Friday, July 29, 2016

Voyage of The Space Beagle

August is only three days away, and as many of you know, it's a big month for me.

On August 25th, I celebrate my gaming anniversary, which this year denotes 39 years of playing RPGs! 

Wow, right? 

"Eyes on the Stars"
Snoopy Astronaut Decal/Sticker
USA, 1968

I intend to devote much of my posting in August to Science Fiction related subjects including Campaigns I Have Known, Thorough Thursdays (with any luck), and general ideas and advice about Space Adventure gaming. 

I am also looking to follow up on some projects I've let slide, but would really like to get back to such as Aliens Dread, Star Wars Traveller, and perhaps a few surprises. No promises, but I'm going to try.

Sci-Fi/Space Gaming remains a subject I love intensely, but one which seems to baffle a lot of GMs, and players alike. From my own experiences to comments and posts on blogs, Facebook, and Google+, it seems to be an arena many people are either afraid to enter, or don't know what to do once they're there. I am hoping I can help with that a little bit.

August is also the month of Gen Con, and I am hoping that as a result of their attendance at the convention more information about Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures RPG will become available (oh please, oh please, oh please). 

Finally, the highly anticipated computer game No Man's Sky is (with any luck) going to be released on August 9th. All I ask is one free Saturday to explore that universe.

Anyway, that's the plan.

If anyone has a Science Fiction related subject they'd like me to address, please feel free to message me on Google+ (Adam Dickstein), or mention it in the comments below. 

Prepping for the jump to hyperspace,

Barking Alien

Monday, July 25, 2016


Here's a special treat for those of you who've been following this blog, and specifically my posts on past campaigns that I have run. This one is a doozy, and another I've been wanting to talk about for a very long time. It's not so much the campaign itself that's interesting, but the participants, and the backstory.

Ladies and Gentlemen...and if identify yourself differently more power to you!...introducing Campaigns I Have Known - Celebrity Edition!


Pay close attention, and you can follow along with the home game.

First...a little set up...

Let's begin in 1985-86.

I was visiting NY's premiere game store (IMHO), The Compleat Strategist, at their Upper West Side location (technically Midtown West)*, when I saw a friend of mine who worked there. He gave me a warm welcome, as I realized I hadn't seen him in quite a while. When I asked what he'd been up to, he said he had been in California shooting a movie.

I was vaguely aware he was an actor, but a real Hollywood movie? Awesome! I asked when it was going to come out, and what role he played. He seemed a bit taken aback, even hurt.

My Friend: "You didn't see it? I..Wow...I figured you of all people would've seen it. It was really popular, a comedy, and it had mad science Sci-Fi."

Me.: "Whoah. Maybe I did see it. Did you have a big part?"

My Friend (Kind of crestfallen): "Yeah. I was...a co-star. One of the stars of the movie."

My buddy from the Compleat Strategist starred in a Sci-Fi Comedy and I didn't know? Impossible.

Me: "What movie?"

My Friend...Ilan: "Weird Science."

Me: "..."

*Brain suddenly makes a connection it should have made already on its own*...

"HOLY S%^&!!!" (Very possibly my first experience with swearing out loud in public)

I know that guy!
I just...didn't know I knew that guy.

It wasn't that I had forgotten the movie. It wasn't that I'd forgotten my friend. No. My brain simply did not equate the guy I knew at the Compleat Strategist with the fellow in the film. In my mind's eye that were two separate, distinct, completely different people.

Instead of being upset, he laughed. So did I. For a while, I frequented that location more, just so I could hang out, and talk to Ilan.

Sometime between 1987, and 1988. I had graduated the High School of Art and Design, and would soon be attending Pratt Institute. I got a job working at the Forbidden Planet's Upper East Side location (really Midtown East)*.

While working there I made friends with some of the regular customers, especially if we had shared interests. At some point, I met two fellows who were working on an independent comic book.

One fellow was Joseph Naftali, a younger guy (well, younger than me) who had a darn cool idea, the money to back the project, and just needed an extra writer, or two and a few other artists. He was hoping to start with an anthology book. We started talking, and I helped him edit some ideas, pitched a few new ones, and the next thing we knew we were pals, and working together.

The other fellow should be known to some of you if you're familiar with Superhero RPGs. His name is Storn Cook. Yep, that Storn Cook. For those unfamiliar (and too lazy simply click on a link - I mean c'mon!), Storn is an illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous RPG products including Champions, and Mutants & Masterminds. Storn also became involved in the comic book project, including doing the back cover ad for a story by yours truly intended for the second issue.

A week, or so later, Storn and Ilan come in to the Forbidden Planet in full Kendo gear, covered head-to-toe in mud. They'd been to a Kendo class in Central Park, only to fall down a hill made super slippery by rain the previous day. Every female employee there bugged me to introduce them to these two. A lot of swooning went on I can tell you that.

Now hold on...these two knew each other? Of course they did. Millions of people in New York, yet somehow the world of geeks was strangely small.

So I talk to Joe, Joe talks to Storn, Storn and Ilan talk, and they get a fifth guy named Grey**. We all meet at Joe's place - a very impressive, multi-level home hidden in New York's West Village. With a gaming table set up in the basement, this eclectic group got together to play a short campaign of Villains and Vigilantes.

Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...


At this point we...OK I...have a problem. I remember the players quite well. I remember the characters quite well. I am not 100% sure who played who. So embarrassing. I'll do my best. 

UPDATE: I'm pretty sure I have it right.

We created the characters together using V&V 2nd Edition, and a little house-ruling on my part, but not much. I allowed for certain choices in addition to the roles. Also, although default V&V has the players play themselves, we created fictional secret identities for these characters.

Title: VILLAINS and VIGILANTES - Four For Freedom

System: Villains and Vigilantes (Fantasy Games Unlimited), 2nd Edition.

Circa: 1987-1988. There were only six sessions unfortunately.

Player Base: In 1987-1988 I was 18-19 years old I believe. I know Ilan and I are the same age. Storn probably is as well, or close, and the same goes for Grey. Joe is younger by a couple of years I think.

So to be clear, I was the GM - Joe, Ilan, Storn, and Grey were the players.

Characters: The four heroes were...

The Resolute (played by Storn C.)

The team's de facto leader (most of the time), Resolute was a former government operative combining a super soldier formula, bionic enhancements, and high tech gadgetry and weapons into one potent combination. He specialized in military tactics, stealth, and had a host of military, police, and other government contacts.

If I remember correctly, he had Heightened Dexterity, Heightened Senses, Heightened Expertise, a Speed Bonus, Martial Arts, and a suite of weapons including a Blaster Rifle, a Stun Pistol, and a lightsaber-like Energy Sword.

His weaknesses included Electrical/Lightning attacks which caused him extra damage, and potentially shorted out his abilities, and a psychological drawback that gave flashbacks to some previous conflict he can't clearly remember (possibly implying that turning him into Resolute saved his life).

For some reason I now picture him as being very similar to Soldier 76 from the Blizzard Entertainment computer game Overwatch.

Attitude and personality-wise, Resolute was a dry humored, somewhat sarcastic, slightly rebellious version of Captain America. A Captain America born of the 1970s and 1980s instead of World War II, and the 1960s (when he was brought back to life).

The Obscure (played by Ilan S.)

Our mystical specialist was Obscure, a strange individual whose origins remained a mystery throughout the game.

While he definitely had a physical form while hanging out at the team headquarters, or when talking to the police, Obscure spent most of his time in a semi-gaseous state. Below the waist, from within his cloak, and often circling about his hands were billowing  clouds of gray-black fog, or smoke.

He was well versed about all things magical, and supernatural, could read ancient languages, including runes, and hieroglyphics, and could even speak with spirits, ghosts, faeries and the like.

Powers included Flight, Darkness Control, Intangibility, and a number of smoky looking Magic Spells.

His only real weakness was candles, the light from which could harm him...or weaken him...or drive him off. I forget. I also forget if it was just any candles, or a specific type.

Obscure always maintained an air of being wise, macabre, and 'terribly mysterious'. If Resolute was the brains of the operation, Obscure was the soul of the team.

The Cosmic (played by Joe N.)

I liked all the characters here, but I really liked this one.***

An extraterrestrial humanoid from a species so 'sufficiently advanced', it is difficult to identify whether we are talking about a machine, a living creature, energy, or something else. This unusual 'physical form' gave the character his amazing powers, but also an interesting perspective on life on Earth.

While understanding many space related subjects, and being familiar with various alien species, starships, and the like, Cosmic himself was from a region of space so distant he could not identify it on our star charts. It was assumed he had traveled through a worm hole from another galaxy entirely.

Cosmic's powers included Flight, Force Field, Telekinesis, Telepathy, and a cool, weird shape-changing ability that allowed him to become two-dimensional, stretch (but when he stretched his arm for example, the rest of him became either thinner, or shorter in height), and other tricks dealing with altering his size, mass, and density. The idea being he wasn't so much a solid being as a certain amount of psychic energy taking a humanoid form.

He had a weakness to magic, as it did not obey the same laws as the perceivable, and understandable universe according to the character.

Most of the time Cosmic was inquisitive, child-like, and very reminiscent of the Silver Surfer. During battle however, he became a focused, disciplined combatant. The personality switch was so distinct, and clear cut it was almost like someone with multiple personalities.

Was he possibly a gestalt being made of the thoughts of different individuals?

[I am pretty sure this was Joe's character. I am almost positive he came up with the idea. See Bonus features for a funny story about this PC's creation.]

The Maverick (aka The Wild Card, played by Grey B.)

Last but not least was a very unpredictable hero named The Maverick, who many referred to by his nickname 'Wild Card'. Maverick's origin was that he was created by a group of villains (possibly the notorious InterCrime) to defeat a well known superhero, but the programming didn't stick. Maverick instead turned on the villains and dedicated his life to using his abilities for good. 

[I may be wrong, but I think Maverick was the prototype for a planned army of such beings].

Maverick was very knowledgeable about InterCrime, super villains, and crime in general. He had a number of underworld contacts, and knew the location of a few secret lairs. Maverick was also the team's best driver, and pilot.  

Mavericks powers are kind of strange. In addition to Adaption, Regeneration, and Willpower, Maverick would randomly manifest different powers based on the situation he was in. For example, if trapped in a burning building he may attain the ability to shoot blasts of water, flame on himself, find his skin coated in an asbestos-like material, or simply gain superspeed so he could run out of there. (In manner ways the character resembled Shane Goosemen, from the animated series 'The Adventures of The Galaxy Rangers'.

Maverick was, as you can probably imagine, the loose cannon, 'Wolverine' character on the team. He didn't talk much, was soft-spoken but authoritative when he did speak, and extremely protective of civilians (especially the very old, the very young, and the infirm).

Synopsis: The plot (and I use the term loosely here) was pretty simple. The campaign was really just an excuse to run, and play superheroes with a cool bunch of guys.

I decided to start with the module that comes with the V&V 2nd Edition boxed set, Crisis at Crusader Citadel. I made some minor modifications, then proceeded to run more of the pre-made adventure modules, tweaking them and adding elements to tie the superhero sandbox game into a single narrative. It went something like this...

One bright Monday morning, four superheroes show up at the front entrance of Center City's famous Harmon Building, the top of which serves as the headquarters of the world's greatest superhero team, The Crusaders! 

Each new hero has been invited by one or more of the Crusaders to potentially join the team. Unfortunately, there is only room for one additional member. The assembled newbies will have to be interviewed, and possibly compete in a try-out test.

It soon becomes clear that the Crusaders are not home. Their AI Computer indicates that an emergency has taken them off-world. The Center City police, who were been aware that the Crusaders are unavailable (but kept in secret by order of the Mayor to prevent villains from thinking the city is an easy target), ask the new heroes if they can help out with a rash of technology thefts. The four gladly agree to assist.

It doesn't take long for the PCs to learn that the Crusaders' arch-enemies, The Crushers, are up to something big. It turns out they've captured and imprisoned the Crusaders within their own base!

After defeating a few of the Crushers to gain additional information, the new heroes proceed to return to The Crusader Citadel where they are able to free the Crusaders, and defeat the Crushers. When the Crusaders lament that they wish they could add all four fellows to their roster, the new supers decide to decline membership in the Crusaders to form their own team called The Four For Freedom.

As they proceed/progress through a number of other harrowing capers, the group learns that the sinister super villain Bloody Sunday has been behind all their troubles. Angry over the perceived failure of superheroes to protect himself, and his family when he was a child in a war torn region of the world, Bloody Sunday attempts to engineer the defeat/destruction of the superhero community.

He is eventually defeated and captured in a public battle with the Four For Freedom.

Appendix N: In addition to obvious influences such as the Byrne/Claremount X-Men, the Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans, and the like, I was also strongly influenced by The Seven Soldiers of Victory, and Watchmen. 

Villains & Vigilantes products, with their implied, but never truly fleshed out universe were also a major source of inspiration.

Bonus Features:

* The Uptown Compleat Strategist, and Forbidden Planet are sadly long gone, having closed their doors many years ago now.

** Grey's full name was Grey Bowman. Grey Bowman. Is it me, or does that sound like the name of a superhero character right there? The Green Arrow - The Grey Bowman. Seriously.

So I said to Grey, "You should create an archer character called the Grey Bowman." He stared at me like I was speaking another language. I kept trying to not only sell him on the idea, but also explain why he should embrace the fact that his name was sooo damn cool. He didn't get it. It simply would not click. 

Ilan pulls me aside and says, "I know you think it's an amazing idea, but you have to understand that to him you're suggesting he create a character named 'Adam Dickstein'. To him it's just his name. Same as with you."

"OK...I guess...except my name isn't freakin' GREY BOWMAN!" O_O

Towards the end of the campaign the villain has some other (NPC) heroes tied up including The Grey Bowman. I had drawn a picture, and I showed it to him. Grey stares at it for a moment and goes, "Ahh. Now I get it. Man. That is cool." LOL

*** Joe says to the group after trying to think of a background for Cosmic, "Hey guys, I've come up with a background for my character.

He is an alien, right, and he's sent away from his homeworld when it gets destroyed. He arrives on Earth, and...and is raised and taught Human values. Human rights, defending the weak, etc. He decides the best way to pay the people of the Earth back for allowing him to walk among them is to protect them from danger as a Superhero! 

What do you think?"

We all looked at him, dumbfounded, for what felt like a long time. Finally, someone said, "It'll never sell", and we all burst out laughing. All but Joe. He couldn't figure out what we thought was so funny.

"Seriously man? That story is just a little familiar no?"

"Familiar?", Joe replies a bit insulted. "What do you mean?"

"SUPERMAN! Joe, that's the origin of Superman."

Joe starts to say, "No! NO! It's nothing like Superman it''s...", and then suddenly Joe is laughing. "The way I told it, man, I said only the parts that sound like Superman's story. I left out all the details that...Hahaha!"

Joe retold the story, and honestly, it was pretty great. It wasn't like Superman at all. The whole thing was a great lesson in how to convey information.


Sadly, I didn't really keep in touch with the group as the years went on, except Storn who I periodically talk to on Facebook in various gaming, and art related discussion groups. 

Ilan left the film, and television entertainment business to become a professor of medieval studies. For a time he was a contributor on at least two gaming blogs, and a podcast - Forces of Geek, and Talk Wargaming.

Well, that's my story of playing a short, but awesome campaign of V&V with a very interesting group of people. Hopefully I will be able to more such stories out next month than I did this month.

That's out show! Good night everybody!

Barking Alien

Recent Discovery

On the heels of the new Star Trek RPG news comes a teaser for the new CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery

Here is the teaser:

I know it's already a somewhat divisive design, but I personally like it. 

Inspired by, if not actively based on, the Ralph McQuarrie design for the Enterprise of the shelved Star Trek: Phase II television series, I like that is looks like a Starfleet ship and yet unlike any we've seen before.

It's like the contract for the production of this vessel went to different shipbuilders than the guys who usually win the naval contracts. 

I also love the retro-Sci-Fi asteroid shipyard/spacedock. So cool.

I'm getting the Star Trek gaming bug again in spite of myself.

It's only a matter of time...

Barking Alien

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Voyage Home?

I've been a little disappointed in Star Trek of late.

July marks the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, and what exactly do we fans have to show for it? In some ways, a lot.

There is a new film out now, a new TV series on the way, a ton of fan friendly merchandise out, and Star Trek Online is still going strong - Star Trek is back in a big way, and we are celebrating that with the 50th Anniversary. 

Right? Hmmm. Why doesn't it feel like a celebration?

  • I am completely uninterested in the new movie. 
  • The new Star Trek TV series with be available primarily on CBS/Paramount's subscription service.*
  • I am unlikely to sign up for the CBS All Access subscription service just to watch one show.
  • Especially if I don't know if that show will be any good. Based on the three recent films, I'm not encouraged.
  • CBS/Paramount has created new rules for the production of Fan Films. They seem very limiting, and in some aspects somewhat draconian based on what has been produced by Star Trek fans in the past. If you've seen the level of quality, and dedication already put in by people who love your IP, why restrict that so much?
  • The rules prevent, or at least severely curtail Star Trek Continues, Star Trek: The New Voyages, and of course, the much anticipated, and beleaguered Axanar.
  • Star Trek Online is boring. It's cool how they've added a lot of new material over the years, and the current Original Series and time travel expansion is kind of fun, but after a few weeks, I'm already tired of it.

This is it? This is the 50th Anniversary of the most beloved Science Fiction Television series of all time? SERIOUSLY?!?

Captain...long range sensors have detected an unknown object approaching.

Eh? Very well Mr. Barkley, ahead at full impulse. Bring us about, and put it on the main viewer.

Aye, sir. We have it.


Red Alert! Red Alert! Shields up!


UPDATED: 07/22/16

Star Trek Adventures is a brand new, official Star Trek Role-Playing Game from a company called Modiphius Entertainment, makers of Achtung! Cthulhu, Mutant Chronicles, Conan, Infinity, and John Carter of Mars.

[OK, real talk - I don't know anything about these games, or very little to be sure. I've not played any of them because, they don't really fall in my areas of interest. Not my wheelhouse so to speak. I played the original Mutant Chronicles, but didn't really like it so much that I needed to check out the new one. Are any of these any good? Can someone chime in? I've heard good things about Achtung! Cthulhu - it is supposed to be really cool - but I've really heard nothing about any of these.]

The game uses Modiphius' house system which appears in all their games. All I know about it is it uses 2d20. That worries me a little, but maybe it's not that bad. I'll keep an open mind.

I don't have a lot of other information to detail here. I recommend following the link to Modiphius' website where they actually give quite a lot of information through the answering of a list of 18 questions.

The part that got me really excited was this:

1. Which Star Trek shows will the game cover?
"Star Trek Adventures will cover Star Trek the Original Series, Next GenerationDeep Space NineVoyager and Enterprise as well as all of the original and Next Generation films. It does not include the new reimagined films by JJ Abrams."

Well. Now you're talking.

It looks promising, if not for the game itself then as source material for a FASA, or Last Unicorn Games based Star Trek campaign. Plus crew miniatures! The point is, there will be new gaming products for Star Trek.

I really can't ask for more.

Happy Anniversary Star Trek! You are, and always shall be, my friend.

Barking Alien

UPDATED: I had the pleasre of talking to Chris Birch of Modiphius Entertainment via Facebook post today, as he came in to our Star Trek RPG Discussion Group there. Not only was he very nice, well spoken, and informative (within the parameters of what he can say at this juncture of course), but he conveyed an extremely important quality for me - he is a fan of Star Trek. He states, "I didn't want to fasten the Star Trek name to the 2D20 system. I wanted to make a great Star Trek game. The system has been adjusted/modified to fit Star Trek and not the other way around" - paraphrasing.

I'm feeling really good about this endeavor. Spring/Summer 2017 can't come soon enough.

Also - Duh! I just remember I have a good friend who works for Modiphius. LOL. A shout out to Lloyd Gyan, who expertly DID NOT TELL ME ABOUT THIS PROJECT!. That's right, somehow my pal kept the fact that he was working for a company doing a Star Trek RPG secret from me, Adam 'Starfleet or Die!' Dickstein. I'm impressed. They should either give this man a raise, a promotion, or transfer him to the British Intelligence service.

*The new Star Trek series will be available for viewing on Netflix for about 188 countries worldwide, but NOT the United States, and Canada. Wonderful. 

PS: There are two other really cool 50th Anniversary items coming out that I'm kind of excited about...

A new edition of the Star Trek Encyclopedia! Woohoo!

Star Trek - 50 Artists 50 Years

A book that collects the work of artists from around the world as well as famous fans, all contributing to an incredible visual array of posters, photos, sculptures, comic strips, textiles and much more to commemorate Star Trek's half-century of exploring the final frontier. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Crossing The Streams

For those of you who don't know me well, or who don't frequent this blog too often, I'm a big Ghostbusters fan.

How big? Stay Puft Marshmallow Man big.

I've seen the original film at least three dozen times, seen the second one (which I'll admit isn't great) nearly a dozen times, watched every episode of the original animated series, 'The Real Ghostbusters' about three times each (some more than that), bought a number of the comic books, and I own both the Ultimate Visual History book, and the newly published Tobin's Spirit Guide.

I've GMed one major campaign, a half dozen one-shots, and co-GMed a campaign back in high school. You can search this site for info on those just by clicking on the Ghostbusters tag.

I really can't wait to run it again actually. Thing is, I'm not alone.

In a discussion on Facebook about the new Ghostbusters film, two of my good friends (both of whom had played in Ghostbusters games with me on separate occasions) noted their preference for what we'd done over what Columbia Pictures decided would be a good idea.

I can't say I disagree.

I have not seen the new film. I don't intend to, at least until it's on Netflix, or something. I won't pay movie theater prices to see it. I have no interest.

There are those who will say it's because I'm a grumpy, old, Ghosthead grognard, or worse a misogynist who can't except an all female cast. Such words hurt or would if I cared one iota what the people who throw such words in my direction have to say.

My lack of interest in the film stems from two main factors.

First, it isn't set in the milieu of the original films. It's a reboot and I don't like reboots. I don't like things that take away from the original work. I like things that add to the original work. An extension of the original IP, more material to expand the universe. Reboots tell me that the thing I liked, maybe even loved, didn't happen in favor of this new thing. Well screw you person trying to make money off of someone else's creativity. You aren't adding anything to the party.

The second reason I'm not interested in seeing this film is because I saw the trailer, several trailers in fact, and they just didn't entice me. A trailer is an advertisement. It is something designed to get you excited about a new film coming out. The trailers for this movie didn't achieve their objective. The jokes weren't funny, the acting seemed off, and the special effects looked cartoonish and overdone.

My entertainment budget is limited. I can't see every movie I'm interested in that comes out. Luckily, it helps when they make films I'm not interested in seeing.

At the same time, it saddens me when those movies are ones I've been waiting a long time to watch.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Player Profiles - David Concepcion


For some time now I've been hoping to introduce a new series of posts entitled Player Profiles; a collection of write-ups on some of the wonderful people, and fantastic players I've had the privilege to know, and gamemaster for over the past 39 years.

It will be quite impossible to cover everyone - some friends I've lost touch with over the years, some have passed on - but given enough time, and with enough determination I should be able to introduce you all to the gamers that helped shape my love of the hobby.

If you don't see a write-up with your name, but you feel you should based on the premise of this series, do not despair. You simply haven't see one yet.

The honor of the first Player Profile goes to my dear friend David Concepcion.

 I met Dave in 10th grade, my first year at The High School of Art and Design in New York City. I met a number of my long time friends here, played some of the best (heck, the only) games I truly enjoyed as a player, and gamemastered the campaigns that would solidify my style of play. Though we didn't know it at the time, Dave would be instrumental in that development.

I'm not sure it was gaming that first brought us together as friends. Maybe it was. We had a lot of common interests. Comic books, Star Trek, Star Wars, the Beatles, Monty Python, Film in general, Anime, the Muppets,  and a host of other things.

Our first game together...that's tough. I know it was one I GMed, and he played in. It may have been Star Wars, or Star Trek. It was instrumental though in bringing us together as friends with similar outlooks, and the key to meeting many of the other people you'll see featured in later entries.

It was Dave who introduced me to William C., who introduced me to Champions. It was Dave who got together himself, Will, AJ, and myself to form a makeshift 'band' (jokingly called Near Miss). If it was something we wanted to do creatively, but we were unsure if we should, we would always leave the final, or tie-breaking vote to Dave because we knew he'd say yes.

Dave is what I would call, a good guy. A genuinely good Human being. He's easy to make friends with, and honestly hard not to like. He's creative, and thoughtful. Deeply thoughtful given the time to sort it all out, and I can appreciate that.

As a gamer, well as a player to start with, he brings a sense of his Humanity to the table that I've rarely seen elsewhere. His characters, all of them, are subtly nuanced with real people thinking, and real people emotions. They are not caricatures, but three-dimensional, living breathing people.

Sometimes that stops them from standing out when the rest of the group are playing over-the-top, action movie heroes. That's fine for Dave (and for me). He is a character actor. While he can certainly take a starring role, I remember once telling him, "You play the most amazing second-string characters I've ever seen."

His greatest, and most memorable PCs to me (at least) are:

AJ DeLorca, Leader of the Blue Dragons Valkyrie Squadron (Macross, Palladium)
Captain Logan Hendrix, USS Renown (Star Trek, FASA)
Chakagawa, The Wookiee Shaman (Star Wars - Homebrew)
David Nelson, Ghostbuster (Ghostbusters - WEG)
Davey 'Speed' Davidson, Super-speed prankster (Teenagers from Outer Space - RTG)
Omni, Leader of UNTIL's Project: UNITY (Champions, Hero Games)
Yoshiyuki Yamashita, Ronin turned Daimyo (Bushido, FGU)

What Dave brought to my games was charm, warmth, layers of perfectly crafted imperfection, wit, humor, and the idea that RPGs can go deeper.

Thanks Dave. Love you brother.

Now, David Concepcion in his own words...

"Who am I? I'm a writer going on 40-plus years of doing it, but to this day I still hate writing short paragraphs about who I am. Who I am is a long autobiography that I'm not best prepared to cover just yet. While I work better in short form writing (or even full length screenplays), short form misses too much of me, and my life.
Also, it often depends on my mood. I know my mood shouldn't affect my history, but it does affect how I look back on it. Right now the best I can say is that being a writer, I am a creator of things big and small; considering all I've been through in my life, I am a survivor. So there's definitely a yin-yang aspect to my life, and who I am. I try to stay positive but it is much, much harder than it used to be. Too much has gone on to keep me from keeping on the sunny side of things. Basically I'm a nice guy whose sense of humor was shanked with a broken bottle in a bar fight.
Having said that, there have been oases of peace in my life that have kept me going. Two of them kind of merged for a decade or so: high school friends and role playing games.

Going to an art school has been beneficial not only for the stuff I learned in classes, but for the close circle of friends I had all four years there. My closest circle of friends were role players. Our love of science fiction, and comic books found a natural outlet in games of superheroes, the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, and cyberpunk and steampunk scenarios. We were the Knights of the Breakfast Table, and if we weren't doing last night's homework five minutes before class, we were rolling d20s for the continuing of campaigns. Friends made through RPGs are still friends today, and have stood the test of time.
I think my favorite part of RPGs were the immersive theater aspects of storytelling involved in it, combined with the appreciation of living out sci-fi/fantasy films we loved, while creating our own thrills with multi-sided dice and the unlimited special effects budget of the mind. Playing in an Adam run campaign is often particularly fun because as a player (not just as a PC), I got to shape the story of the campaign more than usual. When Adam tells me his idea for a campaign/game, I usually get to ask what he needs for that piece. Somehow there's collaboration to find a character that not only fits, but enhances the nature of the drama.
Whether it be leading PCs (Federation Starfleet Captain Logan Hendrix; Yoshi Yamashita, a Ronin who turned Daimyo), or supporting PCs (Chakagawa, a Wookie “shaman”; a media jock/DJ playing street fixer undercover to get better stories), any of my actions have a great impact on the movement of the story arc and the game. It helps that Adam really listens to his players, and is ready to roll with the punches no matter what. His games have always been favorites of mine to be in as well as to watch the action around you.
A special thanks to David for participating and writing this up.
Ready Player Two?
Barking Alien

*My one regret with this post is I couldn't find a clear picture of Dave in a hat. I have always been envious of his ability to look good in hats. Seriously. He's a hat kind of guy. I think, "Man, I look so goofy in hats. You know who looks good in hats? Dave".


Monday, July 4, 2016

Round One - FIGHT!

Hello internet, and welcome to Barking Alien for July, 2016!

A Happy Canada Day (July 1st) to my viewers up North, and a Happy Independence Day (July 4th) to those of you in the United States of America!

For July I'm lifting my self-imposed ban on discussing Sci-Fi, and Supers, opening the floodgates for talking about pretty much anything. Also, going to try for more, shorter posts this month. No guarantees, or promises, but that's the goal.

This post for example is about Combat.

I don't really have a definitive point to make, or even an objective with this post beyond, 'Here's how I feel about Combat in RPGs. Let's talk about it.'

Let's begin by pointing out the 800 pound gorilla in the room...

Minus all that power armor of course.

...Most RPGs have a heavy focus on combat.

No groundbreaking observation there, but it deserves to be mentioned at the start of this for the sole purpose of setting the tone for the rest of the post. This is a truism, a point of fact. Like science, and unlike belief, it can not be unproven, argued with, or denied.

Is it the focus of all RPGs? No.

Is it the focus of every campaign in RPGs where combat is normally a major factor? No.

Must it be the focus of our hobby by the very nature of both RPGs and combat? we be getting all philosophical up in here.

Now, what exactly do I mean by that last statement? Well, let's break it down shall we?

RPGs are largely improvisational storytelling with rules, geared toward action/adventure themes. RPGs about getting a job as an assistant copyright lawyer for a small, text book publishing house, however exciting you may feel that is, have just never caught on.

RPGs are descended from war games. They are about warriors, soldiers, mercenaries, and other fighting types going to battle against others of their kind, or other combat oriented opponents such as monsters, aliens, robots, or whathaveyou. Even when playing a thief, or a wizard, majors concerns are given to combat effectiveness in the form of special 'sneak attack' abilities, or damage causing spells.

With these conceits established, and for the purposes of this post (at the very least) accepted, I can finally get into the arena of opinion.

If combat is a central (if not essential) element of RPGs, why the heck is it so damn complex, and boring most of the time?

Oh no you didn't.

That's right, I said it. You heard me. Boring.

The majority of RPG systems out there make combat far too mechanical. What do I mean? I mean that it is reliant on rules, and the roles of dice, and not on any real input from the player, or even the GM in many cases.

Did you come up with a truly creative tactic, a 'smart move' as we're want to say? Does it matter? Isn't it just a plus one here, or an additional die added to your pool there? What influence does your creativity really have on combat?

After coming up with a brilliant battle plan, you get a +1 or +2 from some feat or other, and you still fail the roll, meaning all that planning was meaningless. Sure, that random element of rolling the dice can be part of the excitement, but I've often ended up feeling (and seeing players who feel) like they were just brilliant for nothing. The creativity of the player/PC is not nearly as effective in a fight as having the best stats, or the 'right build' (*puke*).

Even more importantly, what does it feel like?

One of the things that turned me off to Margret Weis Productions Marvel Heroic game over time was the feeling that a bunch of dice were being rolled against a bunch of other dice, with no real thought, or emotion invested in what it all meant in game. It was just a collection of numbers being assembled against other numbers. Was that a roundhouse punch, or an energy blast? Is there a difference? Combat in that game (and in many others), which is a huge part of each session because of the genre (Superheroes) feels so abstract it might as well not include saying anything. Just roll, compare, and note stress damage, or who won.

What can we do about this?

Well, I've discussed before how the GM can jazz up the in-game descriptions, and even conditions to some extent, but I don't know if that's enough. Does that fundamentally make the activity of getting to, and partaking in combat sequences more exciting?

The fundamental issue for me really does come down to mechanics for the most part. The most exciting, memorable battles I'm been in as a player, and ran as a GM were largely despite the mechanics, not because of them. It was the GM, not the game, that injected some amazing description, or made a rule on the fly to explain how the participants of the conflict, and the objects, and terrain around them were effected.

That's how it should be right? Sure...but then why do we have so many pages of rules in so many games dedicated to combat when the best part of it is coming from the players, and GMs. All a thousand combat options seems to do is slow down combat.

What's the alternative? Am I advocating we all just wing it? Should combat be purely narrative? Well, no...I don't think it works to have it be all narrative. What's to stop the PCs, or the GM from just doing whatever they want all the time. There has to be some rules, right?

I discussed this subject with a friend today, and although we didn't get to address it at length, it was interesting to note that his first words when I said, "Do you sometimes feel like combat in RPGs is..."

"Dull?" he replied.

Yeah. Dull, and sometimes tedious.

If combat is going to be such a big part of what we do, how do we make it continually interesting, without resorting to a purely narrative approach?

Any ideas?

Barking Alien