Monday, October 30, 2017

A Matter of Trust

Some weeks ago, a friend suggested she should try Dungeons & Dragons.

She has played but a single role playing game you see, at least to my knowledge. It was a few years ago, so I may be mistaken. She could have played many times since our first, and last session together.

With myself as GM, she and a group of perhaps five others partook in a pretty epic session of the FASA Star Trek RPG. She was brilliant at it. A natural, as they say.

We managed to meet for only a meager handful of sessions. That was a few years back, and we've been trying to get together to game again ever since, but distance and conflicting schedules has made that extremely difficult (read: impossible).

I got the chance to see her again at New York Comic Con, and we discussed the possibility of staging another game. She said, half jokingly and half seriously, that perhaps she should try a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Her reasoning?

"It's like 'geek cred', no? If you're going to be a gamer, you need to play D&D at least once."

Strangely, for someone who has no great love for the game, this hit home, and made sense to me.

D&D was my first game, and I can't deny the fact that without it, without the experience of that first game, that first campaign, nothing would have followed.

That is to say, had I never played D&D, had it not existed and I hadn't played it when I did, I wouldn't be blogging this right now, I wouldn't have written, and sold my own game, I wouldn't have celebrated 40 years in the hobby this year, and I wouldn't have had all the incredible memories I've form over all these years.

My friend asked me to run a D&D game for her, and my first thought wasn't, 'Ugh. That game', or 'But Tales from the Loop is sooo much cooler' (even if it is). My first thought was, "Wow. Why me? What makes her think I'm the right guy for this honor?"

Maybe I'm the only GM she knows. Maybe I was there when she thought of it.

Maybe she trusts me. Maybe she thinks I'm good at this stuff, and she wants her experience to be good, so...

I've been mulling around fantasy ideas in the back of mind ever since. 

I'm not sure what I have in mind exactly. I see something classic, old school, to give her and the other players that participate a taste of what it was like in the 'Golden Days'. At the same time, D&D is a taste I've never quite acquired. I need to season it somehow, to make it not only palatable, but full of the kind of flavors I enjoy. How do I accomplish B, while still achieving A? That's the real trick isn't it.

I will figure it out. I want to. I have to. 

At the risk of being overly dramatic, it's a matter of honor now. A matter of trust.

Barking Alien

Monday, October 23, 2017

Return to Prosperity

I haven't been able to follow through on my plans for October.

I wanted to discuss games with a creepy, scary, or generally Halloween-y feel, but my mood this month hasn't leaned in that direction. Sadly, it has also made working on my Unfinished Business, Ghost Story RPG, a very difficult thing to work on. I'm simply not in that headspace.

Instead, I am in space...the final frontier.

USS Prosperity, NCC-1585, Ventura Class

Captain Ann Fletcher,
First Officer/Science Officer Cmdr. Solok
Chief Engineer Lt. Cmdr. Both, and Communications Officer Lt. Rhys Carr

Three years ago (in October of 2014), I started an on again, off again campaign of Original Series Star Trek using the ICON System from Last Unicorn Games entitled, 'Star Trek: Prosperity'. I ran about a dozen sessions, the final of which was in December of 2015. It was the first part of a two-part (two session) story that featured two additional players, and PCs in conjunction with my four regulars. Unfortunately, schedules changed, things got complicated, and we never got back to it. 

A week ago, I finally ran the second half of the adventure. The two players who were added to the mainstay crew would not be joining us again on a regular basis - if ever (one moved, one has a completely incompatible schedule now), so I decided to pull the trigger on that phaser and complete our tale. 

Custom Character Sheet by yours truly. 
Part 1 of 2

It went over so well, the group and I have decided to continue the exploits of the USS Prosperity into a second season as it were. 

Season Two sees the whole thing converted over to the new Star Trek Adventures 2D20 system. The more I play and run Star Trek Adventures the more I like it, though I definitely feel there are things about it I don't get. Some of the mechanics are a little cumbersome, specifically Extended Tasks, and Reputation.

Additionally, I haven't yet gotten familiar enough with it to remember what all the Talents do, or how they work. This gives me unappealing memories of games like D&D and Pathfinder with their strings of Feats that force you to refer back to the rulebooks to find the rules behind them. I hate having to refer to any books during play as it slows the game down, and I'm not a fan of charts for similar reasons. Hopefully this will change over time. 

Part 2 of 2

Right now, there are more positives than negatives, and the first session with the new system went over well with the group. As familiarity increases, so will flow improve, so I have high hopes for our ongoing efforts.

I promised the group that if for some reason this system doesn't work for us, we can go back to LUG/ICON, and I won't drop the campaign out of frustration (which I sometimes do). I like our campaign, the characters, the setting, our ship, and exploring the galaxy TOS style is exactly what I want to do right now.

Starship Record Sheet.

Any questions, comments, or anything, please feel free to hail us.

One to beam up.

Barking Alien

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fulfill Your Destiny

Space is almost unimaginably vast.

As such, there is more than ample room for the many stories we Humans dream up, and set among it's potentially infinite reaches.

While I may not like what the powers-that-be have done with my beloved Star Trek, someone out there will. Someone, heck, a lot of someones, will find it interesting, and exciting, and maybe it will inspire them to watch other Star Trek shows they haven't seen before. Maybe they will want to play a Star Trek RPG, or run one.

That's pretty cool, regardless of my personal feelings on the product itself.

Luckily, there are other options for things that will inspire me to explore distant worlds. There's The Orville of course, and, oh yeah, have you seen a little thing called...

I am so eager to run a Star Wars game it's ridiculous.

My only problem is that most of the people I know who would participate don't really want to play Star Wars. That is, they say they do, but the stories they want to tell aren't very Star Wars-y.

They're into painting the New Republic as flawed and no better than the Empire, or talking about the economic and political ramifications of a huge galactic military, or, you know, anything and everything in Star Wars that isn't Star Wars.

Personally, I'd rather focus on good vs. evil, temptation, redemption, fast vehicles, cool spaceships, starfighter battles, weird aliens, planets with a single environment, and comedy relief droids.

You know...Star Wars stuff. 

The new trailer has all that, and more than a dash of pathos as well, but it still feels very Star Wars. 

Say what you will about The Force Awakens, that is was far too derivative of the original film, A New Hope, but it got Star Wars feeling like its old self again after...*shudder*...the prequels. It had the right look, the right feel, and it reintroduced us to a Star Wars universe that felt familiar, and yet still has some new things to offer.

I am hoping this film does the same. Yes, I'd like to see a bit more originality, but honestly, not too much. I don't want to see the universe I love become a different universe that I don't. That's basically what's happened with Star Trek, and that makes me sad. If it becomes a choice between doing that, or rehashing classic tropes, please rehash away! I look forward to seeing another lightsaber duel between a black armored space knight, and a naive young hero, with some sort of Sci-Fi vista in the background. I am good with that.

Anyway, I don't have much else to say on this just yet. It's early, and the film is still two months away. I have no immediate plans to run, or play Star Wars, but its certainly on my mind and, well, you never know. 

Some other news, and notes...

This past weekend I attended New York Comic Con. I had a great time, largely because I spent it meeting up with old friends, and one new one.

The fellow on my right is Jose Viruete, a fan of this blog since 2010, who has commented on various posts here and there. Jose lives in Spain, and came to the States as part of a vacation that included attending NYCC. 

The chap on my left is my good friend Ray, a member of my gaming circles for a few years now, and mentioned  in posts off and on. 

We had a great time talking about Science Fiction, Superheroes, and RPGs, and the unique elements and differences between those in Spain, and the US (as well as a few other places). It was a wonderful conversation, and Jose is the nicest of nice guys. 

If you read this Jose, you are welcome back anytime! Next visit we'll go to lunch, and grab a beer, or something. 


As it turns out, October isn't just for Halloween anymore. No sirree! A lot of cool stuff is coming out this month, and if time allows, I will be covering, or at the very least posting some thoughts on the various releases. They include:

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency Season 2 - This awesome, very quirky show returns and I am very excited. 

Red Dwarf Series XII - Which will see the return of Norman Lovett, the original Holly, after 18 years!

Stranger Things Season 2 - Which will feature Stranger Things Season 2! I can hardly wait!

Plus, all the CW Superhero programs have started back up, and I'm looking forward to Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. Arrow is my least favorite of the shows, but last season was an improvement on the previous two, so hopefully it will get even better this time out. 

Alright, that's all for now. Catch up with you again soon.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Vulcan Eff You

After having viewed the first four episodes (giving it the same fair shake as The Orville), it is time to address the 800 lb. Mugato in the room, Star Trek: Discovery, or STD. 

Never has there been a more accurate abbreviation. 

The Vulcan hand gesture, originally thought to mean 'Live Long, and Prosper',
turns out to be the equivalent to the 20th century Earth middle finger.

It translates directly from the original Vulcan as, 'Eat Protons, and Die Suckers'.


I have been pondering what I would write regarding a Star Trek: Discovery 'review' for sometime now. With each episode, I had to tell myself, "Wait for the first four. You can't speak on it until you've seen the first four." Now that I have, I wonder why I waited. My feelings didn't change much between Episode 1 - A Vulcan Hello (the title of which makes me literally sick to my stomach), and Episode 4 - A title so long and pretentious that I am not even going to humor CBS by writing it here. 

Simply put, I don't like it. Not at all. 

I don't hate Episodes 3 and 4 as much as I do 1 and 2, which are absolutely dreadful, but I still do not like any of them. 

This disappoints me a great deal. This was their chance to make a great impression on a new generation of viewers, and recapture the loyal fan base they spurned with those terrible Abrams films. They did not accomplish the latter as far as I'm concerned, and the former remains to be seen.

I hardly know where to begin.

To me, Star Trek is about the exploration of the Human condition through the trappings of Science Fiction. Along the way, we experience exciting, Sci-Fi/Space Opera adventures, futuristic technology, interesting characters, intriguing aliens, and visit cool planets/locations.

This show is not Star Trek. It has none of these things.

We are exploring the same condition again, and again. War.

DS9 explored Humans, and their allies in the Federation at War. The movies addressed the subject several times. Battlestar Galactica, old and new, Babylon 5, and far, far too many other TV Sci-Fi shows take a look at it. 

I am tired of war. I am so f*^#ing tired of it. I am particularly tired of it in universes as vast and advanced as this one. Move on. Evolve. There is more to life than death and killing. So limited in scope, so one dimensional. 

Exciting Space Opera adventures? Maybe. Not in the first two episodes. Only war, death, a poorly executed Prime Directive reference in the very beginning. Just...ugh.

Futuristic Technology? Sure. Lots. Far more futuristic than any of it should be based on the fact that this series supposedly takes place 10 years prior to The Original Series. Yeah.

Interesting Characters? OK, here I will rant a the first two episodes there is literally one notable character - Michael Burnham - who I could not stand. Completely despise this main and only real character.

She is overly emotional for someone trained on Vulcan to be an unbeatable Mary Sue (Michael Sue?). I mean, she is constantly making what are really awful decisions and then being treated as if she's an excellent officer. She has a psychic connection to Spock's dad based on a mind meld he had with her (an Alien) but never had with his own child.

Oh, not to mention that Spock had an attractive Human older sister for the past 50 years we've never heard about. 


Sadly, there really aren't any other characters developed enough in the first two episodes to talk about. Michelle Yeoh is largely wasted. Saru is both a bit corny, and kind of cool. By Episode 4 we have a few more characters, but the focus remains on Burnham who is just wholly unlikable to me. 

Intriguing aliens? Well, Lt. Saru could be interesting, but really isn't given enough to do, or say until Episode 3, and 4. The actor is excellent, his species look is neat, but I really can't comment more than that. 

The Klingons are...blech. They look atrocious, bare no resemblance to any previous Klingon incarnation, have a nonsensical variation on their culture when compared to the previous canon, and...I just can't. They are so bad. Their story is bad, their appearance is bad, and just about every scene they're in is boring, and painful to watch. 

What is this thing? Seriously.
It looks like a Reman in Skeksis armor.

Cool Planets? Engaging locations? No. None. So far, the vast majority of the scenes in the four episodes occur on ships or otherwise indoors in rooms that look like all the other rooms. They have different sized tables, colored glass, computer display panels, but after a while they all blend together into largely dark areas with small. bright, blue lights. We've been down to one planet in the first four episodes and that one only in the first five minutes (if that) of the premiere. 

I could go on and on but I've already used more thoughts, words, and energy in writing this than the show is worth. 

I wanted this to be good. I really did. I mean, it's such a fantastic thing that we have a new Star Trek TV series on television after twelve years. I just...I am not enjoying it. It looks wrong, it feels wrong, it's written sloppily, and it has no characters I like.

Even after all that, if I didn't have to pay for it I might give it more time. I do have to pay if I want to see it though, and that is just the last straw. 

Live Long, and Pros...oh, sorry...Die in a Hale of Photon Torpedoes STD.

Adam out.

Barking Alien

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hugging The Donkey

"Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity,
because if you're passionate about something,
then you're willing to take risks."
-Yo-Yo Ma

There are a lot of fandom subjects that I'm passionate about, but few as strongly as Star Trek.

Although the original Star Trek television series went off the air in the same year I was born, I fondly remember watching it with my father when it was re-run on our local TV channel on the one evening a week when he was off from work as a police officer.

Star Trek reminded me of my Dad back then, and vice versa. 

The characters were men, and women in uniforms, protecting their families, friends, and neighbors from hostile forces who might seek to steal from, or harm the good citizens of the United Federation of Planets. 

Additionally, they embraced the task of exploration, meeting new people from far away places, helping strangers in need, and discovering things about their universe, and about themselves. 

Star Trek, like DC Comics Green Lantern Corps (one of my other favorite things) combined my two dream jobs as a child - Policeman, and Astronaut. What could possibly be cooler than that?

Much changed as I got older, but one thing that didn't was my love for the optimistic, 'better tomorrow' of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek universe. Apparently, I wasn't alone, as the original series spawned a series of motion pictures, four spin-off series, hundreds of novels, and books, and of course Role Playing Games. 

Now, 48 years after the first series ended, yet another series has been produced that embraces the philosophy of Human, and extraterrestrial mutual prosperity through putting aside our differences, and embracing what makes each of us unique. A series that celebrates diversity, discovery, and flat out Space Adventure Fun!

I am of course talking about...

The Orville.

What? You thought I meant another show? A different show? Really? What...

Oh, Star Trek: Discovery. No.

I shall discuss the utter disappoint that is STD some other time. Suffice to say, no program has ever had more appropriate initials. 

If you are a fan of Star Trek, truly passionate about the kind of Action-Adventure Science Fiction that sometimes asks tough questions, and doesn't have easy answers, then the show you are looking for is The Orville.

A love letter to both The Original Series of Star Trek, as well as The Next Generation, The Orville is the brainchild of Seth MacFarlane, a multi-talented fellow best know for the long-running animated comedy series Family Guy. In addition to other spin-off series, he also created the wildly popular film Ted, and serves as executive producer for the Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted space science series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (based on the show Cosmos, hosted by the late Carl Sagan). 

Seth is, it turns out, a Sci-Fi geek, and a huge Star Trek fan. He had a reoccurring support role on Star Trek: Enterprise, and has always wanted to do a Science Fiction series in the vein of Star Trek.

As a matter of fact, it is now coming to light that Mr. MacFarlane approach CBS about producing a new Star Trek series sometime ago, but was turned down. Like any bold explorer he didn't let that stop him. Instead, he decided to make his own and as far as I am concerned, he succeeded!

The Orville is great! It is a fun romp through an all-new Space Opera galaxy that feels at once familiar and brand new. There is more than a touch of humor in the show, and while not always hilarious, the drier and more subtle jokes are very funny indeed. They lighten the mood, and at the same time make the characters seem more Human.

The characters are my favorite part of the show. I like these people. I would hang out with them. I'd love to catch an old Earth flick with Malloy, and Lamarr, talk futuristic weapons with Bortus, see if the awesomely capable and adorable Alara wanted to go for hike on some alien world, and find out if Isaac dreams, and if so what about.

That's not even addressing Captain Ed Mercer (played by Seth himself), who is a huge Muppets fan (just like Seth himself). We have so much in common! Then there's Commander Kelly Grayson, Mercer's ex-wife and a former Agent of SHIELD. Heheh. 

What's a good Sci-Fi show without cool tech though, am I right? We've got it all here on The Orville. The ship itself is awesome (designed by a friend of mine - No kidding! - A guy I went to high school with. I found out he was the lead designer), with Cutting Rays, Tractor Beams, Deflector Shields, and a Quantum Drive based on the Alcubierre Drive

The characters themselves are armed with energy weapon sidearms (yet to be named as of this writing), and 'Comm-Scanners', which are a combination of a Communicator and a Tricorder (Comm-Scanner is not the official name, as that too has not yet been confirmed). 

The uniforms, the aliens, including the villainous Krill, ALL SO COOL!

The stories are a mix of classic Science Fiction tropes, and in at least one instance, real, thought provoking moral questions. There's only been four episodes for far, so it remains to be seen which style of story will dominate the episodes. I'll point out that the series format is more episodic, with traits carry over from one episode to the next, but no big meta-plots. I am so relieved. Take me to a new planet each week! Let's meet god-like aliens, and evil space pirates! I am so tired of the, 'What? You missed one episode here and one there? Well now you'll never understand the opening of Season 3 and the intricate layers of intrigue we've so carefully developed'. Bugger off you! What's the matter? Not skilled enough to tell a story in an hour?

Anyway, you know me, when I get this excited about something, I just have to game it. So, as a bit of a side project (you realize that I have as many side things going on as a box of D20s right?), I'm working on this...

I'm starting to turn around on the new Star Trek Adventures RPG, and think it's a perfect fit for the type of stories being told on the Orville so far. Basically, interesting, exciting, quickly paced, but not as complex, or involved on the average as classic Star Trek. I am really looking forward to seeing where this goes, and whether or not I can get any of my friends to take the trip with me. 

I'll update you guys as I go, but I already have a custom character sheet, and ship record ship ready to go. More info as it becomes available (and as more episodes of the series come out).

Until next time, Engage Quantum Drive!

Barking Alien

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Creeping It Real


Did I scare you?

It's October, and you know what that means don't you? Autumn's arrived, the air has cooled, and the leaves have turned to russet hues. Soon, sooner than we think, All Hallow's Eve will be upon us!

Barkley here, and yes, I know it's been some time since you've seen me, but I've been extraordinarily busy of late. 

Oh indeed! I have been scouring the fringes of time, and space, and that one dimension, you know, with the goopy stuff, surely you know it, yes? - anyway, I've been searching for new content for Adam to post to the Barking Alien blog, and low and behold I have!

This month, in addition to whatever posts should strike Adam's fancy, he will be posting various Halloween themed games, adventures, and the like which have come across our paths over the years. 

To be a bit clearer, the Halloween themed posts will include things like...

  • Halloween Themed Star Trek, Superhero, and other sessions I've had over the years
  • Ideas and Mechanics from my new RPG, Unfinished Business
  • Running, and Playing Comedic Horror Games

There may be other Creepy, Kooky, Mysterious, and Spooky things this month, so you'll have to keep checking. 

Until then...Fangs for coming by! 


Barking Alien