Monday, December 28, 2020

31 Days / 31 Characters - A Celebration!

The Old Dragoon's Blog posted that someone else (possibly Tardis Captain's Blog of Holding?) had initiated a 31 Days / 31 Characters RPG Challenge for the month of January 2021.

To me this sounds like an excellent way to get the creative juices flowing and start the New Year off with a bang. While is going to create a new character in a new system every day for 31 day (WOW! More power to you sir!), I am going with a different take on things. 

Each day in the month of January I will post a different character from one of the many, many campaigns I have run or played in in the past. Some of these characters will be mine, some will be those of my players, and some will be memorable NPCs. I will indicate the Player or NPC nature of the character, list the system, setting, and campaign they were used in and give some background information on them. 

This is a perfect excuse to do a blog series I've been thinking about for a very long time, which is to celebrate some of the greatest characters in the greatest games I've been a part of, especially if they haven't gotten the proper love in other posts I've done previously. In a way it's a nice combination of Campaigns I Have Known/Played, Player Profiles, and a special thank you to everyone in my life who have made gaming my favorite pastime bar none. 

Also, just FYI - February of 2021 marks 12 Years of Barking Alien! My blog will be 12 years old on Feb. the 23rd. It's going to be an Anniversary year!

See you next month. Happy New Year to you and yours from me, mine, my dog Sketch, and of course Barkley. 

Barking Alien

The original 31 Day Character Creation Challenge image
OK, not exactly the original. I altered it slightly. 
The real one was kind of bland and off center.
It gave me artistic OCD until I tweaked it.  

Sunday, December 27, 2020

This Is The Way

What a time to be a Star Wars fan!

I feel I have said this before and what followed was a somewhat mixed bag, with the misses feeling more impactful than the hits. This time things are different, largely because of the success of...

With the second season of this amazing streaming series now complete, I'd like to take a moment to discuss it, the recent announcements of Lucasfilm/Disney's upcoming slate of Star Wars projects, and what it all means to me and my love of gaming in that galaxy 'Long Ago' and 'Far, Far Away'.

First and foremost, let me say I absolutely LOVE The Mandalorian. It is Star Wars perfected, distilled down to its core and key ingredients, with all the impurities and waste burned away. It is high adventure, fast paced action, dramatic pathos, and great characters set against a backdrop of fantastic worlds, bizarre creatures, and cool aliens. Add in robots, vehicles, starships, and space battles and you've got exactly what I crave. 

In the second season finale, you've also got a shot of nostalgia big enough to drop a Bantha but it serves the story and fits perfectly with what has come before it. It builds not the narrative of the series instead of taking away from it (which honestly I felt another episode did do and it was the only disappointing episode the show has had thus far). Star Wars is at its best when serving as a love letter to classic storytelling models we are familiar with such as Westerns, Samurai films, World War II movies, and Fairy Tales. Some may call it fan service but when it is done well I believe Star Wars has earned the right to reference another beloved classic, and that's Star Wars itself.

What is scheduled to follow The Mandalorian is nothing short of amazing, with 12 additional products planned for streaming and theatrical release over the next three years, not including - let me repeat - Not including - Season 3 of The Mandalorian. 

In addition to the continuation of the Mandalorian there will be an unnamed, unspecified film being written and directed by Taika Waititi and the 10 projects shown above. This is also a Boba Fett series (likely a limited series) not shown in this image entitled, 'The Book of Boba Fett'. There is a lot to go over and very little information on any of it but there are a few stand-out items (at least for me) that I'd like to address. 

The only confirmed feature film other than Waititi's mystery movie is Rogue Squadron, directed by Wonder Woman/WW 1984 director Patty Jenkins, and scheduled for release in 2023. That's a long way off but I felt this was definitely worth mentioned because of my intense but mixed feelings about it.

Starfighters and their pilots are one of my favorite elements of the Star Wars universe and stories that focus on them are definitely something I enjoy. I am a big fan of the Star Wars Squadrons video game (especially now that they've added the B-Wing Fighter), the Alphabet Squadrons books (though they could have been even better. Such is the nature of Star Wars novels), and the attack on Scarif in 'Rogue One' was my favorite part of the film after the Darth Vader hallway sequence. 

This seems like it would be the Star Wars movie I've been waiting for. Seems...

I am not enamored with Patty Jenkins as a director. I feel like Wonder Woman was only OK at best and most of her other work has been good but not necessarily awe-inspiring. I am extremely moved by her announcement video  however and I do believe in her desire to make a fantastic fighter pilot film. We'll have to see if her interest in the subject can add that extra umpf needed to make this a great movie. 

Next up according to my level of interest is 'Rangers of the New Republic', a streaming series coming to Disney+. No official airdate has been given as of yet.

Ever since the rather disappointing Sequel Trilogy I've felt that the New Republic and by association all the effort that went into establishing it (i.e. the Original Star Wars Trilogy) was being depicted as kind of a waste. Didn't we fall in love with this IP in the first place by watching a band of rebels overthrow a tyrannical government in hopes of establishing (really re-establishing) a democracy? Thirty years later it gets destroyed and crumbles just like that? 

Moreover, we just never got to see the win if you know what I mean. We never got to see the happily ever after, even if it wasn't quite perfect. This was addressed and vastly improved by the Mandalorian, which sees Agents of the New Republic (perhaps these are the Rangers?) patrolling the Outer Rim of the galaxy desperately trying to hunt down criminals and maintain law and order. 

I've always loved the idea of a galactic patrol zooming through the stars tracking down cosmic criminals and helping people in need. From the Lensmen series and the Green Lantern Corps they inspired to Andre Norton's Space Police short story collection and even The Galaxy Police of Japan's Tenchi Muyo series, the idea of officially sanctioned interstellar do-gooders is right up my alley. Can't wait to see where this series takes that concept as applied to the Star Wars milieu. 

Star Wars: Ahsoka is of course the highly anticipated live-action series featuring Rosario Dawson as Ahsoka Tano, everyone's favorite Togruta former apprentice of the big kahuna himself, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. I am very much looking forward to this though I do have some trepidations.

The episode of The Mandalorian in which she made her debut was the only episode out of the two seasons of that show that I can honestly say I did not like. She, Dawson as Ahsoka, was fine. I didn't like how it essentially interrupted Mando's story, added very little beyond an info dump of The Child's background (which I frankly found to make little sense) and the whole thing just felt like a commercial for her upcoming show.

Also, her mention of searching for 'Grand Admiral' Thrawn at the end annoyed me. I know, I know, everybody loves Thrawn and I will admit I found him pretty cool in Rebels but I honestly despise the character and his mention in live-action further bummed me out. It means we will have to see him in live-action sometime in the future. We can't put Superheroes in spandex because it would appear hokey but we can have an Imperial Officer who is a blue alien with glowing red eyes in Star Wars. Ugh. I'd much rather see a live-action Jaxxon

Could the live-action Ahsoka series be the much rumored 
Star Wars Rebels sequel I've been dying for?

If not, Why Not?

The biggest surprise in the world of Star Wars entertainment wasn't supposed to be a surprise at all. We'd been hearing rumors for sometime of a new series featuring a fan favorite character but his show wasn't included in the Investor's Day announcements. Many thought it was an oversight, other said it was proof it was just a rumor but instead it was withheld so as not to ruin the end of Season 2 of The Mandalorian. It turns out we are getting a series featuring the first Mandalorian Bounty Hunter we ever met. It's all right here in...

Beyond these...

The Acolyte is a curious series set to take place during the High Republic, a period 200 years before the Prequel era. It follows a female protagonist investigating the secret world of Dark Side powers and the emerging forces of evil that [I assume] lead to the rise of Emperor Palpatine. 

I'm excited to see a Lando show announced and if the rumors and speculations are true it could be a really good addition to the line up. Supposedly we would see Billy Dee Williams as an older Lando Calrissian reminiscing about the adventures of his youth, which we will then watch with the younger Lando played by Donald Glover. I love this idea!

Speaking of old friends, the Obi-Wan Kenobi series featuring Ewan McGregor as the titular Jedi in hiding is scheduled to be a mini-series on Disney+. This series will tell a tale of Master Kenobi on Tatooine watching over and protecting young Luke Skywalker. He is joined by fellow Prequel alum Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker and/or Darth Vader. Honestly it hasn't been revealed yet how Christensen will be involved exactly but I could see anything from flashbacks to Vader on the hunt for Kenobi, trying to track down his former mentor following Order 66. 

The last of the live-action series that I'd mention is Andor, focusing on the character of Cassian Andor from Rogue One. I am not particularly interested in this one though I will likely check it out it, it's probably on the bottom of my list as far as these announcements go. 

I am eager to check out the new animated series, The Bad Batch. Wasn't super stoked about it at first, since we barely got to know those characters and they seemed rather one note but the trailer looks very promising. I am kind of bummed the next animated series isn't a Star Wars: Rebels sequel though. OK, very bummed.

Star Wars: Visions is an anthology series of animated episodes each done by a different Japanese Anime studio. I have no idea what to expect from this project but I find the idea very intriguing. Not only will it be cool to see the Star Wars galaxy in Anime form but also, what do those of the Japanese cultural mindset appreciate about Star Wars? Sooo on board for this. 

Another animated project mentioned that I am curious about is Star Wars: A Droid Story. My love of Droids aside, the description of this as an animated series being co-developed by the division of ILM that worked on Vader Immortal and the other Virtual Reality games makes me wonder what visual style this series will have. I am most intrigued. 

What does this me for me and my long time love of Star Wars gaming? Well, the main take away is more material, more inspiration, more reason than ever to start up an ongoing Star Wars RPG campaign.

The thing that has made running a Star Wars game difficult in the recent past is the fact that it seems harder to get everyone on the same day as to what a Star Wars game entails. This is because Star Wars itself, like Star Trek, has suffered from an identity crisis. It and its fandom have fractured somewhat, with those who love the franchise differing on what the franchise is really about. What makes and is good Star Wars is no longer a question with a singular answer set in place by a singular vision. 

Now, it seems that may change, at least to some extent. The Mandalorian has proven that good Star Wars is good Star Wars. There is a certain 'true form' to the setting and its stories. With many of the shows mentioned above taking place in the same time period and said to be culminating in a multi-series crossover event a la Marvel's Netflix Defenders or CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths, the new 'default' era of Star Wars could prove perfect for gaming in.  

More on that as things progress...

I know this post is already quite long but I want to conclude with remembrance of those Star Wars icons how have become one with The Force. 

Within the past several months we lost two English actors whose physical talent and presence made for the greatest villains in annals of Star Wars and among the most memorable in cinematic history.

David Prowse, the British bodybuilder, weightlifter, and character actor who played Darth Vader passed away on November 28th of this year due to an unspecified illness. He was 85. Prowse's early career as a bodybuilder landed him the role of Julian, Frank Alexander's bodyguard in the film, A Clockwork Orange. Interestingly, he trained various actors for roles of a very physical nature, including Christopher Reeve for Superman and Cary Elwes as Wesley in The Princess Bride.

Jeremy Bulloch passed away at the much too young age of 75 on December 17th due to complications from Parkinson's Disease. Bulloch was best known as the actor who played the bounty hunter Boba Fett in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He was a character actor who regularly appeared in both major and minor roles in British television show, including sitcoms, and had minor supporting roles in the James Bond film franchise. 

Lastly and by no means least, quite the opposite in fact, we remember that two years ago we lost the galaxy's princess and our real world treasure Carrie Fisher.

Thank you all for coming with me on this tour of the galaxy long ago and far, far away.

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Life Day, and May The Force Be With You!

Barking Alien

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Can You Picture That?

I noticed an interesting dynamic recently while playing in a Dungeons and Dragons 5E game being run by a good friend of mine. 

Yes, you read that right. Me. Dungeons and Dragons. The madness of 2020 knows no end.

I was thinking about the fact that combat in D&D, specifically in the game I am participating in, is both a key aspect of the game and my least favorite part of an RPG I am generally not a fan of to begin with. Thankfully I was able to pinpoint the main reason for this and I spoke to the DM about it so we can try to remedy the situation. 

What it boils down to is this:

In most of the games we've (myself and my groups) been playing lately, the narrative comes first, followed by the mechanics to resolve the narrative, and finally the effects of the roll, often involving more narrative.

As an example:

Star Trek Adventures

GM: "OK, what would you like to do Lieutenant?"

Player: "Hmm. I scan the planet to see if those volcanos are erupting in a pattern."

GM: "Interesting. OK, roll versus Reason plus Science."

Player: "Cool. Can I use my Focus 'Sensor Analysis'?" Looking at the other players. "Analyzing these sorts of situations is one of my specialties."

The team agrees. The GM nods yes. 

Player rolls two Successes. 

GM: "Well done. They are indeed in a pattern and it repeats. Definitely no natural example of volcanology."

Now in D&D 5E, we've been playing in a very different way. Here we seem to put the mechanics first, resolve the mechanics, then resolve the situation further if needed (damage, saving throws, etc.), and finally we describe the narrative of the situation. 

By example: (Paraphrasing and I apologize for not knowing all the terminology)

Dungeons and Dragons

GM: "OK, what would you like to do Druid?"

Player: "Hmm. I use a minor action to cast 'Misty Step' to get to the Fighter. Then I use my full action to cast a Healing Spell."

GM: "OK, you heal 1D8 points plus your modifier. That modify is based on...Wisdom for your character?"

Player: "Yes. So, plus 3. I roll a 5 for a total of 8 points."

GM: "OK, what does that look like?"

Player: "Yes, OK, a field of mist appears before me, I step into it and a similar one appears near the Fighter and I step out of it. I then put my hand on the Fighter's shoulder and say, 'You look like you could use some help'."

Can you see what I am getting at?

What happens to me, the way my head works, is that I am not really sure what is going on until that last line is spoken. I can't quite picture what events are transpiring if the only thing defining those events is a bunch of rules. 

After a bunch of that from multiple players I lose interest in what is happening. To me it becomes a meaningless deluge of numbers and games terms and I can't really envision the scene. 

On the other hand, if you open by describing the action you're taking and end by painting a picture of the result, the visual and narrative sense of the situation stays with you. 

If you start with minor actions, hit modifiers, saving throws, and other discussions of rules and die rolls, and don't really discuss the scene itself until the end, you can assume I've already tuned out. 

I've noticed that when playing Star Trek Adventures, the ALIEN RPG (for our Red Dwarf/Yellow Sun campaign), Champions, and several other games, we definitely play in the aforementioned style. 

The D&D approach is noticeably different because its not one I've encountered very often. 

I've seen it with Marvel Heroic sadly. It always starts with, "Well I may be alone (D8), and just some Wisecracker (D8), but I can still use my Super Strength and Webs (a D10 and a D8)...", and always ends up with players just listing the dice in their pool. "I've got a D8, another D8, a D10, and one more D8", and you really don't know what it is they're doing. 

In conclusion, the GM agreed that this was definitely something that was going on. He suggested we mention it to the rest of the group and try to describe our actions before we take to the mechanics. 

Have any of you encountered something like this? What has your experience been? 

Interested to know and discuss. 

Until next time,

Barking Alien

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Apropos of Nothing

Just some thoughts going through my head at the moment...a kind of 'State of Gaming 2020' type musing.

I think Barkley's face here
speaks for us all in 2020.

Amid the awesome sessions I've had lately with my old High School buddies and a few of my other gaming endeavors, my mainstay campaign still feels more frustrating than fun.

Honestly, I don't feel any of my campaigns are currently at the level of my 'best work', though that doesn't mean they aren't a lot of fun. I just feel a longing for something on the quality and scale of our Red Dwarf/Yellow Sun campaign from not long ago or the Alien RPG campaign ALIEN FRONTIER from the before times (pre-Global Health Crisis).

I continuously feel 'held back' in a way that I can't seem to accurately articulate. I wish I knew the source of this feeling. Being someone who closely analyzes such things, it is especially frustrating not to be able to solve this particular mystery.

Part of it I realize is my player base. Yes, a part of it is clearly me and no, I am not blaming my players for anything. Rather, I am now hyper-aware that my style of play and that of many of my players is intrinsically different. This became incredibly obvious after playing with my High School pals. Even after 30 years we snapped right back into the dynamic that made all those old games work so well. 

I haven't gamed with some of these guys in nearly three decades and a few others I've only played one-shots with once a year here and there. Yet when assembled, its like no time has passed and the two Ghostbusters sessions (one this past October and one in May of 2019) were some of the best games I've had in ages. 

 At present my gaming schedule consists of:

I am running a weekly Star Trek Adventures campaign inspired by Star Trek: Lower Decks.
I am running a bi-weekly Star Trek Adventures campaign set in the TOS era.
I am running the occasional fill-in/one-shot for the GMs I'm playing with when they need a break. 
I am running the occasional one-shot with my old High School group when we can organize it.

I am playing in a weekly Star Trek Adventures game set post-Dominion War.
I am playing in a bi-weekly Hogwarts/Wizarding World campaign.
I am playing in a D&D 5E campaign (yes, really) - See below.

Some buddies of mine have started a...*gag*...Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition game run by a friend of mine, the first session of which went fairly well. In trying to describe it I keep coming up with the analogy that it was a finely brewed cup of tea and I am a coffee drinker. It just isn't my thing no matter how well put together it was and it was well put together. That said I am going to give it my all and try to enjoy it. As D&D games it is good so far and that is promising. 

I'd give it all up for one ongoing, in-person campaign of something really different, with at least six players.

Either that or a Star Trek or Star Trek game with five to seven players that really rocked the feel of my style of play - lots of role-play, bold heroic action, deep genre/setting immersion, creative problem solving, and fast paced gaming. 

That's it. That's all the self-indulgent gripping I can muster. I feel a little better.

Now, what else is going on...

Barking Alien

Monday, December 7, 2020

Star Trek: Renown - The Voyage Home

For this last entry on my Star Trek: Renown 30 year reunion game, I wanted to reiterate how enjoyable it was/is to game with this group once again. 

I run and play with multiple groups and fairly often these days; the experiences running the gamut from light hearted fun to please someone put me out of my misery. 

With my ol' High School of Art & Design crew that is never the case. 

Every session so far has been amazing or better. Case in point, this Star Trek Adventures outing. 

To be honest, I didn't think I did such a great job running it. There were reasons, and I can definitely be too critical of myself, yet still and all I think it could have been even better than it was. That said, it was REALLY GOOD. Everyone said they had a great time, people were already looking forward to our next game together, and the player who played the Captain, David Concepcion, wrote this post-game 'Captain's Log' the next day and posted it to our group chat on Facebook. 


The USS Renown has received orders from Starfleet to put into Starbase 35 for refit and reassignment. Starfleet Command has also offered me a promotion to Admiral in light of our current mission's completion, the signing of the Treaty of Gamma Dorado III, in addition to my many years of service. I must admit it is bittersweet to accept either of these commendations. 

I have spent a majority of my career aboard the Renown; the last five as its captain and prior to that as the engineer who successfully devised the IPPS system that powers it. To have her under someone else's command is close to heart-breaking but that is mostly because she is one of the finest ships in the Federation and has a crew almost parallel to none. This is especially true of the Renown's bridge and command crew, who should be commended and rewarded for their outstanding ability and work above and beyond the call of duty. I owe them, as much as the Renown and its fleet, almost everything and so note this for the record. 

As for the promotion, I am still considering it. It is a great honor and not one to be taken lightly, yet it can be ceremonial and lends oneself to many years of bureaucracy instead of being out in the field. As the events surrounding our last mission show, it feels a little early to be put on a display shelf just yet. Still, I am reminded of the words a fellow colleague once said, “galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young.” Maybe accepting a secure, less life-threatening job isn't as bad as one is led to believe. 

Whatever the future holds, this will mark the end of one chapter in the lives of the USS Renown and its crew. Another chapter will begin soon and I wish those involved nothing but the best of luck and the clearest of night skies. May we all live up to history and the bright future this ship has given us.

I love this. I love that someone was moved enough by the adventure, by the legacy of this campaign, its character and events, to write something like this. It may seem like nothing special to you but to me it's everything. These days I'm lucky if people remember the name of an NPC from scene to scene or what was happening in the previous session. Here I have a group of players who remember their characters and the adventures they were on from a game from 30 goddamn year ago. That story may have come to a close but clearly, with this team, the fun never truly ends. 

Live Long and Prosper Everyone!

Barking Alien

Star Trek: Renown - The Motion Picture - Part II

 The story continues...

"Why are you here?" Commander Sovik asks the Vanir representative. "Your people exist beyond the keen of mortal lives. You can travel when and where you wish, bend space and time, and no one here is a real threat to you. What do you have to benefit from 'Peace Talks'? Why should such a thing even come under your notice?"

The Vanir fixed its faceless gaze upon the Vulcan; the prismatic fire flickering and roiling within the deep, dark hood. A dozen voices old and young, male and female, deep and whispering, said, "Why indeed?"

There was a bunch of investigation at this point by the Science Officer, Ensign Sanchez, and a good deal of role-playing by the captain. This culminated in everyone coming to different realizations and needing to inform Captain Hendrix.

Meanwhile up in space, two Romulan T-10 'Reema' Class Destroyers have existed warp and were bearing down on the Renown. 

Several people approached the Captain to get his attention and as he turned to each his communicator chirped. "Hold that thought", he said to the group, holding up a finger on one hand and placing his communicator to his ear with the other. Lt. Tabula and Dr. Kron'kite filed the commanding officer in on the status of things. The Strider situation had been a ruse and now the Renown was under attack. The ship is detecting a powerful build up of Alpha Waves and Psychic Energy surround the ship, especially the bridge, but emanating from the planet. 

Lt. Commander Rrr'owfrtt stepped in at that point to note that he detected the Alpha Waves as well and they were coming from both the Vanir and the Vulcan Diplomat Saret. Oddly, Saret was coming up charged with Alpha Waves but not showing the standard biological readings of a Vulcan. He theorized she might not be real or even really there. He also detected a gravimetric disturbance that he could not yet explain. The Captain recommended he focus on that for now.

Commander Sovik said that he was familiar with Saret, at least the real Saret, and would deal with her if need be. The key was clearly the Vanir, a nearly god-like entity that shouldn't really have any stake in the game, as Humans would say. 

The Captain took a deep breath and gave the following instructions: 

He told the Renown to disengage from standard orbit to have more room to move around. Protect the planet and the Peace Negotiations at all costs. Also try to draw the enemy away from the planet and the ships of the other delegations. Hail the USS Daring and USS Invincible. See if they can come back us up. Do the best you can. 

Captain Hendrix then confronted the Vanir asking it was it was doing and why it bothered to show up just to throw a wrench into the works. Pulling back its hood to reveal a handsome, young, blonde Human with a sly grin, the Vanir said, "Oh come now Captain. This is the only reason to be here!" 

Miranda Class Deck 1 - Bridge design by Falke

Up in space, the Renown moves to engage its two unseen assailants. As one of the enemy ships decloaks to fire, Tabula angles the ship to put in it a better position to protect the planet. Using his Animal Telepathy, Dr. Kron'kite reaches out to see if there are any creatures aboard either of the opposing vessels. Sensing a bird at the fore of one of the ships, a pet of the vessel's commander, he confers with the bridge to give Tabula a rough idea of the Romulan Destroyer's position. The Renown fires and strikes an excellent shot on the 'Bright One's rear. 

The second destroyer swings around and fires but misses. The Alfeans contact the Renown and announce they are coming to their aid. The Hudra ask the Alfeans if they need assistance and the Alfeans give a haughty no, saying they have it under control. 

Back on Gamma Dorado III, Captain Hendrix and the Vanir, who identifies himself as Loki, discuss what is really going on.

After centuries, even millennia, of not being particularly invested in the affairs of mortals, the Vanir see this as a major time of change. One of those moments that define the nature of many species and their worlds for a long time to come. To what end though? For better or worse? For five years Hendrix and the Renown have worked to make peace between the powers of the Bluebell Reach. For five years the Romulans have worked to uncover its secrets and conquer it. Who's way is best? What are you really willing to do to bring about your endgame?

In an impassioned though short and direct speech, Hendrix summarizes what has always been his mindset - There is no goal higher than mutual understanding, friendship, and peace. Logan Hendrix will walk over burning coals, climb any mountain, cross any river, to prevent war and support the idea that all of us together create something greater than the sum of our parts. 

As the battle rages in space and the Alfeans suffer some minor damage, the Hudra and Froskr ships ask the Renown if they, instead of the Alfeans, would except help. The Deltan equivalent of 'hell yes' is Tabula's reply. With Kron'kite assisting by using Romulan psychology to predict the enemy ships movements, the Renown scores a very lucky shot on one of the destroyers. They take a hit to their shields that causes them to loose communications for time but the engineers get on that immediately. 

Lt. Commander Rrr'owfrtt uses some clever science techniques to investigate the odd gravimetric disturbance mentioned earlier. It turns out a cloaked Romulan ship has been sitting above the Diplomatic Outpost this whole time! Flashes of light from within the cloak of the Vanir spark Ensign Sanchez to tackle the immortal! She misses, falling on her face but impressing the entity to returns to his 'Loki' image. The Vanir makes it clear he didn't bring the Romulan ship here but he did allow it. 

Using the communications array of the Outpost, Rrr'owfrtt and Sanchez are able to jam the comm system of the mystery Romulan craft, forcing its crew to take action. The vessel decloaks revealing a Romulan V-10 'Nighthawk' which proceeds to beam a large squad of Romulan officers onto the planet, lead by the Renown campaign's long standing arch-nemesis, Romulan Commander Herucless (pronounced HEHRU-cless). The Romulans proceed to move forward toward the Outpost firing their Disruptors. 

Hendrix orders the delegates inside and all follow his commands except Loki the Vanir, who insists he is in no danger. The Renown officers return fire, including the NPC Security Officer brought in early to protect the Negotiations. Rrr'owfrtt meanwhile, still having access to the Outpost's sensor and communications systems, attempts to hack the Romulan ship's computer. He is successful and initiates all the vessel's ventral thrusters to fire at max, sending the craft straight up into the higher atmosphere. 

Romulan V-10 Nighthawk Cruiser.
Design by FASA.
Redesign and Illustration By Chris 'Atolm' Reyes

The Renown detects the rapidly rising Nighthawk Cruiser and asks the Hudra and Froskr to focus their efforts on that ship. They do, with the Hudra dropping mining charges down into the planet's gravity as the Nighthawk soars upward towards the explosives. KA-THOOM! A thunderous collision that causes the Romulan ship massive damage! The Froskr ships, Scout sized spacecraft they refer to as 'cruisers', use tractor beams to catch the ship and pull it out of the atmosphere of Gamma Dorado III. 

The Destroyers come in for another pass as the Renown detects two new Warp signatures entering the region. The Daring and the Invincible, under the commands of Captain McAllister and Capt. Stovol respectively! A barrage of phaser fire from the two Miranda Class ships cause the Destroyers to immediately go on the defensive and take evasive maneuvers. 

Meanwhile the battle on the ground is fast and intense. Hendrix and Sovik are able to stun Herucless as Hendrix shouts at the Romulans that they are wasting their time. It doesn't matter what their plan is, it doesn't matter what tricks they have up their sleeves, or even whether or not the Vanir are interfering. Hendrix and his people have spent too much in blood, sweat, and tears to give up. Peace will be achieved, the species of the Bluebell Reach will be allied, and the Federation will be waiting to shake everyone's hand, pat them on the back, and congratulate the Azure Nebula on finding common ground. It is a destiny achieved through hard work and determination. 

Smiling, the Vanir nods and says, "I agree Captain. I am convinced. You truly believe in this effort. You are willing to lay down your life so that future generations won't have to sacrifice theirs. The test is at an end and the Vanir will support your efforts." 

"Is that it? Is it over?" asks Sovik. 

"I suppose it is", says the Vanir. "Shall I dispense with the Romulans Captain? Their way is clearly not the future."

The Captain says, "Dispense? As in eliminate? No. Let them go. Let them take the same message you just learned back to their empire."

"So be it", says the Vanir and he puts his hood back up over his head. His face disappears, replaced by a blazing ball of multi-colored fire. The scattered and stunned Romulans disappear, placed back on their ship with their communications returned. They coordinate with the two Destroyers and all depart the system as quickly as they can, with a dazed Herucless vowing that Hendrix and company had not seen the last of him. 

Scene cut to sometime latter, with the delegates and Starfleet officers in a room inside the Outpost. Hendrix officially opens the proceedings and the Alfeans, Hudra, Froskr, Vanir, and a half dozen lesser powers all eager to hammer out a lasting accord of peace and mutual prosperity. 

In the final scenes, some indeterminate number of hours later, Hendrix meets with Captain McCallister and Captain Stovol on the grounds outside of the Diplomatic Outpost. McCallister hands Hendrix a plastic 'folder' with official Starfleet emblems and such on it. He opens to find documents congratulating him and his crew on a job well done. In addition, there are new orders, return to Starbase 35 for the completion of the Renown's Five Year Mission, its Repair and Refit, and the reassignment of its crew. As for the Captain himself, Starfleet is offering him the enticing though bittersweet position of Admiral. 

Logan Hendrix doesn't immediately respond to this, instead taking a moment to suggest there is no rush to engage in such weighty affairs. Better to take a deep breath, bask in the sun, and enjoy this moment right here, right now.


That was the end of the session. 

Stay tuned for one final discussion of the game and some interesting (hopefully) insights into playing Star Trek and playing with this group specifically. 

Peace and Long Life,

Barking Alien

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Star Trek: Renown - The Motion Picture - Part I

Shhh...the movie is about to start!


Our crew is (left to right):

Ensign Barbara 'Babs' Sanchez, Chief Communications Officer - Human, Female. - Eric
Commander Sovik, First Officer and Chief Tactical Officer - Vulcan, Male. - Will
Lt. Commander Rrr'owfrtt, Chief Science Officer - Caitian, Male. - Joe
Captain Logan Hendrix, Commanding Officer - Human, Male. - David
Lt. Tabula, Chief Helmsman - Deltan, Gender Undefined. - AJ
Doctor Kron'kite, Chief Medical Officer - Kazarite, Male. - Mike

The scene opens in space, the Miranda Class USS Renown entering orbit around a beautiful blue-green planet not unlike Earth. In the background a variety of other starships of different shapes and sizes can be seen circling the other side of the world. The camera pans in close to the Renown and then sweeps around in to get the perfect indulgent beauty shots of the hero vessel. Over this we hear the voice of the ship's commanding officer, Captain Logan Hendrix (David Concepcion).

We then cut to Captain Hendrix and Captain Christine McAllister (captain of the USS Daring and Hendrix's long time long interest) standing in the Renown's Transporter Room 1. Capt. McAllister is adjusting Hendrix's dress uniform and asking him if he's nervous. He says he's not because this all feels right. McAllister wishes him luck and as she departs the room for the Shuttlebay, Commander Sovik, Lt. Commander Rrr'owfrtt, and Ensign Sanchez enter along with two security officers - Lt. Horowitz and Crewman Jones. 

After a brief discussion of the mission at hand and some clarifications of their various roles in the proceedings, the group beams down to the surface of Gamma Dorado III and the Peace Conference with the species of the Bluebell Reach. 

Once they materialized they were greeted by representatives of the major delegations: 

Left to right: The Froskr of the Froskr Imperium, the Alfeans of the Alfean Grand Empire, the Hudra of the Hudra Council of Tribes, and a representative of the Vanir. 

Introductions and pleasantries were exchanged followed by the entire group heading to the Federation Diplomatic Outpost for meal before beginning the official talks and negotiations. 

Meanwhile on the Renown, Lt. Tabula had the conn while Dr. Kron'kite tended to the animals in the Med Lab adjacent to Sickbay. Like Dr. Phlox from Star Trek: Enterprise, Kron'kite kept various alien critters around for study, medicinal research, but also and more importantly, for companionship. Kron'kite's species, the Kazarites, can telepathically communicate with animals. His favorite or more accurately his closest confidant was a Kazarian Volcano Lizard named Vort (who resembled a reddish-brown iguana).

While tending to his little friends, Kron'kite suddenly noticed them becoming anxious and agitated. He felt a strange presence himself but couldn't place it. The Doctor removed Vort from his habitat, placed him around his shoulders, and went for a walk about on the ship to try and determine where the disturbance was coming from. After finding it weaker in some areas and stronger in others, Kron'kite headed to the bridge to inform Lt. Tabula. 

Back on the bridge the empathic Tabula was also noticing something amiss but couldn't put his/her finger on it. The turbolift door opened to reveal Kron'kite and Vort. As Tabula began asking why there was a lizard on the bridge, Kron'kite casually described what he had experienced. The two were about to discuss it further when the Renown received a distress call from the USS Strider, a Federation Scout Ship near Phi Eridani. The vessel was in trouble, possibly under attack by Romulans, and needed assistance. Communication was choppy at best due to the conditions of the Nebula. Lt. Tabula told them to hang on and they help was on the way. Tabula then contacted the captain down on the planet, opening with the line, "Sir, there are feelings and they're disturbing the iguana..."

"Come again?", replied Captain Hendrix.

Tabula, with Kron'kite's assistance, informed the Captain about the Strider's situation and asked if they should investigate. To everyone's surprise (including my own) Hendrix said no, the Peace Negotiations were too important. He advised they see if any of the other vessels in the sector were closer to the Strider, as Phi Eridani was indeed quite a distance away. Eventually, the USS Courage was sent to check things out. Hendrix and Commander Sovik exchanged glances. Both agreed it could be a distraction or trick to delay the Peace Talks or even leave them vulnerable to attack or sabotage. 

Returning to the Gamma Dorado III Outpost, we spend some time having the Starfleet officers interact with the delegates. The Captain gets along well with everyone but of special interest is the Alfeans as they have come the furthest and changed the most since first meeting them. Sovik speaks to them as well but focuses on the enigmatic Vanir, who seems both fascinated and amused by the proceedings. Ensign Sanchez gets on surprising well with the Hudra. Their mutual labor class mentalities and love of physical sports seem to line up perfectly. She is also much tougher and stronger than most Humans as she hails from a heavy gravity world. Lastly, the Froskr try to impress Lt. Commander Rrr'owfrtt - the Caitian Science Officer - with their own scientific knowledge and advanced technological accomplishments. The 'Disarming Nature' of the Caitian seems to charm the bullying and boasting amphibians.

As the various participants talk, laugh, eat, and discuss the agenda for the Peace Talks, a Vulcan woman enters and introduces herself to the Captain as Ambassador Saret, a Federation DiplomaticAttache' assigned to assist Hendrix during the negotiations. As she states, "With all due respect, you are an excellent Starfleet Captain but you are not a Diplomat or a Politician." Hendrix can't argue with that thanks her for her help.

Commander Sovik, no stranger to diplomacy and politics, makes some die rolls and Focus check. He finds out enough to make him suspicious about the Ambassador but instead of confronting her about it, he proceeds to speak with the Vanir Representative. To the Vanir he asks, "Why are you here?"

On the Renown in orbit the Lieutenant receives word from the USS Courage that they arrived at Phi Eridani to find absolutely nothing. No sign of a conflict, no sign of the Strider. Tabula suggested they give the system another once over and then head out, thanking them for their assist. Tabula and Kron'kite are sure it was a distraction now but to what end and how did they fool the communications systems? Contacting the USS Daring and the USS Invincible, Lt. Tabula suggested they be on alert and not to be surprised if they receive a request for back-up before the day was through.

Kron'kite focused on zeroing in on the uneasy feelings he had perceived earlier. The feeling permeated the bridge but also extended beyond it. After a quick discussion with Tabula, they decided to scan the immediate area and the planets surface, specifically near the Diplomatic Outpost. The Science Officer on duty reported detecting Quantum fluctuations and a high volume of Alpha Waves. Hmmm. Aren't Alpha Waves a side effect of psionic phenomena?

Just then, the ship's Navigator exclaimed that they detected two vessels warping into the vicinity. "Two Romulan Destroyers approaching to Port! They...They've Cloaked!"

Tabula yelled, "Red Alert! Raise Shields! All hands to battlestations! Communications, hail the Captain!"

Barking Alien


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Star Trek Renown - Remastered

Remember my posts about my recent game of Ghostbusters with the guys I used to play with back in high school? You should, they're right here. Not to mention here and here as well!

Well folks, we went and did it again; assembling the various players from the far reaches of the galaxy...OK, it was three states and two coasts...this time for Star Trek! While the original campaign was 30 years ago using the FASA Star Trek RPG, we converted everything to the Star Trek Adventures game for this very special one-shot. 

The original game, Star Trek: Renown, is very near and dear to my heart. It was one of the first (if not THE first) RPG I ran in high school. It was my way of trying to make friends. At first, it didn't really go as planned, netting only a single player. Yep, we started the campaign with myself as GM and David Concepcion as Captain Logan Hendrix, the sole PC and participant. 

Over time, other people saw us playing and wanted in. Various players would join in a temporary fashion as guest stars here and there, including my friend Pete as a reoccurring villain who got a short spin-off campaign of his own. David would tell his friends about the game, which is how I got invited into my pal William's Champions campaign. 

Around this time and a bit after the campaign was in full swing, I started running other Star Trek campaigns with other groups of friends which I placed in the same shared continuity as the voyages of the Renown. The one-shot I ran at my FLGS, which Will participated in, was one such Renown-adjacent outing into the Final Frontier. Dave played the Chief Engineer and my good friend Joe V. was the Science Officer in another with my friend Nelson as Captain. 

The Renown campaign eventually saw two or three additional players join in and lasted about three years off and on. The first year we played fairly often but in the later two we had too many other games going on and only revisited Captain Hendrix and his crew periodically. Still and all it remains an absolute favorite of mine. It featured a ship with a unique gimmick (described below), multi-faceted characters, interesting villains and mysteries, and was much more 'day in the life' as opposed to emulating a weekly television show. 

Our story starts in 2285, the same year as the events in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The USS Renown, a refit Miranda Class Cruiser, is exploring an area of space near the Azure Nebula when they detect a Romulan ship on Federation side of the nebula. The Renown hails the Romulan vessel which proceeds to fire upon the Renown and then duck into the Azure Nebula in a region below the 'galactic plane'. The Captain of the Renown orders his ship into the nebula in pursuit. 

The Azure Nebula has a number of unusual properties, not the least of which is its dimensions and location. It touches the Organian Peace Treaty Zone (aka the 'Klingon Neutral Zone'), the border of the United Federation of Planets, and the Romulan Neutral Zone. It extends below the galactic plane into unclaimed territory in a bell-shaped region referred to as the Bluebell Reach or Bluebell Sector. If the Romulan vessel could pass through the nebula all the way to the Romulan Neutral Zone it could cross back into Romulan Space and there would be nothing the Renown could do. 

Unfortunately, there are a number of navigational hazards and anomalies in the nebula as well. The stellar gases and radiation of the region interfere with starship sensors and communications in a similar way to the Mutara Nebula. There are also pockets of an unknown form of energy that can neutralize a ships power systems rendering it dead in space. The Romulans seemed familiar enough with these to be able to navigate around them. The Renown was not so lucky. 

After passing through one large area of this energy anomaly the Miranda Class vessel lost main power, the Warp Core went offline, and the ship quickly switched to auxiliary power and reserve batteries. Seeing their opponent in distress, the Romulans took advantage and fired a Plasma Torpedo that struck the Renown with devastating results! The Captain was killed and much of the bridge was a mess of wreckage and exploding consoles. 

The ship's First Officer and Chief Engineer, Commander Logan Hendrix, had been in the Engine Room at the time. He assumed command but didn't attempt to reach Deck 1. Instead, he and his team began working on his plan to get the ship enough power to get them out of the Azure Nebula alive. Using the Auxiliary Batteries, Hendrix jury-rigged a system to charge up the Impulse Engines and use them to just start the Warp Core. By bypassing numerous safety protocols and re-aligning a number of power junctures the engineers sent pulses of power to the main drive. It worked! Hendrix knew that it wouldn't last long however. 

He turned the ship around and headed back for Federation space but the Romulans caught sight of the Renown and followed them. Detecting a disturbance in the gases of the nebula, Hendrix ordered a volley of Photon Torpedoes to be fired behind them. The Romulan ship was struck by only one or two but the barrage forced them to change course and they accidentally hit the power nullifying energy pocket causing there own main drive to fail. With their opponent damaged and depowered, the USS Renown limped to the nearest starbase.

That was the campaign's prologue. The first session/episode takes place a year later. The makeshift modification Hendrix designed became the basis for the Impulse Phased Power System or IPPS, specifically designed to compensate for the Azure Nebula's dangerous anomalous conditions. Three ships, all Miranda Class, were outfitted with the IPPS as part of Operation: Deep Blue, an exploration initiative to investigate the Bluebell Reach sector. 

Logan Hendrix, now officially Captain of the Renown, was placed in charge of the operation, accompanied by the USS Daring under Captain Christine McAllister and the USS Invincible under the command of Captain Stovol. Later in the campaign addition vessels were added included two more Mirandas (the USS Redoubt and the USS Courage) and three Ranger Class Scouts (the Strider, the Pathfinder, and the Rover). 

Stand out stories and episodes include:

In the first session we encountered a 'faerie like' intelligent species called the Alfeans who desperately needed our help. Their ship had been attacked and badly damaged by brutish, aggressive beings called the Hudra, whom the Alfeans had taken pity on. The Alfeans were attempting to improve the Hudra's primitive society and low level of technology. We eventually learned that the Alfeans were the aggressors, having conquered the Hudra, who were trying to rebel against their oppressors and establish their independence. Hendrix knew something were off about the Alfeans early on and played along to find the truth. 

The Alfeans would be antagonists in several episodes. 

The Captain and crew of the Renown beamed down to a desolate planet were the S.S. Heimdall, a Daedalus Class vessel, appeared to have crashed a few decades before. The planet appeared to be haunted by the ghosts of the Heimdall's crew but in truth an alien artifact was attempting to keep their memories recorded for posterity. Hendrix was able to communicate with the artifact and transfer the knowledge of the Heimdall's demise to the Renown's computer. In the process they gained extensive information about the Azure Nebula's unique dangers.

Our heroic Captain became involved in an epic quest with none other than the Norse god of thunder, Thor! During the adventure he faced the Fenris Wolf, Frost Giants, and the trickery of Loki. Eventually Odin appeared and the Captain learned it was all a game being played by a nearly omnipotent group of energy beings calling themselves the Vanir. They both are and are empowered by a rainbow hued fire they call 'Bifrost'. We would later learn there activities may have given birth to the legends of many world's including Earth, the Klingon homeworld of Q'ononS, and others.

We met a species of small, amphibious, frog-like beings who believed themselves the largest and most powerful in known space. Seeing the crew of the Renown as monstrous giants they imprisoned the PCs and then challenged them to various feats of intellect and physical prowess. It wasn't easy winning over an entire species of beings with Napoleon complexes but it was entertaining. 

On one world the Renown crew discovered a small, not completely form 'Guardian of Forever'. The artifact or being was in an early developmental stage and did not have complete control of its temporal transfer capabilities. It spoke as the one from 'City on the Edge of Forever' did but it was merely a confused child. We had Baby Yoda before Baby Yoda.

Late in the campaign (towards the end of the original run) the Renown was hurled into another galaxy by a mysterious anomaly possibly connected to the Vanir. We spent several sessions lost in space (pun intended) until the PCs were able to rig the ship's IPPS system to generate a field that imploded the phenomenon and sent them back to the Milky Way. We were Voyager before Voyager. 

We also had numerous battles with a Romulan named Commander Herculis (pronounced Her-QUE-liss) who was the former Sub-Commander of the ship encountered in the prologue/backstory. He sought revenge for the death of his own Commander who died as a result of injuries from their battle with the Renown. 

Well, now that you're caught up, let me tell you how the reunion session went.

It all started...

Barking Alien