Monday, March 31, 2014

To Challenge Tomorrow

After a very grueling month of no good, very bad unfunness (yes, I teach English. Why do you ask?), I am finally starting to come out from under the rock I was using as a refuge to recoup. Now that things are slowing getting back to what I view as normal, I can proceed to enjoying life a bit, starting with the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge!

In the past I haven't always completed this challenge, although many of the attempts to do so resulted in pretty good posts if I do say so myself.

This year, each entry will follow the theme of describing campaigns I have run over the past 36 years in alphabetical order. I shall call it...

Campaigns A-To-Z!

How do I come up with these clever titles?

These are not necessarily the greatest games I've ever run, or even my favorites, though many of them will qualify as one or both of these things. What they really are, is simply an assortment of campaigns that I've run throughout my time in the hobby that fit the one per day per letter idea behind this challenge. Sometimes, in order to fill a letter slot, I may have to use an alphabetically appropriate, though lesser quality, campaign. Still and all, I am hoping the descriptions of even these will be entertaining for you readers.

Fingers crossed.

In May, the Muppet Madness Month Sequel will finally be unstrung. Wokka Wokka!

Barking Alien

Always Be Prepared

My motto, like that of the Boy Scouts, is:
Always Be Prepared!
At least as for as gaming goes.
There has been some discussion this past month on what different people do to prep for their games, both singular adventures and on going campaigns.
The range of approaches taken intrigues me quite a bit. It would seem that this is one of the most personal elements of a Gamemaster's job, very particular to the individual and their style of play. I was amazed that much of the Play on Target podcast crew said they go over things only an hour or so before they run a given session, while my good buddy Lord Blacksteel lays out his 'Zero-Prep' Pathfinder game with what looked like the US military's preparations for coordinating the activities used during Desert Storm.
Obviously I am exaggerating (a little), but it's a matter of personal taste and of course perception (It was Blacksteel's posting of screenshots of his character generator and campaign management software that made his process appear so complex to someone like me). Add to this the fact that what can be extremely simple to do in practice may take two or three paragraphs of text to explain and describe to another person.
I am currently gearing up for a new campaign of Champions myself, and my free time is at an all time low. So how does one prepare to run a new campaign, particularly one with a system as crunchy on the back end as HERO System 4th Edition, and plot out the first adventure if one barely has the time to update their blog regularly (Ahem...yes, well).
Campaign Prep: In Advance of The Landing*

To begin with, I usually come up with campaign concepts long before I actually intend to run them.

The idea for this new Champions game started over a month ago when I ran a fill in game of it for my current group. That fill in was inspired by the fact that I'd been thinking about Supers gaming again for several months before that. My missing the Supers genre has largely been fueled by the fact that I've been playing Supers a lot as a player recently and I felt the end of our previous Champions campaign was a big disappointment.

There were numerous ideas and stories I had hoped to use in that prior campaign that I never got around to for one reason or another, not the least of which was its somewhat abrupt end. Having finished that campaign nearly three years ago hasn't stopped me from running the concepts I had over and over again in my mind, jotting them down on paper and doing maps, character illustrations and the like whenever I had a chance. 

So how long have I been preparing for this new game? I've been thinking about character ideas, reading comics, checking out old Champions products, talking to friends who game in the Superhero genre, drawing and collecting images before, during and since the last one.

Think about it for a moment. Whether I have a Champions game to run or not, I build Superhero characters, I design plots and scenarios that various Supervillains and other NPCs might engage in, and get myself ready to run a Supers campaign even if I am not running a Supers game at the present time.

When I decided I was ready to begin running a new Champions game, I was already prepared. I already have my NPCs. I have enough scenarios, plot hooks, stories and subplots to last me another year or two of gaming. Maybe more.

Did I spend a ton of time preparing to run this upcoming campaign. Yes, you could say that. Did it all happen at once? Was it some two to three week marathon creative jam where I slaved over a how desktop for hours and hours on end. No. Not in the least.

Ask me if I'd be ready to run Star Wars tomorrow. Star Trek? The Muppets? How about this upcoming campaign of Shadowrun I've been talked into for the kids over at the tutoring center where I work?

Yes. Of course I'm ready. I would love a little extra time to organize things and make them look pretty, but I could run a fairly large number of campaigns or single sessions for a fairly large number of genres tomorrow.

You see, I've already done the prep work.

Barking Alien

A few special notes:

I'm waaay behind on my blogging schedule, as such, I haven't had the chance to post a few things I want to acknowledge...

First, a very Happy Birthday to William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

Second, I want to thank everyone who helped me out this very difficult month. You know who you are. I will repay your kindness soon, or at least I'll try to. I will, but it's the soon part that is proving tricky. Please bare with me.

Some sad news I still find it hard to wrap my head around...I think the gaming community as a whole will join me in mourning the passing of Daniel A. Trampier. While Mr. Trampier, or DAT as he was sometimes known, was responsible for such iconic RPG images as the cover of the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook and numerous illustrations in the original Monster Manual, it was his work on the comic strip Wormy in Dragon Magazine that had the biggest impact on me as a young artist. I loved that comic, it's unique look, odd humor and beautiful colors.

Goodbye Mr. Trampier and thank you for your inspiring work.


Stay tuned for a least one more post before April.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Celebrate The Green!

'May the best day of your past
Be the worst day of your future.'

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Barking Alien


Technical Difficulties...Please Stand By

So gang, I am currently suffering from a distinct lack of funds at a crucial time. Part of this is that business has been pretty bad and part of it is high bills. To counter this, I am trying to sell a few things:

Updated March 18th, 2014

AEON (White Wolf, Limited Edition, 1997)

Deities and Demigods (TSR, 1st Edition, 1980)

Shadowrun (Catalyst, 4th Edition, 2005)

Advanced D & D Wizards Spell Compendium, Vol. 1 (TSR, 2nd Edition, 1998)

Advanced D & D Wizards Spell Compendium, Vol. 2 (TSR, 2nd Edition, 1998)

Advanced D & D Wizards Spell Compendium, Vol. 3 (TSR, 2nd Edition, 1998)

Advanced D & D Wizards Spell Compendium, Vol. 4 (TSR, 2nd Edition, 1998)

Mekton II (R. Talsorian Games, 1987


Coming Soon: Decipher Lord of the Rings RPG. I have to check what I have.

Most of these books are in excellent condition. The Shadowruns are like new. Mekton II and the Spell Compendium books have been used but are still in really, really good shape.

Only the Deities and Demigods book is a bit worse for wear. Although the interior is excellent, the cover have a tear and the front and back of the spine (though not the spine or stitching itself) is very much used.

I can send a picture of anything you are interested in. Email me for pictures, with questions and of course, offers or price quotes. I would like to sell the Compendium's as a set. My email is barkingalienAT'G'MAILdotCOM. Funky spelling to confuse the spambots.

Time is of the essence.

You are also welcome to donate directly to the donate button on the upper right side of the blog. I would appreciate even the smallest assistance. Hopefully this will be the end of it and unnecessary in the future. Thank you.

Barking Alien

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Locomotive Breath

OK, here's something that has been on my mind...

As I gear up for several upcoming projects, I think it's about time I did a 'State of Gaming' address to tell you all what I am playing and GMing now and what the near future holds.

But later...

Right now I want to gripe a bit, hopefully constructively, about one of my least favorite GM habits...Railroading.

We all do it or have done it. At one time, each and every Gamemaster ends up pushing the players toward a particular scenario or event regardless of their choices or actions during the game.

OK...I haven't...but I get that it's pretty common.

Why haven't I? I'll get to that later.

Railroading is one of the things I've run into as a player that makes me really, really not want to be a player. I hates it. I think of it as concentrated evil.

I have recently been playing more than I usually do, and in different games, of different genres with different GMs, the tendency to railroad seems almost universal.

As with all things, there are degrees, and a little railroading, expertly hidden, usually goes unnoticed and can provide a GM with a much needed push for players unsure of where to begin.

Some genres benefit from or even require ( some extent perhaps), a push in a particular direction. Starfleet most assuredly assigns ships to investigate various planets and anomalies. In a Superhero RPG, the Mission Monitor or Trouble Alert flares up indicating a crime is occurring and the PCs are expected to go stop it. You don't really have a choice in that. As a Superhero in a Superhero game, you need to head for the crime scene and do what you can. It's in the job description.

Now, the thing is, that's not what I'm talking about here. That stuff is acceptable. It makes sense. It functions as both a troupe of many action-adventure genres and stories, as well as providing an effective model for game play.

What pisses me off (something fierce I might add) is when the GM has decided in advance that 'X' is going to happen and no matter what you do, 'X' inadvertently occurs. The worst version of this is when you can see it coming. You have your PC ask NPCs for information, look for clues, experiment with gear and it happens anyway.

Seriously dude, why did you waste all of our time? If the Magic Gem is going to flash its Magic Light and turn us all into squirrels, just do it. Have it flash in the first few minutes of the game. Don't make me think that the books in the room will help me understand the Magic Gem just to tell me, "No, there is nothing on this Gem in any of the books". Then why are there books there? Do they reference it at least? Do they say what other book or place or person may have more knowledge? "No". Brilliant. Blooming brilliant.

Oh, and then there is the Wizard's Apprentice we captured. I convinced the party not to kill him 'cause, ya'know, he must know something. "No, he doesn't. They just discovered the Gem before you all arrived." Great.

OK, our Wizard can use a spell to tell us what the Gem is and what it does. Casts it, and it's something like 'Identify' or something, and it sets off the Magic Light effect and now we're all squirrels.

Screw that noise!

Here is a constructive piece of advice for both novice and experienced GMs that I found has helped me to avoid this problem in my own games.


Yeah, just don't. When you say to yourself, "Oh man, I have to have a scene where the team is stepped on by a 50 foot rabbit", the very next thing you should do is figure out how that could possibly NOT happen.

The rabbit rolls to hit, so it could miss, or the PCs could kill it, or run away, etc. If the next thought is to not let any of that work until the rabbit steps on everyone, the very next action you should take, as a person, not in the GM role, is to bang your head against a wall in hopes of knocking some sense into yourself.

I don't ever have to railroad players because...

#1. I have more than one cool scene in my head. Usually hundreds. I am open to more.

#2. I don't know exactly what the players will have their PCs do so I never, NEVER lock myself into a particular outcome a head of time. That's dopey.

#3. I think of several interesting scenarios, not one. If the players leave the adventure or do something unexpected, I have a couple of (dozens of) back up plans.

#4. If I have a map, I look at it. I grab a piece of scrap paper. I decide what is North of the top of the page, South of the bottom of the page, West of the left side of the page, and East of the right side of the page. I know what's past the map. I like to surprise the players when they try to surprise me by going past the map. 

#5. If my players bother to investigate, I bother to provide them with Clues.

#6. If the players want to have their PCs talk to someone (or several someones) appropriate to the situation, I have the NPC give them information, or have them suggest where said data can be found. If I have a player who wants to talk to NPCs, I give them someone useful to talk to. Otherwise, I am being a jerk.

#7. I don't assume the PCs are incompetent, that they were born 10 seconds before the game started and/or that they don't know anything about the areas they live in. That's just f*#&ing dumb.

Know your world/setting, have events and stories of different types occuring in multiple locations and let the players set the tone for their adventures. They will be much more invested in a world that seems alive, and more importantly, that they live in and effect.

You may find this and this helpful.

If you don't have to railroad, DON'T railroad.

And trust don't have to.

Barking Alien

We Interrupt This Program

Sorry everyone, but there won't be any Muppets Madness Month this month.


Now hold on everybody, let me explain...

Personal issues in real life, including tax time and work, are making it nearly impossible to devote the kind of attention to this project that I want and that it requires and deserves.

In addition, I've been kind of bummed lately and writing comedy when I feel down just doesn't work for me. Right now I just don't feel funny.

The current plan is to start over in May. May will be the new Muppets Madness Month.

Based on the Mays of previous years, the Barking Alien blog isn't usually centered on any particular subject during that month. While there has been interesting stuff in Mays past, none of it is material that couldn't be placed elsewhere. that it for March?

No...maybe...probably not.

I do have other things I want to talk about and ideas that have popped into my head lately, but not promises. I have a lot on my mind that isn't fun.

Thanks all, talk to you soon,

Barking Alien