Friday, August 30, 2013


Previously I said I felt lucky that when a really good idea hits me (or at least an idea that I think is good), it sort of POPS! into my mind complete and fully formed. After that it's all about cleaning off the direct and shining up the details.

Well, this one keeps coming. It hasn't stopped yet. I keep getting new ideas for it and ways to improve it and unfortunately, with the holiday weekend coming up, there is no way I am going to finish this project this month.

I am as sad a sap as Sapsorrow.

Now THAT is a sad sight if ever I saw one.

Even as I was getting ready to detail how Legend and Lore work, I began thinking how to refine the ideas for them, as well as considering adding a subsystem called Peril. I am on a roll. And yet...

The more I work on this the more I realize this is exactly the kind of game I would love and my players would not really get into. It's perfect for RECESS and would do very well with my old New Jersey group. For my current New York so much.

I will continue to work on this and should have a finished game very soon. I will definitely be running it at the next RECESS Game Day, mark my words!

In regards to a new Fantasy game for my present group of players, I'm sort of back where I started. I say sort of because I have a bit more insight now as to what I want that will also work for them. If D&D is on the Red end of the spectrum and StoryTeller on the Violet End (although really its not. Its more Blue/Indigo), I need to find a way to locate or make a game that's...Green.

Green? Did I say Green?

It seems I walked right into my own metaphor. I knew there was a reason I liked that color.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Luck Child

Sometimes I get lucky and when an idea hits me, it hits all at once, bringing the theme, setting and mechanics with it in one fell swoop. It is like being buried in an avalanche of coolness.

Yeah. It's like that.

With The StoryTeller RPG it was very much like that, although granted, it didn't start that way.

Actually, it started something like this...

Search for the right Fantasy Game - Get frustrated - Keep searching - Get frustrated - Consider making my own - Keep searching - Get frustrated  - Wait... POP! BOOOM! The StoryTeller.

So here's what I have so far...

Basically, the game is mechanically very similar to The Muppets RPG, which is in turn based on Risus, Sketch! and a number of other RPGs. In addition, some ideas from my Smurfs RPG have snuck in here as well. Since I designed that game with a heavy faerie folklore emphasis, a lot of the same concepts can be applied here (it also goes with the type of game I want to run and the stories I want to tell).

Above you will see the character sheet I designed for the game. It begins with, "Once There Was A...", where you list the type of character you are. Preferably, make this either as descriptive and folklore related as possible or as simple as you can. For example, The Luck Child could be identified as A..."Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" or A..."Luck Child".

Next is "Named", where you write your character's name. In our example, "Lucky" is the The Luck Child's name. Fancy that, eh?

"Who Sought Out" defines your character's overarching goal, quest, purpose or just what they really want in life. It need not be epic but it certainly could be.

The Luck Child did not initially seek anything, being happy to live life as the adopted son and bookkeeper for a Miller and his wife. After being discovered by the cruel and greedy King of the land to be the child prophesied to one day claim his throne, Lucky was told to head for the castle with a written, royal proclamation. Little did Lucky know that the proclamation told the Queen that, upon meeting the boy, she was to have the guards seize him and chop him into a thousand pieces.

Since Lucky did not know this, what he "Sought Out" could be listed as "His Fortune" or "The King's Castle".

This is where "Despite" comes into play. You could say, Despite "A Cruel and Greedy King" or "The Plans of a Greedy King".

Much of the interaction between the PC and the game mechanics and game universe (though not all of it) will come from trying to seek out what you want despite a thing trying to impede you. In the story of Fearnot, Fearnot is a young man "Who Sought Out" What It's Like To Be Scared "Despite" Being Incapable of Fear.

Finally, the opening of our sheet ends at the beginning with "And So Begins Our Story..." in which you give the title of your particular folktale. You see, each PC is a folklore character in a legend all their own. Not only will you be going on adventures of a mythic nature but you are also always on your own, personal mythic adventure. 

How are you liking it so far?

What's that? Hit points? Where are the hit points and armor class you ask? What is the Luck Child's strength? I don't know. Haven't the foggiest. Hmm? Initiative? Don't worry about such things right now my friend. We're here to tell tales by fire light. If it's important I'm sure we'll get to it.

You old schoolers getting a bit uneasy? Keep calm, read on and Fearnot...

Barking Alien


I don't want to depart for today without acknowledging a few items of interest and importance.

Today commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech and the March on Washington that let it be heard. We could use an ounce of that fire in today's world.

On a personal note, I want to say Happy Birthday to another 'King', Jack 'King' Kirby, born this day in 1917. Born Jacob Kurtzberg, a native New Yorker, Mr. Kirby passed away at the age of 76 from Heart Failure in February of 1994.

He is remembered by comic book fans every day they look at an image or read a story featuring any one of the dozens upon dozens of characters he created or co-created for Marvel and DC Comics including The Fantastic Four, Black Panther, The New Gods, Mister Miracle, Galactus, The Silver Surfer and of course, Captain America.

I neglected to make mentioned on the 23rd that it had been one year since the passing of musician and Muppets puppeteer Jerry Nelson.

In loving memory.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Story Short

As you may have noticed, this month I have been trying desperately to find a system with which to run a Fantasy role playing game of a very different sort from that embodied by the approach used in Dungeons and Dragons, it's simulacrum, clones and the seemingly innumerable games inspired by it.

I am not in the mood or mindset to run D&D. but boy, am I ready for some medieval fantasy.

At some point while contemplating this rather vexing conundrum and discussing it here, on a few forums and most notably in a private RPG discussion group I am a member of on Facebook, I remembered a pet project I had put by the wayside which could very well solve my problem.

Ever since I finished my Muppets RPG (finished is relative as I am forever tweaking it), I have wanted to create a variant that could handle some of the more serious and less overtly Muppety Jim Henson productions such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and one of my all time favorites, The StoryTeller


"When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for...The Storyteller."

For those unfamiliar with Jim Henson's The StoryTeller, shame on you. Shame! Leave! Go on, shoo! Never darken my doorstep again. You are not welcome here.

Oh, alright fine. Perhaps it's not your fault. You can stay but be on your best behavior and try to learn something. Neanderthals.

The StoryTeller was a combination live action/actors and puppet/animatronics series of television episodes that originally aired in 1988. It was an American/British co-production, originally conceived by Lisa Henson, Jim Henson's daughter.

Jim and Lisa brainstormed the concept of the series, basing all of the episodes on authentic folktales from a variety of countries and sources. Although all the folktales were Western European, many where considered quite obscure by modern recollections.

To me, there has never been anything else quite like The Storyteller. It is an amazing series and every time I think of running a Fantasy RPG, this show is what I am thinking of and hoping for.

As I have mentioned many times before, I did not read very much 'modern' Fantasy or 'Sword and Sorcery' growing up outside of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and a little Robert E. Howard. Much later I would read Moorcock, Lieber, Vance, and others but not until I was already 13 or 14.

Prior to that and even prior to playing D&D for the first time at the age of 8, I had read the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, the book Faeries by Alan Lee and Brian Froud, and a number of other tomes of fairytales and folklore.

While I came to appreciate both types of Fantasy for their own individual merits, there is a game for one type and not the other.

So, what I am endeavoring to do (fingers, toes and eyes crossed) is create a StoryTeller RPG based on the sensibilities of the show and the tales that it told and using a slightly more 'grown up' version of my Muppets RPG rules.

Will it work? Will my current group understand it?

Only time will tell...

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 24, 2013

I'm On To Something...

Gaming epiphany coming about...

Oh yeah...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It's A Kind of Magic

Things have been pretty crazy around Barkley's Den lately. August is never great for my business, plus I've been kinda sick, so posts might be light until after Labor Day as I try to survive the end of summer.

As in the past, I look forward to Autumn when things should get back to normal.


Now in gaming news, I am still thinking about Fantasy. Strange right? I know. I can't believe it either.

Speaking of Fantasy, have you seen this...

It's pretty darn cool. Hyrule Historia is basically the Encyclopedia Zelda. It has everything from the various 'Legend of Zelda' video games, including but probably not limited to: characters, locations, storylines, a timeline of events and of course, the monsters and villains of the series.

I can't afford to grab it right now but wow, it is definitely on my list. Looking it over in a book store today I was even more inspired to run something in the vein of Zelda and Final Fantasy, perhaps with a touch of Oz and a side order of Ryuutama, The Dragon Egg.

It's very difficult to put into words how much I want to run Fantasy and how little I want it to be like D&D. It's not that I don't want combat or treasure or magic items or any of those things. It's that I want...

I want the setting to seem truly medieval and yet truly fantastic. The PCs should start poor, maybe even downtrodden. Their decision to go on an adventure or quest isn't for glory or riches, it's because it's their only hope. Perhaps it's more of a Jack and the Beanstalk situation. They sold their only cow for magic beans. When the beans grow into a huge beanstalk, what have they got left to lose?

It is my goal to create a campaign where there is more to (a PC's) life than just killing monsters and taking their stuff. There is a greater calling than finding gold and getting more powerful.

I want magic to be magical damn it. I want it to be dangerous and unpredictable, difficult and perhaps costly to use. I want cheap, simple spells to be relatively easy and safe to conjure up but powerful magics to be tricky at best and far worse than death at their worst.

I would like monsters to matter. I want Players to be unsure of their survivability when facing things that make them go WTF! is that. At the same time, I want to employ creatures of legend and folklore.

Honestly, this one should be easy or at least not that hard. D&D has made monsters so run of the mill, they are no different from seeing a horse or a cow on a drive through the countryside. Taking one of the dozens upon dozens of mythical beasts and faerie creatures D&D has ignored and painting a picture of them that most gamers haven't yet seen is something I know I can do regardless of system. Though, if something in the system helped with that it wouldn't hurt.

I want longevity. I would like my next Fantasy game to last a while. This may not be as simple as it sounds. I tend to get bored with Fantasy easily these last few years. Add to that finding a system that doesn't raise the PC's personal power up too fast or too slow (such that they get frustrated) makes this the most difficult element of all in my opinion.

Well, there you have it...a good idea of what I want and no decision as to what will do all this.

It's starting to feel like I need some real magic to conjure up the game I'm looking for since no such game exists.

Take it home Freddie...

Barking Alien

Oh, forgot - This is the 666th post on Barking Alien. Wild right? I am so metal.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Far Too Many DM Tips - Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Part II of my, well, annotated 87 DM Tips, a post originally made by NewbieDM, who, it turns out, is not a newbie DM at all. Rather, his blog site is aimed at the newbie DM and it is for that reason, I would wager, that a number of these entries read as they do.

Still and all, if you are going to give new DMs some helpful hints on getting into the hobby and getting proficient at entertaining fellow hobbyists in the way that we do, might I suggest you keep it simpler.

Largely, some of hints made in this latter half of the 87 aren't bad at all. The problem is they come in around hint #51 or so and I can tell you that a lot of people I spoke to never got that far. They got bored around 8-12 and went to look at something else.

Keep it short, simple and to the point. The other option is collect the ideas into a half dozen categories at most and explain them in more detail.

Anyway...The Final 43

87 DM Tips And Why Not To Do Some Of Them!
(Although Some of Them Are Good)

45. First question to start off your new campaign: “What kind of encounters do you all wanna see?” Chances are, you won’t go wrong.

That probably wouldn't be my very first question to start off a new campaign but asking your players what types of encounters they enjoy is a very helpful thing to ask.

46. We’ve seen orcs before. What is it about *these* orcs…?

OK, a mini-rant coming on...and it's only 'mini' because I have another 41 tips to get through...

We've all seen a statement saying, "My Orcs Are Different" or "Jazz Up Your Orcs".

Usually this is done in one of the following ways.

1. Awesome backstory fluff. No change in stat or abilities.
2. Different color, different look, they're called 'Ahoogas'. No change in stats or abilities.
3. There are no Orcs in this world. We do have big goblins that are exactly like orcs though and have no change in stats or abilities.

BLEEP you and BLEEP your Orcs.

Don't bother BLEEPing changing anything if they are the same damn BLEEPing Orcs in the end. Few things piss me off more about fantasy games then the fact that all their pretty prose doesn't mean squat when you actually encounter something, especially monsters.

We've seen Orcs before and we are going to see them again and you should just own up, be OK with yourself for using Orcs and who gives a damn about these Orcs if they are just the same BLEEPing Orcs. Say to yourself, "I am using Orcs and they are Orcs and I am OK with that". Don't give me stinkweed, call it rose petals, tell me the wonderful story of how you got them rose petals and just leave me with a pile of stinkweed.

Whew. Sorry. I hate it when fluff and rules don't reflect each other. I also hate Orcs.

47. Your story better hook me from the start. Don’t have my character walking in circles trying to figure out what to do to get going.

While the story and/or setting should hook you from the start, there are definitely some instances where that is not the case. For example, in my current Traveller campaign, it was up to the Players to get going on their own. I gave them a universe, asked them what they wanted to do in it and then asked they how they were going to accomplish that.

Player shouldn't expect the GM to motivate them. They should show some interest and get motivated.

GMs shouldn't expect Players to automatically motivate themselves. They should show them some interesting things that might get them going.

48. Once your pc’s catch their breath and think they’re okay–make sure they’re not!

Disagree. Sometimes.

One of the things I can't stand about a lot of today's action/adventure films, especially those with Superhero and Science Fiction themes, is that there is so much action, so many special effects, so many things going on and flying in your face...that none of it matters. It all starts to blend together into the visual and emotional equivalent of white noise.

Good cinema and good games understand build up. Their are moments of action, moments of drama and moments of calm that can often lead to moments of drama, action or simply tension.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan works for all the reasons Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't.

Allow for scenes where nothing major is happening. Take breaks from the constant avalanche of awesome you seek to unload upon your Players. Make sure that a drink in a tavern is sometimes just a drink in a tavern. Then, watch what happens the next time, when it isn't.

49. Build your adventure up towards its most important moment, the “oh shit!” moment.

Have an adventure climax. OK. I'll go with that.

50. Sacrifices have to be done by NPCs the players care about. Otherwise it’s just bullshit that players will laugh about.

That's a little bit of backwards logic don't you think. Most Players don't give a crap about NPCs. If a NPC dies, that's often when someone chuckles and says, "Heheh. Better him than me".

The real tip would be make your NPCs so likable, so important to the PCs that the Player would be upset if they died and would even be willing to jump in harms way to save them. THAT is impressive GMing. If a Player is willing to lose a PC to save a NPC in your world, you are doing something right.

51. Not everyone is a philosopher. NPCs have to be real.

See above. I think. I don't know what it has to do with being a philosopher.

52. Don’t make me do more math when I’m playing. “25 years ago” sounds better described to me than “in the year 235 of the Empirium”.

Hmmm. Many of my Traveller players would disagree. But then that's Traveller and we're focused on more of a D&D thing here. OK, still, one is easier to remember, one more evocative of setting. Know your Players and the type of game you're running and use whichever fits.

53. If you point out a place in your world, you bet I’m going to go there. Be ready.

Agreed! Wholeheartedly. And, if you don't want Players to go there, don't even frickin' mention it.

54. A good bad guy will make your pc’s cross a line they thought they wouldn’t.

Hmmm. Also agreed. These later ones are better than the first 44.

55. A good first impression will hook me. Make the opening of your game pop!

Wow. Agree again. Spot on!

56. Interesting worlds have interesting npc’s. One line of dialogue can make the difference.

Yes. As well as how it's delivered.

57. Your character’s power isn’t what’s interesting & important. But rather what you choose to do with it.

 OK, yes. I could get even deeper here but this is good.

58. Your players should be safe before they leave town, and when they come back to town. Otherwise they should always be in peril.

Well, I get what you are saying but as usual, I see things in shades of gray. To me there are degrees of everything. You should have a home base that is relatively safe. You are in less danger there relative to how much danger you are in outside of your home base. You are in a lot less danger there than you would be if you were in the middle of a monster infested dungeon.

So you are never absolutely safe but neither are you always in guaranteed peril.

59. Be fair. The hardest choice the pc’s make should be the right choice.

I agree with "be fair" but not entirely sure I understand the rest of this.

60. A good guy turned bad guy who we used to know hurts more than a bad guy we just met. Go for their gut.

Yes but don't over due it. It gets old.

61. You want your players “uncertain” about what’s happening, not “confused”.

Correct. I guess. A little confused once in a while is OK.

62. Nobody really screams “Nooooooo!”

In Star Wars they do.

63. When describing, you’re not “explaining”. You’re “convincing”.

Disagree. My job is not to convince you of anything. I am simply there to tell you what you see. I am not there to steer you one way or another but merely to tell you which possible destinations lie ahead.

64. Make bad player choices mean something. Up the ante.

This is actually a good tip for me. I am sometimes too easy on my current group of players. I need them to know when they've goofed.

65. It’s cool if a few npc’s joke around or act like jerks all the time. It’s stupid if they *all* do it.

Absolutely. Make each NPC as distinct as you can. If they are not reoccurring NPCs they don't have to be deep but they do need to be distinct enough that both you and your Players can tell them apart.




66. Know your BBEG first before you even know what he’s planning.

Sure. That makes sense.

Is that BBEG thing bugging anyone else? It's really starting to irk me. Seems lazy somehow.

67. When playing in a licensed setting, find a way to leave your mark in that world. It’ll make it memorable. I have my SW dragon. :)

Hmmm. I am going to silently nod on this one. I agree but I am personally wary of leaving too big a mark.

SW Dragon huh. Right.

68. Your npc’s need to speak a lot less than you think.

Some people have this problem. Some have the reverse. My personal take on it is that the NPC needs to talk as much or as little as that NPC would talk. Get into the character's head and react as they would react.

69. Don’t go for the predictable. That road leads down to evil cultists sacrificing people at the bottom of a dungeon.

Agreed. Unless you can put a twist on the cliche, then go for it. Lead them in with predictable and then get all unexpected on their a*^es.

70. Flashbacks in an adventure: A good one will raise a question while answering another.

Flashbacks, unreliable narrators and all manner of literary and narrative techniques are useful in gaming for a variety of reasons. Look them up and think of how you can make them work for you.

71. Go back to your older discarded ideas. There may be something there now for you.

I agree with this. Also, sometimes your first idea is your best idea. It needs to be polished, not tossed aside.

72. Horror: Easier to shock than it is to truly disturb. Go for the latter.

Shock is easy. Disturb is easy and makes you feel icky afterwards. Neither works for me.

Creepy. Go for creepy. That mix of unsure and 'is-that-as-spooky-and-weird-as-I-think-it-is-or-am-I-doing-it-to-myself or is-it-even-weirder-and-more-disturbing-then-I think-it-is'? The GM won't confirm, so my own head now just keeps answering the question with weirder and weirder crap...

Yeah. Creepy.

73. If you can’t really describe well to the players where all the combatants are standing, this fight’s not gonna work.

Probably but if you're a Newbie DM, don't be discouraged.

Visualizing combat is tricky and can get trickier the more elements you add in. Use miniatures if you have to or those clear glass stones or poker chips or little pieces of paper. Whatever helps.

74. Give the pc’s something they’ve never seen before.

Yes. In light of that, something they didn't expect to see. Maybe something they have seen before, but not exactly the way they are seeing it now.

75. Don’t save your cool stuff for your *next* session. Your players aren’t guaranteed to come back. :)

This! Good point. I've made it myself in the past.

76. Your setting is interesting for how it challenges the players. Not for it’s history and its past. depends on your Players. And your setting. I have Players would love learning about the past history of the game world/universe. Why? Sometimes it offers challenges of its own.

77. Look at your first encounter. Now brainstorm a few ways to make it better. Move on to the second…

Not a bad idea. I don't really design things this way so it's hard for me to relate.

78. What’s the emotional anchor of each of your pc’s? Make sure you take it away from them.

Huh? Take away their emotional anchor? What the hell does that mean?

If you are lucky enough to game with a Player capable of putting a feeling of real emotion into their character, why would you want to take away the element of the character that is the catalyst or source of that level of role-play?

Is this worded strangely, am I misunderstanding or is this the dumbest thing I've ever read?

I have to be misinterpreting what he is saying here. Can any of my readers help me out?

79. The more your bad guy gets away with, the more your players will love him.

Love him, hate him. It's the same thing.

80. Let the PC’s breathe every now and then. Let them stop and emotionally feel something about their situation.

What? Wait, but you said #48.

81. A good bad guy, a BBEG, isn’t just out to make your pc’s day worse. No, they make it personal.

Ah but a BBEG isn't a good bad guy. He's a bad evil guy! ;)

It's great when it's personal. It doesn't always have to be or at least, start out that way.

82. How do you know you wouldn’t dm a particular genre well, if you’ve never tried it?

Agreed. Unless, you know nothing about it and have no interest in learning anything about it because all your exposure to that genre has told you that you'd hate it.

I would not GM Twilight: 2000 well. Nothing about it appeals to me.

83. Your job is to convince players that the challenge they face is important and makes sense in your story.

Wrong. Your job is to provide challenges with rewards that they may or may not find important. Said challenges can be in line with the campaign story or the personal stories of one or more of the PCs. You are not to convince them of anything. They decide what they want to do and why.

I am not sure the originator of this list has the same definition of convince as I do as he's used it several times in ways that make it sound like the GM is trying to sway the Players in a particular direction or to influence the actions they will take.

Let's see...

From a cross referencing of both the Free Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online:

con·vince  (kn-vns)
tr.v. con·vinced, con·vinc·ing, con·vinc·es
1. To bring by the use of argument or evidence to firm belief or a course of action. See Synonyms at persuade.
2. Obsolete To prove to be wrong or guilty.
3. Obsolete To conquer; overpower.

Yeah, see, no, no convince. Convince is wrong. We GMs provide, create, generate, describe and possibly even suggest challenges. We never convince.

84. If *you* don’t really love your BBEG, your players probably won’t either. Get him right. Make him memorable.

Yes, yes. Make your key villain awesome. This is a good example of where one entry called 'Make Your Main Villain Awesome', followed by a short paragraph on how to do that, would have worked much better than a dozen tiny tips that basically say the same thing.

85. Don’t apologize for your weird setting or campaign idea. Own it, explain it, and make your players love it.

Unless it sucks. Or you can't make them like it. Actually, if you have to make them like it you should probably run something else. If they won't try it their jerks but if they try it and don't like it, own up, cut your loses and look for another idea.

86. Don’t fret over eliminating large but unnecessary parts of your adventure. You created it, you can certainly destroy it.

Agreed but I wouldn't say destroy. I prefer to think of it as rearranging.

87. Your set-piece battle isn’t memorable. How fantastic your bad guys act and behave with the PC’s during the set piece, is.

Um, damn, hate to end on a low note but I have to disagree with you here. Yes how the bad guys act and what they and the PCs say and do matters a lot but if your set-piece isn't memorable you screwed up on the set piece.

If you think my Players don't remember sailing backwards into the Great Triangle at the Cornerstone of The World while their allies in a flying ship dropped a demi-god onto the head of the Tarrasque before it tore their ship asunder, well, I'm pretty sure they remember it.

Environment Matters. Tip 87.1

Barking Alien

Monday, August 12, 2013

Far Too Many DM Tips - Part I

As I was preparing for my next post, I eyed a post in a Facebook group I'm a member of. The group is focused on (duh) Role Playing Games and the poster asked the group what they thought of these '87 DM tips'.

"Relevant?" the poster asked.

I'm not sure they are irrelevant but I certainly don't agree with a good number of them.

I feel the snark I had originally intended on using this month for a roast of the D&D game bubbling back up to the surface. And here I thought I had locked it safely away in the bowels of my deepest, darkest humor dungeon.

It just goes to show, you can't keep a good snark down.


87 DM Tips And Why Not To Do Some of Them!

Tip Zero: Don't list 87 of something. That's silly. Either that or have a damn good reason for it.

1. Remember when you were the kid who fell in love with D&D the first time you played? Write adventures for that kid.

I do, except not that exact kid. I write it for the kid who grew out of D&D and into other things. I also write for the kids my players were. Don't forget your players.

2.That annoying guy in real life? Put him in your adventure. He’s obviously memorable.


3. Don’t give npc’s too much small talk. Get to the point, or I may miss something important.

Give them as much small talk as they require. My players engage in very little small talk with their home city's guards for the most part but talk up a storm with the owner of the magical component and item shop. You see, they like him, he's interesting and he knows a lot about magic.

4.Your BBEG (and each PC) has a huge emotional crutch. What is it?

You mean what is their emotional crutch or what is a BBEG? I think its a Big Bad Guy...E...Evil? Big Bad Evil Guy? Do you need to say Bad and Evil in the same acronym?

Yes, they have emotions, drives, mind sets, etc.  Preferably more than one. It could be a crutch or a strength or better yet, both.

5. Signs your adventure may be sexist: you describe the clothes of every female npc in the world, but not the males.

As an artist I usually either describe everyone in a lot of detail or I bring a picture. Male and Female characters get the same treatment.

6. If my character’s having visions, it better pay off down the line. Otherwise you’ve wasted our time.

I agree but...wasted? Not necessarily. Visions are usually not super clear. If the player doesn't make use of the information that is not the GM's fault. If the vision moments in the game aren't entertaining than yes, that is their fault.

7. Full page of description text? Not unless your name is Gary Gygax.

Even if you are, are you saying people read out loud page long descriptions? Who does this?

8. Ask yourself if you’d be excited about being a player in your own campaign. If you’d pick something else, back to drawing board.

Agreed but also ask yourself, are the players into it? Can I modifiy things so we're both having fun?

9. Stop showing off what a good writer you think you are. I want a description of the area, not 10 pages of your lore.

OK, again, I agree in principle but are there any GMs really reading pages and pages of lore at the table during a game? I also want to point out, some people do want to read 10 about the lore of your world if your world is that cool and they are that kind of person/player. Email it to them. Let'em read it between sessions.

10. Everyone’s fought some evil cult. Gimme something interesting.

Totally agree. Every once in a while, throw in a really interesting evil cult, just to shake things up.

11. “I don’t know” is not in the dm’s vocabulary. You have to know or I’m leaving.

No, no, no. You don't understand. Please leave and take your narrow vision glasses with you good sir.

I know everything there is to know about my D&D (But-Not) world of Aerth and I answer "I don't know" all the time. It could mean, "I am not telling you. You have to go find out" or "That's never happened before so I am looking forward to finding out what occurs/what I think of just as much as you are".

If it's a new GM saying it, it could translate to, "Crap! I need help here. Can someone look up that rule or help me field this? What am I doing all the work? Someone hold me...".

OK, maybe that is a bit much but, give the GM a break OK, they're only Human (relatively). They're putting a lot of effort into trying to create a good time. Cut'em some slack.

12. If I hear that your npc is “the most incredible swordsmith in town”, I better see why.


'Show, don't tell' is definitely one way of dealing with a character or scene but sometimes it isn't the best way.

My kind of fantasy is based on myth, legend and folklore as I've mentioned many times and in fantastic stories and fairy tales, someone is always the "Smartest Boy in All The Land" or the "Luckiest Girl That Ever Was Born". These kids probably did and continue to do amazing things, but “the most incredible swordsmith in town”? In town? Really? Who's to argue? Who's to say? Prove him wrong. Townsfolk tell tall tales of his amazing wares but what are they comparing them to?

Careful you don't miss an opportunity here.

13. Go heavy on what something feels like rather than what something looks like.

Not a bad recommendation at all.

14. Swap genres to surprise your players. Serious campaign? Add a bit of comedy to lighten the mood.

Unless your players hate that. Then don't.

15. I don’t want to hear about my destiny. My character is disposable and better not figure into your meta plot, otherwise I’ll know I live and challenges will be worthless...

You still have those silly narrow vision glasses on kid. Someone like you, who thinks their character is disposable, will be. You will never fit into a 'metaplot' or have a destiny. The girl next to you who thinks she does or might, her challenges will be greater and her rewards amazing. Thank goodness she has you to get killed and be a background foot note so she can figure out how the trap works and avoid it.

No one in any of my games knows for sure if they will live. They do know that they matter.

16. Loot is earned, not found.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. Loot is the least interesting part of the game.

17. The smaller the dungeon, the larger the pressure.

I can't comment on this. I don't know what it means.

18. If you’re going to introduce a thieves guild, for example, have a basic idea of how one may work. I might ask you questions.

Reasonable. I may answer those questions. Or I may say see #11.

19. The only original thing in this adventure is you. You make these tired plots and monsters come to life like nobody else can.


20. Is your opening scene set at the local inn? Change your opening scene.

Couldn't agree more. Unless you are homaging or parodying the concept.

21. The more you draw it out, the more amazeballs your adventure’s ending has to be. We want a payoff!

Conceptually agree but try not to draw it out too long. Timing is everything.

22. Need a time out? Take a time out. DMing isn’t a job, it’s supposed to be fun.

Here, here.


23. Believe in your argument if you are violating the laws of physics. “Magic!” is sometimes stupid.

I think I agree. I am not exactly certain what this is trying to say.
24. There’s a fine line between a buffoon, and an npc who couldn’t possibly function in a fantasy world or otherwise.

Um...perhaps. Have you seen the real world lately? Politics anyone?

25. Adventure getting boring? Come up with something that makes them say “what the hell just happened?”.

Does this really need to be said? Is this why there are 87 tips? Yeah. Keep things interesting. Next.

26. The worst aging thing you can write is comedy. The clever lines in your older adventures? Check them before you run them again.

I ran a Muppets RPG featuring the Marx Brothers in around this time last year. Good comedy is timeless.

27. Stop telling me what you’re seeing in *your* head, dm. Describe the scene and let my mind take care of the rest.

If I don't tell you what I see in my head, how the hell are you going to see anything in your head?

28. What does your BBEG gain in each encounter before the players? He better gain something if they lose.

I think I agree. I think. The wording confuses me.

29. A rule’s in the way of something cool you want to try? Break it. But it better be cool.

Damn skippy. You got that right.

30. You stopped and showed us “an important rare sword” in your adventure? Somebody better swing it.

Sure, sure. Chekhov's sword.

31. Slow down and describe the smallest details only when it’s relevant to the character’s choices. Otherwise get on with it.

Largely agree but then...aren't you making the choices fairly obvious? Describe everything generally, give some specifics to areas they are looking at, ask them if them want to inspect anything in particular. Give details on those things.

32. Quick npc voice on the spot? Think of a celebrity. Imitate him.

Better. Think of two, combine them. Think of one, adjust for NPC's current state of mind.

"This guy sounds like a really nervous Ricky Gervais".
"This guy's's like Christopher Lloyd trying to imitate Christopher Walken".

33. Tell the players what their character sees, and not what you want them to think is going on.

Yes. That can be hard but yes.

34. Not every bad guy GROWLS at the PCs. Some of the best bad guys are calm and collected.

Good advice. Duh, but good advice.

35. The best monsters have some sort of emotion.

Monsters? Hmmm. Maybe. Depends on the Monster. There is very little emotion in the Tarrasque beyond RAWRRgrrRAH!

36. Hide your boring exposition. It doesn’t always have to be the old man in the inn you sets the party off. Maybe it’s a few things.

Better. Do not have boring exposition.

37. “Oh, your setting has something cool!? I better see it.”

See #12.

At the same time, I will agree with the statement in a general sense. If one more person tells me their setting is cool and different and I walk into the same feudal-ish, medieval English village near a forest I am going to scream. In Klingon.

38. “cold, icy gaze” is a better way to describe your BBEG than just saying he has “blue eyes”.

Only if he actually has a cold, icy gaze. Color and manner are too different things.

39. Be ready to answer random questions about your setting.

Be ready to quote #11. Also, be nice sometimes and answer an honest question about a fact that the PCs, as people living on your world, would know.

For something that is not part of the GM's vocabulary, it seems you could use to say it quite a lot. ;)

40. If you can’t tell yourself why that encounter is there, then it shouldn’t exist. Kill it.

What about random encounters?

Actually I agree with this. If an encounter serves no purpose, find a purpose for it or move to the next more interesting thing.

41. Atmosphere isn’t in the environment, but rather in how that environment affects and challenges the pc’s.

Er, yes. And yet, it's in the environment then isn't it? A swamp doesn't challenge PCs if its not there. It's the wording. I would say it like this...

Atmosphere and environment are two different things. A swamp can be a friendly, backwater bayou like when Kermit the Frog sings Rainbow Connection or it can be a scary, dark place crawling with who knows what like Creature from the Black Lagoon. Decide which elements and challenges the PCs will encounter and how that is going to affect the atmosphere of your chosen environment.

42. Every single PC at that table should have something to lose in this adventure.

And/or something to gain. And/or something that interests them.

43. Your npc’s are better off without that extra dialogue you want to add that you think is clever.

Why? It's clever. It fits the character. Hmmm. Are you a bad writer?

44. Make your pc’s create their own worst enemy.

If only this worked. My players take weeks to even think of something mildly disadvantagous to their character. Besides, we all know every PCs worst enemy is themselves.

Well, that's all the time I have right now. Tune in as a a serious look at the rest of the tips. Only 43 more to go!

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 10, 2013

More Than Not Half Bad

With the plethora of Fantasy Role Playing Games that have been and currently are on the market, surely I can't dislike them all.

No, of course not. But I can try.



Ladies and Gentlemen, Barking Alien proudly presents...

Fantasy Games I Don't Hate!

Ars Magica

If there is any one dedicated Fantasy Game I can actually say I like, I mean really and truly like, it's Ars Magica.

While I probably play the game largely badwrong from a traditional standpoint, there is a lot to like in this game even in it's original Before-Adam-Screws-With-It form.

For those unfamiliar with it (and what a travesty that would be), Ars Magica is a fantasy-historical game set in 'Mythic Europe', a medieval Europe where magic, myth, legend and folklore are all very real.

Originally published in 1987 by Lion Rampant (cover shown above left), the game has been updated several times with the 5th Edition (above right) having been released in 2004. The game uses an unusual system (in that there are not many other games exactly like it) in which, when a common action is performed, one of the character's attributes is added to their rating in an appropriate skill and a d10 is rolled. The total achieved is  then compared to a target difficulty number. The action succeeds if the total is equal to or greater than the difficulty.

Now, in some cases, instead of a common or 'Simple Roll', the Player may need to make a 'Stress Roll'. A Stress Roll is called for when there is a likely chance of exceptional success or failure. In that case, results of '1' and '0' follow special rulings. A One is rerolled, and the result doubled (additional '1's lead to successive doubling: x2, x4, x8, etc; the final non-One rolled being enlarged by the multiplier. A Zero on the other hand is treated as a zero (instead of a ten) and one or more additional d10 'Botch Dice' are rolled. If any of these Botch Dice come up a zero, the character has suffered some kind of critical failure. If no zeroes come up, simply treat the original zero as the roll, i.e.: don't add anything to attribute + skill.

It is really the Magic System of Ars Magica where the game shines and while I don't want to go into it here (as that would take a while) I highly recommend reading up on it. It allows for both flexibility and practicality and overall has some of the best atmosphere I've seen in a (semi-traditional) fantasy role playing game.

I have simplified some parts and tweaked others and the end result has been a game that past players and I have really loved. I ran a campaign of it not long ago and while a lot of fun, it wasn't really what I had in mind. Aside from being very political and touching on a number of historical events, it was really just a game of Dungeons & Dragons with a cooler rule system. It didn't have the feel or genre elements I wanted it to have and intended to add in. I am not sure why exactly. Somewhere along the line I think I let the players dictate the style of play too much which caused me to shift my attention toward intrigue and warfare and away from folklore and legend.



Another quasi-historical, mythic European game, this one based, nay embodying, the majesty and beauty of the Arthurian legends.

I could hardly do justice to an explanation or review of this game that is better than that which James Maliszewski of GROGNARDIA gave on the 5th of May in 2010. I whole heartedly share his enthusiasm for this game.

Now the truth of the matter is that this is one of the few games in my 36 years of gaming that I have played and never run. That's unfortunate but perhaps a blessing in disguise. While very familiar with the story of King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table and the Kingdom of Camelot, I am by no means an authority or even a fanatic. I forget names. I get some of the Knights mixed up on occasion. I am certain the 'timeline' of the story events in my head is quite off.

I wonder how hard it would be to port this game over to an original world or a world of vaguely Western European themes and style but one which would never pinpoint or identify the nation, ruler or era. More about this idea in an upcoming post.

This game does one thing very right for my purposes; The feel of the setting is built into the rules. Perhaps my biggest gripe with Dungeons & Dragons is, as noted in my previous post, the game's mechanics feel technical and almost scientific. There is little if anything in it to reflect the heroic, romantic or epic mood one gets from reading Lord of the Rings or Le Morte D' Arthur. With their system of Traits and Passions, each Knight has a drive and a set of personal elements that help or hinder his personal quests and goals. Add in the idea that you are expected to hold land, wed, have children and perhaps play them later in your tale reinforces that impression of campaign at literary epic. I love that.


Um...yeah. That's it. Thanks everyone for coming. See you next time when...

"Wait! Hold on there buddy. That's it?! Two? There are two Fantasy RPGs in the history of Fantasy RPGs that you like?"

OK, yes, maybe there are a few more but really, most of them are...special cases.

"Do tell."

Well, I like Sword World from Japan, the Studio SNE RPG originally based on the Manga and Anime studios own Dungeons & Dragons and Runequest campaigns. They eventually developed their own system, which over the years has become one of the most popular in Japan.

Honestly, Sword World is very D&D like but there are a lot of things about it that I believe Sword World does better than it's American cousin. Classes seems more interesting, they are designed to be mixed and matched if the Player wishes in order to create a much wider range of character options.

I like their magic system better as it has a lot more atmosphere and, quite frankly, D&D's magic system is among my least favorite elements of the game. How can you have a game with Wizards and Magic Items and have your magic system be so, so, bleh. Grrr.

I also like a lot of the ideas in White Wolf's Mage: the Sorceror's Crusade. Granted, I am not a huge fan of the system (though I don't hate what you can do with it with a little modification) and it is somewhat like a stepsister to Ars Magica but still, its got some cool stuff in it.

Lastly, Faery's Tale Deluxe deserves a mention, though it isn't really a Fantasy RPG in the sense of many of the others. Perhaps that is why I like it so much.


Well great, I am no closer to figuring out what I want to run. All I know is there is a lot I don't like, a few things I do and unfortunately, I don't own too many Fantasy games to look through for inspiration.

What to do, what to do...

Barking Alien

Barking Alien notes the passing of Japanese animator, character designer, writer and director Hiroshi Ogawa.

Ogawa is best known for his work on the comedic animated series Crayon Shin-chan (aka 'The Craziest Show on TV') and his animation direction on Grave of the Fireflies, (aka 'The Saddest Film in Cinematic History'.)