Wednesday, December 23, 2015

All Right Now

Barking Alien is officially on hiatus from now until the first of January.

I will return renewed, and rejuvenated then, with a lot of new ideas, and material, including a project I am currently working on that may just be what the medical droid ordered to fix what's been ailing me.

To all of you out there who take the time to stop by my tiny corner of the internet, I just want to say thank you for your viewership, and support.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy holiday season, and a joyous, and bountiful new year.

A Whole Lotta Love,


Barking Alien

Friday, December 18, 2015

Interstellar Overdrive

As this month was supposed to be dedicated to Science Fiction, and Space Adventure RPGs, and there really hasn't been very much Science Fiction talk specifically as of yet, let's see if I can't change that shall we?

The Barking Alien Blog's
Mission Control Room


Laundry Room. That's the Laundry Room.

I had the schematics upside down.

I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating so that the rest of this post will have the proper context; I find Science Fiction not only exciting, and interesting, but extremely comfortable. It is familiar to me in a way most gamers seem to attribute to Fantasy.

I can easily 'see' Hard Sci-Fi and Space Opera settings, equipment, characters, and other elements very clearly in my mind. It isn't hard for me to imagine the interior of a starship, the surface of an alien planet, or the lumbering gait of a damaged sentry robot.

The tropes of Science Fiction come naturally to me.

I've had the chance to run (and play - I know! - Crazy no?) quite a lot of Science Fiction over the last few months. In addition to our ongoing, but almost finished, classic Traveller campaign, I've also gotten to do Star Trek (the Last Unicorn version), Star Wars (D6 and a diceless homebrew), and Cosmic Patrol (Catalyst Game Labs).

While not every session of every game went perfectly (as I've discussed in recent posts), overall its been fun and very educational. I've learned a number of things, about myself, and my players, and with each game I can definitely say I know a little bit more than I knew before. What more can you ask for really? that you mention it...

I want what I've been wanting for more than a few years now. I want my old magic back. I want the type of gamers I used to game with, so I can create the types of campaigns I used to create, to experience the kind of Oomph! and Oh Yeah! I used to experience, and induce in others.

So what makes this post more than yet another bout of wishful thinking? Same ol' sad sack Adam, yearning for the glory days, am I right?

No, not exactly.

I'm seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm seeing progress. With Science Fiction, there is clarity.

Since the genre possesses elements of the modern day, while simultaneously boasting the trappings of the amazing, and (dare I say) fantastic, you really get a good gauge of the way players think. A person of today can relate to a universe in which they use a computer, drive a car, get on mass transit, and access the world via a hand-held mobile device. Even if the setting of your game is the far future, it is really not all that culturally different from the present. As my friend Yuri likes to say, "It's the future now."

Thanks to the familiarity of the milieu you can quickly ascertain who is comfortable with technology, who isn't, who is going to think their way out of problems, who will physically fight they're way out, and who is going to do whatever they can to avoid becoming too personally involved in any conflict.

The modern world is remote controlled. We have access to more information, entertainment, and creative outlets than ever before, but we do it all alone in the comfort of our homes. No need to interact with your fellow Human beings. There is an app for that.

At its best Science Fiction is commentary on the Human condition, and with said commentary, the astute listener can learn a great deal.

Add to this the fact that recent games have afforded me the chance to game with new people, and possibly add some new regulars to our groups' repertoire of talent. Changing up the roster can breathe new life into things. I am also excited about this aspect because I am meeting people who 'get it', who understand my outlook and approach. This feels really good after a long stretch of feeling like I was alone in my style preferences.

Hmmm. Did I actually talk about Science Fiction in this post? Well...sort of.

At least I'm on the right track, in more ways than one...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What A Fool Believes

This is something of a follow up to my previous post.

Hold on to something, or strap yourself in. This one might get bumpy.


During a recent post-game pow-wow where we discussed what went well, and what could have gone better in that day's session, two of my players said they felt like they had little to do during the last third, or so of the game.

They complained, and rightfully so to a large degree, that I (as GM) didn't give them enough to do.

It's true. I did not. There were numerous reasons for this, and factors as simple as 'I didn't quite realize that was the situation at the time', to 'But you arrived to the game extremely late, after initially saying you wouldn't be able to make it. I didn't really have a lot for your PC in mind since I figured you weren't coming' played at role.

On the other hand though, there were several players whose PCs received more attention from me. Why? Again, there were a number of elements that lead to this, but the bottom line was:

Certain players are more pro-active. They get my attention, tell me what they are going to do, and then they do it. I like pro-active players.

I'm a real sucker for a player with a plan that they can describe it in under 5-10 minutes which can both solve problems, and generate new ones. Additionally, if the plan leads to adding material, expanding on existing material, getting the players to really role-play their PCs, and getting me to really role-play the NPCs, I'm going to jump on that like a Glommer on a bunch of Tribbles.

Present at the game were two such players who just happen to play more in the style I prefer. I mentioned recently that I'd played a Star Wars session with them. Well, as these two people got more attention, two other people got less. That's not good, and certainly I need to find a way to resist the temptation to give more 'screen time' to those whose approach I simply grok more.

This is certainly a Gamemaster character flaw of mine, although it's rarely come up over the years. Why? Well, I usually have a whole group of pro-active players who are really invested in the game.

Generally speaking, I remain aware of all the PCs, and their abilities, and try to include a variety of opportunities for various types of characters to perform various types of actions. The players are welcome to have their PC take any approach logical, and reasonable to the genre /setting/game we're playing in. If they don't, is that on me?

It's a game. We're there to play it. Do I need to give you something to do? Hey, here's something you can do - participate. Get involved. Do something. Make something happen.

In the session in question, a Star Trek session, it was the Science Officer, and the Engineer who felt that I did not supply them with something to do. More specifically, I did not directly stop to ask them what actions they would like to take.

Now I did, once or twice, ask the Science Officer what he wanted to do, and most of it did not directly relate to the event at hand.

The scenario involved a God-like Alien entering into our space-time continuum from subspace, using a static warp field/bubble that surrounded an entire planet. On the surface of the planet was a never before encountered emergent life form. Meanwhile, two alien species were fighting over the planet for very reasons.

Neither the Scientist Officer, nor the Engineer, tapped me, raised their hand, whistled, or did anything else to signal me that they had an idea. They never indicated that they wanted to do something. They simply waited until I got to them, and wanted to know what they could do in this particular situation.

A number of players during the same session grabbed opportunities, saw things they could do whether I directed them, or not (including planning out an intelligence gathering maneuver, and boarding a space vessel in danger of imminent explosion), and were genuinely entertained, and entertaining.

I know, I am venting here, and even ranting a bit, but I found it frustrating after the fact. I felt that there were so many things one could do! If you don't do them, and other players take the reins, is that on the GM?

It is. It really is. But it's also really hard for the GM, or at least for me, to stop those on a roll, and for those who aren't showing the same level of initiative.

It's like...

GM: "OK, let's hold there. I need to find out what these other want people do."

Player 1: "I want to ask you yet another question about what the aliens look like."

Player 2: "What is there for me to do?"

*Blinks. Twice. Slowly*

I'll be honest, I didn't realize these two players felt they had nothing to do until after the game. As I've noted, we try to have a post game debriefing, and that's where it was revealed to me. Both also said they felt rude interrupting the other players to say they hadn't had a turn.

I feel more embarrassed, and mad at myself for not noticing they weren't having as much fun then I am at not giving them something to do. As a GM of my years of experience, one who is usually really perceptive about such things, I felt terrible.

As you can see, I am pretty torn on this. On the one hand, it is my responsibility as GM to make sure everyone has a good time. My adventures should be exciting, or at the very least interesting, and should give everyone a chance to shine.

Yet, if in my head I did give everyone a chance to shine, and they didn't take it, did I fail in my duties? Further more, I feel that sometimes the investment level, and buy-in is there, but a certain level of detachment remains. Both of my current groups show this behavior. Is it a modern gamer thing? An element of the mindset of the younger generation? They sit back, and wait, assuming I will get to them, instead of showing an interest, and excitement in the events transpiring right before them!

One of the two players [who felt under-utilized] actually said during the debriefing -

"I don't want to have to work that hard for my meal."

My response was -

"Yet I should work as hard as I can to cook it for you? I then need to spoon feed it to you after it's done? That's not very fair, and kind of lazy don't you think?"


I feel a little better now. I needed to get this out of my system. Not every group is my old NJ group, my old NY crew, and my old High School gang. People play differently.

I need to remember, I play differently as well. Differently from most people. I have a rather unusual background, an atypical approach, and a way of looking at RPGs that is probably the exception, not the norm. Only a fool would be away of his unique nature, and then be surprised not everyone gets it. 

If I want to remain the GM for this group, I have to learn how to GM for the way they play. Hopefully they now have a better idea of how I play.

Somewhere in the middle is a consistently high quality game.

We'll get there together.

Barking Alien

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Taking Care of Business

A recent addition to my gaming circles is a fellow by the name of Eric.

Eric is an interesting guy; he's a deep thinking, heavily philosophizing, game theory theorizing sort of gent. He's also a great, if off beat type of player. I'd be curious to play in a game he GMed.

While talking RPG theory, and execution after a paradoxical  Star Trek RPG* session last week, he brought up the phrase, 'Making Business'.

According to Eric, an actress friend of his used the phrase, apparently not uncommon among improve theatre types, to describe something I have been trying to put a name to for over 25 years. Basically, it's the art of keeping busy in a narrative, even if the narrative isn't focused on you. Additionally, it is the means by which one supplies the directors, and writers of a show additional inspiration, and material, without disturbing what is currently happening in said show.

The example Eric gave was...

Eric's friend, an actress, landed a role as an extra on a TV soap opera.

The role was that of a nurse in the background during hospital scenes. It wasn't much, but the young lady made it her own. She embraced it. She imagined an entire background, name, and other such details for who this nurse was. During filming she would go about her business, but instead of just pretending to file, or study a chart, she would periodically make a jealous expression while looking at one of the other background nurses who was talking to a background doctor. She would seem to sip coffee from a cup, and check her watch. All in all, without interrupting the other actors, the crew, or the story at hand, she gave her character personality.

Moreover, she gave the writers, producers, and directors ideas.

When someone was needed to play the larger, speaking role of a bored, envious nurse willing to do something underhanded in order to step up in the world, they chose her. The part was already developed, and defined before she was even given a script. She had, in essence, created it herself..

So how does this relate back to gaming? Ah! I was just about to get to that...

I am very much used to players who 'Make Business'. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the vast majority of people I've gamed with over the years did this naturally.

Through a combination of really good, improvisational role-playing, well thought out, or instinctive characterization, and a desire to be involved in the game, my players have always provided me with ample material with which to bring them into the story, and expand from there.

The narrative elements of my games are created by merging an idea, theory, or theme I want to explore with the interests, goals, motivations, and such the players have established for their characters.

In turn (and this is key) my players (traditionally) find ways to fit their characters' wants, needs, and obligations to things I've set up in the world, or universe I'm creating.

If the players, and by association their PCs, are 'making business', I have more I can add to the game, which means there is more the players can get out of it. Likewise, if I've done the work to create an interactive setting for you to explore, and engage, the very least I ask of you is that you try to explore, and engage it.


I promise to incorporate the work you've put into your PC into the campaign, and you promise to incorporate some of the campaign into your PC.

Now that begs the question...

How much effort are you willing to put in as a player?

For some, not as much as I'd like. Perhaps even not as much as I need

Stay Tuned,

Barking Alien

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Moonage Daydream

This is Barking Alien to Spaceflight Command...
Pre-flight checks all green.
Plasma injectors online.
Heim-Space Drive* initiating.
We are go for FTL interchange.
Roger that Barking Alien. You are cleared for launch.

Art By Peter Elson
A Personal Favorite

Science Fiction is home for me.

It is my first love, my original inspiration, my introduction to fandom.

Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Space:1999 were things I knew, and knew well, long before I really got into comics. I discovered RPGs a few months after I discovered Star Wars**. As I learned to read well above my grade level at a fairly young age, I practically absorbed any Science Fiction short story, or novel I could get a hold of.

I recently told a friend the story of finding a copy of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, and trying to locate as many of the stories where the tome's aliens originated as possible.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., The Extraterrestrial, even my Superhero comic book interests are topped by Green Lantern, and the futuristic Legion of Superheroes. Space Adventure is in my blood.

I am truly made of star stuff.***

Recently I've gotten to do something I really love to do. Run Science Fiction RPGs.

Sure, I've been running an ongoing Traveller campaign for three years now, but additionally, in the last few months, I've gotten to run Star Trek (LUG), Star Wars (WEG), and even Hunter Planet.

Not all of it has gone perfectly, in fact some of it has irked me considerably, but I've gotten to do it, and on at least one occasion I hit it right on target (a small exhaust port, approximately two meters across. Surprisingly tough to hit, even for a computer).

I have plans for a possible online, Google Hangouts campaign next year based on a Science Fiction television show IP I've been wanting to run for years. I'll let you know how that goes.

Combined with the arrival of a brand new Star Wars film just seventeen days from now, and it seems the perfect time to focus the blogs posts on this genre. Additionally, I've had some very interesting conversations, and experiences lately that have taught me a lot about how to run games, how not to, and the fact that as I go into 2016, I have some great opportunities, and tough choices to make.

All this, and lasers too! Lasers I tell ya.

Barking Alien

*Heim-Space Drive is a name I created for a FTL drive based on the Heim Theory, a speculative means of achieving faster than light speeds by entering an alternate dimension such as Star Wars' Hyperspace, or Traveller's Jump Space.

**Star Wars isn't really Science Fiction, but rather Science Fantasy, or better yet 'Space Opera Fairy Tale'. Still, it involves aliens, spaceships, ray guns, robots, and travel to distant planets. For the purposes of this post, and this month's theme, it is more than welcome at the cool kids table.

***Thank you Carl Sagan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Temporary Loss of My Superpowers

This month was supposed to be dedicated to Superheroes.

I've just been so busy. That, and...I've lost a little of my enthusiasm honestly.

It's not as if there isn't a lot to discuss. Oh, no siree Bob. There is a veritable plethora of Superhero material out there these days to inspire a Superhero campaign.

Yet now, I just can't get into what the genre has become in the mainstream, which seems to be the primary exposure gamers I'm meeting have had. Television is doing a decent job, movies are a mixed bag of fantastic, and terrible, but comics...sigh...the next generation just aren't into comics they way my friends, and I were back in the day, and if they are it's not the same kind of comics.

There are some good books, though they are few, and far between, and nothing, but nothing is putting the fire in my heart that I had for them in my youth. Hell, that I had pre-DC's Flashpoint, and New52 crap. That wasn't that long ago. Maybe 5 years or so?

I just finished watching Jessica Jones. Boy, oh boy, am I depressed.

Whatever. The magic is gone. At least for the time being.

Besides, it's not like I'll be running any Supers campaigns anytime soon. While one group loves Superheroes, but not long term games, the other likes long term games, but doesn't get the kind of Supers I like. The end result is that there just isn't enough juice to get the Superhero fan in me excited enough to talk about Superheroes this month.

Next month is Science Fiction, and Science Fantasy.

Hopefully, I'll be recharged, and ready by then.

Barking Alien

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Inconsistent Truth

Nothing irks me as much as inconsistency. My own that is.

Although I understand intellectually that not every session is going to be perfect, or 'the best session I've ever run', it still bothers me when there is such a significant difference in quality from a given session to the next.

I mean, I've been doing this a long time. I've run literally, easily, hundreds upon hundreds of RPG sessions for dozens, and dozens of people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds. I've run at schools, homes, parties, and conventions. By this point in time, you'd think I would have running sessions down to a science. You'd think a successful game is pretty much a given.

It is not.

A weekend, or so ago I ran the penultimate session of The Barking Alien Gaming Group's three-year, thirty-six session, classic Traveller campaign, Traveller - Operation: PALADIN. This was the last episode prior to the big finale in December.

It went...OK.

There were some issues, most of which have plagued this particular group in one form, or another for some time now. There were also some factors unique to this particular day (a few people were running late, myself included, one had been working over time for a few days prior, that sort of thing).

The main issue I had with the session was that it meandered at the onset, as well as right before the end, and felt very light on drama, and emotional resonance.

Which sucks.

Time to Leave - Traveller Art by Ben Wootten

There's espionage, giant robot battle armor, futuristic guns, spaceships, aliens,
psychic powers, loved ones in danger, romance, and the threat of all out war!
You'd think it would be more exciting.

It not only sucks because, hey, who isn't hoping for excitement, emotional impact, and dramatic weight in a story, but also because we're almost at the end of the run. The next episode is the last episode. The curtain is coming down for the last time, and soon. After three years of build up, and struggle, I want to end with a bang, not a whimper.

Now there were a lot of reasons it wasn't as good as it could have been, and I take full responsibility for some of it, and as GM, for not reigning in the issues that were caused by the players, and not by me personally. I'm the Captain of the ship, and I should have seen the hazards, and steered us clear before they became a problem.

But I didn't. Why? Because sometimes you don't. You don't see it in time. You see it, but can't figure out what to do about it. You figure, they'll get it any minute now. Give' em time.

Before I continue with this, let me tell you about a very different game I ran about three weeks ago...

The PCs' unnamed, customized Nova Drive Z-3 Light Freighter.
I did this image after the game. No picture was used during play.
Through the players' ideas, and in-character dialogue, the ship
obtained numerous details, and an easy to imagine layout.

I had the pleasure of running a one-shot of my favorite system, and one of my favorite subjects, Star Wars D6 by West End Games. Truth be told, I didn't really use the system so much as the Star Wars setting, and lessons learned from years of reading the West End Games books, and running the game. Mechanically, I simplified things a lot.

There were three players: My friend Dan, who is a few years my senior, and two recent acquaintances of his, a guy and a gal, who were both in their mid-to-late twenties. I had never met the others two prior to that day.

I have to say, it was one of the best single sessions I've had in a long time. It reminded me of my old NJ group days. Everything just clicked. The players quickly created, and connected with, their characters. Their individual goals were simple, clear, connected to the setting, and not specific as to how they could accomplish them. They established their relationships with each other through the course of play, but in very short order.

No long backstories, but they had backstories. No convoluted plans, but they had plans. The characters didn't all get along perfectly, and yet they perfectly cooperated with each other to get things done.

No one was the 'star', no one was trying to be, and as a result, each one shined.

It was nirvana. I think I heard angels. Seriously, angels. I've heard the deep space pilots talk about them...

Probably the most notable thing about the adventure was that it moved fast. Incredibly fast.

In the past, I always prided myself on my pacing. Fast, and exciting during battles, or chase scenes; measured, and tense while attempting to infiltrate a location, or hide from overwhelming opposition, etc.

For the past year, or so though, this has been very off.

Reluctant to push the players in a particular direction, and take agency away from them, I all too often let them endlessly discuss, debate, and overthink their situations (this is true in both of my current groups).

Unfortunately, they don't know how to police themselves (or so it seems). Many of them forego what would be the most interesting, exciting, or cinematic option, instead looking to the most logical option; often making certain it is the surest, safest plan, devoid of conflict, drama, tension, and sadly, emotional impact, and resonance.

I realize my particular style of play is not for everyone. It is often best suited for a pro-active player who gets really immersed in the setting, and who works with the group (as well as with the flow of the game) to come out smiling on the other end.

The worst part is, I don't want to ask for that. I want to find it, just have it, you know, 'be'.

I guess it's asking a lot, although I've never thought of it as such.

In conclusion, they can't all be winners. Not every game will go exactly the way you want it to. And, surprise, you want it to go well. No great insight there, eh?

Now, how much of the responsibility for the game's success is the GM's, and how much of it is the players'? Equal? That would seem logical. Yet...there is but one GM, doing a lot of work, putting in a lot of love, and usually two, or more players. Surely, if you were helping a friend move a piano, you wouldn't have one friend hold fifty percent of the weight while three others support that other half.

If there is a place where a fair dialog needs to take place, it's probably here, in that special place reserved for friends who help friends move pianos.


Barking Alien

Sunday, November 15, 2015

That's Entertainment!

A week or two ago, news hit that two of my favorite television IPs are getting new life on the small screen.

And I couldn't be more...hmmm.

First, there's...

The Greatest American Hero is set to return, thanks to FOX, and the talented team of Phil Lord & Chris Miller, the dynamic duo behind The Lego Movie, and other successful comedic films.

It's weird, but I feel like someone mentioned this not that long ago. Getting that deja vu feeling, ya'know?

Between then, and now I've been following whatever information I could get on the story. I've actually heard a bit of inside information, and numerous rumors about the new version, and so far I like what I've heard.

FOX has confirmed that they are backing development of a TV series pilot, and if they use even a small amount of what I've come across, I think they'll have a real winner on their hands. A key element will of course be its budget. In the era of The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl, the special effects have to be on par with those programs to compete in an increasingly crowded Superhero entertainment market.

Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but I have a really good feeling about this one. I can't wait for this show to start. Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.


The possibility of a new Star Trek series fills me with equal parts hope, and dread,. The explosive force of my geek freak-out at the news of this project made the Matter/Anti-Matter reactions within the Enterprise's engines look weak in comparison.

I want a new Star Trek series on the air so very badly, but everything I'm hearing about the project is filling me with concerns.

To begin with, the television series will not be a television series at all, airing instead of CBS's 'Pay-Us-To-Watch-What-You-Are-Already-Paying-For-Cable-To-Watch streaming service CBS All Access. This means, you need to pay to watch the new Star Trek. Okay...I don't love that idea, but if it's not too expensive, and the show is really good, I probably would. Why? Star Trek is why.

But wait..."Alex Kurtzman, co-writer of the films Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, and Heather Kadin will serve as executive producers."

Kurtzman, eh? Well, I despised both Abrams Star Trek films, and Kurtzman's connection to them does nothing to endear him to me, but he's done other stuff that was good, so I'll try to keep an open mind.

Except...rumors abound that the new show will be set in the Abrams-verse, and if that's true, I really have not interest in the program whatsoever. Hopefully those rumors are but rumors.

What's this?...January 2017? 2017? Really? That's quite a way off. I guess there will be ample time to fret, and postulate about the show before we get any real details.

My sincerest hope is that both of these programs will be great.

Fingers crossed.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Hey everyone.

The blog is on an unanticipated hiatus at the moment while I take care of some real life stuff. I am now a business owner, and have to deal with business owner type things.

I will post off, and on as time allows, but don't expect a lot of material until December. I do intend for, and expect, December to be a pretty full month for Barking Alien, with a lot of things to discuss, so please bare with me until then.



Noted scholar, and sage Lowell Francis of Age of Ravens, also known as 'Lowell The Lister', and 'He Who Knows The History of Fun', recently posted a series entitled RPG Top 100.

Oddly, this isn't a list of the 100 Best RPGs in his opinion, nor his 100 favorite RPGs, and it isn't the 100 most popular RPGs in the history of the hobby. No, in Lowell's own words, these games are notable by the following designation:

"...these aren't necessarily the 100 Best RPGs, but they're ones I want to play."

He goes on to note that those identified by an asterisk ( * ) are games where he enjoys the setting, or premise, but would want to use a different rule system to run, or play it.

An interesting exercise, but one that left me with a lot of questions. Such as:

  • Are these games you (Lowell) have never played?
  • Do you want to run them, play them, or both?
  • Why haven't you played some of these? I can understand it being tricky to find someone who knows about Wrath of the Autarch (a game I've only ever heard of from seeing it listed on peoples blogs!), let alone who's running it, but Mutants & Masterminds? It's hard to trip without knocking into someone running that game in my experience.

I don't know that there are 100 RPGs I've never played, that I'd want to. I'm serious.

Surely there have to be numerous games I've not tried out, but the idea that there are more than a few dozen Superhero, Sci-Fi, Giant Robot, Anime, or Folklore Fantasy RPGs out there that I haven't tried is hard to imagine. Honestly, I wouldn't be able to list them either. If they exist, and I haven't played them at least once, it's because I do not know of their existence.

Now, let's say I know about them, I've read them, or I've spoken to friends who gave them a rave review, but I haven't tried them yet, and really want to. That sounds fantastic! It also sounds...just...I don't know...utterly unlikely. If there is a game I want to play, or run, I do so. Often I do it as a one shot just to say I have, and to have the experience. If I liked the game, I would probably find a way to get it, and run it at some one point.

I know I sound a bit matter-of-fact, and perhaps even unrealistic in my simplified answer to the situation of wanting to try new games, but that's just how I've always been, and how I continue to be.

However, the bigger issue is that I just don't see that many new games coming out that I feel I have to play. There are very few that I am chomping at the bit to try out. I would be very interested in checking out The Warren, Spirit of '77, The One Ring, and maybe...well...I'm curious about 13th Age, and Fantasy AGE, but it won't kill me if I don't get to play those.

I was going to try, and challenge myself to come up with a similar list, but I just can't do it. There simply aren't enough games that fall into that category for me. Instead, here is a different kind of list.

The Barking Alien Blog Proudly Presents, The BIG DAMN LIST OF RPG LOVE!

Here are 100 RPGs that I just love. I love to run them, I'd probably like to play them I guess*, but they are the games I love, and that's what counts.

So, without further adieu, in no particular order, here are my 100 favorite most beloved games:

  1. Star Wars D6 (West End Games)
  2. Star Trek ICON System (Last Unicorn Games)
  3. Star Trek, The Role Playing Game (FASA)
  4. Champions 4th Edition (ICE/Hero Game)
  5. Traveller (Classic, and MegaTraveller, Game Design Workshop)
  6. Teenagers from Outer Space (R. Talsorian Games)
  7. Mekton (Especially Mekton II, R. Talsorian Games)
  8. InSpectres (Memento Mori)
  9. Ghostbusters (West End Games)
  10. Mutants and Masterminds (Especially 1st and 3rd Editions, Green Ronin)
  11. Faery's Tale Deluxe (Firefly Games / Green Ronin)
  12. Ars Magica 3rd Edition (White Wolf/Wizards of the Coast)
  13. Changeling: The Dreaming (White Wolf)
  14. Aberrant (White Wolf)
  15. Monsters, and Other Childish Things (Arc Dream Publishing)
  16. Wares Blade (Hobby Japan Games)
  17. SATASUPE ReMix (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  18. Peekaboo Horror (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  19. Paradise Fleet (Fujimi Dragon)
  20. Alshard (Enterbrain)
  21. Risus (Cumberland Games)
  22. Paranoia (West End Games)
  23. Toon (Steve Jackson Games)
  24. Sketch! (Corsair Publishing)
  25. Red Dwarf (Deep 7)
  26. Meikyuu Kingdom (Make You Kingdom) (Adventure Planning Service / Hobbybase)
  27. Pendragon 3rd, and 4th Editions (Chaosium, Green Knight Publishing)
  28. Bushido (Phoenix Games / Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  29. Hunter Planet (TAGG)
  30. Golden Sky Stories (Star Line Publishing)
  31. Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games)
  32. Marvel Heroic Role Playing Game (Margaret Weiss Productions)
  33. DC HEROES (Mayfair Games)
  34. Bunnies and Burrows (Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  35. Cyberpunk 2013 / 2020 (R. Talsorian Games)
  36. Metal Head (Hobby Japan Games)
  37. Mobile Racer Championship (Hobby Japan Games)
  38. M.I.S.S.O.N. (Kabal Gaming Systems)
  39. Happy Birthday Robot! (Evil Hat Productions)
  40. The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men (Itesser Ink / Wicked Dead Brewing Co.)
  41. Doom and Cookies (Andrew Peregrine / Corone Design)
  42. Steal Away Jordan (Stone Baby Games)
  43. MAID (Sunset Games in Japan, Star Line Publishing in the U.S.A.)
  44. Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited)
  45. The Muppets (Barking Alien Games - What? I can't love my own game?) me one second here...everything's fine here, now, thank you. How are you?

Psst. Barkley. I need your help.

What seems to be the problem?

I can't think of any more games that I love!



Well, you liked Space Opera when you were younger, right? And Star Frontiers?

Liked yes, but not loved. If I did, it was a long time ago.

Yes, yes. How Hmmm.

Well now, this presents a bit of a conundrum does it not? What am I to do?

As noted above, there are a lot of games that I like, even like a lot, but I don't drop the 'L' word lightly, and I really can't say I love something I don't love.

Now, it's possible, even likely, there are games I love that I'm not thinking of right now. To those games, I apologize. Seriously, I love ya man. I think.

A few games I like a lot (and I mean A LOT!) include (but are by no means limited to):

Adventures in Oz (F. Douglas Wall Publishing)
GODLIKE (Arc Dream Publishing)
James Bond: 007 (Victory Games)
Mouse Guard (Archaia Studio Press)
Ryuutama - Dragon's Egg (Kotodama Heavy Industries)
Star Frontiers (TSR)


Dread (The Impossible Dream)

What does it all mean? Is there some grand purpose behind it all? Is Humanity missing out on a great insight into its higher nature by not being able to unravel the hidden truths these lists hold within them?

No. Probably not.

At the same time, I believe I see some interesting insights into my own preferences. I see some consistency, and a few things in my personal tastes that strike me as odd.

Of course, in the surprises-no-one category, there is a distinct lack of Fantasy RPGs. There are a decent amount of comedic games as expected, as well as Science Fiction, and Superhero games, although the former is somewhat spread out over a number of subgenres. Nonetheless, Space Adventure Sci-Fi, and Comic Book Superheroes do rule the day.

Perhaps less obvious, and more surprising (to me anyway) are the number of games listed that have crunchy, more mechanically heavy systems. My appreciation for rules-lite games is well known, but I do not appear to disdain the more complex ones as much as I initially thought.

This warrants further study. I hope to get back to you soon with the results of my research.

Barking Alien


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Ain't Afraid of No Ghosts

One of the great, long lost, elements of Halloween, oft forgotten in the modern age, is that the holiday was not originally a time to embrace horrors, and cheer for the slasher in gory movies, but quite the opposite.

Essentially, as it was explained to me as a young boy, people dressed up as scary creatures on Halloween to make fun of the real scary creatures, and in some cases trick them into thinking their brethren are already about, and doing naughty things, so that they would go away. That, or the costumes of the people were frightening so as to scare away the actual beasties of darkness.

In his book Halloween, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Reverend Doctor Edward J. Smith offers a religious perspective to the wearing of costumes on All Hallows' Eve, originally called 'guising' (as in disguising ones self). The Reverend suggests that by dressing up as spooky and nightmarish boogies, people, especially children, are able to poke fun at the Devil, his evil, and the things we fear.

The last sentence in the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on Halloween says,  "the traditional focus of All Hallows' Eve revolves around the theme of using "humor and ridicule to confront the power of death."

As an advocate of humorous games, this got me to thinking...

We tend to think of the Halloween holiday themed game as a chance to run something really frightening, perhaps with a touch of tragic irony, and who can forget, gore. Basic Horror. 

Yet according to my research, the proper way to participate in the holiday is to run something humorous, albeit darkly so. I might even go a step further and suggest that this might be the best possible way to tackle both genres.

Puttin' on the Ritz

As I and other RPG bloggers have mentioned in the past, both Horror and Humor share certain challenges to both the GM and players that make them tricky to run. And yet, when you combine the two I feel like the juxtaposition of their natures works to highlight the strengths of both.

For instance: Let's say you're chugging along with a gang of two-bit, underachieving, ne'er do wells, jokingly going from one misadventure to another. Suddenly one of your NPC contacts is found dead and half eaten...s^%* just got real REALLY fast. This would work in a Medieval Fantasy or Cyberpunk setting, but imagine It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia with Zombies! Yikes!

Don't forget to kill Philip.

Likewise, periodic bits of comedy can prevent a Horror or chilling Crime Thriller from getting too dark and depressing. The television show Dexter was darkly humorous at times.

Of course, perhaps the best way to create a gestalt of these two genres is to observe the relative absurdity of modern Horror. While I am hesitant to recommend deconstruction of any kind, in the effort to find what's funny about ghosts, the animated dead, and demons coming to steal your soul, look no further than the worst examples of the genre (or the best comedic examples of it).

No End To The...Rabbits.
Freakin' rabbits.

In conclusion, if we're supposed to be celebrating All Hallow's Eve by giggling at the devil and his minions, I say bring out the chips and dips, roll some dice, and chuckle his candy-arse back to the abyss where it belongs.

Have some laughs at evil's expense.

It's on me.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gotta Get Back In Time

Great Scott! By my calculations, we've arrived in the future!

Thanks to the time-traveling capabilities of the Flux Capacitor I've installed in this DeLorean, we've managed to safely appear on October 21st, 2015.

It's fantastic, isn't it Marty? Video conferencing, 3D movies, holograms, hoverboards, flying cars, everyone using clean, and efficient fusion energy...


Our recent activities seem to have created an alternate timeline. Many things have appeared, many things haven't, and some elements are very different. It's the Mets in the World Series, and not the Cubs for example. Well, at least it's still a team that rarely makes it that far. The timelines can't be too divergent.

Back to the Future, and it's trilogy forming sequels, are among my all time favorite movies. Today is a special day for fans of the franchise. It's 'Back to The Future Day'; for it is on this date that Marty McFly, his girlfriend Jennifer, and Doctor Emmett Brown, travel from Hill Valley, California in 1985 to Hill Valley, California, 2015.

While Back to The Future II is arguably the weakest of the three films, the design esthetic of the 'futuristic' landscape of 2015 had a huge impact on me. To this day, this is the near future I most often depict in my games. This future is what I want the future to be.

I can safely say that I was inspired by many different aspects of the trilogy, but for this particular post, I want to focus on the future that isn't, the second film's depiction of our present year, 2015.

In a nutshell, I've always preferred the idea that the future won't suck as much as the present.

Sure, I'm a huge fan of Blade Runner, Alien/Aliens, and other franchises that show us a dark, rainy, and corrupted vision of where we might go from here, but my interest in those settings pales in comparison to the future of Star Trek, the original incarnation of DC's 30th Century Legion of Superheroes, and of course, the year 2015 as given to us in Back to The Future II.

I love the idea that advancements in technology, science, and our innate curiosity, will make us strive for a better tomorrow. I don't know that I believe it that future as much as I once did, but it remains the dream.

Philosophy aside, the look, the overall aesthetic of Back to The Future's version of suburban California in the year 2015 is what I see when imagining the near future in many of the games I've run that end up in the not-so-distant soon.

The hovering billboards, road signs, and similar 'background' elements are forever present in any future I depict that has commercial flying vehicles. Mine are usually a little more streamlined than this one above, but they all owe their existence to this ancestor right here.

I love the look of the futuristic Hill Valley as it shows the high tech small town, something few if any other films, comics, or even books have ever depicted. This isn't the future of a cosmopolitan, over-populated metropolis like Blade Runner's Los Angeles, or Washington in Minority Report. These are the burbs folks. This is the kind of town most Americans actually live in. When you live in a major city like New York, Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco it can be easy to forget that where you dwell is the exception, not the norm.

Look at the picture above, and squeal over all the details it has that you can describe to your players whose PCs might be visiting such a setting. Flying cars have Landing, and No Landing Zones.

You can see what looks like a mailbox, but is actually a Fax terminal. Obviously the Fax is an essentially dead technology, but imagine email, online access terminals are everywhere. You could send a 3D scan of an important document to another PC, or to an NPC, anywhere on Earth, in orbit, or on the moon, while still chatting on your personal cell-phone/communicator. Harder to trace the call too if you are using a public terminal (maybe).

Oh course there are 3D, holographic advertisements, and what you can do with those.

This time, it's really, REALLY personal!

Now let's take a look at the people.

Thank your lucky stars the predications of Back to The Future II
 weren't all accurate. We could be dressing like these shmoes.
Although come to think of it...
that doesn't look all that different from what I've seen in
NYC's Greenwich Village on a weekday evening. Hmmm.

Putting aside the more well known fashion components such as self-adjusting jackets, and sneaker laces, the Google Glass like visors, and things such as the 'Future Punk' look of Griff and his gang, one of my favorite designs from the movie gets far too little attention.

The Hill Valley, California Police in 2015.

I just love everything about this. Strong, and attractive female law enforcement officers. Crisp, easy to identify uniforms. A good array of gear on their persons, but both uniform, and equipment are cut as to allow ease of movement, and speed.

And they're attractive. Did I mention that?
The filmmakers wanted to give the female officers
an authoritative air, but also look like two people a crook
would WANT to be arrested by (male or female).

The addition of digital displays above the brim of their caps is an awesome feature in my opinion. It adds a simple, visual, humor element while at the same time possibly delivering important information such as, "To Report a Crime Anonymously Contact...", or "Fly, and Drive Safely - Traffic Laws Protect Everyone - On the Ground, or in The Air".

My biggest gripe about the Back to The Future series, and the second film in particular, is we didn't spend more time in this future, and the weight of the story set there wasn't particularly strong. The story's trip to the future world of 2015 was merely a vehicle to create the alternate timeline shenanigans that became the film's primary focus.

I have adapted the setting, and/or parts of it, into dozens, upon dozens of RPG campaigns, and adventure sessions over the years. Many of the components have shown up in Superhero RPGs, Traveller, Star Frontiers, Teenagers from Outer Space, and so many more.

I intend to do a Thorough Thursday entry one of these days that deals with the numerous factors that make the entire Back to The Future trilogy a favorite of mine. Keep an eye out for it.

I leave you with this...

So long Future Boy!
Barking Alien
I wrote this post on the 21st, but due to my inability to generate the required 1.21 Gigawatts of energy needed to activate the time machine, the post hasn't shown up until the 22nd.
No matter. The extra day gives me the chance to wish a very Happy Birthday to Doc Brown himself, Christopher Lloyd, one of my favorite actors, and probably the voice I can imitate the best. :)