Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zoilism and The End of the Line

I can sometimes be guilty of zoilism in relation to Dungeons and Dragons, it's various cousins and the style of play those games lend themselves to.

I do this, largely, because I don't like them much. Yeah, sorry, no deep philosophical reason or complex greater meaning. I am not a fan and that's that. At the same time, I know why I'm not a fan and I don't dislike anything without a reason or trying it first.

As a matter of fact, I've tried D&D often. Some 33 years after playing Basic D&D for the first time, I still periodically find myself playing or running it (or a variant of it). I don't despise it as much as I claim to but I don't really enjoy it either. I think that April's A-to-Z Challenge had a few moments where I just needed to vent my general frustration with the fact that a game I am not into is talked about so much, whereas games I like get less play.

I get bummed about it occasionally. Honestly though, tough beans for me. I shouldn't gripe about it. What I should do is write about those other games I enjoy so they get some love. Very often I do. This month I've been so wiped out from real life I think I got lazy and complained.

I won't apologize for what I wrote as I never said anything I didn't mean but I didn't mean to carp so in some instances. I promise less carping in the future.

Today I played Villains & Vigilantes for the first time in who knows how long and while it isn't Mutants & Masterminds, it was very fun to visit with my old friend once more. We played two sort scenarios and the players, who had never played V&V before, liked it alot. I could see why. A large part of it was that it was more like the games they were used to.

Familiar things like Hit Points, multiple die types for different attacks and all the other old school elements felt more comfortable to them than the alieness of M&M's automatic damage based on your power's rating and conditions and such. It was a very interesting excerise. I may have to revisit it again in the near future.

So far now, the A-to-Z Challenge is done. I hope everyone enjoyed it and enjoyed my posts for this month. Right now I think I am looking forward to May being themeless. Also, looking forward to getting Muppet Mondays up and running.

Have a great weekend everybody,

Barking Alien

Zoilism - the practice of making bitter, carping, and sometime harsh criticisms and judgments.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Yes, Say It and Feel Fine

I was having trouble thinking of what to discuss for my 'Y' entry when I saw this post over at ChicagoWiz...

Actually I noticed James Mal linking it from his blog so I thought it must be worthwhile. It was. Now I resisted my gut reaction upon reading it and went over the entire post very carefully. Indeed Michael Shorten makes some great points and definitely knows what works for him and I am all the way behind that.

Unfortunately my gut reaction is still down there bubbling and gurgling to be heard, so I'm going to give it its say. Please be aware that this is not about a feeling that ChicagoWiz is badwrong or similar stupidity. Just as his post is not about why town adventures suck, this one is not about why they're so great. This is about a feeling I get and have gotten since the earliest days of the hobby when all but a few GMs (including myself) are running the show...

To me, old school is all about saying no.

Now before you set upon me with Power Word Kill, hear me out.

Part of the beauty of the Old School Renaissance is how many of its most stalwart supporters tout the coolness of the days before everything was 'official', when houserules ruled and when you really got the chance to be creative with your world and even the system. That's awesome. Seriously. That is the coolest of the cool. I don't remember it being like that.

I remember a lot of no. Monsters can't be player characters. Level limits. Wizards can't wear armor. Can't, Don't, Shouldn't, Won't. Can I be a rich merchant prince at level 1? No. Can I start the game with a magic familiar? No. Can I have inherited an enchanted sword from my grandfather? No.*

Geez. If I wanted to know what I can't do I'd be paying attention to my teacher instead of waiting for the school bell to ring so I can go play a game about imagination.

Even the rules, constantly adjusted, rewritten and added to by the greats of our blogosphere were viewed such that they could not be changed. Rules as written. Houserules? No!

See, in my happy imagination place (my campaigns) I can say yes to things. I say yes to my players fairly often. Especially if its no skin off my back.

Not long ago, a friend started running Pathfinder. While often saying how D&D is limited and how he has grown beyond it as a gamer, he basically still plays garden variety, old school D&D regardless of the new (ish) fangled system. And that's OK. It's what he likes.

One player in this new campaign, playing a Bard, drew a picture of his character with this crazy big harp. It looked less like a musical instrument and more like a weapon in a Final Fantasy video game. It was sooo cool looking. The GM, my friend, said he couldn't have it.

He noted how unrealistic it would be to lug the thing around in a dungeon. He mentioned how expensive such an item would be to own for a first level character and of course to replace if it was damaged. The Bard player redesigned a more reasonable harp.

Why?! Who the hell gives a flying fig what the item looks like? It's not a magic item. It doesn't give you any bonuses or provide an unfair advantage or hurt the game in any way. Why not say yes?

Well, I can only think of two reasons:

1) If that is not how you want things to look in YOUR game, you shouldn't allow it. After all it's YOUR game. There are no players involved in the creation and maintenance of YOUR game. It's all about YOU, the GM. You're the only one at the table that matters right? If everyone wants to try a town adventure and you don't like town adventures you are not obligated to give it a second thought. The players can go jump in a lake.**

2) You're just so used to saying no to players who do ask for the Moon on a silver platter that you've gotten accustomed to saying no. It's your default answer. Best to say no and than think it over later. No is comfortable. Saying no to an idea means you don't have to challenge yourself by figuring out how to deal with it in your campaign.**

I like saying yes for several reasons:

1) If I say yes you can have that awesome major magical item on day one, you can't get too upset when the monsters and adventures are really tough since you apparently have what you needed and wanted to be able to succeed.

2) Some players are so stunned by yes it's a challenge in and of itself. You didn't think I would say yes to you planning an Assassin Droid in a Star Wars game. Now you have to deal with being one. They're illegal you know. Your existence is against the law. Enjoy!

3) Saying yes challenges me. I don't particularly care for horror or wild west settings and I'm definitely not overly fond of dungeons. Therefore, when my players come to me and say, "Hey Adam, would you run this Deadlands adventure set in an abandoned mine?" My answer is, "Yes!" Why? Because I'm going to find a way to make the piece of poop shine like gold baby! Also, because if the majority of my players are interested in the idea, I feel it's part of my job as GM to at least give it a shot. **

Again I want to reiterate that this is not a stab at anyone or any particular post. ChicagoWiz's entry simply reminded me of something I've been thinking about for a long time. I'm not talking about him or any one GM in this post. I'm talking about why I game the way I do and why I don't play D&D or other old school games very much. The vast majority of them remind me of the days when the GM didn't let you do anything that they didn't like or that wasn't in the book. I found I preferred to be the GM, to find a way to like something about it and to put it in my book.

Say Yes once in a while. I won't cause space madness.***

Barking Alien

*Now I know some of you are reading this and saying, "Well I don't do that. I run an old school game and the players are free to do whatever...". Great. That is awesome. You are that effervescent you. I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about at least a dozen or more GMs I've encountered in one capacity or another over the past 33 years.

**Michael's post inspired me to talk about this idea. This isn't about him or aimed at him. In fact, I insist you go over to his blog and read his post. It's well done, honest and totally valid in all it says. And he's a cool guy. He get's the cool gaming biker dude seal of approval. My Dad drove a Harley when he was young but had to sell it. Got a Suzuki later in life. More impressed by his 1957 Ford pick-up truck which still had it's original engine. Beautiful machine.

***Barking Alien will not be held responsible for outbreaks of space madness brought on by answering yes to the question, "Do you want space madness?" or anything of a similar nature.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xiphoid, The Entity of Blades

X is hard to come up with a word for to be sure. I could have gone with Xeno or Xenomorph like so many others but that's not my style. If everyone's going right, I need to see what's on the left.

Xiphoid means 'shaped like a sword'. It is also the common use, colloquial term for any type of retractable blade weapon, the likes of which are often seen in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action genres we gamers tend to enjoy. Most often a xiphoid is wrist mounted and is used to pop a weapon into the users hand.

In my D&D-But-Not milieu (as well as a few other campaign universe's I've had) the Xiphoid is an entity vaguely resembling a humanoid but essentially a pile of magical swords. Animated by the powerful mystic forces imbued into these enchanted blades, the collected weapons stand up and a Xiphoid is born. The Xiphoid primary purpose appears to be adding more and more blades to it's form and will actively hunt down any magical sword it senses, slaying the wielder and throwing the weapon into the whirling, sliding, clanging mix.

The truth of the Xiphoid is a bit more complex. Several of the swords in a Xiphoid are always intelligent. The ego of each intelligent sword wants to be in charge of the Xiphoid and therefore the entity is constantly at war with itself. It's movements are not but the sound of hilts and blades striking the ground as it walk but the clashing of swords as they hit each other within the floating humanoid heap.

The swords with the most powerful egos try to convince other swords that they should be in charge and always want to add allies to their 'army' within the creature. This is the reason they hunt down and add new swords whenever possible.

The Xiphoid possesses the powers and abilities of all the swords in its collected form. It can only use two active abilities at a time and has a to-hit 'bonus' the is an average of the blades within it (yet another reason to try and add more and better swords). At minimum there are about 9-12 swords in a human sized Xiphoid, though entites of ogre size or large have been heard of containing 20-30 swords. Daggers, knifes, foils and the like are also fair game.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Wonder, I Got That in Spades

When I think of my homebrew D&D milieu, the one I use with my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D games, I always imagine it as both very different from what you typically encounter with a lot of other GMs' worlds and yet not so different at all.

Since the thinking behind the world's development is unusual compared to that of various old school ideals, my campaign universe is definitely going to have an peculiar feel to it for many gamers.

At the same time, I was intent on making sure the world was recognizable as D&D, even if only in a very general sense. I was determined to keep Races, Classes, Saving Throws, Dragons, Vancian Magic, and numerous other staples of the game so that players would simultaneously find things familiar and be wowed by the changes.

When Jeff Rients, gaming guru and man about town, posted this
entry asking twenty questions for your campaign setting, it got me thinking about trying to answer the questions for my own campaign. In many instances I can't clearly or at least easily answer the questions. The answers would be so obvious to my players and I that I don't think about how hard it would be to explain them to those that haven't experienced the setting. In a way it brought about a strange sense of wonder trying to 'retell for the first time' some of these elements.

Anyway, here goes my take on things as they apply to my world of Aerth...

What is the deal with my cleric's religion?

Each religion is different and there are nearly as many religions on Aerth as on our Earth, of which Aerth is a parallel. The Aegyteans worship a pantheon with a senile Ra, Osiris, Set, Bast, etc. The Gretha-Novans follow the deities of Olympus. The Red Brotherhood follows the Great Red One. Clerics communicate and have contact with their gods more readily on Aerth, though not always in direct or clear cut ways. Some have dreams, visions, are visited by messengers, ancestral ghosts, or see messages in strange places like clouds or flocks of birds.

Where can we go to buy standard equipment?

Unless I am misunderstanding the question, 'standard' equipment is...standard. As such you can buy it just about anyway. Even small towns and trade outposts will have some basic gear for sale.

Where can we go to get platemail custom fitted for this monster I just befriended?

It's easier than you might think. On Aerth the monster might be a friend, a member of the party, or even your character. That said, the best places are the largest and most advanced capital cities or major trade ports. I recommend Gallatain on the continent of Legorna, Rae-Uhn on the continent of Loreia and of course the island nation of Corindel.

Who is the mightiest wizard in the land?

That is up to some debate. The Master of Magicians of The Order of the Winghorn Guard is believed to be the most powerful and accomplished Wizard anywhere but that person's identity is kept a secret and numerous individuals have held the position over the centuries. Order member Omalphia of Gretha-Nova is extremely talented and powerful as is the mercenary mage Spi'Tar Pi'Ton. Some say the eccentric Ip Witspear of Witspear's Wondrous Wizardry Emporium is not only the greatest and most successful purveyor of material components in all the realm but a former adventuring wizard of considerable might and knowledge.

Who is the greatest warrior in the land?

Again this is unclear and different people will have different answers. The Winghorn Guard boasts many warriors of amazing skill including, of course, its Master of Warriors. Order member Shaylan Everleaf, a Sargent and Sylvan Elf, is perhaps one of the greatest swordsman of our time. The Half-Orc Warrior-Priest SlainShadow is deadly with both divine magic and a brutal mace. The Golem Monk called 'Rook' is the world's most accomplished martial artist.

Who is the richest person in the land?

Without a doubt, the Merchant Princes of Corindel are the richest men and women of Aerth. The standing of who among them is richer then whom constantly changes.

Where can we go to get some magical healing?

Most temples, churches and shrines will give out minor healing elixirs for a small donation to their cause. Many of the more popular and powerful religions set up hospices in the major cities to help stop outbreaks of disease, heal travelers and provide general information on health and well being in hopes that such services will turn more people over to their view.

Where can we go to get cures for the following conditions: poison, disease, curse, level drain, lycanthropy, polymorph, alignment change, death, undeath?

That is a bit more complicated. A paladin or cleric may be able to go to their own temple and wizards usually seek help from their old college or the local Wizard Guild but generally speaking many adventurers go to a local Wizard who has set up shop for just such a situation. Witspear's provides these and similar services (except death, curing death is outside his area of expertise*) at a fraction of the regular costs and only requires a minor favor in the vicinity of Mt. Oblivion in exchange for your discount.

*Actually, curing death is an epic quest in and of itself, undertaken in only the rarest of instances by the most determined of individuals. PC and NPC death isn't common in my Aerth campaigns but it is largely permanent. Resurrection simply isn't a thing.  

Is there a magic guild my MU belongs to or that I can join in order to get more spells?

But of course! Several. Most likely he or she can call on the guild associated with the Wizard College they graduated from. If they went with an apprenticeship instead of a College it can be a lot tougher depending on your mentor. Elves seem to get the best of both worlds, training in a college but receiving an apprenticeship in their last year if they've display exceptional talent.

Where can I find an alchemist, sage or other expert NPC?

Again, any major city, most smaller cities and large towns, and even some villages.

Where can I hire mercenaries?

You're not from around here are you? Why would there be only one place to do a thing?

Pretty much any place but if you're looking for quality and price isn't an object go to Corindel. If you're looking for good but watching you're wallet check out Rae-Yora or Drakkenheim. If you need a guy with a pointy stick and only have a few coppers might I recommend Gruegen, Rae-Skorn, or the south of Uthster.

Is there any place on the map where swords are illegal, magic is outlawed, or there are any other notable hassles from Johnny Law?

Not...exactly. Many places require weapons to be peace bonded and you certainly need a license or clearance from the local law enforcement authorities to cast combat magic in most of the more civilized lands. Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Wizards and a number of others are considered licensed careers and a license is required to practice them professionally.

Which way to the nearest tavern?

Um...really, really close by. Usually to the left for some reason.

What monsters are terrorizing the countryside sufficiently that if I kill them I will become famous?

Depends on the region. Wendigo in the Great North West Territories. Sea serpents in the Northern and Southern Seas. Vampires and Werewolves abound in Borgovia. Demons in or near 'The Earth Wound'. Gretha-Nova may still have a Gorgon or Chimera left over from their Age of Heroes. Dragons...well its rare that you'll find Dragons. If you kill them you'll be famous...assuming you and the neighboring countryside survive.

Are there any wars brewing I could go fight?

Not at the moment. A state of cold war exists between many nations and minor conflicts do break out from time to time but open warfare is rare these days. A 'United Nations' like pact exists reducing the chance of all out war. Luckily, the Great Order of The Winghorn Guard and its charter provide an alternative to war as the Order's diplomatic counselors will be happy to mediate a negotiation between the conflicted countries.

How about gladiatorial arenas complete with hard-won glory and fabulous cash prizes?

Still popular in Gretha-Nova, though much more organized and less barbaric then those of the early days. A variety of other professional sports and contests are held in arenas and theatres throughout the world these days, as are musical and stage performances.

Are there any secret societies with sinister agendas I could join and/or fight?

No. Of course not. There is no Circle of the Shattered Rainbow. It's just a myth. An old folktale. Let's not talk about them anymore since as I said, they don't exist.

What is there to eat around here?

Gallatain has some of the finest restaurants in the world, though Rae-Uhn has a greater array of choices. Elven dishes are currently the rage with Hltheen Ei'Gehr being very popular. It is basically a salad made with vegetables grown exclusively in the Wood Elven land of Sylvandel that can fill up even the most demanding meat eater. Most describe it as savory and hearty though it looks to be fairly plain greens with carrots and a few radishes.

For seafood fans I highly recommend 'The Cove' in Corindel, the 'Shell of Fulfillment' in Atlantandel (or Atlantis as it is often called) and of course numerous restaurants and inns in Nihon. 

Any legendary lost treasures I could be looking for?

Many but some of the most intriguing to date are the artifacts connected with the Lost Era of Rae. In the Freelands of Rae are several instances of magical machines, complex devices powered by magic such as the Machine of Lum The Mad, the Mighty Servant of Leuk-O, and the Great Golems of Rae-Uhn.

Other items of interest are The Philosopher's Stone, The Weapon of War (War as in the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse), one of the numerous Rings of Gax (in Aerth's multiverse there is one Ring of Gax for each plane/dimension in a fashion similar to the Green Lantern Rings having one for each sector), and The Unwritten Book.

Where is the nearest dragon or other monster with Type H treasure?

I don't know what that means exactly. I'm going to imagine 'Type H' means a lot of treasure. Since my world doesn't exactly have random treasure strewn about, it would really depend upon where you are in the world. Dragons are best handled by professionals for reasons other than stealing their treasure. If that is your only motivation for fighting one you will most surely die. The Dragon will then find out where you lived or came from and go destroy that town down to the last man, woman, and child. Dragons are serious @*^t on Aerth.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vigilante and also for Villain

I've spoken about Villains & Vigilantes a number of times in the past but a recently renewed obsession with Superhero gaming, several posts by Blacksteel and the need for a 'V' entry got me wanting to talk about it again.

Thing is, I don't think I've ever said enough about what a major influence that game was one me. It was probably V&V that created the earliest deviation in my preferences, leading me away from D&D toward other games.

The main reason for this boils down to areas of interest. By that I mean, I like comic books more than fantasy novels so it's not all that strange I would prefer to play Superheroes over Knights and Wizards. There were other factors as well. Armor provided protection in V&V but didn't make you harder to hit. This seemed eminently logical to me, even at 13-14 years of age. You could build (or roll up as was generally the case but more on that in a moment) almost any kind of character. I remember homebrew V&V to play D&D, Star Wars and a few other games back in the day.

I really loved V&V back in the day and though I tried other Supers RPGs (all of them I believe), none had that special charm that V&V had. The art helped as well. Most early Supers RPGs looked terrible while Villains and Vigilantes had Jeff Dee doing the art and it looked awesome.

Eventually, V&V would meet its match when I finally played and understand (the latter taking a lot longer then the former) HERO Games' Champions. A creative guy and a comic book fan, I was coming up with my own Superheroes before I'd played or even heard of RPGs. V&V gave to the opportunity to play Supers but Champions let me create my dream heroes.

These days, as you may know, Mutants & Masterminds is my game of choice, especially with the update to 3rd Edition which I find to be superb (though I don't like the NPCs they added to the setting. What was wrong with updating Freedom City? Freedom City Rocks!)

Still and as much as I am not longer enamoured with random tables so much, I periodically crack open the ol' V&V rule book and roll up a character just to see if it inspires something. More often than not, it simply contributes to my desire to run Supers. So in essence, V&V is still doing its job.

Barking Alien

The armored superhero pictured above is Excelsior, my favorite of all my characters. I actually created him before I discovered gaming. While rolling up a character for a V&V game I randomly generated a guy who seemed so much like him the GM allowed me to just play Excelsior. The image, from 1992, was done by the amazing Keith Conroy.

PS: On the subject of Supers, my friend the lovely Erin Palette has compiled the saga of her awesome alternate history superheroine Silence Do-Good on her site
here. If you're a fan of superheroes, alternate history, Ben Franklin or just well crafted tales, I highly recommend you check it out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Undecided, So I Guess I'm Just Chillin'

It's upon me once more.

I'm in one of my phases where I can't think of anything, I can only think of everything.

U is for Uldra, Ultimates, Ultraman, Universe, Unusual and an untold number of uncountable other things. Sigh. I'd tried a few times to make this post something more meaningful but I just have too much on my mind in and out of the hobby.

Here's some art to hold you over until my next wacky concept...

U is for Unknown Life Form

U is for Undead Agent

U is for Ultimate Dracolich

Barking Alien

The first illustration is by Matt Pattinson, aka Culprit Tech.
The next is one I put together from various forgotten sources.The last is the winner of the 50th Creature of the Week excercise on ConceptArt Forums.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

T is for Trouble, You Should Know It Well

There is that famous Chinese saying, at once both curse and proverb, "May you live in interesting times." In a certain context 'interesting' can be taken as synonymous with troublesome. The 'life' of a Player Character is best when interesting.

Now I know I previously made the request that we
cut them some slack, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating you cut them too much.

Just as I don't want to see 1st level PCs placed in inescapable death traps that have an army of Slaads* waiting outside just in case they do get out, I don't want to imply that we (GMs) shoould go too easy on them either.

Finding a happy balance between challenging and exceedingly deadly can be tricky. With my old groups and my Jersey group I know where that balance lies, although I also know they can surprise me quite often. This dynamic has developed over years and years and it's no wonder we are so in synch when it comes to play style.

When gaming with my newer NY group I originally went a bit too easy on them. As time went on, I realized they played (or were used to playing) a far more mechanical game in some aspects. This meant that they knew how to get the most out of the rules and were therefore extremely effective in combat but when it came to using the players' noggins to figure things out or their role playing skills to gain some assistance or knowledge from NPCs, some of them were a little out of their element.

One size doesn't fit all and what proves troublesome for one group may be a breeze for the next. The GM should, IMO, observe and review various activities in his or her game to determine what works best. 'Best' for what you say? Well, in my case, the best way to provide a challenge to the Players and their characters that doesn't necessarily result in death...but could. The more likely outcome is injury, hurt pride and the villain gaining some advantage. If said advantage makes the next encounter with the villain more difficult and truly deadly so be it. Live...or not so much...and learn.

Barking Alien

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Stories, The Tales That We Tell

I can only imagine S being pretty full of itself.

It's an overexposed letter quite frankly, used far too often for too many things. Seriously now, why couldn't a Star have been called a Xhar or a Zhar to give X and Z something to do?

When trying to think of an entry for S it was difficult because there are just too many things I like and think about that start with S. Science, Science Fiction, Scott Pilgrim, Sesame Street, Sorcery, Space, Space Opera, Spock, Star Frontiers, Star Lord, Star Trek, Star Wars, Steampunk, Superheroes, Superman, Superpowers, Sword and Planet...and the list goes on and on.

So I have decided to dedicate this entry to Stories... I have something of a gift for them I've been told, by both gamers and non-gamers alike. Whether it is this knack that lead me to more story oriented gaming or vice versa I do not know. What I do know is that when I game I aim to tell a good story and have an even better story built around it by the end of the game thanks to my players.

My biggest reward for doing all the prep and contemplation that goes into an running an RPG, be it a single session or a massive campaign, is when three months, one year, or even ten years later a player of mine says, "Damn, remember that time we were playing in Adam's Star Trek game and our minds were transferred into those alien bodies. That *#@^ was crazy! Man, that was a good game."

In my opinion there is no higher honor, no greater calling than to tell a story, have it be remembered and have someone pass it on. We in the modern world have largely lost our need and desire for the oral history that once kept early cultures alive and paved the way for their continued existence and as a result our own. We are, all of us, immortal in a fashion if there are stories told of our deeds and actions to the generations that follow.

My father passed away about 20 years ago and my nephew of 4 obviously never met him. While my Dad certainly had his shortcomings as do we all, I hope to keep using some of his odder phrases and tell tales of our fishing excursions to my nephew when he gets a bit older. I hope he tells his kids about his funny uncle. Be they true or made up, simple or complex, accurate or exaggerated and everything in between, never stop telling stories.

Barking Alien

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Rules, I'll Tell You Where to Stick'em

As I set out to write this entry I noticed B/X Blackrazor writing his thoughts on skills in old school D&D (which essentially amounts to the Thief - which used percentiles - no one else had skills - almost everything else used a D20). It occurred to me that a lot of rules in RPGs, generally speaking of course, annoy me.

We need rules. It's a game after all. But it isn't Sorry or Poker. I for one am not worried about anyone 'cheating' (for the most part*). The mechanics of a game should serve to help determine what happens when two contradictory concepts engage each other.

I want to open a door. The door has a lock designed to stop me.

I want to pilot this shuttlecraft through a storm. The storm makes air travel difficult and dangerous.

I want to hit you. You don't want to get hit.

The other thing rules should do if they can is reinforce the feel and atmosphere of the game's genre, milieu or premise. The Flashback/Interview mechanic in InSpectres or 'Stealing The Show' and 'Upstaging' in my Muppets RPG are good examples of this. If you gotta have rules, make'em work for you.

Personally, I want the rules of a game to be like the floor of my apartment, nice to know it's there and not ugly or intrusive but basically something I don't think about very often. Rules need to stay the heck out of my way when I game. The more I can 'see' them the more it takes me out of the game universe. Unless of course, as I mentioned, they are specifically designed to strengthen the game's 'vibe'.

This attitude toward rules is also one of the reasons I don't like random tables. Random tables are charts. I hate charts. Charts are more rules. Sure some charts are optional but they look like rules.

I don't want to look up stuff while playing. I don't want to have to do anything that stops me from directly engaging my players. Why look in my book, find a chart, roll the dice and get '+2 Sword' when I could've just as easily not broken eye contact with the player when I say, "Alright, as you look through the contents of the amassed loot, you see a long sword with a faintly shimmering blade." That wouldn't even tax a single brain cell for me and it'll take a fraction of the time.

Time. Yes. Speed! Speed is of the essence! Rules slow the game down. Even the best rules with the fastest, smoothest combat system makes me feel like molassess going uphill in the winter
.** In situations such as combat, car chases and other action oriented sequences I want things to go from 0-600 in .6 seconds. Your to-hit number should be listed on your character sheet. Your defense is there too. There is no chart, no need to look at the book. Tell me what you're doing and tell me now or this baby is gonna blow sky high before you even get a chance to blink.

In conclusion, I don't care too much for rules. I know I need them and RPGs wouldn't be RPGs without them but the fewer the better. I'm telling you now Rules, just chill. I'll stay out of your way and you stay out of mine.

*I don't know a single player who would 'cheat' per se but I do know a few who will take advantage of the rules and try to squeeze the last possible point or advantage out of a system. Whatever. It's all good. Since my games aren't just about how powerful you are I don't care if you're a combat monster who can't be defeated on the field of battle. What are you going to do when you're not on the field of battle?

**Thanks to my Dad for the one. Favorite phrase ever.


What was the first game you played other than D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.)? What is you first game? If not, how long had you been playing D&D before trying this other game? What did you think of it?

My first game was D&D in 77'. To be honest I am not sure what my next game was. I know I played Gamma World and ran both Boot Hill and Gamma World before I first played Traveller in 1979 but I can not for the life of me remember which came first. I remember liking Gamma World, thinking Boot Hill was OK and hating Traveller the first time I played it.

If D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.) disappeared tomorrow along with any memory of how to play or even that it had ever existed, what game would you play instead?

I might not notice. I play Sci-Fi and Superheroes mostly, with Mutants & Masterminds (3E now) and Star Trek (Last Unicorn Games ICON Version) being the most prominent. I love to try new games, old games I've never played and old games I haven't played in a while. Other favorites include but are not limited to Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space, Ars Magica, Faery's Tale Deluxe, Changeling: The Dreaming, Star Wars (West End Games D6), Traveller (Original) and various homebrews.

How long did your longest lived character live (game time and 'real time')? How long did your shortest lived character live? What happened to them when last you played them?
I rarely play as I've mentioned and for the most part most of the characters I've had have lived until we stopped playing that campaign for whatever reason or at least I did.

That said, my longest running character in someone else's game would have to be Starguard, my alien Superman/Green Lantern-ish character in my pal's Champions game. I used him for at least 3 1/2 to 4 years of real time. Last I heard he had essentially completed his mission to Earth by protecting the lost heir to my species' nearest interstellar rival (my friend Dave's character) and brokered a peace treaty between the two governments. Following that he returned to defending his sector of space.

My shortest was a Dwarf in an AD&D 1E game my friend ran. The Dwarf was on a holy pilgrimage and was prevented from crossing a road. My character told the roadwarden he was aghast that the fellow would not let a son of the Earth pass to continue on his pious journey. The soldier hit me with a sap, double damage, dead. The character lasted approximately 5-10 minutes. Despise D&D.

What was the most successful campaign you ran or played in that was based on a licensed product and what was the IP (Intellectual Property)?

A Star Trek campaign but to be fair I run licensed properties a lot. I've always had success with them. I am obviously especially fond of Star Trek, Star Wars, Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters and DC Comics.

What was the most successful comedic campaign you ran or played in? Note: This question is aimed at games that were supposed to be comedic or humorous from the start.

Galaxy Quest, Ghostbusters (using a hybrid of InSpectres and the original GB RPG by West End Games or WEG to keep the theme of initials going...) and my high school Teenagers from Outer Space campaign 'Blast City Blues'. Oh that was the good stuff.

If you could turn any IP into a professional RPG game tomorrow what would it be?

Seriously? Do I need to ask me that question? It involves Antron Fleece and singing chickens. Three guesses and the first two don't count.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Questions, I Know How to Pick'em

Turning the tables on my readership (stop laughing, there are people who read my stuff regularly. Like...there's...that guy. Y'know him), I'd like to ask the fans some questions about their gaming as it relates to some of the stuff I enjoy and discuss. Feel free to answer as many or as few as you like but please post something...


What was the first game you played other than D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.)?
How long had you been playing D&D before trying this other game? What did you think of it?

Note: If D&D was not your first game, how long had you been playing that other game before trying D&D? Did you try D&D?
If D&D (Or any of its variants, clones, derivatives, etc.) disappeared tomorrow along with any memory of how to play or even that it had ever existed, what game would you play instead?

How long did your longest lived character live (game time and 'real time')? How long did your shortest lived character live?

What happened to them, or what state were they in, when last you played them?

What was the most successful campaign you ran or played in that was based on a licensed product and what was the IP (Intellectual Property)?

What was the most successful comedic campaign you ran or played in?

Note: This question is aimed at games that were supposed to be comedic, or humorous from the start.

If you could turn any IP into a professional RPG game tomorrow what would it be?

Curious to see the results of this...

Barking Alien


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Players, Show Them Some Pity

Well, 'pity' may be too extreme but give'em a break already.

As noted in the past, I love to Gamemaster and hate to play. No, really. I can't stand it. There have been a rare few occasions where I've...I guess 'stood it'...and even a tiny number where I liked it but I think loved it would come down to once.* One campaign in 33 years.

Being a player is tough. You usually have little to no control over your environment and in my experience, sometimes little control over your character and his background. Many modern players I game will make detailed backgrounds but then get a little upset when you add or alter or utilize them. I found this extremely odd. Why give your character a background that involves an enemy organization if you don't expect or want them to show up? Then a friend of mine revealed that the point was the players in question were so used to their backgrounds being ignored they really didn't expect me to use the material. It was just sort of there for the player's entertainment. I found that both interesting and a bit sad.

I can't tell you how many times, in person and on various blogs, I've seen the attitude of GMs who are 'going to teach their players a lesson' or 'punish them if they do X'. More often than not the attitude is the result of developing a trap or monster or something and getting pissed if the players think outside the box and defeat it. You know, like players are want to do. Because why else play?

I've never understood wanting the Players to not be creative. Right this second there are probably a fair number of GMs reading this and thinking, "That's not what we meant! I'm not trying to penalize them for being creative. I want them to be creative."

Really? Do you? How do you go about that?

I deal with a lot of different players from many different walks of life, age groups, enthnicities, etc. While the classic old school player will shrug off the GMs' grudge monsters and after the fact traps set up just because you figured out the first one, newer players get discouraged. And no, not because they feel they can't 'win' but because the incentive to be creative and think of new ways to approach things is too often squashed.

Now let's look are mortality rates. Being a player in an old school RPG is usually best approached by buying stock in Xerox or some kind of paper company since you're going to go through a lot of character sheets.

I agree there should be a threat of death and yes, PCs in my campaigns die from time to time but it doesn't happen really often. Why? Well first, I play in a lot of settings and genres where main character death is rare. Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Superhero Comics and the like generally have reoccurring heroes who, let's face it, reoccur. Secondly, I've always felt it more important to challenge the players and their PCs then kill them. Any two bit yokel GM can kill a PC. It takes no creativity, thought or skill. The guy is 5th level? OK, he's attacked by 3 15th level monsters. Dead. The good ol' Blue Bolts of Lightning are always useful in this regard. You are the universe as a the GM. If you say a guy is dead, he's dead. No save. It's the GM's power. And it's boring.

Challenging them to think and utilize all their skills, abilities and cunning is, IMHO, the goal of a truly accomplished GM. This is just my take on it but I've always felt my postion as GM was about entertaining the players as much if not more than being about rules knowledge and refereeing or indulging in my own ego (though that is a side benefit).

A little ranty but you get the picture. Onward...

Barking Alien

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Oz and it's Emerald City

We leave the world of nightmares for a strange land located somewhere between dreams and fairy tales. Beyond the rainbow, at the end of the Road of Yellow Brick, lies Oz.

I have noted before that L. Frank Baum is one of my literary heroes and I've been fascinated with the land of Oz and it's nonestic neighbors since I was very young. A more perfect setting for a role playing game of magic, faeries, dragons, wizards, and witches I can not fathom dear reader. While I have read the likes of Tolkien, Vance, Howard, Moorcock, Lieber, and many others that make up the foundation of modern medieval fantasy fiction and gaming, none of those writers do it for me the way Baum, Carroll, Byron, Yates, Aesop, and the Grimms do.

Now in regards to gaming in the Land of Oz, there are several interesting options. First and foremost I would have to recommend Adventures in Oz, the Oz RPG by the talented F. Douglas Wall and art by a variety of skilled illustrators including yours truly (ah the joys of the shameless self-plug). This is a good choice because aside from being one of the few if not the only RPGs truly based on the source material and its unique style (more on that in a bit), I can vouch for the fact that it's an Oz game by an Oz fan. Doug Wall and those that provided additional material for this game are individuals who care about and have a deep passion for the original stories and making sure the tone is right.

This is not Wicked or an American McGee take on the setting but a faithful tribute to Baum and the wonderful world, at once both whimsical and exciting, that was created over 100 years ago. That is an IP with staying power if ever I've seen one. While Adventures in Oz retains the darker aspects of the setting, it doesn't dwell on them. There are games that focus more on those elements but sometimes in doing so they lose the charm of OZ, that American fairy tale nature that is easy to perceive but difficult to explain.

As with other settings I enjoy, this isn't one where killing your enemy, finding gold, or becoming more powerful are primary goals that drive the PC's lives. Everyone in Oz gets what they need as far as food and a place to stay. No one gets sick and no one ages. These are adventures about hope, love, helping others, overcoming problems, and vanquishing evil because it's doing bad things to people who you care about.

Also in the same category is the Zantabulous game The Zorcerer of Zo, an Oz-But-Not-Oz RPG created by those wacky guys over a Atomic Sock Monkey. I recommend this game as it too captures the correct atmosphere, and interestingly enough lends itself quite easily to adaption of non-Oz settings that hold the same general mystique such as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Bridge to Terabithia, and the like.

Obviously I can't pass up the chance to suggest using Faery's Tale Deluxe or a modified Teenagers from Outer Space. I actually used a mix of TFOS and Ars Magica (yes...TFOS and Ars Magica. Do not question me! The Great and Terrible Adam has spoken!) to run my Oz campaign those many years ago.

Now this being a Monday I am predisposed toward mentioning the Muppets somewhere and there were certainly instances where Oz and the Muppets crossed over.

A number of instances in fact. Most notable of course was
The Muppets Wizard of Oz, which had some elements unchanged from the books that were altered for the famous MGM movie. In the Muppets special The Muppets Go to the Movies there is a different take of the classic story. In addition, Fozzie alone makes the mistake of thinking the Tin Man is a character in Wonderland in the Muppet Show episode featuring Brooke Shields.

Barking Alien

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for Nightmares, Resource for Fear

This post is not a bit snarky. No sir and madam. It is filled with snark.

It is the ur-snark. Snark incarnate.

Read with a sense of humor or check back Monday.


I am not, by and large, a 'dark' guy.

I'm not into Horror movies or the thoughts of serial killers or any of that grimdark crap that's been all the rage since the Iron Age of the late 80's and 90's. Ho-hum. The world is such a dark, angry, miserable place yadda yadda yadda.

Give me a break.

Oh course it's a dark and angry place. Humans, generally speaking, stink. We are a cruel, self-serving, egotistical, cowardly, lazy species of omnivorous primates that are largely still in the same survival mode we were in when we climbed out of the trees oh so long ago. We've simply adapted to a modern world.

A small portion of our over-reproducing, under-reading populace is actually evolved enough to think of things and people other than themselves and beyond the accumulation of stuff. This progressively endangered and shrinking minority isn't into grimdark as the masses are. You see, this group has matured beyond that. They have reached a sublime understanding of how effed up the planet and its people are and decided that the dark is not entertaining in and of itself. After all, what good is escapism from real life misery land into fictional misery land? That's just dumb. It's like how you know an 'adult' movie because it has blood and guts, sex references, and body parts jokes. Ya'know, the kind of stuff you were into when you were twelves. Yeah. Very adult.

One of the main reasons I'm not into it is because I've lived through some very difficult times. I don't want to go into it here on the internet for all to see but I've survived some bad experiences. As some of you may know I have really serious insomnia and hardly sleep. Part of the reason for this is nightmares.

I used to have nightmares, bad dreams, or whatever you wish to call them, on a fairly regular basis. As I grew up I had an aversion to going to sleep since I didn't want to have them. I remembered them when I awoke quite often. I would sometimes wake up unaware it was a dream at all.

Many nightmares follow dream logic and therefore don't make a lot of sense. Others are singularly vivid and so much like the waking world that they are in turn that much more frightening for their strangeness. Now that I am older and wiser, I've discovered that I can lessen the quantity and severity of my bad dreams by using the material, especially in the reoccurring ones, in my games. It's the one way I am able to create truly scary and creepy opponents since my lucid, conscious mind will rarely generate anything so frightening and deadly.

One of the most interesting ideas I've come up with without my knowing it is the loss or need of a skill or ability I don't have. Imagine if the presence of a supernatural entity simply eliminated a skill like Handgun or Driving. You get in a car to get away from or drive to the paranormal and need to make a save. If you fail you just don't remember how to drive. Driving Skill-6 is now Driving Skill-0. You're now in as much danger from crashing as you are being attacked by a spectre.

Another idea is getting to talk to someone who has passed on but in a very specific way/circumstance. A PC or group of PCs and their old mentor or one of their relatives are with them in a house. As long as they are in the house that person is alive even though they died years ago. If a PC leaves the house they can't find a way back in. If everyone leaves the house it goes away and the person never returns. If the person leaves the house at anytime, they never return and the house suddenly looks subtly different. It is much older, dilapidated, and coated in cobwebs. Not so much frightening as bittersweet to sad.

There was the one about the fish headed guy. Ugh. I still don't like looking at fish to this day (yet I find sea life fascinating but that's a story for another time)..

Running and not getting anywhere or punching something or someone and apparently having no capacity to cause damage of any kind is also common. Classic bad dream stuff rarely seen in RPGs.

There are so many possibilities, none of them particularly enjoyable but all them creepy and interesting. I'm sure you all have a few of your own.

Sleep tight,

Barking Alien


Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Mecha, Heavy Metal Gear

I apologize for the comparatively lackluster nature of my blog posts of late but several factors have contributed to their less-than-stellar nature.

First and foremost, I have been working numerous additional hours and I'm a little fried. Combine getting up earlier, working til late and my own natural insomnia and it's amazing I can write at all.

The added workload means less actual gaming. Less actual gaming seems to affect my enthusiasm for the subjects I address on my blog. Recent blog posts have therefore been a bit arbitrary.

An additional contributing factor to the arbitrary nature of recent posts is The A-to-Z Challenge. It hasn't helped because it's not the way I normally organize my thoughts. Actually I either organize them very carefully and meticulously ahead of time (March) or not at all (most of the rest of the time). This need to organize them somewhat is actually becoming a pain in the keister for me.

So here then is a somewhat lazy approach to one of my favorite subjects, Mecha. I could talk on and on about giant robots and running an Anime/Manga Mecha campaign but for now cool images will have to do...



Stay safe and dry East Coast. We'll talk again soon.

Barking Alien

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Lore and Legends That Prove True

When world building, Gamemasters often put a lot of effort into the history of their milieu as well as the social and cultural elements and relationships of its denizens.

How often though do we come up with myths, folklore and tall tales?

Now it seems an almost a silly question to ask as for the most part Medieval Fantasy rules and settings are based on legends, mythology, and similar lore. we as GMs treat our world as such or do we treat them like 'real worlds'; living, breathing, moving collections of people, places. and events in a universe where things such as dragons, wizards, and enchanted swords exist?

To put it another way, in a friend's D&D campaign universe Orcs are all descended from the first fallen hero who, after becoming famous for a great and noble deed, became smitten with fame and fortune. Soon, consumed by avarice, the gods cursed him and all his followers to resemble pigs and henceforth their descendants are pig-faced Orcs.

This isn't a legend. This happened in the campaign's history. This is an internal fact.

We tend to create prophecies and legends when we need them, usually as the lead-in to adventures or to explain the origin of certain items but are we saying these are the absolute truths of how they came about or are they hearsay? Are we generating them on the fly or beforehand? Are they intended to be part of our campaigns or do they just seem like a good idea at the time?

My own D&D-But-Not world has a very detailed history and explanation for everything. Much of it is even true. Some of it is specifically noted as unknown and therefore speculated upon. "There are many tales told about the 60 ft. golems walking back and forth around the city-state of Rae-Uhn..." for example. For another..."Legend says this cavern is guarded by a three headed dragon!" "Tis no dragon that has three heads fool. It's a hydra." "A Hydra? This far north? Don't you know the legend of Sir BrakBrinn the Oaf? I heard it from my cousin's friend's older brother who spoke to the old woman in the woods when he was younger. It's a demon as sure as I live and breathe..."

Those are simple examples of course. In truth there are large parts of my world's history that are purposefully left with holes or incorrect information swirling about them just waiting for PCs to stumble upon or show interest in them and find the true truth. Since I award experience points for revealing plot and world background secrets it behooves Players to investigate rumors and legends told by hermits and sages.

Even in Sci-Fi and Superhero games it's a good idea for the lore of a hero, villain, place, or thing to be only partially correct. Stories get embellished and embellishments are misinterpreted. The key is, establish the story, let it sit for a while so the players assume and except it as true. Then reveal it to be a ways off the mark but with some shred of the correct story in it to explain how it was warped in the first place.

Just something to think about.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kinetic, Combat That Moves You

What happens when a fireball hits?

Sounds like a silly question, no? Characters lose hit points, stuff burns, 6 sided dice are rolled for damage and saving throws are attempted. But what happens?

Does the impact of a fireball, which we know fills in a given space with its flames, have impact? Does it knock people down and blow doors off their hinges? If fired in a house with glass windows (perhaps in a temple with stained glass or other post-medieval locale with glass) does its detonation cause all the pretty colored scenes to shatter into so much prismatic sand and razor sharp shards of shrapnel?

One element of my games that my players really seem to enjoy is the cinematic, fast paced and very visual nature of combat. More so than the mechanical elements, I work very hard to describe scenes of combat and other action packed moments in a way that enables the players to 'see' what is happening. I embellish quite a bit and let my players do the same. If someone wants to swing a sword to parry an attack and then with their second move spin around and come up swinging into the opponents kidney area, well by all means. If a guy wants to leap from his flying mount feet first, drop kick an enemy off their mount and somersault back into their own saddle, I say, "You go for it brother-man!" (Or lady-sister if appropriate).

I've been in a lot of RPG battles as a player and I've run a hundred times as many as a GM. Most battles I've been in have been rather boring. Most, though not nearly all, are very much affairs of the dice. I roll to hit, I miss. GM rolls to hit and he hits. He rolls damage. I roll to hit, I hit...rinse, repeat. Nothing really interesting or jarring. Ways to make combat or similar action challenges more exciting include...

Changing up the terrain, weather conditions, transportation method, etc. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Environment, Environment, Environment! Fight on horseback, leaping from rock to rock in a lava flow or while swinging on vines in a jungle. Ever fight aboard a sinking pirate ship? How about in the middle of a sand storm in a vast desert? Try it. It definitely adds spice and makes players think on their feet in order to survive both the situation and the battle.

Add special effects. I once described the following to players coming down a hill at night..."You see sudden flashes of light in the distance, some of which zip back and forth like fist sized fireflies. You hear what sounds like quick movements of small birds or dragonflies and a few yelps of pain. What you want to do?"

The party ran over to get a closer look. The lights and fireflies were magic missile volley being traded by the two group fighting in the valley, each representing a nearby Kingdom. The sounds the PCs heard were actually arrows and injured warriors.

Don't forget to have things go boom, boing or buzz. A fireball might miss you and you take no damage but in certain compressed spaces the force of the blast might send a character through a door or window.

Try talking faster or in a more urgent tone as combat amps up and don't be afraid to jump from PC to PC regardless of initiative if it fits the layout of the scenario and the battlefield. The fastest guy, PC D, still moved first but since PC A is near PC B when the floor beneath PC B erupts into a geyser of dirt and rock you may want to go to her quickly and than leave again when she makes a dramatic roll, movement or decision.

Describe how an attack rattles their teeth, shakes the ground, causes everyones' clothes to flutter in the rushing wind of the blow's backdraft.

Watch a lot of Anime. Japanese Animators and Manga Artists know how to make fights look and feel awesome. There are plenty of D&D-esque titles to choose from, most available at Borders, Barnes & Noble or your friendly local comic book shops.

Simply put, combat, IMHO, should be kinetic. It should move and move you. Swoop down, leap up, charge across the field and swing into action.

Barking Alien