Friday, December 27, 2019

Playing With Action Figures

I wasn't going to post again until next year but...

Much of my love of the Star Wars universe was conveyed through playing with the old Kenner Action Figures.






My friend Joe and I would spend hours upon hour on complicated stories and involved scenarios, often involving other toys or playsets and occasionally bumping up some minor character to the level where they could join in the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, and of course the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2.

I remember we even had our own rules of a sort for figuring out if the heroes or villains hit each other with their blasters. It was the pre-cursor to Star Wars RPG gaming and evolved from playing with earlier action figures like G.I. Joes or Mego Superheroes and Star Trek figures. 

Since we didn't have a lot of money back then, other toys would sometimes be added to our Star Wars playtime if we thought they fit.





Marx Toys' Comanche Pass (also known as 'Ambush at Falling Rock) made a great Tatooine. The MB Electronics Star Bird Avenger served as a Rebel or Bounty Hunter spacecraft, while Milton Bradley's programmable Big Trak become the evil Empire's latest secret weapon against Rebellion forces on the ground. 




Sometimes, you'd find a toy, an action figure or vehicle or something, and it just wouldn't fit in with the rest of the game. It might be cool but even as kids we would through the kitchen sink in only so far. No Cowboy figures, Knights, or other such playing pieces were allowed on the field when Jedi, Biker Scouts, and Sand People roamed it. No modern car, boat, or even airplane toy had earned the right to travel across the snow covered hills of Hoth or burning gray ash of my original planet of Gardine. 

There is something about The Mandalorian that really feels like Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are two kids in a playground having an absolute blast playing with their Star Wars figures. And that, my dear viewers, is the feeling of fun, wonder, and excitement I want in a Star Wars campaign. 

Grab your character, figure out what is going on, then do something about it. Not after you've discussed all the options or after you consider a complicated plan to...NO. Stop. Just play. Just be in that moment in Star Wars. 

Think of what you or your character would do now. Plan only long enough to get you out of a mess or into one. Now make a new plan. Whatever you decide to do, DO IT! You could consider all the possible outcomes that might result from your ideas but in Star Wars, Now is Not The Time! It's always now by the way, so it's never the time. It's Do or Do Not. There is no try.

The Sequel Trilogy lacks this feeling. It feels padded, stretched out, and never 'now'. It always feels way back when, soon, or eventually. Never now. That suddenness is not there. The drive to do a thing and make a difference seems lost in the shuffle of over-the-top special effects and waaay too meta humor. 

Personally, I don't want anyone playing with multi-million dollar sets, vehicles, and action figures if they've never played with real ones or don't feel a passion for what that was like. I want people to make Star Wars to do so for the same reason I love to run the RPG, that is because I simply Love Star Wars.

I want to live, work, and play in that universe because I always have.

And I always will. 

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Barking Alien






Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Taking One Last Look At My Friends

I suppose it's time to give my opinions and impressions of the final film in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Star Wars - Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

I have been thinking about this for some time, a few days in fact, and I am still not entirely sure how to begin. The issue I have is that I know what my bottom line feeling is, making my feelings about individual characters, story beats, or even action scenes largely irrelevant. 

You see, I enjoyed watching the film. I had a fun time hearing the sounds given to the CGI and practical effect starships and alien creatures. I liked watching the cool designs of speeders and the bright colors of the lightsabers and the blaster bolts as they sped past my eyes.

In the end however it felt like some much cotton candy. It was all fluff and no substance. It added nothing new to the Star Wars mythos, did not really advance the story of 'The Skywalker Saga' in a meaningful way, and to have seen this trilogy or not seen it made no really difference to me whatsoever. 

Ya'know what would have been nice?

A trilogy of films with the original actors, playing their original characters, exploring their kids or proteges in a brand new story, featuring a brand new threat, and then ending with some heroic legacy with which to carry the franchise into the future.

A few years later we meet Rey, a young, female scavenger on a junk covered planet who discovers she has the Force. She meets up with Poe, a Starfighter Pilot and Finn, a former indoctrinated soldier of some empire on the fringe of space who has shaken off his programming to help Poe escape. Finn also has the Force and the three new characters go on a harrowing adventure to try and reach the New Republic and join the re-established Jedi Order. 

Basically, a Skywalker Saga Trilogy, Episodes VII, VIII, and IX, actually continuing the tale from I to VI, and then a single film or unrelated trilogy about new characters and events in the Star Wars universe. 

What we go instead was a rushed, cash grabbing, muddled mess of three films not really about anything. Three tales, loosely connected due to no single over-arching narrative being written or put forward, that either aped the original three films or ignored their continuity completely. 

The only emotion I am left with after seeing The Rise of Skywalker and hereing about it for the many months before its release and the several days after is exhaustion. Exhaustion and the relief in knowing it's over. 

Now I can look forward to The Mandalorian and the future of Star Wars unencumbered by this disappointing missed opportunity.

May The Force Be With You...Always,

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Barking Alien

Happy Holidays from Barking Alien! I'll see you in the New Year!





From The Journal of The Whills

We are three days away from The Mandalorian's eighth and final episode of Season 1 (which airs in the United States this coming Friday) and it has been five days (or so) since the official wide spread release of the final film in the new Star Wars trilogy, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

For better or worse, what a time to be a Star Wars Fan!






I have seen The Rise of Skywalker and while I had fun watching it, I also found it very disappointing over all. I don't want to discuss it in detail here but what I will say is any  negative feelings I have regarding The Rise of Skywalker are greatly offset by my love for The Mandalorian. 

All this Star Wars - The Light Side, The Dark Side, and The Bendu - has re-ignited my interest in the running a Star Wars RPG campaign. As I've mentioned in the past, nothing inspires my desire to game a particular genre or setting like seeing it done really well or really poorly. Here we have both!

The good in Star Wars - The Original Trilogy, The Clone Wars CGI Animated Series, The Rebels CGI Animated Series, and The Mandalorian - is so good to me, so deeply inspiring and meaningful, that it sparks in my heart and mind the ideas and passion to put my own Star Wars story together. 

The bad in Star Wars - The Prequel Trilogy and The Sequel Trilogy primarily - call out to me with what could have been and therefore beg to be healed, improved upon, or simply replaced with something better. 

My love of the ol' D6 Star Wars RPG by West End Games is well known. My renewed and dare I say emblazoned desire to revisit Star Wars leads me to immediately reach for that game. I have even been considering a project to reorganize all my old Star Wars D6 notes from every one of my previous campaigns into a single, enormous master sourcebook. 

While I will definitely still do that...

My thoughts today are drifting towards revisiting a concept I don't feel I gave enough attention to, namely Star Wars Traveller

Clearly my love for Star Wars D6 has not faded in the least, but I haven't been able to get a dedicated, long term campaign of it going for a while and that may be, in part at least, because the system doesn't quite generate the level of excitement and dedication in my players that it does in me.

Traveller on the other hand, being both simple in its base mechanics and yet detailed in it's extensive secondary rules and support products, makes for a game that my particular band of gamers can really sink their teeth into. 

Much like Star Trek games run using FASA, Last Unicorn's Icon System, and Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures systems feel very different from each other, so too does changing up the D6 system to the classic Traveller system add a level of grit and texture you might now see in the West End rules alone. 

Maybe.

I am not entirely sure I am right about this. That is to say, I am not sure I should switch to different set of mechanics when Star Wars D6 has served me so well through so many great campaigns. Changing the core of what Star Wars gaming has always been might treads into dangerous waters...like the difference between The Mandalorian and the new Sequel Trilogy.





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Barking Alien







Tuesday, December 3, 2019

This Is The Way

I followed this Tracking Fob based on the Bounty Puck I picked up from the Guild and it lead me to...




I am in love.

As of this post we're four episodes in and it is already my favorite Star Wars production since the Star Wars: Rebels animated series. I would place it as one of my favorite Star Wars projects of all time. The Original Trilogy, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and then this. In some ways, I could see it overtaking the animated shows but for now, I will stick by this placement. 

As a fan of Star Wars since it first appeared in 1977, I have to say that this series feels more like the Original Trilogy than any other live-action feature so far. This is Star Wars more than the Prequels are Star Wars. This is Star Wars more than the Sequels are Star Wars. Same for Rogue One and Solo.

This. Is. Star Wars.




SPOILERS!
Blogging is a complicated profession...


The GOOD

I was grabbed by the first episode right away; I was impressed by the music, the scenery, the world-building, and of course the characters.

I am absolutely amazed by the acting and directing in the series that enables us to get a show that features a character with no face in the starring role. I mean...WOW. Every Superhero movie and TV series, please take note.

As a fan of the universe it was awesome to see some many of my old favorite elements like landspeeders, Rodians, R2 unit Astromechs, and Jawas. Of course they're Offworld Jawas (which incidentally is the name of my new Alternative Prog Rock Band) and that leads into the next great thing about The Mandalorian - New Stuff! New Jawas, New Weaponry, New Starships, Tracking Fobs, Bounty Pucks, some dangerous Alien Walrus Monster under the ice of a New Planet, and an unknown type of R Unit piloting a speeder dolly/platform. Sooo cool! 

Plus, like any good Star Wars installment, each episode brings in new characters and furthers the overall plot that explores the people involved and their situations. I can't wait to find out what happens next, who it happens to, and why it's happening! 




Every being put your appendages together and welcome...Offworld Jawas!


The BAD

There isn't any! 

Seriously, I can't find anything bad to say about this show so far. While not every episode is as spectacular as every other, nor is every scene and moment Star Wars fandom perfectnon, nothing I've seen makes me feel any part of any episode has been poorly done. In fact, as I said to a friend recently, it's reassuring that the weakest episode of The Mandalorian is still ten times better than the strongest of the Prequel or Sequel films. 

High praise? It is indeed and I stand by it all the way. 


The ADORABLE

No review of the show would be complete without addressing the seven pound, fifty year old, womp rat in the room - BABY YODA! He is super cute, super well handled, and super interesting. Is he another member of Yoda's little known about species? A clone of Yoda himself? Something else? I don't know yet but I would gladly mow down a platoon of Imperial Stormtroopers or wrestle a full grown Mudhorn to keep him safe. Just try me!


***


Needless to say the series has really bitten me with a major Star Wars RPG bug. I am extremely interested in running a Star Wars campaign at some point early new year, regardless of how good or bad The Rise of Skywalker is. 

Needless to say, I am really eager to see more of The Mandalorian. As with other, similar material, I absorb these episodes as much as enjoy them. They are definitely entertainment, but as a fan and a gamer it's also source material. Based on what I've seen so far, all I can say is keep it coming.


I have spoken. 

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Barking Alien




Sunday, December 1, 2019

Feeling The Force

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far, Away...






Actually, the last two months of 2019, right here on Earth! We are about to receive not one, not two, but three new visions of the Star Wars universe, and I for one am extremely excited about that. 

In two weeks [from this posting], Disney+, the Disney Streaming Service, will air the first ever live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian. Set a few years after Return of the Jedi, the story follows a lone Bounty Hunter trying to survive in the lawless frontier of a post-Galactic Empire region of the Galaxy Far, Far Away. 

I am more excited about this particular series than anything else slated, as it looks awesome, has a neat premise, and is being put together by the talented duo of Jon Favreau (the lead developer, head writer, and showrunner) and Dave Filoni (of Clone Wars, Rebels, and Resistance fame). 

The first episode comes out on Disney+'s launch day of November 12th, with a second episode on November 15th. Do you know what else comes out on the 15? 

Star Wars: Jedi - Fallen Order, a video and PC game I have been looking forward to for some time will release two Fridays from today. In it, you play Jedi Padawan Cal Kestis, a survivor of Order 66 who is on the run from the Galactic Empire. After accidentally revealing his Force abilities in front of an Imperial Probe Droid, the Empire sends a team of specialized Stormtroopers and an Inquisitor (or two) to hunt him down. 

Wow. Such a great premise for a Star Wars tale. I love the designs, the ships, the aliens, and the Imperials. As for gameplay, it resembles and has been described by reviewers as a mix of Uncharted and Dark Souls. Sold. I am there. 

Last, and sadly least, December 20 sees the final film in the new Sequel Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker. I am truly interested in seeing this movie, but perhaps not as excited for it as I am the other two things I've mentioned here. The recent trailer looked great, and I love me some Star Wars, but after the horror that was The Last Jedi I find I have had to work myself up to the level of cautious optimism. So far it's working! I have my ticket and I'm going to try to enjoy the ride. 

Not included here as it won't appear until next year is another product I am super jazzed about which is The Clone Wars Season 7, coming to Disney+ in February I believe. I will discuss that in greater detail as we get closer. 

What does all of this mean besides the obvious joy I feel in being honestly happy about promising new Star Wars material? Um...what part of The Barking Alien Blog did you not understand? GAMING my friends! It all comes back to Gaming!

Yes, I am Feeling The Force something fierce these days, eager to consume and process all of this entertainment and the new info that comes with it in order to apply the items and ideas to a new campaign of Star Wars, The Role Playing Game (West End Games, D6 version of course) sometime in 2020. 

Anyone else feeling this or did The Last Jedi turn you to the Dark Side? 

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Barking Alien

*Originally written and published on November 1st, 2019, I have moved this post to December as I will be largely dedicating this month to Star Wars related entries. I apologize for any confusion but it is easier for me to organize my thoughts this way.



Saturday, November 30, 2019

Just Out of Reach

I found it extremely difficult to blog this November. 

There are many reasons, not the least of which is a [more than] mild dissatisfaction with my gaming this past year. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, kind of silly.

I feel like I've played and run a lot this year, especially over the past few months, and many of those sessions have been really good, great in fact. Unfortunately that doesn't change the feeling that quantity hasn't equated with quality. 

ALIEN FRONTIER, my six month old ALIEN RPG campaign hopefully benefiting from 30 years of prep-work, has been really excellent. I am quite proud of it. 

My Star Trek: Prosperity game, using Star Trek Adventures by Modiphius, is now four years old (give or take). It continues and, thankfully, continues to be pretty darn good. I really enjoy it and it seems the players do as well. What more could you ask for?

What more indeed.

I am playing in a regular, ongoing Harry Potter/Hogwarts/Wizarding World campaign that is likewise around four years old now. It is run every two weeks, alternating with the Star Trek game. It is truly fun and fantastic, notable for, among other things, the fact that I really love my character. 

There are other games I've run and played as I mentioned in the opening of this post; a great many one-shots and even short campaigns have been explored in 2019 to varying degrees of victory and loss. 

As the year draws to a close, I am feeling an overall sense of...ennui perhaps? I am not entirely sure how to describe it. Something is definitely missing. It's as if the brass ring is out there somewhere, just out of reach and I am getting frustrated trying to grab it over and over again without complete success. I say 'complete' because I've gotten close. The tips of my fingers have touched it, grazed it, but a solid grab has thus far eluded me. 

Writing it down, getting it out there, I feel I am getting closer.

Soon...

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Barking Alien





Monday, November 11, 2019

Initiate This

I ran a one shot just the other day of one of my favorite Japanese tabletop RPGs, Wares Blade. While gearing up for the game (pun intended) I was reminded of the games somewhat unusual Initiative rules and thought I'd share them with you.

Initiative, as I have discovered over the past ten years or so of blogging, is an extremely popular subject among the participants of the gaming blog-o-sphere. Oh yes! It seems that gamers, especially D&D types, are absolutely obsessed with Initiative. I see more posts and articles about that aspect of the game than any other single subject.

This has lead me to the conclusion that A) those who have created and worked on D&D over the years have no clear idea what they were doing when that designed the Initiative system B) since the rules they designed are absolutely daft! Just terrible. C) Those who play the game and blog about it on the internet definitely feel this way. 

Wha...? I'm wrong? How could I be? I am merely an outside observer taking in what I see. If the Initiative system isn't woefully flawed why is it remade so often in so many ways? 

Humans are so confusing. 

Back to the Initiative rules from Wares Blade. I simplified things a little and will try to keep the description of this idea pretty simple as well. 

Basically, Initiative is a number on your character sheet, you roll one 10 sided die, add the result to the number on the sheet, and you get your Initiative for the combat you're about to be in. Now here's the fun part...You can take away points from your Initiative Number and use those points to 'Avoid Attacks'. 

Imagine you have a 5 Initiative, you roll a 5, and now your Initiative for the battle is 10. You take away 4 points and now have an Initiative of 6. Your 4 points buy you two Avoids. Twice during the combat, you can say that your PC avoids an attack that would have hit them. 

In game, the idea is that you are quick enough, perceptive enough, and skilled enough to predict an enemy's move and dodge or deflect it. Mechanically, this gives characters with low Health Points and poor Armor a better chance of survival. In Wares Blade, where early stage Wizard and Clergy PCs have more support style abilities and magic in addition to being rather fragile, having the capacity to Avoid a good number of attacks while going last each round is a pretty fair trade off. 

Anyway, I just thought the idea was interesting. In play it worked pretty well, with the Avoids giving the feel of a fight where blows and slashes were deflected by the Warrior's sword, the Wizard's cleverness, and the Professional's skill and agility. 

Are there any other systems that use something similar? I'm curious as I am still planning to devise a Dark Crystal game. 

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Barking Alien




Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Song of Thra

This is my third entry for the month of October on the subject of The Dark Crystal. It will be the last for a while.

I have been in an odd funk this month gaming wise and it's been directly effecting my ability to post. I sit down with enthusiasm and ideas in my head, then rapidly the ideas become muddled and I get distracted, which makes it nigh impossible to finish. This post should have been completed a week ago for example. 

Although I definitely have more thoughts on The Dark Crystal film and series, not to mention adventuring on the world of Thra, I also have a lot of other thoughts on a lot of other subjects as well, and they seem to be getting in the way of a clear and concise treatment of this particular project. If I don't give myself a cut off point, I could just ramble on and on and I don't feel that gives my Dark Crystal ideas, or my other ideas, the thorough consideration they deserve.

With that, let's discuss a The Dark Crystal role-playing game...







The Mystic Prophets Warn of Spoilers



End. Begin. All The Same.

Let's start the way one should, IMHO, start any RPG game endeavor, which is with the questions, 'What is this game about?' and 'What do the Player Characters do in this game?'

Campaigns set on the world of The Dark Crystal would, for the most part, be very similar to those on any Fantasy world.

The peoples of Thra explore ruins, fight monstrous beasts, and save each other from dastardly villains of one sort or another just like the heroes of a thousand other settings. The major difference between a traditional Fantasy RPG and a Dark Crystal RPG would be the themes explored and the PC motivations that propel the game forward.

The Dark Crystal is very much a setting tied to very particular ideas not normally associated with Fantasy adventuring. Concepts like protecting and working with environment and the ecology of the land, spiritualism but not religion, and a sense of family, friendship, and community in the face of outside forces attempting to divide the people are very much aspects of stories set on Thra. 

Depending on the era you set your game in, the kind of tales you might tell well differ but overall I'd like to think they would be a bit less shallow then those of a typical Sword & Sorcery or Dungeons & Dragons game. Ruins may be explored, but not with the goal of finding wealth and treasure. Great creatures may be slain but reluctantly, as all creatures large and small are part of the Song of Thra. Dastardly villains must be battled and bested for they are stealing from the world itself to benefit only themselves. 


Their Harsh and Twisted Bodies. Their Harsh and Twisted Wills.

The villains of The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are more than just murderous monsters, yet they execute evil acts far worse than any mere ogre or wizard. They divided the Gelfling Clans, kept them distrustful of each other, consumed resources and enslaved the less physically powerful in ways that reflect the overindulgence and lack of concern beyond themselves associated with the wealthy aristocracy. The Skeksis embody all the worst traits of classism and colonialism. They are not abstractly evil. They are literally the worst thoughts, feelings, and attitudes given form. 


Dark Signs, Strange Storms, Sand Where There Used to Be Sea.

Thra itself is alive and is in a sense an ever present NPC that constantly and continuously impacts the lives of PCs in a Dark Crystal game. The Song of Thra resonates in the world's rocks and trees, it's flowers and animals, and in every one of it's native peoples. The presence of Skeksis and the darkening of the Crystal of Truth - also known as 'The Heart of Thra' - disrupts the Song and puts the entire planet out of sorts with itself. This leads to blights that kill crops, animals going into vicious rages, and a host of other ills that strike the environment of Thra along with its inhabitants. 

A considerable portion of any Dark Crystal RPG, regardless of era, should deal with how what is happening in the story effects Thra and vice versa. 





Map of the Skarith Region of Thra

Based on the map from the J.M. Lee Young Adult Novels
Modified by Yours Truly.



By Gelfling Hand or Else By None

Regarding Player Characters; I would say that while the role-playing potential of portraying a Skeksis or an urRu is definitely something to consider, there are various reasons why I don't think I'd personally open up these beings for use as PCs. This doesn't mean I don't think you could do it but I will hold off on discussing this approach myself, at least for now.

My default idea would go with Gelflings as Player Characters. The Gelflings are the most common sentient species of Thra and the focus of the original film, the novels, and the Netflix series. In comparison to other Fantasy RPGs, this makes them the 'Humans of Thra', yet they are wonderfully, delightfully not Human.

Gelflings come in a variety of physical and cultural variations, possess a number of special abilities, unique gifts and mystical talents, and reinforce the feeling of the setting being at once exotic and familiar. This paradox makes them the perfect PCs for a Dark Crystal game. 

If your story is set after the film you run into the problem of there being only two Gelfling in the entire world. It is one of the elements that has prevented me from creating a Dark Crystal RPG before now. However, with the addition information provided in the novel series and streaming series, a post film campaign becomes more viable. 

To begin with, the film does note that the Crystal of Truth - the healed, previously 'dark' Crystal - has the power Jen and Kira (the film's last remaining Gelflings) need to restore or rebirth the world of Thra. This is [in part] why the UrSkeks (the recombined urRu and Skeksis) leave the Crystal in the care of the Gelfling pair. In my mind, listening to and joining in with the revitalized Song of Thra, Jen and Kira are able to cause new Gelfling to be born into the world. 

Initially these Gelfling would rise out of the Swamps of Sog, step out dryad-like from cracks in the trees of the Dark Wood, and so forth. They will likely have no knowledge or memories associated with the past and would need to learn about their world like early Humans did. Of course they have the benefit of the teachings of Jen and Kira, as well as a wiser and more careful Aughra, who is in many ways almost as important to Thra as the Crystal of Truth. 

This leads to some interesting Character Creation options. Imagine if each of the Seven Clans of Gelfling have their own specific skills and gifts, perhaps three special to their type, along with abilities all Gelfling have such as Dreamfasting and Winged Flight for females. Post film Gelfling may be able to choose a mix of Clan traits, since the idea of Clans has been long forgotten. Personally, I notice that while Kira in the original movie looks a lot like Vapra, she has capabilities that remind me of Deet from the Netflix series, who is a Grottan. 


There Is No Filthier Creature In All of Thra

Another Player Character option I would gladly entertain would be a Podling. The Pod People, such as the character of Hup in The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, are a simple, rural dwelling, agrarian species living in homes made in the bases of large trees. They are about a head and a half shorter than Gelflings, have a potato like head, and are skilled farmers, gardeners, musicians, cooks, and brewers. 

They are a somewhat hedonistic people, living for life's simple pleasures. The love food, drink, celebrating with banquets, and when young they enjoy rolling around in the dirt and mud (which they sometimes eat for reasons unknown). They remind me of naughty hobbits to some extent and for that reason alone I would be happy to see someone play a Podling. My only stipulation is that not too many people play them. They are not generally seen as adventurers and Podlings willing to stand up and fight terrible danger should be rather rare. 


Where Once Was Great Knowledge, Like Smoke, It Slips Away

The hardest part of this endeavor to create a Dark Crystal RPG has been choosing a system. There are three games that have caught my eye as possible choices and they are Mouse Guard, Ryuutama, and Tales from The Loop.

Mouse Guard was going to be the basis of the official Dark Crystal tabletop RPG when it was originally announced a few years back. The idea of having a number of dice in 'Nature', as in the character's nature, seems to work really well with the themes in The Dark Crystal. Referencing what I said about Gelfling characters above, think of each Gelfling Clan being defined by three Natures, with an addition two or three defining all Gelfling. In a prequel era campaign each play would pick a Clan and get the appropriate Natures for that group. In a post film campaign, Gelfling PCs could pick two from Column A and one from Column C so to speak. 

I also like the basic die mechanic of Successes and Failures (called Cowards in the game, which I find downright hilarious and immersive). The only drawback is that Mouse Guard can be, like its predecessor Burning Wheel, a little over written. There is an awesome, really simple and fast system them that sometimes seems slowed down and made less elegant but very sub-systems and addition rules that I don't find particularly necessary. I would have to trim it down a bit and simplify various aspects of the game to make it work, then add back in the mysticism, Dreamfasting, and other fantastic elements. 

Another option I considered is Ryuutama, The Dragon's Egg, a Japanese TRPG translated into English by Kotodama Heavy Industries. It is a fantastic, heartwarming Fantasy game that de-emphasizes combat and focuses on the journey itself. The game has the right feel and some really cool ideas but the dice mechanics are my favorite. I prefer games that utilize dice pools or simple roll-and-beat-a-difficulty using a single die type, 

Finally, I have been really enamored with Free League's games lately and have considered the idea that the system found in Tales from The Loop might work well with this concept. Among the nifty mechanics found in Tales from The Loop (a variant on the Year Zero System I am currently enjoying in my ALIEN RPG campaign) is the way you don't take Damage in the traditional sense so much as get stressed out, frightened, and injured. You can decrease stress by being taken care, talking to, or generally being in contact with another character, PC or NPC. This effectively reflects the strength Gelflings get from one another, evidenced in scenes between Brea and her sisters, Rian and Deet, and even Deet and Hup (though Hup is a Podling). 

I feel like I may be headed towards some 'Great Conjunction' of these three systems. I am still researching and experimenting. Remember, Garthims we'ren't built in a day. Oh wait...nevermind. 







Anyway, this brings me to the end of this post and my final thoughts on The Dark Crystal for the time being. I am so eager to bring this world to the gaming table I can't quite express it. It's a burning, nagging desire. It calls to me as the Crystal calls to it's Shard. I am not positive that I will get to it any time soon however, and they makes me kinda sad. 

Still, it gives me more time to develop ideas and hopefully a second season of the Netflix series will bring more of my fellow gamers around to the concept. Until then...

Come again when the last sister kisses the horizon, and don’t be late.

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Barking Alien









Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Dreamfast With Me

At the time I am writing this, my last post on this subject netted only an average to good number of views and no comments.

I find this disappointing but not unforeseen. As popular and successful as The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix Series has been, it may not resonate with the RPG gaming community or at the very least, the portion of it that visits this blog. 

Hmmm. That actually makes very little sense. People coming to this blog can't be surprised I watched and loved Age of Resistance. They would certainly have to assume that if I liked it, which I really, really did, I'd want to talk about gaming it.

This makes me think I am alone in my interest in running a Dark Crystal RPG. That's a shame if true. As I've noted in the past, I see a lot of potential in a campaign set on the weird and wonderful world of Thra. Perhaps you'll read on and change your mind. 

Writing has that power. As the Gelflings say, writing is 'Words that stay'.

As noted in the previous entry, I've always been impressed and inspired by the original Dark Crystal film but I've also felt that the concepts in it, the world setting of Thra, was far more amazing than what we actually got to see. I've always wanted to see a deeper exploration of this milieu and get to know its people, places, and history better. 

Enter the Netflix streaming series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.


Mother Aughra warns of possible spoilers. Impossible ones as well. 








First I want to say that I absolutely loved every minute of this series. Everything from the story to the design and artistry to the combination of traditional puppetry to the modern special effects were breathtaking and inspiring. If you haven't watched it do yourself a favor and go do so. Don't worry, this post will still be here when you return. Go, enjoy!

Among the incredible feats achieved by this series was the positively perfect merging of character development and world-building. 

The audience got to know many of the characters on a personal level, making them not only people you are interested in seeing the exploits of, but also giving the events weight and meaning. You care about what is happening because it is happening to characters you either like or despise. 

For every cheer and chuckle thrown Hup and Deet's way, there is a boo and a hiss for SkekSil the Chamberlain or SkekVar the General. These are heroes you love to root for and villains you love to hate. Sounds perfect for an RPG doesn't it? More on that later...

As for the world-building, Age of Resistance delivered in spades by taking us on a journey across the Skarith Region of Thra right alongside the characters. Each episode added a little more detail and piece by piece the world of The Dark Crystal truly came to life.

From the Caves of Grot to the coast of the Silver Sea, the Crystal Sea's Circle of the Suns to Stone-in-the-Wood, I can clearly see Thra in my mind's eye. I want to explore it so badly! I want to go to a Podling tavern and learn more about those grounded (literally), salt of the earth (again literally) people. What secrets lie within The Castle of Crystal that we haven't yet seen? I am also eager to see more of Thra's creatures, from the 'swimmers' in the Black River to whatever beast SkekMal the Hunter made his skull mask from. 

The Netflix series intertwines in a most interesting way with the series of young adult novels by J.M. Lee that finished with its fourth volume around the same time Age of Resistance began streaming.

Although not identical tales, it seems that the main characters in the novels are seen as secondary and background characters on the Netflix show. It is almost as if two different, though definitely related, parties of adventurers were going on related missions through the same world setting.The Netflix series focuses on one group consisting of Brea of the Vapra Clan, Rian of the Stonewood Clan, and Deet of the Grottan, while the books follow Naia of the Drenchan, Kylan of the Spriton, and Tavra, a Vapra Gelfling who happens to be Brea's sister. In addition, Naia's brother Gurjin is a major supporting character in Age of Resistance. The two teams cross paths at various points in each series. 

That is all for now. My next Dark Crystal related post will more specifically address setting up a Dark Crystal RPG campaign and why I think it would be absolutely awesome. Though I am none to dislike Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy, the mystical yet alien nature of Thra and its inhabitants deeply intrigues me. 

See you when single shines the triple suns, what was sundered and undone, shall be made whole, the two made one. 

Until then...

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Barking Alien






Friday, October 4, 2019

Another World. Another Time, In An Age of Wonder

I've held off talking about this for as long as I could. I didn't want to spoil anything, giving ample time for everyone who might read this post to see the series, but I can wait no longer. The Three Sisters and Three Brothers have all aligned and time of the Great Conjunction is at hand.

Mother Aughra listens to the Song of Thra, its Breath, the pulsing of its Heart...The Crystal of Truth. It is time. Time to discuss...







I want to talk a little about what the original Dark Crystal film meant to me, have a brief discussion about the Netflix series itself, and then how to use it all to create a RPG since, um, I am Adam Dickstein and this is what I do.

I'm terribly sorry, are you new here? If you are, just know if I like something a lot and it inspires in me a bunch of cool and interesting ideas, then I going to want to game it. It's pretty much as simple as that. If you're not new to the Barking Alien blog, this should come as no shock. 

I have a lot to say on this subject so this may be the first of few posts. Three maybe?

Let's begin...

The world of The Dark Crystal was first introduced to our own world in 1982 as a theatrical film written and directed by Jim Henson, the multi-talented creative genius behind the Muppets. The movie was co-directed by accomplished and brilliant actor, director, producer, and puppeteer Frank Oz, with a screenplay by Emmy Award winning screenwriter and film director David Odell, both of whom were also veterans of the Muppet Show. 

I was 13 years old when The Dark Crystal came out. It was a very difficult time in my personal life and although I was very excited for the movie and I loved the film, I now realize there was so much going on when it came out it didn't resonate with me quite the way it should have.

I mean, here was a movie about a world both fantastic and alien, created by my hero, with art and designs by one of my all time favorite illustrators, Brian Froud, and I loved it only until the next spectacle of 80s movie magic came along. 

Let's face it, it wasn't the greatest movie of all time. It was an incredible world, full of very interesting beings and ideas, but as a film its narrative was slow and choppy, its plot simple and at the same time somewhat vague. It conveyed its mood and atmosphere well but it left us wishing we'd gotten to know its characters and their universe much better than we had.

All that said...it stayed with me. 

I found myself sketching pictures of the evil Skeksis and the urRu Mystics on my notebook at school. I introduced a version of the Garthim into our D&D games. All the while there was one thing in particular I couldn't stop thinking about. Something I heard Jim Henson himself say on an HBO special about the making of The Dark Crystal (which I now think I enjoyed more than the movie). 

Henson, in what seemed a casual, almost throwaway line said, "I imagined a three-dimensional, three sided object...".

He was talking about the world of Thra, the planet on which the Dark Crystal took place. Come again? A three-dimensional, three sided object? 'That's impossible', I thought, and as with every other time in my life that I have thought that, I now had to figure out how it could be. 

I watched the movie a few more times on VHS tape. I bought and practically devoured the book, The World of the Dark Crystal, and did whatever I could to get more information on the universe in which the film took place. There was sadly little beyond the aforementioned book but WOW, what a book.






Time passed...

In 2007, American manga distributor and publisher TokyoPop put out Legends of the Dark Crystal, a prequel to the original film set several hundreds of years beforehand. While much of it would be retconned in the new canon that would come later, it was the first new Dark Crystal material of the 21st century and in its own way may have gotten the ball rolling for the works to follow. 

Those works include the amazing, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, a three volume series of graphic novels by various creatives including new material by Brian Froud himself. The series introduces a few new characters including the intriguing Raunip, the 'Son of Aughra'*. Set much earlier in the history of Thra, both before and during the coming of the UrSkeks, the series is quite impressive and definitely informs elements of the next wave of stories. 

A sequel to the original film was once planned but eventually abandoned as a theatrical feature. The tale lived on as a comic book series entitled, The Power of the Dark Crystal. I will be honest, while it had some neat concepts, I generally didn't love the direction they took the story in. I don't keep this one in my head canon when thinking about The Dark Crystal. 

It was around this time that...or was it slightly before? Somewhat after?...I do know that it was in 2011 that Archaia Entertainment, publisher of Creation Myths and The Power of the Dark Crystal, announced plans for an officially licensed role-playing game. The Dark Crystal RPG was mentioned by press release at the August 2011 Gen Con gaming convention, intending to publish it later the following year. Like its Origins Award-winning Mouse Guard game, The Dark Crystal would be designed by Luke Crane and utilize mechanics similar to that of Mouse Guard and its precursor, The Burning Wheel.

Some of you may have heard about this or even seen my mention of it here on this blog. What you might not know as I've never mentioned it in an open forum is that I almost worked on it. A mutual friend of Burning Wheel creator Luke Crane and myself was a key supporter of the old RECESS gaming events and as legend has it, either Luke as him if he knew the guy who ran the Muppets based games at the event or my buddy mentioned me to Crane as a possible good source of Dark Crystal knowledge. 

Whatever the case, I eagerly awaited what might come of such a promising lineage and interesting collaboration. Unfortunately, nothing is what it amounted to, at least in regards to my involvement. Why I was never connected further on the subject and what became of the project I couldn't say. Only Mother Aughra's eye can see that far across time and space. 

That brings us to 2013, and The Dark Crystal Author's Quest. The Jim Henson Company, in association with Grosset and Dunlap (a divison of Penguin Group USA), held a contest to write a new Dark Crystal novel. Yes, I submitted something. No it wasn't chosen. Instead, the extremely talented J.M. Lee won the contest and his submissions manifested as not one but four books, a series of Young Adult novels that I absolutely adore. These film prequel novels define the new and current canon of Thra, the Gelflings, the Skeksis and UrRu, and much more. 

You see, these novels were the template and resource material for the Netflix series, Age of Resistance. 







Finally, the real meat of the Peachberry! The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix Series! In my opinion it was absolutely Dzenpo! That's Podling for Awesome! What? You all don't speak Podling?** Tsk tsk. 

This post is already getting long so I will address the new streaming series in greater detail in a follow-up post. What I will say is that in a post on January 9th of 2012 in which I discuss the Creation Myth series, I mention how I would love to run a game in The Dark Crystal universe but that it seems like it would be very difficult. My main issue with it simply being we didn't know enough and at the end of the film - SPOILERS - there are no Skeksis, no UrRu, no Garthim, and but two Gelflings on all of Thra! 

Talk about your closed settings! The remaining Gelflings lived happily ever after, alone essentially, the end. No ifs, ands, or buts as far as we can tell. 

Now having read the novels, having seen this show...WOW! Not only is gaming in Thra's 'past' more viable than ever, I am beginning to see a host of possibilities for Thra's future! I could easily run a campaign in the post-film era of The Crystal of Truth!

OK, I need to organize my thoughts for the next posts. I hope you all take a look at The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and when you do, please share your thoughts on it with me and all of us here at Barking Alien.

For now, I am going to sit by the hearth fire, roast me some Merkeep, a little glow moss on the side, and grab a glass of warm Nebrie milk to wash it all down. 

See you soon,

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Barking Alien


*Raunip's name is dropped as an Easter Egg in Age of Resistance. Two characters are going to have a duel at 'Raunip's Pass'. I didn't notice it the first time I watched the series but caught it on second viewing. 

**There are a number of videos on Youtube and Twitter wherein Hup, the Podling character from Age of Resistance teaches the viewer how to say words or phrases in Podling. Adorable!