Sunday, September 30, 2012

Space Ghost Magic

It's not what you think.

It's one of those word play post titles I am so fond of.

What it is, is alot of this...

Or maybe this...


And a good bit of this...

Coming in October.

Hope you enjoy,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hunter X Hunter RPG - On A Roll

Before I begin with the regularly scheduled post, I just wanted to say a few words about a few subjects. Trust me, this won't take long at all...

Happy Birthday to Mark Hamill and the late Christopher Reeve, two gentlemen who each played one of my favorite heroes.

This last month or two (OK three) has been very tough financially. Business was especially weak this summer season. As a result, I may sell off some old game stuff I don't need (even though I'd really rather not). If I do, you'll be the first to know.

There is a new flavor of Oreo Cookie called Cookies N' Cream. Although they are available at my local supermarket, the only proof I could find on the internet was a package of the product on ebay. Ebay? What...The Hell? What an odd choice for a variation on the classic too. A Cookies N' Cream Oreo is a bit like tiny bits of lettuce between two pieces of lettuce, no?

Once more, not as many comments as I would like or as I would have expected on some of the subjects I posted about. Specifically, I am surprised by the low turn out on the last post about ideas for Marvel Heroic. No love for Marvel Heroic? No love for my ideas? Are you secretly a clone of Spiderman currently working for SHIELD and are afraid commenting on my blog is a conflict of interest. Well fine. You, that last guy, you're off the hook (I don't want you getting in trouble over it) but the rest of you have no excuse.

OK, down to business...


We had our second session of Hunter X Hunter this past Saturday with Amari (Dave), the Barber (Lee*) and Smiley McGee (aka Stan - played by me), joining hundreds of other Hunter wannabes in the attempt to overcome the first of many challenges on the way to getting our Hunter licenses. If we pass that is...and of course survive.

The opening challenge was a Ninja Warrior style obstacle course, modified by the GM (Ray) into D&D-like death traps. There were 10 traps in all. Most could be taken singularly, with a partner or as a team but some required you to go 'single file' with no assistance from anyone else.

We managed to get past them all with only one or two scary moments where a poor die roll seemed to hold the power of life and death over our characters' heads. I hate that.

There was a lot of die rolling this session. A. LOT. Now I must give Ray some props because it was never boring and didn't ever deteriorate to the point where I felt like having someone else roll for me while I went to read a book or play some video games because so much was based on random luck that I felt like I didn't need to be there.

I've been there and done that, didn't like it and told the GM what he could go do with the T-Shirt.

I have a love/hate relationship with rolling. I don't want to eliminate it and play some crazy diceless thing but I can't stand when GMs make you roll for every breath you take and every move you make (thank you Sting and The Police). I also hate it when, as a player, you come up with a reasonable reason why the die roll should be altered in your favor and it feels like it was rolled straight.

Case in point, one of my least favorite gaming moments of the last three years...

OK, using a system that is a homebrew variant of D&D 3.5, we set out into a homebrew medieval world that is described awesomely but feels like every other D&D game world I've ever gamed in. Its Lord of the Greyhawk Realms basically.  

I was playing a Gnome

We come to this odd valley, essentially a very large crater with shear cliff walls. We need to explore the incredibly dense forest down in this pit/canyon. First we need to climb down. Four or five of us, sheer cliff walls, everybody first level.

We have rope and we come up with a plan using iron spikes and a cheap pulley system (thanks to a nearby tree and rock) to lower us down more carefully. It's about 50 ft down I think, maybe more.

All I know is that the GM made us each roll our Climbing skill at least four times on the way down. Now lets do the math. Four players each rolling four times to climb down a wall. That's Sixteen rolls just to get to the woods. Why? For what reason? Are we getting bonuses on our rolls for the mountain climbing ingenuity we rigged up? Didn't feel like it. One guy fell a short distance and got stuck but the rest of us helped him down. One guy fell kind of far and got hurt but our Cleric healed him.

In the end it was so tedious, so boring and so dangerous to our characters that it drove the majority of us a little bonkers. Dude, if you are that determined to hurt somebody for no reason don't pretend. Just number the PCs, roll 1d4 and deliver 1D10 damage on that guy and move on. No. We had to sit through 16 goddamn rolls.

Luckily, Ray didn't go that far but it felt very much like it was threatening to go in that direction. It started out challenging, with each player/PC trying to figure out a way around the traps based on the predicament and our own unique abilities (or at least strong suits). Eventually at some point near the end we were just rolling dice and seeing if we made it.

It's a good game and I am looking forward to continuing but I will say it needs to kick up a notch on the excitement level. It is engaging. Yes, that is a good word. It is a very engaging game and yet I am hoping it turns into a 'Holy Crap! Wow!' game.

Time will tell. 

Barking Alien

*I still can't remember his character's name even though he told me twice already. I think it starts with an N.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Marvel Us

My 550th Post! Hoody Hoo! And it's about Marvel Comics?!
What the 'What If?' is going on here?

While I have always been more of a DC fan, I am by no means unfamiliar with the House of Ideas and the universe that centers on Earth 616 (The default Marvel Comics mainstream universe).

I was an avid collector and reader of Marvel in the days of Claremont and Byrne's X-Men, Shooter, Stern, Perez and Byrne's Avengers, John Byrne's Fantastic Four and Michelinie and Layton's Iron Man. I even followed a good bit of Marvel's Ultimate Universe in later years, being especially fond of The Ultimates and Ultimate Spider-Man.

At present I am loving the current take on the Fantastic Four, the new Ultimate Spider-Man and some of the Avengers comics, although I was monumentally disappointed by the Avengers Vs. X-Men story (and when I say 'story' I am being awfully kind).

Several recent discussions about Marvel Heroic with friends prompted me to formulate some alternate ideas on how to run it for a short campaign.

One of the drawbacks of the Marvel Heroic game in the opinion of several of my players, friends and indeed, myself, is that you don't really have a mechanic for improving your character all that much. It has been noted by the games designer, Cam Banks, that comic book superheroes do not really improve, they change. At some point Spiderman has the Black Symbiote suit, then he doesn't and he loses his powers. Then he regains his powers and he grows extra arms, etc., etc. The plots of the comic book stories modifiy the heroes horizontally more than vertically. They don't 'raise in power level' so much.

Now why is this a drawback? Mr. Banks and company would likely note it as a feature! He may be right but it is not viewed as such by my group. We are role players but also gamers and gamers want to get points and improve. We want to get rewarded for putting all that effort into playing our characters and also we like to see and show progress.

The funny thing to me is that Marvel Heroic puts such a focus on Milestones as a list/source of how to get XP rewards but then there is comparatively little to do with the XP once obtained.

This got me thinking about an alternate way to spend XP.

What if you could combine these concepts of lateral changes, Milestones and XP in order to set up player generated plotlines?

Imagine the GM or Watcher sets up an event involving the Negative Zone turning sorta inside out and pouring into our universe through some portal in Reed Richards' lab in the Baxter Building.

In the process of trying to reverse the effect and undo the damage, Reed Richards and Iron Man manage to rack of a good chunk of XP. Once the day is saved and the Event finished up, the Iron Man player hands a note to the Watcher. He asks that the Watcher add a subplot to the next adventure involving Iron Man discovering that his armor is now charged with particles from the Negative Zone.

The Watcher (as Editor-in-Chief and Head Writer) has a 'Bullpen Session' with Iron Man's player (Co-Plotter for the next arc). They discuss the general idea the player has (the Negative Zone particles have altered the suits abilities but at some minor drawback). The Watcher thinks it's neat but asks what the long term goal is. Iron Man's player replies that he wants a suit of armor specifically designed to battle in the Negative Zone.

The Watcher than tells the Player, "OK with these conditions. The longer the N-Zone particles stay in our universe without the proper adjustments, the more critical the Complications or Limits that armor will suffer. How's that for comic book consequences?"

Now comes the fun part: RESETs, REVAMPs and good old comic book RETCONS.

The two agree that if 30 XP are spent, Iron Man can RESET, returning to his original armor with it's original abilities by, oh I don't know, using the Fantastic Four's Cosmic Dispersion Field to rid the suit of the N-Zone particles.

If Iron Man spends 40 XP and spends part of a session out of action in his workshop, he can REVAMP, returning to battle in his new Iron Man Mark-N Armor while his original, standard suit of the time can be 'seen' in the background in storage.

Finally for 50 points, Iron Man RETCONS the situation. His suit was never imbued with Negative Zone Particles but instead the Negative Zone particles reacted in an unsual way with his Repulsor Ray Systems, creating a new energy form. Iron Man doesn't sit out any action if he can find a sensible moment where he can say he had gone back to his workshop or had moved the proto-type nearby to test it. Off-Panel. Otherwise, he needs to sit out a Scene or two and returns with an all new Armor. This new Armor should actually have one or two improved or totally new abilities even if it makes for a larger than normal Power Set. 

In a fashion this isn't much different from the way it is in the game now but my goal, hopefully, is to set in motion and play out individual story arcs in which both the player and the Watcher have a say in how it is built.

Also, the idea is to make a big change in the status quo of a character cost a bit more. Basically, real improvement or at least additional options become available but the player will know in advance that in order to get that big payoff he needed to focus on hitting those Milestones for the better part of a multi-session arc.



Barking Alien

Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy Birthday To A Man With A Frog

Greetings all,

Here with my dog and a warm cup of chocoffee (my personal invention - a hybrid of hot chocolate and coffee but not quite a mocha) and listening to songs from The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show in celebration of a great man gone too, too soon.

Happy 76th Birthday Jim! I normally hate to re-gift but someone who is very special and important in my life made this for me and I'd like you to enjoy it too.

Barking Alien

Modern Children of A Silver Age

With a new school year having started, I have likewise begun a new 'semester' of my Role Playing Game/Creative Storytelling and Writing class over at the learning center in Brooklyn where, hopefully, I will be expanding my teaching to other kids and subjects very soon. I am pretty excited but also a little nervous. Some of what I will be teaching will be math. Me. Math. At least I'll be teaching 3rd grade math so I may be able to get a handle on it.
As for the RPG/Writing Class, we have decided to go with a short Superhero campaign. It was a pleasant surprise to me that after trying a few Supers sessions during the summer program a lot of the kids wanted to give it a more serious and dedicated go. The fact that it was so popular among the students is especially interesting to me since the vast majority of them are not really familiar with traditional American superhero comics.


While a few of the boys in the class have seen Superhero movies and cartoons, none of them read American comics. That's right DC and Marvel, none of them. Next time you think up one of your amazing marketing plans like Avengers Vs. X-Men or, for the love of Krypton, The New 52, just bare in mind that not one of my dozen students, grades 3 to 6, are aware of them. I started reading and collecting comics when I was very young and kept doing so until recently*. If none of these guys or their friends are reading comics now, how many do you think will be reading them into their 40's?

OK, rant over. Well, one moment...not quite...

An even more amazing thing to me about this group, in addition to having no comic book fans to speak of, is that the characters they came up with are spot on late Golden Age to Silver Age style heroes. Whoever is sitting in the Big Two's head offices thinking today's youth want to see edgy, dark, angst ridden anti-heroes needs to sit in on a session of my game with these kids.

Our current team roster includes...

Electricity Powers including transforming himself into a bolt of electricty, the ability to call lightning out of the sky and a short burst of superspeed he calls Lightning Dash.

Force Full
Great name in my opinion. Telekinetic shock wave/vibrations called Force Waves, a Wall of Force and Wings of Force that enable him to fly by vibrating the air.

Gravity Man
Gravity Control including making things lighter or heavier and the power of Size Change, both growing and shrinking. Common tricks include making himself really heavy at a small size and flying by floating like a balloon (I'm so light I'm floating away - I'm heavier - I'm lighter - I'm heavier...).

Ice Girl
Like a combination Iceman from the X-Men and Zan from the Wonder Twins, Ice Girl can freeze things or create cold with her Ice Powers or transform into an iceberg, a sheet of ice, a localized snow storm or a large volume of freezing water. Form of...A Glacier!

Multiple Miracle
A very cool take on the cloning character, M&M (as his friends call him) can make copies of himself with his Duplication Power. By touching another character, he can copy their super power and then touch one of his duplicates and give the power to them. Lastly he can cause the clone/duplicates to shape shift and resemble other people. He is a one man superteam!

He does come with a few weaknesses however. He needs to speak to his duplicates backwards for them to understand him as they hear and speak backwards themselves. It would seem they are 'mirror images' of the original. Also, he copies and transfers superpowers at a level weaker then the person he got them from.

Elemental,  mystic/druid type with power over Plants, Earth and Rock and the ability to Heal. Who was it who said Superhero Clerics weren't a cool idea? ; )

Love this guy! Nuclear Energy hero with the power to generate and absorb Nuclear Power, shoot a Nuclear Ray and Create Objects From Radiation. WOW, right? Cross Captain Atom and Green Lantern.

His weakness, which has been pretty funny in the way other players have reacted to it, is that he is constantly radioactive and none of his teammates can stand too close to him or his constructs for too long without feeling sick. He is also weak against lead or lead lined items.

Young inventor with a forty-five foot Giant Robot that can change its hands into any weapon, tool or gadget. We have seen a drill hand, hands with finger missiles a la' Shogun Warriors Mazinger and a radar/sonar dish hand used to locate the bad guy in the third session. He also has a smaller Robot Dog.

We discovered a bit about his origin in the latest session when we found out (thanks to quick fluff added by the player) that his robot was originally a disgarded invention of the techno-genius super villain, Doctor Malice.

Water Girl
Water breathing young lady with Water Shaping and Control, the ability to create 'Water People' (semi-sentient, humanoid, water constructs) and communicate with all forms of marine life.

Interesting power combo. Whiplash has a Reflection Field that reflects any attack against it back at the attacker. She can also bestow this Reflection Field on others. Lastly, she can weaken the material strength of objects making them more flimsy or even brittle.

I imagine them all hanging out in their headquarters (simply called 'The HQ' by the team), waiting for the call from the Mayor or Police Commissioner to fight against the forces of evil and injustice in their four color costumes and domino masks.
So far, the PCs have thwarted an attempt by a group of criminals to steal gold bars, hide them aboard a cargo ship and escape. The ship was backed up by a hidden submarine, initially disguised as a mid-sized yacht. Eventually rendering the advanced submarine inoperable and capturing the criminals and the stolen gold, the heroes find out that the heist wasn't for the money. Rather, the evil mastermind, Dr. Malice, hired the crooks to steal the gold so he could use it to build some sinister invention. Egad!

Ah yeah! Silver Age Superhero Action at its best. There is nothing like it old chum...

Barking Alien

Incidentally, the images above are two of my favorite depications of some of my favorite characters by two of my favorite artists. The first is a commission piece done by none other than John Byrne. The second is the cover of the modern take on The Brave and The Bold #35 by Jesus Saiz.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

The RECESS Report - Part II

There will be a bit more recap-i-ness coming up after this post and then, onward to some new ideas.

I was only able to talk to a few of my fellow GMs at RECESS and all but for the briefest of  moments. However, one mini-conversation in particular bares sharing but again, not until the recaps are over.

Now you've got something to look forward to and a reason to return to Barking Alien.  Aren't I a clever pooch.


Following the Muppets RPG session I went to lunch with my girlfriend Jenn, her friend and hopefully now mine Lisa and my good buddy and GM of our current Hunter X Hunter campaign, Ray. Lunch was good, the beer I had was surprisingly tasty and I was ready to return to the frontlines. The ladies left us to do their own thing and Ray and I went back in to RECESS, he to his game (He ran Marvel Heroic) and me to mine...GALAXY QUEST!


'A Riddle, Wrapped In A Mystery, Inside An Enigma'


Taking in a little of R&R over at a Thermian Space Station while their vessel underwent some important repairs and upgrades, the commander and crew of the NSEA Daring, NTR-6269, receive an emergency request from the station's Chief Administrator.

It seems the Thermians have intercepted a weak and continually fading distress call from the NSEA cruiser Vindicator. The Vindicator, commanded by our own commander's long time rival, is a tough and powerful ship. What could cause it's CO to call for help?


First - AWEsome Characters!

The Commander was played by my good friend Andy who I know through the group I gamed with and ran for over at my FLGS, The Compleat Strategist. His character, Commander Thaddeus Shaw, was a almost a cross between Futurama's Zap Brannigan and Ben Stiller in Zoolander. He seemed to have the miraculous ability to slip out of his NSEA uniform and into a floor length, velvet robe, complete with martini in hand, and back again in the blink of an eye.

The Science Officer was played by a great guy named Ed who I got the chance to game with at my first RECESS. He played the Security Chief in a game of Starships And Spacemen run by the incomparable E.T. Smith. Here, in the Galaxy Quest game, he did not disappoint.

In addition to being the Science Officer, he was also the Token Alien. A member of the Cerebellian species, his name "To you would be a stream of unintelligible static. Do not try to say it, you do not have the parts. Call me Primus." To say Primus was pompous and full of himself and his vast intellect would be an understatement. He was hilariously, gratingly intelligent. Any time anyone said pretty much anything, Ed would reply, "Yes. I know."

The Pilot was played by a fellow named Don and he worked out a bit of backstory on the actor playing his character, Lt. JG Clive Britten. Originally a popular actor on the British version of 'Galaxy Quest', where he played the Commander, the actor was let go when budget constraints eventually forced the BBC to cancel the show. Now, getting this second string part on the American version, with its better special effects but weaker writing (heheh, so British), the actor has turned to smoking up a bit and trying recreational pharmaceuticals. This last bit has been worked into the character of Clive Britten, an ace pilot hooked on 'Space Drugs'.

A really nice and interesting guy named Will played The Doctor. Will, it turns out, is the boyfriend of Emi, who was in the morning Muppets game. Will played Old Hock, an old country doctor with a preference for moonshine, banjo music and Kentuky Blue Grass underneath his feet. He had replaced a section of the floor in his Med Lab with soil and grew a mini lawn, "Right 'thar on the gol-durn spaceship."

I say Will was interesting because he did several things that impressed me. Most notably, his boisterous, 'Southern Redneck' accent was hysterical and nothing at all like his regular voice which was mellow and subdued. Also, he stated that this was only the 4th or 5th RPG session he had ever participated in. None of his previous games included any form of D&D, so I took a liking to the guy right away (snark!). Furthermore, he felt by creating this neat character, he also created a situation where he didn't interact with the other characters or the adventure very much. Old Hock didn't want to leave his comfort zone and sure as hell thought all this other folks on board were plum crazy. He thought that he may have designed him 'wrong' for the adventure.

I told he that if he was having fun, it wasn't wrong. We make the characters we want to play because before we sit down (especially at RECESS) we really don't know what kind of adventure it's going to be exactly. On the other hand, if you think it would be more fun to get more involved, find a way.

He honestly thanked me, we talked a bit more and I must say, it was a great experience to feel like I helped a new gamer find their gaming zen as it were. He eventually opted to join in by helping get a Shuttlepod over to this alien object we found floating in space. The object absorbed energy from starships but Old Hock had, in the ship's docking bay, an old solar sail shuttle that might be able to get around the issue. He also had some ideas, modified by the all knowing Science Officer, on how to vent oxygen to move the shuttle with resorting to powering up the systems. We imagined his shuttle was held together by duct tape and baling wire. It had a gun rack and an old confederate flag draped over one of the bunks in the back. It was referred to a few times as 'The General Lee'.

Almost forgot, Old Hock was also The Prodigy. What Geordi LaForge has for sight, Old Hock has for hearing. Large headphone like domes with TV antennae sticking out cover his ears enabling him to hear everything from a tiny pin drop to the subspace wake creating by an enemy starship hiding behind the fourth moon.

The Engineer was Shayara 'Zero-Gee' Jones, a firecraker of a young woman played by a firecracker of a dude named Floyd. No one asks why they call her 'Zero-Gee' and she ain't telling. Lots of great Technobabble from Tech Sgt. Jones, who was so in tune with her ship she could feel a power coupling loosen on 'A' Deck while walking through the cargo hold on 'U' Deck. There appeared to be a bit of a rivalry between the Engineer and the Science Officer to see who was smarter and more knowledgeable about NSEA technology and Sci-Fi physics.

Finally, where would Galaxy Quest be without the Glorified Extra, Security Chief Harkin. Yes, he got a name! Actually he did so well, the other players voted him Ensign Harkin by sessions end! With one hit point but jacked up combat skills, this brave and stalwart Crewman (played by a nice guy named Hans) saved the Vindicator with a well timed barrage of Pulse Missiles launched into a time travel slingshot effect that enabled the Daring to save her sister ship and then arrive to warn the Vindicator before it got into trouble in the first place.

Ridiculous you say? What part of 'Sci-Fi-Space-Opera-TV-Show' did you not understand?

In the end, the bizarre space artifact, named 'The Black Spot' by our Science Officer (even though it is not actually black. Nor a spot), turned out to be a manned satellite/space station of an alien species who were merely studying the region of space where the satellite had been placed. With the help of the Doctor, Ensign Harkin made first contact with the sexy, female alien captain before the Commander moved in and presumably made second, third and perhaps even fourths contact with her.
Great game, many, many laughs and a wonderful group of guys. I may run this again next RECESS, although I am not sure as there are a number of other things I want to try. We shall see.


A lot of inspiration on a good number of topics lately so, more to come.

If you're not hanging out with the cool kids on Google +, come round, take a load off and I'll put on a pot of coffee so we can talk.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The RECESS Report - Part I

I'd like to preface this entry by saying it should have been posted much sooner but it's been a doozy of a week lads and lasses.

In additional to seeing my girlfriend Jenn perform last Wednesday, running two games at RECESS and spending additional hours at the Learning Center on Sunday (more about that at a later time), my Mom hooked me up some freelance illustration work. A client of hers needed some drawings to go with a presentation of some kind. While I love being about to get paid to do something I enjoy, it wasn't the easiest job and had a very tight deadline.

So, on maybe seven hours sleep in the last two days, here is my report on the one, the only...RECESS!


A Day At The Races, A Night At The Muppet Theater


This RECESS was unique and special to me in many ways. First, and foremost, my girlfriend came to watch me GM. She has sort of seen me in action before but mostly what she's witnessed is the BSing my regular group does before we actually start playing. It was sooo awesome to have her there.

At her gig last week in New York's Greenwich Village, I met one of her friends, a woman named Lisa who, it turns out, has known Jenn since they were little kids. It also turns out that Lisa is a huge Muppets fan. Jenn told her a bit about what I would be doing at RECESS (that is, running a Muppets Role Playing Game) and Lisa wanted in.

I met up with Lisa at the event after I found my table and we waited for Jenn and for the game sign ups to get underway. At about 15 minutes to game time I had only 1 person signed up for the Muppets, not including Lisa who was waiting for the staff to call her number.

I decided to go up front and play barker (as in Barking Alien? Aaahh! See what I did there?) in an attempt to drum up some interest. No sooner had I asked the crowd, "Hey gang, what's up? No love for the Muppets?", than one of the staff members tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Dude, you've got 5 people already".

I did an honest to gosh double take. In the 25 seconds it took me to get up to the front of the room, whirl around, and start my pitch, four more people signed up for the game. Lisa confirmed the time.

I ended up with the following players: An incredibly tall fellow named Matt, his equally towering brother Chris, Matt's wife Lily, Lisa, and Emi, a young lady who's boyfriend would end up playing in my later session of Galaxy Quest.

Neither Lisa nor Lily had every played a role playing game before and I was ecstatic to be the one to usher in their inaugural experience. It's like I've said many time, I don't know why people automatically assume D&D is a good starting point to get non-gamers interested. What's always worked for me is recognizable brands or IPs these people would be familiar with thanks to pop culture so there is little need to explain what the game is about. Have you read a Spider-Man or Captain America comic? You have? Awesome. Marvel Heroic is like that (as an example).

On to the game itself...


Matt: As Bunsen: "Oh Kermit! I am so glad we found you."

Me: As Kermit: "Not now guys, I'm in a jam. The guest cancelled and the show is about to start."

Bunsen: "Then you're in luck Kermit. Say hello to our latest invention - The Muppet Lads Celebrity Time Displacement Shower."

Emi: As Beaker: "Bee-bee-mee!"

Kermit: "Time Displacement...Shower?"

Bunsen: "Celebrity Time Displacement Shower. It can transport any celebrity in the past from their shower to this one. All we have to do is match the water temperature, adjust the suds, close the curtain, and power it up."

Kermit: "...Will it work?"

Bunsen: "Well, it has yet to have a full fledged test run but in theory it should work perfectly."

Kermit: "You know what guys...go for it. I believe in you. That's what the Muppets are all about isn't it? Get this thing up to the guest's dressing room and bring us a star."

Bunsen and Beaker head upstairs, set up the machine and within a minute or two the device is whirring and banging, steam and flashes of light are all around it. After a loud pop and a bright, white flash, the two Muppet Labs scientists can hear singing in the shower. Then another voice. Then a honking horn. Startled, they pull back the shower curtain to reveal...

Just then, Scooter enters...

Lisa: As Scooter: "Bernie Brillstein...Fif...WHA?! THE MARX BROTHERS?? Um...OK...Fifteen seconds to curtain Marx Brothers!"

The basic plot of the episode was that the Marx Brothers were sent through time to be on the show but would have to return so as not to damage the time stream.

At the same time, the machine that brought them here, a steampunk contraption of Muppet Labs origins, had both a leak and a clog in its pipes creating numerous time paradoxes and time travel hazards.

For a subplot of sorts, entertainment critic P. Hamilton Monstros (of the South Hampton Monstroses of course, as he never tired of reminding everyone) has come to the Muppet Theater to do research for an article series he is writing. Kermit is initially excited until Mr. Monstros reveals the series is entitled, "Modern Vaudeville: A Really Bad Idea". Kermit vows to show him he's wrong, if only the guests, the Muppets, and time itself will oblige him.


Matt's Bunsen and his technobabble theories of how the Time Machine Shower worked.

Matt as Bunsen and Emi as Beaker had great timing and worked well together.

Chris as Gonzo The Great, gets inside a cannon that is then placed inside another, larger cannon. So one cannon fires out another cannon which fires out Gonzo. It would've proved a fantastic stunt if it had worked. No chickens were harmed in the making of this scene.

Lily did a very cool and active Miss Piggy. Great routine between Piggy and Groucho. She also did a pretty good Sam the Eagle and we did Sam with Chico and Harpo in a routine that mixed parts of 'A Night At The Opera' and 'Horse Feathers'.

Lisa must be applauded for her Pepe, the King Prawn, Hokay? Very good and very heroic portrayal. Pepe, being a Prawn, offered to swim down the drain, through 'de time stream, hokay? and find out what was clogging the drain. He did so and it turned out to be the fur of Bobo the Bear. Bobo, still attached to said fur, was trying hard not to drown or be swept back in time. Needless to say, he had his hands (paws?) full.

One of the better Veterinarians Hospital sketches. I helped as Rowlf who no one chose to play initially.


Behind The Scenes Notes

The guest who had to cancel was Bernie Brillstein and his Beatnik, Barber Shop Quartet.

The magazine P. Hamilton writes for is called We Know Entertainment! And You Don't.

The 'P' is his name stands for Pretentious. Character name is a joint effort by my girlfriend and myself.

I actually found Hamilton in the garbage about three weeks before the game day. He is one of the F.A.O. Schwartz Toy Store 'Build Your Own Muppets' and someone just threw him away. I picked him up and checked the puppet for stains and damage. None. He was on top of (not inside) a thick shopping bag and must have been disgarded very recently when I saw him.

One player told me I did an excellent Harpo Marx impression. I reminded her that Harpo is the one who doesn't talk. She said, "And still...I know it's him every time."

During a minor lull used to take bathroom and food runs, one or two players suggested doing the sketch where Kermit interviews the guess star. I said sure, we could do that, but right now I am playing all the parts myself. I was Kermit, Groucho, Chico and Harpo. The players said that was no problem. One said, "I am fine with listening to you just riff off yourself for the next twenty minutes. You're hilarious."

In addition to the Marx Brothers, the leak in time brings forth Vikings, Cowboys, and Roman Legionnaires from the past.

I am a huge Marx Brothers fan, as was my Grandfather. Thanks in large part to him I have seen virtually every Marx Brothers movie a dozen times, as well as Groucho's days as the host for the game show 'You Bet Your Life'.

This Muppet Show session of the Muppets RPG was dedicated to my girlfriend Jenn for all the inspiration and support she gives me and the late Jerry Nelson, who recently passed.


Next up...Session 2...GALAXY QUEST

Barking Alien

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Good Day And Then Some

I want to open this post with a personal story.

Today is my 3 month anniversary with my girlfriend Jenn. She is an amazingly talented singer and keyboard player and she played live tonight at a restaurant in New York's Greenwich Village. Not only was she fantastic but I got to meet a number of her friends and they were really sweet and lovely people.

It seemed like all or most of them were artists, dancers or other creative types and as such I felt strangely comfortable with them right away.

Possibly the coolest moment of the evening was when Jenn announced her second song and that it was going to be special. Since she writes and performs her own songs for the most part, I think they are all special but I assumed she meant that it had personal significance to her.

It turned out to be a uniquely Jenn rendition of Rainbow Connection. I could tell many liked it but thought it an odd choice. I knew better of course. She sang it for me and it was amazing. It may not seem major to some but it was a big deal to me. I can be sentimental like that. I was really moved.

Love you baby.


Posting may be spotty here for the rest of the week (I can hear Statler and Waldorf heckling, "So pretty much the same as usual! Awhawhawhaw!"), as I prepare for RECESS.

Oddly, although I haven't run Galaxy Quest for a long while and never for anyone outside of my ol' NJ gang, I don't feel nervous about that session in the least. As always, nearly all my energy and effort is being directed at the morning festivities, The Muppets RPG. It doesn't matter how often I run it, I panic right before it's ready to roll. I feel like I can't take any chances that it could be anything less than ridiculously fun. Can't help it. It's my little obsession.


In regards to my recap of our Hunter X Hunter session last Saturday, I realize that there isn't much more to tell.

After reaching the Hunter Examination registration location (say that three times fast!) thanks to our guides, we spent the rest of the session role-playing, talking to NPCs, getting to know the world and getting into our characters. We added an NPC to our little trio of Hunter hopefuls, a 10-12 year old girl with pigtails in a sailor suit school uniform. This being Anime and Manga I can only assume she is among the most powerful and deadly people on the planet.

At the very end of the adventure, the first part of the Hunter Exam is revealed and it was refreshingly not what I expected. To pass the 'Physical Portion' of the test you have to cross a 'Ninja Warrior' type obstacle course. So cool. I plan on using my Creativity more so than my physical strength and agility to get past the obstructions and pitfalls.

Well hopefully I am in for a great RECESS and you are all in for a great Muppet Monday and Galaxy Quest recap new week. Back to work...

Barking Alien

PS: Today was my dog Delilah's birthday! My little girl is 5 years old and still the cutest, smartest, most awesomest puppy I have ever seen. Happy Birthday Dee!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Truth, Treasures and Rubber Chickens

I've been promising a recap of Saturday's first session of Hunter X Hunter, The Role Playing Game, the new campaign being undertaken by myself and my group. This is the first campaign for this group that is not being run by me but rather it lies in the capable hands and smart-looking glasses of my friend Ray.

For those unfamiliar with Hunter X Hunter, it is a Japanese Manga and Anime series by Yoshihiro Togashi, better known in American Anime Fan circles as the creator, writer and artist of Yu Yu Hakusho, as well as being the husband of Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Sailor Moon.

The main story of Hunter X Hunter focuses on a young boy named Gon, who discovers that his father, Ging, whom he believed to be dead, is actually alive and is a world-renowned 'Hunter'. A Hunter in this setting is a specialized, licensed profession for those who track down fantastic things such as rare or unidentified animal species (including many that would be considered mythic monsters like dragons), buried treasure, lost or unexplored lands or even highly sought after criminals.

Gon, despite or perhaps because of his father's choice to pursue his own dreams of glory instead of remaining with his son and family, departs on a journey to become a Hunter himself. First, he must pass the rigorous Hunter Examination and then, after he too is a licensed Hunter, he will go and find his father.

Along the way, Gon meets a variety of other kinds of Hunters, makes friends, some enemies and also encounters the paranormal and mystical.

The setting is very...Japanese. An anachronism stew as only the Japanese provide so easily and readily without batting an eyelash. Those who are unfamiliar with Manga/Anime are often confused or taken aback by the nature of many series where the world is an odd mix of times, cultures, technology and genre trappings. In Japan, this is not unusual and for the most part, no one ever wonders why the crooked Samurai in Edo period Japan appears dressed in a track suit (Samurai Champloo) or why people on a 15th century pirate ship have a radio (One Piece). To a greater or lesser extent Dragonball, Dragonball Z, Full Metal Alchemist, Naruto, Pokemon and many more have worlds that look like RIFTS if it were trying hard not to be noticed. In addition to the anachronisms and strange mix of cultural dress, the physical world of Hunter X Hunter is a parallel of ours with similar locations, nations and ethnicities. In the Manga, some of the story takes place in 'York New City', a major city in the America-like region.

Now for the campaign, each of the players came up with a character who is heading out from the city of New DeCheigo* and travelling to far east Jappon* to take the Hunter Examination. The examination changes all the time but it is known to always be difficult and even deadly. Applicants for a Hunter License will even sabotage each other to score a shot at surviving and winning. Some Hunter wannabes will form teams to help each other succeed, as we have done...sort of.

Our PCs are...

Amari (Dave's Character) - Handsome, cool, with an air of arrogance on occasion. - He is a Treasure Hunter hunting the rarest and most fantastic treasures in the world.

Bal (pronounced Bahl or Bol as in Bollywood) (Lee's Character) - Often switching between mysterious guy and regular joe, this fellow appears to be a barber and has a set of old fashioned barber scissors, shaving blades and such. - He is an Information Hunter who claims to be hunting for 'The Truth'.

Stan, aka Stanley 'Smiley' McGee (My character) - The youngest, shortest and physically smallest, my guy hides the sorrows of a tough childhood of poor living and bullies under a jester's cap, a whoopie cushion and a bombastic personality. - He is an Information Hunter as well, out to hunt down the world's funniest jokes so he can spread laughter and joy.

As you can see, these three make for an odd bunch. Analyzing it after the fact, Dave's may be a little too basic, Lee's a little too esoteric and mine, well, it's hard to fit those into adventures with the other two but it'll be fun watching Ray try.

Anyway, we set out on a boat to Jappon with a bunch of tough looking, biker dudes and an even tougher looking, business man type fellow who we later learned was some kind of gangster or something. I am not positive of that but he was the employer or leader of the biker gang guys. He lost his lunch a few times when the seas got rocky and eventually he and his entourage abandoned ship as it seemed like the boat's captain was aiming at one perfect storm after another.

We rode out the terrible weather giving us ample time to learn Ray's homebrew system by making rolls to hold down our own meals and not get tossed off the deck and into the turbulent ocean.

Eventually we landed in Jappon and were told by the captain to head to this one shop in the port town to get passage to the site of the Hunter Examination. We hooked up with his contact at this old bicycle shop on a hill, who let us use his giant bird to get to a mountain overlooking the host city. Yep. Giant bird. He said it would take all three of us. When Lee asked, "Is it really a giant bird? How big is it?", Ray answered, "It's big enough. It'll fit three of you." Love it.

We eventually made our way down the mountain and found a log cabin. We saw lights on in side but as we approached we heard a woman scream and a gunshot (actually more like a shotgun blast).

As the big, handsome Treasure Hunter and mysterious Barber of a thousand, deadly shaving instruments prepared to leave, I, small, wiry comedian that I am, ran toward the cabin door, marbles in one hand and rubber chicken in the other. I kicked the door open with such force that even though the door opened outward toward me, it bounced open wide and I was able to rush in.

A tough older fellow with a shotgun was holding a woman and then tossed her aside onto a couch when I entered. He quickly wrapped a blanket or sheet around her wrist as a makeshift rope. I tried tripping him with the marbles but he didn't fall for it. As he tightened the impromptu restraint, I ran, leaped up and came down swinging my rubber chicken around his neck like a garrote. As my momentum and gravity brought me down to the floor, so did the gunman fall backward, dragged down by my innovative use of polymer poultry.

The other two attempted to assist, Dave's Amari missing twice and Lee's Bal getting nicked by shotgun fire as he attempted to crawl in a window.

While I didn't cause the fellow any real damage, he was of balance long enough for Amari to get up on him and notice something gleaming gold inside his jacket. Turned out he was a policeman and the young lady was resisting arrest. But there were holes in that story. Where was his police car? Surely we would have noticed it around this log cabin in the middle of nowhere. After a few other questions the man and the woman basically said, "OK, OK, they've been through enough. They pass."

The two were guides from the mountain to the examination site. First they give a little test to see if the Applicants they come across even stand a chance. You have to be smart, perceptive, think fast, act fast and move fast to past the Hunter Exam. They thought we had a chance of passing, so they told us exactly where to go and even drove us there in a truck they had hidden in a part of the cabin that turn out to be a workshop garage.

OK, more to come tomorrow...

Barking Alien

*Jappon is the name of this world's fictitious, pseudo-Japan. New DeCheigo is the home city of Dave's character and mine. Lee's character got on the boat there but he is not from there. He gave me the impression of a wandering, martial-artist/pilgrim like Caine from Kung Fu. New DeCheigo is my own creation, a merging of Detroit, Chicago and a bit of San Diego.