Friday, January 31, 2014

High Horse

Happy New Year, The Year of The Horse, to all my friends and their families who celebrate it.

Gong Hei Fat Choy!*
*The phonetic spelling and pronunciation I use to wish you all a Happy New Year is based on Hong Kong Chinese/Cantonese and not Mandarin. This is because most, if not all, of my Chinese friends are from either Hong Kong, Canton or one of the Canton region's close neighbors.
Barking Alien

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Anniversary Present

So I thought this was interesting.

Yeah, I am not sure why I thought so either, but it could be because I am reminiscing about D&D thanks to it celebrating it's 40th birthday AND the fact that I am now in a (*shudder*) Pathfinder game. Honestly, it's making me miss some of my favorite old campaigns. I sure hope I get to run Champions and Star Wars D6 again soon.

Ah-hah! See what I did there? Heh.

Anyway, I figure I'll give this list a shot. Supposed to do it in February and in thirty days but I figure with my, er, love of D&D I should be able to crank it out in an evening.


Day 1:

The first person to introduce me to D&D was my friend Tom Zizzo. He was one year younger than me (I was 8, he was 7) and his older brother taught him. It was the edition of Basic which had the book cover with an illustration of a dragon on a treasure hoard in blue. All blue. Like a hundred shades of blue. My first character was Gobo Pepperthorn, a Halfling.

Day 2:

This is harder. Most of the people I played with all discovered it around the same time. Hmmm. Wait! My friend Joseph Cangelosi. We were best buddies growing up. My Mom used to say, "This is my son Adam and my other son Joseph. Only, he's not related." Joe's first character was an Elven Fighter/Magic User in the version of Basic with the Erol Otus cover.

I can only remember Basic D&D by the cover art.

Day 3.

Both of these have the same answer. We made up our own.

As a player, my first dungeon wasn't until our third session I think. In the first session I walked through an abandoned medieval village that was really a Western ghost town, complete with swinging door saloon. This is because in our 7 and 8 year old minds, a lack of guns and the presence of knights in armor were the only things that separated the Dark Ages from the Old West.

As a GM my first dungeon wasn't really a dungeon either but the ruin of an old castle. It was my own creation based on a picture in an old book my parents had.

Day 4:

My first character jumped in front of a dragon's breath attack to save a fellow PC who I had discovered was secretly the long lost prince of the Elves. He didn't know it himself, but I managed to tell him with my character's dying breath.

I've never slayed a dragon as a PC in D&D.

I helped slay some giants in D&D, or as I like to call them, 'very bigs'. We played the G series of modules and we fought and killed stone very bigs, frost very bigs and fire very bigs.

D&D giants are too damn small.

My buddy Joe and I were the only two survivors and the victors of a convention run through of The Tomb of Horrors. He defeated the Lich.

Day 5:

My highest level character was Redsand Thickstone, a Dwarf Cleric/Fighter in our homebrewed variant of Advanced D&D 1st Edition (the basis for my current D&D AD or D&D-But-Not system). I think he was 13/12 when we last saw him. I forget. I could be wrong as he was converted into an NPC and appeared in one of our later 3.0-variant campaigns.

Day 6:

My first character death was my first character ever who perished in a heroic blaze (literally) of glory as mentioned above. I took it fine. To be honest, I killed him off with that crazy maneuver because I was tired of him and was thinking of trying something different.

I am not wired to be a player.

Day 7:

This one is kind of funny.

I can't tell you what the first D&D product I bought was. I don't know or remember. I received the Erol Otus cover Basic Boxed Set from my aunt for Hanukkah. I got some additional modules and books over the next couple of years as birthday, Hanukkah or other types of presents. My grandparents got me the AD&D 1st Edition rulebooks, I recall that distinctly.

An issue of Dragon magazine might have been the first D&D item I bought myself.

Day 8:

My first set of dice were whichever ones came with the Basic Set. No, I don't still have them.

Day 9:

Homebrewed by the GM, as a player.

As a GM, my first campaign setting was a kitbashed mess of World of Greyhawk mixed with my own, original ideas, places, etc. I eventually phased out the Greyhawk parts and replaced them with my own locations and background stories.

Day 10:

Dragon. Definitely Dragon.

Day 11:

Not applicable. I was nearly always the GM and we didn't really use 'splatbooks' back then.

Day 12:

The first store I ever bought gaming stuff from is long gone.

It was called The Hobby Hut and was located on Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, NY.

Day 13:

Don't remember exactly what they were but I think they were made by Grenadier. We only used minis off and on and then mostly off.

Day 14:

No significant other at the time of this writing.

I am divorced, quite a number of years now, and I taught my ex-wife how to play. She was great at it and is still very much a fan and advocate of RPGs. We are still good friends and though we don't get to game together often, she runs the learning center where I teach and run RPGs for students in Brooklyn on Sundays.

Very much open to meeting someone who loves to game. Fingers crossed.

Day 15:

Ooh. Tough. Loaded question in a way.

I first became disillusioned with D&D all the way back with Advanced D&D 1st Edition. This new and expanded version, somehow better than my Basic version, seemed to talk all about creativity and than show nothing but limits. Limits to Race/Class combinations, limits to how high you could advance in those classes, a whole page on 'No Monsters As Player Characters', etc.

By the time 2nd Edition came around I was hardly ever playing or running D&D any more. Always more of a Science Fiction and Superheroes fan than a Fantasy one, I had given up D&D for Star Trek, Space Opera, Star Frontiers, Villains & Vigilantes, Champions, DC Heroes, Star Wars D6, Mekton, Teenagers From Outer Space, Ghostbusters, Paranoia, Toon, Ars Magica and a whole host of other games.

I don't think I purchased more than a handful of products from 2nd Edition. I didn't hate it, I just didn't like it or care about it any more.

I actively dislike 4th Edition. Terrible design. I am not much of a fan of Pathfinder either but trying to keep an open mind.

Day 16:

Fifth is coming out and Fourth had the shortest life span of any edition so I'd say I am on the winning side.

Truth is though, I was more of an observer than a participant in this war. I don't care for D&D in any edition any more.

Day 17:

Vaguely remember news reports in the late 80's.

I've actually appeared on TV no less than twice (possibly three times) being interviewed on the subject while I was at my FLGS or my old job at a comic book and game shop.

Humans are not the brightest of creatures.

Day 18:

While I attended comic book, Star Trek and Science Fiction conventions before attending my first game con, I believe my first one was either a Gen Con or a local one by the name of CrusaderCon. It was a blast and a great story all its own. My first Gen Con was also quite awesome.

Day 19:

I think his name was Josh or Joshua. He was...remember the Cavalier from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon series? That was Josh. Looked like him, sounded like him and wanted to be a Cavalier. He died a lot as I recall.

Day 20:

Not sure. It was either Gangbusters or Boot Hill. I played both but can never recall which I played first. We only did a one shot of Gangbusters but I ran a really fun Boot Hill campaign mixed with D&D rules that lasted a whole Summer.

Day 21:

Early-to-mid 90's. I sold some of the non-essential books to purchase stuff for games I was playing more regularly.

Day 22:

Dragonlance. Had to be. I haven't read very many D&D based novels.

Day 23:

Viva La Vida by Coldplay.

Day 24:

For D&D? Star Wars maybe? I don't know that there has ever been a D&D movie. Even the D&D movie isn't a D&D movie, although it comes pretty close.
Nah, not Star Wars. I like that movie too much. Hmmm. One of the prequels?

Day 25:

The longest game I was ever in as a player was a campaign of Champions that lasted nearly 10 years, though I was only in it for 2 1/2 to 3 I think. Actually maybe 2-2 1/2.

I ran a campaign of my homebrewed variant Advanced D&D that last 3 1/2 to 4 years of real time. That group remained together for all that time roughly unchanged.

I've run two other long standing campaigns, one of Star Trek and another of Star Wars, but none quite as long as the aforementioned AD&D AD game.

Day 26:

LOL, no. That was over 36 years ago. People move.

Day 27:

Game my favorite games more and D&D less.

Day 28:

The single most important lesson I've learned from D&D is to be flexible in your thinking. Think on the fly. Don't get bogged down or stuck by minutiae.


Barking Alien

Relative Experience

As with all things in life, experience is relative.

The person who has spent the past 30 years of his or her life hammering in nails is very likely to be better at this particular skill than someone who has been doing it for only 10.

Of course, if the latter person, with only 10 years of hammer and nail experience, also spent those 10 years screwing in screws, painting walls, laying brick with mortar and supervising a crew of workers, well, who is the more experienced individual?

Just a second...

This post was initially inspired by a comment on my Path Finder post by newcomer to the blog, Monkapotomus. It got me thinking about why I game the way I do, where I came from and how it is that I got here. Thanks Monkapotomus and the viewers at home for indulging me on this one.

OK, back to the post.

When most of us Old Schoolers started gaming, there were very few games on the market. There weren't any websites or podcasts and if you couldn't drive or take a train yourself, chances are you didn't get to the FLGS very often.

We developed our gaming approaches, preferences and over all styles in a near vacuum. The only 'outside' influences were the other players and gamemasters we knew.

Odd than, isn't it, that so many who started gaming with Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the late seventies to early eighties, played in a similar fashion. Personally, I think it's because the play style for that game (as well as many others over the years) is built right into the rulebook. It is promoted by the way the book was written as much as from the actual premise and mechanics.

Those who played D&D differently from the vast majority of their fellow gamers (be it right from the start or very early on) would seem to be those who were (A) young and didn't fully comprehend the genre, rules or both, (B) alternative thinkers who generally seen different things than most others who are looking at art, writing or even scientific problems or (C) those who completely understood what the rules were saying and simply flat-out disagreed and wanted something they perceived as 'better'.

I like to think the first gamers I played with and I had elements of all three of the above going into, and finding our way through, this hobby.

Another thought...If you start with a very different view of a game system or game subject matter than that of other gamers across the country (and even the world) , where does that place you five or ten or twenty plus years down the line?

Anyone whose being playing RPG for a very long time (more than a decade give or take) is likely to be familiar with the following dynamic, even if it didn't happen to you and your group exactly this way...

Phase 1:

You discover the game, make up your first character, and possibly your second, third, and fourth before the span of a few short months. Characters don't have personalities other than your own as they won't be around long enough to get attached to them. They have cheesy names or simple, easy to remember ones. Most people are just borrowing the names of existing characters. There is very little if anything in the way of a story to the adventures your GM is running. The objective is clear - kill bandits and monsters. Official, company published modules are likely in use.

Phase 2:

Characters are lasting longer, getting names that you remember (serious ones at that), and maybe just a bit of backstory. You might have decided who their dad was or what land they came from. Your characters die less often but you get bummed when they do 'cause you 'liked that character'. The GM is naming NPCs and you might see the same one more than once. There is a town where you set off from and it has a name (huzzah!). There is a bit more story in the campaign, reasons for stuff and nobility or royalty up to various things. While combat and theft are still the primary means of obtaining the wealth and power you desire, you sometimes talk to NPCs and get involved in non-combat activities. Adventures are largely of the pre-packaged module variety but the town is not and the GM is putting his or her own spin on things.

Phase 3:

PCs have thought out names, backstories and perhaps a subplot or two is interlaced with the dungeoneering. If your a Human for example, you know which Human kingdom you hail from as there are a few and it matters which one is which. Your character has a look in your mind's eye, relatives or a tragic origin, a favorite food perhaps. If this character dies you are going to be upset and it might take you a day or two to get over it. You care about the NPCs. The GM is putting more care into making them and they seem more three-dimensional. They become people you like, dislike, despise, envy, get a kick out of or want to marry. While there is nothing like a good fight to get the blood pumping, fighting is a means to an end and not the end goal itself. A lot more parlaying is going on as is bluffing, fooling, flat out lying, romancing, investigating and numerous other activities not directly or even indirectly related to the slay for pay model. Treasure still matter but if you play your cards right you might get into the Thieves Guild or learn the secret of the Earl's power and influence. Adventures are more flexible, modules (if still used) are interwoven with original monsters, villains and locations specific to your campaign world. And there is a world! Some world building is going on either accidentally or on purpose and the elements of it matter to you.

Now imagine for a moment, if you can, that Phase 3 is your Phase 1.

That's right, your first ever RPG experience was  approached in the style of Phase 3.

That's me.

That is how it was for me. That's why I don't completely connect with the OSR, why I am not interested in the traditional D&D mode of play and why I have trouble getting excited over certain mechanical elements is it is directly connected to the fluff and vice versa.

If Phase 3 was your Phase 1...what is your Phase 3?

Barking Alien

Monday, January 27, 2014

Informed Opinion

First off, let me wish a very Happy Birthday to Dungeon's & Dragons. Today (or more accurately, 'As of this typing') marks 40 years that the game has been around. I have played it in one form or another for nearly 37 years. I may not be it's biggest fan but if it wasn't for Dungeons & Dragons and all those talented and creative people who took part in its creation, I would not have had the years and years of enjoyment in the hobby I have had.

Kudos to D&D.

Now then...


Another post on how differing experiences shape the individual gamer (coming up soon) inspired this one (and vice versa).


I recently got into a discussion with William Thrasher, one of the moderators of a video podcast created by the gaming website group called d-infinity. The vidcast is entitled, appropriately enough, d-infinity Live

Now before I say anything else, I will point out that I have had a conversation with Mr. Thrasher on the very subject of this post and mean no disrespect, ill-will or any sort of negative feelings toward him or any of the fine folks at d-infinity. This is a sort of review/opinion piece that in no way negates the care and attention the team puts toward their work. Imagine me as a movie critic (and we know how much we value those guys right?).

They are a fine bunch of folks and do a mighty fine job with their website and the d-infinity Live! video podcast. I just found it wasn't for me and I hope to explain why.

I highly recommend checking it out and developing your own opinion.


I discovered their website and video podcast through a RPG discussion group on Facebook (of all places). Their live 'broadcast' is one I've watched a few times but sadly, haven't been able to get into. While they are nice bunch of fellas and they are obviously really passionate about games, they seem to have a peculiar (IMHO) approach to discussing various subjects.

In the most recent episode for example, the panel (consisting of three people including Thrasher) devoted the entire vidcast to discussing Science Fiction RPGs. As this is a favorite subject of mine, I thought I would take another shot at listening to d-infinity Live! even though previous experiences had left me somewhat wanting.

I additionally noticed that the group, other than Thrasher, featured two individuals who weren't in the previous episodes I'd seen (or at least one wasn't - I honestly forget).

The group, lead by Thrasher, does some quick analyzing and defining of the Science Fiction genre, notes its many subgenres and discusses the Sci-Fi RPGs the group likes. It was all well and good except...there was practically no mention of how these fellows made their games work.

Then there were the games themselves...Gamma World and other Post-Apocalypse games were favored by one fellow who repeatedly mentioned having little experience with other types of Science Fiction games. He was the oldest of the group and the self-professed old school grognard. The youngest member mentioned D6 Star Wars (gaining him some points in my book) but little else. At all. Thrasher covered Fading Suns and a few others.

Space Opera? Mentioned as a game some of them had heard of but weren't really familiar with. Star Trek? Noted as never having gained a major foothold or being around for a long stretch. FASA's 9-10 year stint being a flash in the pan I suppose. Traveller, Star Frontiers or any of the others? Name dropped only. Mentioned in passing at best.

Look, I know not everyone is as big a fan of Sci-Fi gaming as I am. I get that Traveller is an acquired taste for some. Yet, if I did a podcast about Fantasy RPGs and I didn't discuss Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder, what would your reaction be?

I am looking to do a podcast myself this year and I am trying to touch base with and listen to a variety of different podcasts. I have my favorites and ones I'm less interested in, as do you out there who get a kick out of them as well.

For me, this one is not quite what I am looking for. I think they are intelligent and well read fellows who love games and I can't fault them for that. It just seems that their focus tends to be a bit limited.

In the first episode I listened to, nearly everything referred back to D&D or the D20 system in some way. Abstract wealth was dismissed as a silly idea since it wasn't the economic system of most Fantasy RPGs. Right, it isn't, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work for sooo many other RPGs and couldn't work for Fantasy. In another, one fellow, Thrasher I think was basically talking with only one other person and this individual seemed largely unfamiliar with every game Thrasher mentioned.

Now, their next episode  focuses on odd and unusual campaign settings and features none other than the amazing Andy Hopp*, weird imagery artist extraordinaire. I highly recommend checking it out if you can and seeing (and hearing) what you think. I'd be curious to know your own opinions.

In the interest of interest, this has been a Barking Alien video podcast critique...kinda, sorta.

Barking Alien

*Sorry Andy, I couldn't find your website. I will try again tonight and update this post once I locate it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Love Conquers

Happy Birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I believe.

Barking Alien

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Path Finder

I am embarking on a bold, new adventure. I hope.

That is, I hope it's bold and has something new. I am skeptical and more than a little cynical about it.

 I am feeling very 'ical' I'm ashamed to say.

I'm talking about my upcoming stint as a player...of Pathfinder...


Just posting this makes me feel kinda...dirty. *Shudder*
Starting this coming weekend (I believe) my friend Ray will be running Pathfinder and some of the members of our regular gaming group will be forming the PC party, along with yours truly.

I probably don't have to tell you, I am not exactly waiting with baited breath.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no hypocrite. I will definitely give it a try and I am trying to not to carry over any of my previous Pathfinder experiences (OK, experience. Singular.) to pre-color my opinion. Additionally, I know my friend Ray is a good GM, he knows and likes the setting he will be using a lot, so chances are the game, as a game, will be pretty cool.

I am just not...jazzed. Yeah, that's it. Not incredibly excited by the prospects.

I thought of one way of getting into it and it's by being kind of a jerk. Basically, we have one player who never teams up with the others, is always self-absorbed and tends to think he's a lot more clever than he is. He oft times gets himself and the rest of the party in a lot of trouble.

I was thinking of playing that guy, especially in opposition of his (that player's) character.

I don't know if I can pull it off though. It would take herculean effort and concentration on my part to be that much of a smeghead.

I need to find a path through Pathfinder. A way to get stoked about it.

Any ideas?

Barking Alien

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ultimate Nullifier

I'm kind of disappointed that my last post hasn't received more attention. It's not ground breaking or earth shattering but I thought it was good. Oh well.

I have a number of things I want to post about, and soon, particularly the final recap of our awesome first session of Star Trek and a recap/review  of our somewhat lackluster second episode. It was not terrible but not wonderful. It was only OK, and I'd love to tell you why and what I've learned about my style, my players and running Star Trek for the Voyager/Enterprise generation.

But right now...I have Superheroes on the brain. Again. Or is it still? Do I ever not have Supers on the brain?

Trying to post in a 'Timely' fashion.*

Some weeks back, my new favorite source for things-that-make-me-think-about-how-I-game, the Play on Target podcast, dedicated an episode to Superhero RPGs. Ever since I listened to it (three times now), I've wanted to comment on it but I'm not certain what exactly I want to say or perhaps where I want to begin.

I was given a shout out in that episode in regards to my feeling that the basic mechanics and crunch of Champions are really not all that complex.

I've said before several times that my love of Champions makes no damn sense. I despise math and really don't like games with a lot of complicated rules. This would seem counter to a love of the Hero System that powers Champions. At the same time, I was taught Champions by an absolute master of the games who knew the system like the back of his hand and than some.

What he taught me was not the entirety of the rules as written, but rather the rules as played. In other words, the Champions 4th Edition 'Blue Book' has the game rules the way they were designed. My friend William showed me the rules the way they actually work and work best, for our style of play.

Gone are the hexes, grids and miniatures and all such elements that, IMHO, are wonderful for war games and absolute anathema for Supers. To drag out play or slow down Supers with cumbersome mechanics is to induce boredom, the ultimate nullifier. No way Lightray.

When  Will and I run Champions, most everything is simplified. Range is determined by figuring out how big a hex was supposed to be in measurements of real distances. It was no longer a question of how many hexes away an opponent is but rather, here's a crazy thought, how far away in normal person talk.

Overload: "I'm taking a pot shot at Road Rage with my rail gun. Can I hit him from here."

GM: "Not sure...his vehicle just took off but it's already about (looks at sheet where distance is written in feet) 300 ft. away."

Overload: "No problem. I transfer the kinetic energy I absorbed last phase to my gun. (Looks at sheet where range is written in feet) I reach him easy."

It has been my philosophy for many years now that most RPGs are overdeveloped. In the belief that we need a modifier for any and every contingency, from targeting an opponent through heavy fog to running with a stubbed toe and a mild head cold, game designers weigh otherwise awesome games down with unnecessary rule baggage. Shift through the less useful elements, weed out the impurities and you are left with gaming gold.

This is surely true for Champions.

"But Adam", I here you say, "doesn't that change the fundamental nature of the game? Are you still truly playing Champions?".

Good question. My good answer is both yes and who cares.

Is 4th Edition Champions any more or less Champions than 6th or 2nd for that matter? Call what I do Champions Lite or Champions Plus is you wish but it's still Champions. Character creation doesn't change, neither does the attack and defense mechanics really and all the combat moves remain the same. It is most assuredly Champions, just faster.

The possibility of more Supers coming up soon - the kids at the learning center and I are trying to come up with a new regular game after numerous holiday season one-shots.

Barking Alien

*Timely Heroes By artist Anthony  Castrillo

Monday, January 13, 2014

Trash Compactor

I had this idea for a post and while I was thinking about how best to turn my thoughts into words on a screen, I started thinking about all those great times I spent running the Star Wars RPG by West End Games. There were a lot. A lot of a lot.

Then I started thinking about the Trash Compactor.

This is the result...

Anytime I run a puzzle, deathtrap, or simply an encounter with perilous terrain, I look to the lessons I learned from the Trash Compactor scene in Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope.

As physical traps that provide a mental challenge go you really can't beat the deadly elegance of the Trash Compactor. Here is an enclosed space you fall into (as a way of avoiding a different dangerous situation), you can't blast your way out of (magnetically sealed, the rooms walls, ceiling and door deflect blaster fire), which comes with it's own hidden monster (the Dianoga or Garbage Squid), and if all that fails to kill you the walls close in to crush you flatter than a pancake.

This is my kind of physical trap; not because it's simple, brutal, and sets up an interesting environment (oh who am I kidding, that's definitely a big part of the charm) but because of how you get out.

You can't fight your way out, zap your way out, or really avoid it. While I suppose you could do the last option, you often don't know you're in hot water until you've tumbled in and started boiling.

This trap is awesome because it will physically kill the characters but it takes brains to get out of it.

"Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!"

In the film, Luke Skywalker remembers that his robot companions, C-3PO and R2-D2, are in a control room and that he has a communicator to reach them. Thinking fast and knowing their capabilities, or at least R2's, Luke has the two droids shut down the Garbage Compactors on the Detention Level from which he and his companions attempted to rescue Princess Leia.

Good thinking and a great example of making 'Split the Party' work. I can't tell you how influential this scene was in the development of my personal gaming style and technique. I created my motto of 'DO Split the Party' from Star Wars, Star Trek, and Comic Books. Have the people good at X do X, while the people good at Y do Y. Have them plan to meet at Z.

This isn't the only thing I learned. I also learned that there is almost always more than one way out of a trap. Having watched the film dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times now, I realize there are several ways out of this trap. Most of them much more challenging than the approach Luke took. He totally lucked out by having his allies in the right place at the right time. No doubt The Force was with him. Always.

"No, shut them all down. Hurry!"

In order to understand how I think of and use traps and similar challenges, let's look at the scene from a GM point of view. You've decided that if the players can't figure a way out of the detention center, they may try to escape through a vent or some similar shaft. A maintenance shaft maybe. Possible. What else could logically be there. A bathroom/head? A laundry room? Maybe. A laundry chute? Wait! A garbage chute. Cool. Mention a chute or hatch and have them tumble into a Trash Compactor.

Now what do we know about the Trash Compactor?

The walls close in at regular intervals, maybe once or twice a day, to compress any garbage or debris tossed into one of the connecting chutes.

The room is magnetically shielded to protect it in case some of the materials thrown into the Compactor were hazardous or explosive. Also, this could cause small bits of metal to stay where they are instead of clogging the drainage system. What drainage system? Give me a sec...

The chamber is inhabited by a squid like alien that probably feeds off bits of organic garbage and any vermin that get on the station. Maybe it was put in there on purpose to get rid of space rats, Mynocks, and similar pests.

How does this beastie not die each time the Compactor compacts? Simple. It has made a nest of select debris in the mouth of a drainage pipe. The nest prevents the liquid in the room from draining away completely, which also gives the creature a medium to move around in. When the walls close in, the creature ducks down into this man-made, underwater alcove and waits for the walls to pass back overhead and away from each other once more.

Speaking of the walls, how high are they? The PCs (say, a Farm Boy/Jedi Apprentice, a Smuggler, his Wookiee Companion, and a Princess) slid down a chute into the room from above through a wall compartment. Is it possible there is space above the walls? Could you climb above them to avoid being crushed? For that matter, could someone with a grappling hook get back out by climbing up to the hatch they came in after waiting out the crushing process?

Finally, I always noticed that there is a door to the Trash Compactor. Maintenance personnel or droids may need to go inside once in a while to remove the flattened refuse and scrap metal. If the door was de-magnetized, that is if the magnetic shielding is eliminated, you could probably jury rig the door or just blast it open. It also means you could open it from outside the trap (there's that 'Split the Party' thing again). 

By understanding the trap, you understand how to defeat it.

Using this method, I am not waiting for my PCs to guess the right course of action but rather any course of action that solves one of the traps' conundrums.

I can, right now, think of about seven ways to escape the Trash Compactor other than the way they did it in the movie. That means that if my players came up with, "Hey! Can we see if R2 can plug into the station's computer again? If so, we can just tell the droids to shut the system done. Don't worry about which one we're in yet, just shut down all the Trash Compactors on the detention level", I would blink, think a moment, and say, "Well what do you know? I hadn't thought of that. Sure, that'll work. R2 just has to make a computer roll. Sharp thinking there".

How else could they have escaped? Well, here's some ways I've seen PCs escape a Trash Compactor over the past 35+ years...

  • Climbing and a Grapnel Gun used to get back up to another chute above the compactor.
  • Demolitions and a charge blow out the Nest/Drain cover. Fall down the drainage pipe.
  • Use a Jawa Ionization Rifle to de-magnetize the room's shielding. Open the door by splicing.

That's it in a nutshell. The Play on Target podcast talked a bit about this in their How To Be A Better GM episode, saying that when they were younger a few of them would stop a game cold if the players couldn't come up with the one, true answer to the riddle or puzzle/trap. As an alternative, it is suggested that if the players suggest an answer, you simply make one of their suggestions the right one.

My way is in between and hopefully the best of both worlds. It's not that there is only one thing that works or that anything will work. It's coming up with something, whatever it is, that takes the trap's parameters into account.

Thanks for reading...and I don't care what you smell.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Annual Crossover

Whenever an old year fades into the beginning of a new one, we gamers, often inadvertently, begin contemplating new game ideas. We can't help it. It's in our nature.

I tried very hard not to do that this time out, instead hoping to focus my creative juices on the two major RPG campaigns I am currently and quite happily running, classic Traveller and FASA Star Trek.

At the same time, it is nearly impossible to resist the lure of the 'new year, new game' syndrome and for someone as Gamer ADD addled as I, doubly so. Better make that quadruply.

In order to quench my deep down body thirst* for something a little different, on January 1st of 2014, I grabbed myself a Gatorade* of alternative Superhero gaming in the form of Base Raiders by Slang Design, written and created by Ross Payton.

I ran a one-shot with three of my regular players and a very special fourth - a special guest appearance by my good friend Dave. Barking Alien fans and long time readers may remember him as Night Knight and Silver Sun from our past Champions campaign.

If you wish to check out a review of the game and some audio and video of people actually playing it, look no further than the ever awesome Age of Ravens blog.


This was/is an odd one for me. The concept is very interesting and what got me to check this game out. It is essentially D&D style dungeon crawls in a modern day, Superhero setting. PCs explore the Batcaves and Castle Dooms of a world that no longer has such major heroes and villains. Although gone, their secret hideouts and undersea bases remain, ripe for the plundering by modern adventurers.

Now it's a bit more involved than that and indeed it comes with a well thought out setting all its all that makes the concept really jive.

Of course, me being me, the idea for this game was both really intriguing and really frustrating.

First, I don't like dungeon crawls. At least not traditional ones. I have some nostalgic fondness for a few of the great TSR modules of my youth but for the most part I modified those heavily to add stories to them and make them work for my groups and I. For the last 25+ years, I have dungeon crawl at pretty much the bottom of my list when it comes to scenarios and settings for the games I run.

Could I revive, heck, instill an interest in the concept if it was mixed with Supers?

Second, like it or not, I am Adam Dickstein. That means unless we're talking about certain long established IPs, I don't want your world setting. If it's good (and this one isn't bad at all) I will steal some ideas from it but I will design my own world thank you very much.

I decided to create a world for this setting based on one of my idea obsessions for Superheroes that I haven't been able to effectively use elsewhere.

Basically, this was a world once populated by all those public domain superheroes I'm so fond of, who were never seen or heard from again after the Golden Age. In this universe, an event connected with the appearance of an extraterrestrial object (called 'The Ragnarok Star' in my version), eliminated all major superhuman powers in 1964. There was never a Silver Age.

Ever since, the governments of the world, evil organizations, former heroes and villains and adventurers looking for a score like no other, have been searching for the hidden fortresses and secret labs of the great costumed crusaders and criminals of yesteryear.

Our adventure found the PCs in the employ of Taylor Peddy, grandson of the original Red Panther. After many years of searching, Peddy had discovered the lair of The Laughing Skull, a former enemy of Red Panther and a member of the villainous Death Battalion. Peddy's family never recovered the mantle (costume) of the original Red Panther, said to be made from the hide of a mythical African animal of the same name.

Peddy would fund the expedition to raid Laughing Skull's base, located behind Niagara Falls (and based on a real life abandoned power station there), if the PCs would return the Red Panther's uniform to him if they found it there. Oh, and a cut of the loot from any notable finds to repay his expenditures.

The PCs agreed, each having their own (awesome) reasons for wanting to raid the base.

The game ran well if a bit short. We really only got to one encounter with a group of robot skeletons guarding the tunnels that lead to the base proper. The PCs then descended into the base and we had to call it quits (work the next day for most of us).

Dave echoed my thoughts on the game exactly when he said, "I can see its potential".

I couldn't agree more, but would I have the patience to wait for its potential to be fulfilled when I could be GMing Champions or M&M. Maybe. I'm not sure.


Another annual event that seems to occur with our group (and strongly related to the 'new year, new game' dynamic mentioned above) is my taking the role of a player in a campaign run by my friend Ray.

Since my medieval fantasy campaigns haven't been hitting the mark with the group or myself lately, Ray declared his interest in running Pathfinder.

Pathfinder. With me as a player.

Let that sink in.

I'll be honest, I am intrigued if not overly excited. I tend to not like to play as I've mentioned and Pathfinder is simply version 3.x of a game I am not found of. I am certainly not enamored of the genre it focuses on.

On the plus side, it's Ray and Ray tends to run a good game. He knows and likes the setting and system a lot which is key and I have faith in him to make it a step above when I imagine it would be like. If anyone can make Pathfinder more than the sum of its perceived parts it's Ray.

Stay tuned friends. If nothing else, reading my descriptions of ripping my own hair out should be entertaining.

Barking Alien

*Don't forget gang - Gatorade is thirst aid, for that deep down body thirst.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Unfulfilled Promises

I am purposely not making any resolutions this year.

I always feel bad when I don't meet the resolution goals I set and even worse when I forget what they were all together. This holds true for gaming and this blog as well.

Last year (and in years prior as well) I promised to continue and/or complete a number of projects I simply haven't gotten around to. Muppet Mondays, Supervillain Sundays and completing the A-to-Z Challenge, completing the NaGaDeMon Challenge and Unfinished Business and mini-projects like The Storyteller, The Twilight Zone and probably a half dozen others.

That Sid and Marty Kroft game ain't making itself...

For this year, I intend to do a few things that I really want to do but I am making no promises. Consider these 'Low Resolutions'.

Here is what I hope to achieve with this blog in 2014:

1) Muppet March Madness Month II. I really want to update the games mechanics a little now that I've actually gotten the chance to playtest it with a large number of different people. Some things works, some things can be improved a little and there are still a lot of ideas I haven't gotten to explore. It is here that I will complete The StoryTeller RPG and add some additional concepts I've been considering. I've got a lot in store, not to mention the fact that the new Muppets motion picture, Muppets Most Wanted, will be out that month.

2) I want to Complete The A-to-Z Challenge in April this year very, very badly. I did it only once and after that drop the ball each time. Last year I only did 16 entries. The year before I didn't even bother. I'm not sure how to do it without getting bored or getting overwhelmed with other stuff, which is what usually happens to me around April. Hmmm. Maybe make it a Star Trek theme. We'll see.

3) Do the NaGaDeMon, National Game Design Month Challenge, next November. While it would be awesome if I could finally finish Unfinished Business, I am making no guarantees. I will do something. Just...something.

4) Posting More Often is a simple but major goal for 2014. I was really happy when Charles Akins, of the increasingly intriguing blog site Dyvers, included Barking Alien on his Great Blog Roll Call list, complete with a short but positive review, but bummed to see he listed it as being updated "About ten times a month". When I looked back at my average over the year and realized how accurate that was, I felt kind of ashamed. I can do better than that. I have a lot more to say and I will find a way to say it.

5) I Will Try Not To Start What I Can't Finish. I don't want another post of this nature next year. Expect fewer new projects this year in favor of going into depth on those subjects I love: Star Trek, Superheroes, Muppets, Traveller, Comedy, Star Wars, Mecha/Giant Robots, general Science Fiction gaming and Medieval Folklore will provide the core content.

That brings me to a few minor "sub-resolutions":

A. Talk more about Star Trek RPGs since I am running a new campaign.

B. Talk about Star Wars gaming. I can't believe I've done so little of that and played it so often.

C. Comprehend Pathfinder. One of my players is going to run it and I am switching to the role of player for that campaign. Will I survive? Will he?

D. Podcasts. Listen to more and if at all possible, do one. This is high on the 'I want to!' list.

E. I am thinking of going back to an old hobby of mine that actually made me some money. I have a hankering to build Japanese Mecha plastic model kits once more. I used to build them, kitbash and customize them, paint them up and sell them. I always kept a few around to inspire ideas for Mekton, so don't be surprised if that happens this time around as well.

Well, that's all for now.

I have a numbers of ideas for posts in the pipeline so maybe come back tonight and see if there are any updates.


Barking Alien

Friday, January 3, 2014

Great Expectations...No Relation - Part II

Let's end the 2013 on a high note, by talking about how utterly fantastic I am.

In case you missed my last post and haven't been informed, I am a Great GM.

Possibly the greatest.


DISCLAIMER: The idea that Adam may be the greatest, living GM on the planet is completely conjectural. There is no direct evidence to support this claim. Indirect evidence, in the form of his players returning week after week or travelling great distances to be in one of his games is noted, but not held as definitive proof of the aforementioned concept.

This is, for all intent and purpose, an opinion. Note that the opinions of the writer of this post are not necessarily those of Barking Alien, the blog, or its staff and/or owner.

Even though it's all the same guy.


Now then, all of this started thanks to the Play on Target podcast and their most recent episode at the time of this post, How to be a Better GM.

In the first part of this two part analysis of what makes me so cool as a referee and storyteller, I took a close look as the failings and weaknesses of my esteemed peers and showed off my superiority by explaining how I easily and effortlessly avoid or remedy such issues myself.

Mostly. Ahem.

I could continue with those same efforts here, but why bother really? I considered doing so, especially discussing Pacing* and Sharing the Spotlight* and a few of the other subjects they touch upon. I may at some later date. It seems to me though that focusing on my vast and unparalleled superiority is not necessarily the best way to give all of you less knowledgeable, more, hmmm, peon-ish GMs, advice that will elevate you to a higher state of the craft (not as high as myself of course but you can dream). Instead...

Barkley...what are you doing with that strange blue rock? It looks a lot like the red one I found not too long ago. Very similar in fact...

That's what I'm hoping.

What...who...where?! What the heck is going on? Where am I? Wait...hmmm...Great Expectations...Awesome...weaknesses of my peers...Holy H-E-Double Hockey Sticks! Did I write this. Barkley, what happened.
Red Kryptonite. You found a piece over the holidays I guess and it made you go all evil like. Luckily I keep a piece of Blue Kryptonite around for just such an emergency.

Whoah. Thanks old friend. I can't believe...I want to apologize to everyone. I am not normally this much of a jerk.
Yeah. He keeps his jerk very much under control. Usually it's just a well honed sense of snarkiness.
Um...yes...thanks Barkley.

Sorry again everyone. The truth of the matter though is that many of the issues brought up during the podcast are not ones I have. Generally speaking I'm pretty darn good at the elements mentioned. I do have my weaknesses and drawbacks of course, just like everyone else. Susceptibility to Kryptonite not withstanding.

In an upcoming post I will go into greater detail on my own weak points in hopes of soliciting some advice and help in those areas. I also want to go over some honest recommendations for a few of the remaining areas mentioned in the 'How to Be a Better GM' podcast that I think I really can help with (or at the very least, tell you what helped me).

Happy New Year Everybody and I wish you Great Gaming in 2014!

Barking Alien

*I actually would like to discuss Pacing and Sharing The Spotlight in more detail as these are areas I think I have made great strides in over the course of my experience with this hobby. At the same time, doing so may take an entire post each so I'm leaving my thoughts on these off this post to be examined more closely another day.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

High Resolution

To me 2013 was equal parts good and rough. Last night I was looking forward to going to bed and getting to 2014 as soon as possible.

Financial and related woes were many and major at times but I feel I made some strong personal growth and accomplishments that I hope to continue with this year. Sorry to get all 'feels' on you guys.

The gaming in 2013 was both absolutely awesome (Traveller, Star Trek) and depressingly dismal (Pendragon). There was a lot more good than bad though and I feeling very positive about gaming going into the future.

My only Resolution this year is to make it better than the last one in every way possible.

Happy New Year to everyone and here's to your health, happiness and fortune in 2014.


Barking Alien