Friday, May 26, 2017

Thorough Thursdays : CYBERPUNK

This Thorough Thursdays entry was supposed to have gone out yesterday, but I came down with a terrible cold, and forgot to publish it. Gomen nasai!

Prior to this post, I have only tagged three posts with the label Cyberpunk.

Those posts refer to the Cyberpunk 2013/2020 Role Playing Game by R. Talsorian Games and the genre as a whole respectively.

Three posts labeled Cyberpunk by a Science Fiction fan who loves the concepts of artificial intelligence, robots, and Anime/Manga.

That's just wrong.

I first discovered the term Cyberpunk through my uncle, a brilliant fellow and an avid reader of Science Fiction. He was especially interested in SF works that address changes in Human nature, culture, and thought brought upon us by advancements in technology.

After reading a number of novels in the genre he recommended them to me, namely Hardwired and Voice of the Whirlwind by Walter Jon Williams, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson, and Blood Music by Greg Bear.

I became quite a fan myself, and since I am influenced as much by cinema as literary works, I became further inspired by the film Blade Runner, and the often underrated TV series Max Headroom.

This all lead me to the R. Talsorian Games RPG Cyberpunk 2013, and its follow up, Cyberpunk 2020. I ran a lot of 2020, often altering it a bit to reflect more of a Blade Runner setting and feel. I also tried my hand at Shadowrun, 2300 AD, and other games with significant Cyberpunk elements.

Around 1990 I discovered the Japanese RPG Metal Head, a Cyberpunk RPG that also included space travel, mecha, and other elements that really appealed to me. I ran a few games of that as well.

Many of my Traveller campaigns contain heavy Cyberpunk influences in the way technology and corporate culture interact with the people of Charted Space and the Third Galactic Imperium. . 

Cyberpunk is a strange genre. It really should be jarring, thought provoking social commentary and sometimes it is, but it is just as easily an excuse for technology-porn, and non-stop action.

How many Cyberpunk stories have cybernetics? Most, if not virtually (pun intended) all.

How many Cyberpunk stories feature 'punk'? Not many.

Punk is traditionally a social movement born out of the frustration and angst of the working class. It bucks tradition, corporate culture, and celebrates freedom, non-conformity, and the establishment through acts of counter-culture rebellion.

Does Cyberpunk actually do that?

As noted, sometimes it does, but other times the main characters of Cyberpunk stories end up working with, or at the very least within, the confines of the established authories to take down other interests who aren't all that different in the grander scheme of things. For example, Major Motoko Kusanagi of Ghost in the Shell isn't some punk rebel trying to stick it to the man, but rather a kind of police officer - She is the man! know what I mean.

Wouldn't a true Cyberpunk hero, or heroine have no cybernetics, avoid the 'net', and try to dismantle the oppressive culture of megacorporate government control? Are Shadowrunners really Cyberpunk if they go on runs for one megacorporate patron against another? That's just facilitating the situation, not rebelling against it, which is the real definition of punk. 

For a time it seemed that Cyberpunk in the classic sense had fallen out of favor. Real world scientific advancements had shown that biological, not mechanical, improvements were the logical next step. Also, things stated to look less dystopian, and an oppressive corporate culture less likely to prevail. 

Now, things have swung back the other way. Between the current world political and social climates darkening yet again, and improvements in the fields of prosthetics and virtual reality, the outlook for our future seems more Cyberpunk then ever. Is it just a coincidence that Blade Runner is getting a sequel now, and they finally put together a live action Ghost in the Shell film (crappy and poorly handled as it was)?

Recently Age of Ravens started a Cyberpunk retrospective of sorts as part of his History of RPGs series. One of the podcasts he's involved with, Play on Target, released a recent episode covering Cyberpunk gaming as well. Check them out won't you?

In the end, I am going to say I am a fan of Cyberpunk, especially its presentation in games, Anime/Manga, movies, and television. At the same time, I see it in a fashion similar to how I see Fantasy. It's a guilty pleasure for me this genre, since I don't feel like most of the Cyberpunk we see is truly what Cyberpunk is, or what it could be. The Cyberpunk we get is over-the-top, sensationalized Cyberpunk, and that's the opposite of what Cyberpunk should be.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Barking Alien

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Happy Birthday Star Wars!

Walking in the rain so often recently I suppose it was inevitable that I'd eventually catch a cold, and so I have. Nevertheless, that shouldn't stop me from commemorating this most special of days (following immediately after by taking NyQuil and going right to sleep...hopefully).

Today we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the release of Star Wars, the first film in the blockbuster franchise known today as Episode IV: A New Hope.

Here is my opening day Star Wars story...

...or...ya'know, 40 years ago in Brooklyn, New York...

On Tuesday, May 24th, 1977, at the age of 8, I went with my Mom, and younger sister into Blondie's, a Luncheonette in Brooklyn not far from our apartment building. I saw on the racks of magazines a comic book from Marvel called 'Star Wars'.

My Mom bought it for me, and later that day she surprised me by telling me that Star Wars was a new motion picture coming out the next day, and that we (my immediate family) were all going to go see it.

On May 25th my father drove us to the Nostrand Theater, the movie theater managed by my grandfather, whom we called 'Pop'. The lot of us consisted of my Mom, my Dad, my sister (only three at the time), my Grandma, and myself. 

The lights dimmed. The film began. The music swelled. My mind was blown.

After the movie my father (a police officer) went off to work. My mother, grandmother, and sister were going clothing, and household shopping and planned to take me along.

"Can I stay at the theater today and help Pop?" I asked (OK pleaded). 

There was some mild protesting - Pop would be too busy to watch me, and I was only 8. 

"Oh let the kid stay," Pop replied, "he can sweep up, help the ushers, and even help out at the concession stand."

Honestly, I loved doing that. Whenever my grandparents babysat I always hoped I would get dropped off at whichever theater Pop was managing so I could pretend I worked there.

My Mom said it was OK, and I immediately went to help clean up the theater before the next showing. After sweeping up, I assisted people to their seats (remember when ushers did that?). Afterwards, I asked the lady at the concession stand (who knew who I was) if I could have some popcorn, and she gladly gave me a medium. I thanked her, and headed right back in the theater.

I watched the film again. I repeated this entire process three more times. Yep, you read that correctly. I saw Star Wars five times on its opening day. For free.

One of my favorite memories, and the start of a long standing love affair with that galaxy long ago, and far, far away. 

Happy Birthday Star Wars!!!

May The Force Be With You All!

Barking Alien

Monday, May 22, 2017

Space Is The Place

It seems like the idea of a television show featuring a starship exploring outer space and battling evil is a fairly popular concept. Why, just last week there were two trailers for two different programs with this very same idea.

The first trailer was for the FOX Television Science Fiction Comedy-Drama The Orville. I liked that a lot. It really had that classic Star Trek feel, and a look that merged Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Galaxy Quest. I think The Orville has a lot of potential.

Now the second trailer is for a new series that should be familiar to many of you...

Star Trek: Discovery is the newest television series - the sixth - in the long standing Science Fiction franchise that has been my favorite example of Silver Age Space Opera since I was a wee lad. Anyone who knows me, or who visits this blog knows how much I adore Star Trek. That said...

Star Trek: Discovery looks good. I mean, its production values are top notch, and it has some really good actors attached to it. The camera work is more 'movie cinematic' than is typical of modern television, and lens flares aside it has great lighting. Very atmospheric. 

Sadly, if the best things I can say about an upcoming Star Trek project are that is has good camera angles and decent lighting, that's kind of unfortunate. Star Trek: Discovery didn't grab me. It didn't excite, or interest me overly much. 

The setting is supposed to be 10 years prior to Kirk, Spock, and the Constitution Class Enterprise, but it definitely doesn't look it. The starship exteriors, interiors, and pretty much everything looked too advanced. Isn't Captain Pike out there somewhere, with Spock as his Science Officer and 'Number One' as his First Officer? Isn't the Enterprise the state-of-the-art vessel of the time period? What the heck?

Also, are those Klingons? They are? What the heck? Why change their appearance yet again, and have it look so...not like Klingons. What is the purpose? Does CBS not understand that Star Trek is something beloved, and familiar to a lot of people?

The main issue however is that it didn't look special outside of the cinematic way it was presented. The uniforms*, the aliens, everything just looked generic. It could be any Sci-Fi universe if it wasn't for the title, and the arrowhead emblems (which shouldn't be there at this point in Star Trek's fictional history).

"Now hold on Adam", you might be saying, "Orville looks that way too."

True, but I would remind you Orville is a parody. Orville is trying to emulate Star Trek. At the same time it looks more like Star Trek than ST:D does (what an unfortunate abbreviation). Also, the more I look at The Orville the more I see the originality and attention to detail in it. For example, note that the uniforms feature four different division colors, and their insignia badges have different designs. 

I am griping a bit, but understand it's only because I love Star Trek so much. I think it deserves to look and feel better than a parody of itself. While I am happy, and thankful that we are getting more Star Trek on TV, we the fans have to pay for the show. If you want to be able to watch the first season of Discovery, you'll have to get CBS's All Access network. That doesn't feel right. It seems almost 'Anti-Federation'. 

In conclusion, my fingers are crossed that it will be good, but I am not holding my breath. I hope to be pleasantly surprised. Star Trek: Discovery's trailer doesn't have me hyped to run a Star Trek game though. The Orville's trailer on the other hand does, parody, or not.

Barking Alien

*The uniforms...I really don't like them. I am not sure why, but I am not into them at all. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Slippin', Slippin', Slippin' Into The Future

Yesterday FOX Television released a trailer for a new Science Fiction Comedy-Drama created by, and starring Seth MacFarlane. It's called The Orville, named for the Planetary Union exploratory starship whose crew is the focus of the series.

Take a look.

Is it wrong that I'm already working out the game mechanics and adventure ideas for an 'Orville' campaign? 

No. No it is not. Before I get into that...

I'm pretty impressed with what I am seeing. Although I'm not a huge fan of MacFarlane's, I enjoyed the early seasons of Family Guy, and American Dad, and I found the humor in the trailer to work for him - and for me - even if it isn't lose-your-breath hilarious.

What was far more intriguing was the universe they are putting together - a definite parody/homage to Star Trek, but getting right a lot of the Space Opera tropes the recent efforts have gotten wrong.

This looks fun, features neat looking tech, cool spaceships, and interesting, genre appropriate aliens (including a gelatinous crewmember, and a weird, water dwelling, Muppet snake-worm-thing - haven't seen that in Star Trek). I like that the female alien security chief has seriously formidable super strength, and that the big alien Bortus is shown in command of the ship during a space battle at some point. Add in a robot crewmember who looks classic 60s-70s Sci-Fi robotic, and I'm totally sold.

Now back to gaming it...

My very first thoughts after seeing the trailer were, 'How best could I run this as a game?', and 'What system says, 'The Orville'?

Obviously I could simply adapt an existing game such as Starships & Spacemen (which this show basically is), the recently released Retrostar (that'd be neat), or even my old homebrew Galaxy Quest RPG.

At the same time, I'm getting a vibe off the show that a better approach might be a hybrid. It seems like it has funny characters, but a fairly serious premise. I am looking at something crunchier, and more serious than my Galaxy Quest rules, but at the same time lighter, and more - I don't know, 'wacky' maybe - than Starships & Spacemen.

I have some ideas rolling around in my head already. I'll develop them a little further, and see where it takes me. If anything pans out, I'll share them with you guys. If you have any ideas, please pass them on to me.

Looking forward to the adventures of the USS Orville, and whatever they inspire.

Barking Alien

Monday, May 15, 2017


It's been a while since I was really excited about a published RPG.

I've looked forward to things that were lackluster upon release, just weren't what I thought they'd be, or that never ended up coming out at all. As noted on the blog several times, especially here, I not only have enough games in my collection to last me a lifetime, I also tend to go back to the same five, or six games again and again and don't need new ones to do what I like to do.

At the same time, I like trying new games. That's a thing with me, and it always has been. I like discovering a new approach to the craft, or being inspired by a new take on things. 

Periodically I will hear about a new game coming out, get interested, do some research, and more often than not take a look at a friends copy. What I mean is, my excitement wanes and I don't feel driven to buy it when it comes out. Sometimes I do, but it is very rare these days.

However...I just found one that I really like. Maybe even love. I'm talking about...

Inspired by the art book of the same name by Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag, Tales from the Loop is an RPG set in an alternate history 1980s.

In addition to catching the thrilling adventures of Knight Rider, and the A-Team on television, listening to the music of Bonnie Tyler and Culture Club, and going to the movies to see The Breakfast Club, or Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, you can watch industrial robots, flying cargo haulers, and ominous towers pass by as you bike home with your friends.

The premise is that The Loop, a massive particle accelerator first built in the 1950s, and active recently has caused weird machines and strange occurrences to happen around your otherwise normal suburban home town. You play kids, between 10 and 15, who investigate the odd goings on and try to unravel the mysteries behind them. 

The setting that comes with the game postulates the creation of one such Loop on islands just offshore of Stockholm, Sweden, and another not far from Boulder City, Colorado and the Hoover Dam in the US.

The feeling evoked by the game's concepts are reminiscent of films like E.T., The Goonies, Flight of the Navigator, Back to the Future, and the recent Netflix phenomenon Stranger Things. 

Perhaps it should be...

I think the game is brilliant, with an easy to understand and play set of rules, and an intriguing premise. I have a plethora of ideas for running it, but I would definitely change some things.

I am not a fan of the alternate history where advanced technology openly exists along side analog devices like the walkman, and the Sega Master System. That just doesn't make a lot of sense, and more importantly it doesn't fit the genre.

In all the cases I mentioned above - The Goonies, Stranger Things, etc. - the world is normal, without any fantastical elements prior to the situation that arises. It is the very fact that the world perceived by the characters and the audience matches the real world that makes the events that take place in the story so extraordinary.

I would set my game(s) in a world with the only amazing thing being that some government, or independent scientific research foundation/corporation has built a super collider near the PCs' home town. After the particle collider is tested, strange events start happening, and fantastic elements are introduced to the world. Also, when I say the world, I am really talking about the immediate vicinity of the Loop, and the PC's town. 

I am also thinking of moving the central location to somewhere in the North Eastern United States. Why? Well, simply put, I know it better. Stalenhag obviously based his book on the suburban region of Sweden where he grew up. I would probably go with the suburban/rural areas of Upstate New York where my father lived during the 80s. The low mountains, the large number of rivers, and streams, area weather, the small town feel coupled with isolation in the winter - all these components are familiar to me and would be easier to convey to players than Sweden or Nevada, which are places I've never been, or haven't spent much times in [respectively].

Anyone else check this game out yet? Curious to hear what others think of it. 

Hopefully more to come on this...

Barking Alien

Monday, May 8, 2017

Saving The Galaxy...Twice

It was a very 'The-Future-By-Way-of-the-70s-and-80s'  weekend for me, and I couldn't be happier.

To begin with, I went with a bunch of my friends to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 on Friday night. It was welcome both for the camaraderie, and the fact that the majority of my day consisted of walking in a torrential downpour. A warm, dry theater full of Marvel Cinematic Universe geeks was just what the doctor ordered.

I loved the movie. Loved it. As much as the first. It was a bit more talky, and perhaps the character arc elements were handled in a somewhat heavy-handed way, but these minor flaws were expertly balanced by loads of action, humor, cool special effects, and more Easter Eggs than a church social on the third Sunday in April. 

While I have traditionally been more of a DC fan than a Marvel one as far as comics go, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the Marvel properties I was really into as a kid. I mean, a team of outer space superheroes battling alien oppression in the distant future - what's not to like?

The more modern incarnation of the Guardians, which resembles the movie team a lot more, has also been pretty good overall, and so when the Marvel Cinematic Universe decides to mix both new and old together for a film, well, they're playing my song. 

In addition to seeing the movie, I got together with some friends I don't get to game with all that often to run a one-shot of Star Frontiers.

I modified one of the classic TSR modules, Mission to Alcazzar, and ran the three players through it with a focus on fast paced, zany combat, and snappy dialogue. Seeing Guardians of the Galaxy 2 obviously influenced my approach. 

Well that's all for now, back very soon with some additional musings on Space Opera Science Fiction role playing. 

Thrusters to Maximum!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


After a bit of a hiatus we're back with a continuation of my Campaigns I Have Known recap series entitled Paradise Fleet - The Long Way Home. 

I highly recommend checking out the previous Paradise Fleet entries in order to get the full story. Essentially, Paradise Fleet is a Science Fiction/Space Opera Comedy focused on a fleet of starships, and crews formed by a special treaty between three separate, normally competing/antagonistic interstellar governments. 

The 1st Combined Operations Space Fleet (nicknamed 'Paradise Fleet') of my campaign had been hurled across the galaxy following contact with a mysterious spatial anomaly. Forced to work together in order to survive, the men, and women of the fleet fought against their own personal prejudices, and/or the bias of their companions in order to ensure the safety of the entire armada. 

The Main Story campaign featured a team of Mecha Pilots, and supporting characters doing just that, protecting the Paradise Fleet from threats within, and without, while exploring space in search of resources, allies, and a faster way home.

Then there was the Side Story...

Synopsis: Side Story

The Gaiden, or Side Story, is a common feature in the word of Japanese Manga, Anime, and video games. It features an anecdotal, or supplementary tale that runs roughly simultaneously with the events of the main story. In modern times this is often used to create a spin-off, with ancillary information that enhances the world building of the setting in addition to adding new characters, technology/magic, and happenings.

That was the idea behind this campaign-within-a-campaign. A number of my friends who heard about the Main Story wanted in, but the number of players, their schedules, and such made it infeasible to add them in. Instead, we ran a separate game occurring at the same time, with the same setting, and a connected plot.

An Older Model
Corporation Alliance Escort Corvette

Our Side Story begins sometime around the third, or fourth session of the Main Story. A High Nobel Nation Destroyer/Escort leaves the fleet, intent on blazing its own path in an effort to get home. A Corporation Alliance Escort Corvette (Slightly smaller and faster than the Escort/Destroyer, but carry less offensive power) gives chase. As the CA Corvette, and its squadron of (PC) Mecha Pilots draws nearer to the renegade vessel, the squad is informed that the Destroyer is carrying an experimental super-weapon. It can not be allowed to escape.

Things escalated very quickly. The HNN ship's Commanding Officer claimed the entire transportation of the Combined Operations Space Fleet across the galaxy was a set up. According to him, it was perpetrated by an alien entity, and that the Fleet's Upper Echelon Command knew it would happen. Rather, the Upper Echelon's of each interstellar nation's government knew it would happen. It was all planned...

To what end? Why go through all that trouble? It didn't make sense.

As the Corvette's squadron tussled with the HNN Destroyer, and its Mecha Pilots - in both physical and philosophical combat, a Corporation Alliance Light Cruiser scouting far ahead of the rest of the Fleet was alerted to the situation. Placed on stand-by in case the Corvette needed back up, the Corvette's Mecha Pilots were spurred on - none of them wanted to have to call for help from the Scouts. 

Meanwhile, there was a clear sense that the Mecha Pilots of the Corvette were considering what the Destroyer's commander had said. Was there a conspiracy here? Was the Combined Operations Space Fleet's predicament someone, or something's, conscious decision instead of an accident?

Eventually the Destroyer, and its Mecha were defeated, and captured. Unfortunately, the ship's commander escaped in a smaller craft, along with the super-weapon. The first session ended with the PC group in hot pursuit. 

Over time, various incidents turned the allegiance of the PC squadron from dedicated protectors of the Combined Operations Space Fleet to pursuers of the truth. Labelled Renegades by the COSF, the team strove to prove what had really happened to the Fleet, and why. They didn't have animosity towards the fleet, but rather a powerful desire to know what was really going on.

The campaign progressed with a hearty mix of action and intrigue [unlike the discovery/exploration theme of the Main Story]. The Renegades were sometimes seen as heroes, sometimes villains, which in all honesty confused the heck out of the the COSF's powers-that-be. Likewise, in crossovers with the Main Story characters, the two group were never sure whose side each was on.

At least twice the two teams joined forces - once to defeat the HNN Destroyer Commander, and eliminate his stolen super-weapon - another time to stop a group of alien Michians who were worshiping a negative energy being, the dark counterpart of the true architect of things - the spatial anomaly with good intentions who set the entire epic in motion.

Unlike the heroic efforts of the Main Story PCs, who in the finale of the their campaign fought to protect the Positive Entity from the Negative Entity, and its minions, the Renegades fought a small group within the COSF Upper Echelon Command who had plans to steal the power of the entities for their own purposes. 

Next...The Battle of Outer-Sight...Main Story Heroes versus Side Story Renegades.

Be There!

Barking Alien