Tuesday, August 20, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - NOBLE

Nobility is not a thing I equate with most Role-Playing Games or Gamers, at least as it applies to games. 

Allow me to clarify...

The typical 'Heroes' of a Fantasy Role-Playing Game just slew anything and everything in sight before stealing all of the treasure that could find. They then proceed to a nearby village where a beggar, hearing of their exploits and seeing their bulging sacks of coin, asks humbly for pity and a few coppers from the brave adventurers.

He is likely killed.

So is the guy eyeing them as they entered town who just happens to work for the city guard and is not accustomed to wealthy armed strangers entering the gates. This brings in the rest of the guard who are also killed as the 'Heroes' defend themselves from a 'clearly unfair' GM. Before long the town is a burning ruin and the 'Valiant' PC party are off to their next crime. 

I have seen Nobility. True Nobility. Noble Heroes gilded not in shining armor or gold but in self-sacrifice. I have seen PCs put themselves in harms way to save each other and NPCs. I have seen players have their PCs do what is right, not what 'makes the most sense'. 

A few examples: 

Star Trek

The Asst. Chief Engineer of our Star Trek campaign starship had developed an interesting personality and backstory over time, such that he was a favorite NPC of much of the crew. He was of Indian descent, had a wife and a young son, took any opportunity to cook real food for his friends and family (as opposed to synthesized food), and collected old timey watches and clocks as a child. 

In a particularly serious session the Engine Room was flooded with deadly radiation and evacuated, but someone needed to stay behind to shut down the main reactor manually due to computer/system damage. The PC Chief Engineer decided to stay and get everyone else out. Our Asst. Chief insisted he stay. The two argued, valid points on both sides, and it eventually turned into a wrestling match, fist fight as they each struggled to save each other.

Finally, it looked like the PC had won but just as he turned his back on the prone Asst. Chief, the NPC sprang up and saved the PC, the massive blast door trapping our favorite clock-fixing, chef in the radioactive Engine Room. He managed to manually disengage the system just as the PC ship was about to suffer a TPK overload. 

The players were sad for weeks. The Chief Engineer was so guilty he became a surrogate dad to the NPCs family. It was the height of Noble.

Star Wars

My buddy was playing a Smuggler who was one part Han Solo and two parts Wild West gunfighter. Throughout the campaign, though he was helping the Rebellion against the Empire, he never once claimed he wasn't still in it for the money. He had no Princess Leia to love, no Luke to befriend, and his co-pilot/companion was a droid. 

As the final battle of the campaign began, the Smuggler and his droid, now a full on independent being, reunited to lead an attack on the Imperial Interdictor that served as the command ship of the series long big bad. Not only did he drop the veneer that he was just a mercenary doing this for a payday but he rallied the ships and fighters in the fleet with a rousing speech about fighting for what they all believed in; truth, honor, justice, and freedom!

From Ne'er Do Well to Noble in 12 sessions. 


Where do I even start?

Starguard (my PC) saved Pulse (our PC speedster) half a dozen times at least. Pulse saved civilians constantly. So did I. Omni (telepathic leader PC) saved everyone a least a dozen times. Tachyon overloaded his powers, preventing him from being able to use them again, in order to save New York City from the villainous Sundown!

Then there is this, wherein PC Superheroes sacrificed their lives and even the very fabric of their reality in order to defeat an enemy who threatened to destroy the infinite multiverse!

This looks like a job for being Noble!


As I've mentioned before, my own D&D universe is actually patterned after Superhero comics and features a world-spanning order of heroic individuals united to protect the innocent, the weak, the struggling, and the oppressed from harm both natural and Arcane!

Saving fishing villages from floods, defeating brigands, and battling monstrous creatures is all in a days work for The Order of the Winghorn Guard. It should be noted that while the Guard will sometimes claim treasure unaccounted for, the goods stolen by brigands are always returned to the merchants they were taken from. A portion of all gold and other coin found is donated to the people of near by towns. The Winghorn Guard members also give a portion of their findings to the Guard proper to fund their continued operations. 

My D&D is not about killing things and taking their stuff. It's about the Nobility of being a hero with a purpose. 

I am sure your game features truly good and heroic people doing truly good and heroic deeds. Like mine campaigns, your players imbue their characters with a sense of Nobility that raises them above the common riff-raff and scallywags of most gaming groups. 

At least I hope so. There is no more Noble act than Noble acts. 

Barking Alien

Monday, August 19, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - SCARY

A criticism commonly leveled at my games over the past 10 years or so...at least until recently...is that they just aren't Scary. 

I'm not talking about Horror themed games. I'm talking about all my games. Many of my players across a few groups feel I go too easy on them. They say that they never fear for their characters lives or well being. 

I will admit that I have had difficulty bringing that aspect to my games over the past decade. There are several factors that contributed to this, some of which I've discussed before, but the bottom line is I changed my style a little to accommodate less experienced players and then got stuck on 'easy mode' without even realizing I was doing so. 

Initially the idea was to make things not quite so hard, complex, or dangerous that I ended up killing off the characters of newbie players and then discouraging them from continued play. If your character dies in its very first session, before you even get to know them, the world, or anything about gaming in general, you're probably going to shrug and go play video games or watch a movie on Netflix. 

The plan was let them get their feet wet, let them look around and get into some trouble, then kill an important NPC or destroy something they owned*. Now they will see things and people are indeed breakable and watch themselves and their surroundings a bit more carefully. 

This was a mistake. 

The first problem I discovered was that I realized all too late that the group of players I had adjusted for simply weren't the same as my old group.

It wasn't that they weren't as smart, as organized, as creative, or anything of the sort. They didn't have the same skills and experience needed to effectively deal with me. My games are a tad different from the average GM I've encountered. They are more open ended, flexible, character focused, setting focused, and it takes a certain kind of player thought process to play them. Not a better player. A player who gets what I'm trying to do. 

If you have to twist in a screw you don't need the world's best hammer or most advanced wrench. You absolutely need a screwdriver though. 

The second and much bigger issue was that by going easy on them they weren't challenged to get better. There was no need to up their game (so to speak) if they weren't in any real danger. Another way to look at it is if their level of play was working up to X point, there is no real need to change. We (Humans) do not make changes from positions of comfort. If we can get by doing what we're doing we will. 

That's not how I want to be as a GM. I always want to be improving, always striving to be better at the craft. In the end I didn't just stagnate them, I stagnated myself. I couldn't be the best GM I could be if they weren't the best players they could be, but why be better if the level they were at was working just fine?

Now there is another factor that I've noticed more recently.

In the past few years I've noticed that some of the people who say my games aren't tough and Scary enough are also the ones whose PCs are unphased by anything. You know what I'm taking about. The characters who are so cool they bleed ice and laugh in the face of the 100 ft. tall, city-eating space monster. No matter how awesome the spectacle set before them, they toss a wise-crack and head right for it. 

I don't want to completely discourage that. I love that in some cases. Not every game is an Anime however and sometimes things should just freak you out. If you're PC is not freaked out it actually takes the other players and the GM out of the game a little. It's too meta. It isn't a realistic reaction to such an insane situation. Yeah, yeah, I know, your character is too cool for school but could you at least pretend to think this is serious so it makes sense in the context of the game?

Also, it is worth mentioning that buy-in and immersion are also aat play. Not being Scared your character may die may say your PC is a badass but it can also say to the GM that you don't really care about your character. It can also mean you don't understand or acknowledge the dangers the GM is presenting you with. If you act like you don't take a serious threat seriously, the GM is left to  wonder what they are doing wrong. Maybe something...or maybe nothing and you are just looking at it like a computer game. 

Yet another reason I am loving my new FRONTIER campaign is because the Scary is there. The game uses a variant of the Year Zero System which includes rules for Stress and Panic. Characters are just people, even if they're Armored Spacesuit wearing, Cybernetics using professionals. When they see crazy stuff they can potentially lose it and I love that. So do they, as it gives them great role-play opportunities.

One of my favorite moments of the first session of FRONTIER was when we realized one of the people we had rescued from a crashed starship was carrying a gun. A murder victim had been found on the crashed vessel but we hadn't located the murder weapon. Just as one PC mentions this fact over the radio, the guy with the gun slides it out of his jacket. A PC rolls to take it from his hand and succumbs to Panic. He raises his hands and shouts. "GUN!", which alerts the other PCs next to him. 

We discussed afterward the monumental moment that was in setting the tone of the game. As opposed to the numerous games where you and your party are using a bunch of weapons against a large group of enemies also using weapons and no one batting an eye, here a single guy with a gun caused a panic.Just like in real life, a gun can kill you in a single shot in this game.

In FRONTIER, alien wildlife is rare and Scary. Weapons are Scary. Falls from great heights are Scary. You are a Human being in an unknown ecosystem and nature is Scary. 

One of the things I've gotten back is my ability to Scare players. Now if I can just get certain players to see things as Scary, I'll have it made.

Barking Alien

Sunday, August 18, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - PLENTY

An interesting thing happened to me the other day that hasn't happened in a good, long while.

I was having dinner with my girlfriend and her friends and found out that two of them play Dungeons & Dragons. Pretty seriously too. They were a couple and the fellow made a D&D related joke, one only gamers would really get, so I knew they were the real deal. 

Apparently my girlfriend had told them about me and that I gamed as well. I said, "Yes I am a big RPG fan. Have been for a long time. I just don't really play Dungeons and Dragons".

To which the fellow inquired, "Oh, so more computer, video game RPGs?"

I chuckled, "No, no, definitely tabletop, just not D&D."

He seemed a little confused. "So...like Warhammer? Miniatures?"

Here were two people well versed in the Dungeons and Dragons game who were largely unaware that there were other RPGs out there. I know this is a thing but I don't recall encountering this personally since the 80s I think. Just as they must have assumed D&D is the only game of its kind, so did I assume everyone who knew there was one RPG must automatically know there are many. 

And there are...many that is. One could say...Plenty.

The fact is we live in an amazing time in which there are Plenty of RPGs not only available for purchase and even for free, but covering Plenty of different genres and styles. With the internet as a resource you can buy and download PDFs or order physical copies of an absolute plethora of games.

RPGs new and old, serious and comedic, Fantasy to Modern, Superhero to Hard SF, one-shot party games to those designed for long term play are available to virtually anyone who has access to a computer. 

Why then would people only play or even know about only one game? 

It's a strange mirror to my last post that I can barely conceive of the idea of only playing one game and yet there are those that do just that. They do it and are happy and that's both infinitely wonderful and totally bizarre to me. 

There are Plenty of games out there, ipso facto I want to play Plenty of games.

Again, as before, I use a food analogy (because I am a bit of a foodie) and try to imagine eating the same meal over and over again. As much as I love Sushi (and I do LOVE Sushi), I don't think I could eat it for dinner 7 nights a week. I would get bored of it and then probably lose interest in having it again for a long, long time. 

Part of me is saddened by the possible realization that there indeed Plenty of RPGs but that Plenty aren't being played. Plenty are probably purchased but I wonder how often they are being brought to the table instead of tried and true games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and a few others. 

In response, and to some up this post, go play an RPG you haven't played before. Run one you've never run. Pass on to your fellow gamers the word that Plenty of games exist and as such we should each give Plenty of them a chance. 

You may not find any you like more than the one(s) you are currently playing. On the other hand you may find...Plenty.

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 17, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - ONE


One is the loneliest number.

If there can be only One, it should be One in a million. One singular sensation.

Most of all, the One that you want. 

Let's go with the old, 'If you were stuck on a desert island with only One RPG, what would you want it to be'? Basically, if you could only play One game for the rest of your life, what is that game?


One game?! It's hard for me to picture myself not going bonkers with access to only One game. My personal opinion and outlook on the hobby is that each RPG should support a setting, genre, or style of play and therefore no one game can be the perfect game for every situation. 

It's not that I don't believe in the idea of generic or multi-genre systems. I have certainly run Hero System for more than Champions and used systems for subjects they weren't specifically designed for. At the same time, my preference is that the mechanics fit the game and the game the mechanics. I don't like it when my fluff and crunch feel like two separate things that aren't meshing together. 

Still, if I only have One RPG at my disposal, shouldn't it be a game that can do a variety of genres and setting decently well?

By my own logic and reasoning, I would choose One game that could do many things or at least most of the many things I would want to use it for. In other words, if I were stuck with but a single system, I would want it to be a system that could run Star Trek, Star Wars, other Spacefaring Sci-Fi, Superheroes, and maybe Giant Robots. So...some variant of the Interlock System by R. Talsorian Games? Mekton perhaps or Teenagers from Outer Space?

The other approach to this is to choose One's favorite game. If I am only able to play One RPG, why not have it be the RPG I love the most. Well friends and fans, that ain't so easy when you're Adam 'Barking Alien' Dickstein. 

I love Pork Ramen, especially if it's spicy, but I can't eat it every day. Nor could I eat Tacos every day and damn if they aren't a favorite as well. I'm just not wired that way. I want, nay need, variety. 

My favorite RPG at present is, well, ugh, that's another thing that makes this tough. I can't really decide. I am loving the Year Zero system variant I am using for my FRONTIER Sci-Fi campaign, but I am also having a blast with Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures. Star Wars D6 by West End Games remains my all time fave rules wise of course, at least for the time being. 

In the end, I can't really decide. One of these, One thing will lead to another, and I'll give it One more try. 

Oh well. Another One bites the dust.

Barking Alien

Friday, August 16, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - DREAM

Dream, huh?

Seriously? This is what I was referring to in my last post. Dream is so broad, so generic, and just so over used a word that it isn't really all that interesting. It could be, even should be, but it's heard so often as to become banal even as it implies aspects of thought, hope, aspiration, and imagination.

I Dream that the word prompts get a little more exciting.

The only thing I can think of at this point for Dream is describing my Dream game. 

You may have seen me tackle this before on my blog as the subject of one's Dream game has come up in the past, perhaps even several times. The thing of it is, one's Dream game can change and therefore it's worth considering again from time to time. 

A Dream game can go as far as being truly a Dream, with unrealistic parameters and criteria that one could never achieve. For example, I could Dream up the perfect Star Trek campaign and include my late, much loved friend Allen, but that is a game that will never come to pass. Incidentally, I miss that guy something fierce. 

Being more realistic in my Dreaming, what game would I run now, that I could run now, if I could run it?

Funny, I feel like I am currently running one of my Dream games. 

My Science Fiction/Horror Space Adventure FRONTIER, which has had but two sessions so far, is a game I've wanted to do for over 30 years. More accurately I've been thinking up ideas related to the concept for 30 plus years. 

In addition to the premise - A group of Scientists and Engineers on a distant Space Station working on Scientific Breakthroughs to save a Dying Earth - I have gathered what is turning out to be a near-perfect cast. A diverse group of smart players with quirk but believable characters who interact well and are immersed in the universe. If that isn't your Dream team what is, right?

Back to my Dream game...I really don't know. I am really happy with FRONTIER, content with Star Trek and Champions campaigns, and while I am looking to do one more, I don't feel like it qualifies as a Dream game. I view my next project, whatever it is, as 'What is the most I can get out of what I've got to work with'? If I can make that happen, I will be very happy. 

Maybe someday I will have an itch to run the perfect game, with the perfect group, and when the concept comes to me I'll definitely want to share it with all of you.

A fellow can Dream can't he? 

Barking Alien