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

Monday, October 5, 2009

Extended Mission...Expanded

Among the aforementioned RPG campaigns I am currently running is a game called Extended Mission. One of the free role playing games designed for the 24 Hour RPG project that I discovered at 1KM1KT, Extended Mission is the brainchild of talented mad genius Jim Clunie. I hope Mr. Clunie can forgive me for what I did to his game.

The original premise of Extended Mission is that you essentially play space probes that have been sent to a previously ruined Earth from a colonized Mars in the 25th century to find out if the homeworld is habitable again. An awesome idea and a great alternative concept for sci-fi gaming. Unfortunately I also felt it was a hard sell to most of my players and not an easy game to run long term.

Now its extremely rare that I come across a concept that I like and don't have the uncontrollable urge to mess with it royally. As a matter of fact, the more I like it at its very core, the more I want to expand it and screw around with it. While trying to think of how to do that with Extended Mission I found myself watching several show on the National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel such as Life After People and Aftermath: Population Zero. Inspired but a bit depressed by these programs I decided to switch gears and put on my DVD copy of WALL*E. And then it hit me...

The players are all various types of artificially intelligent droid-like robots on a robot piloted exploration ship. The PCs and their craft have a tech level and look that's akin to science-ficition of the 1970's. I used a variant of Extended Missions rules but customized the probe/robot building system to allow more options and still keep it very, very rules-lite.

Activated after an unknown amount of time being offline, a glitching message tells them to alter course and investigate a planet which appears to be emitting an intelligent radio signal. After encounters with the nearly dead planet's strange lifeforms, hostile terrain and dangerous weather, the PCs encounter other robots considerably more advanced then themselves. After a battle and a quick escape to repair and regroup they are able to decode the original message and the radio signal. The alien planet is none other then the Earth thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of years in the future.

In the two adventures we've played we've learned only that the Earth, several moon bases and a few other areas of the Solar System were devastated in a civil war many millenia ago. Mars appears to have faired better but we haven't gone there because the hostile enemy robots are using it as a base.

So far its one of the best campaigns I've run in a long time. Having only two players and myself at the start, we've added one new player (a lovely young lady and first time gamer named Ashley) who picked up the rules and the story right away (probably helped that she is a big anime/manga and console/computer gaming fan).

So I want to apologize to Jim Clunie for twisting his creation beyond all recognition and thank him profusely for inspiring one of my coolest games ever. To you Jim!

Barking Alien

When In Doubt...Game

At the moment funds are low. I am doing everything I can to work freelance, take classes and volunteer but the truth is that I just can't spend very much on anything that isn't food and bills these days.

Gaming is not only a relatively inexpensive pastime but its also very therapeutic. I haven't felt the need to melt the entire planet with a death ray in months. Well, not the entire planet no...

Anyhoo...I am finishing up my Mutants and Masterminds campaign at New York's Compleat Strategist this December which I am kind of torn about because lately its been very, very cool. Still, I have too many other ideas and those ideas are very different from the comic book super hero type campaign I'm running so I might as well end on a high note and do something else.

I am also running (somewhat irregularly) three other games that are far less structured, far more rules lite and I am having a ton of fun with them. They feel relaxing and rejuvenating in a way the M&M game does not, possibly because the groups for these other games are smaller, more easy going and the games themselves are somewhat less complex.*

First off there's the Ghostbusters game that I've mentioned before and which has unfortunately been on hiatus while one of my players moves and fixes up their new house. Looking forward to seeing it, to seeing them again and to returning to trapping some spooks and spectres. It is October after all!

Second is a D&D-ish game using a D&D-ish system that I started due largely to felt requests from my good pal Dave. As you may have guessed from some of my previous posts I am not the biggest D&D fan but it was pretty awesome I have to say. I'm liking it alot in spite of myself.

The last one, which I'll talk more about in a follow-up post, is a sci-fi, robot, post-apocalypse exploration game that is best described as a dark take on WALL*E. A friend's description, not mine.

With M&M ending in December, the question of what to do next is once again rearing its ever changing head. I'll keep you posted.

Barking Alien