Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year From The Dog At The End of The Universe

Greetings all and Happy New Year!

While tying one on with some friends at the edge of the Nth galactic parallel, I had a moment or two to reflect on 2011 and look toward 2012.

As I look to the New Year I see a number of potential prospects for improving my life, as well as some serious snags that have me wondering why it takes so much effort for me to obtain so little ground. Some would say it's some kind of test. I don't believe so. Instead, I tend to think I never developed the right tools for the job of making it big in the world. A good portion of that is my own fault. I probably should have been paying more attention when the lessons on what tools are needed and how they're used were being taught.

That said, I am not about to turn around and instantly stop being who I am just to get ahead. That's not going to happen. I am going to push myself harder to do the things I need to do that I may not like to do. I am also going to take more risks and try to do things I like to do with, hopefully, a reduced feeling of dread over what happens if I fail. Wish me luck.

With the coming of the New Year there is the threat of total planetary annihilation according to the ancient Mayan calendar. Rather, according to some people's interpretation of said calendar. As with most things of this sort, science doesn't back up the new age mysticism. While we'll just have to see, I am pretty sure you and I will be communicating well into 2013.

To all those reading this who feel I am a bit of a bummer lately, I'm sorry. You're right. I am. I write it out here so I feel it less in the 'real world' and can get on with my day.

I will try to do it less. I really want to talk more about games, comics, movies and such. I'm sure I will.

Thanks for a great year here at Barking Alien. Blog-wise, this was really a banner year. While there was some slow down and periods less entertaining then they could have been, this was also the year that saw me do a Smurfs RPG, the A-to-Z Challenge and my Muppets Madness Month. I'm filing Barking Alien 2012 in the Win box.

Wrapping up, thanks everyone who took the time to read my posts and look at my images.

Thanks you to all the new followers I received this year. I didn't make my goal of 130 by New Year but 128 is nothing to sneeze at.

Thanks Happy Whisk, Lord Blacksteel, Astronut, John and many others for your comments and good wishes.

Thanks Erin Palette for being a great friend even when we don't see eye-to-eye.

RavenFeast, I miss you big guy.

I am sure I am forgetting a bunch of people...Jeff Rients, James Mal, Zak, Jay of Exonauts...I wouldn't have have such great and insightful blog moments without you.

Take care all and I'll see you next year,

Barking Alien

The illustration I have so mercilessly doctored was originally done by none other then Ron Cobb, a personal favorite of mine who worked on such genre film classics as Star Wars, Alien, The Abyss and Total Recall. I both thank Cobb for his inspiration and apologize for my bastardization.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Like A Box of Chocolates

I really hadn't intended on posting anything until after New Year's Day, seeing as how I have a lot of things on my mind that are not directly gaming related. Still, when a gaming thought worth discussing comes up, well, it has to go somewhere right?

Gaming, especially Campaign Design, much like life I am told, is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get.

Sometimes, that isn't what I'm hoping for.

Now usually, it's not a big deal being surprised by your players during the character creation phase of a campaigns development. As a matter of fact, I personally encourage it. "Wow me", I have said on more than one occasion. I love when they create an unusual, atypical group of player characters.

This is especially true in D&D or similar fantasy games. Of course, this is largely because it really won't matter to the adventure what they are playing. OK, I'm oversimplifying there, since in truth it matters quite a bit to me and my games but generally speaking...

If GM A intends to run 'The Beligerant Castle Basement of Unending Terror', does it really matter what the players come up with for characters? Outside of a possible tactical advantage or disadvantage, does it matter if the party consists of a Wizard, two Fighters, a Thief/Rogue and a Druid or a Cleric, two Wizards, a Ranger and a Paladin? Does it change the adventure premise? The focus of the plot? Not really right?

Same is true for Superhero gaming.

Imagine Dr. Doom has temporarily allied himself with Vandal Savage to uncover an ancient mystic tablet that will give them god-like powers. Cool. So the players, who have access to any Marvel and DC hero or heroine they want to use, choose to send Superman, Capt. America, Zatanna, Quicksilver and Red Tornado to go after Doom while Thor, Batman, Scarlet Witch, Flash and The Vision take on Savage and his minions. The PCs decide to replace Superman with Capt. Marvel (SHAZAM!) and The Vision with Iron Man. OK. Story is the same right?

With some campaigns I design, I can't make the first adventure, let alone work on the campaign, until after the players have made their PCs.

This is especially true with Traveller.

My buddies and I have been talking about various Sci-Fi properties lately and it's a well known fact among my group(s) that I would rather run a space opera type game then pretty much anything else (OK, save the Muppets of course). So after discussing the Prometheus trailer, the upcoming Mass Effect 3 computer game and a variety of other similar subjects, we finally, finally! decided to give Traveller a shot after quite a long while.

I geared up with some Megacorporations, Ships, a Sector Map, some NPCs and a variety of ideas featuring Sci-Fi Horror elements, Megacorporate espionage and deep space exploration (all the things we've been talking about) and my players create...a Noble who fights Pirates to protect his family's Bioengineering Company, a Pilot who chauffeurs him around, an Engineer and a Doctor.

Now, this is a cool fun idea for a game. I am really liking the premise. But it's not the premise I was banking on. I thought I knew exactly what the players were going to go for. The worlds, characters and events I was planning on introducing are not really designed with the above idea in mind. Can I adapt them? Sure. That's not my point though.

My point is I prefer to design my campaigns around the PCs. I don't do what I see all too often and which I have myself experienced (which I am not very found of), which is the PCs, whoever and whatever they are, get dropped into the GMs world/universe. In this latter type of situation, it doesn't matter all that much who the players are and what they can do. The adventure is there and if they don't go on it, someone else would've.

I tend to prefer something a bit more tailor made to the players' or PCs' interests so the adventure isn't just something to do 'cause they're bored, it's something they want or even need to do.

For those who hook PCs with something other then the promise of fame, glory and gold, how do you do it? What are your techniques for making a mission matter?


In other news...


I am playing the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMORPG. It is very close to absorbing my soul or would be if I had one. It is very fun and more then a tad addictive.

I finally made it out to Queens and went to the Jim Henson exhibit at The Museum of the Moving Image. Wow. It was pretty moving for me. I don't know that anyone else would describe it that way but it effected me very personally in a way I can not accurately describe. It was surprisingly small but also surprisingly powerful.

I really, really, really want to run Star Trek again. Really.


OK, that's all the time I have tonight. Happy New Year everyone if I don't see or talk to you before the weekend. Here's hoping 2012 possesses a significantly decreased level of suck compared to the last two years.

Wouldn't that be awesome?

Barking Alien

Monday, December 26, 2011

Twas The Day After Christmas

Sorry for not posting Christmas wishes to you all in time for Christmas.

I remembered to text people, call people and post something on facebook...yet I forgot my own blog.

For the most part my Christmas was pretty good. I stayed home, just me and my dog, cooked a big breakfast, watched some anime, playing a computer game and slept. I got to talk to my family and a few friends but mostly I just relaxed.

I don't know about you but a this stage in my life that was like the bestest present ever.

Obviously blogging has been extremely light this month and indeed you won't see much from me until the new year. I am gaming for sure but I just haven't felt the drive to discuss it.

So stop by if you're not busy, I'll probably be in the back making coffee but regular business hours won't resume for a least another week.

Peace, Love and Joy,

Barking Alien

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Magical Time of Year

Jeff Rients and Zak S. have been discussing magic.

I thought I would put in my two cents but really what I'd rather do is break a 20. Do you have singles?

Here are some assorted and somewhat random thoughts on Magic from a discussion I had on the private board of one of my gaming groups. The dialog has been edited to make it make sense as a blog post and not a board discussion, since I am only posting my parts of the conversation anyway.


"Lets say you create a universe in which the laws of said universe say, "Magic can be understood, harnessed and utilized in formulas, called 'Spells', to generate a variety of different uses and effects. Those formulas can then be taught to others and duplicated by those individuals in predictable and reliable ways." This is fine, even cool, if kept internally consistant.

What I prefer is folklore and fairy tale magic, where those who understand magic are rare and otherworldly in their own right and those who don't or only think they do quickly find themselves in way over their heads."

By way of example, here is story of folklore and fairy tale magic in use in one of my Ars Magica campaigns...

"In one campaign (of Ars Magica) I ran some years ago, the Devil himself stole a man's Whistle from him. Unable to Whistle and with nothing else going for him, he was prepared to end his own life.

The PCs, who had been helped by the man and his spirit lifting Whistle, went to get it back from the Devil. They traveled south until they felt ill, til the ground turned cold and the air too hot to breath. There they found a hole that lead to the Gates of Hell. They tricked the demons at the gate into letting them in. When they found the Devil he was happily whistling with the man's Whistle.

The Devil said it was pride that made the PCs think they could retrieve the Whistle, so if they could best him at the things they prided themselves in, he would return the whistle to the man. If they failed, the Devil kept not only the whistle but the Archer's Skill, the Warrior's Strength and the Magi's Gift. In the end it was the Devil who was fooled, for the Magi did not pride himself on his Gift. There were many Magi with far greater magics then he. He prided himself on his wit and wisdom. He refused to partake in the Devil's contest, knowing full well the Devil had better spells and was very likely to cheat. With that he won and all went home, whistling the smoothest and sweetest of tunes.

That is magic to me."


"The nature of magic needs to be inspiring, frightening, amazing, confusing and unusual to seem magical to me. It shound be performed only by the fool hardy, the brave, the desperate, the willful, the quietly introspective and definitely the slightly mad."


On a more D&D approach...

"I don't really use 'Schools' of magic in the traditional D&D sense.

Magic is a force of nature, a cosmic, universal power like gravity, magnetism and thermal dynamics. Magic is what the universe is made of. It's unified field theory, intrinsic energy and much more. Unlike those sciences however, a great many people in my world understand (or think they understand) magic to some degree. This means they focus on the how and where but rarely on the what or the why. Magic is magic. In true medieval fashion, my campaign's peoples don't question what magic is or why its there. They are interested in how to use it and where they can get more or where it can be found in order to possess it or avoid it. The study of rotes (spells), arts, techniques, magical creatures, etc., lends itself to styles of magic such as elemental, primal, infernal, divine, faerie, etc. but not so much to technical breakdowns like evocation, illusion, conjuring, etc.

Now certainly there are those in my universe that do follow that concept. We do have Wizards who could be called Summoners, Illusionists and/or Evokers. These individuals are the exception however, not the rule.

Pretty much all my wizards conjure, summon and cast illusions. Though some specialize to some degree. Everyone has favorite approaches...

A High Elf of the North conjures a gust of wind because its the wind not because he's a conjurer.

A Gretho-Novan Priestess summons the aid of Cerebus because it guards her people's land of the dead, not because she's a summoner.

The Druids of the Western Coast are hard to find because faeries fool trepassers and lead them astray, not because the Druids are 'Illusionists'."


On the subject of summoning spells, a D&D appropriate setting and the instances in literature where some shmoe summons a demon prince that proceeds to eat him (my response being somewhat in jest)...
"Why would you go through all the time, energy, expense and potential backfires to design a spell that has a good chance of bringing you something you can't control? Such a spell seems poorly thought out or badly designed on the part of the creator. A spell that summons Demogorgon should have us questioning the wisdom of its originator."

"My world's fire fighting wizards are going to Summon water elementals to put out fires so homes don't burn down. The elementals are not much more powerful then the summoner but they can do something the summoners can't or they have a power the summoners need like generating and controlling water. When battling an army of undead the party mage might summon a celestial being but that same being could be beaten in a one on one fight with the party's Paladin. So why summon it? Because it has numerous anti-undead powers and can fly out of the enemies reach."


And finally, Magic Missile was mentioned by Zak as a spell he doesn't like because all it does is fly out and cause damage. I totally get where he's coming from but I'm not sure what would be done about that in the D&D games most people run. To clarify, if you are running a game of D&D style D&D, don't you need a spell that does that? Like, reeeally often?

Now Jeff has given a variety of alternate fluff names and possible descriptions for the spell but unless I am miss understanding Zak, it's not about calling a water balloon a brick. It's about a water ballon doing more then just getting you wet.

That made me think of some of the fireballs we use in my campaigns...

"High Elven Fireball
(AKA HighFire Ball, Elven Army Fireball, Sharpshooter Fireball)

Smaller in size with a smaller blast area, this Fireball causes less damage but travels twice as far. Accomplished High Elven Warrior-Wizards have been known to fire these with pin-point accuracy (for Fireballs anyway). Created by the militant High Elves soon after coming to my campaign world.

Dwarven Forge Fireball
(AKA Dwarven Army Fireball, Backdraft Fireball)

A shorter range though standard blast area Fireball with a slightly higher damage yield. The Dwarves' natural resistance to heat means they can handle the shorter range. Originated by the Dwarven Armies of the North Western Mountains near the Edge of The World. The spell has spread to some nearby Human settlements and the homelands of other Dwarves.

(AKA Shining Fireball, BrightSphere)

A very bright, golden Fireball that causes only 2/3 the damage of a standard Fireball with about 2/3 the blast radius. However, in addition to the damage, the Fireball explodes with a powerful blinding flash. Created by the Elven Warrior-Wizard known as Starshine, a member of The Order.

Chaos Fireball
(AKA WildFireBall, Emerald Fireball, Melf's Mad Fireball)

An incredibly rare Fireball, with only two spellcasters ever having been known to master it. The spell generates a coursing, roiling globe of twisting emerald flames with flares licking out in all directions. It takes a few moments to cast and then it must be hurled away before it goes off prematurely. Upon impact, the Fireball explodes with about twice the area and damage of a standard one. In addition, random jets of fire lash out from the explosion in all directions. The Chaos Fireball is very difficult to cast, prone to misfiring and is considerably inaccurate. It also scares the crap out of any opponent intelligent enough to realize what is coming at them. Only the mysterious Elven Adventurer and Scoundrel 'Melf the Elf' and the similarly roguish Warrior-Wizard Half-Elf EverburnGreen (an Order member) have used this spell reliably

(No known aliases)

Not really a Fireball at all, this spell utilizes similar principles and techniques yet a very different power source and dynamic. The spell creates a tightly condensed sphere of whirling air, similar to a compacted tornado. Upon hitting its target, the tornado unravels, hurling people and objects in all directions. Although it causes less direct damage, WindSphere throws things as far as 50-100 ft into the air. Its an excellent spell for dispersing enemy forces and crowd control. Created by the Elven Warrior-Wizard WindDrake of The Order (originally of the High Elven Army).

Grand Fireball
(AKA The Beautiful Fireball, The Ultimate Fireball)

The exact details of this special variant are unknown to all but its creator who claims she is "simply casting a Fireball". The spells forms very carefully and precisely and grows to about a foot and a half in diameter before being 'launched'. As it travels, the fireball grows in size. At maximum range it is nearly 3 and a half to 4 feet in diameter. The blast is immense, but the flames will mystically avoid anyone the caster deems an ally. Enemies who recognize the spell during its considerably increased casting time must save vs. fear/will to avoid panicking at the thought of this monster heading toward them. The only Wizard known to possess this spell is the Human woman Omalphia of The Order.

Phantasmal Fireball
(AKA Make Believe Fireball, Dream Fireball)

A Gnomish invention, this Fireball appears normal, if slightly larger in size during formation. If carefully observed by a learned magic practioner they will notice tiny, random sparks and licks of oddly colored flame (mostly green, blue and purple). Once released this Fireball acts like the Grand Fireball and grows larger and larger. A will save or morale check is made against the target and any of their allies in the vicinity. If the save fails, everyone in the blast radius takes additional damage equal to the combined number of points they all failed by. The truth of course is that this is not a Fireball at all but a sophisticated illusion. Anyone who realizes this during its formation will be completely unharmed by the spells detonation. It is especially effective against large groups of dimwitted opponents.

Sidewinder Fireball
(AKA Seeker Fireball)

This is a low yield, long range Fireball that was invented by an ancient tribe of highland Humans with Elven assistance. It is the only specialized Fireball regularly found in use by both Human and Elven BattleMages and Warrior-Wizards alike. This Fireball uses principles found in the classic Magic Missile (or Arcane Arrow as the Elves once called it) to generate a Fireball that chases its target. While it can be interrupted and prematurely set off, a Seeker Fireball can not miss.

The Halflings have a variant of this called the Heatseeker Fireball that chases a target based on its heat signature or source. Originally developed to battle Kobold Fire Shamans it is now often used to target and destroy enemy Fireballs. It must be used carefully as the spell does not discern between heat sources except to go toward the hottest thing in its immediate vicinity. Improper positioning in combat can easily make a bad situation much worse."

Well that's it. Now back to...whatever comes to mind.

Barking Alien

Waiting Up For Santa

Ever stay up waaay too late when you were a kid? You know, watching TV or reading comic books or even gaming. I am talking about far past a sensible bedtime to the point where you feel like you were run over by an 18-wheeler the next day. It's like a hangover with no alcohol. I know I did. Why, just this Saturday...

We're not kids anymore but boy does my group and I act like we're totally unaware of this condition sometimes.

Originally intending to start up my latest session of Champions around 1-1:30 pm this past Saturday, I ended up running late and told the guys to meet me around 2. Right before I left one of the players (Dave-Night Knight) cancelled and Marcus (The Power) said he was running late too.

No biggie. Marcus is usually late and I figured we'd end up getting started by 2:30.

I met up with Jeff and we starting shooting the breeze while waiting for Marcus.

We waited. And waited. Finally he arrived and 4:30-5 pm. I was a little annoyed but I think Jeff was far more bugged by it. We hadn't played in a about two weeks and we were at a major cliffhanger/important plot moment following the escape of one of the campaign's main antagonists last time we got together.

The result was that we hit the ground running when Marcus finally showed and staged a two pronged attack against the villain's recently discovered secret base. Remember my rule, 'Always Split The Party'*.

Anyway, an underwater strike team in a super sub and an above ground strike team teleporting in can really eat up time as they battle various robot minions and discover a second secret base containing captured superheroes and villains in suspended animation. Same old story right? You know how that goes.

The end result was that once we re-captured one major villain and blew up another villain's base (they were working together) we discovered what their real plan had been all along. We also discovered it was 3:30 am.

Yep. 3:30 in the morning of the next day. So what did we do? Well, the buses stop running at a certain time and Jeff really couldn't go home anyway so...we kept going.

One destroyed super aircraft, disintergrated super-powers-neutralizing bomb and defeated bad ass armored pilot later and it was 5 am.

It was then that we called it quits.

I walked to my train tired, hungry, freezing in the dramatically dropped temperatures of New York's winter nights (the days are still kind of warm so you're never dressed right) and absolutely, positively wowed by how good this game is going.

I am highly unlikely to do anything like that again as I felt like dog poop the next day but it was crazy, awesome fun.

Hope you're gaming this holiday season is fun, exciting and plentiful.

Barking Alien

*I've said it before and I'll say it again, I've never understood the difficulty most groups see in splitting the party. It's key to my game style actually. I'm even doing it with the study center kids on Sundays. If 3-6th graders can do it, so can you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Festival of Lights

December continues to depress. Just as I solve one issue another (or two) rear their ugly mugs. I need something to chase away this foul mood I am in. I need to give myself a holiday present.

Ooh, I know! A Sci-Fi game.

Ooh, look at all the pretty lights

I am going to have a few extra days free at the end of this month. A sort of mini-vacation if you will (my first in roughly four or five years). Seems like the perfect time to convince the gang to let me run a Science Fiction/Space Adventure type one-shot. Who knows? In classic
one-shot fashion it may turn out to be popular enough to transform it into a campaign.

But what to run? Wait. First, a clarification of the above.

For the last month or two my plan to consolidate my gaming has worked...perhaps a bit too well in some ways. I am running only two regular games. My Champions game is going full force once again (albiet with the occasional unforeseen breaks do to real life) and the game I run on Sundays at the learning center in Brooklyn is as regular as Swiss engineered timepiece.

Because the Champions game is going so well and because time is still something of a limited commodity, the group has been less likely then usual to indulge in one of my 'Lets try this!' ideas. If we have a free game day, we are playing Champions.

Now my good pal Dave has indicated that as much as he loves the Champions campaign (and he does love the Champions campaign), he does have a hankering for something else as well. It's been a while since we took a serious stab at something else it seems.

Dave would really like the chance to get back to my D&D-But-Not world and I will likely oblige his request. It may come with a catch however...we've got to also play something (ANYthing!) Space Adventure oriented. My gift to me. And Dave's gift to me if he goes for it.

Barking Alien

Monday, December 12, 2011

Muppet Mondays! - The Great Santa Claus Switch

Just taking a moment out from my usual December misery (this month just does not like me) to switch gears and talk about an upcoming project for next year. March of 2012 is once again MUPPET MADNESS MONTH!

You heard it here first felt and fur fans! Barkley, myself and the entire Muppet gang will be back in action to discuss some rule modifications, expanded rules and loads of crazy ideas for my homebrewed Muppets RPG. I've learned a lot playing the game at the RECESS Game Events and I want to pass that knowledge on to you, my loyal fan.

Yes you. Walter is it? Thanks for your interest Walter.

If anyone else is interested as well, you're welcome to come too. Expect lots of laughs, new art and photomanips (Manip, manip - Doo Doo DE-Doo Doo - Manip, Manip - Doo Doo DE-Doo), guest bloggers and all kinds of fun and surprises. Well, thinking about this made me smile a little. 

Now if I can just hold that feeling until January...

Barking Alien

Saturday, December 10, 2011

All I Want For Christmas

Or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus or whatever appropriate gift giving holiday comes around that you find worth celebrating.

Honestly the only thing I could possibly want is an easier and more enjoyable next year as compared to this year for my friends, family and myself.

Now, addressing the statement as it relates to gaming...

I find myself wanting two things very much...

First, to run some fantasy something. Obviously I've been talking about it quite a bit lately but I still can't seem to lock down my ideas for a new setting and campaign concept. That may well be because...

Secondly, I really, really want to get back to Sci-Fi. It stuns me that I call this blog Barking Alien and I haven't run a decent, long term Science-Fiction game in forever. I honestly can't remember exactly. It's been over six years since my top notch Traveller campaign 'Trojan Horses'. While I've had several failed attempts at Star Trek, I haven't run an ongoing Trek campaign since the early 2000's (probably a good 10 years almost). That is just straight up wrong people.

How to rectify this situation? No sure.

See, my Champions game is going so well that the guys involved want to play it whenever we get the chance. Since we don't get the chance to game as often as we did even 6 months ago, free time is Champions time. Truth be told it's hard to argue with that thinking.

Still, I would love to get the opportunity to run something else. I am eager to return to either Traveller or Star Trek or try something newer like Stars Without Number. I would love to get in a session of my personal D&D-But-Not game, even if it's in my old setting.

Seems today's post amounts to little more then weekend musings of a rather unconstructive nature. Oh well. Seems just to be the way of things these days.

Barking Alien

OK, wait...if I were really on the subject of things I want Santa to bring me how's this...a new edition of Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space or a Star Trek RPG. How about the guys with the Star Wars license do a Star Wars game. Green Ronin, any chance the next DC Adventures book will come out before DC Comics reboots again?

Come on game industry! I am not buying games these days, not just because I'm broke but because you are not making anything I want. I don't play D&D. Can someone, ANYone make something interesting? Geez!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Unexpected Present

This recommendation in a comment from Astronut lead me to a fun little excercise wherein I tried to describe my primary D&D-But-Not setting in the form of the movie pitch first suggested by good ol' Uncle Bear. *

This turned out to be a much needed and unexpected present. Thanks Astronut.
While I believe I have succeeded for the most part, the main reason for requesting the recommendation was to help me think of ways to create a new campaign setting. I should have focused my efforts in that direction instead of defaulting to my tried and true setting of choice. Bad. Bad me.

I also notice that written in this format, while the game sounds pretty cool if I do say so myself, the text barely scratches the surface of all the crazy stuff in the campaign milieu it describes. Of course that's to be expected but still...

Anyway, here is 'The Movie Pitch' for...

Chronicles of Aerth

Traditional Dungeons & Dragons meets Justice League Unlimited by way of Final Fantasy XI (aka Final Fantasy Online).The Elevator SpeechSuperheroic adventurers travel the known realms and beyond battling evil threats to truth, justice and the peace and safety of the citizens of a fantasy parallel Earth.


Over-the-top 'Marvel Age' comic book action adventure with moments both darker and lighter mixed in.


Homebrewed variant of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1E crossed with D&D 3E/D20 basically.

Player Character Roles

PCs are members of an order of heroes chosen by a higher power. Anyone, and in some cases anything, can be a member. Traditional D&D race and class combos fight side by side with fully sentient golem monks, cat people shamans, barbarian homunculi, centaur paladins, drake rangers and many other strange and wondrous beings. **


Various petty criminals, thieves guilds and murderous types.
The last surviving member of a now extinct subculture/race of Elves.
A secret enclave of Dragons out to conquer or destroy the world.
Various liches, evil wizards and warlords styled to resemble comic book supervillains.
Natural disasters, plagues and the like are also handled by the PCs.


A variety of places emulating ancient and or mythic locations from Earth history/legend.
The past, present and future of this world.

Alternate worlds, other dimensions and the Moon.

Appendix N ***

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1E
Dungeons & Dragons 3EJustice League Unlimited, Animated Series
Legion of Superheroes, Comic Book Series
Various books on the folklore and mythology of Africa, England, Ireland, Greece, Scandinavia Rome, Scotland and others and the Moon
Various Japanese Anime/Manga Series
Various Japanese MMORPGs and Computer RPGs
Various Japanese TRPGs

Barking Alien

*Though sadly, it seems the original post is no more. Bummer.

**I've run campaigns where PCs were not members of the order but rather independant adventurers like a traditional D&D game.

***This is woefully incomplete. It would take weeks to list all the inspirations for Aerth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Little Holiday Magic

In a most unusual and dramatic twist, I find myself feeling unexpectedly more positive today, though for no good reason I assure you. Nothing has really changed. I'm simply tired of feeling like crap and I'm trying something else. That would be, feeling less like crap. So far, so good.

Along with this shift in mood is a shift in thought toward, dare I say it, Fantasy gaming.

Now, now, wait...please come back. I promise not to callously berate your much loved genre. As a matter of fact, I find myself missing it. Missing running it that is. I still abhor playing it for the most part. Now, where was I? Oh yes...Fantasy.

I've been thinking about trying my hand at Skype gaming again, partially because I feel I owe it to my friends, partially because I feel I owe it to myself to try once more and partially because I must have some unconscious, masochistic quality I was not previously aware of.

I believe a Fantasy game is the best way to go mainly because, let's face it, it is the most commonly understood and appreciated RPG genre we have. My personal feelings aside, it is the favorite.

Now, I am a little reluctant to use my D&D-But-Not setting. While I don't mind using the rule modifications for this new campaign, the setting is very near and dear to me. Too much so I'm afraid. Of all the world ideas I've come up with, my long running, homebrew D&D world is the one that numerous people over the year have repeatedly said, "You should publish that." I should. And some day I will. Until's a secret.

Yes, I know I am being silly. Yes, I understand that no one is going to try and steal my ideas. Of course, not long ago I was talking with a good friend over Google IM and I mentioned one minor detail about my Dwarves and their exact words were, "I would steal that." So...yeah. I know they wouldn't but I simply adds to my already overdeveloped sense of creative paranoia.

(Adam covers his ideas in a blanket, hugs them tightly to him and sneaks into his deep hidey-hole).

So if I am not going to use my best concept, one I've taken over 25 years to develop and test, what am I going to run? That is, how do I make a new D&D-esque campaign world now after all these years with that one? I'm sure there are those of you who do it constantly but bare in mind, I don't actually like D&D or Fantasy all that much. My main world is specifically designed to fix all those things I don't like while appearing to have all the classic elements of D&D. That wasn't easy to do! What makes you makes me think I can do it again?!

You'd normally assume this particular train of thought would make me sad again. Au contraire! This is a challenge and I do like a challenge.

Let the games to figure out the game begin!

To this end...tell me, have you ever had a long running or favorite milieu and stopped using it for whatever reason? How did you start the process of world-building your new/next setting.

Barking Alien

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Humbug This Is

Did I mention how much I dislike December?

The past few years, December and the 'Holiday Season' post Thanksgiving have not very kind to me and I find myself dreading this time of year this time around. For one reason or another, something always happens that is pretty negative. I have been considering crawling under some blankets and not coming up again until after the new year but honestly, as much as I may want to, that is really not my style.

At the same time, I am already off to a crappy start on my 'Post-More-Often-This-Month' plan. It's a definite reflection of my mood. Good mood, many posts. Bad mood, well, you get the gist. It's the 5th and this is only my second entry. And not a very good one I might add. *sigh*


I have been thinking about Science-Fiction gaming for the most part of late, largely of the Traveller variety. A bit of Star Wars-iness has crept into these thoughts from time to time but I really want to keep those elements to a minimum. Looking at more of a hard sci-fi/space opera then a space fantasy. As evidenced by the comments on previous posts some may see little difference between these subgenres but to me there is a distinct difference in feel and the way it is executed.

It's not exactly easy to put those differences into words however. Or at the very least, I don't know that I can convey my opinions on the subject accurately. Perhaps I will try to do so again in the future. In the meantime, I doubt I will get to run this anyway, seeing as how my schedule for this month, which once appeared empty and relaxing, is now getting full rather quickly with stuff that doesn't involve finding free time to game.

Did I mention I don't love December?

Barking Alien

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rolling Into December

I had intended to post yesterday, the 1st of the month, in an attempt to get back to my previously prolific habits but alas, I was just too damn tired.

It's been a rough week and I am just so eager for a few extra moments of rest that I couldn't be compelled to find the time to put words to screen.

Then of course there is the matter of what to write about. When I am not obsessing about something in particular, it can be quite a chore to think of a single thing to discuss. A million unrelated things sure. One subject of interest? Good luck with that Mr. Alien.

Some of what's on my mind...

Lord Blacksteel at Tower of Zenopus discussed his
approach to running things. Found it interesting. Here's mine...fairly standard I'd imagine, with a few twists 'cause, ya'know, it's me. :)

Mostly it's a group of people sitting around a table with me, the GM, at one end, usually with ample space to the sides of me. I stand up a lot while I GM. A lot. I move around the table, I make sweeping gestures with my arms and I generally want to make sure I am not in danger of accidentally striking anyone. I'm serious.*

Nine out of ten times I don't use a screen. I dislike them. I find them distracting to both my players and myself. If I need to make a roll in secret I simply roll the dice shielded by my hand or better yet (old trick I picked up years ago) I simply roll the dice in front of me at seemingly random times while talking. I do not make a point of noting that I'm rolling for anything, nor do I draw attention to my actions. I could very well just be playing with my dice.

I almost always have a big, 1-3 inch spine, make-your-own cover, 3-ring loose-leaf binder/notebook in front of me that contains all the necessary information, charts, etc., as well as images, NPC character sheets or whatever else I need for my campaign. I've mentioned these books
before. They form a sort of a Campaign Bible

or Series Bible like those developed for TV shows. I leave this book open on the table, usually at the front section where I keep the kind of things you'd probably have on a GM Screen. If I need to look something up, I look down. I can do it quickly and cleanly without having that wall in front of me separating me from my players. Always made me feel uncomfortable on both sides of the screen.

We don't use minis, battlemats or anything like that. Yes we still have a tactical game at times. It simply doesn't suit our style to measure squares or move like a boardgame when people can fly, teleport, run at super speed, jump in and out of/off of vehicles and beasts and so forth. Our games, especially during combat, are fast. Blindingly fast if my exposure to other GMs and their groups are an indicator. Anything that makes the mechanical process of gaming smoother and quicker (relative to the rule system and setting) is the way we're going to go.

My group and I prefer to have paper character sheets and real dice. I would not discourage anyone from bringing their character on an Ebook or iPad type tablet, nor would I frown upon a die rolling App but it's just not the way we do things.

Here's perhaps the oddest element...very often, I make the PC's characters for them.

I know. Blasphemy. Sacrilige. There is a special hell for people like me.

Truth is, I own the most games. Most of my players don't have and don't care to buy or can't get a hold of 75-80% of the games I run. Usually, I ask them detailed questions about the type of character they want to play, I generate the character, then I show it to them and ask if they want to make any changes. In some cases I get it right on the money in one shot. Sometimes I don't. I may have misinterperted what the player wanted to simply couldn't figure out how to pull it off effectively with the rules. We go over it and over it until it's just how they want it. Rarely have we ever gone through more then two or three drafts before the finished character sheet.

I also make an effort to leave a bunch of points, options or whatever, open for customization even after we've fiddled with the PC.

Now if I am running a game everyone is familiar with or where the rules are really simple (D&D, Teenagers from Outer Space), I won't do this. We will all sit down and make up characters together in the traditional way.

I do own a number of games on PDF, though most of those are game not available in book form. Usually they are free or difficult to find indie games. If there is a book for a game I want to run, I want to the book.

OK, that's a good place to start the month and end for now. I hope to post a lot more often this month and again, you can expect some really, crazy cool stuff for 2012.

Also, let's get my followers to 130 already! Geez, what does a guy have to do to get more followers around here? Kidding. But seriously, if you like the place, tell a friend.


Barking Alien

*I am awaiting photographic evidence to show you all. Some pictures were taken at this past RECESS showing me not sitting while I GMed my Muppets RPG. If you recall this picture, I am not sitting here either. Sitting while you GM? Aren't you excited? Aren't you having fun? Get up on your feet brothers and sisters! LOL

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vacation Plans

As we roll into the holiday season, my business tends to slow down a bit. In addition, my Mom travels on her annual vacation to somewhere with ancient ruins, rich culture, amazing food and little to no toilet facilities. My girlfriend is likewise away for much of December, visiting friends and family in India.

Bet you think I'll be one bored and lonely pup, huh?

Well, truth is, of course I will but it does give me time to hang out with the gang and get some extra gaming in. Time for Barking Alien to take a little vacation of his own.

I am hoping to get in at least one session each of both my D&D-But-Not game and Traveller, in addition to my semi-regular Champions game. In a perfect world that is. I don't know how viable my chances are of actually pulling it off but it would be great if I could. I figure it shouldn't be impossible to do between now and the first of the year, right? Right?

You don't sound very convincing.

In other news, I have submitted not one but two game session proposals to NerdNYC's RECESS. One for Sesame Street and one for The Muppet Show (although there will be a twist on the Muppet Show adventure to keep it fresh).

I have some crazy blog theme ideas for the new year. Expect a follow up Muppet Month, a Superhero Campaign setting based on an Superhero IP that is not originally from comic books and perhaps, finally, some actual, postive gaming notes on Medieval Fantasy from yours truly. Well, maybe.

Until next time,

Barking Alien

Artwork by Tommoy

Monday, November 28, 2011

Muppet Mondays! - Life's A Happy Song

Did I mention there's a new Muppet movie?

Here's my my-version-of-a-review review of the new film, The Muppets.

It's good. Really, really good.
Practically great.
I really, really liked it. I liked it a lot!
Not loved. Almost loved. Just short. Like a few inches from love.

Why? Well...Hi-Ho and Welcome to the SPOILER ALERT!

I will try very hard not to put actual SPOILERS in my review but I may mess up. You've been warned.

The Good

There is a good deal to like in this movie. The original songs are pretty much awesome, the dialog is great, the humor is quick and smart in its silliness and the characterizations are fantastic.

Kermit is an actor in this movie. He is as warm and charming as ever but there is a sadness, and pain that I wouldn't have thought Disney would let the writers and producers of this film get away with. It was moving.

A number of characters who has gone underused or into complete disuse due to the deaths of their original performers (most notably Jim Henson's Rowlf and Richard Hunt's Scooter) are back and performed beautifully.

Obscure side characters take the limelight! Uncle Deadly!!! Woohoo! We see the massive, blue creature, Thog and the dancing Mutations. Wayne and Wanda! The frickin' Newsman has lines! Too cool!

Walter. I love this guy! The newest addition to the Muppet family is sweet, dopey, charming, adorable, funny and just perfect for the film and the group. Welcome to the team little fella.

The Bad

OK, the 'Bad; isn't really bad per se, it is more...I'm not sure how to put it into words. Less than perfect is probably the best way to say it.

Some of Muppets look strange. Deadly's head and body are completely different shades of blue. In fact, his head isn't really blue at all but a pale grey. Fozzie's fur color and style seemed off at points. There were a few others. It wasn't a huge deal but it did look weird to me.

It was the same with voices. While hearing any Rowlf was like a little present just for me, Fozzie's voice was somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes Eric Jacobson had it, sometimes he just didn't. There were a few others with minor off moments but honestly everyone did an amazing job.

The movie could've used more Gonzo. What couldn't? But seriously, I thought his sequences were rushed and opportunities for humor missed. It would've been great to see an expanded conversation between Gonzo and Camilla the Chicken (are they married now? Are they still just boyfriend and girlfriend? I find that hard to believe given the nature of their moment in the film).

This leads me to one of my two true complaints about the film. Much like Gonzo's scenes, many of the other characters intro scenes and much of the humor seemed rushed. Not rushed in a 'done sloppy' way but in a way that didn't allow for the amount of time necessary for them to carry impact. Timing is the key to comedy. The original Muppet Movie had it perfect. This film...sometimes the punchlines come too fast, or too late, or just seemed disjointed from other things happening in the scene. The biggest and worst example of this is...

The Ugly - The Ending

The ending of the film was not quite satisfying to me. It seemed like an afterthought or more precisely, like two or three thoughts that the filmmakers couldn't quit decide how to execute.

It's a happy ending but only if you are paying really close attention. Otherwise, it seems like the good guys lose, like their comeback isn't one. I left the movie liking it so much but feeling sad, or at the very least, like the ending was bittersweet. That's not exactly how I want to think about the comeback of my favorite thing in the world.

Overall, it does seem appropriate. I guess I'm thinking, it didn't have to be that way.

In conclusion, I will likely see it again. Once it hits DVD, I will see it again and again and again. I love 'Life's A Happy Song' and 'Pictures in My Head'. I loved Rowlf's dialog. There wasn't a lot of it but it was great. I loved the Humans in it, though more active/inactive parts for the cameo stars would've been cooler.

Four out of Five from this Muppet Fan.

More Muppety stuff to come...


Barking Alien

Friday, November 25, 2011

Talking Turkey and Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving.

It is definitely my favorite holiday. So much so that I spent the entire day with my small but really awesome family, eat, laughed and didn't think about gaming one bit. OK, maybe one bit. Perhaps two. Ten times tops.

The point is, this holiday reminds of the things I consider myself lucky to have in this life, while all the while chowing down on my Mom's incredible turkey (never ever dry in any way - the best turkey anywhere!).

Things like...

My family. My Mom, Sister, Brother-in-Law, Nephew and close family friends who are so close you might as well just call'em family and be done with it.

My girl. I consider us both pretty smart and pretty lucky to have re-established contact and started seeing each other again.

My dog. I mean, she's my kid, ok? So cute, so smart, so well-behaved and she makes me smile every day.

My friends. I have quite a few and I am thankful for you all but I want to give a shout out to those who've been very close and special over the last year. Thanks Dave, Erin Palette and Selina. You guys have rocked above and beyond in 2011.

NerdNYC. It may seem weird to thank this entire group of people as I do not know them all and certainly few of them well, yet NerdNYC has given me a venue beyond this blog to try my Muppets RPG out on unsuspecting vic...I mean, open-minded players. Recently, on NerdNYC's RECESS facebook page, they said my Muppets game was in the Top 5 list of Most Wanted games at the event. Me. Muppets. TOP 5?! Wow. I am thankful for the ego boost if nothing else.

OK, enough of this sappy stuff. I need to get in gear and kick some Player Character butt. Champions again today. All gonna hit the fan.

Peace Out!

Barking Alien

Oh yeah and the Muppets movie. Can't forget the Muppets movie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Second Coming of Kermit The Frog

Tomorrow, 'The Muppets' opens in theaters across the USA. This is the first Muppet film to be made in 12 years. Screw Christmas. I got what I want. 

I plan on seeing it opening day, which probably doesn't surprise anyone who knows me or has read my blog before. If it's, good (which I know it will be), I hope to see it at least one more time in the theaters. Haven't seen a movie more than once in the theaters in a long time but this one warrents it for me.

In other Muppet related news, I have submitted another installment of my Muppets RPG for the next RECESS Game Event to be held on Janurary 14 & 15, 2012. This time, instead of running a Muppet Show themed adventure, I am going to introduce NerdNYC fans to my variant/expansion, Sesame Street! 'Cause, y'know. I'm all grimdark and edgy like that.

If the response to this one is good I will likely do it again and then switch to Fraggle Rock for my fifth and sixth tries. Basically, run two sessions of each before switching to the next one. This gives people who hear about it but didn't get to play it the chance to try it next time while hopefully keeping things fresh.

Oh man, how am I gonna sleep tonight?

Barking Alien

Monday, November 21, 2011

Champions Powers Up

After an unintentional break that lasted nearly two months, Dave (Night Knight), Marcus (The Power - pictured above), Jeff (Siphon Zero/Revenant) and I have finally returned to our 4th Edition Champions campaign, simply titled, 'The New Champions'.

I've missed a number of opportunities to recap and update the status of the various characters and their adventure so, in the interest of staying interesting and current, I'll simply explain where they are now.

While our PC heroes have spent the majority of the campaign following similar goals but completely different paths, it was awesome to see their agendas cross and the three of them finally form a cohesive team. Allied with several NPC heroes and supported by agents of UNTIL (the United Nations SHIELD type organization they work with), the PCs attempted to pull a sting operation and draw out a major villain who's been working behind the scenes since the early sessions. It worked, perhaps too well, as the villain showed up with a number of powerful supervillain henchmen in tow.

Now these weren't goons. Oh no. This was more like Lex Luthor hiding in the bushes while he sends Metallo, The Atomic Skull, Weather Wizard and a few more villains of similar level to get the job done. While The Power, Revenant and a couple of NPC heroes fought the gang of uberbaddies, Night Knight and another NPC hero located the mastermind's hidden aircraft (a cloaked, super-high tech jet that looked like the Star Trek: Voyager Aeroshuttle) and snuck inside. Night Knight entered the craft through an access hatch near the forward landing gear, while the NPC did the same through the rear gear well.

Many rounds of crazy super powered, energy manipulating, car throwing, martial arts using mayhem later, our heroes had defeat all six of the villainous lieutenants as well as the head honcho and his hidden bodyguard, an intelligent, emorphous pool of blue-black ink similar to the animated and current versions of Batman nemesis Clayface or Batman Beyond's Inque. It was an impressive battle full of ingenius power useage and deep character moments in the aftermath.

Revenant, who tends to become obsessed with odd things at odd moments, tried to use his energy absorbtion and conversion abilites to permenantly nullify the abilities of one of the villains, determining said criminal's nuclear radiation powers to be a threat by the fellow's mere existance. In explaining why he wanted to attempt to negate this villain's capabilities, I saw in Jeff's PC, for the first time, a concern for innocent lives outside his own personal supporting cast and subplots. I was moved.

Anyway, the truth of the matter is that this was only the beginning of their getting to the bottom of a much larger evil scheme. I am looking forward to running the next installment this weekend. The return of Champions...RETURNS!

Barking Alien

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Empowered Powers Down

I regretfully announce that after only two sessions and much thought, I am discontinuing my Empowered inspired Mutants & Masterminds 3E campaign that I started over Skype.

This has been a very difficult decision, made all the more difficult by the players.

You see, the players liked it. Maybe not loved it but they were definitely having fun. I personally think they did a fantastic job of creating cool characters, getting into their PC's heads and making the game entertaining. It was a pleasure to listen to them and their laughter over my speakers.

Unfortunately, I hated the experience of GMing it.

For one thing, GMing over Skype have been plagued by poor sound quality and calls being dropped. Not sure why. I'm playing in
Erin Palette's Legend of the Five Rings game and I rarely have any problem at all.

When I talk to my girlfriend over Skype, no problems (or very few). When I try to GM over Skype? Absolutely terrible. Just terrible! I tried running a one-shot the other day with a friend to test some new ideas I had for how to make a Skype game work better (see the next paragraph) and it amounted to asking each other, "Can you hear me? Did I lose you?" over and over for about 30 minutes before we gave up.

I was concerned that gaming online with Skype would severely handicap my ability to GM in the style I am accustomed to. I was right to the third power. I feel like a blind man with no hands being asked to point to the red light. I need the visual cues I get from my players to know how things are going, when to add something into the scene or take something away, and many other elements that make me the damn fine GM I know I am or at least can be.

I also keep wanting to show what characters or things look like, create maps, and other graphic elements but couldn't figure out how to do so without slowing down gameplay (which was already too slow as it was and slow gameplay is anathema to me).

Finally, the above mentioned factors drained away my enthusiam for the setting and I couldn't seem to get a plot of any worth formulated in my head. The few times I did get ideas I found I wasn't implementing them well. It was like I suddenly lost all my Gamemastering powers. I blame Gold Kryptonite.

No, I don't. I blame me. I just couldn't get it together and when I can't get it together to that degree I just start get disgusted with the whole process. It was probably the wrong setting and game for the medium. At the very least it was the wrong set up for my first attempt at this. I should gone simplier, easier or with something more familiar and focused.

Whatever. It just did not work for me.

It's very tough for me to accept defeat but in this case it's all I can do.

I apologize to my players. You deserved better. I endeavour to do better next time.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Up In The Air

As of this moment, this very moment right here, I have no idea what I am running this Saturday.

My girlfriend is unavailable to hang out with in the evening as her parents are visiting from out of town (out of the country to be more precise), so I have the option of running a looong session for the first time in almost two months. Can't wait.

Um...can't wait to figure out what it'll be a session of. Let's Vote! Should I run...Fantasy, Science-Fiction or Superheroes? Which should I do? What would be my personal choice? What will my players prefer? OMG! The suspense is killing me.

Barking Alien

PS: It has been brought to my attention by some in the blogosphere (you know, the zenith of all cultural, social and philosophical understanding) that I may well be a nerd who occasionally vents my feelings about things. Wow. I did not know this. My life is enriched by this revelation. Thank you for this gift of enlightenment. So...on to why I despise licorice...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blues Traveller

Great minds?

For the better part of the day I've been thinking about posting about Traveller. Low and behold, I come home to find I am
not the only one with 'Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future' on the brain. Even the subject of the post is similar. I am surely in good company.


I have been feeling at odds with myself over what to game.

I want/need to get back to my Champions game, I am running my Empowered/M&M 3E game Fridays nights* and I am supposed to be running a Smurfs campaign at my FLGS 'The Compleat Strategist' but an erratic weekend schedule has prevented me from running anything after the first adventure.

I feel the desire to run fewer games and therefore have more time to dedicate to the ones I am running. In addition, I haven't run Science Fiction or Fantasy for a while and those two genres have been
at war in my heart and head quite a bit recently.

Now for Fantasy I would like to return to my D&D-But-Not system and setting which, to be quite honest, is more like a medieval Superheroes RPG. I do love that world and the rather unusual nature of adventuring there and it is comic book-like enough to also support my continued fascination with Supers.

For Science Fiction, as much as I loves me some Star Trek (and I do loves me some Star Trek), I would be really excited to get back to Traveller.

Traveller and I have a rocky relationship. I love it but didn't always. I would venture to say that even though it is a favorite of mine now, I probably don't run it 'right'. As I have grown up and Science and Science Fiction have evolved, so too has my view of the Traveller RPG and it's universe. Combine this with my love of Anime and video game imagery and you get a Traveller that may not appeal to a lot of the classic and traditionalist fans of the game.

Nowadays, when I think Traveller, I mostly think of Mass Effect...

While I don't see the two as identical to each other, I see Mass Effect in my mind when I am describing a lot of things in my Traveller games. When playing Mass Effect and/or its sequel, I also start thinking about running Traveller.

While not my favorite starship design ever, the Normandy is definitely what I think of when I think of a Traveller ship. The aliens, while not exactly Traveller aliens, are still somehow Traveller-like to me. Same thing with the weapons and equipment. Many of these things are not in the classic Traveller RPG but I feel like they belong. They should be there. They are there in many of my games.So if I take inspiration from the overall look and feel of Mass Effect, combine it with images by the legendary futurist Syd Mead, drop in some of the politics and pathos of Dune mixed with Babylon Five (before it went down hill) and added a dash or two of A. E. Van Vogt's Voyage of the Space Beagle, I think I'd have the Sci-Fi, space adventure, hard-space opera game I am looking for.

That's Traveller to me.

Crazy huh?

Barking Alien

*I'll discuss the details on that continuing experiment another time.