nearly as often as those of the Captain or my Andorian Helmsman. 

You can read about Sovok in this post here.

Ok, all done. Woohoo! Another post that took way too long to put together. I think I am done with these lists for now. I have other ideas and things I want to discuss.

Here's to another 10 years, Avis willing. 

Barking Alien

I actually finished this on the 28th of February but put the post up on March 1st as I fell asleep at the keyboard and forgot to hit publish. Heheh. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Old War Stories - Pronoia

What is the opposite of Paranoia?

Why it's Pronoia of course. It's a real thing. Look it up. 

Pronoia is the psychological condition of believing that the world is conspiring on your behalf. It is the unfounded belief that people and events are looking out for your best interests. 

This brings us to today's Old War Story, a tale of a game gone by from my dear friend David Concepcion, whose birthday is today. 

"Fun anecdote about a game that didn't go so well. Rather, it went well but it didn't go right. 

[Our friends] Nelson, Eric, myself and a few others gathered to play in a game of Paranoia Adam was running, the first time for all of us.

We all get our mutant clones and whatnot, we get our mission, and then we worked together as a fine cohesive unit. We solved the puzzle, completed the mission, and even defeated an evil NPC traitor to The Computer. No PC's died. Not a one.

When it was all over, most of the players were pretty satisfied with the work they had done. When I spoke to Adam later, he said “I don't understand. That's not how Paranoia goes! What the hell happened?!?"

Thanks for that one Dave! 

Today, the 23rd of February 2019 is the actual 10 year anniversary date. My first post to the current version of Barking Alien was one this date in 2009. Check it out

Thank you to everyone who has been a long time reader for taking this journey with me. To those who are newer to the blog, I thank you as well for taking the time to stop by.

More to come...

Barking Alien

Barking Alien's Top 10 Favorite PCs of Mine

When I first sat down to make this post my initial thought was, "Have I even played enough characters over the years to warrant a list of my 10 favorites?"

The answer is yes...though just barely. 

Some characters jumped immediately to mind and a few of these have been described and discussed on this blog before. Others are less know to regular readers and I have to dig through the dusty bins of my memory to recall them. It helps that I have a pretty good memory for these sorts of things (if I do say so myself) and I used to keep excellent notes on my campaigns and character (I am a tad lazier these days though trying to get back into it).

The list below is in alphabetical order. It does not denote how long ago I played the character (the list in not chronological), nor how much I like them. If I had to pick a favorite among favorites I would probably have to go with Starguard as he is just so much fun to play. Jeckle the Jackal is a close second in that regard.

#10 - Counterfeit (aka The Counterfeit Kid)

(Space Opera, Gamemastered by ? - I forget)

I can believe I almost forgot this character. 

Some of you may notice a modification to the list. One character is missing to be replaced with this one. All evening and all night I couldn't get the feeling that I was missing a PC, a very special PC. It hit me this morning and I just had to make the change. 

Jon Candor, aka The Counterfeit Kid and later simply Counterfeit, was a character my friend Joe C. created for me. We came up with this idea to create characters for a Science Fiction RPG where we would design the coolest character we could think of, then switch them. Basically Joe would play the perfect character for me and I would play the perfect character for him. 

When a friend of ours had an idea for a Spy themed Space Opera campaign - Inspired by the Retief novels by Keith Laumer, the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison, The Dirty Pair by Haruka Takachiho, and of course Ian Fleming's James Bond - Joe and I got the change to use our characters, Capricorn Alpha (changed to Capricorn) and The Counterfeit Kid (changed to Counterfeit). 

Counterfeit was a secret agent working for the Interstellar Intelligence Initiative (the III), sometimes referred to as 'Third Eye'. When Jon was a young boy he was nearly killed in what appeared to be a shuttlecraft landing accident. It was no accident. In fact it was an attempt to kill his parents, top Cybernetists working for Third Eye. His body all but decimated in the incident, Jon was saved by being transformed into a cyborg, outfitted with some of the most advanced bionics in the galaxy of our Space Opera's 25th century. 

As a young adult he was teamed with a partner, the 'Transhuman' Psionic known as Aia Diei, codenamed Capricorn Alpha (as he was the only member of the III to hail from the planet orbiting the star Alpha2 Capricorni). When we first see them in the campaign they are adults but there were periodic flashbacks to their first meeting and younger days as junior agents which was super cool IMHO. 

What made Counterfeit fun and unique aside from the setting and style of the campaign itself was relationship with Joe's character Capricorn. Our brotherly friendship showed up in the interactions between these two PCs. We also gave them a bit of an 'Odd Couple' feel, but the closeness of Joe and I definitely came through. 

More on this campaign some other time. It was a blast. 

#9 - Dreg

(Star Wars, The Role Playing Game - 1st Edition, Gamemastered by Peter C.)

Dreg is a Rodian Smuggler from the only long term Star Wars RPG campaign I ever played in. I honestly love this character. Cowardly, neurotic, and clearly not cut out for the life of a heroic Rebel, Dreg nonetheless found a way with the help of a quick wit, good friends, and a really cool spaceship. 

What I loved about playing Dreg was that he was not built to be a hero and didn't want to be, but he was. He cared about his friends, he cared about the battle against the Empire, even if it was against his own better judgement. That dichotomy was extremely fun to explore. 

You can read more about Dreg here

#8 - Equinox

(Kapow!, Gamemastered by Keith J.)

Equinox was a Superhero character I originally created for my friend Sergio way back in 1982. He was created for a Villains & Vigilantes campaign in which each of the heroes was from a different country. Sergio based his character on mythology from his homeland of Argentina, mixed with that of other Pre-Columbian cultures. I added elements from Sergio's favorite comic book Superhero, The Silver Surfer and what I hoped were a few unique twists.

Many years later - about five years ago in fact - I was cycling through various Superhero character ideas for the online Kapow! game I was in. I would play a hero for a few sessions and then switch to another. Finally I landed on 'resurrecting' Equinox.

What I really loved about this character was getting to play the same character with four different personalities and approaches. Originally I had intended on focusing on the singular 'Air' persona and hoping to figure out a way to get to the other ones in at some point.

With the help of an idea from one of the other players (my good buddy Carl), the four entities that make up Equinox were split apart and I was able to switch to the 'Fire' entity when they spirits recombined. 

Over time I got the chance to check out each of the spirits in turn, eventually getting to play a completely and fully merged gestat. It was a really fantastic experience. 

You can check out more about Equinox in this post and this one.

#7 - Excelsior

(Villains and Vigilantes, Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, Others - Gamemastered by Various)

Excelsior is one of my oldest characters, created before I started playing RPGs. I have mentioned him on the blog a number of times so I won't go into him much here except to say how cool it is to have been able to translate a character from my pre-gaming imagination to my gaming hobby. He was the first and most prominent example of my doing that that I can think of. 

Check out Excelsior here, here, and here for more information. 

#6 - Francis 'Frank' Pellgrove

(Hogwarts/Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Homebrewed System based on Apocalypse World, Gamemastered by Alex B.)

I get an extra special sense of satisfaction when I create the kind of character for someone's game that I'd like to have in my own games and the GM appreciates it. 

What I mean is, if you are setting up a certain type of game with a very particular setting, genre, or whathaveyou, let's see a character that simultaneously fits squarely into the setting but also brings something new to the table. 

I also vehemently dislike it when people create PCs who don't fit the game the group has agreed upon. I don't like it when players don't put at least a little creative effort into character creation either (I'm looking at you D&Ders with Mages named 'Merlin' or 'Joe Magic' - ugh).

Frank comes from a long line of Wizard shepherds and farmers in the North of England near Hexham ( or somewhere between North Umberland and the hills of North Pennines). His family is poor or at least lower middle class, but they own land on which they raise sheep, pigs, chickens, and less muggle oriented beasts. 

Frank comes off as a bit thick sometimes, though he is a Hogwarts student in House Ravenclaw. The young Mister Pellgrove is not dumb by any means but he is - as one of the other PCs noted - differently smart. His field of specialty is unsurprisingly Care of Magical Creatures. Newt Scamander, Rubeus Hagrid, and Edwardus Lima (author of The Monstrous Book of Monsters) are his heroes. He 'minors' in Herbology and recently Transfiguration. 

He rarely uses his wand if he can avoid it. "What?", you're thinking. "A Wizard would doesn't use a wand?" No, no, he uses it when he needs to but he isn't very good at casting spells, dueling, or that sort of thing. He is very hands on and physical. A bit unusually so for a Wizarding World character. When a fight breaks out and everyone reaches for their wands, Frank is likely to charge across the room, tackle an opponent, and punch him in the face. It's surprisingly effective as most Wizards are not prepared for it. I mean, who does that? You could say Pellgrove fights like a Muggle, lol. 

He is one of the quickest thinking characters in the group, quick to action, a bit impetuous, stalwartly supportive of his friends (whom he thinks are all more worthy of being Hogwarts students than he is). He is brave to a fault, unafraid of beasts or bullies, but very wary of adults with wands aimed at him (the only times he's been badly injured in the game have been from grown-ups using spells). 

I could go on and on. He is surprisingly deep, thoughtful, humorous, and exciting to portray. Can't wait for the next session. 

#5 - Gobo Pepperthorn

(Dungeons and Dragons - Holmes Basic Edition, Gamemastered by Tom Z.) 

My very first character in my very first RPG, August 25th, 1977. He was a Halfling in the days when that was both his 'Race and Class'. That still cracks me up. Ah, old D&D, you silly thing. 

I've mentioned him in a number of posts over the years and really my most distinctive memories of him are his first and last appearances. 

What makes him special and qualifies him for this list beyond being my first PC is that in a very real way, Gobo set the tone for how I would see gaming from that point on. He wasn't played with the idea that he was a set of numbers in a game. I didn't base his actions on his character sheet. I played him with the idea that he was a person in a world. He did what someone would do given his story, circumstances, and the genre. 

This remains my head canon when running and playing RPGs. The mechanics are there to explains your actions, not the other way around. 

#4 - Jekyll the Jackal

(Originally Toon - 1st Edition, Gamemastered by Me (See below) )

Jekyll the Jackal was not designed for an RPG campaign. A game was built around him. 

Some friends and I were discussing various American cartoon such as Animanics and Tiny Toons when I began to ad-lib Jekyll, an anthropomorphic jackal, breaking the 4th Wall to talk to an unseen audience and various stage crew. I/He explains that he is putting together a kids TV show and is now hiring for various rolls. My friends then piped in with a variety of other wild characters auditioning for roles on the show. 

An unusual amount of backstory and plot ideas were dropped in the next hour or so until someone finally said, "We need to make this a game." I decided they were right and I quickly wrote the campaign up for Toon. Jekyll, Uhaul the Rhino, The Killer Emu, and many other characters as well as the Zoonatics campaign gets mentioned in my own game, The Googly Eyed Primetime Puppet Show

Jekyll is a favorite for the unique nature of his portrayal, both character wise and in the pacing and management of the games he's in. 

To begin with, Jekyll is a deeply flawed humorous cartoon character. He is somewhat egocentric, delusional, obsessed with the life, career, and death of Abraham Lincoln, and dismissive of danger (not because he is brave but because he hired a legion of highly trained Stunt Jackals to place themselves in harm's way any time he is threatened with injury). Honestly, this only scratches the surface of the surreal madness that surrounds this character. 

Most interesting though is I almost never 'GM' when using this character in the traditional way. He is the host of 'the show', the MC, and the director of the events going on around him. It's a lot like having the GM be a PC if you can picture that. Very fun, very liberating, and it enables me to interact with the other PCs in a very different way. Playing the AI of a ship in a Red Dwarf game is very similar. 

Jekyll and Zoonatics have not been mentioned very often on this blog (oddly) but if you do a search I'm sure that something will come up. 

#3 - Milford J. Thatcher

(Savage Worlds - Modified w/ House Rules, Gamemastered by Dan R.)

With 15 sessions under his belt, Milford Thatcher, aka 'The Professor', is my newest Player Character and I absolutely adore him. If Starguard is 'playing against type' (See below), then Milford is a nearly perfect example of an 'Adam Character'.

He is a character who lives by his wits, his earnest demeanor, and the image he puts forth of being part sage, part charlatan. Clever, even crafty, and a fast talker he nonetheless knows what he's talking about. Using what seems like alchemy to the good folk of Dunton, Colorado circa 1869, Milford is able to extra silver from the sludge and lead found in various sites of the outlying Rockies. He refers to his technique as the 'Thatcher Process'. 

The 'Thatcher Process' is a fictional variant on the real life Parkes Process invented and patented by Alexander Parkes around 1850. The Parkes Process wasn't used in the United States due to the low native lead production in North America. Our campaign assumes there was both more lead and the Professor somehow made the process cost effective and therefore viable. 

Prof. Thatcher is not a combatant by nature, believing violence is never the answer to any mystery or puzzle worth solving. At the same time he is well aware that most people in his time see no problem with pistols at high noon and that sort of thing. Those the least physically adept member of our group, Milford has already killed two men and a bear, all in self defense and at different times mind you. 

I love playing Milford. I love his voice, a combination of Groucho Marx and characters actors from the heyday of the Hollywood Western. My friend Alex plays his nephew Buddy Thatcher and the banter is at once hilarious and sublime. His interactions with the other PCs, the townsfolk, Navajo Traders, and other NPCs is what I live for in a game. 

Our next session is a sort of Season Finale and I am both excited and not looking forward to it. We are taking a break from the Dunton story and I will be running something for the group for a while. I will really miss spending time with the Thatchers. 

#2 - Sh’Hasta Zihl

(Star Trek, The Role Playing Game - 1st Edition, Gamemastered by Myself and Joe C.)

My first Star Trek character, created for my very first campaign using the FASA rules, was originally made up as an NPC. We had two players and myself as the GM, but I thought it would behoove the game to have a Kirk-Spock-McCoy style trinity, so in addition to the PC Captain and Chief Medical Officer I added First Officer and Helmsman Sh'Hasta Zihl, a Male Andorian. 

I really fleshed him out as a NPC and at some point in the campaign my friend Joe said he wanted to try running an adventure. It was decided that his character, the ship's doctor, would become an NPC and I would play Zihl as a PC. 

I love Zihl for his unique relationship with his Captain and the CMO. A Hawk to the good doctor's Dove, tempered by the Captain's cool and calm demeanor, the dynamic between them was some really great stuff. 

The campaign featuring Zihl has been mentioned here and there over the years. I managed to immortalize his name in Among The Clans, the Andorian Sourcebook for the Last Unicorn ICON System Star Trek game with one of the NPCs I created for the project. 

I am not sure if his status as an occasional NPC should disqualify him from the list but I am going to say no because I really liked playing him, developed him quite thoroughly, and it's my blog so there. Ha!

#1 - Starguard

(Champions - 3rd Edition, Gamemastered by William C.) 

Starguard, perhaps the most enjoyable PC I've ever had, is also probably the one best documented on this blog over the past 10 years.

The Praetor of the Protectors of Pleiades has been described here, here, and of course here

I've spoken about him so much I won't go into details here except to say that he is definitely the most fun character I have ever played. He isn't the deepest and certainly not the most subtle but he was incredibly enjoyable. He is very different from what I normally prefer. I tend to play characters less physical, less combative, and more thoughtful. In classic Dungeons & Dragons terms, I go Wizard or Cleric but never straight Fighter.   

This guy though, he made playing the Punch and Tank guy fun because he was more than just a Punch and Tank guy. He was so Silver Age, Big Personality, Over-the-Top Superhero-y that I couldn't help but love him.

Honorable Mentions go to characters I really loved playing but were only used in one-shots, very short campaigns, usually served as NPCs, or were alternate PCs which I would sometimes play instead of my main character.

Adam 'Black Adam' Schott, Guncannon Pilot (Mekton/Mobile Suit Gundam)
Alien Robot Repairman - Don't recall his name (Hunter Planet)
Alien Pilot - Don't recall his name (Space Opera)
Gates, Near Human Alien (Teenagers from Outer Space - NPC and occasional PC)
Gabriel Zimmerman (Ghostbusters)
Harlan Quinn, aka Harlequin (Shadowrun)
Kid Chameleon (DC HEROES)
Mummy Treasure Hunter - Don't recall his name (World of Darkness)
The New Yorker (Champions)
Rook Grey, Android Operations Chief (Aliens Film Franchise RPG - Don't recall the system)


Barking Alien

This post took waaay too long to finish. 

I starting writing it over a week ago. I got distracted by life and other project as well as, I'll admit, writing too much material. The post was supposed to be a list and while I knew it would have to include some notes on each but I feel I may have over done it. 

I'll try to make future posts more concise.

What you you think?