Sunday, September 15, 2019

Improving For The Worst

Today I’d like to tip a sacred cow and go against my own preferences for a time with an idea that came to me recently…

Do we need Player Character Improvement to enjoy RPGs?

I am questioning, or perhaps even challenging, the notion that RPGs need any sort of progression of skills and abilities for PCs to make the game enjoyable.

Bear in mind I am not necessarily trying to find or put forth a particular answer to this question here and now. My goal is just to get people to think about and discuss it. After all, analyzing and questioning these corner stones of our hobby is kind of my thing. Well one of my things. I have several things. I'm sure that generates some interesting mental images. You’re welcome. 

The idea for this post first came up because one of my player asked me for the third time in the span of a few weeks just how and when we would be improving the PCs in our FRONTIER Science Fiction/Horror RPG.

I said, as I had twice before, that we would be upgrading the PCs at the end of the current four episode story arc. Basically, when we complete Episode III, Session #4, we will 'level up' as it were. That would be at the very end our next episode/session by the way.

I was a little disappointed me because I feel like his character isn't really a developed personality yet but he (the player) is concerned about upgrades to his PC's abilities. Why? Our story so far has taken place over the course of maybe 6-9 hours of time. Why would he or anyone else necessarily improve significantly over such a short period?

For many players, a big part of the game is the achievement of linear progression. It can certainly be fun but if that’s all you want, there are countless video games that do the same thing.

Don't get me wrong, I like increasing skills and upgrading my ship and such very much. At the same time the power creep of games is what often makes them unwieldy and ends the campaign faster since its hard to challenge PCs mechanically. In other words, while experience points and upgrades are the norm for the RPG hobby, they also generate one of the largest problems in the hobby, and that is enabling a system to sustain prolonged play with the same characters. 

I recently played a short series campaign of Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition ( read that correctly. I played D&D 5E. On purpose). We started the game at 3rd Level, because the DM and other players agreed that was a level where you can do some cool stuff but you aren't inherently particularly powerful. It was universally agreed the high level characters (10 or above) are a chore of bookkeeping and low level characters (1-2) are too fragile. Most thought the 'sweet spot' was around 4-6. 

This rattled my brain. I have sooo many questions! Why doesn't the game start with 1st level characters being what is currently 3rd level. What is the purpose of a game where it sucks at the start? Why design at game that begins boring or overly deadly? What would make you want to keep playing?

If the range generally considered the most fun is 5-6, what's the motivation to go to 10? Why isn't the game about creating starting characters and fighting enemies who all function around the levels that are the viewed as the best and most entertaining?

For another take on the subject of linear progression or lack there of and what it means to an enjoyable RPG experience, let's consider Marvel Heroic by Margaret Weiss Productions. 

I know I myself scoffed at Marvel Heroic, a game with a very interesting way to obtain XP, but no real system for improving the power or effectiveness of your character. One of the game's key creators, game designer Cam Banks, made a point that in his view comic book Superheroes don't actually improve in comics.Sure they might get a new costume or have their powers change, suddenly increase or decrease, but it's usually plot driven and eventually they return to the same power levels and abilities they had prior their last story arc. I discuss this further here.

These are really separate but related topics I suppose. The point is, wouldn't it make more sense to create a game where the PCs begin fairly effective and competent but then maybe only increase in ability once every few sessions or even less often? Maybe not a all? Why must we have increases? Why should they gain new abilities? What would a game lose or gain by not having that aspect to it. 

I'll note that in my current Star Trek campaign, now in its 4th year or 'season' as we call them, our PCs have only improved once, getting a +1 to each of their two different stat sections and gaining one new talent or special ability, Meanwhile the campaign starship has been upgraded twice in that same length of time. In FRONTIER, as mentioned above, we are only going to improve a little bit every 4 sessions. 

In conclusion, I am not personally advocating the elimination of character improvement or XP systems. I like them from both a player and Gamemaster perspective. However, a feel the best systems have a slow, incremental progression, enabling the characters to be engaging yet effective over the long period of time. 

Furthermore, if the reason you are playing is to win points and improve your scores, go play with your Xbox. I am sure you'll have a much more enriching experience battling your friends online with a Playstation then you will engaging with other people physically and socially at a table. At least for me, I know I enjoy it when my character gets better but I also know that is not the reason I am there at the game. 

I am there to play a part and tell a story. A lollipop and a gold star are nice but not strictly necessary. 

What do you think?

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

It's Time To Wash Your Mouth Out With Gordon!

Just two days after celebrating the anniversary of my other favorite Optimistic Science Fiction Space Adventure franchise, September 10th is The Orville Day!

Happy Two Year Birthday to The Orville!

Now, when does Season 3 start and when can I run a campaign?


Barking Alien

Monday, September 9, 2019

Set Celebrations to Maximum!

A belated Happy Birthday to a beloved best friend...

Happy 53rd Anniversary celebrating September 8th, 1966, the birthdate of Star Trek!

Our own Star Trek series, Star Trek: Prosperity, returns to it's fourth season this coming Friday after a month long hiatus. Very much looking forward to it.

Live Long and Prosper,

Barking Alien

A Touch of Sweetness

A number of touching things happened to me this past Saturday and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate them, as well as use them to lead in to a kinder, gentler post on how to improve ones GMing skills. 

I ran the third session/second full episode of my new 'Hopeful Dystopian' Science Fiction campaign, FRONTIER. There was a lot of investigating, puzzle and problem solving, a small battle that felt epic, and a HUGE reveal. I can't talk about it all in detail yet but trust me, you're going to want to stay tuned to this blog for some posts about it later in the month. 

Anyhow, one of my players, an old friend of some 25 years or so, got married a while back to a lovely fellow who, unlike my friend, doesn't play RPGs. As a matter of fact, though he doesn't speak ill of them or any such thing, he has upheld a sincere attitude of not wanting to partake in them. The reasons are his own and I completely understand. One needs to watch out for ones own mental health so I hold nothing against him at all.

Now imagine how incredibly surprised I was to learn that he may be up for participating in a game sometime next year.

The couple, my friend and her husband, challenge each other periodically to achieve things like art completion deadlines, getting out of their comfort zones, etc. After a complicated but heartwarming series of anecdotes about recent dares between them, my friend said that her hubby was willing to give RPGs a try. Furthermore she said, and I quote, "There are only two GMs in the world I would trust to do this and you're the only one alive."

That is a reference to our mutual departed friend Allen Halden. It may seem dark humor to some but trust me when I say Allen would have loved it. In addition, it is a statement with momentous weight and impact. In all my years of gaming, nothing has said, 'You are really good at this' quite like this sentence. 

Of course I said I would do it and yes it is a tad daunting. At the same time I am very excited for the opportunity to change a friend's attitude towards something I very much enjoy and make my buddy Allen proud at the same time. 

Later on, another of my friends and players announced to me a desire to run a Traveller campaign. This was extremely exciting for me as this particular fellow has grown so much as a player and GM since we first met and it's the first time any of my friends (many of whom love my Traveller games) have decided to try refereeing Traveller themselves.

He asked only where I had gotten the maps I'd used during our old campaign. He informed me he had purchased the rules and had already begun doing research for the game (see my previous post). I was more than happy to fill him in on a few 'trade secrets' because it was clear that he was interested, excited, and had put in the effort to get himself started. Obviously I told him I would help him in any way he needed going forward to which he seemed relieved. 

These two moments were followed by a great game session. The big reveal I mentioned above hit some slowly, others mentally slapped their foreheads with the realization, and a couple were wide eyed and mouth agape. 

That's when it dawned on me:

I love what I do, I do it well, and I really want to share my know how with others that want to learn how to do it also. Yes, it frustrates me when people are lazy and don't put in the effort to improve but are then surprised players didn't enjoy their GMing. At the same time, some people put a hell of a lot of thought and effort into running a game and it still misfires.

Well the honest truth is, at least in my book, even if it doesn't go over swimmingly, if you did everything you could to make it happen you succeeded. Don't let the frowning faces deter you if you really gave it your all. 

Ask yourself what you missed. What were the players hoping for that you weren't able to deliver? What areas do you need to brush up on or practice? What advice would help you improve and where or whom can you get that knowledge from?

With one friend asking me to GM a once in a lifetime event and another wanting to know how they can add the same pizzazz to a game that I did, I must also remember that I. MESS. UP. TOO. I run games that don't go over well. I screw up. I am not a perfect GM who never runs a bad game. 

What I do is keeping trying to do better. I read, write, re-write, analyze, ask questions, listen, practice, and continually push to improve. 

Do that and you can't go wrong even when you go wrong. 

Remember, nobody's perfect. That doesn't mean you can't aim to be great. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Dash of Salt

I was unable to complete this year's RPGaDay Challenge in the allotted time frame of the month of August. 

I am a little disappointed in myself but there was little I could do. Personal, professional, and active gaming concerns got in the way. I still intend to finish the RPGaDay 2019 event however, so if you are at all interested, please check back in with my August entries during the month of September. I expect to be done by the 28th of this month at the latest. 

Now on to new material...

I've been playing a lot recently as a player and the experience has been, by way of understatement, a mixed bag. 

I have come to realize that although the general endeavor of Gamemastering is not something to be considered lightly. It isn't easy. It takes time, effort, attention, love, and not a small amount of talent. One of the things I've noticed is that even without any sort of 'gift' or knack for the position, a GM with a strong sense of the other aspects I just mentioned can certainly run a good game. 

Unfortunately, if any of those elements are found wanting its going to be a slog for the Gamemaster and at best fall flat for the players. At worst it can be a dreadful, painfully boring or frustrating experience.  

To the end of figuring out a way to help new and inexperienced Gamemasters improve at the craft, I am going to start out with a question:

With the plethora of resources to aid a GM in running a good, solid, entertaining game, why is it that poor outings still occur? 

Yes, I am being a bit salty and a tad facetious but that doesn't mean I don't want an answer to the question. The query is no less valid just because I am being so blunt in its delivery. A simple Google search for 'Gamemaster Resources' nets pretty good results, from the general advice of and the Game Master Resources Wiki to sites specific to particular games such as Continuing Missions resources for running Star Trek Adventures or various sites covering Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, and more. 

Normally I would help out my fellow GMs by linking the titles above to their urls but I am not going to today because part of my question is, "Why haven't you already gone there? Why haven't you used a Google Search to obtain free resources? Why do I have to do the work for you?"

Don't misunderstand, I am more than happy to help my friends and allies in the vast gaming community improve their GMing skills. I use this very blog as a forum to do just that. At the same time, for this blog and all those resources to be useful, Gamemasters need to make the effort to go to them. Are they?

Going back to my original statement, the road to be a good GM (and eventually great if you are so inclined) is dedication, determination, organization, and really enjoying do it. In other words, if you really want to run a good game, a great campaign, or just become a better Game Runner, you need to stop playing that video game, look away from Facebook, disengage yourself from whatever is distracting you and actually try to learn and improve. 

Other GMs can assist you, websites can supply everything from advice to content, but no one can absorb any of it into your head but you. 

If you are going to GM, try to do the best you can. Put some effort into it. Think about what goes into a game and how to pull off a good one instead of just focusing on this cool story you want to tell. Cover all your bases and be flexible enough to handle things when you find out you didn't. 

Either that or let someone who can GM do it and you take notes. Better yet, just play. 

If you're not going to give it your all, give it here. 

OK, first I was Salty. Now I'll be Sweet...

Barking Alien 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - LAST


The Last prompt on the Last day of the RPGaDay Challenge for 2019. 

As far as those participating in the event, I am very much embracing the idea of the word. I would be very surprised if I wasn't the Last person still putting up entries. 

As I noted in other places, I got hung up on one of the previous prompts and life outside of the blog caught up with me, causing me to fall behind and fail to complete RPGaDay on time. 

Hmmm. That all makes it sound like I am blaming things other than myself but in the end it is my own fault. I let myself get distracted.

There's always next year.

What Last brings to mind is the final session of a campaign and honestly I have mixed feelings about the very concept. 

Throughout my time in the hobby I have been part of games as both a player and a GM that were specifically designed to run their course in a given length of time. Before even beginning certain game series, we would all know that it was set to go X number of sessions and then we'd move on to something else.

These days I do this quite often, especially given my current gaming schedule. I am in two or three groups (there's a lot of member overlap), I have a wide variety of genres and ideas I want to try out, and only so much time. I would rather GM a game for a dozen sessions, create a satisfactory ending, and then announce another game then never get the chance to play some of the campaign concepts I have in mind. 

Well...sort see...

This dynamic, which is so common these days even for me, is not my default way of going about things. Perhaps it's more accurate to say it's not my default way of thinking but rather something I've adopted and adapted to out of necessity.

In my mind, there should never be a Last session of a really great campaign. The best campaigns are not finite or at the very least should not be thought of as finite. To put it another way, I don't usually plan a Final Episode for my Star Trek campaigns. They run until we don't feel like doing them anymore or the group splits apart do to scheduling/life conflicts (almost always the latter). This is also how I approach Superheroes, Traveller, Star Wars, and most Fantasy projects. 

Games Last as long as they Last. Stories have a beginning, middle, and ending, but the beauty of the unique narrative art form that is tabletop RPGs is that they can, in theory, go on and on and on. 

I would love to have another campaign like my old, classic, live-in-the-setting, open universe games of yesteryear, where the stories, characters, setting, and plots went on forever, until they didn't. Games built to Last with no Last call. 

Thanks for joining me for the RPGaDay Challenge Event of 2019.

Let's do it again next August.

Barking Alien

Friday, August 30, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - CONNECTION

Connection? Connection to what?

The French Connection? Love Connection? I am definitely particular to the Rainbow Connection?

Ooh wait, that's for me to decide. I see. I didn't see the Connection at first. 

If I am being absolutely honest, what pops into my mind when I think about RPGs and the word Connection is the weird paradox of being 'Connected' to other fans of the hobby. 

Supposedly we are Connected not only by our love of games but also the games themselves. You may be playing a game right now with rules, monsters, spell names, and other elements that are essentially identical to someone else playing their game a thousand miles away! Gamers in different countries are playing the same game you are in different languages then yours! We are the world! We are the children!


In all my years of gaming I've never played a game 100% 'Rules as Written', and I am well aware that my approach to certain RPG settings and genres is quite different from most of those who likewise partake in those systems and worlds. 

Do I have a Connection to all the other people playing Traveller even if I use my own variation of the game's canon universe? Am I Connected to those running D&D if I run my D&D-But-Not setting of Aerth, which has a closer Connection to those running Superhero games? 

It is the great Catch-22 of gaming. If we are all running our games our way(s), if everyone has at least one houserule at their table, how can we all be considered to be playing the same game? In a broad sense we are a 'community of individuals', each group it's own island with unique cultures, terrain, and weather, but we form an archipelago, the 'Gaming Islands' if you will. 

I guess what unites us...what forms our true that we all enjoy a hobby where you are free to customize things to your liking, to make the experience our own. Even if doing so means playing a game RAW or changing it so it's barely recognizable. We can do that. We share that ability and the same end goal. To make/run/play the best game we can come up with. 

I feel so...Connected. 

Barking Alien

Thursday, August 29, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - EVOLVE

Gaming as we know it first began in 1974 with the publishing of the original Dungeons & Dragons. 

Over the course of the next 45 years, the hobby expanded, improved, changed...Evolved. 

Did we?

That is to say, of course we gamers have changed along with the hobby and its industry, but at the same time many of us have not. We long for the glory days of the hobby's 'Golden Age' and the rules and play style we know by heart and rote. 

However, for anything to survive, it must Evolve. There must always be change. Gamers will design new systems and consider new ways of playing because they are driven to do so. They will do it because that is the only way the hobby continues and thrives. 

So why is it that players and GMs by the hundreds, if not thousands, embrace things like the Old School Renaissance? Why do so many gamers only play D&D, regardless of edition? What is it about this a particular type of game that draws so many in? Additionally, if we all only followed the model of this forty-five year old RPG, would we Evolve. 

My personal Evolution in the gaming hobby was one influenced very strongly by each game I played after my first exposure to it all through Basic Dungeons and Dragons. With each set of mechanics I learned, each additional genre I studied, I began to to see new ideas of how a Gamemaster could tell a story. I watched the reactions of my players to understand what it is players want out of games and campaigns.

My approach to being a GM Evolved from the role of rules referee and oral storyteller to the expanded role of director, writer, editor, and cinematographer. I learned not to sweat the details but be expertly aware of them. I learned to think about much more than my ideas, my story, and my NPCs; the real consideration is why others should be interested in this thing I created. How does what I want to depict relate to the Player Characters? Why does it matter to them? 

Essentially, I Evolved from a simple, water dwelling fish Dungeon Master to a mammalian bipedal, thinking Gamemaster. Like any Evolution, it took time. 

Do we all go through this same journey? I like to think we all go through a journey of some kind, though we surely don't take the same path or arrive at the same place. It is possible some of us don't take this magic trip. Not all creatures have evolved. Some are extinct, having failed to improve or adapt and dying out long ago. 

I like to think I am still Evolving, continuously trying to acclimate to the ever-changing face of the RPG hobby. Like most of us, I will always have my old favorites, but I will also persist in exploring new avenues of what makes a tabletop Role-Playing Game what it is and what it can be. 

Good luck on your own Evolution.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - LOVE


Really? What's Love got to do with it?

I mean, sure, Love is all you need. I'd obviously stop in the name of Love. Really, I'd do anything for love, but a post about it for the RPGaDay event? I won't do that. 

Fine. I'll try...

Let's say you started an adventure in, how about, a Love Shack. Soon enough, you might as well face it, your PCs are addicted to Love. Now Love is a battlefield! Next thing you know, you're trying to fill the world with silly Love songs! 

In truth, I would probably focus on a Higher Love. An endless Love. I want a whole lotta Love. I shouldn't have to justify my Love and I don't want to Love in vain. 

After all, I'm descended from the Love generation. 

Well that's all I have. I'm all out of Love. 

Oh yeah, one more thing.

I love RPGs.

Barking Aliens

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - SUSPENSE

Suspense is defined as 'a state or feeling of excited uncertainty'.

In storytelling it is a time of anxious anticipation usually followed by a dramatic moment. Rarely is the Suspense unwarranted. One does not purposely build up nervous tension only to reveal nothings of significance.

You can of course, though it is anti-climactic. Unless you make a sudden reveal once everyone is lulled into a false sense of security. Ooh-hoo! Aren't you clever. And here we all were thinking everything was going to be fine after all, when suddenly - Whoah! You got us that time. 

Suspense is very closely related to Surprise and I have that one waiting in the wings for the 23rd of September. I don't have a lot to say about this prompt as nothing comes to mind specifically. Something should, as I use suspense quite often and fairly well if I do say so myself, but for some reason I just don't feel inspired to randomly discuss it. 

You are reading this entry well after the date it was supposed to be posted. This prompt, #27 - SUSPENSE, is part of the reason I couldn't finish the challenge this year. I would come to it and draw a blank, just as I am now, and then go on to write the next one but feel obligated to complete #27 before posting #28 and onward. 

I eventually got over it but I still feel stuck on this one. No idea why. 

The Suspense is killing me.

Barking Alien

Monday, August 26, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - IDEA


I have no Idea what to say about Idea. 

Aren't I always talking about Ideas? Is there any single subject or word that appears on this blog more often than Idea? Honestly I'd have to check. I haven't the foggiest Idea.

For me, it's all about Ideas. The concept of what the game is about, the plan on how to execute that concept, and the thought that goes into running it is far more important to me than anything else. The rules, the venue, and even the scheduling to some extent are all secondary at best. 

My particular and perhaps peculiar predicament is that A) I have too many [often conflicting or unrelated] Ideas and B) my Ideas can be big. Sometimes too big. 

My Ideas come fast and furiously into my head at all hours of the days and night, inspired by anything and everything from a random thought to a piece of artwork seen on Instagram. 

The upcoming Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance series on Netflix has me contemplating revisiting my Dark Crystal RPG concept - but wait - did you see that trailer for The Mandalorian? Rise of Skywalker is coming soon. Hmm. I'd love to get back to Star Wars for a bit...hold on...they're bring back the Legion of Superheroes in DC Comics. Not sold on it from the previews. If I was going to run Legion of Superheroes as a game I would...ooh...a Legion game...Did I mention I'm running a Sci-Fi/Space Horror game? Got some thoughts on that too...

As far as big Ideas...Sorry...Big Ideas...I sometimes come up with what one might call 'high concept RPGs'. These games require either a heavy amount of buy-in to the subject, a wide suspension of disbelief, or both. Games like Doom and Cookies, Hunter Planet, Steal Away Jordan, and The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men - not to mention my own The Googly Eyed Primetime Puppet Show' - are far from your typical gaming fare. These games can be very difficult to find an audience for and even harder to maintain over time unless everyone is equally on board my own insane Ideas for how to make it work. 

I suppose in the end, more than just a good Idea, you need an Idea shared by others. You, the GM, and your players need to be working off the same Idea or pool of Ideas to make a game go well. That and/or be open to new Ideas. If I am a player at a table where the GM says, "Look, I have this Wild Idea for a game", I am more than willing to sit down and see what comes next. I (personally) don't have to know and understand your Idea if it is presented in such a way that I get it as we go one. When that happens I start to comprehend your Idea and it forms the catalyst that enables me to generate Ideas of my own. 

Because Ideas that inspires Ideas have...wait for it...The right Idea.

Barking Alien

Sunday, August 25, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - TRIUMPH


You want to talk about Triumph? I am a couple of days behind in the Challenge and I haven't lost my mind over it. THAT'S a Triumph!

Here's another - August 25th is my 42nd year Anniversary in the RPG gaming hobby. I played my first game, 'Basic' Dungeons and Dragons, on this date in 1977. 

Triumph, used as a noun, means a great victory or achievement. As a verb it means to achieve victory, to succeed. 

What does Triumph mean in game terms?

While I am sure it means different things to different people, personally it causes me to consider that while you can't really win an RPG, you can Triumph. 

Both the player and their PC have goals in a game scenario and even more so in a long running campaign. These goals vary but if reasonable and possible they can earn both the character and the player a Triumph. The key is to know what success means to you and your in-game persona.

It could be as simple as having the PC defeat a major enemy or the player [as their character] solving all the puzzles and riddles they encounter. Victory conditions can be set higher of course, with true accomplishment being met only when long term goals are reached. Maybe the PC wants to be crowned ruler of her country of origin or the player wants to finally make a character who survives from the beginning of a campaign all the way to the end.

As someone who primarily GMs and honestly prefers it that way, Triumph for me is the creation, running, and completion of a long term game. I'll go a step further and say that if the game ended a while ago and people are still talking about it, well Achievement Unlocked!

Funny thing is, now that I think about it, a Triumph comes at the end of an endeavor. I don't know if any of my current campaigns will be major accomplishments until they are over and done. Likewise, was your attempt to play a charming yet realistic policeman of the 1930s successful? We'll know when you are finished playing him. 

In the mean time, strive to run or play the best game you can. Knowing you are putting your all into it is a sort of personal Triumph all its own.

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 24, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - CALAMITY

You may notice something amiss, a bit wrong, off-kilter. If this gets worse it could turn into a real problem, a hazard, maybe even complete havoc. If that happens, we'll be right smack in the middle of a...

Today's word is supposed to Triumph. Tomorrow's prompt is Calamity. That doesn't make any sense to me. Does the RPGaDay 2019 event have no sense of narrative structure? The Calamity comes first, then the Triumph, otherwise what exactly are you Triumphing over? 

A Triumph followed by a Calamity indicates an unhappy ending and while that is certainly a strong storytelling choice, the games I run are usually focused on trying to overcome Calamity so the heroes can Triumph in the finale.

Hopefully. It isn't guaranteed. I supposed it depends very much on the nature of the 'event causing great damage or distress'. This is the Oxford Dictionary definition of Calamity. It basically means 'disaster'. 

Let's take a look at Calamities in RPGs. 

It's my opinion that what makes for a great campaign is a variety of Calamities. Keep switching up the stakes. If every disaster is monumental, every threat the end of the universe, eventually the doomsday scenarios will lose their luster. Simply put, if everything is amazing, after a time, nothing is. 

Start small. Try something personal, a Calamity that means something to one or more of the PCs but doesn't necessary threaten all life on Earth. For example:

The PCs receive word second hand that an old friend has gone missing. He was searching for something, perhaps a deposit of rare ore, a hard to find medicinal plant, or other treasure that isn't a hoard of gold and jewels. The person in question was a teacher or mentor to one of the PCs, a drinking buddy to another, and a reliable and likable business associate to the rest. The PCs will likely decide to go looking for him and find themselves in danger that could seriously harm them, their friend, and the find (whatever it is) but has no major bearing on the rest of the milieu. 

The next level up threatens a village, town, or small to medium-size outpost with a disaster that could injure or kill dozens upon dozens of people (but not hundreds or thousands). Add in a personal connection like mentioning one of the PCs came from this place, or their parent grew up there. 

Twitch back and forth a bit between the small, directly related events and the slightly bigger, 'a lot of people are counting on you' situations, and then drop the 'a disaster like this could wipe out everything along the Eastern Coastline for miles and miles'. 

Aside from adding greater gravitas to the epic situations, I've found this approach makes the PCs and players care more about the milk run missions, giving simple scenarios the feeling of being dire circumstances. 

A Calamity is a tragic thing but Human nature dictates that a Calamity that befalls you or those you care about is ten times as serious. 

Luckily, as I stated in the opening, the presence of stalwart heroes can turn Calamity into...

Barking Alien

Friday, August 23, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - SURPRISE

I've got a Surprise for you all. No peeking, now.

The Surprise is...well if I told you it wouldn't be a Surprise would it?

OK, OK, the real Surprise is that I am not going to talk about Surprise. I can't. Why? It would ruin the Surprise. 

Let me explain...

The next session of my new/current Science Fiction/Horror campaign FRONTIER (which will incidentally be the third session, though technically Episode II) will feature a major plot twist. The players are in for a huge Surprise!

One might even call it a game changer! 

Talking about Surprise now would almost seems a waste when I can discuss the subject right after dropping one hell of a bombshell on one of my groups in an active game. 

To this end I am going to give this post a 'rain check'. 

I promise to do a post on Surprise on the 23rd of September. I know! It's crazy! Unprecedented! You always knew I was a maverick, outside-the-box type guy, but this is madness! 

This Barking Alien blog plays by its own rules baby!

Trust me I can hardly wait for the big reveal. They'll be so Surprised!

Barking Alien

Thursday, August 22, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - LOST


Wait...where am I?

After the last post I found myself Lost in thought.

I was thinking about the next prompt, which is, in point of fact, Lost. 

While Lost in thought about Lost, I Lost track of time. Suddenly I realized...wait...I've Lost my place.

Ah yes, Lost...

I find myself thinking about friends I've Lost. 

Over the years I've Lost a number of very good friends and we, together, have Lost opportunities to reminisce about old games, create new ones, and enjoy the very special bond that comes from shared experience of gaming. 

I have my memories of course but it saddens me that no new ones will be made with those particular fellows who left this world well before their time. 

Sometimes I reflect on their passing and feel a bit, Lost. 

To Allen Halden, Pedro 'Pete' Hernandez III, and Martin King, I recall the words of the great Bob Marley: 

Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you can't forget your past
So dry your tears, I say.


Barking Alien

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - VAST


Space is Vast but I've already talked about Space.
There are a Vast amount of RPGs out there, but I've talked about that with Plenty.

Stuck for an idea, I took a look at what my fellow RPGaDay participants had to say on the subject and it seems I am not alone in not having much to discuss about a word that means 'Immense' and 'Of great extent or quantity'. 

That seems rather odd doesn't it? It's almost counter intuitive. One would think there is a Vast amount of things you could say about Vast, being that it is so, well, Vast and all. 


I could talk about the Vast number of different rules systems that have been developed over the years to determine the outcome of everything from combat to romance and inventing to friendships. Professional Game Designers and fans alike love to read, write, rewrite, tweak, and kitbash game mechanics. There are so many ways to simulate and emulate the adventures, characters, settings, and genres we love to experience and explore and it's astounding to see the Vast array of them laid out before us in such wonderful abundance. 

The Vast number of players and the diverse nature of them, of us, is also amazing. I have gamed with artists and actors, politicians and police officers, parents and their children. My own groups have always consisted of a mix of ethnicities, religions, genders, orientations, and ages. So many people, so many personalities, all united by a love of gaming and invested in whatever campaign we were participating in together. True, some more than others, some more compatible with each other than others, but over all there for the same reason, the same end goal; have fun, tell a good story, make happy memories. 

Memories are also Vast. Think of all the memories you have of the games you've run and played in. Realize that you are in the memories of those who were in those games with you. Surely, some moments have been forgotten, but perhaps they are recalled by the games other party members. Perhaps the GM told the story to a friend who regaled a group of fellow gamers with the tale at a convention. Are our stories just ours? Is this a form of shared memory, a modern age oral tradition, a strange immortality? Memories are the mentally recorded stories of past events and nothing, nothing is more Vast than stories. 

Vast is so big, so all-encompassing a word, it is difficult to know where Vast begins and ends. It is hard to determine quite where one is with Vast. Within the Vast it is easy to get...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

RPGaDay Challenge 2019 - NOBLE

Nobility is not a thing I equate with most Role-Playing Games or Gamers, at least as it applies to games. 

Allow me to clarify...

The typical 'Heroes' of a Fantasy Role-Playing Game just slew anything and everything in sight before stealing all of the treasure that could find. They then proceed to a nearby village where a beggar, hearing of their exploits and seeing their bulging sacks of coin, asks humbly for pity and a few coppers from the brave adventurers.

He is likely killed.

So is the guy eyeing them as they entered town who just happens to work for the city guard and is not accustomed to wealthy armed strangers entering the gates. This brings in the rest of the guard who are also killed as the 'Heroes' defend themselves from a 'clearly unfair' GM. Before long the town is a burning ruin and the 'Valiant' PC party are off to their next crime. 

I have seen Nobility. True Nobility. Noble Heroes gilded not in shining armor or gold but in self-sacrifice. I have seen PCs put themselves in harms way to save each other and NPCs. I have seen players have their PCs do what is right, not what 'makes the most sense'. 

A few examples: 

Star Trek

The Asst. Chief Engineer of our Star Trek campaign starship had developed an interesting personality and backstory over time, such that he was a favorite NPC of much of the crew. He was of Indian descent, had a wife and a young son, took any opportunity to cook real food for his friends and family (as opposed to synthesized food), and collected old timey watches and clocks as a child. 

In a particularly serious session the Engine Room was flooded with deadly radiation and evacuated, but someone needed to stay behind to shut down the main reactor manually due to computer/system damage. The PC Chief Engineer decided to stay and get everyone else out. Our Asst. Chief insisted he stay. The two argued, valid points on both sides, and it eventually turned into a wrestling match, fist fight as they each struggled to save each other.

Finally, it looked like the PC had won but just as he turned his back on the prone Asst. Chief, the NPC sprang up and saved the PC, the massive blast door trapping our favorite clock-fixing, chef in the radioactive Engine Room. He managed to manually disengage the system just as the PC ship was about to suffer a TPK overload. 

The players were sad for weeks. The Chief Engineer was so guilty he became a surrogate dad to the NPCs family. It was the height of Noble.

Star Wars

My buddy was playing a Smuggler who was one part Han Solo and two parts Wild West gunfighter. Throughout the campaign, though he was helping the Rebellion against the Empire, he never once claimed he wasn't still in it for the money. He had no Princess Leia to love, no Luke to befriend, and his co-pilot/companion was a droid. 

As the final battle of the campaign began, the Smuggler and his droid, now a full on independent being, reunited to lead an attack on the Imperial Interdictor that served as the command ship of the series long big bad. Not only did he drop the veneer that he was just a mercenary doing this for a payday but he rallied the ships and fighters in the fleet with a rousing speech about fighting for what they all believed in; truth, honor, justice, and freedom!

From Ne'er Do Well to Noble in 12 sessions. 


Where do I even start?

Starguard (my PC) saved Pulse (our PC speedster) half a dozen times at least. Pulse saved civilians constantly. So did I. Omni (telepathic leader PC) saved everyone a least a dozen times. Tachyon overloaded his powers, preventing him from being able to use them again, in order to save New York City from the villainous Sundown!

Then there is this, wherein PC Superheroes sacrificed their lives and even the very fabric of their reality in order to defeat an enemy who threatened to destroy the infinite multiverse!

This looks like a job for being Noble!


As I've mentioned before, my own D&D universe is actually patterned after Superhero comics and features a world-spanning order of heroic individuals united to protect the innocent, the weak, the struggling, and the oppressed from harm both natural and Arcane!

Saving fishing villages from floods, defeating brigands, and battling monstrous creatures is all in a days work for The Order of the Winghorn Guard. It should be noted that while the Guard will sometimes claim treasure unaccounted for, the goods stolen by brigands are always returned to the merchants they were taken from. A portion of all gold and other coin found is donated to the people of near by towns. The Winghorn Guard members also give a portion of their findings to the Guard proper to fund their continued operations. 

My D&D is not about killing things and taking their stuff. It's about the Nobility of being a hero with a purpose. 

I am sure your game features truly good and heroic people doing truly good and heroic deeds. Like mine campaigns, your players imbue their characters with a sense of Nobility that raises them above the common riff-raff and scallywags of most gaming groups. 

At least I hope so. There is no more Noble act than Noble acts. 

Barking Alien