Friday, November 30, 2012

If The Stars Aligned

I'm really pleased that my last post generated some actual discussion. Though it may seem a simple thing to some, its the part of my blog that I really enjoy the most. Don't get me wrong, its always fun standing on my soapbox and shouting madly into the ether but it really feels worthwhile when other voices shout back.


In a Facebook post I asked my friends who game...

"The stars align and you have the chance to play your favorite RPG tomorrow with the perfect GM and group. What game is it?"

There were 9 separate responses. The range of players covered people who have gamed with me for anywhere between never and 20 years (there were some responses from friends who game who I've never personally played with). None of those who responded are people that I game with currently. Their ages ranged from mid 20s to mid-to-late 40s. Ethnicities varied greatly. All responders were Male.

1 For Call of Cthulhu
2 For Champions
1 For D&D
1 For Marvel Super Heroes (Classic Marvel RPG) or Mutants & Masterminds
1 For Metamorphosis Alpha/Gamma World
1 For Pathfinder
1 For Shadowrun
1 For Star Trek
1 For Star Wars

In total the post received around 30 comments as we discussed the results and other games we would have added to the list as secondary choices, etc.

My own vote would be Star Trek or Traveller, with the caveat that I'd rather run them than play them.

There were a few surprises in the mix.

I expected the guy who voted for Star Wars to vote for Star Trek. That was seriously jarring. He mentioned really, really liking our old Star Wars campaigns and getting his Star Trek fix recently thanks to Star Trek Online. Personally I feel that statement is a mini-blasphemy but I will let it slide 'cause he is one of my oldest friends.

Another surprise was the vote for Pathfinder, which came from an old friend who moved out to the West Coast and came back recently. This fella was big into Champions, Teenagers From Outer Space, Mekton and other 80's RPGs. Never pegged him as a D&D guy, let alone one who would be into its evolutionary descendant.

One thing I wasn't stunned by was that only two of the nine responses would want to play D&D or a D&D-related game. This simply illustrates what I've noted on this blog many times before; Medieval Fantasy as a genre was simply not the most popular subject for game among the RPGers I've known and gamed with.


Tomorrow begins the month of December, last month of the year and very possibly, the last month for the planet if any of the various doomsayers are correct. Of course, they would have to be correct in their understanding of the often misread and mistranslated Mayan calendar and how it applies to the so-called 'End Times'. See you on the 22nd of December.

Now then, I have a plan to do something most unusual for me this a lot about Dungeons and Dragons.

Specifically, My D&D, the personal 'variant' that I sometimes refer to as D&D-But-Not and D&D-For-Those-Who-Don't-Like-D&D. My biggest fear is that I won't be able to convey how different it is from 'regular' D&D. I've also never shared the rules or setting in all their glory with so many people before. If it wasn't for the potential for planetary extermination and strange celestial events I don't think I would be crazy enough to try.

Wish me luck.


Finally, having some thoughts about returning to run something once a month at my FLGS. Not sure what or when or how but the prospect is exciting.


Next Stop...Aerth.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gaming Solo...With A Group


I wanted to address a fairly common issue in role-playing games that I have been encountering more and more over the past couple of years and find out what other GMs do about it.

At least I am going to assume its common. Prior to experiencing it off and on (and then more on) since 2007-2008, I never really encountered it before so I am venturing a guess that in falls in line behind other common occurrences I haven't had much experience with like Min Maxing, Power Gaming and Hack n' Slash.


From my earliest memories in the hobby to around 2006 (and even a bit after), the groups I played with were made up of good friends who went back a ways. That is to say, the players in these groups were friends, long time acquaintances and even family members for a stretch of time before they were gaming together.

Combined with our rather unusual reference points (we didn't think 'Fellowship of the Ring', we thought 'Justice League of America' and crew of the Enterprise), this high level of camaraderie meant our parties were not just collections of individuals who all had the same idea of ransacking the same dungeon. We were a team. All for one and one for all. The occasional Thief who steals from the party or the Double Agent type character could still be seen from time to time but they never lasted very long. Once revealed, the rest of the group would put them in a world of hurt. They had betrayed The Team.

In my current group, I have a player named Marcus. Marcus is not a team player.

Actually, Marcus can be a team player but prefers to be a lone wolf.

Marcus is the guy who logs on to World of Warcraft (or some other MMORPG) and solos 99% of the time. The second 'M' in MMO, 'Multiplayer', is of no real interest to him. He doesn't team unless he has to or it's with an NPC.

This is how he plays table top RPGs as well. He is in the same party as the other PCs but he is only on their side because he isn't against them. Technically, Marcus' characters are on Marcus' characters' side.

Furthermore, if there is a chance for Marcus' PC to go ahead of the rest of the party and engage the enemy or investigate a haunted tower without them (while the other members of the group research exactly who the enemy is or how to drive the ghosts from the haunted tower), he will do all he can to take advantage of that opportunity.

Sometimes it works in his favor. OK, more often than not it doesn't.

In our last campaign (Champions), his maverick/loner approach got him fired from the SHIELD-type Superhero Support Organization and  ambushed by a clever supervillain.

In our last session of Ars Magica, Marcus attempted to investigate an ancient tower/fort once used by the Vikings on his own (actually his Magus, the Magus' Companion and a young NPC Priest). Meanwhile the other PCs rested from their ordeal the day before. When they woke up, they learned as much as they could about the tower/fort and discovered Marcus' guys were missing. The group decided to take a boat to where the river forks and head for the fort themselves. Eventually Marcus' characters, who were travelling by horse and who made a stop to pick up the Priest NPC, end up arriving at the old haunted tower at virtually the same time as the rest of the PCs travelling by water.

Anyway, I am not posting this to berate Marcus on his particular style of play. I have seen him work together with other players on a number of occasions. The lone wolf approach is his preferred favorite however.

  • Have you experienced this in your games?
  • Do you have a player who tends to want to do his own thing regardless of the rest of the group?
  • Have you done this yourself? Why?
  • Why do people do this?
  • How have you handled it in the past?

One of the games I really want to run with this group (heck any group) is Star Trek but a fellow like Marcus would hate it (and in fact, Marcus said flat out he doesn't want to play Trek). Why? The ranks and military structure of Starfleet would prevent (or at the very least significantly limit) him from being about to go off half-cocked and get himself into trouble or glory without anybody's help.

Barking Alien

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Double The Thanks And Twice The Giving

Thanksgiving this year was...not the best.


Let me explain...

I've mentioned before that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays if not the favorite. I love everything about it. My family has a tradition of watching the balloons getting blown up the night before and than getting together early Thanksgiving Day to watch the parade on TV over pancakes and bacon, than hanging out, talking, playing with my nephew, cooking and eventually eating an awesome early dinner made by two of the greatest cooks in the world, my Mom and my sister. Oh! How could I forget my other favorite part of the day? After the parade I get to watch the National Dog Show!

My family is small. Very small. It always has been. Even when it was larger with my grandparents around, I really only had my Mom's grandparents. It was still small. As a result, it is a very tight family unit. We have our falling outs like any other family but various factors have shown us that, well, we are all we got. So we enjoy this holiday a lot and are truly thankful for each other.

Anyway, for one reason or another, this year things started off great but ended on a sour note to some extent. The dinner was kind of a wash out. My brother-in-law wasn't feeling well. We had just the tiniest of fires in the oven. Don't worry, everyone is OK.

I have been down a lot recently and this should have really put me over the edge but it didn't. I am still thankful we got together, thankful everyone is fine and thankful that we saved enough food for leftovers.

There is always next year...if you're not Mayan I suppose.


Yesterday, my ex-wife invited some ol' friends and myself over for a sort of 'Retread Thanksgiving' that also involved my running a game. I can't really put into words how cool this was. It was good food (Selina, my ex-wife, is a great cook and makes a kick ass cheese cake. My friend Luke's Turkey is pretty damn good too), good people and I got to run a one-shot of my D&D-But-Not game at it's full potential.

What do I mean by its 'full potential'? Well, Selina is one of the greatest players I have ever met and she knows and gets my style. I don't have to pull punches. I can make complex plots that intertwine politics, culture, folklore and mystery and have her not only understand what's happening but extrapolate into directions I totally didn't expect. I lay out Legos on the table and she builds a vehicle that drives across the floor when I don't remember including movable wheels.

Not sure that analogy made perfect sense but yeah...she is awesome at adding to and guiding the story as a player as much as the GM does.

Luke is a role player with a good sense of humor and a knack for creating odd roles. He was in top form yesterday as an atypical typical Scottish sounding Dwarf who was part drunkard, part berserker and secretly pretty swift on the uptake. Throughout the session he accidentally succeeded at what he was doing again and again.

Lily is the new comer, less experienced as a table top gamer than the rest but she enjoys herself and loves the story and listening to the other two. She is often surprising effective when the fighting starts.

In the end, I feel very lucky. I got to have two Thanksgivings and for each I am thankful, if for slightly different reasons.

I hope this holiday has been good to all of you and even if it hasn't, look at it closely and try to find something positive in it that you can take with you into December.

All the best,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.

Usually my favorite of all holidays, this year I am acknowleding that it is here and we'll leave it at that.

I am thankful for my family, my friends, my dog, my health, my jobs...etc.

I hope all of you out there in blogland have a safe, happy and tasty Thanksgiving.

See you back here soon,

Barking Alien

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekend Downs and Ups

Saturday was a dud.

The regular game was cancelled and an attempt at an impromptu get together at my FLGS amounted to a big ol' pile of nothing. Bleh. Spent the day doing chores, running errands and food shopping.

Sunday was nice if a little hectic.

Things for the early class I teach needed adjusting since the 3rd grade and 4th grade students really need different assignments. While there has been a good deal of crossover, the 4th grade work is now clearly ahead of the 3rd grade work.

The Storytelling/Writing/Game class has expanded to 16 kids. Holy Cats! That would be a lot of players in a game even if they weren't in elementary school. The whole thing went over surprisingly well however and it was a pretty smooth transition adding in the two new students. Plus, I've managed to sneak in some geography lessons since the current story is quite globetrotting.

Had dinner with my the rest of the staff (that is, my ex-wife and a friend of ours) and we went over some general business, what everyone's plans are for the holidays, etc. I was invited to run a game for them and a third friend in Jersey this coming weekend. That put a much needed smile on my face to be sure.

Well, off to work with the doggies. I'll keep you all posted.


Barking Alien

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Not In A House. Not With A Mouse.

Although the blog itself has been quiet the last day or so, I have not been.

That is to say, I have been working on a number of things, personal and professional and somewhere in between, which have occupied my time offline. Fear not gentle reader, for I have returned and new ideas are a-brewin'.


I have the opportunity to run a one-shot this weekend, a break from our regularly scheduled Ars Magica campaign, and I am trying to narrow down the possibilities.

I am pretty sure I want to do something Science Fiction-y. I am still a bit Superhero-ed out from our Champions game, and I am running Ars Magica with my group regularly and a kind of modern day mythical game with the kids at the learning center on Sunday (sort of Percy Jackson meets Al Shard) so I think my Fantasy quota is more than filled (once again, for a guy who doesn't care much for Fantasy I seem to run it alot).

What Sci-Fi to run? Well that's the hard part...

My players are very particular. I wonder, aren't most players? I mean, my old NJ group was not so particular in the way my new NY group is. I suppose as members of a fandom, any fandom, we all have our specific likes and dislikes and we can abhor one with all the passion with which we love another.

That said, I am not, generally speaking at least, so all or nothing with my likes and dislikes as I find some people to be. For example, I love Star Trek but I don't hate Star Wars. I like Star Wars. I like it a lot actually. I just like Star Trek a lot more. I am a huge fan of classic Silver Age DC Comics but I don't hate modern Marvel Comics. I do vehemently dislike DC's New 52 however. More on this in a few paragraphs.

What I get from many of my players nowadays (except Dave, he's pretty flexible)* is how few things they seem to like. Ray likes Anime and Manga, well mostly Manga, but he likes One Piece and Hunter X Hunter. None of my other guys like One Piece. Ray's not into Mecha/Giant Robots at all (which I personally think qualifies him to be designated mentally insane but he's my friend so I'll just have to deal with it). Lee didn't really see the big deal about Mecha either (the madness may be spreading). Ray also doesn't like Star Wars. I've never met anyone before who actually didn't like Star Wars. Ray has issues (ahhh, teasing. I love'ya man!)

Marcus, well, it's just hard getting Marcus interested in something new. He's a very Green Eggs and Ham type of a fellow. He'll say he doesn't like something he often hasn't really checked out and than when he checks it out, he likes it. He says he's not into Star Trek but I know for a fact he's never tried it in RPG form. He doesn't want to though because, circular logic, he doesn't like Star Trek.

This dynamic is really frustrating to me as a GM who likes to try new things. It's also frustrating because if it were me in their shoes (and it has been as noted below) I would say, "Your last three games were awesome. You want to try Pin The Tail On The Donkey The RPG? I am so there!"

Case in point; I am not a fan of My Little Pony, old or new. When Erin Palette created her game Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome, I wanted to play. Why? Because I trusted Erin as a GM, a fan passionate about the show and a friend.

A few years back a friend wanted me in on his homebrew D&D 3.x game which featured a number of rules changes and additions (with some Pathfinder elements thrown in) as well as his own world. I said yes. Why? Because even though I've played in dozens of D&D campaigns by dozens of Gamemasters and only about 5% were any good (I am being generous), that doesn't mean the next one won't rock. I trusted the GM.

Going some years back (a little more than some at this point), my good friend Keith, who had moved to California, came back to NY after a while. An incredible player, it turned out he now GMed. My group at the time said that whatever Keith wanted to run would be cool with us. He said Deadlands. We all said. "AWESOME!". Then my friend Jason pulled me to the side.

Jason said:

"Why did you agree to Deadlands? It's a Western with Horror elements. You don't like Westerns and you really don't like Horror. How are you excited to play this?"

I replied:

"'Cause it's Keith and whatever Keith is going to run is going to be fantastic."

Keith has never GMed for me before. Keith was simply put, a good friend, a creative fellow and this is what he wanted to run so it was (in my mind) a guarantee it was going to be great.

Sometimes I am right. Alas, not always.** But I'll be damned if I won't give it a shot.

That's what disappoints my the most with my group. It's like pulling teeth sometimes to get them to give something a shot. They all have their particular things they like and don't and they're both kind of narrow and kind of finicky about what they will try outside of their established likes.

Come on gang. Try a game, any game.
No guarantee it won't be lame but surely they're not all the same.
You do not like them but you won't play.
Try them. Try one. Try to play.
You might like one. Try one and you may I say.

Barking Alien

*Dave definitely has his particulars as well but I gotta give it up for the man. He is a lot more willing to try than most of the New York crew.

**Deadlands turned out to be awesome. Keith was a great GM and he altered the setting a bit making it much creepier and more ghost story-ish.

The D&D game I just wasn't for me.

Unknown Ponies was interesting. While I was completely lost with the story of the adventure and how to approach it and the rule mechanic made for a frustrating time, I saw the potential in it. I thought it really could be a cool game onced worked on a bit more.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Endgame In Sight

There has been some talk on various blogs lately about the 'Endgame' in Role Playing Games. Generally speaking, by 'RPGs', what they are primarily referring to is Dungeons & Dragons or one of its brethern. As such, it should come to no one's surprise that I don't share quite the same view point as others do.

Go figure.

I've been playing table top RPGs since the Summer of 77' and the first time I ever heard the term 'Endgame' was very likely the Fall of 2004. This was when I tried my first Massive Multiplayer Online RPG (which was City of Heroes by the way).

See, I was always under the impression, naive as it may seem today, that there was no 'Endgame' for table top, pencil-paper-dice RPGs. That was partly the point of them actually. Sure, some games have and even need an 'Endgame', like Chess or World of Warcraft, where you have essentially won or achieved sufficient success to the point where there is nothing else to do. How could that possibly happen in an true RPG?

Additionally, even MMORPGs have Endgame Content. That is, once you reach the maximum level achievable in a game, there is still stuff to occupy your time without making up a new character. We don't have that automatically in traditional RPGs by their very nature? Isn't there still stuff for a high level PC to do in your campaigns?

First, let's truly define 'Endgame' shall we?

According to Wikipedia:

End game is the ending scenario of a particular game; when and how it will end, most prominently used in chess. Derived from that Endgame, Endgames, or End Game may refer to:

  1. The final stage of an extended process or course of events.
  2. (chess) The part of a chess game in which there are few pieces left.

OK, so now that we know what an Endgame is, do traditional RPGs have them?

While it is true that Class and Level based games often define a top or maximum level, many also have an experience point system pattern that is easily extrapolated to raise PC levels 'beyond the maximum'.

Putting levels aside, assuming you are playing a game with a maximum listed level of 11 (original edition of Advanced D&D) or 20 (D&D 3.0) and you and your fellow players have all reached that level with your PCs, does that mean you're done. Is there no 'Endgame Content'?

Check this out from the World of Warcraft Wiki regarding Endgame Content:

In most MMORPGs, this occurs when the players hit the maximum level or skill and look for new ways to keep themselves busy now that they're off the levelling treadmill.

In EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot for instance, the part of the end-game consists of hours of raiding extremely challenging locations in an attempt to earn prestige, alternate advancement points, and "phat lewt". Meridian 59, Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Shadowbane, and World of Warcraft all attempt to provide an end-game consisting of PvP activities: you have nothing to lose, no real risk, and can gain prestige by killing other challenging players.

Historically, a game company without a solid plan for an end-game risks alienating its player base. The end-game should grow and change over time, to keep things interesting for the players who still enjoy participating after "winning the game."

The term "End-game" is not entirely accurate considering that World of Warcraft is a multiplayer world and does not "end" in the same sense as a traditional video game. It merely refers to the most challenging content.

Endgame Content has been notably expanded with the release of the latest expansion as of this writing, The Mists of Pandaria.

Now then, what I am really getting at is this...

At one point in D&D's history it was not uncommon for a high level PC to set up a castle, attract followers and before long he or she would be ruler of their own little domain. Two questions pop into my mind. The first is, "What happened to that?", which I'm sure has been answered at some point by James Mal at GROGNARDIA or Jeff Rients. The second and more important question to me is, "And then what happened?".

A story can certainly end (and many of the best ones do) but there is no reason a game should ever have to end. Post castle and land development your D&D campaign isn't over but rather just beginning in a different format. It is now a political and economic game with resource management and military strategy elements. Sadly, I don't think the makers of D&D ever really developed that game but should have as a continuation of the game they had.

While I intend to go into this in further detail next month (Barking Alien is turning traitor in December and focusing on his D&D campaign universe for the entire month!), I will say that this not only happened in one of my D&D-But-Not campaigns, it has happened repeatedly.

Also, numerous players have retired PCs in order to play their offspring, proteges or simply heroes in their employ. Many times players will switch between playing their original PC, now a high level, powerful and prestigous patron and their much less experienced character, newly employed by the aforementioned mover and shaker.

In this way, characters played as far back as 30 years ago are still active in some fashion. They're not gone, their story isn't over. They command armies, lead nations and assemble new adventurers for various quests. My world of Aerth has continued with roughly the same continuity (though we do sometimes jump around the timeline a bit) since 1983. If my ex-wife or any of my old friends showed up at my game table this Saturday that could play their old characters, their characters' kids or any number of other characters in an ever continuing saga of this world and it's people.

To me, there simply is no end game.

Barking Alien

Monday, November 12, 2012

Shared Inexperience

I have several post ideas I'd like to get to this week as time and enthusiasm allow. I may be able to squeeze in the former but I am still struggling a bit to squeeze out the latter.


This past Saturday I ran another installment of our Ars Magica campaign, 'Something Rotten In Denmark'. Rather than recapping it, I would like to address and (hopefully) discuss on odd moment we had.

But first...

One of the elements of medieval fantasy fiction and gaming taughted as a major component of its popularity, is that it draws on our shared past. Reiterating something I've brought up a few times before, while we may have different visions of the future, we all, pretty much, share the same view of what the past was like.

While there is no denying there is some truth to the statement, I feel less and less like it's a factor in medieval fantasy RPGs. For one thing, how many of us are actually setting our games in the historic past of the real world? Furthermore, it would seem our shared pop culture knowledge of what a dragon or a magic spell or a knight is means a lot more than any actual understanding of the middle ages.

Now, what if that shared knowledge of what is to be found in a medieval fantasy setting isn't so shared? What do I mean? Case in point...

After a battle with some trolls seeking a crown of some kind, the PC and NPC Magi of the Covenant of The Silver Stag (or The Silver Elk Lodge) look at the cryptic last words of their recently departed leader...

"They will pass the ring...
Go for the crown.
Speak to the stone.
Our niece knows the way."

It took my players a long while to figure out what any of this meant. There were tons of clues to outright evidence but, as I may have mentioned before, investigating and solving mysteries and puzzles is not their forte'. I tried to make it as easy as possible so they would get it and feel encouraged to expand their abilities in this regard. Marcus can be pretty good at it from time to time but it's really hit or miss it seems. Anyway...

The 'ring' turned out to be (not the kind you wear but rather...) a circle of standing stones about 200 feet beyond the perimeter of the covenant house. The standing stones are each inscribed with a rune and must be read one after the other, out loud as if talking to the stone, in a clockwise fashion each morning at sunrise. They later find out you can actually read them anytime but the enchantment only lasts until the Sun rises the next day no matter when you 'started' it. This enchantment provides protection against the trolls during the night.

OK, problem: No one at the covenant except the old leader (who is dead) knows how to read these runes.

"But wait!", you exclaim. "The niece knows how right?"

Excellent observation dear reader. One that it took the players a bit to figure out since the PC who was there when the leader died, Dave's Bjornaer Magus, Adalfrid, could not remember exactly what Oshemming the Stout (now Oshemming the Deceased) had said exactly. Actually Dave couldn't remember. No one remembered and no one took notes. And they wonder why they get baffled by easy mysteries. I sometimes wonder why I bother. *Sigh*

Anyway, who's niece? Oshemming? No, it's confirmed that he had no remaining family. He said 'Our'. The covenant? His house?

It was then that an NPC realized that Adalfrid's Danish isn't particularly good. His native language is German. It's not 'Niece', it's 'Nisse', a type of Gnome or Brownie.

And then the breaks hit.

None of my three players were familiar with what a Brownie is. To them, a Gnome is a slim Dwarf or hairy Halfling in D&D or the tinkering artificers of Dragonlace and World of Warcraft.

I tried to explain it as a household spirit that fixes things when the people of the house are asleep. Like Dobie and the House Elves of Harry Potter.

Not one a Harry Potter fan.

'Like Thimbletack in The Spiderwick Chronicles', started bubbling up in my head but I knew that if they didn't know Harry Potter they weren't going to know Spiderwick. I eventually explained what a Brownie was or Nisse was and the PCs asked the other Magi how to find him. They didn't know. They didn't know there was a Nisse in the building. Lady Hildebritte was particularly stunned and flustered as a member of House Merinita (the house specializing in Faerie knowledge and magic). She was thoroughly embarrased.

When it came to figuring out who other than the departed Oshemming would know about the Nisse, the players flumoxed and stumbled again. I said simply, "If none of the Magi know, who would?"

Nothing. Then mentions of the different Magi in the Lodge. Then me reminding them that none of the Magi knew. Then crazy, no basis guesses. Then me feeling like taking up golf might be a better way to enjoy my Saturdays.*

"The Nisse fixes things, finishes chores for hard working people who fall asleep trying to complete them. Who is giving it the honey and bread or bowl of milk or portridge I mentioned? You think the Mages do that?"

"Of course not," Dave says jokingly, "I bet they don't even know how to cook. They have Grogs to cook...for...them...". Light bulb sputters on. The Grogs. point is that the idea of a house spirit is a very old and very common one native to many, many regions. From the Scandinavian Nisse or Tomte to the the slavic Domovoi, the British Brownie and Scottish Urisk to the German Heinzelmännchen and even places as varied as Japan and many nations in Africa, there have been stories of this type of creature.

Not one of three guys, 26-34 years of age, who are into Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comic Book, etc and who play RPGs, including D&D, knew what a Brownie was.

Yet they all know what the Central Power Battery is and what a Spartan soldier is. Hmmm.

Something to think about as I plan future games.

Barking Alien

*Golf. I despise Golf.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sesame Street Saturday - Happy Birthday!

Off to run Ars Magica in a little while but couldn't pass up a shout out in celebration of this most special of days.

Happy 43rd Birthday to Sesame Street!

The first episode of which aired November 10th, 1969.

I am only 9 months older, having first aired in February of the same year.

Happy Birthday gang and many more!*

Barking Alien

*And thanks to the re-election, they will likely get the chance!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Visions Of The Near Future - An Arcane Past and A Distant Tomorrow

First, Welcome Back Jeff Rients to the land of the living bloggers. I was getting a little worried about his status after the notably prolific Mr. Rients went quiet for about two whole months but it seems he is alive, well and already has something to say. Most excellent!

Now on to today's post...


Actually, today's post isn't so much geared toward talking about something but rather letting you know about two topics I will be addressing in some detail in the near future.

I have decided to dedicate the month of December (always a strange month for me as previous December posts will reveal) to my D&D-But-Not World/Universe AERTH.

No, you did not read that wrong. No, you have not ingested some bizarre alien substance or terrestrial hallucinogen (to my knowledge anyway). No, I have not gone insane. OK, this statement is unrelated to any possible insanity on my part.

I have long put off talking about my personal Dungeons & Dragons-esque milieu with the exception of a few brief posts here and there. I would be surprised if there were more than 10-15 posts on the specifics of this campaign universe over the last 3 years and roughly 570 blog entries.

Why? And why now do I feel like talking about it?

The short answer to the first question of 'Why?' is simple. I am not really much of a D&D/Popular Fantasy genre fan. I like folklore, fairy tales and mythology but 'Lord of The Rings' and Sword & Sorcery stories just don't do much for me. I have dedicated a good portion of my time and effort on this blog talking about games few people talk about. There are dozens and dozens of D&D blogs, all written by guys and gals who actually like the subject. More power to them. It means I can talk about other things.

So why do it now/in December? That is harder to answer. I am not sure. I just want to. I need to get it out of my system so I can focus on other ideas. It's a little like spring cleaning except in my head. And it's not spring.

The entries will talk about the world, it's people, monsters, magic and other elements you would expect to find in a D&D campaign. The differences between this milieu and other D&D settings will be addressed along with the simularities. Very few rules will go with it unless the nature of the material is directly tied to my homebrew mechanics (Magic, the Draconic Language and some Peoples/Races and Monsters come to mind). If anyone asks me to elaborate I will be happy to.


The second thing I want to announce is that I will be working on a Traveller campaign to be run...eventually. I am hoping sometime early next year. Depending on how well things go with Ars Magica I suppose. Nonetheless, I will be doing a number of posts on the subject starting in Janurary. My plan is to have everything prepped and ready well in advance of the launch.


That's that for now.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Lovely Overview

Today, I voted. I hope everyone did. I will leave it at that.

You will notice a distinct lack of political posts or commentary here at Barking Alien and that is for a reason. I don't like to discuss such things in the same place I come to in order to relieve stress and enjoy myself. Dogs don't want to poop where they eat or sleep.

My home this is, as Yoda might say. Take your filthy politics elsewhere.


I was thinking a lot about yesterday's post and how in many of my games, the geography, landscape and locals change but the themes and overall atmosphere of a given game stay pretty consistant.

The idea here is that the GM, like the director of a movie or a play, is there to provide a single unifying vision to the campaign. They are not by any means the only source of input of course. The players, the game itself, the genre being emulated or invoked, even prior campaigns or shows you've recently seen and liked influenced the 'look and feel' of the game you're running but you, the GM, are the final cut editor, deciding what works, what doesn't, what should be expanded upon and what ends up on the cutting room floor.

It might seem to some that more Story-oriented GMs are following a tighter, less flexible mental image of how their game 'should' or 'will' go. I can't speak for all of them but that is certainly not what I am advocating here. Rather, I am suggesting that even a complete sandbox game can take on the appearance of a world you thought out and planned from the get go if, regardless of the sourcebook you plug in or the module you're using, you tweak everything so that it fits an overarching element you want to focus on.

For example, let's say you want to explore the themes of 'Survival in Hostile Conditions', 'Bureacracy' and 'The Underdog'. Cool. I could set this campaign in practically any game or genre, though D&D and Traveller popped into my mind first. I wouldn't mind pursuing it as a Western either. The key here is that whatever the adventure, plot or villain, the heroes have a tendencey to be ill or under equipped, can't get help from the local authorities or business people because of endless red tape (real, imagined, honest or bogus) but there will be a few opportunities for the PCs to shine even in their currently crappy situation.

When thinking about my current Ars Magica game, the ideas I wanted to investigate were 'Change', 'Old Ways vs. New Ways in Religion and Politics' and 'Tradition vs. Innovation'. So far, the adventures have not directly with any of these except maybe 'Change' in a sense (the death of the covenant's leader and the appointment, though perhaps temporary, of Dave's Magus as his acting replacement). At the same time 'Tradition' ties into that as well. As we go forward, whatever course the PCs decide to take, these reoccurring themes will find their way into plots and subplots. At the very least they will be on my mind as the Storyguide whether they impact a given adventure or not.

Do you have themes or overarching concepts for your adventures or campaigns? Have you found it ties things together or does it fade into the background?

Comments are welcome. Really. I welcome comments. I will provide them with a warm, damp towel to refresh themselves. Tea and Coffee are on the house. Comments...anyone?

Barking Alien

NaGa DeMon Versus Barking Alien - Resurrection?

Holy crap! I actually have an idea for the NaGa DeMon Challenge.

Can I write it, put it all together and play it in a month? Especially considering that it's already the 5th of November. Hmmm...

If I could just get over this cold I might be able to pull this off.

Barking Alien

Monday, November 5, 2012

Free-Range GM

Trying to shake off the blues while fighting a cold is not the easiest of tasks. However, in an attempt to do just that, I am going to redouble my efforts to post game related material on this blog. Quite the change of pace I realize. My idea is to keep my mind off what's got me down and hopefully jumpstart my creativity. This has the wonderful side benefit for all of you of not having to suffer through my continued kvetching.

A post by Noisms got me thinking about what kind of GM I am environment wise.*

That is, am I an Urban-GM who focuses on city based adventures? A Forest/Mountain Outdoors-GM who focuses on open areas, difficult terrain and wilderness adventures in the great outside? I am surely not a Dungeon Crawl-GM, sending PCs through the dank, dark underground lairs of monsters and mad mages who have surely lined the place with traps and treasures aplenty.

So what am I? What's my 'thing'?

As I've said before, I am definitely an environment guy. I like different environments and I enjoy showing the ways in which those environments are not like the last ones the PCs encountered. I want to see them slide across the icy surface of a frozen inland sea, swing across a jungle of half mile high trees and dog paddle/crawl through a moor or marsh-like expanse of gelatin-like primordial goo.

This means more than just stat or skill rolls to me. I want to see them use ingenuity and smarts to figure out how to beat the heat or the urban clutter or the lake of near sentient jello. I want them to remember the places they've been and I want them to want to know about where they are going next.

The key factor for me is to keep changing the ecology the PCs are in. This is one of the reasons ( perhaps even the primary one) that I enjoy running Science Fiction RPGs so much. Be it Star Trek, Traveller or Star Wars (which, yes I know, is more Science Fantasy), the ease of getting from one locale to another and the variety of those locales is very much an integral part of those game settings (and their respective IPs).

I posted the question of "What kind of GM am I?" to my friends of Facebook, specifically those who I have GMed for in more than one game or campaign. I was curious as to what my players opinions were of my style and focus (or lack thereof).

My favorite title, in that it is the funniest and catchiest, is the one I've used for this post title. The term comes from my good pal Allen of RavenFeasts Meadhall. He's always had a knack for naming things.

My friend Joe V. called me an Omni-GM. He and Aris, artist extrordinaire, pointed out that I am more about theme and genre than where the story actually takes place. I hadn't thought of that. Aris noted, "Your a big picture GM. The setting is irrelevent. Your games are themed for a genre and you play it to the hilt and you have a big scope. Setting is a small part of that."

I was rather surprised, and pleasantly so, by this comment from my friend Donnell, "First off, my reference for you is 'StoryTeller' - and that's because you go where the story/inspiration takes you. You don't make the mistake of creating set parameters that must be maintained - you open a universe, and set the Characters free..."

Another favorite comment comes from my friend Nelson Marty. I may be wrong but I would guess that Nelson has been in more of my games over the years than any other single person. We haven't gamed together in a long while now (at least 5-6 years I think) but he may know my style better than most.

Nelson said, "I'd say you're a world gm, you don't limit yourself to small locations."

For someone who was feeling down and in a rather deep creative crater, these comments have really helped to get me back on the horse.

Thanks gang!

(That is a horse right? It has hooves. What are those antennea type things?)

Barking Alien

*When it comes to inspirations for posts, he seems to be my go-to source lately. Going to have to start giving that guy a finder's fee.