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