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.