Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Strange Days

It's that time again Barking Alien fans (and once again I thank the five of you for being here)!

Tomorrow I begin The RPGaDay Challenge for 2019!

This is my sixth year participating in this exercise and I am intrigued by this year's alternative approach. Check this out...

Instead of the traditional questions, RPGaDay 2019 consists of thirty-one, singular word launching points designed to serve as the impetus for a blog post, piece of artwork, YouTube video, a song, or whatever you wish related to the term in question. 

Participants are encouraged to interpret the word and its relation to gaming in any way they see fit. My intention is to read the prompt word and just go with the first thing that comes to mind. 

In the past I have been a bit critical of some of the questions, though always with a sense of humor and a real appreciation for Autocratik and the people who put the RPGaDay event together.

I have felt that sometimes the questions as worded were unclear and vague, without a sense that they should be. This is a wholly different approach. This is open-ended, not vague. That is something I can absolutely get behind. 

I am really looking forward to this year's challenge. As with every year for the past five years, the RPGaDay event gets me out of my Summer blogging slump. I could really use that.

Tune in tomorrow!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Just OK Is Not OK

Have you all seen those AT&T commercials in which someone employs a company or person who is, well, thoroughly mediocre at their job (at best)?

One of my failings as a Gamemaster, one truly bad habit my friends and players have told me I have, is that if the first few sessions of a campaign aren't quite right in my opinion, I'm likely to scrap the whole thing and start developing something else.

I acknowledge how annoying this can be for many gamers. You may have gotten behind the campaign premise, invested in your character, and after a few sessions (or even one session), the GM calls it quits saying it didn't really work for them. That can really turn one off to that particular GM, especially if it's happened more than once within say a few months or even a year. 

I do this. Guilty as charged. I completely understand if this pisses any of my players off. I am truly sorry. I wish this weren't the case.

However...While I will endeavor to be more aware of it, I am unlikely to change. 

If I am running a horror game, I expect it to feel frightening and suspenseful. If I am running an Anime/Manga style Giant Robot game, I am expecting it to feel like my favorite Mecha shows. If the feel or style is off, if the characters don't fit the setting, if the mechanics turn out to be more cumbersome than helpful, I would much rather cut my losses, the group's losses, and put my energy and efforts into something that will be more successful. 

I know I could run a game and if I felt it wasn't working, just make some changes and then run it a few more times to hammer out the problems. That makes some sense but it isn't how my head works. If a game doesn't feel right I don't want to wait until I'm a dozen episodes in to realize its not good. I would see that as a colossal waste of time if I could have nipped it in the bud early and dedicated my efforts towards a better experience. 

A common critique is that I am a perfectionist. If the game doesn't go exactly as I planned or foresaw it, I have to start over. This simply isn't true from my personal perspective. That's not how I look at it. I am not a perfectionist. I am not expecting it to be perfect. On the other head...remember the commercials I mentioned?

Other people might be happy if things turn out to be just OK. I like them to be the best they can be. Sure, I could be lazy and just chuck something out but for me it's both a pride thing and a dedication thing. I try very hard to make each game I run the best game I can produce. I don't like to do it cheap, cut corners, or say 'whatever, it's fine'.

Fine might be good enough for the things you make. It isn't good enough for me. Just OK, is not OK. 

I didn't get a reputation as a great GM by producing OK campaigns.

Barking Alien

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Eagle Landed


On July 20th, 1969, the United States' Apollo 11 became the first Human crewed craft to land on the surface of the Earth's Moon. 

I was born on February 12th, 1969.

I was 6 months old when Neil Armstrong made his 'one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Held by my Mother, we watched the event on television.  From the very beginning, space travel has been a part of me. 

The fact that we, the flawed and all too often foolish Human race managed to travel from our birth world to it's natural satellite is nothing short of amazing. It is the culmination of the pioneering spirit that came before it and the inspiration that fueled all the intrepid journeys that came after it.

Happy 50th Anniversary to Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and all those who made the dream possible. 

Barking Alien

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Satisfy My Soul

I am in the process of re-organizing my gaming schedule.

To be more precise, I am thinking of dropping one of my regular gaming days in order to free up more time to work on material for my remaining games and possibly add one new one that would occur less often. 

It goes like this...

I run a weekly game on a weekday evening.
I run a biweekly game every other Friday night. 
I play in a biweekly game every other Friday night I'm not running mine.
I run a monthly game the first Saturday of each month. 
I run a second monthly game one Sunday a month, the specific day of which changes. 

Of these games, the weekly one is the toughest for several reasons. First, it is during the week and though relatively short I still feel really tired the next day and that's no fun. Not so tired it effects my job or anything so serious, but I don't always feel completely rested as I move into the weekend. 

Another issue is that while I like that game and the players, it's not really keeping my interest. I am losing enthusiasm for it as it were. It's a Fantasy game and while I am occasionally (if rarely) in the mood for Fantasy, it's hard to stay in the mood. I get bored of Fantasy settings and stories very quickly, even when I really like them. 

Lastly*, and most unfairly to said weekly endeavor, I am so much more interested and excited about my other campaigns that I'd much rather be spending time working on them instead of the Fantasy one. The night I run the weekly game and the effort I put into doing research and creating stuff for it is beginning to feel like time I could've spent adding to my other projects. That's a lousy feeling because it mixes creative frustration with guilt. Never enjoyable. 

Now, once this game ends, which incidentally should be soon, I could just run another one, something in a different genre, or perhaps someone else could run that night but I am feeling more and more like I could just take that night off and do other things. Of course by other things I mean prep and design material for other games. In fact, by not gaming that night I could free up enough time to devise...another monthly game.

One of my best buds just got a new job that frees up his weekends. While mine aren't totally free, they flexible during the Summer, so I could pick out one day a month and do another campaign with a floating day to be announced when we figure out who's free. 

Just some thoughts going through my head right now. The success of my FRONTIER campaign has really revitalized my love of gaming and Gamemastering, though a particular style - my style - that I am just not able to bring to all my tables at present. 

If I can do more me, why not do so?

Barking Alien

*My 'last' reason noted above is not really my last reason. There are other reasons the weekday game isn't doing it for me, some of which are hard to convey. Suffice to say I would much rather produce a new campaign similar to FRONTIER than continue or create one in the format of the aforementioned weekday sessions. They just aren't quite scratching the itch. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Do The Right Thing

In the past I have made posts that were critical of various aspects of player approaches to the hobby of Role Playing Games.

Specifically I am talking about things like overthinking, doing nothing on your turn, failing to immerse oneself in the setting and/or your character, and the like. These things irk me a great deal, still do, and I still encounter them more times then is enjoyable (which would be exactly no times. These things are never enjoyable).

This post instead addresses the positive habits and things I love to see players do. I am also proud to say I saw all of these leading up to and during the first session of our new 'Year Zero Engine' Science Fiction campaign, FRONTIER. 

Get Into It Before We Get Into It

I first announced that I was putting together the FRONTIER campaign around May 15th of this year. The first session, the 'Pilot Episode', was run on July 6th.

I had most of the character concepts and questions regarding character creation to me and answered by the last week of June. Practically all the characters were completed about 3-5 days before the first session. 

All the players had come to the table with character names already in mind. 

That is how it's done. 

Know Yourself

The first session had a 'cold opening' in which a transport ships nearly collided with the space station serving as the PCs home base. I then announced klaxons and alarms going off all over the outpost as the place shakes like go-go dancer at a 70s LA nightclub during an earthquake.

I then pointed at at player and asked, "It's 0600 hours station time. Where is your character, what are they doing?" 

Each player responded via a short scene that established who they were and how they react to emergency situations. No one took more than a minute or two. Perfect. I then gave them each another minute or so follow up before forwarding to the station's flight deck an hour and a half later.

The group was assembled at the airlock to a Scout/Survey vessel belonging to one of the PCs. Each Player Character had been chosen to go to the surface of the planet below and see if the transport, which crash landed, had any survivors. Also, they needed to retrieve any intact cargo. Every PCs had a different Skill Set useful to the mission. 

In both that scene and the short trip to the planet we got to know a little bit more about their personalities and interactions with each other. Again, brilliant. 

Think Fast

Each player quickly and smoothly decided what their character would do to accomplish the group's goals. They split up into teams - two guys went to look for survivors inside the ship, two went to check on the cargo, and three more went to check out footprints and heat signatures leading away from the transport in the direction of a cliff. The Pilot PC stayed with the Survey Vessel to monitor and coordinate the operation and also stay in touch with the orbital station. 

Team One was investigating but also had our PC Doctor. Team Two had a Biologist and an Engineer - one figured out what was perishable and important and needed to go first while the other figure out the best way to load up and move the containers. Team Three had a Scout to determine how to move along the loose sand cliff, a Security Officer in case they ran into dangerous local wildlife, and a Scientist with a variety of skills for dealing with, shall we say, the unexpected. 

At least one, maybe twice, the teams modified what they needed to do and who should do it. 

Basta! That's it. Quick and clean.

Take Action!

I have to single out one player who really did an amazing job of just freaking doing something. We'll call him Nick.

Nick is playing a Scientist whose specialty is First Contact, Archeology, and Anthropology. There are no intelligent aliens in the setting up to this point in the milieu's history but various clues have indicated there might be, so we need a guy who knows First Contact protocols. OK.

So at one point, Nick, the Scout, and the Security guy drive a buggy/jeep type vehicle to the edge of a loose, sandy cliff to find two survivors of the Transport Ship crash wrestling on the ground.

The Scout and Security guy leap out of their vehicle and run over to drag these two morons away from a long, steep fall to their deaths. In addition, sensors indicate native worm creatures are rapidly approaching that position. 

As the PCs yank the survivors to safety, the vicious worm beasts lunge at the group. Nick's Scientist is still in the car and when I get to him he says something like, "I am not really a combat person. I...I go into the front seat and drive over so they can get into the car faster." A great idea except...our Scientist also has not driving skill and a low Agility. 

So what does he do? HE DOES IT ANYWAY! I think I teared up a little. 

Was he successful? Not really, but he tried and it really pointed to his character's character! Similarly there was another moment when an NPC had a gun, a concealed pistol, and Nick's character panicked while trying to get it away from the guy. He failed to disarm the opponent but his startled reaction made the driver in the front seat at the time - a Security Officer PC - aware of the situation. 

It was AWESOME to see a player act like a Human Being in a tense situation and not like a PC in a RPG. Also, Nick didn't rationalize or argue that his PC SHOULD HAVE been able to do X, Y, or Z. He said straight up, "This guy is not the guy for this moment in time." Ha! I think he was perfect for that moment by being so wonderfully imperfect. He made it extra memorable.

Anyway, I got to run but WOW, if all my players in all my games were like these guys I'd not have felt like I needed to run this one. Wait...I...whoah. That's actually true. Well, thank goodness for varying degrees of awesomeness I suppose. 

Barking Alien

Monday, July 8, 2019

Don't Call It A Comeback! I've Been Here For Years

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Barking Alien blog to bring you this important announcement...

This past Saturday - July 6th, 2019 - I went back to my roots so to speak and started a new campaign at my FLGS, The Compleat Strategist. 

In the process of doing so a pretty amazing thing happened. I got my groove back. I felt like my old gaming self again. I didn't second guess myself or my players, no one second guessed me, and I didn't pull any punches. 

It was pretty damn glorious.

The campaign is titled, simply, FRONTIER.

Based on an idea I've had for over 30 years now but could never quite figure out how to put into motion, I was lucky enough to get a large group of players to buy in on what I described as, "A Science Fiction story about scientists at the very edge of known space trying desperately to save a dying Earth. Our home world needs a miracle. It's up to you to find or make one."

The setting is basically a Hard Science Fiction, Space Exploration universe with a look and feel reminiscent of late 1970s and 1980s Sci-Fi films like Alien, Aliens, Blade Runner, Outland, The Abyss, and The Thing.

The game's setting has more advanced technology than is seen in many of the aforementioned movies, with artificial intelligence, robots, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and laser weapons being a bit more common place. A bit mind you. I wanted to keep things grounded in real and current speculative science with allowances for the game's year of 2212. 

What makes the game special and rather unique for me is that it includes elements of dystopian fiction and horror, two things I generally avoid except as a little seasoning here and there. FRONTIER on the other hand truly comes alive by telling the players that the Earth is a hair's breadth from either dystopian ruin or a new utopian age. It's all up to their PCs. At the same time the job is hard, space is dangerous, alien worlds are deadly and unforgiving to those who come from somewhere else. The players need to be smart, they need to be decisive, and they need to deal with bureaucracy, the greed or ego of government officials, and finite time and resources. 

Saving the world is not going to be easy. 

There is so much more I want to say about the setting and how the first session went but I will save that for another post. Suffice to say I had a fantastic time and the group seemed to really enjoy it as well.

More than anything else, it just feels like this is MY kind of game. I feel in my element. I feel like this is going to be one for the ages. It's been a long time since I felt this way. 

This is Frontier Station, SITRI Project HQ, from SA-2, 18 Scorpii system, signing off...

...for now.

Barking Alien