Sunday, May 19, 2019

Whatever It Takes

A little thing came out in the Superhero genre you might have heard about. I think it's called...

Avengers: Endgame by Michael Change

I will start out by saying I absolutely loved Avengers: Endgame, which is doubly enjoyable for me since I really didn't like its predecessor, Infinity War


Moreover I will definitely be spoiling Avengers: Infinity War, so if you haven't seen that one yet...what is wrong with you? Why are you even here?

Anyway, the issues I have with Infinity War are many but they basically boil down to the film pushing hard on my ability to suspend my disbelief. 

As I may have noted before, I go into most films ready and willing to immerse myself in the story and setting. I try to absorb and process what is happening, why it's happening, and in the case of a known franchise/series, how it works with what I already know about the characters and the universe.

Whereas most people these days seem to enjoy looking for 'plot-holes' and consider everything that isn't clearly broken down for them to be a continuity error, I try to reason out how it makes sense and works given what I've seen and know.

Sometimes however, I can't. Sometimes there are elements that just don't sit right with me. Sure I can excuse them or come up with excuses for them but they just don't work for me as a moviegoer.

Such was the case with Infinity War and I was bothered that the filmmakers made a movie that even I couldn't avoid deconstructing. Basically if the guy who doesn't deconstruct, and doesn't want to deconstruct, has not choice but to deconstruct your film, well then you let him down. 

After watching our heroes be clever and competent for 22 movies over the course of 10 years, they were suddenly immature, inept, poorly organized, and failed to take actions at key moments that I had seen them take before, even within the same motion picture. Other abilities and moves which might have helped were completely ignored. Then it hit me...

The bad guy was going to win. Not because he was more powerful than the heroes or smarter but because that's how the writers wrote it. It felt like I was watching a RPG session where the GM had predetermined the outcome. You know how much I love that. Yeah, I despise it even more in my movies (if that's even possible). 

So the remainder of the movie (a little after the half way mark) I sat wishing I had a remote to fast forward it to the end. Nothing mattered after the realization that the story was going to make (not have or let but make) Thanos succeed. Everything else was a waste of time. 

Worst of all it made glaringly apparent something I had managed to forget up to that point - no one was really going to die either. Spiderman, Black Panther, they had sequels coming out. They were obviously all coming back so damn you Infinity War why couldn't you have made the journey less transparent and predictable?

 Yada yada Thanos snaps, yada yada everyone's dust for now, blah blah is it over yet?

Let's just get to Endgame.

Avengers: Endgame is, for me at least, the superior movie. More than that, it stands on its own as an incredibly enjoyable installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. 

I was really, really impressed that the film was not a mile-a-minute rollercoaster ride throughout. Character development, story beats, and tension (a lost art in modern cinema) were allowed to do their part in the movie, giving the action more meaning and purpose.

Each character got to do something special, even if it was only briefly. We got to know relatively secondary characters such as Ant-Man, War Machine, and Nebula much better, not to mention a chance to shine. 

The forced emotions and hollow drama of Infinity War's telegraphed, meaningless deaths were replaced by real stakes, actual feels, and permanent changes to the make up of the MCU. The ramifications of Infinity War are handled in the second part of its story. The ramifications of Endgame will be felt for years to come. 

One part of particular interest and amusement to me was their explanation of time travel as told to us by Bruce Banner/Professor Hulk. I was beside myself with happiness when he let everyone know it was Back to the Future or Bill and Ted style time travel but rather...wait for it...The Time Travel of 1970s Marvel Comics! OMG how cool! Seriously, if you got confused by any of the time travel bits in this film, it's because you didn't grow up playing with MEGO action figures and comics being 25 to 35 cents.

Well, those are my feelings and thoughts on Endgame. I considered using this post as a springboard to discuss how to end a long-running, successful Supers game with these movies as a framework but I am just not in that headpsace right now. Perhaps in the near future. 

Half the month is already over and there is still many others subjects to address. 

Until then, Avengers Assemble!

Barking Alien

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Bigger is Better

Leo Jenicek is a writer, improv comedian, gamer, game designer, and a very good friend of mine whom I RPG with on a regular basis. He was the key force behind the D&D, Actual Play Podcast Comedy series The Pod of Many Casts, and definitely knows a great burger joint when he sees one. 

If you're not familiar with Leo Jenicek and his writing, well, your life is simply not as fulfilling and enjoyable as mine. Pity. It's not too late though as Leo has a blog that is well worth your time to check out.

A recent post on said blog got me thinking and I've decided to put forth my thoughts in a post of my own. My opinion is different from Leo's. This is not because I think that Leo's sentiments are incorrect. Rather, I'm simply of a variant mindset and I'd like to share my viewpoint with all of you just as he did. 

The core of Leo's post is that it can be difficult to get a sizable group of gamers together for a session and that's OK because smaller groups are awesome.

There is certainly more to it then that and Leo gives a number of solid reasons why he feels less is more when it comes to the number of players at a gaming table. All of his reasons make a lot of sense and I actually think that from a practical and logical standpoint most people would have to agree with him. Certain things are just true and make sense regardless of how one feels about them. 

And then there's how my brain works...

For me personally, smaller groups really aren't to my liking. In fact, I prefer a group size many GMs find a tad unwieldy. I have discussed this on my blog in the past but maybe not in as dedicated a way as I am going to do here.

First, what's considered a small group, a standard group, and a large group? While there are no definitive stats, I would say a small group is roughly 2-4 people, a standard group is around 5 or 6, and a large group is 7 or more. 

Throughout my 42 years in the RPG hobby I've run a considerable number of large groups. While standard size gatherings were indeed've had numerous campaigns with groups of anywhere between 7 and 11 people. 

Now, let me explain why this was [and is] the case.

From as early as 1978, when players needed a GM, most of my friends preferred to play and handed the reins to whomever was willing to run.  I was one of those people and over time I found I liked Gamemastering more than playing. When my truly formative gaming years came along* - roughly 1980-1990 - the dynamic changed slightly. Most gamers I knew would still rather play but the GMs seemed even more scarce. When you found them, nearly all wanted to run D&D. Furthermore, they weren't all good. 

At the time, I was considered a really good GM. People wanted to be in games I ran. I very rarely ran D&D. People came to my table because they wanted a talented GM to run something different. As it turned out, there were a lot of those people.

If I announced I was running a Star Wars game, a Mekton campaign, or something else popular with my gaming buddies (who were also Art, Anime, Comic Book, and Sci-Fi fans), I could easily end up with 9 people asking to join in. Instead of turning some people away, I just said yes to everybody.

This happened again and again. Over time I developed a style that not only accommodated the larger group sizes I was getting but I also found certain advantages inherent in the greater numbers. Through the process of trail and error over many one-shots, short and long campaigns, I discovered that my games run with large groups were generally superior to the ones with very few players. 

The majority of the plot material I use in any given campaign is based on or connected to the backgrounds of the PCs. I take the plots and subplots of the Player Characters' backstories and intertwine them into the setting, the NPCs, and what is going on in the overall narrative. The more PCs I have, the more material and interconnecting stories I have to work with. The more material I have, the longer I can keep the game going and the more involved and rich it's going to be.

Fewer players means less material to work with. Less material means a world that is less rich, less developed, and less alive.

I also found there is more depth of character when there are more players. I've noticed that with fewer PCs, more NPCs are needed. PCs end up interacting with those NPCs, which really means interacting with the GM, instead of interacting with each other. This isn't how it should work but in my experience this is what happens. In my experience more PCs means less NPCs are needed. As a result we get more scenes of players as their PCs talking among themselves.

Another benefit is one of speed. This is one of those bits that may seem counterintuitive at first but bear with me. Most people feel that fewer players means a faster round of activity, especially combat. It won't take long to get back to the first player if there are only one or two players after them.

In practice I've found that this causes/allows each player to take their sweet time in figuring out what they want to do. It takes each of my 4 players a good while to decide, or at least to describe, their course of action in my bi-weekly Star Trek campaign. In comparison, the 6 guys in my Ghostbusters one-shot a few weeks back snapped out moves at lightning speed. Why? My thought is that with a small number of players, none of them feel the pressure of needing to get their move done so their friend can get a turn. In a big group, being aware that you have a larger number of people to get through, each player keeps it short, sweet, and to the point unless absolutely necessary. 

Those are the main points I have on the subject. Less is definitely more in many cases but I don't feel player group size is one of them. I've always been a fan of fiction with a large cast of characters and that probably factors into my opinions here as well. 

How about you? What is your perfect group size? How many is too many? Anyone else prefer a large group? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time,

Barking Alien

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Thorough Thursdays : CITY OF HEROES

Prior to this post I have only mentioned City of Heroes, the Massive Multi-player Computer Role Playing Game launched by NCSOFT in 2004, a mere handful of times. It seems only a single entry with that title as a tag has ever been posted and after reading the entry, I really have not idea why that is the one place I decided to place said tag. 

That's just wrong. 
It's difficult to know exactly where to begin in describing what City of Heroes meant and means to me. 

At the time City of Heroes was released I was living with my then girlfriend, now ex-wife, and it was one of the many things we enjoyed doing together. It was very much an 'us' activity. Sure we'd both go on and play solo (by ourselves) every now and then but we generally preferred to operate as a team. 

The Midnight Hour and Lady Touche'

Illustration for a City of Heroes based
Mutants and Masterminds campaign

The Midnight Hour Returns!

One day, fairly early in our progress in the game, our dynamic duo ended up biting off more than we could chew, accidentally drawing in two huge gangs of street thugs. Just when all seemed lost, a machine gun-toting Iron Man look alike fellow showed up and helped us clean the streets of those dirty crooks. 

The player of this character who eventually become a real life friend who remains so to this day. 

When my ex-wife and I separated and divorced, I couldn't bring myself to play the game again for a very long time. Even when I did eventually go back to it, I would never stay long. I had lost my love of the game as it reminded me too much of her and better times that were now over.

Eventually some friends who had also left and gone back for various reasons got me to return from time to time and we had a blast. Sadly, the game itself had changed so much and so many other MMOs had come out to steal its thunder (namely World of Warcraft) that while fun to return to periodically, it just wasn't the same. 

Recently the operators of a private server released the Source Code for City of Heroes, allowing any individual to host their own servers and start the game up again and indeed people have. I jumped at the chance to tussle with Hellions on the mean streets of Paragon City and try to rebuild (or even improve on) some of my favorite old characters. 

This looks like a job for...
Captain Superpower!

City of Heroes was always different from other MMOs in my experience because it was a game for Superhero fans by people who clearly understood Superheroes. While you definitely ran into the typical MMORPG players, you more often than not ran into people like yourself; players who made fun characters in cool costumes with names like Mister Patriot, Neutrino Woman, and Tachyon Flare, who were stoked to fly over the world presented, swooping down to save a citizen from a horde of zombies or do battle with clockwork robots.

That same feeling remains. While I am not the die hard MMO fan I was when City of Heroes was at its height, it was City of Heroes that got me into MMOs and made me a fan, so I can't help but smile as I sprint through Atlas Park, run along the elevated train tracks, and leap around staring at all the great costume designs my fellow heroes are sporting. 

If you were a fan of this awesome game back in the day, come on back and feel the rush of nostalgia. If you've never tried it but you are a fan of Superheroes and Computer Games, what are you waiting for? It's free to download and play and crime isn't going to fight itself!

Tell them Starguard sent you!

Up, up, and away!

Barking Alien

Monday, May 6, 2019

Somebody Wake Up Hicks

I recently received a foreboding transmission from Gateway Station. It seems some Offworld Colonists have detected something unusual...

Fria Ligan, the Swedish RPG Publisher known as 'Free League' in English, has the rights to produce an officially licensed Alien RPG and I am so stoked I feel like my chest is going to burst. Wait...

I've already got possible scenarios, NPC concepts; I've got tactical smart missiles, phase-plasma pulse rifles, RPGs; we got sonic, electronic ball breakers! I got nukes, I got knives, sharp sticks...

Sorry. Where was I?

For those of you unfamiliar with Free League's work, they are the publishers of a number of excellent RPGs including Mutant Year Zero and a favorite of mine, Tales from The Loop. I really enjoy Tales from The Loop and it's related products and I'm extremely curious to see how a similar system would be adapted to the Alien universe.

In an interview with Plot Points PodcastFree League Designer and Writer Tomas Harenstam gives some intriguing insight into the upcoming Alien game, including basic mechanics, approach, and supplements. 

Most interesting to me was that the focus of the game seems to be on the original film, 1979's Alien, with options that expand the setting to the 1986 Aliens sequel. They aren't saying the other films in the franchise didn't happen but they aren't really covering them either (at least when the game releases). One way to look at it is that the game covers a particular part of the Alien universe timeline, possibly based on what was known by a particular corporate or government body at the time. 

Personally this is fine by me. In my mind only the first and second films are canon. I was disappointed in the subsequent films and really didn't like the Prometheus and Covenant movies at all. 

Box Art for Alien: Isolation Video and Computer Game
Produced by SEGA

I would probably include the computer/video game Alien: Isolation as canon (semi-canon?) as I really enjoyed it and felt it had the right feel. Beyond that I would be really picky. 

Part of what Harenstam mentioned in his interview was that the game would have two different 'modes' of play. In Cinematic Mode, good for one-shots, convention games, and streaming, the PCs are likely to die with maybe one or two survivors a la' a Horror Film type situation. In Campaign Mode, longer term play is possible and the Xenomorphs are not the only threat or scenario one can encounter in the universe. 

Early information on the initial supplements for the RPG cover books on Space Truckers (The Nostromo crew), the Colonial Marines (Another glorious day in the Corps!), and (get this) Explorers. That last one would be new but would also make sense. Who are the Survey Teams and Scientific Research Groups who study exoplanets and their ecologies for possible colonization or any resources to benefit the corporations? I mean, Space Exploration + Alien Universe = Count Me In!

So talk to me, who's excited? What would you do with it?

Barking Alien

A Happy Refrain

It's no secret that I love The Orville

Now that the second season of the show is complete, I am even more excited and motivated to run an Orville RPG campaign. Before I discuss the specifics of that idea, I like to take a look at the why of it and how Season 2 really cemented my interest. 

Now some might say, "Here he goes again, taking someone else's creation and making a post about using it as a game setting instead of creating his own."

To those people I say, "It's OK with me if you are not interested. There are other blogs you can check out that may be more to your liking. You are always welcome to come back any time."

After all, I totally understand that some people would rather read about adventures in a mind-blowing-ly original umpteenth pseudo-Europe with orcs, elves, and Conan-copies. Who wouldn't want to discuss initiative again? (And again, and again, and again...Zzzz)

This is what I like. I like Exploration themed Space Opera Sci-Fi. I like Social Commentary mixed with Starship Battles. I like Bright, Positive Futures. I like Humor. 

This is my jam. It need not be yours. If it is, cool. Let's chat.

Season 2 of The Orville was a very different animal from Season 1, though not so different as to be unrecognizable. It was clearly a continuation of the characters, setting, ideas, and style the show-runners developed from the beginning of the series but with the 'dials' adjusted to improve the overall product.

The second season turned the Science Fiction and Action/Adventures elements way up and the Comedy way down resulting in a balance that gave the show it's own unique identity and feel. More than a homage to Star Trek (and never a parody as some mistakenly assumed), The Orville Season 2 told episodic stories that nonetheless tied into several over-arching narratives introduced in the first season. 


Now let's engage the Quantum Drive!
It's time to wash your mouth out with Gordon!


The show's characters are perhaps it's strongest asset. Unlike another starship focused Space Exploration Sci-Fi show that shall go unnamed, this one actually spends time getting to know the ship's Captain and crew and letting us grow to like them. We even get to know the ancillary characters outside of the main crew, be they civilians, villains, or whathaveyou.

As the show progresses we understand each individual better and better and like or dislike them more. Yes, I said dislike. Not every character on the Orville is going to be your favorite character and some are actually going to piss you off sometimes. That said, by making you angry, the character in question still achieves the goal of making you want to see more of them. Will they go too far? Will they change their ways before it's too late?

Each character is different, flawed, and relatable because like us, they aren't perfect. 


As a guy who loves World Building, I thoroughly applaud Season 2's efforts in that regard. Using what was introduced in Season 1 as a base, Season 2 expands upon practically every aspect of the Orville universe. 

The aggressive, antagonistic, religious zealot species, the Krill, are revealed to have enemies beyond just the Planetary Union. In a twist, a rudimentary treaty between the Union and Krill is established to deal with the even greater threat of the highly advanced, artificially intelligent Kaylon! Who are they? Well, one of their species, Isaac, has been serving aboard the Orville since the first episode. Whaa? That's not all! A further fleshing out of the Moclan culture reveals just how messed up it is and leads to them potentially seceding from the Union rather than recognizing and granting freedom to a portion of their populace. 

That's only the species we've already established. We're introduced to new species, how first contact works, how the Union deals with peace talks and times of war. New aliens enter the setting all the time, usually portrayed or at least voice but a notable guest star. 

We see more Union Fleet vessels (including Fighters!), the Union Council, new enemy ships, more alien worlds, time travel, new and ultra-cool uses of the Holographic Simulator, and so much more. 

Oh my gosh - I need them to confirm Season 3 so I can start preparing for an Orville campaign. Sorry. One track mind sometimes. 


What impressed me most of all in The Orville's second season was how they kept making new episodes that reconnected with old ones from Season 1; they told new stories but simultaneously furthered long standing arcs. 

For example, the episode 'Primal Urges' deals with Moclan Second Officer Bortus experiencing a case of addiction to porn. It is revealed he developed the addiction after the Season 1 episode 'About A Girl'. When his mate Klyden wanted their newly born daughter changed into a male (as all Moclans are male except for rare 'defect' births) Bortus was angry and disappointed in Klyden and didn't want to be intimate with him (though clearly still felt the urge to be intimate). A later Season 2 episode, and one of my favorites, 'Sanctuary' stands completely separate from the previous episodes dealing with the issues between Klyden and Bortus and yet ties into them very strongly if not very directly. 

Basically there are some four or five episodes between the two seasons that deal with the Moclans and while each is it's own story, each is also part of the 'Moclan Plot Thread' as it were. 

This is awesome and reminds me very much of how I establish a narrative in my RPG adventures. There are different sessions with different encounters and goings on but many of these events tie into one or more greater 'meta-plots' developing in the background. 

All this just scratches the surface of how amazing this second season was. In addition to the more well developed characters, universe, and stories we got to see new alien Union Officers, incredible starship battles, fantastic VFX, great music, and so many guest appearances it blew my mind. F. Murray Abraham, Jason Alexander, Ted Danson, Marina Sirtis, Patrick Warburton, and Bruce Willis! Are you kidding me?! So cool. 

My desire to run an Orville game is stronger than ever, further aided by the announcement that WizKids is doing a set of The Orville HeroClix. What? You heard me. They are due out in September of this year. 

The only dark cloud as of this writing is that the series has not been officially picked up for a Season 3. There are many factors that may contribute this, most notably the Disney Fox Merger and the upcoming end of Seth MacFarlane's contract and the negotiations that go with that. 

Still and all, things look good. Clues, hints, and many a rumor point toward the series getting renewed. I have high hopes but like millions of other fans of the show, all I can do is wait.

I look forward to sharing good new with you all in the future.

UPDATE: First announced by an article on Entertainment Weekly's website and later confirmed by several sources including Deadline Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety, The Orville has been renewed for a 3rd Season! 

Congratulations to the creator, cast, and crew of The Orville and a deep, heartfelt thanks to the fans who kept the faith and spread the word. I look forward to seeing what comes next.


Barking Alien

*The post title comes from the 6th Episode of Season 2, another absolute favorite of mine. 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Rise and Shine

Happy May the 4th Everyone!

Star Wars Celebration 2019 took place in Chicago on April 11th through the 15th. 

As has been the case for the past 10 years, the event gathers fans from all over the world in one place to discuss, see, purchase, and just plain love anything and everything that is the Star Wars franchise. Including the European and Japanese events, there have been 13 Star Wars Celebrations to date. 

While I have never been able to attend myself, I am there in spirit. In spite of my feelings about The Last Jedi and some other elements of the Post-Disney acquisition films, I am still someone who just freaking loves Star Wars. 

According to what I heard and saw coming out of Celebration this year, there is a lot to love.

After the disappointment that was Episode VIII, I wasn't sure how excited I would be for Episode IX. I mean, it would be impossible for me not to be at least curious but real excitement was not guaranteed. Then I saw the trailer...

The thing is, no Star Wars trailer is going to be bad. These are professional movie making people who are good at creating exciting trailers. No trailer so far has been unexciting but clearly a great trailer doesn't guarantee a great movie (this is true of all trailers for all movies). 

This trailer did something a bit different from its predecessors though. It wasn't exciting so much as interesting and interesting is exactly what it needed to be to catch me. Following the film that snuffed out further development of some characters, eliminated reveals, and killed off legends, I wasn't sure there would be anything to make me say, "Boy oh boy, I can't wait to see this next one". I mean I really need to know can wait. 

Now, well check out the trailer if you haven't already. The Rise of Skywalker looks really intriguing. What the heck is Rey doing with that TIE Fighter? Is that a piece of The Death Star?!? That laugh...What's up with that laugh?!?

Well played Star Wars. Well played. 

But that's not all...not by a long shot. There is also...

Even more than the next film, I am waiting with bated breath for the upcoming streaming series, The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian is something we've never seen before. It is a live-action TV series set in the Star Wars universe, featuring a character we don't yet know, in a time period we've not yet visited in film or animation. At the same time, it's all familiar.

We know the greater universe setting because we've seen it before and we love it. The Mandalorian looks like Boba Fett, who we know, because Boba Fett is a Mandalorian. The design, the feel, the atmosphere; it's all just like it's always been in our imaginations for decades. 

I can hardly wait to see this series. Oh yes, one last point, it is indeed a series and in my personal opinion I think that will benefit the concept and the fans. Instead of a movie which must introduce you to a bunch of characters, get you to care about them, deliver a plot, action, and a satisfying conclusion in a relatively limited period of time, a streaming series allows the people behind The Mandalorian (and we are talking about some very talented people) the time to truly flesh out all the elements and deliver a more thoroughly engaging product. 

Speaking of a series that delivers...

The incredible Clone Wars CGI animated series, which ran 6 seasons before being cancelled due have no idea...corporate stupidity I assume...will be returning on Disney's Disney+ streaming service (the same home as the aforementioned Mandalorian series) with a full 12 episode Season 7. 

This makes me very happy. I am a huge fan of this series and it honestly somewhat makes up for the weak Prequel Trilogy. More so than that however is that it stands on it's own as an incredibly well done depiction of the Star Wars universe. It covers many elements beyond the Fairy-Tale-with-Spaceships theme (which for me is what Star Wars is really about) and yet it doesn't lose that aspect in favor of going too dark, too gritty, or too 'realistic'. I suppose one could say it is just dark, gritty, and realistic enough for a Star Wars story. 

I am seriously excited. Plus, more Ahsoka Tano! You can never have enough Ahsoka. 

There are certainly other interesting things happening in the world of Star Wars that I could talk about - from the Galaxy's Edge additions to the Walt Disney Theme Parks to the upcoming video game Fallen Order - but I am going to stop here for now as I've other subjects to get to. 

I tried to start a new Star Wars campaign a few months back but sadly I lost interest in it rather quickly. I thought some of the PCs and ideas were cool but my enthusiasm waned and never really built back up. Part of this was do to the common adult gamer problem of  scheduling issues but if I'm being honest I might have tried harder to make it work if I was really into the campaign. 

Maybe with some of the these new and revived projects coming out, my zest for running Star Wars again will also return. That's my hope anyway. It isn't A New Hope but at least there is a chance of a Return of The Jedi.

See that? See what I did there?


Barking Alien

On a final sad note...

Peter Mayhew, the gentle giant of a man who portrayed Chewbacca throughout many incarnations of the Star Wars franchise, passed away of a heart attack at the age of 74 on April 30th of this year. 

Mayhew took the character of Chewbacca and made him not only a part of the team but a part of the film's family and our own families as well. The character couldn't speak English and the costume did not allow for much facial expression, but somehow Mayhew emoted. A tilt of the head, great body language, and a well place growl told us all we needed to know about Chewie. 

As a kid, Chewie was my favorite Star Wars character. Like Mr. Spock in Star Trek, Chewbacca was an alien hero fighting along side the Human heroes and treated as one of their own. This is an idea I find endlessly pleasing. 

Mayhew played the character not only in films and television appearances but at charity events for hospitals and other such venues. He wrote two children's books using his own experiences as an unusually tall individual to address bullying and being different. 

Rest in Peace Good Sir. No one is really gone as long as we remember them. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Getting The Band Back Together

"Gonna tell you a story
About a little town I know.

They had a real big problem
With some big mean local ghost.
Those spooks were making
The whole city lose control!

Well, the Mayor was frantic,
The town was panicked,
But they had no sense of fear!
Cause they knew they were missing,
Those boys with a mission,
So they called them up right chere.

They were boxing and trapping
And shooting through the joint;
Stepped right in and
Got down to the point!

Those Ghostbusters came in
Cleaning up the town!


Cleanin' Up The Town, The BusBoys.
Ghostbusters Soundtrack. 1984*

One of the wonderful things that happened this past April - arguably the most wonderful for me personally - was a reunion game session of the Ghostbusters 'The Home Office' campaign my friends and I had during our high school years featuring...the Original Cast! 

Let that sink it. I know! I keep pinching myself so I know it wasn't all a dream. 

After a 30 year hiatus, the players of our original Ghostbusters RPG campaign from The High School of Art & Design met to play one more session at the home of one of our group, my dear friend AJ. 

I had not seen some of these guys in three decades. Will, the oft mentioned Champions RPG Guru and greatest Gamemaster I have ever known, had left NY and moved to Las Vegas nearly 20-25 years ago. I had lost touch with AJ and Mike M., reconnecting with them only over the last couple of years on Facebook. David, Joe, and Eric I see maybe twice a year when David and his daughter visit from Boston. 

On this rare and momentous occasion, David timed his visit to coincide with Will's even rarer trip to New York City. 

Some months back, when all this was being planned, someone suggested we run a game to commemorate the event and a couple of suggestions came up, including Ghostbusters. I seconded Ghostbusters wholeheartedly and suggested Joe V. run it. Will said something along the lines of, "No offense to Joe, but I have no idea when the next time is that I will be in NY. If I'm going to NY for a once in a lifetime game, I would like Adam to run it." Joe seconded and that's how I got to GM a game of Ghostbusters thirty years in the making. 

I can't tell you what it meant to me. Wait. Silly me, sure I can! I'm a writer and I have a blog! 

Above and beyond the game, it was amazing seeing and talking to these guys again. They are, all of them, just such wonderful people. I got to see David's daughter who is delightful and meet Mike's wife who was so cool, interesting, and funny I can't believe we hadn't hung out before. We all got to meet AJ's family and that was pretty special. The past few years have been tough on my good buddy AJ and it was an ethereal experience to see him laugh and smile and share in the joy that practically glowed from the faces of everyone in the house.

Sorry. Something in my eye. I'm not showing Human emotion. Yo..You are. You're showing Human emotion. *Sniff*

Then there was the game itself...

I will do a separate recap of the session later in the month. What I want to talk about here is how it went and how it felt. It was like...the seas parted and I could see the promised land. It was like I felt The Force and shot Proton Torpedoes into a Thermal Exhaust Port just two meters wide without using my Targeting Computer and it...get this...I blew up the Death Star!

It was like coming home. 

The feeling I've been having over the past, geez, close to 10 years now; that I've lost my touch as a GM...Gone. I was in The Zone. I was as good as I'd ever been. Everything went so easily, quickly, and smoothly it's almost hard to believe this was gaming AND what I have been doing for the last decade or so is also gaming. 

It's like how a it's hard to believe a Great Dane is descended from Wolves but so is a Yorkie. Really?

Why did it work so well? What was different? In a word...the Players. You know what? It was that...but it was also much more than that. That is a simplification.

It was the relationship between the Players and the Gamemaster. It was a very different relationship than the one I have with the players in most of my other groups. 

In this group, all the participants were the same age. No one was a little younger or a little older. We are all the same age and with that comes more unified points of reference, a first hand knowledge of a pre-Internet, pre-Cell Phone era, and the same amount of time to mature, experience life, and get to know what we like and what we don't.

Along with this is the fact that our key developmental years in the hobby were also around the same time. In fact, they happened together. We all taught each other how to play. It doesn't matter than Will or I had already been GMing for years when Joe played his first game. What matters is that at the dawn of the major surge in the gaming hobby, this group spent a strong four years of that zeitgeist together, developing alongside each other right along with it. 

This does not by any means indicate we are a group of clones. We have distinctly different approaches to things, different things we embrace and avoid, and a wide variety of opinions on any number of topics. Yet, when I say 'Radio City Music Hall', I am completely, unequivocally convinced we all see the same building, with the same signage, same lights, located on the same busy New York City streets as all the rest of us do. 

In addition, there is a level of trust that is inherent in the group that far exceeds any other group I've played with in a long while. Part of that is our long standing friendship, yes of course. Part of it is everyone wanting the day to turn out well so everyone is extra careful not to be a jerk. On top of all that, we each know that the other has our back in game, out of game, always. No one at the table is there purely to have a good time. They are there to ensure that everyone ELSE has a good time. 

After I taught the group the rules, which took barely 5 minutes, guess how many times I was interrupted with a rule question during the 5 1/2 hour session.

None. Zero. Not once.

Guess how many times any of the players were caught unaware of what their fellow players PC had just done. 

None. Zero. Not once.

Guess how many times people complained about it being too tough, not tough enough, that they got hurt, or that their ability should be able to do X, Y, or Z.

None. Zero. Not once.

Seeing a pattern?

No one suggested the GM should do something to hinder the party or a fellow party member (seriously, I get this A LOT. It infuriates me). No one was disoriented or confused about their physical position in the fictional world (we didn't use minis, maps, or even little quick sketches). The only time something like that came up it made me even happier to be with these guys:

Joe V.: (Comes down to the basement of the building in the main elevator). So, am I behind the entity if I walk down the hall?

Me: No, the main elevator is in the front of the building, right? If you walk to your left down the hall and turn left again at the corner you will see the entity, as well as Dave, Will, and Eric's characters. They came down the stairs remember.

Joe V.: Got it. I see it now. They are in front of me and the entity in front of them. 

Me: Yes.

AJ: Hold on. We (his PC and Mike's) are coming down in the maintenance elevator. That means were on the other side of the building. The rear of the building. So when we get down there we go to the right, right again at the corner, and we would be behind the creature.

Me: (Smiling). Correct. Absolutely correct. 

Did I mention no map was drawn? No minis were used. No pictures of any kind were provided for the location. That's right, because there was NO NEED! This group possesses awareness BEYOND your mortal sense of space and time!

Oh and planning! PLANNING! Do you know how these guys plan; how much time they spend thinking about what they will do? Do they take 20 or 30 minutes of real time to look over their character sheets to find the right skill or try to figure out all the things that could possibly go wrong and perhaps cause their PC to take - heaven forbid - even a single hit point of damage? 

NO! No they do not! They say, "Hmm. OK, here's what I do...", then they DO IT! They describe their actions and roll dice if need be. The whole endeavor from my description of the situation to their description of their action and the rolls took a whole 30 seconds at most. People who think on their feet and take decisive action, ahhh. The good ol' days. 

As with my best NJ Group games, my old NY group games, and some of the better quality ones I've run in the past ten years, it seemed as if we got two or three sessions worth of action, role-playing, and comedy when compared to many of my normal sessions these days. 

Anyway, there is so much more I can say about these fellas, this very special one-shot, and what it might mean for my gaming approach going forward. I've been riding on a wave of creativity and confidence every since this game but alas, I've already had a few moments in games I've run since that make me feel it will be another 30 years before I get a session THAT GOOD again. 

Crossing my fingers but not the streams.

Barking Alien