Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year Revolutions

As 2009 draws to an end (and some, including myself, would say "Thank goodness"), we look toward 2010 and consider our resolutions for the new year. I think for 2010 I'm going to try something different. Instead of resolving to do things within my grasp but rarely achieving the vast majority of it, I'm going to go for the gold star and resolve to do the unlikely if not impossible.

Resolution #1: Purchase the New Star Trek RPG

Yes, I know, there is no new Star Trek tabletop RPG. My thinking is that my resolution to buy one will make someone out there take notice and make one. There is going to be an MMO for Roddenberry's sake! C'mon!

Resolution #2: Run an ongoing Star Trek RPG campaign with my Dream Team group

This one is virtually impossible as my Dream Team consists of people whose schedules rarely coincide twice a year at best. Of all the resolutions here, this has the best chance of happening if only for a few months.

Resolution #3: Return to my High School Weight
My thinking here is that if I fail and make it only half way, I'll still be in the best shape I've been in since I was in my twenties.

Resolution #4: Meet the Perfect Woman

Seriously. I'm getting sick and tired of all the sex I'm having with imperfect women. Ha! Just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.

Resolution # 5: Be a Better Me

Perhaps the hardest of all and yet the most necessary. I've let myself get down in the dumps a bit this year to the point where its reduced the power of my forward momentum. Not stopped it mind you but I can tell I'm not going full-speed-ahead as it were. I need to shake out the cobwebs.

Ok, #4 and #5 I'm going to actually do.

2010 is looking better already.

Barking Alien

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Very Merry Blorthog to You!

Unfamiliar with the Tamaranean Festival of Friendship? Well, perhaps you would enjoy a peaceful and solemn Kal Rekk. No? Surely you follow the happy traditions of Life Day?

Well whatever your beliefs, know that Adam and I, the one and only Ambassador Barkley, wish you and yours a time of love, peace and goodwill toward little, blue, furry things from Antares IV.

Y'know, I've even heard of some primitive species who celebrate this

Barking Alien

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Art of Maps Vol. 1

Or perhaps maps as art? Hmmm...

Anyway, with maps always being a commodity in need in the gaming hobby I thought I'd post of few of mine. These are relatively recent, thought by no means brand new. I have removed the words (locations names and the like) so you guys and gals can add your own if you'd like to use the maps in your own games.

This first one is actually not a map but an image inspired by a Mutant Future post by Jeff Rients...

Up next, this is an island mini-continent I designed for a one shot D&am

p;D adventure. Its really just a photoshoped out the wazoo variation of someone else's map I found on the web (though barely recognizable now)...

This is a barren wasteland planet we crash landed on quite by accident in an old Traveller game. I modified it sometime later for Star Trek I believe. Its originally a texture map of Mars with World Machine  and photoshop effects added...

Last but not least, this is a map of my primary D&D campaign world. I used photoshop to alter a google earth map and combined it with another map of the Earth I found elsewhere on the net. My world is supposed to be an alternate Earth so it works perfectly...


Well, that's all the time I have today gang. Hope you like these and good gaming to you all!

Barking Alien

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And Why?

Continuing my ponderings from the other day, I am drawn to the conclusion that for many, the idea of using or running only one game is very appealing.

Jeff Rients was kind enough to comment on the subject and indeed says he sometimes wishes it were all about Encounter Critical, that awesome retro-hoax game created by none other than the extremely talented S. John Ross (whom I might add is also a fellow Star Trek fan and someone I once had the pleasure of working with).

In my mind its not just that playing one game and one game alone is difficult for me to envision, its also virtually impossible for the same reasons it appeals to others.

I am a bit of a genre junkie and snob and I don't really believe in the one size fits all game world. If I'm running Ars Magica for example, there are no Warforged in my game because in my opinion, they don't fit or belong there. Ars Magica is historical, folklore based fantasy and arcane robots just don't appear that regularly in such a setting. Likewise I don't have magic in my hard Sci-Fi Traveller or publically known superheroes in my 'World of Darkness'-type campaigns. These elements break the parameters of the described milieus and shake the feel in a fashion similar to breaking ones 'suspension of disbelief'.

I don't like throwing everything possible into one game. More accurately, I like throwing everything appropriate in. Appropriate to me I suppose.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Do They Do It?

Guys like Jeff Rients, Zak S., James Maliszewski and Taichara amaze me. Not only do they post almost daily (albeit with the occasional brief hiatus) but they consistently deliver quality posts that make me laugh and think (the two most important things you can do in life). I find myself thinking about gaming daily but I often find it hard to come up with a reason to post my thoughts. Generally, I stop myself from generating a new post on the subject I am toying with in my head with five simple words, "Will anyone care but me?"

Anyway, today's post isn't about those creative and prolific masters of the gaming blogsphere I idolize, although it could be. No my misled friends, this post is really about something else...

How do GMs of a given game, keep playing that game and only that game for so long? This primarily applies to my experiences with fellow gamers who play D&D but it could apply to any game. Essentially, I know people who've been gaming for 10, 15 and even 20+ years who only run and/or play D&D.

How is this achieved? What is it about this game that makes that possible? Better yet, I can't even imagine running only Star Trek and that's my favorite. It would be like eating my favorite food three meals a day for years. I would get sick of it after a week.

I do want to run a game more then once a month for a long time but I also want to run a few other games each month that have nothing to do with it. I'd have to in order to keep my sanity. Ideas pop into my head with little rhythm or reason and if I'm running D&D and have an idea better suited for Traveller than I don't want to change it to fit my D&D game, I want to run it in Traveller or perhaps another suitable Sci-Fi game.

For me, gaming works best when you don't dump all your eggs into one creative basket. If I could I'd run one game for my fantasy ideas, one for my superhero ideas and one for my science-fiction ideas. Each would be run once a month, although I could probably run the Sci-Fi one a few times each month as I tend to come up with more concepts for that genre.

Anyone want to share their experiences with this sort of thing or am I alone in my need for multi-flavored madness?

Barking Alien

Monday, December 14, 2009

Once A Month

Each of the games I run are generally being run once a month.

The reason for this is, primarily, that my current group consists of a fair number of Players who GM and/or GMs that Play. We also enjoy many different kinds of games and genres.

That said, I sort of wish I could run one of my campaigns with us doing two or three sessions a month. I miss those days and I realize my currents campaigns do suffer a bit for my not being able to run them that way.

There is a level of depth and intricacy that I feel I've been missing over the last year, largely because I only run one 6-8 hour session of each of my games each month. Now compared to my older campaigns which saw two or three sessions a month (or if you go further back in time, even more then three) that each averaged 8-12 hours, its obvious that I just can't cram as much stuff into the campaign as I used to. Faced with a more limited schedule, I feel like I need to 'get to the point' more often then not and the players get to explore and get to know the universe a bit less.

To me, this is a disservice to my players and to the overall campaign. One of the things I specialize in as a GM is weird voiced NPCs interactions, notes about local cuisine and other seemingly 'unimportant' elements that nonetheless make the game feel alive and complete.

What to do about it is of course the question.

Unfortunately there is really but one solution and honestly, it comes with its own difficulties. If I run the same game multiple times a month, I end up letting down those people you are currently involved in my other campaigns. There are only so many days in a week and all that. I won't be able to run everything.

Anyone else run into a similar problem? How do you or did you deal with it and how often do you run your game?

Barking Alien

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Mutants & Masterminds has ended and thankfully with a bang, so it's time to get to work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Wild Knights.

While sifting through my old Star Wars material, of which I have volumes both official and self-generated, I am amazed by how much there is but how little you need. Star Wars, both as an IP and in the form of the D6 game, is extremely easy to grasp and requires very little in depth knowledge to make it work and work well. If you've seen the movies, even one of them, you can play the game.

Unfortunately, that isn't always enough for some players. There are those players that must read every word ever written on the subject of a given universe, memorize untold minutiae and suck every iota of information in before they are comfortable playing a game set in that universe.

Until this past year I've never really encountered this particular phenomenon. Most of my players want to explore the game universes and learn as they go. They start with their characters as they rolled, chose or otherwise generated them and then build on that basic frame to create some of the most three dimensional characters I've ever seen. I have friends whose PCs started as little more then a name, some numbers and a quote and ended up deeper then the characters of half the professional novels I've read.

Then, recently, I've encountered a very different type of player. Every rule must be read, every obscure background reference checked and the most munchkin advantages explored before the 'creativity' needed to make their characters begins. What's worse is the end result often seems to be a book sized background story that hardly ever plays a part during the games themselves unless it gives them some points or edge over their enemies and allies alike. I'm sorry but "Yawn".

I am something of an information junkie to be sure but then again I am the GM. As a player, I want my GM to obsess over the game's every trivial detail but I don't want or need to know them before I encounter them.

Also, if you read and abosrb and hold as written in stone material that I haven't read and might not be using, you really didn't earn yourself any advantage. I might hear about the material from you and like the idea but logically, if I don't know about it its unlikely its going to be in my game.

The constant questions and need for clarification I get from my new group is exhausting. Also, the more time I spend answering these inqueries means less time I can spend working on generating material for the game.

Some information should remain mysterious and mysteries are meant to be solved. Play the game and solve the mystery. Don't obsess over things out of game that can be obsessed over in game. There is such thing as too much information.

Barking Alien

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Going Somewhere?

As I hopped up on my bloggeyboard and rode the thread wave of recent posts about hexcrawls today, I began thinking of why, initially, I had no idea what they were.

Very early in my experience in the hobby (like, the first time I ever GMed onward) I learned to improvise a great deal. I certainly used modules in the early days but since my players were going to think on the fly to overcome traps and defeat enemies I decided I was going to do the same to challenge them.

The vast majority of my games are about 80-90% ad libbed with the rest being, say, 75% ad libbed. Elements that are not thought up on the spur of the moment (and a good deal of those that are) are based on huge amounts of forethought and research on what would work or be cool in the minds of my players and I and appropriate to the situation they are in. Because of this exhaustive level of pre-game brainstorming, I'm usually ready for anything.

If I have a map of the region and the players decide that they don't want to go to the seek the treasure that they learned about from the ancient Elven runes (the 'adventure' it would seem)...fine. "Where do you want to go?", I'll ask them. If they say north I know that the Celt-like barbarian tribes and faerie creatures lie that way. If they say south I can look forward to whipping up something with the border guard at the edge of the chaotic lands near an old fortress. Go ten miles east, one mile west or just over the water to a group of islands and its the same thing. I know my world and as such I can logically generate what is going to be there where ever they decide to go.

I never thought of hexcrawls as a 'thing' because so many of the games I've run are largely a hexcrawl that leads to something of interest. Even in (or especially in) my Science Fiction games the adventure isn't on Planet A in Building 2, Room X. Its where ever the PCs decide to land and whatever trouble they get into. My worlds and universes are alive and you as a player live in them.

Here's a little story (one of my favorites) from a high school Sci-Fi/Space Opera/Traveller campaign I ran (so we're talking mid-eighties)...

The players were bounty hunters, mercs, smugglers and other neer-do-wells currently shooting it out with their former employers on an industrialized planet. The party performed a task and were double crossed. Now, out maneuvered and outgunned, it looked like the end for our anti-heroes.

Suddenly, one player, my friend Pete, had an idea. Pete was the default team leader and called the group's spaceship on his communicator. He told the pilot to power up the ship and get ready to pick up the rest of the gang. "We're leaving", Pete says. I nod, "You're leaving the planet? Without the money and with these guys labelling you as wanted men?" Pete nods and defiantly says, "Yes! We're obviously not going to get our money and we just won't come back to this system." Now I had no idea Pete would do this...and I couldn't have been happier.

With some quick thinking, wild tactics and teamwork, the players manage to avoid being shot and escape aboard their tricked out freighter. They congratulate each other, high-fiving and laughing about how they essentially 'beat' the adventure. I sat back and smiled. Finally one of them looks at me and says, "So what do we do now?" I looked at him with an inquisitive expression and calmly said, "I don't know. What do you want to do?"

Stunned silence. They left the adventure before it was finished and had no idea what to do next. They began arguing over whose fault it was, what they were supposed to do for money and how they were going to reach another world on the fuel they had. After a bit I stepped in and told them they had enough fuel to reach one of three star systems. One of these system had a gas giant and they could refuel there and then travel further giving them two more destination options.

As they asked questions about the various systems and their worlds and discussed their best course of action, one player said to me, "Hey Adam, what happens if we go here", pointing to a world on the hex grid star map.

"Then you go there and something might happen."

"Well...what if we go here instead", he said in a challenging tone, pointing at a different world.

"Then you go there and something different will happen."

He then looked at the map and then back at me and said, "Wow."

Yes. Wow.

Barking Alien

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Hole in One

Seems to me that the art of the one-shot rpg adventure is something of a lost talent these days.

The one-shot is generally something you do when you want to game or think you should but don't want to or can't run your usual game. Other times its played when no regular campaign is scheduled and a GM wants to experiment and try something new or unusual.

Now I'll agree that these are the perfect times for one-shots but I see it as a positive rather than a negative.

Many of the players and even GMs that I currently game with look upon the one-shot or 'pick up game' as the unwanted, red-headed stepchild of RPG gaming. If a one-shot is suggested it is gazed at with scorn and must be a game or genre people are just dying to play in order to convince anyone to show up.

Part of the reason for this, at least among my friends, is that many of the players have to travel a good distance via public transportation to get to the game. In addition to time, this is money spent for a game that in their minds "won't matter". Its not part of an ongoing story and features PCs they'll never use again, so why bother. Add in the cost of food and other expenses and its simply a very tough sell.

Personally, I love one-shots (there I go again being all different from my brethren and such). I think they're fun and a great way to try new games without the commitment that goes into a new campaign. Not that I'm afraid of commitment. I'm just very flexible. Wow, this is surely going the wrong way...where was I?

Ah yes, one-shots...I also find that some of my best campaigns started as one-shots. Sometimes you try a new game or an idea you've had for years and you say, "Thanks gang for letting me try that. I needed to get it out of my system.". Then the players ask when you're running it again. That's a Kodak gaming moment that is.

I think another part of the problem is that doing a great one-shot requires a different approach than the first adventure of a new campaign. Instead of a slow build up and clues to what the future may hold, the GM really needs to catch the players' attention from the get-go. The game needs to hit the ground running and really get the adrenaline pumping so the players want more.

By the first hour of a 6-8 hour one shot, the players should already know who their characters are, what they are doing and roughly why. By hour two, the basic plot or premise of the adventure is evident and the goal(s) spelled out. By the fourth hour, the PCs should already be knee deep in dookey as they try to unravel the central mystery and a massive, flailing, death beast is bearing down on them.

Its a one-shot. You don't have time to describe in Iliad level detail the lineage of the houses of the noble wizards going back six generations or how the robot battle wagons convert asteroids into fuel. Right at this moment, who gives a damn? If the setting in this one-shot is never played again, no one will remember that stuff. If it is played again you can detail it later when you know you have the time. Seriously, if its long, drawn out and loaded with this kind of info, who is going to want to revisit this game?

Well, I've made this post a bit longer then I intended but I just felt the one-shot needed some love. So before you GM, put some thought into making a pilot episode or a TV movie and not the first episode of a long series. If you do it right its a lot more likely to be picked up by the network...I mean your players.

Barking Alien

We're Internet Pals

I had the brief but distinct pleasure of meeting fellow gaming blogger Zak S. this weekend during his trip to New York City. He was kind enough to take me up on my offer to stop by and see my group and I gaming the next to last session of our Mutants & Masterminds campaign at the Compleat Strategist.

Zak is a very cool fellow and blog title and specifics aside, he is just a regular gaming joe no different, though perhaps more twistedly creative, then the rest of us. I'm really glad he came down and Zak, you're welcome at my table any time.

When one of my player's asked how we knew each other Zak said, "We're Internet Pals".

Yay! I got a Pal! Pals are the bestest.

Barking Alien

Monday, November 16, 2009

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

So I've finally decided on what I'm going to run next year.Star Wars. The West End Games D6 Role Playing Game.

Now wait...hear me out...

Yes I do feel a bit like I'm selling out but at the same time I realize that this is really the best compromise for my group and I. We both want Sci-Fi/Space Opera. While I originally wanted to go a bit more gonzo (Hunter Planet), I know now that what I had it mind was a bit too wacky for this crowd. Traveller is the other end of the spectrum and as I discussed with a few members of the group recently, not quite fantastic enough.

Star Wars is a nice middle ground. Its also big and familiar but with easily enough room for me to add practically anything I want to it. While I was always more of a Star Trek fan, I love Star Wars too, though the prequels made me forget that for a while. Thank goodness for Cartoon Network's
Clone Wars series ( both of them).

I started playing RPGs in 1977, the same year and only a few months after Star Wars came out. At the impressionable age of 8 that film did indeed rock my world and shaped how I would GM for years to come. While my love of literature has given me a love of character, my interest in science an attention to detail and my exposure to classic comedy a sense of timing, it is Star Wars that gave me a sense of scale and grandeur.

I've probably run the D6 Star Wars game more than any other RPG save Star Trek. I have no doubt that this will be a fun campaign. In addition, I will be handing the reins of the game over to another GM periodically and have discussed with them the possibility of taking over the campaign at some later point.

So for now the art films are on hold while I put out a blockbuster. Hopefully I won't lose my street cred.

Barking Alien

*The illustration above is by my extremely talented friend
Keith Conroy and depicts the PCs, NPCs and ship from one of our old Star Wars campaigns. Check out more of Keith's RPG awesomeness at his website. Sadly the image above was colored in by me but never really finished. I'll have to get back to it sometime soon.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mountains In My Mashed Potatos

I'm freaking out a little here.

All of my experience as a GM, combined with numerous analytical observations and applied logic is telling me that Traveller is the right game to play next year with my new group.

In addition, I love Traveller and haven't played it in a while. I look forward to trying to put another campaign together as awesome as some of my older ones if not better.

So Traveller it is...right?

Hunter Planet, at least my personal take on it, gnaws at the back on my mind. Its creative and bizarre idea eats its way through the logic of running an easier, more sensible game like the ear eels of Ceti Alpha V. My heart is there in that universe, pounding like thunder as I imagine unleashing it upon unsuspecting players.

No...relax...reign it in. They won't get it. Its too weird. It will be seen as too humorous and crazy. Traveller will be taken more seriously. Traveller is an institution, an enduring legacy.

Yes. I will run Traveller. Now I'll just finish my lunch and...

Hmmm...why does this plate of mashed potatos make me want to go to Wyoming?

Barking Alien

Monday, November 9, 2009

Turns Out It Was A Weather Balloon

Yesterday, while working on some ideas for the game I intended to run next year, I had to sit back for a moment and look at what I'd done. As I checked over my notes and the artwork, I thought to myself, "Wow, this is some crazy stuff." Then the thought occurred to me that perhaps, just perhaps, it was too crazy.

One of the things I've come to realize is that a lot of my ideas are considerably left of center. I tend to try running RPG campaign ideas that sound great in my head but in practice, no sane GM in his or her right mind would go anywhere near.

I once ran a time travel game backwards (I started at the end and each subsequent adventure was earlier in the timeline). I ran a Victorian fantasy set in the Land of Oz that was a musical. I ran a game of Skyrealms of Jorune over the course of 7 days real time that focused on 7 days game time in which the PCs searched for the meaning of life.

I've run 30 years of weird.

Once I decide that the bizarre idea in question is as good as it is strange, I put my all into trying to make it work. Luckily in the past I've been privileged to have players in my old groups who put up with my madcap schemes and are willing to try anything once. In return for their loyalty and intrepid spirit I do my damnedest to make the campaign as awesome as possible.

The idea I had for next years game was just such an idea. Unfortunately, I'm wouldn't be playing it with my old groups but with my new one.

My new group is a bit more traditional and has a lot more distinct likes and dislikes. They also play the rules of a game a bit more then the characters and the plot. This doesn't work so well with my wackier ideas as they tend to be rules lite and character and plot heavy.

Now in their defense, they know what they like and they are very serious players when they get involved in the game. They game in a very tactical, action oriented style of play and when presented with difficult challenges of a strategic nature, the group tends be very effective at kicking butt and taking names.

So what does all this mean? Simple...

The original idea for my 2010 campaign at the Compleat Strategist was going to be Hunter Planet. I am still going to work on the concept in my spare time as I feel my take on it would be very fun. For now however, I am not going to run it with the Strat group. Instead I'm going with a tried and true Sci-Fi RPG classic. Traveller.

Now Entering Jump Space...

Barking Alien

Thursday, November 5, 2009


As with many of the aspects of this hobby that pertain to my specific experience, I consider my group(s) atypical. It was a recent post on one of my new favorite gameblogs that got me thinking about how unusual my group make ups may seem to most other GMs and players.

While possessing nowhere near as unique a niche as described in the linked post above, I have found my RPG campaigns to skew the demographic most of the game industry likely accepts as normal.

My regular New York City group that meets at the Compleat Strategist is the closest group I've ever had to typical. Running a different game every Saturday the group consists of 5-12 male players, ranging in age from 23 (I believe) to 42. The majority of the group is African American (more then 50%), with the remainder a mix of Hispanic and Caucasian of various backgrounds (German, Italian, Irish, etc.). We did have a few female players at one time or another but I rarely see them these days (and our good friend Jackie moved away. We miss you Jackie!).

My second group, which plays once or twice a month, often on Sundays, consists of only three players so far. One is a Hispanic male, age 40, one is an African American male age 33-35 (I think, I forget exactly) and an African American female, age 22.

My third group, also meeting once a month on a Sunday or odd Saturday, consists of members from the previous groups and results in all being male, all being African American and all in their 30s.

Last but not least, once a month (albeit somewhat erratically) I get to play with members of my old group which consists of some of the people I've been playing with the longest. That group has dwindled over time due to distance and personal developments (marriage, kids, etc.) to four people. One is an African American male, in his mid-to-late 30s, one is an African American female in her early 40s, another is a Caucasian female in her early 40s and the last is a Caucasian male in his early 40s.

Sadly I find myself missing one of my all time best players, my ex-wife. Female, mid 30s, Chinese American. Luckily we are still friends and do talk gaming from time to time.

Finally there's me. I am 40 now (sigh), male and a Caucasian of Russian descent.

At the risk of sounding somewhat contrary to what I hope to mean, its been great having women at the table. The voice of a female player added to the mix is the same as any other player and yet its not. Its unique. Its special. So is that of a young Burmese male. So is that of an older RPG veteran at Gen Con. Each and every presence at my game is like no other presence and therefore awesome to behold.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Must've Been Wearing a Tin Foil Hat

There are a few important references I forgot to add, so here I go taking a shot at trying to fix this incredible faux pas...

Destroy All Humans!, Halo, Homeworld, Mass Effect and SPORE

There are actually hundreds of other inspirations behind this upcoming campaign but I wanted to address those that are currently at the forefront of my thoughts as I sit down to work on it. Like the 'Robots as PCs' concept that went into the development of Extended Mission, this is another idea I've had on the back burner for a good 20+ years or so.


Barking Alien

Signals from Space

In preparation for my upcoming 'brand spanking new' RPG campaign (to begin in January of 2010 if all goes according to plan), I have begun to look at several different sources for ideas and inspiriation. Having had a ton of fun listing my muses for my Extended Mission campaign, I thought I'd point out what influenced my next game. As an additional bit of fun and to avoid my players reading my blog and learning too much too soon, I will not yet reveal what I'm running.

That's right folks, I'm announcing the inspirations for the game but not yet the game itself. Ain't I a stinker?

So here goes...

3rd Rock from the Sun, ALF (and ALF the Animated Series), Alien Race, Aliens in the Family, Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, Ben 10 (the original series more then Alien Force), Chariots of the Gods, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Communion, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Exodyssey, Farscape, Finding Nemo, Futurama, Galaxy Quest, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (and its sequels), King of the Hill, Men in Black (including all related media), Planet 51, Project Blue Book (and Project UFO) Red Dwarf, Star Wars (and all related media - do I really need to link this?), Teenagers from Outer Space (the RPG), UFO Hunters, War of the Worlds (the original book but more so the radio drama), Weird U.S. and The X-Files.

I wish I could be someone other then myself for a moment so I could look at this list without knowing what I know about the resulting campaign.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Creature Features

Two recent posts on the ol' gaming blogosphere discussing the subject of monsters, from two very different angles, got me thinking about the subject myself.

As with any post involving D&D and other medieval fantasy RPGs, I must first note that I don't normally play those particular games. I've always been more of a sci-fi gamer and the design and use of extrasolar life forms is often very different from the typical fantasy monster (though it doesn't have to be. It just seems that way to me and perhaps that will be the subject of another post).

My issues with D&D monsters have always been two fold.

First, its way too easy and common for players to learn all about the monsters you, the GM, are using since they're reading the same monster book you are.

Second, like magic, gods and many other elements of D&D, there is very little feeling of the fantastic and magical in their portrayal or descriptions as presented. Once you have quantified 'number appearing' and 'chance in lair' data, the creature is best suited for an appearance on Animal Planet and not the mysterious and adventure filled reaches of your imagination.

Based on the above, I would say that, IMHO, customized and/or original monsters, at least once in a while, are not only recommended, they're necessary.

Alexis of The Tao of D&D says "Using the same old monsters all these years doesn’t seem to bore the parties I run. Yes, they’re goblins, and yes the party knows all there is to know about goblins – their weapons, their armor, the ease with which they are killed."

That's awesome but its not the experience I've had. After 32 years of gaming, its highly unlikely I would get three words into the description of a standard D&D monster before my players either yawned or said, "Oh that's an X. Must've killed over 5000 of those. I've pretty much memorized their stats...". Standard goblins not only bore my players, they got bored of them 15-20 years ago. My own goblins draw on the folklore of various nations and are different from region to region as a result. A knowledge of world mythology will likely help you defeat them much more then information in any rulebook.

Then of course there is my natural desire to create new things. I just love creating new magic items, strange cultures, fantastic locations and new spells so why would monsters be any different.

Sometimes it is merely a new coat of paint on an old beast but it adds flavor and atmosphere to the world I've created. Case in point, the Kargas is a creature of the folklore of the Turks and Northern India that is sometimes described as a great bird similar to a Roc (or Rokh, Rukh) but more often compared to the Griffin. Since the region of my world the PCs were in was similar to medieval Turkey and border a land like Ancient Persia, I decided to use the Kargas as a replacement for the Hippogriff, Pegasus or other flying steed in part of the adventure that required such creatures. Not far from the region where the Kargas were encountered, the PCs overhead tales of Peryton and so they perceived the Kargas as both a fantastic and yet logical creature for the area.

Anyway, the point is that monsters are simply another kind of obstacle to deal with or character to interact with. I highly encourage GMs everywhere to put as much energy and creativity into monster design as you would any other element of your game. If you're going to go out of your way to create your own Megadungeon, you better well fill it with a few of your own monsters. Make it memorable not just because its but because its big and unique.

Barking Alien

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Here Now The News

Short update primarily geared toward the announcement of a bigger update to come. Ah, the joys of shameless self-promotion.

We just played another session of our Extended Mission game and it was bizarrely existential. I may go into some detail on it in a later post but it went from a tense space combat scenario to questioning the nautre of reality and the laws of astrophysics in the blink of an eye. One of the weirder though more intriguing games I've run in a while.

Next week is the next (second) session of our D&D-For-Those-Who-Don't-Like-D&D campaign. It seems we may be adding several new players for a total of 7. Well alright!

At the end of the month, appropriate for the Halloween weekend, I am heading to the lovely (cough, weeze) state of New Jersey for the long overdue third session of Ghostbusters. I love this plan. I'm glad to be a part of it.

That leaves...well no time for me to breathe with all the work and personal life things I'm also doing but since I don't sleep like normal humans I'm not going to let that stop me. No siree Bob! I am going to be announcing my game for next year and its gonna be a doozy if I do say so my self.

So, be on the look out for an upcoming post or series of posts detailing the details of all these games and more. Same Barking Time, Same Barking Channel!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Always Thinking

It has come to my attention that I may well be quite mad.

Now I don't mean mad hatter mad,

though that wouldn't be bad as mad goes.
And certainly I'm not mad as in angry,

as I try to stay calm goodness knows.
I'm mad as in foolish, for though not overly rulish,

I just don't go with the flow.
I'm creatively touched, think overly much,

my mind in constant flux and it shows.

This odd poem (if you would be kind enough to call it such) came to me after I read and commented on Jeff Rients' lastest game blog post.

My problem is that everything is always on the tip of my brain. Everything. Coming to a decision on what to run is quite the process for me as every few minutes a new and more exciting game idea pops into my noggin that has little or nothing to do with the one that popped in there just moments ago.

But...I think I'm coming close to a reckoning, an epiphany if you will...a new game for the new year. And its gonna be wild...

Stay Tuned.

Barking Alien

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Here and Now, Soon and Forward

After today's game session, there will only be two more games of My year long Mutants & Masterminds campaign before I end it to pursue another game idea. While its been a ton of fun and I've learned a lot about my new group, I'll also be glad to finish it and do something a bit different.

When I first started GMing for my current group, I really only knew one or two of the members prior to playing in a few of their sessions. After I began GMing for them, I immediately noticed that they played in and enjoyed a somewhat different style of game then I was used to. As I may have mentioned before, either on my blog or elsewhere on the net, my origins and experience in the early days of RPGs is very different from most gamers my age. We never really suffered through the difficulties and pitfalls most GMs and groups regularly experience. Between 1977 and 1985-86 none of my games had munchkins, power gamers, rules lawyers or anything of the sort. Since there was a story and heroics in my very first game, I never ran or was in a game of a purely hack-n-slash nature. The GM and the players developed a bit of background and then generated much of the world's history and lore, as well as the characters' background together. There was little to no PvP as everyone tried as hard as they could to work together, protect each other and accomplish their goals.

My current group I said...a different matter. While many gel perfectly with my style, some do not. A few seem more interested in playing their stats and powers than their characters. Some develop pages and pages of background but do want me to touch (i.e. include, effect, add to) it during the game. Others hardly seem to be playing at all, prefering to sit back and enjoy the show. The possibility of player character combat comes up fairly regularly, even though it is largely illogical in the situations presented. Power gamers are definitely present.

Now those are the negatives and certainly the positives outweigh them. It is a diverse, funny, exciting group of really good guys who show up regularly (if not always on time) and take their playing fairly seriously. It is a big group (7-9 on average, 11 at full capacity) and I've missed having a big group. Those that get my style of GMing not only make the game well worth the effort for me but they help me ride out the difficult moments of the game by moving the game along. Overall, its been a blast.

So, what does this mean for the future. I'm not entirely sure. I really want to continue running something at the Compleat Strategist but for the life of me I can't think of what. More accurately I can think of a thousand things but none seem perfect for this particular gang and this specific venue. Since my other more alternative games are going so well, I'm less desperate to try something avant garde and crazy but I sometimes feel like I can't do something too wacky at the Strat and that's a bit of a bummer. I am not especially good at getting excited over the same old thing. Some of my players have suggested Traveller (Classic) or Star Wars (D6). Great games both but I can't shake my feelings of 'been there, done that, got the t-shirt, wore it often, rinse, repeat'.

This post ended up being a bit of a rant I know but I figured it would help me sort the matter out. Not certain it helped.

Oh well, off to the game...

Barking Alien

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Power Sources

OK, so I can't seem to stop talking about how cool my new Extended Mission campaign is. Sorry, I'm just really excited. After 25+ years of wanting to run an all robot game its finally come together and it rocks.

I wanted to do one last post on the subject before talking about something else. I've put together a collection of a few of the inspirations and sources that have influenced this campaign and I wanted to share it was everyone. If you find it difficult to see how some of these sources relate to each other or the game idea...awesome. That is how a good Barking Alien campaign works. Place twenty vaguely related concepts into a blender and press purée.

I, Robot, Inside The Robot Kingdom, The Robot Book*, The Velvet Glove.

2001: A Space Odyssey, AI: Artificial Intelligence, Bicentennial Man, Ghost in the Shell, Hinokio, Iron Giant, R.U.R. , Star Wars (All), WALL*E.

Eclipse Phase, Metamorphosis Alpha, The Morrow Project, Transhuman Space, Traveller.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and SAC: Second Gig, Serial Experiment Lain, Space: 1999, Star Wars: Droids.

Science Programs:
Aftermath: Population Zero, Alien Planet, The Future is Wild, If We Had No Moon, Life After People, Planet Earth

Science Articles, Information and Projects:
Artificial Intelligence, Robonaut, Robots (General Categories, Types and Related Information)

*My father purchased this book for me in 1980 from a used book shop in Upstate New York. It loved it literally to pieces and I have no idea at what point I lost it but I am seriously tempted to purchase time bad boy off ebay.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

Another thing that has me super excited over my Expanded Extended Mission campaign is that it finally allows me to fulfill a long time gaming goal, create a Robot Role Playing Game Campaign.

Even before discovering RPGs I was fascinated by robots in cartoons, movies, television show and books. In one of those peculiar twists of fate the year 1977 would not only cause my interest in robots to explode but I would also get my first take of gaming. The droids of Star Wars were amazing and I played my first game of D&D (Red Box I believe) a few months later. Now much to my dismay at the time we didn't know of any other RPGs as I'm sure I never would have played D&D if I knew science fiction games existed.

Fast forward to the future world of 1985, where with years of playing Star Trek, Traveller and other sci-fi games under my grav-belt I discovered an article in Dragon Magazine announcing a new game called Proton Fire. According to the article the game focused on players playing custom designed robots destined for exploration and adventure in a far off star system (or systems. The promos talked about the Matri system but also seemed to imply exploration of space beyond the system).

Alas, the Proton Fire game came to naught. Never released, at least in its entirety, the game became little more then vaporware remembered only by those who, like me, who were clamouring for its premise.

The game is believed to have survived, in whole and in parts, by being reprinted as articles in White Wolf magazine as a game called Nuts & Volts and as a supplement for Gamma World called Epsilon Cyborgs.

While Mekton served me well for my mecha anime needs (and always will I'd wager), I never found the game or the idea that let me really go crazy with the "Sentient Machine as PC" space adventure game I was longing for.

Happily, Extended Mission is that game. A very simplified version of the robot construction rules from Nuts & Volts is used to make the PC robots. Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto.

Barking Alien