Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dragons I Have Known

Discussing the dragons of 'How to Train Your Dragon' with a friend of mine I realize that I like the way the beasties were depicted. The creatures in the movie definitely have a form of Gygaxian naturalism but one I sort of prefer over D&D's Red, Blue, Green, Gold, Tin, Chartreuse, etc.

Left unchecked, the idea of categorizing and defining magical life can get a bit too MMO sounding for me, but if handled just right, it adds that perfect blend of realistic human nature (our desire to label and therefore believe we comprehend things better), whimsy (creative naming is fun and helps one remember) and awesome (the first time something with a funny name that you think you know kicks yours ass you gain a new found respect for it).

The dragons of my primary D&D universe are a unique case. Aside from varying greatly in size and power, they mostly follow the classic chromatic and metallic patterns of distinguishing them. This is because I've been running this world off and on for 25 years and its definitely built on old school foundations, even if the ground level up no longer really reflects that.

The following dragons hail from other places and times, perhaps even here, now, just to the left of the shadow at the corner of your eye. Others are long gone, never to be heard from again, though the woods will tell you to keep listening for them just the same.

The Bric-a-Brac Filthwyrm

Like all 'Filthwyrms' this medium sized, snake like dragon has long, thin limbs, a narrow neck and a slim head. It dwells in garbage piles, sewage holes or other places where large amounts of trash are gathered. The Bric-a-Brac is visually distinguished by it natural camouflage of alternating green, brown and greyish bands of color. The wings of a Bric-a-Brac, as is common for Filthwyrms, are vestigial and always pulled tight against the body. It is nocturnal and prefers to sleep under its trash during daylight hours. Even at night it appears to have a disdain for bright lights.

The beast gets its name from its habit of not simply wallowing in humanity's waste and rubbish but collecting pieces to adorn its nest and its body, further adding to its camouflage and in some case creating an extra layer of armor. Its breath is a flammable, noxious gas that clings to surfaces like a sticky mist (which is how it attaches items to its skin). It will aim this breath at the first person carrying a lighted torch that it perceives, resulting in a dangerous, explosive cloud burst.

The Gable Canyon Hell Kite

Do not let the size of this creature fool you into underestimating its ferocity. Barely larger than a herding dog, the clay-colored Hell Kite of the dry and desolate Gable Canyon is a force to be reckoned with. Its 'wings' are more folds of skin, similar to those of a flying squirrel. Its extremely long tail (about twice the length of the body) has three sets of rudder fins making it phenomenally maneuverable, even at high velocity. Often, you will see its shadow on the ground before it strikes, though the image will appear to be that of a kite gently gliding high above the canyon. Moments later, the dragon will make a dive toward its target with incredible speed, firing off a quick, thin jet of flame before shooting back up into the sky or landing on a high outcropping. The foul beast will repeat this aerial 'hit and run' tactic until its opponent is dead. It will then descend to eat or to tear off pieces to eat in safety and privacy somewhere in the canyon crevices. Mostly solitary, reports of two or three attacking at once are not unheard of if food is scarce.

The Dotted Lurking Luomber Drake

A most curious member of the dragon family lives in the ruins of Luomber Castle, nestled high in north eastern mountains. Rarely seen (largely because few want to visit it), this creature most often makes its presence known by its unusual call, a melodic, although near-deafening, bellow of melancholy tones. It only makes this powerful and moving sound during terrible storms and one the anniversary of Hansel Von Luomber's birth and tragic death. Some believe that Hansel, a sailor and adventurer, found the dragon as an egg and raised it. When a terrible storm at sea claimed the young man's life the dragon began its endless mourning.

Many fools have attempted to pilfer the treasures of the castle since the last Luomber perished but the Drake will have none of that. He (it is often called he though no one knows its gender for certain) will defend the castle with every ounce of his being and is quite the formidable foe. The Drake has six limbs, four legs and two large wings and his forelimbs end in hands resembling a man or ape. Both hands and hind feet have large, curving, razor sharp claws that aid in climbing as well as combat. The Drake is approximately the size of an elephant, with a neck and tail half as long as its body (the tail may be a bit longer). Its scaly hide is a deep blue-black color, with pale blue-grey and grey-lavender spots done its neck, back and on its hind quarters. The smallest of these spots is the size of a thumbprint and the largest the size of a man's palm.

In addition to its fiery breath, which is blue in color and can melt the finest armor to a pool at your feet in but one to two blasts, the Luomber Castle Drake can apparently turn invisible or at least clear as one Monk observed while assisting distant relatives with the families affairs many years ago. The Monk said he felt as if he were being watched and turned to see glowing, pale lavender eyes like those of a cat, looking out at him from the face of dragon "seemingly made of water or glass. I saw the shape of it and I saw through it as well."

The Drake has never attacked clergy or Luomber kin or anyone else who has approached the castle with a lack of ill intent.

Barking Alien

Monday, March 29, 2010

Now That's A Dragon

Finally! Finally someone understands the scope that dragons should encompass in a medieval fantasy world. One can be St. George's opponent, roughly the size of a dog and the next can be the Midgard Serpent.

I went to see How to Train Your Dragon last night and I really liked it. I was most impressed by the way the dragons looked, as they somehow managed to be simultaneously cartoonish, dangerous looking and in some cases majestic.

Also, without spoiling anything, there is at least one dragon in the film that I saw and said quietly to myself, "Now that's a dragon. That's how they look in my world."

Barking Alien

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thank You New Jersey

No one who knows me well would ever believe I would be thanking New Jersey for anything. My general disdain for the foul scented place is well known. However, I always give credit where credit is due and although its more swamp-ridden and mosquito infested than any northern state has the right to be, I've got to give the ol' girl a hand.

Why? Because periodically I get to go there and play with members of my old gaming group who just straight up rock. Saturday we got to play another installment of our really cool Ghostbusters (Ghostbusters/InSpectres) game and it was just so much fun I am still jazzed from the experience.

Not only are these four of the funniest, smartest, and downright feel-good-love-in-est people I've ever known but they also just play really well in the style I like the most. No one cares if their character is the toughest or most powerful. No one backpedals from a bad move by saying, "I never said I was over there actually looking into the room" or similar bullshit.

Instead they create characters, get into the character's personalities, develop character backgrounds as we play and get to know them like in a TV show, Movie, Book, or Comic and then explore the world and its challenges that I've created as GM. I mean, you can't believe how awesome that is and how much I've been missing that lately.

I...I'm not tearing up. There's something in my eye. Back off ya pansies.

Anyway, its my sincerest hope that I not only get to play with this bunch again real soon but hopefully expand to gaming with them more often. I'd love to restart my Galaxy Quest game...Ooh or make a new full-on Faery's Tale Deluxe game...Yes! How about a Mekton game...yeah...

With New Jersey, the possibilities are endless.

I can't believe I just wrote that.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Space Debris

While I am eager to get to discussing my newly renewed obsession with Superhero gaming, I thought I'd unveil the secrets behind my the items in my last post. Five of the items listed were actually used in Sci-Fi games I've run in the past and I'll reveal which ones now...

2. Hovercycle with a single wheel as landing gear. A GravUniCycle.

I had seen a cool drawing in a magazine of something like this, redrew it from memory and than introduced one into a Space Opera game I was co-running. My players loved it and eventually three of the five PCs had one. We later found the original illustration and I was way off but my players liked my take better. Recently I discovered this drawing by artist Matt Pattinson which is very similar.

4. Pistol like weapon of unknown origin that doesn't appear to have a way to load ammunition or connect to a power source. It also has no activation stud or trigger.

Ancients item from a Traveller campaign that drew energy from its surroundings and was activated psionically.

5. A parchment treasure map in an ancient alien language showing the components needed to locate the real treasure which is on Earth. Each component is on a different planet.

Inspired by the film Time Bandits this idea was used in Star Trek, Traveller and a couple of Superhero games.

7. Battle ravaged giant robot that may be repairable. The cockpit, located in the chest, is only able to fit a slim humanoid the size of a child.

This was used in...I don't know, every game of Mekton ever? Just kidding (kind of). I was specifically referring to the time we found such an item in Gamma World. Although I think we also had a similar experience in an old Star Frontiers game.

and lastly...

9. Blue-green, furry, animal skin rug found on the command deck of a derelict space station. Answers to the name of Zvin'Bor.

Jay of EXONAUTS called it. This was originally used in a Star Trek adventure but I've reused it in several others games over the years. Its so much fun describing the room and its 'occupant' and than having the players freak when it moves and talks.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can I play too?

EXONAUTS! fun and fitting Random Space Finds is an excellent source of wacky things a spacefarer might encounter in the otherwise empty void. I thought I'd pitch in and see if I can't add to the mess...er...mix.

1. Meteor fragment with fossilized Tribble. Incredibly ancient.

2. Hovercycle with a single wheel as landing gear. A GravUniCycle.

3. A complete set of data cards containing every episode of the popular alien sitcom "Everyone Xnorts Grophnik."

4. Pistol like weapon of unknown origin that doesn't appear to have a way to load ammunition or connect to a power source. It also has no activation stud or trigger.

5. A parchment treasure map in an ancient alien language showing the components needed to locate the real treasure which is on Earth. Each component is on a different planet.

6. An Earth violin. Normal except the wood is from an exceptional rare tree on a planet many light years from Humanity's homeworld. The native species on the planet is deaf.

7. Battle ravaged giant robot that may be repairable. The cockpit, located in the chest, is only able to fit a slim humanoid the size of a child.

8. Three kegs of locally made Scout Brew. Make a saving throw each time you try to chug or be rendered unconscious for 1D6 days.

9. Blue-green, furry, animal skin rug found on the command deck of a derelict space station. Answers to the name of Zvin'Bor.

10.Dilapidated space cruiser, once painted white, with colorful markings and pictures on the cargo section. Inside the middle-rear section is a massive food dispenser/replicator that is only programmed to produce frozen, lactose based, sugary treats (although it can make hundreds of different kinds). Faint music like that from an old world circus or carnival can be heard playing throughout the vessel.

I've actually used 5 of these in games I've run. Can you guess which ones?

Barking Alien

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Champion of Truth and an Idol of Millions**

My friend Joe messaged me the other day on Facebook and asked if I could get pictures on my cell phone. I told him I could and he told me to get ready and he'd send me something.

Moments later I got a photo of a worn, spiral notebook with a grey cover bearing my fist and last name printed on it in my own handwriting, the title "Villains & Vigilantes" and the year...1984.

Joe Cangelosi and I have been friends since the second grade and much of my early years in the hobby were spent playing over at his house or him at mine. We played D&D, Star Trek (yep, same Joe) and lots of Villains and Vigilantes.

"Do you remember this character...", Joe types to me on Facebook. It was one of his old characters. Yes. Yes I did. Great Scott, after 26 years I did as if I had just run a game with him the day before. Behold what wonders are unearthed when we finally clean up the crap in our closets.

Anyway, ever since he sent me the message and picture I've been thinking about Superhero gaming and why its so hard to pull off effectively these days.

Superheroes is second only to Star Trek on my list of favorite gaming subjects but I fear the genre that I loved to play in is no longer the one I adored in years past. For the last five to ten years, a good number of my Superhero gaming endeavours have gone something like this...

Me: "Hey gang, I'm thinking of running a Superhero campaign."

My Players: "Awesome! We love playing Superheroes."

Me: "Great! Its going to be a classic comic book style game."

My Players: "Got it! No problem! We all love comic books."

Me: "Fantastic. This is going to be sweet! Anyone have any character ideas?"

Player 1: "You bet. I'm a dark, secret agent, killing machine with guns."

Me. "You're...but..."

Player 1: "I don't wear a costume or a mask, just dark suits and shades."

Player 2: "Ooh yeah! No costume for me either. I'm a time traveller who doesn't work well with others."

Me: "Okaaay...um..."

Player 3: "My character is a girl...a schoolgirl...and a vampire...like in Anime..."

Me: "I see...so you guys would rather play a World of Darkness / Shadowrun thing...or..."

My Players: "No way. We want to be Superheroes!"

Granted, comic books nowadays cover a much wider range of styles and subjects than they did when V&V and Champions first came out in the late 70's and early 80's. Even the subject of the Superhero has been reimagined by some of the current greats of the industry to include such titles as Kick-Ass, The Ultimates, the Authority and others. Add to this the distinctly different atmospheres found in DC's Vertigo line and in the numerous Manga titles available in the U.S. and you can certainly see the diversity of the medium.

But I didn't I wanted to run the diversity of the medium. I said Classic Comic Book Superheroes. Most of my players are roughly 24 to 40. Most read Marvel and DC comics or at the very least Image titles like Astro City and Invincible (two of my all time favorites). Why is this hard?

Granted, I'm a bit of a purist. I'm a Silver Age-to-Modern DC fan at heart. Yet I'm not asking that the players be that. All I'm asking is for more then 50% of the team to have colorful names and costumes. At least a few should wear masks and have secret identities. Maybe someone could have an origin involving weird radiation. It would also be cool if you didn't try to kill the villains and actually tried to save an innocent life now and then.*

Now its not all doom and gloom on the Superhero gaming front. Last years Mutants & Masterminds game went over pretty well and by and large had the feel I was going for. I guess I have to come to grips with the idea that I am a Silver Age guy and the Silver Age has passed. Here's to the next age...may its luster outshine this one.

Barking Alien

*I can't tell you the last time I saw a superhero in a comic book save someone. DC used to be really good about that but these days they are just as bad as Marvel. Apparently being a 'Hero' with special abilities is about kicking the living shit out of other people with special abilities.

**The title of this entry comes from the back cover of the 1982 Second Edition Villains & Vigilantes Rulebook (and the back of the box set). Reading the comic book style 'ad' convinced my friend Martin to go halfsies with me to purchase the game when we were 13.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Best RPG Post EVER

Go to Zak S's blog and read his latest post. On the sundae of cool things he has to say, this is the chocolated covered cherry on top.

Do this now.

Barking Alien

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Gone But Not Forgotten

This marks two years since the passing of Gary Gygax.

I highly recommend heading over to Jeff Rients page to see his brilliant tribute once more.

Its also GM's Day, when all us underappreciated GM's...er...get discounts at online game stores? Its kind of like how we celebrate President's Day with White Sales.

I'm really not sure the purpose of GM day. Its not like I get hallmark cards or flowers or anything. Since its falling on a Thursday I won't be gaming. I don't get it.

But thanks...just the same.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

I've enjoyed these two recent posts from Oddysey over at How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less. She discusses several things that I've been curious about and that I share her concerns with, such as gaming using Skype, Wave or some similar situation where I can't see my players faces (personally I don't think I could run that but more on that in a moment) and playing when you're usually the GM.

Personally, I've been a player more over the past year or so than I have in the last fifteen and I must say...I despise it. I'm just not cut out to play one character and not doing what I prefer to be doing, which is basically constructing a universe. I find running a PC a little like being a kid with a small box of crayons when I used to being one of the art directors for a major motion picture studio. Where are all my tools?! Given the chance I'd much rather GM than play on a ratio of a thousand to one.

Now running a game and not being able to see my players or them me, well, frightens me a little. Part of what makes me a good GM (and I am a good GM damn it) is my body language. I talk with my hands, make weird faces, jump around and reference things in the real world area we're playing in. As a matter of fact, during a 6-8 hour game I rarely sit for more than two or three minutes at a time and I only do that three or four times during a game. On Skype or the like, all that is lost.

I'm a very visual person and I can also gage how well the game is going by the look in my players' eyes. If I can't see they're eyes, or any other part of their faces for that matter, I think I'd be at a major disadvantage.

One of the elements that struck home and gave me quite a chuckle was this line, right at the start of the first post...

"On Thursday night Tim Jensen succeeded in his long-running attempt to get me to play some kind of hippy indie game with a session of In A Wicked Age on Wave."

So yeah, I guess I'm a hippie. Feels like with the whole OSR thing I've missed the boat. I'm 41 and I've been gaming since I was 8 years old. That means I started in 1977. One would assume that would place me in the 'old school' but I lost interest in the games that make up this renaissance back in the mid-to-late eighties. I'm all about the new and the different. I'm also all about no-prep pick up games and trying to see if I game I haven't tried might just replace one of my favorites as...well...a new favorite I guess. Faery's Tale Deluxe sort of did that (houseruled a bit of course).

Anyway, great posts Oddysey. Keep on truckin'.

Barking Alien

Geek and Proud

So its 'Read an RPG Book in Public Week' where, as I understand it, you read an RPG book in a public place. Hmmm...

Ok, putting aside the fact that I do this all the time, I live in New York City and very often people try not to look too hard or closely at each other. How can I really spread the word and exalt the benefits of table top gaming?

Here's some ideas...

Discuss an RPG in Public
This I also do all the time, normally on the train ride home from my games or while I'm in a place like a comic book store, anime store or bookstore. Maybe generate some cross genre interest eh? For example, when your in a comic shop, talk about Champions or Mutants & Masterminds.

Where Game Logo T-Shirts to the Game
I usually where a t-shirt to my game sessions appropriate to the genre. For Star Trek I have one or two Trek 'T's, a D&D shirt for Fantasy and an superhero t-shirt to a supers game (luckily I also have all the Mutants & Masterminds shirts - red, green and blue!). Its awesome to see people who normally wouldn't look at you twice try to read a particularly cool gamer 'T'.

Play an RPG in Public
Either at the park, a open or indoor public space or in transit to your designated gaming destination ( on the train or bus for example). Try to focus on the parts of the game that don't involve die rolling if you do happen to play in a moving vehicle. Take my advice, you'll be glad you did.

Lastly...don't just read a game book in public this week, do it all the time. Be friendly and polite, answer questions and try to look presentable, even when wearing a crazy gamer geek t-shirt. Represent out there. Game companies have horrible advertisting and PR departments so they're best public face is us.

Barking Alien