Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Brief Intermission

Probably won't be posting again until next month.

Here is a favorite Sci-Fi painting of mine to hold you over.

'The Early Williamson'
By Peter Elson, 1985

I need some time to assess my personal 'state of gaming', and figure out where I'm going from here. 

I have a ton of ideas, but I feel that I don't have the right outlet for most of them at this time.

I'll return in a week.

Clear Skies,

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Point

Are you familiar with the story of Oblio, the round-headed boy born to the Land of Point?

In the Land of Point, everyone has a point, quite literally, on the top of their heads. 

Oblio is born with a round head, and as such there is no point to him in the eyes of many. 

Eventually, due to a peculiarity of circumstance, Oblio is banished to the place where everything with no point goes...The Pointless Forest.

It is in the Pointless Forest that he encounters strange people, curious creatures, and unusual, um, points of view. He discovers that everyone, and everything, has a point of some kind, even a seemingly pointless boy like himself.


What is the point of gaming? Specifically, what is the point of table top RPG gaming?

"Why, the point is to have fun!"
-Man With Something To Say, But No Point To Make.

Thank you Man With Something To Say, But No Point To Make. Your uncanny insight, and astute observations have revealed a grand epiphany!

OK, no. They haven't. This oft heard, and oft read response is apropos of nothing.

Lots of things are fun. All hobbies are, by the sheer fact that they are partook of, fun in some capacity. That tells me nothing.

"There are as many points to gaming as people who play.
Everyone has their own point for why they play."
-Man Pointing In Every Direction At Once.

Thank you Man Pointing In Every Direction At Once. Without you I would be directionless in my attempt to seek an answer. Now I know to look everywhere. Everywhere at once. Gee, thanks.

Where would you like me to punch you? How about everywhere at once? How does that sound?

Still, hold on a moment. This pointless statement may have some truth to it after all. Perhaps it is saying we all make or have our own point as to why we game. I shouldn't look 
to another to answer my question, but rather create my own answer.

Why do I do it? What's the point for me?

I've spent much of this month in an existential quandary you see...

I love gaming. 
My favorite part of gaming is being a Gamemaster.
I've Gamemastered some good game sessions over the past year.

I am not happy with my gaming.

This past weekend I tried running one of my dream RPG game projects. It's one which I had planned out some 20+ years ago, but never got a chance to run.

I did quite a lot of prep work for it. I modified some maps, did a lot of research, put together record sheets of characters (both PC and NPC), designed some other elements (along with creating and/or modifying artwork for them), and reworked a game system to fit the setting.

It didn't go over well.

I know why, and I know that it was partially my fault. As I often do, I chose a setting with too big a buy-in, expected people unfamiliar with it to want to explore it, get to know it, and hoped that I could introduce the various elements in a slow trickle that would get them wanting to go further.

I didn't do a good job of it. I also don't really have the kinds of players I would need to make it happen. I should have known that. I should've expected as much. This isn't our first rodeo. I know how they are.

I let my excitement over the opportunity of running a setting I love overwhelm the cynical, paranoid part of my brain that should absolutely have known better.

It happens.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The point.

Why do I do what I do? Why are RPGs my favorite thing? Why aren't I watching sportsball, going to bars, or watching reality TV like the rest of the axe-wearing, alcohol swilling, slow witted masses of male humanity?

Because I won't. I can't. It isn't in my DNA.

I have to do this. I am a gamer, but even more so I'm a creative type. I went to an art high school. I've been reading, and writing Science Fiction since I was six. I have built worlds, studied technology that may never exist, and reasoned out the unreasonable nature of faerie folk. 

All I want to do is create something awesome, and share it with a group of people interested in the same things. I want to take my ideas, mix in their ideas, and tell a story. I want to have people who want to hear that story, to add to it, to see where it goes.

I am frustrated by endless second guessing, a lack of attention to what is being presented, presumptions instead of discoveries, and experiences. I miss making something my players love receiving, and that I loved making for them. I want to see the looks on their faces when they realize I've incorporated their own ideas into something I used to surprise them.

I...the point. What is the point?


The point is I once had Nirvana. Shangri-La. I once created works of art, with the help of other artists, who appreciated what I did.

I'm not sure I have that, quite that way any longer.

If I don't, and I can't make magic that will dazzle, exhilarate, and fascinate my audience...well then really...

What's the point?

Barking Alien

Friday, September 16, 2016

Lights Over A Bowl of Dust

Wednesday evening I covered for our regular Kapow! GM Keith, who runs an excellent Superhero RPG campaign over Google Hangouts. Actually, he's been doing it a good two and change years now.

Periodically I run something with the same group, usually when Keith is unavailable for some reason as was the case this time. This past week and next he is moving and so I stepped in with a planned two-parter.

Originally I had intended on running my Ghost Story RPG, 'Unfinished Business', but I decided to wait. A suggestion on a setting time and place by one of the players (Thank You Carl!) gave me a moment of Gaming Epiphany and I switched gears to another long time game idea I've always wanted to try.

Instead of a Ghost Story, I went with a UFO/Mystery/Period Piece set in the mid-1930s. The game had odd though overall effective pacing (I'll elaborate in an upcoming post) and generally went over very well. I am really happy with how it turned out.

Here's a session recap...

Act I

Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl. September 1936.

Years of drought, and dust storms have turned the great plains of America's heartland into a desert. Salt of the Earth farmers do the best they can to survive. Many abandon the state, and head west to California. President Roosevelt works to address the hardships of the struggling homesteaders as his New Deal plans seek to pull the United States out of the economic difficulties of the Great Depression.

On a lonely stretch of Route 66 between Oklahoma City, and Tulsa, Mr. and Mrs. Hildy and Archibald Dunkirk stop to fix a flat tire. Hailing from swank society Chicago, the married Reporter and Photojournalist duo have been covering the dust storms and the effect they've had on the fine people of the state of Oklahoma. Unfortunately, one such storm, a real doozy of a humdinger, is right on their heels.

Enter Deputy Sheriff Milton Stokes, out on the road looking for travelers stranded by the rough conditions. Getting reports of high winds, brush fires, and peculiar lights in the sky, Stokes comes upon the couple and tries to lend a hand.

Meanwhile, blues guitarist 'Albuquerque One-String' Simon comes upon the group. Taking the bus when he can afford a ticket, hitchhiking when he can't, he sees the people and cars ahead and tries to make a break for them before the devil of dust storm catches up to him (and them as well). He wants their aid and shelter in one of their vehicles, but he also wants to warn them just the same. Momma Simon taught her son right.

Simon is facing the storm and sees it a'coming clear as day, even though it is nearly dusk and the muted hues of land and sky make it all bleed together on the horizon.

Deputy Stokes and the Dunkirks realize trouble is truly brewing when the wind picks up out of nowhere, roaring to life, and drowning out all other sounds. Stokes runs to his car to report back on his location and that he's trying to aid some folks, but after a few moments he loses the conversation to static. The sky grows darker and the headlights of his car flicker. The Dunkirks' own car radio gets louder, then inaudible, then back to normal in a blink. At normal decibels it is completely drowned out in the din of the wind.

Albuquerque is getting close, so he shouts as loud as he can, but they just can't hear him. He waves his arms frantically and Hildy sees him in her car's rear view mirror. Taking off her reporter's hat, she dons a scarf, or kerchief, and long gloves, then rushes out to help the poor fellow. Archie sees her and knows he must go to his wife's aid (or he'll simply never hear the end of it)! Stokes focuses on finishing fixing the tire. When he's done he runs over to see the rest of them have formed a Human chain, attempting to pull Simon towards the police car.

Just then, a low flying plane, like a crop duster, sails just over Stokes' head. He can see some sort of light coming from underneath it. He can not hear it at all. Even with the rolling thunder of the wind, the plane seems quieter than a church mouse.

Stokes grabs the bumper of his car with one hand and Archie Dunkirk's arm with the other. Archie grabs Hildy. Hildy grabs Simon. Simon holds on to his guitar for dear, dear life! The Storm Arrives! Everyone is pelted in the back (Simon in the face) with sand, grit, dust, and debris. As the mysterious aircraft flies overhead, Stokes catches sight of another object some fifty feet up in the rapidly darkening evening. It looks like a ball of orange fire...

The storm is caught by a terrible cross wind and what seemed like it couldn't get worse, does. A wide tornado of gravel, dust, and dry grass forms around the group. For a brief moment - the blink of an eye - the beat of a heart - the group seems buffeted by wind, but relatively safe in the eye of the whirlwind.

Just as suddenly as it formed, the massive dust devil POPS! A thunderously loud explosion overhead breaks up the dust storm, slamming all the people on site to the ground, flat on their backs, with such force that they are all knocked unconscious...

End of Act I

Our players and characters are...

Hildegard 'Hildy' Dunkirk, Mrs. - Reporter, The Chicago Eagle - Chicago, IL (played by Melinda S.)

A spunky, good girl with a heart of gold and a bank account to match, Hildy Dunkirik has the epitome of both a 'high society debutante' and a spirited, big city reporter. 

'Roughing it' in the rural wastelands of depression era Oklahoma, she nonetheless strives to tell the honest, Human side of the the Dust Bowl's situation. 

Archibald 'Archie' Dunkirk, Mr. - Photographer/Photojournalist, The Chicago Eagle - Chicago, IL (played by Stephen H.)

Likewise born with a silver spoon in his mouth (but one not as shiny as Hildy's), Archie Dunkirk has been given the opportunity to pursue his interest in photography. With a brave demeanor and a talented eye, Archie has managed to become well known and respected back in Chicago for his gripping photos that powerfully depict the plight of the common folk.

Archie is bit of a klutz with any machinery or equipment other than his trusty camera and photography gear. Nobody's perfect.

Simon 'Albuquerque One-String' Simon - Blues/Jazz Musician - Albuquerque, NM
 (played by Carl E.)

Born and raised in Albuquerque, NM, Simon Simon (Momma was a good woman but none too creative) grew up poor and largely uneducated. A self-taught guitarist with a second hand guitar, One-String Simon made money doing odd jobs and playing in dive cafes and on the street. 

One day, Albuquerque received a letter from a famous musician in St. Louis asking him to join his band for a spell with the possibility of hiring Simon full time. The musician had heard Albuquerque play while passing through One-String's home town. The fellow was the leader of a blues band of some notoriety and Albuquerque knew this was the opportunity of a life time. 

Packing up all he had (which was basically his hat, his guitar, and his one good suit), Simon alternated between bus, train, and hitchhiking to get where he needed to go.

Milton Stokes - Deputy Sheriff - Oklahoma City, OK (played by Mark O.)

An Oklahoma native and life long resident, Milton Stokes is an honest man doing an honest job for honest folks. He can't stomach it when folks in need go without. That's why he does what he does I reckon.

Stokes native status means he knows the people around these parts like he knows his own shadow. He's on a first name basis with all the bus drivers, the milkmen, the mailmen, the farmers, and the old lady who runs the motor lodge up around Sand Creek way. 

When strange things start happening around the area, rest assured Deputy Stokes is on the case.


A storm, dead car batteries, a midnight rescue by a bus driver and his charges, an out of the way motor lodge, strange radio signals, and a series of lights in the sky later, and this eclectic group of strangers seem to have uncovered a mystery that grows stranger and stranger as the night wears on. The Dust Bowl is empty of water, but it might very possibly be full of...something out of this world.

Barking Alien

Monday, September 12, 2016

Stranger Games

I know I've mentioned this before, but I do so love this analogy...

My friend Dave used to say, "Adam, you run two types of games, Blockbusters, and art films. What [most] players want to play are your blockbusters. What you really want to run, are your art films."

This is so true.

The urge to run something more than a little off the beaten path has been very powerful of late, but I'm not sure I have the audience for it. The players in both my current in-person groups have certain preconceived notions, and down right hang-ups that make running the ideas I am presently wrestling with a bit more problematic than I would like. 

Truth is, I don't want it to be problematic at all.

I can't help feeling that I have some awesome game ideas that may never get the chance to see the table. This is a phenomena I am not used to (well, I am getting more used to it). I don't like it. It irks me. That's right, irks. 

Maybe my online group? *

Did any of you see Stranger Things? It really inspired me. It reminded me of ideas I've shelved that were originally intended for my NJ group, or an older variant of my NY group that I no longer have access to...exactly. More on that in a bit.

Basically, I am in the mood for...

A variety of recent TV shows, books, and other things have me chomping at the bit to run some oddball games that I know, I Just Know, would be awesome for the right group. I might be able to pull some of them off in one of my current groups, or the other, but I don't really feel confident that they'd go over well. Running a game just to run it has never been my thing. If everyone isn't going to buy into it, and love it as much as I do, well really, what's the point?

Here are some of my thoughts...

I have several subjects over which I routinely obsess. Among the ones at the forefront of my thinking right now are UFOs and Aliens, Ghosts, and Faerie FolkloreI.

UFOs and Aliens:

I'm envisioning a game that merges elements of Attack the Block, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Men in Black, and Stranger Things.

The players play Middle School aged kids who uncover, and become mixed up in, some kind of mass UFO siting situation that somehow involves what appears to be a shadowy government organization. 

I have some interesting ideas on how to make use of 70s, and 80s Sci-Fi movie tropes, and also how to flip some of them

No title for this yet, although I was considering 'Watch The Skies'. The system who have to be something really simple, and flexible. Possibly Ghost/Echo, InSpectres, or Powered by the Apocalypse. Likely some kind of homebrew kitbash of these.


While I should probably wait until October (Halloween Season), I'm going to try and test drive my long labored upon Ghost Story RPG, Unfinished Business. I think I finally have a system that works. It's very simple, based on the free, indie RPG Doom & Cookies. 

The premise, as noted in past posts on the subject, is that you play a ghost. You're dead. The object/goal of the adventure is to move on to whatever comes next. The problem is, for some reason you're stuck here on the mortal plane, though barely able to effect is. 

Through role-playing and resource management, you attempt to accomplish something that will let you go to your just reward. Maybe you need the new homeowners to find your comic book collection, and note on where to donate it that hidden in the basement. Perhaps the want your daughter to know you approve of her choice of husband after all. Whatever is holding you here, whatever tragedy, disappointment, concern, etc., needs to be rectified so you can properly shuffle off this mortal coil.

In addition to wanting to create a game where you get to play a ghost haunting the living, the game was inspired by the concept that in most games you create a character, and try to keep them alive so you can keep playing them. Unfinished Business starts with you being dead. The purpose of play to reach a point where you can stop playing your character, and remove them from the game.

*As it turns out, the opportunity to run Unfinished Business is here quicker than I expected. I will be filling in for our Wednesday night online game GM for two sessions, and I've decided to run my ghost story game. Wish me luck!

Faerie Folklore:

I'm currently using Ars Magica 3rd Edition to run a game set in my D&D-But-Not universe of Aerth. It's fun, but I find myself drifting away from the Superheroic angle of it, and more towards Ars Magica proper.

Why? Recent things I've read, and watched, including Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on Netflix, a novel set in the world of Jim Henson's Dark Crystal, and other such flights of fancy (and fantasy) have me longing for magic, and myth the way I like it. That is to say, not like D&D.

More specifically I want to go back and revisit some of my sadly short lived ideas for campaigns I never quite got to work.  First, a heavily folklore influenced, Jim Henson's Storyteller inspired Ars Magica game. Next, a variation of what I once tried to do with Pendragon (probably not such a bright idea based on the last experience). Third, a tragically too short Faery's Tale Deluxe campaign I started, but never got to continue.

On a related note, I am going to write a post very soon about Magic in Fantasy that is going to hurt your head, and burn your eyes if you are of the Dungeons and Dragons/Pathfinder persuasion. Just a friendly warning. 

Do view it won't you. Heheheh.

Well, that's about that for now. I will probably be talking about some of these ideas again, and with any luck it will be because I am running on of them. 
Until next time,

Heh-heh. Got carried away,


Barking Alien

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Surely, The Best of Times

Star Trek is 50 years young today.

Star Trek, arguably the world's longest running, and most well known Science Fiction property first aired on American television on this day in 1966.

Star Trek is roughly three years older than I am. With all its nicks, and dents, its bumps, and bruises, it remains my all time favorite universe to watch, to dream about, and to game in. 

I am, and always will be, your friend Star Trek.

Live Long, and Prosper, and here's to another 50 years.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Idea Glut

I've not been able to post of late, though not for lack of something to say.

Instead, quite the opposite is true.

I have a number of ideas, indeed too many to easily organize it seems. Too many thoughts to pick out one over another with any confidence that it is the best one to address first.

It all becomes a jumble then you see. A battle of concepts vying for attention.

I have started several posts, and they all wait patiently in the queue.

Which will I finish first? I have no clue. I simply wish to finish one before, as has been the case so far, I start two more.


Too much creativity is as painfully frustrating as not enough.

Perhaps more so.

Barking Alien

Friday, September 2, 2016

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Post Mortem

The RPGaDay Challenge for 2016 is over, and I actually  managed to complete it.

I'm as stunned as you are. Maybe more so.

I think the questions this year were better than those of the previous for the most part, but I also think there were some flops, and missed opportunities.

General Observations:

Some questions relate to being a player, some to being a Gamemaster, and some are unclear and open to interpretation. That's fine, and probably a good idea, but it often leaves me feeling like I am reaching when trying to answer the player oriented ones. I just don't play as much as I GM, and certainly haven't in the past.

I almost wish there were player question, GM questions, and a set of meta 'gamer' questions. I know that's not realistic, but it's how I feel.

Some questions feel like they could've been lumped together. They come off as a bit redundant. The ideal game room (#30), where would you game if you could game anyway (#29), and the most unusual situation or location you've gamed in (#27) seem like they could've been reworded and made into one question.

Likewise other questions could use specifics, and elaborations (or definitions). Question #15 is one much maligned by me. It asks for 'your best source of inspiration for RPGs'. All RPGs? One source for everything? I would prefer something like, 'What is your favorite source of inspiration for your favorite game', or something along those lines.

Good Vibrations:

It is my personal feeling that what is informative, and enjoyable about these types of questionnaire challenges is learning what your fellow GMs think about various elements of the hobby, and sometimes learning something about you yourself in the process.

For me, only Question #31 really did that. Some of the other came close, but that's the only one that made me look at my own way of doing things, compare it around to other responders, and then stop to think about it.

More of this kind of thing would be great. This is what the RPGaDay Challenge needs more of IMHO.

Great Expectations: 

What I'd like to see in the future are questions with a wider range of subjects, and an attempt to reach the reason behind the answer.

When we develop questions for the kids at the tutoring center where I work, we don't just ask, "Did you like this story?", or "Do you think Tammy was right to bring her dog to the vet right away?". We follow that up with, "Why, or why not?" 

Some questions I'd like to see asked, and the way I'd like them to be worded would be:

What is your favorite game to run, or play? Are they the same game? What makes it your favorite?

Have you ever created a game based on an IP that doesn't have an official game? What made you want to game in that IP? Why do you think it's never been officially licensed?

What do you feel is the most difficult genre to run? Why?

If you could be guaranteed a group that would be absolutely into the idea, what game would you run right now?

Questions like that are far more interesting to me than what kind of game room would you build, or whether you like hardcovers, softcovers, nuts, raisins, or plain oatmeal. 

Well, that's all there is about that.

See you next year!

Barking Alien