Saturday, June 17, 2017

Into The Sea, You and Me

I'm running a fill in game for our Wednesday night Google Hangouts group next week.

As we prepare for our big, upcoming Marvel/DC Crossover mini-campaign, our regular GM Keith has asked for a short break to re-familiarize himself with Marvel Heroic.

Since I expressed an interest in running Anime/Manga style Giant Robots in the recent past, and others in the group have expressed interest in trying out the genre, I am to take this opportunity to run a story I've been thinking about for a while...

Gundiver is a Mobile Suit Gundam 'Side Story' set during the original series 'One Year War', in which the Earth Federation Forces develop an undersea operations Mobile Suit in an attempt to counter the superior aquatic mecha of the enemy Zeon Navy. 

Having developed the Mobile Suit first, the forces of the Grand Duchy of Zeon have a head start in the arms race to build the better giant, humanoid machines. While the armies and navies of UN SPACY (the NATO of the United Earth) have a mere half dozen robot designs that they customize and adapt for various missions, the Zeons have numerous mechs specially designed and build for various situations. 

When fighting underwater for example, the Earth forces normally use the General Model Mobile Suit, or GM, adapted for aquatic conditions. Later, they start specifically outfitting the RAG-79, or Aqua GM, with the gear it needs right off the assembly line.

Unfortunately, by the time they do so the Zeon forces have the Gogg, the vastly improved Hygog, the Z'Gok, the Z'Gok-E, the Acguy, and the Zaku Marine Type (the mass produced counterpart to the Federation GM). 

A trio of Zaku Mariners on the hunt for Federation Forces.

Our story will begin in space, where an Earth Federation Space Forces vessel prepares to send a 'care package' to its allies on terra firma. An experimental, prototype Mobile Suit - the RAG-79-G1 'Waterproof' or Aquatic Gundam, nicknamed 'Gundiver' will be orbital dropped to a hidden rendezvous point of the coast of Brazil.

It seems Zeon Intelligence is at the top of its game however, as Zeon forces attempt to insure the thought-to-be-secret 'Gundiver' never reaches its destination...

The game will likely be run with my own, homebrew Extended Mecha system (based on the free RPG Extended Mission). There will be about six players (not including myself as GM), and the plan is for this to be the first of three sessions.

I will keep you posted.


Barking Alien

The Manhattan Project

I have decided to make some serious changes in my life.

I will be moving soon, improving my dog walking business, and doing something that means a lot to me in my 40th year in the RPG hobby.

I've decided that a major change in my life is going to be that I stop being afraid of whether, or not I will succeed, or fail, and just do a thing.

Check this out from one of my favorite illustrators, Jake Parker:

I've been wanting to produce and sell a Role Playing Game product of my own design for, well, for forever now. It seems like my Questing Beast, a goal I'm perpetually chasing, but never able to the actual achieve.

That's over. I'm doing it now. I'm working on it even as I write this. I'm making an RPG for sale through DriveThruRPG.

Originally I wanted my first game to be Unfinished Business, my long overdue Ghost Story RPG, but I think that one still needs some work, and it's very niche for a first product. 

Another idea was my [as yet unnamed] Star Trek/Space Adventure Parody game, which I've used to run Galaxy Quest, and I am currently overhauling in hopes of using it to run a game set in the universe of 'The Orville'. I may make that a later product if this first one takes off.

Lastly, I've recently been toying with another attempt at an OSR Science Fiction/Space Opera game. Operating under the title Aliens & Astrobases, this is a very tricky project for me to pull off. I like the idea of creating such a game, but I am not a fan of those kinds of games. I feel like I might be able to make something fun to play, but I'm not as thoroughly motivated. It remains an idea on the back-burner (though it's probably the one that would sell to the largest audience. Sigh).

No, the choice for my first product is clear to me now, and really should have been all along. It took my good friend Dave Cotton to point out how to do it, but there is no question that it needs to get done, as it is my best work.

As InSpectres is not a Ghostbusters game, and Starships and Spacemen is not a Star Trek game, this game I am making is in no way a revised, expanded edition of a certain RPG project I produced in March of 2011. With new original characters, a new original setting based on one of my old campaigns, and all new art work, expect a fast, and furious fountain of fun, felt, fur, and foam to come your way later this month.

Just look at the interest in it from those who don't even know what I am doing...

Four hundred and twenty-five positive responses!
Holy Heck!

I want to thank the Tabletop Role-Playing Games group on Facebook for being so supportive to a fellow gamer. I also want to thank everyone of my friends, and family for backing me up on this endeavor. 

Further announcements as we draw closer to release day.

The stage is set, and I am about to go on...

Barking Alien

Friday, June 9, 2017

Resistance Is Possible...Even Likely

A Borg Cube is on its way to Earth, and the citizens of the Federation have very mixed feelings...

It is time to address the 800 lbs. Mugato in the room ladies, and gentlemen.

Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures Role Playing Game, the first official Star Trek RPG since Decipher's, is available for pre-order. Some of the books for the game will be out as PDFs in just a few weeks according to company founder Chris Birch. 

Among the items available is a limited Collector's Edition Box Set resembling a Borg Cube. This set is listed at 395 British pounds. That's $510 American dollar. Five hundred, and ten dollars. That's...a lot.

The set will contain quite a lot of material, some of it exclusive to the set. The core book cover art is limited edition, the box contains a beautiful, Borg themed Gamemaster Screen, and it has a complete set of all the dice, a set of game tokens, all the miniatures, and everything else the game will consist of when it hits the stores. I believe there is also an Alpha and Beta Quadrant poster map, and some Adventure Tiles (although I am not sure what those are for).

If you feel that's still too much money to spend on a new game as much as you'd like to (because, you know, it is), there is a slightly smaller bundle that was announced just yesterday (in response to fans, and potential customers expressing the opinion that the price of the Collector's Edition Borg Cube Box Set is too high). This alternative Borg Drone Bundle contains everything the Collector's Set does except for the miniatures, their are fewer dice, and none of the Federation Symbol and Red Alert tokens. Do you need these for play? Well...yes...but you could certainly substitute something else. 

This game will be expensive. There is no tip-toeing around that. Very expensive. The basic core book alone is going to be about $60 bucks. Sixty dollars. If I were to purchase that, and the first two or three supplements in physical book form (each estimated at $40 based on the first adventure collection book 'These Are The Voyages') - Great Bird of the Galaxy! That'd have to be around $140! That is simply too much money for me. I can't justify that kind of spending. 

In addition, I've playtested the game and its only OK. Not great. It isn't a bad game, but it's not for me. Like many games it has a fine core mechanic and then it over burdens it with unnecessary subsystems that complicate things with little benefit that I can see. The subsystems are also (personally) aesthetically bothersome. It's like a simple dish, fine on it's own, buried in garnish and sauces. It becomes not just unneeded, but also unappetizing. 

Lastly, I've been gaming in the Star Trek universe since 1982 with FASA. This game doesn't surpass that game, nor Last Unicorn's ICON System, which I feel is the best Star Trek game ever made. If what you are offering isn't better than what I am already using, why switch?

In the end, I plan on getting a physical copy of the core rulebook for my collection, and possibly the upcoming Command, Sciences, and Operations Division books on PDF for ideas and source material. Beyond that...I just can't see myself getting into it.

What's your opinion?

Barking Alien

Monday, June 5, 2017

Lacking Subtlety

Games, generally speaking, are not subtle. 

What do I mean?

Well, I had a conversation with my pal Dave about this a few days ago and I came to the conclusion that most games lack subtlety. Their settings, premises, and how the various elements of those things are introduced to the players/PCs is often over-the-top, blatant, and even crude.

Everything is Extreme!, like the music videos of the eighties. Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, RIFTS, and Shadowrun are perhaps the most obvious examples of this idea. The art contributes to this to a large degree but also the commonality of the elements within:. Spells and Magic are everywhere, monsters are species that appear in large groups, there are towering, skyscraper-like castles, and fantastically fashionably dressed characters abound.

I've noted in the past that this is one of the key reasons D&D and the likes of it don't appeal to me. It isn't really very medieval. The bizarre, and glowingly arcane is so common place as to feel mundane. Every evil wizard, and dreadful monster is so much bigger, and more eccentric than the last that none of it seems special. There is no grounding in reality to judge the fabulous against.

I prefer subtlety. I like worlds that seem essentially real, basically normal, until you realize they are not, but at first can't put your finger squarely on why. As the wonder, and weirdness is revealed over time, you begin to have a new appreciation for not only that which is strange, but also for the comfort of the world you thought you knew. 

This works better in some genres than others, though many games with similar genres, or even the same genres, can be approached subtly as easily as they can be flagrant, and unabashed.

To illustrate what I mean, let's look at the World of Darkness.

Traditionally, Vampire: The Masquerade is subtle. The world of the Vampires remains in the shadows. The people of the world are not aware a secret war of blood-drinkers in being waged just outside the edge of their vision. Battles between members of The Kindred are stealthy, secretive affairs.

Werewolf: The Apocalypse however often seems over-the-top and obvious. No, the world is no more aware of the Werewolves then they are of the Vampires but the powers in the game, the way battles are fought, and such makes the supernatural parts of the setting seem very apparent. Werewolf campaigns commonly end up feeling like Superhero games more often than not.

Vampires are quiet, hidden, and stealthy. Werewolves are loud, brutal, and right in your face. That's the point right? I suppose...

Marvel and DC aren't subtle. HEROES is. Often Superhero games aren't subtle, like ICONS, Champions, and of course Marvel and DC related ones. Aberrant isn't really subtle either. GODLIKE? Hmmm. Perhaps.

How about in Science Fiction? Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Traveller are not generally subtle. Cyberpunk could be, but often isn't. Hmmm. SF is tough. One might consider the film Interstellar subtle, maybe Blade Runner (at least partially) or perhaps 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a subtle SF RPG?...hard pressed to think of one. 

Now I don't want to give the impressive I don't like the flashy imposing set pieces or crazy action of a mainstream blockbuster every once in a while. I absolutely do! I just wish we saw a bit more of the other approach in table top games. Right now Tales from the Loop is the best example of what I am thinking of, though even its default setting is a bit more transparent and less subtle than I'd like (as I posted last month, I would run it a bit differently than the book implies).

What about you? Do you think there is a place for subtle gaming? What settings do you feel come off as subtle? Is there a subtle Fantasy game?*

Barking Alien

*I think maybe Ars Magica could be considered subtle, depending on how you look at it. Any others?

Where Am I Now?

I realize I have a number of unfinished post series' on the blog, and I apologize to my readership for leaving them incomplete [so far]. I do mean to get back to all of them, but my thoughts don't always march out of my head in a straight line.

The Paradise Fleet series of Campaigns I Have Known posts, and the Champions: Age of Chaos series of Campaigns I Have Played will both be completed before August, I can promise you that. 

Additionally, I'd still like to write one or two additional posts on my Pokemon RPG idea, though I can not say exactly when I'll get around to that. Hopefully I can get those out before August as well, but I can't guarantee it.

This post is designed to get the ball rolling for the month of June. I have quiet a bit I want to discuss this month, but I felt I needed a 'State of Gaming'-type post to get things started after my short hiatus.

The total view number of views for this blog in May exceeded 13,000, which is decent for Barking Alien. It surpassed both April (around 11,000), and March (around 12,000). There were only 10 posts in March, 6 in April, and 7 in May. I personally felt that some of the posts over this three month period were very good. Comments and +1s to Google Plus seem to confirm that many others agree. 

As I draw closer to my 40th Anniversary in the gaming hobby, I figured it was time to take stock of what I am currently doing, and what is in the immediate future...

What I Am Running

I am currently running a Champions campaign with sessions run every other week (twice a month essentially) on Friday nights. I am looking forward to finishing it. It's been an OK game, but I haven't really been inspired, and as it goes on it feels more, and more like a chore. I should be about to sum it up next session (two weeks from now).

I am also running a monthly Traveller campaign focused on deep space exploration, with my 'main group'. We had the first session a week or so ago, it went OK, but I'm not really feeling the buzz I wish I was. Not sure why. Hopefully it'll pick up, and I'll get more into it.

What I Am Playing

When not running Champions with my Friday night group, I am playing in a Hogwarts/Wizarding World game with my Friday night group. It's run by my friend Alex. The game uses a variation on the Apocalypse World/Powered by the Apocalypse rules. It's good - really, really good - translated from Adam-ese that's high praise indeed. One week Hogwarts, next week Champions, rinse, repeat.

I am also still playing in a weekly online, Google Hangouts Superhero campaign using the rules lite system called Kapow! It's been about 2 and 1/2 years now, and crazy thing, we're still having fun. In fact, the last two sessions were a lot of fun. There was a real sense of urgency, heroism, and teamwork. It was a Superhero game session where we actually felt like superheroes. Loved it.

What's On The Horizon

As I noted, my Champions game should be ending in the next session, or two. After that...who knows. I am not really sure where to go with my Friday group. Theirs are an eclectic mix of interests, opinions, and approaches. Finding a games that works for everyone isn't easy. Still, I'm sure I'll think of something.

As for my online group, we are going to take a break from our regular campaign in a few weeks and run some interesting short campaigns for the Summer. First, I will be taking over the GM reins briefly to run a Giant Robot game. I am thinking of using either original, 1st Edition Mekton or my homebrew Extended Mecha system to run a Mobile Suit Gundam series. A few sessions at most of war, tragedy, and heartbreak should be an great palette cleanser.

This will be followed by an idea our regular GM Keith and I came up with that I think will be awesome. Keith will run a few sessions of Marvel Heroic, set in the Marvel Universe. He hasn't been able to fully grok that system, but really wants to. We compared notes, and now he wants to give it the old college try. Xavier's Institute offers college courses, right? Following that, I will run a few sessions set in the DC Universe using Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition's DC Adventures RPG. It'll all come to an epic climax when a GM (TBA) runs Kapow! (our regular game) featuring characters from the Marvel and DC games.

Ultimate Superhero Crossover Action!

Marvel Characters in the Marvel Universe, using Marvel Heroic
DC Characters in the DC Universe, using DC Adventures/M&M 3E
Marvel and DC Character in a Crossover Universe using Kapow!


Finally, my friend Dave Cotton is back in action after nearly two years. I am really looking forward to getting a game together with him, and the mix of old crew players I've talked about in the past (two of my NJ friends, and one friend from high school). More may be added. I have the perfect idea for that campaign...but I am not ready to reveal it yet.

Soon. Soon.

Other Projects

I am looking to e-publish one, or more RPG games through DriveThruRPG later this summer. It is my sincerest hope to finally finish Unfinished Business, as well as a Sci-Fi/Space Adventure Comedy game idea. 

Wish me luck, stay tuned, and have a great summer!

Barking Alien