Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Twelves Years of Barking Alien!

Today is the day!
Happy Anniversary to BARKING ALIEN!

Apparently silk is the popular gift for a 12th anniversary
so I decided to get Barkley a silk kimono.

I think he looks pretty good in it don't you?

My first post to the Barking Alien blog was posted February 23rd, 2009. It seems like forever ago. At the same time, didn't I just do an entire month of Muppets RPG posts? No, that was 2011. Oh geez. What about the first Thorough Thursday entry? That couldn't have been too long...2015, huh? The first Campaigns I Have Known post was 2016?


As I noted at the beginning of the month, it really has been a long, strange trip. I wouldn't change it for the world (or perhaps worlds). Thanks to this block I've made a number of great friends both in-person and online, been mentioned in blog articles in Spain and Poland, run official demo games at conventions, been involved in events and YouTube interviews, taught at a tutoring center using games, and published my very own RPG.  I've gotten to speak with some amazing bloggers, brilliant game designers, and a host of truly creative people who really love this hobby. 

I want to thank and give a special shout out to Charles ALord BlackSteel, Tim Knight, and the incomparable WQRobb, who have gotten me excited to keep going when I wasn't sure I should. Likewise I thank JBJeff Rients, and Noisms for their continuing inspiration and dedication to gaming and blogging. If I hadn't read yours, I might not have created mine. 

I also need to thank the friends, players and GMs in my life who make this pastime what it is. I heartfelt hug to AJ, Alex, Andy, Arthur, Carl, Chris, Craig, Dan, David, Esmeralda, all the Erics, Jeff, John, Joseph., Keith, Leo, Lynn, Marcus, Mark, Mike, Nick, Ray H., Selina W., Will C., Will L., and far too many others. 

Finally, a posthumous salute to those we've lost in the past dozen years who I could among the greatest gamers I've ever had the privilege to know: David Cotton. Allen Halden. Peter Hernandez III. I miss you guys so much. 

With that, here's to another twelve years and new horizons...

Barking Alien

Here's Where Things Get Dicey

Fair Warning: This entry goes all over the place but if you'll follow along I think you'll enjoy the ride. 

My previous post on the Japanese tabletop RPG system Saikoro Fiction, or 'Dice Fiction' in English, by Adventure Planning Service was posted this morning, yet it was based on a conversation I had last Wednesday and actually written this past weekend. Why did it take so long to complete? Partly it was due to the accompanying illustration and the sample Attribute/Skill Grid I put together. 

Mostly though, it was because I did some addition research, had some thoughts, and got feeling truly creative again. Between my original twitter conversation and now I've been incredibly inspired in a way I haven't felt in a long while. I think the last time I was honestly this jazzed about gaming ideas was when I ran our Red Dwarf/Yellow Sun campaign using the ALIEN RPG. 

What follows - both in this post and over the next month - will be a breakdown of a series of ideas that have come to me, not all of which flow in a straight line. I will do my best to organize them into some kind of order. At some later point, when the ideas are largely out of my head and on paper/screen, I will likely compile some of them into a book of some kind. I can even see a sellable product coming out of some of them. 

To begin...

I am really intrigued by Dice Fiction and its Attribute/Skill Grid but one of the things I noticed when building a sample one was that with six Attribute columns and eleven Skill rows, the total number of Skills in sixty-six. 66! That's kind of nuts. It was really tough coming up with 66 names of Skills and what they might possibly be used for (or why one might be used as opposed to another).

I propose a 6 x 6 grid which would result in 36 skills. I also think that not every PC in a given game has the same 36 Skills. Creating different grids enables PCs to cover areas other PCs don't which not only allows for greater character customization but also enables you to make Templates not unlike those found in Star Wars D6. In a given setting its possible everyone has Dodge or Melee Weapon under the Attribute 'Prowess' but not everyone has the same special abilities, magical skills, or martial talents under their 'Technique' column. I believe some of the official Dice Fiction games do work this way.

Sample Attribute/Skill Grid for my Dice Fiction version
of the RPG Yokai Hunters Society

Now here's where my first idea comes in; a few weeks back I downloaded the game Yokai Hunters Society from the amazingly cool itch.io website. A neat, rules-lite game of masked, Meiji era Japanese folks battling demons, ghosts, and spirit monster against the background of the political and social change prevalent in Japan in the late 1800s. It has some similarities to a number of Anime and Manga series, notably the extremely popular Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, as well as numerous Japanese live-action TV shows and Movies in the Horror genre. 

Wow! I mean, seriously right up my alley, right? What a great idea for a game. Only...I don't love the system. Very simple, almost too much so, with not a lot to sink ones teeth into. It is functional, even fun, but a little lackluster for my tastes.

If I apply the Dice Fiction rules to the setting, I think I have something. Something really interesting that I can see being used for a long term campaign.

First though I am thinking of fleshing out some of the 2D6 vs. Assignment Skill mechanics with conditions or points that would allow for rolling with Advantage or Disadvantage. For example, an Enchanted Sword that gives you Advantage on your Melee Weapon/Sword so that you need to beat the Target Number on 2D6 but roll three six-sided dice and take the highest two. Meanwhile, if injured or perhaps cursed by a Yama Uba (Mountain Hag/Witch), you might roll three six-sided dice and take the lowest two.

I am definitely going to work on this and flesh it out a bit more. In addition, I will be posting both a more detailed overview of the basic Dice Fiction game (based on my research) and this alternate Barking Alien version I am developing. 

This leads me, indirectly mind you, to another idea I have. While it has nothing to do with Dice Fiction, it was looking into that game that reminded me of my age old love affair with Anime, Manga, and RPGs with an Anime/Manga influence and flavor. I miss running our very Japanese influenced games of Cyberpunk 2020 and Space:1889, not to mention games like Mekton and Teenagers from Outer Space. 

I figure it's about time I made one of my own.

Stay tuned...

Barking Alien

My apologizes to the creator of Yokai Hunters Society, Chema González, who did an excellent job with the writing, illustrations, and layout. Clearly impressive enough to inspire my own take on the game.
Also an apology to Nate Treme, who created the Tunnel Goons rules used in Yokai Hunters Society. Again, fine rules, completely workable, but they just didn't grab me personally.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

Gaming Mother Forker! Do You Speak It?

Recently, I've become kind of obsessed with the Saikoro Fiction or 'Dice Fiction' system found in a series of quasi-indie RPGs in Japan. I say quasi-indie because they're not incredibly wide-spread in popularity but they are put out by Adventure Planning Service, a well-regarded RPG publisher best known for the Japanese tabletop RPG Magazine Role & Roll

Here is the official website for Saikoro Fiction in Japanese.

I am not sure I am in love with what they've done with the game so much as what I think I could do with it. 

Of course, that's if I could completely wrap my head around it. You see, the games that use it are in Japanese and I don't fluently read or speak Japanese. Luckily, I know some people who do.

With apologies to Quentin Tarantino

Over on Twitter (What? You don't follow me on Twitter? What's up with that? Check out Barking Alien's Twitter) I was smart enough to ask Claytonian of Kill It With Fire if he could answer some questions I had about the Dice Fiction game. Specifically, I wanted to know if the game had a System Reference Document of some kind or if there was a base version without the added rules unique to each incarnation that has been published. 

You see, each Dice Fiction game has a key concept in common; a grid/chart of 6 stats with 11 skills/abilities under each stat (numbered 2-12). Some of the skills on the grid are marked as 'Strong Skills'. To do something, you roll 2D6 against the appropriate 'Assignment Skill' and try to meet or beat a Target Number.

A sample Dice Fiction grid created by me. 

The black cell/white text skills are the Strong Skills.
The black column is not counted when adding up the Target Number (See below).

If that Assignment Skill is one of your Strong Skills, you need to meet or beat a 5 to succeed. If it isn't a Strong Skill, count how many spaces away the appropriate Assignment Skill is from the nearest Strong Skill and add that to 5 and that becomes the Target Number. Blank columns add to the Target Number but filled in ones are not. 

For example: Using the chart I made above, if asked to roll a Medicine Skill check the player would roll 2D6 and have to meet or beat a 5. If asked to make a Sleight of Hand Skill check the player would need to roll a 8 or better. Start with a base of 5 and then look to the closest Strong Skill, which in this case is Psychic Powers. The filled in column adds nothing, Psychic Powers is 3 slots away from Sleight of Hand, so 5+3 is 8.

Claytonian wasn't able to answer the questions himself so he did one better and put me into a three-way conversation between the of us and Andy K of the Japanese Tabletop RPG Blog. Andy was quite helpful and had this to say about the subject:

"In short, there's no SRD for Saikoro Fiction games because they are all different. It would be like looking for an SRD for "Powered by the Apocalypse" but even harder because many of these games are very, Very, VERY different.

Many of them have a similar look and flow to Shinobigami: Sheet with a 6 by 2-12 "skill grid", a 3-round 1 scene/player play structure, etc. But after that they are all VERY different.

This is especially true of many of the contemporary ones released. They have great ideas, interesting mechanics, not necessarily big sellers (Shinobigami pretty much dominates Sai-Fi, everything else is kinda in its shadow); and their character creation and playstyles are very different than Shinobigami/inSANe/Magicalogica.

If there was one commonality that would tie them together, the SRD would say "The book includes - and starts off with - a full session replay of the game, complete with lots of notes about what is happening. Then, the rules are easy to read and understand and lead to the game being playable within 2-3 hours of purchasing on a quick read-through. A session can last 2-4 hours but it contains an entire story; it is not meant for campaign play (so you can have a solid, done experience in just a few hours and no requirement of an ongoing campaign). Also, more often than not it is targeted towards novice GMs and Role-players, holding their hand through some of the process". That is the only commonality that they all share."

Yeah that's fine! That isn't what I was hoping for exactly but it is also absolutely fascinating and has me super-charged up to work with the concepts put forth in Dice Fiction even further. Not only do I have my own ideas on how this could be used but how do I adapt it for long term play? How useful is it for playing over the internet, which is our primary mode of gaming these days. 

It is likely that either or both Claytonian and/or Andy K will be posting a similar recount of this conversation on their sites and if they do and it adds to the discussion I will definitely link it here. In the meantime, don't be surprised if you see more about Dice Fiction - or a Barking Alien variant on it - very soon. 

Until then, 

Barking Alien

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Turn And Face The Strange

One of the many benefits of doing this blog over the years is that it has put me in touch with some truly wonderful people. 

Not only in a creative sense but in a real, honest-to-goodness friendship sense. I have gotten to speak with them by phone, in person at conventions, and every now and then I receive responses to my posts via Facebook Messenger, text, email, or other means more personal than a comment at the end of an entry.

Just yesterday I received such a message from WQRobb of the blog 'Graph Paper Games' (which he should totally get back too). Rob, who is a good person the likes of which our modern world doesn't have nearly enough of, read my previous post and had this to say...

"Just read your last post.  I have thoughts on the matter.

So in the last year there has been a lot of reporting and conversation among clergypersons regarding our emotional (and spiritual) responses to the pandemic and the subsequent quarantine.  While all of us are struggling with isolation, loss, and depression, the response of clergypersons has been even beyond the pale. A surprising percentage of clergy have even had suicidal ideations.

The reason: we are not only experiencing the normal absence of social interaction but we are also not getting the emotional validation from our congregants and furthermore, we are not living our vocation in a normative fashion.  And most of us have a very close personal identification with our vocation.

So even though I go to work every day and work very, very hard, to find some way to continue to minister to my parish, it doesn't feel like I'm doing anything. I feel like a fraud or a failure, or...like I'm just filling in.

So even though you are gaming a lot, you're not doing it the way you have done it since you were a child, you're not getting all the emotional payout from it, and really, being a gamer, especially a GM, is a huge part of you being you."

Wow. Is that not 'Wow'? I think it's pretty darn Wow. 

To sum up, even though I am gaming, I am not gaming the way I game. I am not doing it in the ways, means, approach, and application that it took me 44 years to develop. No matter how much effort and energy I put into it, it is going to feel off, second-rate, or at the very least less than optimal. 

Knowing this though...helps. 

It means, to me at least, a little of the self-applied pressure is off.

It's no longer, 'Why aren't I doing this as well as I know I can?'. It's being OK with, 'This is the best I can do given this situation." Instead of being frustrated that I can't seem to paint another Mona Lisa, I can look down at the crayons on my table, realize all I have is crayons so what was I expecting, and just enjoy making the best drawing I can with what I've got.

That said, I think my next games going forward, at least until we meet in-person again, are going to be shorter 'art pieces' instead of longer 'blockbuster' campaigns. If the art-pieces turn into campaigns 'cause everyone involved loves them so be it, but it isn't the intended goal. I want to experiment more. My best outing so far during this pandemic was far and away the Red Dwarf / Yellow Sun game because I tried different approaches and took creative chances. I want and need more of that. 

Thanks Rob and thank you readers for indulging me. 


Barking Alien

Monday, February 15, 2021

Filler Episodes

I've been rather depressed lately. 

Part of it is our current global pandemic, part of it our political and social issues here in the US, and part of it my personal economic troubles which have not been helped by either of the aforementioned situations. I have also been feeling like...well...like I am not getting the most out of my gaming time. 

This last situation could be the result of my depression and accompanying anxiety but in the worst kind of self-perpetuating cycle it is usually gaming that digs me out of the dumps and if that isn't happening...yeah. 

I am gaming more - far more in fact - than I was before the pandemic, yet none of it seems quite as satisfying. That's not to say it isn't good and I hope none of my players or GMs read this and think I am not enjoying our time together. Oh contraire! I am having a great time for the most part and very much like the games I am both running and playing in.

It's just that...

They feel like filler episodes. They're fun stints into the various milieus and systems we are exploring but very little of it feels meaningful, deep, or (to sound extra pompous) artful. These adventures are fun experiences but they don't push the plot or larger character development of Adam-as-Gamer. 

For my Sunday game, for example, I am re-visiting Aerth, my Medieval-But-Not Fantasy setting with yet another campaign featuring The Winghorn Guard (see many previous entries on this esteemed order of do-gooders). I am doing a twist on them I've always wanted to do but never got the chance to previously, with the PCs being members of the covert/espionage arm known as The Winghorn Rangers. It's less Avengers vs Thanos and more Agents of Shield vs Hydra. 

Was it good? The Zero Session went pretty well, though one player was sadly out sick. 

Was is SPECIAL though? Hmm...no, not particularly. It didn't do anything different, shake the earth, or anything quite so epic or unique.

Did it need to? No, not really. Not to be a good game.


I would like it to. I would like something to. 

I would like that very much and I kind of need it right now.
Barking Alien