Friday, September 30, 2011

Messing With Things...A Bust

So my plans for this month didn't pan out quite as I anticipated.

Too much reality infringing on my fun as it were.

For next month I want to focus on posting more regularly once again, though I am sure there will be slow down because of all the awesome gaming and stuff I'll be doing. Here's hoping.

Barking Alien

Status Symbols

Too tired to do anything truly engaging or constructive, so I decided to make this...

If you're gonna pigeon hole yourself, definitely do it with neat looking graphic icons.

Thanks to Strange Magic for the concept and images.

Later Days,

Barking Alien

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Can't Think

Please forgive my slow down on posting yet again.

I am just too exhausted from work, trying to stay alive in this insane (but awesome) city and other obligations to form coherent thoughts on gaming at the moment.

I am also fighting hard not to lose my enthusiasm for Supers gaming in light of
DC Comics New 52. Honestly, I've been checking out as much as I can stomach each week and...I just have nothing left in me to vomit up.

OK, I am exaggerating but sadly, only a little.

One of my upcoming posts was going to be a review of this mess but for now let's just say, "No, no sir. I don't like it."

There are a handful of good books in the mix, like tiny pearls in the mouths of oysters that can only be found by pour through tons of dead and rotten fish. Check out Batwing, Batwoman and, believe it or not, Aquaman.

Anyway, off to work as always. More to come soon...I hope.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So That's The Fantastic?

I so didn't want to get involved in this discussion.

When I read through the first few posts on bringing the 'fantastical' back into D&D, I couldn't help but thinking I had seen this all before. This was all stuff I've mentioned numerous times on numerous sites. My whole spiel on why 'Ecology of the Mysterious Creature of Legend' is fun to read but the exact opposite of what I want in my game.

To this end I am in agreement with those who feel that a certain sense of vagueness is key to keeping the mystery of a setting and it's contents intriguing and challenging. But then we get this...

1. Never make monsters "scalable" unless they're basically humanoids with levels like the PCs and so the PCs can tell them apart as characters.

This is spot on. Nothing makes a dragon - no, scratch that, any monster - less interesting than being able to fight it at 1st level and win. It is for this and many other reasons that 4th edition D&D wins the noisms prize for All Time Most Banalifying Game System Ever.

Huh? Why? So, every time you face a dragon of a certain color, size, etc., the players will know the age, roughly the hit points or their maximum potential, how to defend themselves, yadda yadda, another boring dragon.

I've had dragons the size of a medieval english cottage that a smart, well organized and equipped party of 7 PCs ranging from 5-7th level can kill. In the same campaign the players later heard of a dragon that had ravaged the entire countryside and they set out to slay it. They were now about 8-10th level average. When they arrived on the scene they saw barley and wheats fields burnt to ash and learned that the lake the dragon drinks from is now poisoned. Cows and sheep miscarry for a day and a night after the dragon flies over and the healing powers of the local clerics only have half their normal effect. When finally confronted, the dragon was roughly the size of a Great Dane (a la' St. George and the Dragon).

There are tiny frogs in this world that can kill a grown man in seconds and larger ones that result in a mind rash. Scale everything. They will never know what to expect and the abilities of these creature will seem mysterious.

No. You should probably not make a weak dragon that can be killed by three 1st level PCs. Yes, you should make monsters variable in power. Not every legend attributes the same abilities to the same beasts.

2. Finding an NPC cleric willing to heal you is fucking hard and generally involves some creepy religious thing happening. Because miracles are rare.

I don't disagree with this at all. I also don't abide by it on my own world.

Clerical healing is a part of civilization. When you are in civilization, say your home town or a friendly city-state, why not have healing available for a price. This isn't where the mystery is. This is where you're from, where you live. You then leave this safety to face the mysterious outside world. At least that's how I run it most of the time.

3. Make [the players] cross a threshold (a clear in game threshold "Are you sure you wish to travel down the secluded mountain pass") before having them fight the fantastical.

This makes sense. Of course, the fantastic can be all around you and it may be as easy as leaving a bowl of milk with some honey bread in it on your back porch. It all depends upon the needs of the adventure/story/GM/players. Read some myth and folklore for ideas.

4. Recreate monsters - especially the humanoids. Keep them physically and statistically the same, but recreate their culture.

If they are physically and statistically the same but their culture is new that's cool. If they are physically and statistically different but their culture is new that's awesome. You couldn't pay me to use D&D trolls over my trolls. What the heck are those carrot nosed, goofball looking things supposed to be anyway? They sure aren't trolls.

Again, want to get closer to folklore, myth and legend? READ A BOOK ON FOLKLORE MYTH AND LEGEND. And check out the art too. You'll be glad you did.

5. No "chain of humanoid enemies". Goblins are weird fairy tale monsters with their own empire, gnolls are slavering barbarians, jackalmen wear robes and know magic, crowmen are semidemonic and rare, white leopardmen serve a Frazettastyle ice witch and bugbears and hobgoblins and what-all are bizarre unique things you haven't met yet.

Agree in principle but again, not necessarily in execution. If goblins are weird, fairy tale monsters, why do they have an empire at all? At least why do they have one you know about? Don't they just come out from cracks in the floorboards and walls and then return to them when the lights come on?

6. The technique...of providing no standardized monsters or magic items points the way to a game system where the rules of the mundane are known to the players, but the fantastic elements are an idiosyncratic revelation from game to game. Yes, creating the fantastic is hard individual work for the DM. But the alternative, especially with experienced games, is a group of players who ready the oil when they see a troll, who can find out exactly how much every gland in every dead monster corpse is worth, and for whom the only surprise is tactical, not strategic.

We come to the same conclusion, this last paragraph and I but I wonder at how it can be achieved with some of the responses given to the earlier questions. It's almost like saying, "Do it differently as long as it's largely the same." This has always been one of my biggest issues with D&D. I've always felt that the game as written reinforces this attitude somehow.

With a few exceptions, a lot of the blog posts I read on things you can do to jazz up D&D amount to 'paint your goblins purple instead of green! Wow! Mind blowing!' or other mild variations on basic themes. Giving Orcs a culture based on the Huns is interesting but then, what are your Huns like? Orcs? Why not come up with an unusual take on Orcs or not have Orcs at all. Find some mythical creature not normally used in D&D who are attributed with strange abilities in their stories and make them the standard for humanoid enemy aggression.

Anyway, just my two coppers. I don't have a majorly vested interest so it bugs me that I actually felt the need to post this. I must be getting old and crabby.

Back to leaping tall buildings...

Barking Alien

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Superhero Engine

While others were celebrating Mark Hamill's Birthday (Sorry, I missed it Mark, Happy Birthday!) and discussing ways of keeping (or rather making) D&D fantastic ( by being vague, adding mystery, making it less about knowing all the stats of a monster or enemy and generally doing stuff I first did 30 years ago)* my mind is once again on Supers...

I am not breaking new ground here but I thought it needed to be said that a good Superhero game has to be, generally speaking, a really good game mechanics wise.

Most games are developed to emulate a style, genre or particular theme that the creators are going for. Supers is no exception but rather the best Superhero RPGs can be used to generate characters and stories from a multitude of different styles, genres and themes.

I think the ability of a single system or game (even those with sets of systems) that can have a 'non-powered' acrobat with gadgets and his superhuman, flying alien pal tangle with an ancient dark wizard and his cyborg sidekick is under appreciated. That is, you can say any set of stats is anything you want but few non-Superhero games give you the tools to actually make these things feel or work differently in play.

Having played quite a bit of Champions over the years (and again lately), I have to say that for my money, this is one of the greatest game systems ever developed. It has it's flaws to be sure but it also enables you to build just about anything you can imagine with distinctive details as to how the character, device, vehicle, base or whathaveyou operates.

Perhaps you have a starship with awesome anti-energy shields (Resistant Energy Defense) but they're no good at stopping solid objects from hitting (Poor or even no Resistant Physical Defense). Maybe you're a wizard who has several requirements before a spell can be cast. Your magic could be versatile and powerful (Variable Power Pool) within it's limitations (Gestures, Incantations, Limited Power: Conditional-Doesn't work under a yellow moon).

Mutants & Masterminds, while an awesomely, awesome game and one I love to be sure, is another example of a great system even if it lacks some of the detail of Champions. I am constantly arguing with my own better judgement on whether or not to add those details in as house rules. If I could just differentiate the mechanics of the powers and add in some of the limitations to get a bit more out of the game, M&M would be without a doubt my most favorite Superhero gaming engine. At the same time, it would require a lot of work on my part and would probably take away some of the charm of the simplicity of the system.

Anyhoo, hopefully I can blog a bit more in the coming week and turn over a new leaf to blog like a mad man in October. After all, October is RECESS, New York Comic Con and the end of the first month of the unholy evil know as DC's New 52. Expect a review of a most unkind kind.

Later Days,

Barking Alien

*I kid, I kid.

The articles and ideas in said discussion were really quite good.
I only tease snarkily because, y'know, I really can't stand that game.

**While Mutants & Masterminds is not a 'simple system' in the way Toon or TFOS is, it's a far simpler game to play and run than Champions is.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Jim Henson!

Today marks what would've been Jim Henson's 75th Birthday.


There is no way I can ever say enough about the talent and creativity of this man and how much he inspired the same in me. All I can do is raise a glass, most likely containing Root Beer, and say Happy Birthday Jim, wish we were celebrating with you.

Google has done an interactive
'Google Doodle' to commerate the day and it's kind of nifty so take a look and mess with it won't you.

Thanks all, thanks to play Champions,

Barking Alien

*RECESS UPDATE: It looks like both of my games have indeed been approved for the NerdNYC RECESS event on October 8th. I will be running The Muppets RPG in the early slot (12-4pm) and The Smurfs RPG in the later slot (6-11pm I think).

Come one, come all!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Big Smurf - Part 3

With little time to think, let alone blog, a few things did pop into my head in the rare space of quiet between the end of my day and needing to go to bed...

I don't like the way I recap.

It's too long winded and much more like telling a story than really recapping an adventure. Granted, my adventures are more cooperative, interactive storytelling type sessions than they are traditional games but still. I don't think I really convey the games as I should and as I want to.

Also, so much happens in even a relatively short session of a humorous game that I end up getting bored retelling the adventure when I'd rather talk about something new. My brain doesn't like or do well with staying on the same subject for too long.

So...Reader's Digest version:

The Smurf party of Expert, Detective, Insano, Spacey and Snarky head off into the wilderness to locate the mysteriously sleeping animals found by Papa Smurf and Spacey the night before. The group is carrying with them a potion that may wake them

Before finding the animals, they come upon a hunter/trapper in the forest and decide (completely without me) that Smurfs are 'Guardians of the Forests' and its creatures and they don't appreciate a hunter hunting so close to their village. As the Smurfs plan a way to use Detective's Magnifying Glass and a crosshair made of twigs to improve Spacey's aim with his Ray Gun (hoping to damage the hunter's bow), Snarky walks right up to the fellow and goes into a long speech about whether or not the hunter has the correct permits, if he is licensed to use a bow and arrow in part of the country, etc.

The others realize what he is doing and while they can't believe he walked off to engage the Human directly, they are kind of impressed. They suggest he be renamed Bureaucrat Smurf or Litigious Smurf. Meanwhile, Snarky walks around the hunter as he talks, causing the hunter to turn to follow him. Snarky therefore ends up setting up the shot, which Spacey takes with his newly built Targeting Smurf (Scope). Zap-Poof-Cracked and the hunter gets a crispy bow.

Snarky tells the Hunter to be gone as he (Snarky) did that with his magic and he can do it again. At some point in his conversation with the hunter, Snarky lets out that he is a Smurf. The hunter tries to grab him in a sack, suddenly spurred on instead of frightened by Snarky's 'magic powers'. Snarky threatens to do it again and than snaps his fingers for effect. Spacey takes a second shot at the sack which immediately receives a burning hole. The hunter panics for real this time and runs off.

Expert confers with a wood nymph after hearing Spacey recount that at one point in their journey the day before Papa Smurf, 'Stopped to talk to a tree'. Being an expert on Smurf, Expert is well aware of the close relationship between Smurfs and other fee (faeries) of the woods. The wood nymph warns the Smurfs of a strange patch of shadowy fog she witnessed near her tree(s) and an additional group of sleeping animals the party was not aware of.

Eventually the Smurfs find the magically hidden animals as well as the new batch. A very light dusting of some golden powder is discovered by Insano, especially in the eyes of the larger sleeping beasts. Insano tries to use Papa's potion to awaken one of the smaller critters. It works but the poor little creature almost asphyxiates, trying to breathe in several days of air as quickly as possible.

Insano is able to calm the creature down a bit which helps but he believes a better solution is taking some of the golden dust and mixing it into the waking potion. He tests his theory on another animal and it seems to work. Rather than risking it failing to help one of the larger beasties (a deer), Insano and the gang decide on returning to the village and conveying their findings to Papa Smurf.

That's all for now. We'll find out what happens in a month.

Barking Alien

*The waking potion was described as having the odor of tea made from smelling salts, ginger, and the scent of burnt cola**. It was jokingly described as strong enough to 'wake the dead'. Insano took a drop or two into his own personal vial and said, "Hmmm. Wake the dead, eh? I'll have to try that some time..."

**I have smelled burnt cola. Nasty.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Big Smurf - Part 2

Continuing my recap of the first session of my new Smurfs campaign...
[Cut to the Smurf's Mushroom Village]

I ask the Players what their PCs are up to and where they are in the village.

Detective Smurf is at Brainy's, repaying a Boon by helping Brainy move heavy piles of books from one bookcase to another. Brainy gave Detective a magnifying glass so Detective owed him. Lots of funny banter, role playing and I got to do my mediocre but not terrible Brainy impression.

Insano is trying to invent something that will make a flash of light and thunder sound every time the front door of his house is opened. Apparently he borrowed Handy's saw to do it. When Handy arrives to get his saw back he discovered Isano is not using the saw to saw anything but shaking it vigorously in various ways to produce the thunder sound (classic radio sound effect trick).

Handy almost has a smurf attack and passes out and the use of his saw for un-saw-like purposes. Lots of funny banter, role playing and Insano reveals his campaign long build a giant robot! By giant he him. Thirty apples tall! Muhuwahaha! So...almost to Gargamel's knee. We're thinking about the size of the old Shogun Warrior toys.

Snarky is walking through mocking those Smurfs who don't have distinct identities yet. He visits with the few Smurfs who can stand him like Jokey and Grouchy (Weird right?).

Expert is home making notes on various Smurf traditions, foods, holidays and other bits of Smurf cultural knowledge. He then places the notes into his hat and his hat on his head. These notes will be saved for later use.

Eventually, Spacey Smurf (NPC) approaches each PC Smurf (except Snarky) and tells them that Papa Smurf wants to see them. He doesn't recall why. Honestly, he wasn't paying attention.

Eventually the PCs gather at Papa Smurf's crib and proceed to act like kids in a candy store. Insano is looking at the potions and books on alchemy, Expert is noting anything of value on Smurf lore and Detective, being 'Curious' is looking at EVERYTHING! With some effort Papa calms them down long enough to let them know why they were summoned...

While gathering herbs and other ingredients late the night before, Papa and Spacey (there as a guard and guide since he has a magic Ray Gun and can navigate by the stars) came across a number of animals asleep in the woods. This was no ordinary sleep and the Smurfs could not awaken them. Papa returned to the village to brew up a potion he thinks may save the animals who will surely starve and wither away. He needs the PC Smurfs to travel to the spot where the animals are because...

Detective may find clues as to the cause that Papa didn't see.
Insano will know if it was Science and not Magic and he is kind of a Doctor.
Expert is a jack of all trades type with ability to help his fellow Smurfs.

Spacey will guide them to the spot which is currently hidden by a spell from Papa so no Humans or other animals come upon the sleeping creatures by mistake.

Meanwhile, Papa Smurf's house is surrounded by all the village's other Smurfs trying to peak in and see what's up (just like in the cartoon). One such Smurf is Snarky who decides he is definitely needed on this mission as these Smurfs are all wack jobs who'll probably get themselves smurfed before they can do a lick of good.

We'll be right back after these messages...

Barking Alien

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Big Smurf* - Part 1

"Once upon a time, in the middle of a far off place known as 'The Cursed Lands', a village made up of mushroom houses held a population of tiny, blue people known as...The Smurfs.

One day, while...OOF! OW! Clumsy?! Please be careful! You interrupted me in the middle of my introduction to the first adventure."

"Oh, gee, sorry Narrator Smurf. Papa wanted me to come over and tell you we're not starting in the Smurf Village. We're starting in The Kingdom."


"Yeah, um, here...these are the new pages."

(Flips through the pages and quickly tries to organize them).

"I see. Thank you Clumsy. I'll start again..."

(Clumsy stumbles off, knocking over another pile of papers, and a spare microphone).

"Once upon a time, in a far off place known as 'The Cursed Lands', there was a Kingdom of poor resources but happy people. Though conditions were tough and the castle had seen better days, it's inhabitants were kind and just and worked hard to improve their lot.

Just outside the castle were several villages, each poorer and less happy than the next. In one of these villages, a terrible fate had befallen a young peasant boy..."

With that, our story began.

As it turns out, a Knight (Sir Bellerive), his Paige (Johan), the Paige's best friend the court jester (Pirlouit or PeeWee, whom we settled on calling Peewit) and a small entourage of men from The Kingdom, enter a small dwelling in a village on the outskirts of The Lands. There, they find a family whose young son has been asleep for three days and can not be woken up. The parents have tried everything (loud noise, water on the face, smelling salt type approach, etc.) but to no avail.

Word has it this is the seventh such child to be find this way. Four in this town and three in the adjacent one. Villagers are worried, fearing plague, faeries or worse. And there's nothing worse than worse I assure you.

A knock at the dwelling's door turns all eyes toward it. As the lady of the house/shack opens it, in walks a slightly stooped, thin, balding fellow in a tattered black robe over red-brown tights and soft leather shoes. He introduces himself as a herbalist, potion maker and wise man by trade. His name is Gargamel.

One or two members of the crowd have heard of him. They toss out words like Charlatan!, Hoax! and Dark Sorcerer but Gargamel plays the part of concerned citizen of the Kingdom meerly trying to help. He looks at the child, pull out a small vile and after proving it is not a poison or the cause of the malady (by putting some on his own tongue), he passes the vapors of the concoction under the child's nose. The vapor is silvery grey (jokes are tossed back and forth about it being Vicks Vapor Rub - "Didn't you know his first name was Victor? Vick Gargamel.").

Gargamel, nods, steps back and shakes his head in sadness.

"Oh this is just as I feared", the old alchemist says. "This is the work of a dark fairy. A Chaucer. It steals the breath of those who sleep, especially children. Luckily, there is a cure but it is difficult to obtain."

The villagers beg Gargamel for the answer to what will save their children. Even the King's men hang on his every word now. He smiles.

"Why, Essence of Smurf of course..."

Barking Alien

*Each of the adventures in this campaign are going to be named after the title of a movie. In this case there is a double meaning in that the title refers to 'The Big Sleep' which in turn means death. It also refers to Insano's goal of building a 'giant' mecha smurf.

Smurfs, Actually

I am sorry to interrupt my regularly scheduled Earth-N entry but I had to make this special report... I ran my first actual session for my Smurfs RPG this past Saturday.

This was the first installment of a new campaign. Yes! It went over so well, we are actually going to do a campaign based on the Smurfs! Muhuhwahahaha!

Our first session took place at the Compleat Strategist in New York City, on Saturday, Sept 17th. It involved four PCs and myself as Smurf Master and ran from (roughly) 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. (not including character creation time for the first two players to arrive).

The current PCs are...

Donnell - Expert Smurf, whose Trait is Smurfiness. Donnell is my most 'serious' player normally. I would have almost bet money he wasn't going to show for anything as gonzo and silly as Smurfs RPG. When he walked in the Strat I was stunned and pleasantly so. I was even more impressed by his character. Expert Smurf is an Expert on Smurfs, smurfy things and all things smurfy. He is completely and utterly clueless about anything that isn't smurf related. His player used the word 'smurf' in in his dialog about twice to three times as much as anyone else.

Mathew - Insano Smurf, whose Trait is Mad Science. *

Not actually one of the 99 Smurfs in the village, Insano was created by Gargamel completely by accident. Somewhere in the woods behind Gargamel's cottage there is a pit where he throws his garbage, potion residue and failed spell materials. One day, after a botched experiment with 'blue clay', he threw out his latest failure only to have the clay mix with the alchemical mess in the pit and by chance, get struck by lightning. BOOM! Insano Smurf. Smurf Mad Scientist

Pete - Detective Smurf, whose Trait is Curious.

Decked out in full Sherlock Holmes gear, Detective Smurf is the most curious Smurf in the village. He is not however the smartest. Not dumb at all, he still doesn't necessarily have the cleverness of Brainy or the knowledge of Papa, Expert or Insano and sometimes gathers clues but can't quite put them together into a total picture. He's working on it however. His Detective Outfit gives him a Deduction Knack even if he doesn't normally have one without it.

Lee - Snarky Smurf, whose Trait is Sarcasm.

Snarky is interesting. While he is definitely Sarcastic and Snarky, much of what he does is not stop talking for long periods. He usually hits allies and opponents alike with a constant barrage of double talk, off handed snipes and the like, baffling and confounding both people and Smurfs. He is very much a deal making, con man type personality in addition to being Snarky. It's extremely useful but sometimes his personal plans and ideas don't line up with what the rest of the group is doing. And sometimes they do but you don't realize it right away.

Joining the PCs and guiding them through the forest (poorly for the most part) was my NPC Spacey Smurf who was so much fun. When his helmet was up and open he spoke a bit like a surfer dude or hippie who was, well, Spacey. With the helmet closed he took on an astronaut voice complete with electronic static sound (I imitated it and partially covered my mouth). Spacey also walked really slow like he was on the moon, until Insano explained that on Earth and other planets like Earth you would have 'Earth Standard' gravity and therefore move normally.

Tonight I will do a session recap...and hopefully get to blogging more regularly again. Plus, I still have that spot open for my Earth-N campaign. Friday Nights though so it's kind of tough it seems. Working out the details. More notes are forthcoming. Huzzah

Barking Alien

*The image of Insano Smurf is apparently a modified image of actor Neil Patrick Harris' twitter avatar since he is Dr. Horrible and in the Smurfs movie. Tee hee.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Earth-N - National Agenda

It's been tough getting back to posting.

An increase in the busy-ness of my business and personal life has really taken a toll on me. Not just in the form of less time to blog and such but I've simply been really tired. Me. Tired. It is a very bizarre feeling. I can't say I like it.


I realize that in my last post on the subject of Earth-N, my homebrewed alternate Earth setting for my upcoming DC Adventures RPG over Skype, I ended with a somewhat incomplete thought.

"Lastly, I wanted to include the 'darkness behind the light' used to great effect in the graphic novel The Golden Age and in the landmark DC series' Kingdom Come and Watchmen. I have described this world to friends and potential players as 'Brighter on it's surface, dirtier below it" then what most people think of when they think of DC Comics (pre-the current reboot)."

I should probably clarify what I mean.

There is a general belief, especially among fans of Marvel and various independent comics, that DC is a squeaky clean universe of 'Darns' and 'Hecks', where the male and female married characters sleep in separate beds and the good guys never lose.

It would seem likely that part of the purpose of the recent relaunch of DC Comics is an attempt to alter that perception. Unfortunately, changing the universe to be just like Marvel's is not only a bit boring (now I have a choice between Vanilla and Chocolate or Chocolate and Vanilla! Wow! How will I decide? Indeed. Why bother?), but it also seems to me a disservice to the unique feel that DC does/did have.

In the DC Universe, the heroes are, by and large, good. They save lives, fight fires, try to stop hurricanes and earthquakes and cap off the day taking down a costumed crook or two.

The people of the DC Universe love their superheroes. This isn't the X-Men, protecting a world that hates and fears you. This is a world with a Flash Museum, a monument to Superman in Centennial Park, Metropolis and Wonder Woman being given a key to the city and such. Superheroes are celebrities in the DC Universe to a level not normally seen in the comic book universes of their competitor(s).

While it happens from time to time in Marvel comics, DC comics often shows bystanders wearing superhero symbol t-shirts and there is an in universe Hard Rock Cafe'/Planet Hollywood style theme restaurant called Planet Krypton.

So built into a DC Comics setting, at least one trying hard to keep a traditional and classic DC Comics feel, is indeed the idea that people are generally good, good generally triumphs over evil, the common citizen is thankful for the fact that good triumphs over evil and will likely show their appreciation in the form of some mild hero worship.

Of course, that's the common man.

Those in positions of powers would likely get tired of feeling ineffective in battling the dangers that threaten it's citizenry before long and look for a way to gain control over the situation. Superheroes would be viewed as either allies (classic DC), a resource under the command of government and big business (Wildstorm) or a potential danger that needs to be contained or even eliminated (various - Kingdom Come has elements of this).

When thinking about Earth-N, I wanted a world that embraced the wild and wooly stories of DC's interregnum era between the Golden and Silver Ages and then bring that world into modern times. As a result, I started to think that government agencies would see some elements of superhuman activity as useful, even necessary while other parts would need to be reigned in.

We can't have Superman bringing weird alien beasts to Earth for the Zoo in his Fortress of Solitude any time he wants. That's crazy! They could be dangerous, carry extraterrestrial diseases, etc. If Atlantis is a sovereign country, it needs a chair in the United Nations...or a tub or tank or whatever. You probably shouldn't be superheroing without a license.

This further lead me to some ideas about the
Department of Extranormal Operations and the Global Peace Agency as the well intentioned (for Earth and Humanity) United States and United Nations (respectively) metahuman law enforcement organizations trying very hard to hold closed the cartoon closet of superhuman activity that threatens to spill out into the hall way of reality and bury it in colorfully costumed boxes, sports equipment and other brik-a-brak.

While those are the well intentioned groups, there are those whose black ops approaches are far less savory and even these two have some skeletons hidden away (and I'm not referring to the D.E.O.'s Director Bones either).

The road to Earth-N gets a bit darker as we continue to drive it's less know backroads...

Next Time.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Earth-N - National Monument

Before I played RPGs, I read comics.

Actually, before I could read, I read comics.

Mostly I looked at the pictures of course but the point is I was aware of comic books and superheroes from a very, very young age.

My uncle worked for a magazine and newspaper distributor and among the periodicals they handled were MAD Magazine and DC Comics. This meant I occasionally received free comics from the older gentlemen at the office who gave them to my cousin and I so we'd stop horsing around (translation: So he would quit pinning me with wrestling moves and his superior size, mass and age).

While my cousin was only interested in horror and war comics and even then for no more then a few minutes at best, I was more than willing to settle into a chair at one of the big desks and look at issue after issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, reprints of Justice Society of America and anything else with a masked man or caped crusader.

Fast forward to my Junior High School and High School years and for a kid my age, I had quite an extensive knowledge of comic book heroes and villains who came out well before my time. I was also a fan of the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-2 comics, where many of those old characters still faced off against each other.

When I originally conceived of Earth-N, I wanted it to be a tribute to those old comics and stories and to the Golden Age/Earth-2 characters I love so much. As such, several ideas went into Earth-N's creation...

The first idea was, "What if, in the real world, National Comics never became DC Comics." That is, what if the feel of modern DC Comics was a direct evolution of the period when National Comics Publications purchased All-American Publications and stayed in the somewhat zany, anything goes state that allowed for Ace The Bathound, the original Batwoman and Bat-Girl, a Superpowered Lois Lane and all the other wild stories that kept DC going between the Golden Age and the Silver Age.

Strangely, while many attribute these types of stories to the gonzo Silver Age, most of them were written prior to 1956, the "offical" if somewhat incorrectly identified*, dawn of the Silver Age age (marked by the first appearance of the Barry Allen Flash).


Second, I imagined a National/DC Universe where no reboots ever took place. Things just continued, mildly updated and advanced through the years. For example, there is no Green Lantern Corps on Earth-N. Alan Scott was the one and only Green Lantern, a magical character whose ring and lantern were made from a glowing green meteor that fell to Earth thousands of years ago. Instead of a new story and new take on Green Lantern in Showcase #22 (Oct. 1959), Alan Scott remains active, assisted my his children later on, until he eventually passes on his ring and lantern to another.

In some ways this would resemble parts of the John Byrne series, Superman/Batman Generations, where each hero first appeared in the continuity in the year of their first comic book appearance. Each character then continues on from there, growing older, having kids, retiring and even dying.

Lastly, I wanted to include the 'darkness behind the light' used to great effect in the graphic novel The Golden Age and in the landmark DC series' Kingdom Come and Watchmen. I have described this world to friends and potential players as 'Brighter on it's surface, dirtier below it" then what most people think of when they think of DC Comics (pre-the current reboot).

Specific details are forthcoming so check back next issue!

As always, the letter's page is always open for your questions and comments (say something for Fate's sake!).

Barking Alien

*While nearly every source identifies the DC Showcase #4 issue introducing the "new" Flash (Barry Allen) as the start of the Silver Age, some disagree and believe it really started a year earlier.

Detective Comics #225 (Nov. 1955) introduced J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter, an alien cop brought to Earth accidentally by the teleporting, extradimensional beam of a scientist named Dr. Erdel. The idea of an alien good guy, the transporter beam and many of the other elements of the story, while not unheard of in the Golden Age of Comics are certain much more Silver Age in feel. Therefore, like a few other scholars of Comic Book History (not that I feel I am one per se), I believe that the Martian Manhunter is the first Silver Age Superhero and it is his appearance that begins the Silver Age.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I don't want to go into all the details of my experiences on that day 10 years ago, for as much as that day has personal significance to me there are many people for whom it has a much more immediate and visceral meaning.

All I want to say is that my heart and thoughts go out to all those who lost loved ones, were injured or were dramatically effected by the events of that day. That extends far beyond those who were there. It extends to you, to someone you know know, to someone I know and to me. And to someone you and I don't know. That makes the effect of the event no less valid.

Remember. Feel. Think. Continue.

Peace and Love,

Barking Alien

Friday, September 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Star Trek!

I know, I am late, sorry...

A belated Happy Birthday to my all time favorite Science Fiction phenomenon...Star Trek! Celebrating 45 years and looking forward to the future of the future.

Peace and Long Life,

Barking Alien

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Old Switcheroo

Sorry gang, I'm having a tough time getting pumped regarding the idea of blogging about my D&D world.

I'm just not in a D&D frame of mind. I was. Now I'm not. I rarely stay in that frame of mind long. One more contributing factor to why I don't run the game very often. I probably will be again. Maybe soon.

Right now, I'm still on a major Superhero riff.


Anyone want to hear about my upcoming Skype DC Adventures Campaign?

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Some Material May Not Be Suitable For The Uncool

What rating do you get if you mostly talk about Role Playing Games based on Star Trek, Superhero Comic Books, The Muppets and Smurfs?

PG. Apparently, before viewing my blog, it is recommended that you get your own proton generator. Good safety tip. Thanks Egon.

I am not surprised by this rating. Actually, I'm pretty proud of it. I received it because I used the word kill once and porn twice (dagnabbit! Just used them both again! D'oh!). I have no doubt that the latter was used only to refer to Zak's site (so if your Mom and/or Dad don't let you come back here, blame Zak).

Again, pretty happy with this. See kids, you don't have to cuss to be entertaining.

Later Days,

Barking Alien

Labor (Day) of Love

I know I promised to begin my series of articles covering my personal take on D&D but I got sidetracked. Yes, yes I still haven't finished my Smurfs RPG either. Sigh.

I am waaay behind schedule. For largely enjoyable reasons I have been extremely busy of late. Real time intrudes upon fun time once more, although these days it brings in own kind of fun as well. In addition, I've been getting the chance to game so often that writing about gaming and sending to the blogosphere has taken a backseat.

Too many good ideas can be just as much of a pain as too few I'm sure, though I rarely have too few so I'll just have to take your word for it. *WinK*. More often then not it's like there's an avalanche of cool concepts in my mind, I'm a terrible skier and there's not a Saint Bernard to be found.

If this Labor Day weekend was any indication of what being buried under awesome game ideas is like, hold your shovels, as it rocks on toast! I got to run two very different games and play another and all were amazing.

On Sunday I ran a game for the Learning Center I mentioned in some of my previous posts. Our original 'campaign' ended and I decided to run a sort of generic Sci-Fi/Star Trek thing based on a super-duper-simplified Starships & Spacemen. I tried to be inspired by
E.T. Smith's awesome RECESS game, while at the same time modifying it for use with a younger player unfamiliar with old school game or Star Trek. Not only did it go over really, really well (this time) but the kids (mostly 5-7th graders) were great at it. They had more team work, more effective decision making approaches and more knowledge of the setting then I expected. I was very impressed. We explored two planets, battled an alien monster on one, fought an enemy starship in orbit and then prevented a volcano from wiping out all the animal life on another world. So fun!

Sunday night was the Legend of the Five Rings game run by
Erin Palette on Skype. Very cool. I have really good camaraderie with one of the other players and our adventures and misadventures remind me a lot of the Booster Gold and Blue Beetle team of the ol' early 90's Justice League comic (and the later 'I Can't Believe It's Not The Justice League' mini-series).

Finally, the Labor Day session of my Champions game was...I don't have the words. Me. I don't have words. It was that good. I tried explaining part of what happened to Erin Palette and I think I mostly just confused her.

It was an 8-hour session, three players and myself and we covered a lot of ground. This was our 9th or 10th session/issue and it dealt with subplots (both major and minor) from
earlier sessions including (but not strictly limited to):

The whole team finally unites (sorta), as Jeff/Syphon Zero decides to ally with the other heroes in hopes of capturing the villainous Dr. Helix who he's been after since issue 4 I think.

Marcus/The Power comes up with a pretty clever plan to call out either Dr. Helix, his lackeys or an another major villain who may be working with Helix. While preparations for the sting operation are underway...

The PCs all find themselves in an alternate timeline due to deal Syphon Zero made with a time travelling weapons collector back in issue 5. Actions by the time traveller (one of my ol' NPCs 'The Weaponaire', not really a hero or villain) create an alternate history in which a more controlling and militant approach to handling superheroes creates a Wildstorm-y Authority/Stormwatch feeling version of the campaign world. Only Night Knight knows the original timelines history (a high Presence score but otherwise it's a mystery why he remembers and not others), although Syphon Zero and a few NPCs remember fading bits and pieces.

With the help of an NPC scientist specializing in temporal and dimensional travel, Night Knight is able to uncover what caused the timeline to change but in the process reveals the truth behind one of the settings major mystery/conspiracy situations. The revelation is big but higger is the question, 'what happened after the event that, once altered, created a divergent timeline'?

Meanwhile... (ah, Meanwhile. Don't you just love a good Meanwhile...) the heroes are attacked by Dr. Helix who has under his control Integral (aka Integra), Primal and a psionic powerhouse called Ego. In the correct/original timeline Integra and Primal have been freed of Helix's influence and are allies of Syphon Zero. Here and now, Integra's first move is to try and kill Syphon.

The Power and a few NPCs (Pulse and Overload specifically) try to engage Primal while Omni (Super Psionic NPC and leader of the primary Superhero team) faces off against Ego. Brutal and wild battle. Lots of TK, teleporting and psychic wrestling.

Finally, Omni gets super-pissed when the actions of the villains endanger lives to the point where the heroes need to take capital action against them (Power, Syphon and Silver Sun* kill Primal and Ego using Integra's Intrinsic Field Energy attack using a plan brillantly choreographed by The Power). Just before Ego dies, Omni does the forced mind meld type move with his telepathy that he would never, EVER do in the main timeline. By doing so he discovers Dr. Helix's whereabouts. He telepathically broadcasts it to the team (including the PC heroes).

That's when Night Knight finds the Weaponaire and convinces him to fix the timeline. It takes some fancy wordplay but Night Knight is successful and within moments of Weaponaire's departure into the timestream things return to the previous pre-mishap status quo (at least it seems that way).

Night Knight remembers everything and tell Omni to read his mind to verify. Omni is in shock because of the revelation of the conspiracy I mentioned above as well as his own actions in the alternate timeline.

That is just the tip of the iceberg as far as consequences from this one guys and gals! Crazy stuff went down and even crazier stuff is coming. I can hardly wait.

OK, off to work. Next up, back on target for D&D and Smurfs...


Barking Alien

*In some scenes my pal Dave switched to another PC alt he is using from time to time called Silver Sun.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Great Conjunction

O...M...G! Big Dark Crystal. A The Dark Crystal RPGDamn I'm excited.

Jen: The prophecy didn't say anything about this!
Kira: Prophets don't know everything!

Barking Alien

Aughra: Where is he?
Jen: He's dead.
Aughra: Could be anywhere then.

One of my favorite quotes ever.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Messing With Games You Shouldn't*

First I want to thank Lord Blacksteel for putting the idea to do this in my head, even if I kind of already had something like this in mind to do at some point.

The concept, as I envision it, is to take a game, system or adventure and screw with it in a way that either it doesn't really need or to an extent best left alone by all but the most cunning of mad geniuses. I'd like to think I fall into the latter category but I'm sure some of the former applies to what I am endeavouring to do.

Basically, I've decided to do the Anti-Barking Alien thing and talk seriously about D&D. Yes, I am referring to Dungeons & Dragons. No, it isn't April Fool's Day. No, I am not the Barking Alien of Earth-3 or the Mirror Universe. Trust me. If I were I would have a cool, black outfit and a goatee.

My love/hate relationship with the game of Dungeons & Dragons is best described as a somewhat dislike/largely despise relationship. I don't like the game. I haven't since about 1984. I started with
Basic in 1977, moved to Advanced First Edition and then largely missed Second all together. Just before the release of Third I made some adjustments to AD&D 1E to facilitate running a game with my then girlfriend, later wife, now ex-wife but still good friend, Selina.

It was her interest in medieval fantasy fiction in general and Dragonlance and a few other titles in particular that got me to dust off my D&D books which honestly hadn't been touched in years and years even though I was gaming fairly regularly when we met. OK, irregularly regularly.

Selina was so hooked by the hobby and intrigued by the release of 3E that we spent our one-week-paid-vacation time the year it came out attending GenCon to get a hold of it as early as possible. It's funny but I remembered thinking I might pick it up if it looked cool. Really I was there just to be at GenCon again with this awesome person who shared my interests. Low and behold, we bought one set of all three core books for me (the DM) and an extra Player's Handbook for her. I ended up running a solo campaign with her and then a couple of mini-campaigns with her and friends of ours. It was a pretty great time to be a D&D fan.

Unfortunately as time progressed so did D&D's propensity to get on my nerves a little. Mostly it just became to complex while not allowing me the flexibility I enjoyed in many of the systems I was more accustomed to. I started to fiddle with the system and eventually houseruled a bunch of things and left out a bunch of things.

Fast forward to about a year or two ago when several less than stellar experiences with old school D&Ders running 3E variants and one too many stories about my old D&D games from my big mouth drove one of my players to demand I run my D&D. I had hyped up my world and my rules alterations to the point where he, my good friend and great gamer Dave, said I had to run it for him.

Truth was, though I hadn't run D&D in about 5 or 6 years prior to Dave's request that I do so, I had been tweaking and adjusting and developing my own version of D&D specifically for use with my world.

The end result is what I have referred to on this blog as my D&D-But-Not game or D&D-For-Those-Who-Don't-Like-D&D. Dave proclaims it is not D&D at all. He refers to it as 'The Awesome Anime Fantasy Adventure Game'.

I refer you to the following posts:

D&D But Not - Part 1
D&D But Not - Part 2
W is For Wonder, I've Got That in Spades
Y is for Yes, Say it and Feel Fine
Top 10 Things Least Likely to Happen in a D&D Game Run By Me
Top 10 Things Most Likely to Happen in a D&D Game Run By Me

And there are many, many more posts, especially from this blogs earlier days when, well, quite frankly, no one paid any attention to it. *sob*

What these posts and this blog have been lacking in relation to my D&D-But-Not game is a dedicated series of posts where I really explain what it's all about.

So that is what Barking Alien's September feature, "Messing With Games You Shouldn't"* is all about.


Barking Alien

*Note, as I've mentioned before, I don't believe there is a game you shouldn't mess with. Rules as written translates to roads not travelled in Barking Alien language. Grow a pair and houserule!