Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I feel a little false with this Halloween post as I am in an odd mood today and not feeling very 'happy' per se. It started out fine but as night fell I felt most unHalloweenish. There are no children trick or treating in my building, there is no costume to be worn and to be honest, I am not a horror fan so the slasher flicks on cable do nothing for me.

I do love Halloween but I'm just not feeling it this year. The Great Pumpkin will surely avoid my pumpkin patch this time around.

Maybe next year.

I do hope everyone else enjoys it though. So, Happy Halloween everyone!

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Fine Ship, This Fine Crew

OK, back to Galaxy Quest faithful Questarians (like you, I despise being called a 'Questie'. Ugh.)!

This is the starship from our Galaxy Quest game, originally designed by the incomparable Chris Reyes (aka Atolm), a personal friend and a friggin' genius when it comes to creating spacecraft that both fit in and expand upon a known universe's repertoire of vessels. May the next publisher of a Star Trek RPG take have no excuse for bad starship designs!

Our ship is the NTR-6240, NSEA Galient. NTR stands for "Not The Reliant", just the way the Protector in the movie was designated NTE-3120 for "Not the Enterprise". Also, since the Protector went with a reverse design theory to that of the Constitution Class (long, cylindrical primary hull and curved engineering section), I went with an Atolm design that seemed reverse of the Miranda Class. You'll note the engines are on top while the weapon array/rollbar is swung underneath. Neat huh? The number following NTR is simply double that of the Protector's number. No biggie.

Our crew consisted of four player characters: Rebecca as The Commander, Allen as the Science Officer and Token Alien, Lynn as the Pilot, Selina as The Doctor and finally Ken as Security. The PCs were rounded out by their freeloading mean...esteemed diplomatic guest, Barkley the spider-dog-alien-thing.

Becca's Commander was a straight forward, by-the-book, no nonsense type of space fleet officer. Completely inappropriate for the game. Just teasing. At the same time her style and personality meant she rarely benefited from the Overdramatis Persona. Also, she was often the "straight man", or woman in this case, for many of the humorous antics performed by the rest of the crew.

Allen's Token Alien was a basically humanoid, insect creature named Lt. He Who Glistens In The Autumn Twilight Under The Third and Seventh Moons. His performance was as inspired as his name and both confused the heck out of the rest of the crew. By the end of the first session nearly everyone had taken to calling him Moon Bug and trying not to learn too many personal details about his species.

Lynn's Pilot had the nickname "Speed" and was all about it in every way. Fast living, fast talking and fast moving.

Selina's Doctor was Chinese and we redesigned her Galaxy Quest uniform so it more accurately resembled Chun Li's original outfit from the early Street Fighter video games. She was an Old Country Doctor, firmly convinced that acupuncture, herbal tea and other Ming Dynasty era Chinese remedies could cure all your ills up to and including having your limb incinerated by a plasma discharge.

Last but not least...well not technically anyway...Ken's Security Officer was a hapless fellow well aware of his lot in life. Trust me when I say no one was more surprised than he was when he survived the first adventure. Before long he was Crewman 1st Class Van Pelt. Chalk one up for the extras!

The first adventure and its follow ups dealt with the Galient and her crew investigating a NSEA research outpost that had failed to send its usual report. The PCs arrive at the planet, a dry and desolate waste to discover that it isn't supposed to be. While no garden spot, records indicate that the planet is supposed to have a lot of water and is now almost bone dry.

While on the planet's surface the crew encountered a species of mangy, canine/arachnid creatures who initially appear to attack. After getting into and than sorting out a first contact mishap, the PCs discover that a race of aliens came and stole the water, syphoning it into their massive tanker starships.

The players give chase (with spider dog 'Ambassador' Barkley in tow) and eventually get into a heated battle with a species of fish people who are taking the water from other worlds to replenish their own tainted hydrosphere back home. The PCs decide to negotiate peace with the aliens, only to turn around at the last second and kick their sorry, soggy, piscean butts saying, "Just because you're going to return the water in exchange for our help doesn't mean we forget you stole it. Don't. Do. It. Again. GOT IT?"

The fishy alien went home with their fishy tails between their fishy legs.

So there you have it. Until now, much like the film that inspired it, this game has not had a true sequel, although I have threatened to run one many times. Recently, the subject of Becca's birthday came up and I was asked to run a game to celebrate. Since it's her special day I told her I would run anything she wanted. I received a reply by email in under 30 seconds.

Galaxy Quest.

The Journey Continues...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Backing Up The Bandwagon

I noticed that most of the other bloggers who partook in this particular excercise included video games and board games as well as RPGs. When I approached this list of 15 games that jump immediately into mind without thinking about it too much, none of them fit into those categories.

I'm a tried and true RPG fan and while I've played and enjoyed other types of games, they have less of an impact or influence on what I do now than one would think. If I did consider it a bit more I could add the following games as influences off the top of my head...

World of Warcraft
Phantasy Star (series)
Final Fantasy (series)
Missile Command (old Atari)
Defender (Arcade)
Virtual-On (Sega Arcade and Console)

The thing is, I don't really play any board games anymore and I rarely play computer games. Both just take time away from things I'd rather be doing live playing RPGs, working on RPGs, reading books, reading comics, watching Anime or drawing. We pick and choose our entertainment based on how much enjoyment it brings us and thus how much impact it has on us. And isn't that the point of the excerise?

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bandwagon Joined

So the mighty menagerie of RPG bloggers has latched on to a new meme entitled "15 Games in 15 Minutes". The concept is simple: List 15 games that influence you and always stick with you in 15 minutes. Easier said than done. I can't think of only fifteen of anything. If you asked for my first hundred I'd have an easier time.

That said this should be fun. Here goes in no particular order...

1. Star Wars D6
2. Teenagers from Outer Space
3. Star Trek, FASA
4. Star Trek, LUG
5. Mekton
6. Fairy Tale Deluxe
7. InSpectres
8. Traveller
9. Mutants & Masterminds
10. Ars Magica
11. Toon
12. Paranoia
13. Champions
14. Land of Og
15. Changeling: The Dreaming

Others that popped into my head while writing this list (which took just under 5 minutes) include DC Heroes by Mayfair, World of Darkness by White Wolf, Monsters and Other Childish Things, Shadowrun, Ghostbusters by WEG, Space Opera, Villains & Vigilantes, Wares Blade, Yuuyake Koyake, MAID RPG, Metal Head, Risus, Star Frontiers, Gamma World and...oh yeah, 'D' and Something.

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 17, 2010

By Grabthar's Hammer, We Live to Tell The Tale

Continuing with the details of my homebrewed Galaxy Quest RPG, the next thing on the discussion block is the player characters' Species or Template (haven't really decided what to call them and I flip flop between the two names on a regular basis).

Humans are the stars and begin the game with a Star Power of 1...Wait. Maybe I should talk about Star Power before Species.

So each PC starts the game with a Hero Point/Drama Point thingie similar to the old Force Point in West End Games' Star Wars RPG called Star Power. PCs can spend Star Power Points to double the final result of their next roll (hit, skill roll, even damage). The problem is, as anyone who has played Teenagers from Outer Space can tell you, sometimes getting too high a result can backfire on you big time. Heheh...

All the 'Jobs' start the game with a Star Power of 2 except the Commander who gets 3 and the Security Officer who gets 0. That's right, zero. Remember he's not a star, he's an extra.

Now, if the character is Human he or she at least starts with a Star Power of 1. So a Human Commander begins with a 4 in Star Power. Star Power may be awarded much like Hero Points in other games, for exemplary role playing, innovative thinking, etc. Experience Points (called Fan Mail) can also be used to purchase Star Power.

Now more on Templates...Species...Blast! Anyway, the Human Template begins with a plus 1 to any one Attribute and three skills at 3 points each for free: Culture, Trivia and an Athletic/Gaming/Sport skill. Each of these must be defined and they add to that quirkiness that all seemingly plain, vanilla Humans seem to have on their off duty hours. So for example, Old America, Antiques and Horseback Riding or 3-D chess would be right up the alley of the commanding officer from that other show that is so obviously a copy of Galaxy Quest. Please, don't get me started.

The Background Alien is an alien from a well established ally world or one that is seen in the background often. These can not be the 'only-one-of-my-kind' types or 'we've-never-encountered-your-species-before' deals. We know these guys. They're well established. Background Aliens choose three species related Alien Abilities, each at a rank of 3. In my game an NPC named Lt. Lilith appeared who was of the same species as Dr. Lazarus from the 'original' Galaxy Quest series (the Mak'Tars of Tev'Mek). She has The Mak'Tar Stealth Haze, knows the Mak'Tar Chant of Strength and the Healing Hands of Ipthar. These are all at rank 3. She can not gain new Alien Abilities and can not really loose these. She can of course improve these like any other skill.

The Prodigy is an unusual individual with ability and potential beyond the norm. Maybe she's an Android or a pre-academy age genius. The Prodigy gains a plus 3 to any one Attribute and a free plus 3 to any one skill. Unfortunately, many people are uncomfortable around the Prodigy and she may encounter prejudice. Maybe they don't feel a mechanoid is an effective officer or that she is too young to pilot a starship. Maybe they found out about the genetic engineering that gave her her advantages. Whatever the case, the Prodigy is the person you know you need but don't always want.

Last is my personal favorite, the Token Alien. Usually the Token Alien is from a species rarely seen, thought extinct, newly encountered or perhaps they just don't often join the NSEA Fleet. The Token Alien can, once per session, come up with an Alien Ability reasonable for its species. The ability is at a rating of 3. Next session it is gone and you can come up with a new one. However, if you want to use the Alien Ability from a previous session again, you must roll to see if the writers of the show remember that you had that power. You must roll a D10 and add the most closely related Attribute. If you beat a 15 you can use the ability. Write its name down with a 1 next to it. The next time you want to use that ability you do the same thing but this time you can add the one and so on. If you use the same power in 5 sessions, roll as before and try to beat a 20. If you do you get that ability permenantly.

My friend Allen's humanoid insect character has the ability to Communicate with Insects permenantly but has also evidenced limited Flight and the ability to Stick to Walls. Bare in mind that you can come up with a new ability in a session and than later in the same sessio try to use an ability you've used before. You simply can't come up with more than one brand new ability per session. I wanted to describe more about the adventure we ran and some other notes but that's all the time I have tonight.

Tell me what you think and I'll try to update you with more soon.

Barking Alien


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's A Hell of A Thing

I can hardly believe that upon looking at the section of my blog page that notes which subjects have been mentioned and how many times each is identified, Galaxy Quest comes up only twice before this post. That is practically inconceivable.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film
Galaxy Quest...what the heck is wrong with you? Do you not like to laugh? Are you afraid of humor, cool special effects and space adventure television parody? Are you mad?!?


I love this movie. I think I've seen it more times than any other film with the exception of the original Muppet Movie (topping my list at 35 times...don't ask, big Muppets fan). As any good GM worth their salt will tell you, if you love something enough, you game it. The Muppets RPG is in the works I assure you.

Some years back (2003) I was going to my old gaming group's regular get together when something occurred the caused us to be unable to run our regularly scheduled campaign (I forget what). Jazzed to run something, anything (sometimes you just get in that mood) I created a
Galaxy Quest game right there on the spot. The system was loosely based on Teenagers from Outer Space, though I made a number of changes and added special abilities for 'Job' on the ship.

The Commander has Overdramatis Personae. He or she gets a progressively larger bonus for any action/roll which is overly dramatic or hammed up. The more overacted the higher the bonus essentially.

The Operations Officer has Cyberlingual Interface. They can talk to the computer. Anyone can use computer skill to get info from the computer but only the Operations officer and speak with it directly. This PC must repeat pertinent information the computer has said out loud. Information obtained in this way is often better than that obtained by normal computer skill use.

The Pilot or Helm Officer has The Moves. If an appropriate catchphrase is uttered out loud, the Pilot gains a bonus to any one maneuver or pilot related action including increasing speed and attacking ("Pedal to the Metal Commander!"). Each catchphrase can only be said once per adventure.

The Engineer chooses to be Old School or New School. Old School Engineers can develop new weapons, alter the ships abilities, etc. by explaining a complex action in the simplest terms possible. It should relate to something that is a common, everyday action or idea. The ability is called Plain English for now. A New School Engineer can do the same thing using Technobabble. One must give a fully detailed and convincing explanation of how they are going to reroute auxiliary power through the plasma manifold in order to create a chain reaction powerful enough to generate a temporary quantum rift.

The Science Officer comes with Know-It-All. In my opinion the scientist or science officer in a science fiction game should be pretty damn important. I mean, the name of the genre is in the guy's job description for pete's sake! So, to this end, Know-It-All is a very powerful ability. Basically, the Science Officer can use this ability to make a leap of judgement about what is happening in the game based on the information they have and try to convince the other players they know what they're talking about. If the rest of the crew believes the Science Officer the GM must include the data as facts in the adventure, even if they are way off base. That's right, with Know-It-All the Science Officer can literally alter the plot of the adventure.

Doctors get something similar to Engineers in that they can cure a disease, heal the wounded or counteract a poison in one of two ways. An Old Country Doctor can do it if he uses some crazy home remedy (Human or Alien), acupuncture and acupressure or even Voodoo magic. Modern Medical Doctors need to use the biology themed equivalent of technobabble and the most advanced medical technology available. Not that the Old Country Doctor has a penalty with those new fangled contraptions and the Modern Medical Doctor doesn't know any home remedies. He was probably raised by a hologram.

Last of the jobs and perhaps my favorite is Security. Security's ability is called Glorified Extra. You start with a bonus to all physical stats and combat skills but only able to take a single hit. Anything stronger than a punch from a Human and you're dead. You also start with the name 'Crewman'. If you fail to survive you roll up a new character named Crewman #2. If you survive, you get to take a second hit and become Crewman Jones (or Smith or Wicsowski or whatever you want). Survive a third adventure and you're Crewman 1st Class Jones. Surviving odd adventures gives you a rank. Suriving even adventures gets you a name. Each adventure survived gives you another hit you can take (all other characters have a fixed number of hits based on a stat that almost never changes).

Yeah, this is just the basics. Playable species include Human, Token Alien, Background Alien and Prodigy. Spaceship combat is largely cinematic with few rules of any kind. Action is fast, skills are both simple but classically science fiction-y (Energy Weapon, Computer, Pilot Starship, etc.).

In my next post I'll go into some more detail about the game, the elements of the previous adventure I ran and my ideas for my upcoming return to this awesome setting.

Never Give Up, Never Surrender,

Barking Alien

Monday, October 4, 2010

Encounter Nominal

I recently had the rare opportunity to run a one shot game for a good friend and his group, the majority of whom I knew but never really gamed with before. I was filling in for their regular GM who was unable to make their scheduled game day. As the group favors action oriented, multi-genre craziness such as superheroes, RIFTS and the like, I thought I would go old school-that-never-was and run a session of the Encounter Critical, my first ever stab as this game. Be prepared...I'm gonna open up a big o'can of Old School Renaissance blasphemy...

Now if you are not familiar with this rpg, please take a moment to
read up on it before continuing on with my little tale of fail as I do not wish to cloud your judgement or opinion. Furthermore I want to go on record by saying that the game's creator, the amazing S. John Ross, is a genius of the highest order (and a darn nice guy).

If you're finished with your travels, please continue...

OK, so it goes without saying that I'm always up for trying something new and different, even if that new and different thing is an old school game styled similarly to the RPGs of yore. I have found memories of Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha and Space Opera, three games that combined together would make a gumbo that would somewhat resemble Encounter Critical. Sorta. Kinda sorta. Wait...I can't quite, with 100% certainty, picture Encounter Critical. That is, I can't see Vanth. Hmm...this could present a problem. I know its kind of got a Masters of the Universe/Thundarr the Barbarian vibe but...I never liked Masters of the Universe.

Oh crap...what am I getting myself into?

The rules have some awesome concepts (every other game with a Ranger or Scout class should look at EC's Pioneer class and tremble. D&D should just flat out beg forgiveness for calling their Ranger a Ranger). I like how each class can't raise a level until they achieve something significant to the class (Pioneer's must discover a new locale, Warlock's must transcribe a new spell into their grimoires, etc.). Largely though, for a one shot, only some of that matters. To the players it was just an old school D&D Basic era game with percentage skills. Unfortunately, it didn't wow anyone with innovation mechanically (I know, its not exactly meant on).

So I had a world I couldn't get a lock on, rules that didn't really jazz us and I went in the completely wrong direction and played down the wonkiness in favor of trying to make the game 'make sense', at least to me. While the players had fun and laughs were shared by all, I was left feeling that horrible despair of a rare miss. I ran a game that was only...ok. What went wrong?

I spoke with the group afterward and they took a look at some of the materials (print outs of the PDF). All agreed that this was the wrong game for this group and this GM (me). What many see as a wild and wonky super-science meets magic world, these guys saw as hokey. Its strange but they had trouble taking the world of Vanth as something that could actually be. It was too weird and humorous for their "suspension of disbelief" but not humorous enough to be an actually comedy rpg. The group's average age didn't help either. These guys were in their 20's and 30's. They never played the old school games very much and grew up on modern comics, Manga/Anime and video games. Gamers my age may look upon EC with nostalgia and humor but these guys missed the in joke or simply didn't find it funny.

A major mistake I made was that I tried to create an understandable frame of reference so I opened with the group crashing their Traveller-esque Scout Ship on Vanth. After a while they felt like, "Dang. How soon can we fix the ship and get off this crazy planet and back to the Traveller universe?"

In the end, I like reading through Encounter Critical but I don't think I'll be running it again anytime soon. Some of the ideas in it are awesome but its just not my cup of joe. I'm going back to projects my players can take more Galaxy Quest.

Barking Alien