Thursday, January 31, 2013

Traveller - Prelude To Foundation

Today is the end of January? Already?! Good grief time flies...

I've been so busy lately with so many things (work, games, side projects), I didn't even realize January had slipped by so quickly. At the same time, in a sort of paradoxical way, I was and am acutely aware that the month of February is upon me.

February is a lot of things. My birthday is this month, as is that of my ex-wife Selina, not to mention our old wedding anniversary. Valentine's Day is in February as well. My grandmother, who I still miss very much, was born in February, as was my father, who is also no longer with us.

February is a lot of things for me.

In my attempt to feel more positive about life in general, I am going to focus my attention on a very cool, new thing happening this February...Traveller!

Our campaign starting point and home base. Ain't she epic?

On Saturday, Feb. 9th of 2013, I am going to transport nearly 11 players three thousand, six hundred years into the future and begin my first, full fledged Traveller campaign in nearly fours years. In addition, this will be my first real ongoing Science Fiction campaign in nearly that long. I've had several one-shots, brave attempts and false starts but this time I am in the zone and bringing my A-Game. If anyone has any other appropriate sports lingo please let me know. I am terrible with sports lingo.

Getting my notes together and preparing both my campaign book and the players' versions to serve as a guide to the campaign and a place to store any handouts for each of them, I am looking at the following:

There will be 11 players and PCs if everyone shows.

At least 4 of the PCs own a ship (the most I've ever seen in a single campaign of Traveller).

There are no alien PCs (I find that weird. That's just me).

While we've covered most of the major careers, there are a few no one went with that I am very much used to seeing. As of this writing there are no Army characters, Barbarians, Belters, Flyers, Law Enforcement characters, Nobles, Pirates or Rogues. I can't recall a previous campaign with no Barbarians, Law Enforcement and/or Pirate characters.

A good portion of the players (more than half I believe) have a backstory for their characters that fits directly into some of the story happenings I have planned for the sector of space they are in completely without either them or myself having any idea of what the other party was working on.

I am running this very much in a classic, full on sandbox style with the addition of my Storybox idea that their are adventures and stories out there, going on with or without the PCs involvement. They can, of course, get involved. They can also not get involved but the story does not stopped just because they ignore it. There will be ramifications later if no one checks some of these things out. Otherwise, PCs are free to go wherever their brains, brawn, know-how and luck can take them.

Spica Sector, Subsector 'J' - Flux

I am super excited about this game. I have been working like a...well...a hard working animal...maybe something that herds or hunts or'll come to me.

Expect to see more pre-production notes, production notes and a full on review as we get underway. February is Traveller Month here at Barking Alien!*

Barking Alien

Incidentally, this is my 601st blog entry. Wow.

*OK, except...I still really want to tell you all about my experiences at RECESS. Also, their is a Supers idea I want to play around with. Alright, February is Mostly Traveller Month here at Barking Alien!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Overworked Overdue Overview

This past week has been rather busy. Scratch that. These past few weeks have been rather busy.

An increase in my work load and the preparation for and execution of two games for RECESS, combined with family and other obligations has significantly slowed my posting to the blog. A bummer, since I am more inspired and jazzed about gaming than I have been in some time.

Well, I never lose my love of gaming, I simply go through periods of liking it and loving it. The love is back and in full force I assure you.

Part of the reason for this is RECESS, which never failed to jumpstart my ideas and I'll admit my ego. There were twenty-six GMs at this particular event and I sincerely hope they all got the kind of feedback and experience I did.

Like, this happened...

I am in a conversation with jenskot/John, one of the fellows who runs the event, when a cute, young lady with glasses bounces up to us.

Cute, bouncing young lady: "Excuse me, Mr. Alien? You're Barking Alien right?"

Me: "Yes...I suppose I am." (I see her name tag - Emi - she looks familiar)

Emi: "My boyfriend was in a game of yours last RECESS and wants to know if you are running anything in the second slot this RECESS. Are you the one doing 'The Incredibles' game?"

Me: "Your boyfriend...? Will! Yes. Yes I am. I remember you now. You were in the Muppets game."

Emi: "Yes! Oh he will be so excited. He really wanted to play in one of your games again. He's very likely to get in. He has ticket #1!"

Will got in, did great and it was in one of the best one-shot games I've ever run. Seriously it was that fun. So fun in fact that Will and another player from that game named Ed (and possibly a third) are joining my once a month Traveller game. Also, people were standing around outside after the event finished and brokedown talking about it. Once again a bunch of people said how great it was right in front of two of the RECESS coordinators, John and Ryan. Hoody Hoo!

I want to talk about sooo many things. That game, the Fraggle Rock game before it and my upcoming Traveller game which is now nearing 11 players! Eleven! Holy Hivers!

A more detailed post will have to wait however, as I am currently off to run my Ars Magica game which has been on hiatus for a few weeks.

Good gaming to you all and talk to you soon,

Barking Alien

PS: 151 Followers! Ha-cha-cha!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Old Dogs Says...Mass Produce

The post below is a long time coming, having originally been written a week and a half ago. Between January 9th (my last post) and today, January 21st, I have worked nearly 14 days straight without a day off because of my two jobs and one client in particular needing some weekend assistance. Add to that the preparation for running two games at RECESS and then the actual running of said games at RECESS this past Saturday and you can imagine how title time or energy I had for posting.

I am pretty darn exhausted to be honest with you, metahuman endurance or not.

Now, as I get back to production on my upcoming Traveller campaign (which is slowly but surely adding players*), I really want to get these GM advice posts out of the way. I want them over and done so I can talk about so many other things, including my experiences at this past RECESS event and of course the aforementioned Traveller.

While I really can't say if my posts here have been any help to anyone, I can say that I feel validated and more than a little ego boosted thanks to the people at RECESS and NerdNYC. I had one player send his girlfriend to find me and when check to see that it was definitely me running the second session event he was interested in. He had previously been in my Galaxy Quest game and liked it so much he wanted to be in another game of mine. He may end up a regular in my Traveller game as well. I also got the usual kudos for my Muppets RPG (this time featuring Fraggle Rock) and a fellow GM bummed that she had to run something. She apparently told a mutual acquaintance of ours, "Damn. I wouldn't have run something in the first slot if I knew he (Me) was running Fraggle Rock at the same time. I would've played."

So in the end if there are those who read my GM Advice and think, 'Well this guys ideas don't sound all that special', that's just fine. Real people in real games really like what I do. I'm in happy land.

Last thing two things and we can get to the last of the 'Old Dog' posts for now...

I now have 149 followers. Wow. That is awesome. But...I want more. That is, my goal for some time now has been 150. If you don't hate this blog, please recommend it to a friend. Thanks.

Happy Birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.!

OK, let's get to it...


This post is not so much GM advice but rather an explanation of how I do a thing that a lot of gaming people see and ask me, "How do you do that and still have time to eat, sleep and pee?"

Well, I eat quickly, don't sleep much and sometimes forget to do that last one.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the actual question is, "How do you generate so many NPCs?"

It's actually really simple. Don't use the system and don't create what you don't need.

I don't think I have ever rolled up a NPC. Ever. I didn't know that anyone did that when I started. The guys who made those TSR modules didn't roll-up the goblins in it. Did they? Or the lord of whatever keep was important to the preface? There were just goblins there. The lord was your patron and they needed a patron lord for the fluff so, they made one. So if I know I need a Spaceport Dockmaster or Captain of the Royal Guard, I don't roll anything, I just write down 'Dockmaster' and 'Captain of the Royal Guard' and throw on some appropriate numbers.

You don't need to know all the stats of a Shuttle Pilot in Star Trek or a Bank Clerk in Deadlands or the guy who sells the adventuring gear in Dungeons & Dragons. You need to know what they're good at and it should be their jobs. If not, that's interesting too but the point is, it isn't necessary to write up a whole sheet on someone who is only there to drive you to the adventure and back.

Here's what a typical D&D NPC 'Record Chart' looks like for me:

NPC Record Chart for Character in a High Elf City

The first thing I need is the character's name. Why? 'Cause somebody is going to ask. It's often the first thing people ask when they meet a NPC and decide to talk to them. For this particular list of NPCs I am using the naming convention my players and I devised for the High Elves of Aerth, my homebrew D&D-But-Not world. Their first names generally sound Kryptonian. Seriously. Not my idea but it was me who first noticed an Elf named Kal-El or Dev-Em StormStrike would not be out of place. Last names are based on the High Elven Family Houses which, for the most part, are based on foul weather. The most popular and common family names are Rain, Hale, Gale, Snow, Blizzard, etc. Noble families include Thunder, Wind, Lightning and Storm, which is the last name of the King and Queen.

The oddities in the above chart are those citizens of the High Elven City who are not, themselves, High Elves. These characters therefore have names that reflect the naming conventions developed for the other Elven cultural subgroups.

Race and gender are next and pretty self-explanatory. Notice that the first names are not always gender specific (meaning there are a number of female characters with male sounding names and vice versa).

Next up is class and level. I have never understood the concept of NPC Classes. I mean, I barely like the idea of classes at all, now you're going to make these things PC and NPC specific? Please. For me, the Baker is the Baker but if I need to know what he attacks as, how many hit point he should get, etc. I have a guide line. Baker - Rogue, 5th level. Sage - Magic User**, 4th level. Blacksmith - Fighter, 6th level, etc. The Baker can't hide in shadows, the Sage doesn't know any spells and the Blacksmith doesn't wear a full suit of Chainmail all the time. The Class/Level combos are just easy ways for me to figure out how skilled and experienced these people are and how many hit points they might have.

Important stats are just that; These are the stats that are important. Everything else is a 0. Average. Don't worry about it as it isn't important. Writing them out this way also means the chart is useful regardless of edition (for the most part).

Something makes this individual special. Somethings it's what they can do, sometimes its what they own. On some characters what I write is more specific, on others more vague. If I were statting out the average citizen as opposed to those  who might be more involved in an adventure, their Ability/Talent/Item entry might be Can Talk Fast, Dwarven Desserts, Heirloom Necklace.

Finally we have notes. These are the things that make this person matter in the adventure or encounter in which you meet them. I usually start small and often more specific than many of the ones I have listed on this particular chart. These are sometimes catalysts for more in depth descriptions later on if the NPC becomes a reoccurring part of the campaign.

So that's basically it. I figure out the bare bones minimum of what I need for quick reference, set up some ground rules, make a chart and then start filling it in. Sometimes it's simple, sometimes it's more elaborate.

Check out this one for a TMP era Star Trek campaign:

Well that's about the size of it ladies and gents. Nothing more magical to it than that. My one special gift as a GM may simply be that coming up with names, an element that seems difficult for many, is really easy for me. Yes, my names may seem corny (especially in D&D - but then, D&D names are always corny. Bilbo Baggins. Jon Snow. Krull. Really? Krull is your character's name?!?)

That's the end of the Old Dog segments for now. Need to get to work on Traveller. So happy to finally be back doing Science-Fiction I can't even put it into words. Yet. Maybe next post.

Barking Alien

 *A number of players I met at RECESS are interested in joining in on my upcoming Traveller campaign at the Compleat Strategist in NYC starting this February. NerdNYC - Gamer Networking That Works!

**I wrote Magic User, a name I generally despise, because I don't know what Wizards are currently called in the game of your choice. Mage, Wizard, Sorceror...figure out what works for you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Old Dog Says...People It With People

WQRobb of Graph Paper Games is apparently quite impressed with me over I claim I made some time ago which stated that I statted out nearly the entire crew of a Miranda Class Cruiser for an old Star Trek campaign I ran. A TOS Movie Era Miranda Class has a crew compliment of 336 to 352 personnel according to the original FASA Federation Ship Recognition Manual. I believe I said I settled at 300. 

The truth is, yes, I did this.

There are 50-75 members of the Order of the Winghorn Guard statted out for my D&D-But-Not campaign world of Aerth...per era of the campaign history. A little quick math places that at roughly 240 NPCs. That does not include shopkeepers, innkeepers, knights or captains of the guards of any cities, no rulers or royalty and certainly not the villains or their henchpersons. That would place the total NPCs for that campaign universe in the order of 500 at least.

My Superhero games are similar though there are actually less non-player characters statted on average than in other genres.

Am I insane. Perhaps.


I love NPCs and it's not about generating lots and lots of them but about creating ones that the characters will remember, want to see return and (hopefully) miss if they should they perish.

I once had a PC Chief Engineer in a Star Trek campaign over his Asst. Chief out of the Engine Room so he could perform an operation with the Matter/Anti-Matter system that would have saved the ship and surely killed him. The NPC said he would do it and the player said, "You have a wife and a child Lieutenant. Get out of here and up to the bridge and that's an order!" The two actually wrestled for a bit before the NPC tossed the PC out of the room as a blast door locked shut. "I am sorry sir, you will have to put me on report." The player was nearly in tears when the poor guy died. It was epic.

Damn I love running Star Trek. Where was I? Oh yeah, NPCs...

Here are some of my tricks to generating cool NPCs:


I have a knack for naming but I have picked up so great tricks over the years. WQRobb's post has some cool ideas as well.

Your first best friend...the Phone Book. Mix and match the names and your have thousands of potential PC names for Modern or Science-Fiction settings. I also highly recommend Gary Gygax's Extraordinary Book of Names. Awesome resource for Modern, Future or Medieval names of a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Naming conventions help me a lot. My Vulcan males always start with an 'S' (sorry Tuvok) and I try to utilize the 'L', 'P', 'V' and 'K' consonants as much as I can. By placing this limitation on myself I get more creative with the names while keeping the proper feel. So off the top of my head: Solvock, Slevek, Sukel, Stevalek, Stolop and Spovol.

For Superhero and Supervillain names (as well as Fantasy Elf and Dwarf and Starship names), the Thesaurus is your friend. So is typing in, 'Synonym for...' whatever word you're looking for into Google.


I usually develop the personalities of my NPCs by starting with a character cliche or familiar type in my mind or by thinking of a similar character already in existance and modifying them. My Superhero Black Emerald's persona is a thinly veiled parody on all the Black Superheroes of the 70's, especially Luke Cage, while Mr. Spaceman is both the Martian Manhunter and David Bowie from The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Over time, that is, with each additional appearance of the NPC, more and more of an actual three-dimensional personality is constructed. It doesn't happen all at once. It takes time. One must be sure to give them that time.

The problem, as I understand it, for many a GM (most notably DMs specifically) is that their NPCs never get the chance to develop as they are often killed by the PCs. This is an issue I will not directly address here as, to be honest, I haven't the faintest clue how to avoid that if your players are that bloodthirsty. I've never experienced it myself.

One way to ensure this development time is...


Give your NPCs a purpose. Noisms noted as part of the post that started my GM advice series...

"My NPCs tend to blend together, unless I put on a funny voice or accent, being universally sarcastic, cynical, mean-spirited, and rather unhelpful."

If the only purpose for the NPC you've created is to be unhelpful than I am not especially surprised if the PCs don't care for them, don't want to encounter them again or try to off them in pursuit of a less aggravating work environment.

Some of my NPCs are local color, like the Baugh the barkeep, his wife Bera, who makes the mutton soup that has those mild though massive onions, their daughter Bini, the barmaid, who loves to hear tales of dungeon delving and their niece, the odd girl, Helg, who talks to squirrels and raccoons.

Some are sources of information, such as Jimmy 'Jitters' McIntyre, an informant in the Superhero team's home city. Jimmy shakes a lot, sometimes so much that he visually blurs and is virtually impossible to see in the dark or in the rain. He can see and hear pretty well during these moments though and he, ya'know, notices stuff. Jimmy is a Mutant but with a power he can't control which has limited uses. Between that and his drug habit the heroes feel back for Jimmy and want to help him but how?

Some are employers like Lars Reinholden, snappy dresser and lover of coffee liqueurs. There are the neighborhood street kids like Big Gus, Little Gus and that kid who insists you call him DJ Hyperjump. Don't forget the local law on the space station at Gamma Plesiades II. Sgt. Cho'Glick is a real ass (I think he doesn't like Humans) but Corporal Kenner really is trying her best.


Another trick I love to use, usually checking player approval when at all possible, is to have old PCs act as NPCs in a later campaign. My entire world of Aerth sort of revolves around this. Any PC that has ever walked the face of the world and did not clearly die has the distinct chance of returning as an NPC. I do this in Star Trek to sometimes but in D&D it's a mainstay. It gives the world a cohesive feel as well.


Now, I still haven't revealed how I generate so many so quickly have I? Hmm. No, I haven't. Well than the secret is...

Sorry. We've run out of time. Tune in again soon won't you?

Barking Alien

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Old Dog Yawns

I may have an answer for Noisms question, paraphrased of course, "Why don't we discuss how to be a good GM or what can we learn from other GMs on our gaming blogs?"

If I had to go by the number of views and comments I've gotten since doing so I'd say it's because not very many people are interested.

As such, I will probably stop doing this soon and discuss other things. In truth, I've always felt that since the majority of bloggers are GMs (as opposed to being Players only game bloggers), all the content on all the blogs help you be a better Gamemaster. No?

Take Jeff Rients most recent post, which is now a month old. Are you telling me you can't find something in that to improve your game in some way? This post wasn't helpful? Zak routinely spouts words of wisdom for the aspiring Gamemaster. As do many, many others.

None of my posts on Star Trek have been useful to the Star Trek GM? No Superhero RPG elements I dicussed were of any concern to the referee running into snags in his or her comic book campaigns?


I think of it the same way I think of the other type of RPG content. I don't really look to the blogs for new spells, new monsters, NPCs or the like unless someone does something a little unusual. I look to old books of folklore, video game and movie concept design, public domain pulp stories and comic books. I go where there are cool ideas and no stats and I add the game elements myself.

So what helps me run games better? When you guys and gals out there argue over some silly rule or another I look at how I handle it and improve it if needed. I take ideas on how to organize your campaign or draw maps and say, "Well this is how I do maps now. Does their way over any advantage? Can I incorporate that advantage into what I like about what I already do? Hmmm...sure, if I alter that and tweak this (various cartoon crash and spring popping noises)...Presto!"

Anyway, got to work on some stuff for the way too many game things I can doing in the next month or so. If you're a GM and you're wondering how to do something better and I can help I will. Just let me know.

Barking Alien

Old Dog Says...Give Them A Show

My previous post on Gamemaster advice has gotten quite a lot of views but very few comments. My guess is that most people are not sure how to respond to it for one reason or another. True, it is a difficult concept to explain and after re-reading it myself I think the post lies somewhere between, "Yes, I think I delivered my message well" and "Geez, this sounds like I'm saying my advice to being an awesome GM is to be as awesome as I am", which is not really advice at all.

Switching gears a bit, I am not going to suggest another way to make your campaign cool but instead a way to make your GM technique effective. I have touched on this subject before, long ago it seems and I rarely see anyone else mention it so, here goes nothing...

Picture an average* RPG session with an average* GM and an average* group.

You've got the GM sitting at the head of the table, sometimes behind a screen of charts and/or notes, with the players likewise around said table, snacks and drinks in the center or in front of each person.

Now look at this if you would...

I stand up when I GM. I move around. If a major threat or tense situation threatens a PC, I move in toward that player very quickly...than ask them what they do as I slowly pull away. I raise my voice for shouting villain and lower it to a whisper for nervous informants. I spin, I bounce, I wave my hands in the air (often, like I just don't care) and generally avoid remaining static.

I almost never describe hallways or tunnels as "Ten feet by twenty feet". I say, "It's the same size see that door there? OK, from me to the door."

I will use your snacks as props. I will, and often do, place your soda cans and orange juice containers in the postions that roughly illustrate when the incoming fighters are located in relation to your Free Trader ship.

Part of the reason for this is that I find engaging the players in this more animated way gets them more excited and involved in the game. As inspirations for my gamemastering style, I look to famous entertainers and directors and especially MCs who were (or are) skilled at holding the attention of a crowd. So moreso than Gygax and Greenwood, I try to emulate P.T. Barnum, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain, Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg and various stand up comedians. These men and women are people adapt at timing, staging a scene and (and this is key) misdirection. David Copperfield and of course Houdini are also people to look to in this regard.

Are you ready...coming full circle...

One of the reasons the approach detailed in my previous post works for me is because I have studied and adapted the techniques listed above. I am an expert at stalling, looking like I know when I don't, or maybe I do. The GM is smiling and looking toward the Pilot PC; Is the ship in danger of crashing after what the Engineer just did to fix the Manuver Drive? An innocent, sad puppy face and be as scary to players as an evil chuckle is played at the right time. A favorite phrase of mine after a particularly daring move and an important roll is (after staring at the dice and blinking dramatically, followed by an 'aw shucks' face), "Wow. And I so liked your characters...".

You are more than the referee. You are a Showman (or Showperson if you prefer). You are there to direct, to dazzle, to entice, to excite and to entertain. Maybe no one else wants to. Maybe you are just the best at it in your group of gaming friends. Whatever the reason, the spotlight is theirs but the camera is yours. Welcome them to your Show of Shows!

Barking Alien

*Zak would scoff at the term 'average'. He would be right to do so (and he would also be getting nitpicky over semantics but that's neither here nor there.). Suffice to say that what I mean by 'average' in this instant is 'what you encounter most often if you surveyed the lot of us gamers the world over'. If that is too confusing for you or rubs you the wrong way than I'm using to mean, 'that which helps me illustrate my point' and we'll leave it there.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Old Dog Says...Know It All

Ready to learn how to make the special sauce?

This is it bros and bras, the Colonel's secret recipe, the formula for Coca Cola, the ultimate thing I can pass on to the Next Generation of Gamemasters...

Know it all.

Now wait...what do I mean by that? All the rules? My entire setting?

Neither and both and something completely different. OK, I'm rambling.

See, its taken me three days to try and find a way to convey this technique (I guess it's a technique) I have to others who haven't gamed with me in person. I started this particular process I'm thinking of a long while ago. I never really thought about it consciously until I was in high school and I wondered how my friend Will made his Champions campaign universe so unbelievably awesome, until I asked him.

His answer was, "I know it. I know it like I know my own name or the back of my hand."

Will had no idea what you were going to say to the villain Kineto but he knew Kineto. He knew Kineto's mindset, his motivations and how he thought. 

If you went to Russia, Will could probably only guess what you would do once your flying, super strong, martial artist touched downed in Moscow but he knew his Moscow, what his Russia was like and how his Soviet UNTIL agents treated foreign supers landing on their soil.

He knew his universe such that not matter where you went or what you did, he was never caught off guard.

I follow the same approach. You could put up a poster sized picture of my D&D-But-Not campaign world, get blindfolded, throw a dart at the poster and say, "There! I want to start the campaign there." As soon as I removed the dart from my ass and you tried again, I could easily run a campaign with virtually no prep no matter where it landed next.

I can do that in the DC Comics universe. I can do it in the Star Trek universe. I can do it in my version of the Traveller universe (although there I would really like a bit more prep time to get it perfect).

It takes a deep knowledge of a setting to be able to do this and yet, it does not necessarily take an overly detailed knowledge of the setting. I can't name every town, creature or magic item on my D&D homebrew world of Aerth, nor will I ever. Why? I keep adding to it. But I get where I am coming from with that world. I understand its design. I know what its for and why it works the way it does.

Not long ago, a friend asked me to help her with the development of a species on her game world and I was a bit surprised to be honest. The two thoughts that came to me immediately were, 'You mean you don't know?' and 'If you don't know, why aren't you developing this in play?'

Because you see, if I only have an outline of an area, a people, a thing or whathaveyou, I understand it just enough to have it appear in the background but not in the foreground. If the players are going to encounter it and I know that ahead of time, I get to know it before they do. If it happens as a surprise to me and I don't already have something set up, we (the players and I) learn about the element together as it's introduced.

My Elves were formed this way. Before the first person played an Elf all they knew about the Elves were:

They are from some very far away land and still live pretty far from most Humans.
They prefer not to use Cold Iron items.
They don't like the Dwarves.

This turned into:

The Elves are not from Aerth. They are from the Realm of Faerie and are stuck here now, marooned as it were. The Elves you see today are very different from the first 'settlers' but their long memories mean they are not so different in mindset.

The Dwarves use a lot of iron and helped teach the Humans how to use it. The Elves have an allergy to iron and early on it was even worse than it is now. They distrust the people who regularly mine and use the metal that hurts them. It's like Superman finding out his next door neighbor mines Kryptonite for a living.

And it expanded and expanded and expanded...And now I know my Elves.

When you make a world, know it on a level where you don't get floored but the players going in a direction you didn't prepare for because, well, you did prepare for it. You are prepared for anything. They can walk off the edge of the module map because you know what's in that direction.

You can't sandbox that way! Its over developed! There's no room to add!

Wrong. Just flat out wrong.

You are not over developing, not naming ever NPC or mapping every nook and cranny. You are making broad strokes, studying them, comprehending them and then making more broad strokes and repeating. You focus in when you need to but you never look surprised and you never give the impression you don't know what's over that hill or beyond that river. 

This leads directly into my second bit of advice which, in a fashion this first one does not really work without...

Come back won't you?

Barking Alien

Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Old Dog's Tricks


I have decided that for January of 2013 I would start the year off with something different. Inspired by Noisms and both encouraged and challenged by some of the comments to my previous post on the subject, I am going to be doing a series of 'Gamemaster Advice' posts entitled 'An Old Dogs Tricks'.

Now, before I begin this first post in the series I want to put forth two very important claims that hardly matter at all.

First, my Gaming Geek Cred:

I've been playing RPGs for 35 years, largely as a Gamemaster. I have run practically every RPG published (and some that weren't) prior to 1995. From 1995 to present I have still GMed and/or played a huge number and wide variety of RPGs. In recent years, having created a number of games of my own design or modified existing ones to my own specific tastes, I tend to play my favorites more often than trying new ones. As time and funds and accessibilty allow, I do still enjoy playing games I've never played before.

I was the RPG buyer for the Forbidden Planet stores in the New York City for 3 years and worked at The Compleat Strategist in NYC for 2. I have done demo games at conventions and game stores for Wizards of the Coast, Last Unicorn Games, West End Games and a number of independant game companies. I have GMed at NerdNYC's RECESS Game Day Event about 5 or 6 times already. I have professional gaming credits in West End Games' Star Wars D6 books and Last Unicorn Games' Star Trek RPG. I currently use RPG principles to teach 2nd to 6th grade students in Brooklyn how to improve their reading, writing, notetaking and speaking skills.

Second, none of that matters.

I do not know you. I do not know your players, what they like and what they don't. The vast majority of you enjoy Dungeons & Dragons in some form. I don't like that game. I am no one to tell anyone what to do or how to do it when it comes to something so personal as gaming.


Where these two factors cross is experience. In my personal experience, in the gaming circles I have been a part of, I am constantly asked back to run games for players I have campaigned with in the past. There have been several campaigns I've run in which players have crossed two or three states to get to the games. People nearly always leave my gaming table asking when we are running the next session.

If the above, and only the above, is not happening for you, than maybe, just maybe, there is a chance that I may have some tips that can help.

Wish us both (all) luck...

Barking Alien

On a related note, ERIC! at Chronicles of Ganth is also on the Gamemaster Advice bandwagon. although his approach is somewhat different than I expected its definitely woth a look see. Check it!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Getting Better All The Time

Noisms strikes again!

It's not enough for him that he constantly comes up with interesting and thought provoking posts. Oh no, that would be sufficient for most game bloggers. For Noisms, there must be the added elements of inspiration and a thinly veiled challenge.

Well played Monsters and Manuals. Well played.

In one of his most recent posts, Noisms makes note of what he perceives to be an area of oversight in the blog community and it is this...

"It's interesting, don't you think, that learning from other people's DMing style is something that is almost never remarked upon in the RPG blogosphere? It's often noted that people who blog are very good at creating content (monsters, spells, maps, etc.) but very poor at discussing more fundamental issues like how to be a good DM. I'm reminded once again of Zeb Cook's advice in the 2nd edition AD&D DMG: "Take the time and effort to become not just a good DM, but a brilliant one". That must start off with learning from others, but in general it is something we tend not to talk about."

I commented on this post that for the most part I don't believe that the majority of well followed game blogs actually create much content of the nature he describes. Certainly Jeff Rients, James of GROGNARDIA and Zak at PD&DwPS keep such posts to a minimum.

Noisms agreed but stated...

"But you still don't see many people talking about how to be a better GM. For what it's worth, I'm not very interested in lecture style, "How to be a better GM" posts. I'm more interested in "How I am trying to be a better GM" posts, or perhaps "This is what I have learned about my GMing" posts. If you see what I mean."

I like to think that many of my posts have, largely indirectly mind you, spoken about this in one way or another. Certainly some of my Star Trek ones have, although they may have been more lecture-like (I apologize) and specific to that setting/style.

I think one of the reoccurring features I'll introduce this year is going to revolve around this concept. I want to pass on what I've learned and hopefully help younger, less experienced GMs improve their craft. Honestly it would work better and be much more effective if I wasn't the only one doing it, as I don't believe myself to be the end all, be all of GMing. Rather, I hope some of what I do and have learned will rub off on others while they look for other ideas from other GMs and eventually mix, match and make up their own way of handling things.

With that, my first piece of GMing advice is born...

If you want to improve your craft as a Gamemaster, you have to want to improve your craft as a Gamemaster.

Don't just read and do. Think about it. Ask why a GM does a thing a certain way. Seek out other opinions. Look for more information. Constantly want to do it better. Never assume you can just sit back and let it happen. Work for it. 

More to Come...

Barking Alien

The Beginning Of A New Year...5613

While 2012 wasn't my best year for everything to be sure, it was a great year for gaming.

As I look ahead to my upcoming Traveller campaign, I can't help and look back at the games I ran or played in 2012.

Somehow, with only 52 weeks in which to enjoy my favorite past time and the fact that I work 6 days a week, I managed to get quite a lot of dice rolling in.

Games I Played In 2012

A few sessions of my friends Hunter X Hunter RPG Homebrew.

And...That's it.

That can't be right. I must've played something else as a player last year. Maybe at RECESS? No...I ran two sessions at each event. Hmmm.

Games I Ran In 2012

Ars Magica
Champions 4th Edition
DC Adventures (M&M 3E)
Dungeons & Dragons / AD&D 1E/ D&D 3E Homebrew Hybrid
Galaxy Quest The RPG / Homebrew
Marvel Heroic Role Playing
Mekton II / Homebrew Variant
Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition
Peek-A-Boo Horror / Japanese TRPG/InSpectres Hybrid

Smurfs Role Playing Game / Homebrew
Traveller / Original / MegaTraveller Hybrid
The Muppets RPG / Homebrew - Muppet Show and Sesame Street variations

Probably a few others I can't recall right now.

This year I will be skipping ahead a few dozen centuries to revisit the Third Galactic Imperium and the 'Canon-According-To-Me' universe of the classic Science Fiction RPG, Traveller. I've got to tell you, I'm really excited. I've been working up a lot of ideas and trying very hard to keep up the enthusiasm of the players, as the first session is still over a month away.

Character generation is the biggest hurtle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the majority of the players don't have a copy of the rulebook for creating a PC. We've been scheduling individual and small group character generation sessions and that has helped but it's slow going.

As I work on this, I am also working on my games for the next RECESS Game Day, which will occur on Janurary 19th. I will be running my first ever Fraggle Rock session of my Muppets RPG and playtesting my hope-to-publish-this-year Ghost Story RPG (fingers crossed).

The future is looking bright for gaming this year much like the last.

Now if I could only get the rest of my life working too...

Barking Alien 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The End of Days...Of 2012

Survival in the post apocalypse future that followed December 21st, 2012, the end of the ancient Mayan calender, hasn't been easy.

Nor has it been any different than it was before that particular Friday.


The end of 2012 did see the passing of some of my favorite actors however and for that I am sad. This past year took many actors, musicans and entertainers I practically grew up with. Among the most missed by yours truly will of course be Muppets performer and muscian Jerry Nelson. Walter Windom, famous for To Kill A Mockingbird and as Commodore Decker in the original series Star Trek episode The Doomsday Machine also passed.  As many of the great character actors leave us I tend to wonder who we will miss in thirty or forty years time. Are they any Charles Durnings or Jack Klugmans among the current crop of young Hollywood hipsters? Only time will tell.

In addition to actors, we recently lost Gerry Anderson, the brilliant, Sci-Fi TV creator behind Thunderbirds, Fireball XL-5 and my personal fave, Space: 1999.

Rest In Peace Charles, Jack, Michael Clarke Duncan, Gerry, Jerry, Walter and all those who took a little bit of themselves and added it to our collective conscious.


After a fond farewell to those who left us with the gift of good memories, it is time to say hello to the future. In my case, I do it doubly so.

I start my new, monthly Traveller campaign in February and I am really looking forward to it. In addition to not having run a successful, long term Traveller game in some time, I am eager to put my Storybox concept in to high gear (or is it High Guard in the case of Traveller?). My goal, along side creating an entertaining and challenging Science Fiction RPG campaign, is to marry the concept of a full on Sandbox campaign setting with the idea that there are plots and stories going on in the foreground (as part of the specific star sector setting at the start of the game), midground (each PC's own personal tale) and background (overarching elements of the Traveller canon universe).

In addition to this, my classes are the Study Lab in Brooklyn are expanding. The Storytelling/Writing Game Class has been so popular we actually have more students then the size of the room can support. As such, we are now splitting it into two classes: There will be an early class for the younger grades and a later class for the older kids.

I have additionally begun assisting with English homework help and lessons and trying to brush up on my Math so I can teach that as well. Often I have to have it retaught to me before I can teach it to the kids. My math skills are very rusty and we never great. Bring on the English!

Oh! Speaking of the kids...


The Holiday vacation has pushed back our decision to start a new game campaign with the young ones but has afforded us all (the kids and myself) the opportunity to have a bit more fun trying out something different.

For the past two Sundays I ran a slightly modified version of The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men (Sorry...Gingerbread People. One of the girls corrected me).

The kids were hilarious, going all Call of Duty on the Krampus, Goblins and a Burnt Sugar Cookie Zombie Apocalypse. Some of the best lines...


Kid J: "I found car keys in the laundry basket. Let's start up the family car and run the Krampus over."

Kid D: "OK.'re a Gingerbread Man. Who taught you to drive."

Kid J: "Santa." (Gets into the car with D and a few other allies) "Hey. Where are the reins? How do you steer this thing?"


Me: "The holidays are a time of cheer, of giving, of..."



Kid J2: "I'm taking my M&M's and hiding in the Christmas Tree. I'll loose'em in the dense foliage, than I'll spring out and attack from the within the tree."

Kid K: "What is this...Xmas in Vietnam?"


Kid A: ('Sees' Kid R's Gingerbread Woman nearly crushed when a sleeping adult rolls over on her - takes R's Candy Cane and proceeds to beat on adult's arm) "Get off my friend! Get off! We're trying to save your kid lazybones!"

Kid V: (Surveying the damage to Kid R's Gingerbread Woman) "My goodness. There are crumbs everywhere. Oh the humanity! Don't worry R, you're going to make it. Don't go to pieces on me R."


Best end of the year game ever.

Old days end, new days begin and the band plays ever on...

Happy New Year Everybody,

Barking Alien