Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Will There Be An Egg?

They say the third time is the charm. Unfortunately, it may take a while to get to a third time. With our current global health crisis, Season 3 of my new favorite Space Opera series - other than The Mandalorian of course - may well be delayed a bit. Hopefully not. I need to see more, know more, and get more material for gaming.

What I'm talking about of course is...wait...

"Hey, c'mon man! We're trying make a blog post over here."

Sorry everybody, where was I? Oh yeah...

Let me back track a little; if it hasn't been clear up to this point, I'm rather obsessed with Seth MacFarlane's Science Fiction Space Adventure Dramedy, The Orville

I loved the first season of the series and I was absolutely blown away by the second season, which aired its first episode, 'Ja'loja', on December 30th, 2018. The series continues to explore alien worlds, strange beings, amazing spacecraft, cool characters, and best of all, the relationships between them, all with a touch of often irreverent humor.

The show both homages and fully embraces the true spirit of Star Trek, something that Star Trek itself hasn't felt like doing in quite some time. The new Picard series comes close, and while enjoyable to watch, still doesn't feel as Star Trek as The Orville does.

At the same time, The Orville has it's own identity which grows and expands with each new episode. It is easy to dismiss the series as a parody or cheap copy of Gene Roddenberry's 'Wagon Train to the Stars', yet it is a lot more than that. It is love letter to that beloved franchise while at the same time saying, "If I had my way I'd keep all the good elements and add a few twists". 

Like all my favorite television, film, and other entertainment media IPs, The Orville possesses the key element I am always looking for - It is a universe I'd want to live in. 

If you know me you know that 'Universe I want to live in' translates to 'Universe I would like to run or play an RPG campaign in'. I mean, it just stands to reason. Right? 

OK, so now that you're caught up with where my thoughts are (more or less), you surely realize that my next big game project just has to be a fully fleshed out RPG set aboard a Planetary Union Fleet Starship exploring the unknown in the distant reaches of the galaxy.

I have already run three one-shots using the Orville setting and particulars, each with a different group, utilizing the Star Trek Adventures RPG by Modiphius Entertainment. The second one worked better than the first and provided some interesting insight into why and what to do next time. The third one went even better still, enhanced more than a little by the players involved, who were really into the idea that is wasn't a comedy with space stuff in it but a Science Fiction Action Adventure that also contained funny bits. 

It is my desire and hope that next time will be the first session of a ongoing campaign. To that end I am watching and re-watching the episodes, playing with different rule options, and analyzing the best way to get the feel and atmosphere right. 

One of my biggest hurdles is my good buddy Leo, who would make the absolute perfect Captain. He played a Smuggler a while back in a Star Wars game that was far from the Han Solo type. He wasn't particularly good at all the things you think of when you think Smuggler. He was a decent pilot, a lousy shot, and not the luckiest fella you'd ever meet. He was very likable however, a competent ship's captain, and an excellent negotiator. I just think that character ported over (with some tweaks) would fit right in as a commanding officer in the Planetary Union Fleet (say, as the Captain of a Mid-Level Explorer or something). 

The problem is, Leo isn't into The Orville. In fact, after watching about half the episodes of the first season, he stopped watching as he didn't like it. 

I feel you Alara. I feel you. 

I can totally respect his opinion and choice, even if I don't agree with it. Hopefully though, I can at least convince him to look past that enough to try it out as a game. While that doesn't necessarily create what I would call 'optimal conditions', I still believe in my heart of hearts (all five of them!) that he would be great for the part and it would make for a fantastic campaign. 

That's all for now. More to come as I think of things and luckily, I am doing that a lot recently.

Stay safe planet Earth,

Barking Alien

Monday, March 30, 2020

Do What You Like and Let Others Do Too

I've recently been thinking a lot about why we play. 

It is easy to say that RPGaming is different things to different people and doesn't dig too deep to acknowledge that we all play for our own reasons. The real questions I want to ask are:

Do we know why we play? Do we know what our reasons are? Are we honest with ourselves about those reasons?

For a lot of players, beyond feeling that gaming is fun, I'm not sure they feel the need to analyze things further and that's fine. We don't all need to be overly analytical, philosophizing wackos like...well...me. At the same time, giving it a little thought can be really helpful to both yourself and your GM. If you know why you play, what it is you want out of a game, the better you'll be able to convey what you're looking forward when discussing the game with your GM and/or fellow players.

I know that as a GM the elements I enjoy most are: 

  • An interesting, engaging story, whether session wise, arc wise, or campaign wise.
  • Interesting personal stories of the PCs and their interactions with each other. 
  • World/Setting Building and seeing the PCs explore the setting.
  • Generating mysteries and watching the PCs/Players solve them. 
  • Development of the story and setting. Making sure none of it remains static and unchanging.

My reasoning is simple, I like to create and I like to tell stories. My end goal is to entertain both my players and myself, and have a memorable experience we can all talk about fondly years down the line. I see myself as part of the great tradition of oral storytelling. I want to tell a tale and have that tale retold time and time again. 

In being honest I will come clean on what I don't like or appreciate.

  • Thinking about the rules over the events in the game. For example: Trying to use an ability or advantage because it's your 'highest' or 'best' one even if it  doesn't logically or organically apply to the current situation. 

  • Trying to figure out what GM is going to do or 'should' do because 'it would make a good game', even if it doesn't gel with the games' story or character motivations.

Are those reasons compatible with other people's reasons? Could our reasons for being at the gaming table bother other people or vice versa? What do we do about that?

Say you're in it for the combat. You like battles and that's mainly why you play. The rest of the group likes role-playing, character development, and talking with NPCs. Everyone else is trying to negotiate and come up with peaceful solutions and all you want to do is punch a monster in the face. 

Does their attempt at being less combat oriented bother you? Does your more combative play style bother them? How does a group reconcile this? 

To me it's very simple but require all involved to actively work toward a common solution. First, let players play the way they want to play as long as it doesn't disrupt the game as a whole.

There is a difference between one person wanting to take action and someone being a jerk and starting fights with every NPC for no reason. If you are the latter or have the latter player in your group, you should probably just ask them why they do that and be prepared to cut them loose. 

If they just prefer action and cool battles to conversation, you should all convey this to your GM. GMs, you should then include opportunities for combat as well as negotiation. Be prepared to split the party so the talky types can haggle over a better price on a ferry to the haunted island while the combative type fights pirates in the local tavern. During the fight the warrior learns a name and finds a key. The name is for someone the talkers and speak with to learn more about the island. The key opens the doors to the island's mysterious abandoned temple. 

Everyone gets to do their thing and it's all helpful to the whole group in the long run. 

If you assemble a group of people to play together, how do you make sure everyone enjoys themselves if each person might well be hoping to get something different out of the game?

Weirdly this is perhaps the most difficult question to answer and yet it almost feels like a given that this should be understood. In recent years this has often been a problem I've encountered, wherein a group of even four people have different ideas on what gaming is about and each gets frustrated with the others that they don't game their way. 

First, you selflish, self-centered, shallow womp rat. Get over yourself and realize it's a team sport. It's not YOU the RPG. It's US the RPG. 

OK, now with that out of my system...

I can only point to my old NJ group as the perfect example of a group that worked so incredibly well because they all liked different aspects of RPGs. 

Allen loved a good mystery. Specifically the Sherlock Holmes kind, where the key was deductive reasoning and the collection of facts and information both evident and seemingly trivial.

Ken likes to solve problems. Fix things. Figure out why something is or isn't doing what it's supposed to be doing or why it's doing something its not supposed to be doing. Fix that. 

Jason (Big J) likes puzzles, sort of a cross between Allen's mysteries and Ken's problems, but solvable using simple logic, clever thinking, and perhaps a trap set for the enemy.

Lynn likes mystery but of a more conspiratorial nature. She wants there to be secrets and she wants to secretly spy on the secret makers or keepers and get their secrets. Secretly. 

Nelson enjoyed it when his character looked cool and did something cool. 

Phil likes to play characters with issues, who are perhaps a bit off or odd, but trying desperately to hold on to their sanity to accomplish something. 

Rebecca liked action, be it physical, verbal, or otherwise. As long as something was going on with a pace and goal she was happy. She enjoyed tension to if it felt like it was going somewhere.

Selina likes socializing with PCs and NPCs alike and getting to know the world and it's people. 


Knowing this I create a situation where is it likely that Phil will 'accidentally' cause a fight or Ken will realize something isn't as it should be. This will get Lynn to start snooping and Selina to starting getting to know the locals. This reveals information that sends Nelson and Rebecca into a situation likely to go south but one which they can punch, shoot, swing, and flip their way out of. 

Now they regroup and Nelson and Becca tell the team what they found. Lynn's snooping gives context to one truth and reveals another story to be a lie. Jason sees the paradox but thinks he can find the real deal with the help of Phil. Phil's PC acts a bit strange but isn't acting and an enemy drops their guard. Jason pounces and gets what he needs.

He gives the info to the group. Selina can ask a friend she made. Lynn can spy some more to confirm on her end. The villains are definitely hiding something. Bad guy thugs show up since the PCs know too much. Rebecca, Ken, and Nelson tussle with them. Nelson does a crazy ricochet shot, back flip, land behind cover maneuver. Ken rigs the gear of a downed thug to explode. He tells Becca. Her eyes bulge as she yanks Ken and Nelson out the back door. BOOM!

Final regroup, everyone recounts their fun in having encounters that match what they love about gaming. The each spill and update the clues they've discovered no matter how small and seemingly insignificant. 

But wait...what about Allen? Isn't he bored? He's done nothing while...

All eyes turn to Allen, looking over a map, writing notes, and looking up from time to time to listen intently to the others. Finally, the team quiets and waits for him to speak. He begins, "As you all know, the people of this region closely resemble the people of the Balkans at the time of the late Byzantine Empire...". He than proceeds to unravel the plot of the villain, up to and including how all the things encountered so far relate to his deduction and the next, if not only, logical course of action would be for both the enemy and the PCs. Pleased with his assessment, pleased with themselves, the group heads off to the location where they believe the bad guys will execute the final phase of their plan with a plan of their own on how to stop the foul scoundrels.

Everyone gets to do what they enjoy doing. Everyone plays a part in the overall story and the overall game. No one tries to prevent anyone else from doing their thing.

When Ken wanted to blow up the enemy's gear, causing an explosion to knock out all the opponents, Rebecca didn't tell him not to. She didn't say that's too dangerous or won't work or 'no we don't do that' (yes, I have a player who does this to the other players and it's very frustrating). Instead she simply has her PC grab Ken's PC, sees Nelson's PC behind cover, leaps over and behind the cover grabbing Nelson's PC with her other hand and rolls them all further from the blast. 

The gaming equivalent of 'Live and Let Live' should be 'Do and Let Do'. 

Just some thoughts.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A Star Wars Story - Special Edition!

The Art and Making of The Smiling Bantha Gang!

Original concept illustration for Ximet Phours
By Nelson Marty

One of the things that really stands out about The Smiling Bantha Gang campaign now that I look back on it from a point some 30 years in its future is how much material we made up that would later be filled in by Lucasfilm, Disney, the Expanded Universe/Legends, and other official and semi-official sources. 

It's also amusing to note how much of what we created matched some of the canon or popped up and became canon later on. 

We had Purple Lightsabers, Double-Bladed Lightsabers, Offworld Jawas, a Volcanic Ash Planet, and more details on the Mandalorians and certain alien species, long before they became part of Star Wars common knowledge now made canon by the Prequels, The Mandalorian Disney+ series, and the Clone Wars and Rebels CGI animated shows. 

It become a running joke over the years that one of us (one of the players in the group) was a spy for Lucasfilm or that our gaming locations were bugged by the company so they could steal our best ideas. LOL

My group did had a Jedi with a purple lightsaber long before Samuel L. Jackson's character Mace Windu in the Prequel Trilogy. While there was a story behind it, it really came about because the player's favorite color was purple (same reason Lucas gave Sam Jackson one). We retro-actively adjusted the story to imply Ximet's Uncle trained under Windu.

If you look at the villains of our game. Gildergath the Great (aka, The Great Gildergath and not to be confused with his son Gildergath The Lesser) was inspired by  an unused concept art design for Jabba the Hutt. That same design was used in Star Wars Rebels for Azmorigan, the Jablogian criminal who appeared in several episodes throughout the series. 

Fleeto Woff, the Mandalorian Bounty Hunter who you might notice closely resembles Boba Fett's color scheme in his first appearance, the much maligned 'Star Wars Holiday Special', has a rather humorous origin. After seeing the Holiday Special my friend Joe and I fell in love with the character of Boba Fett but could not remember his name. At one point I said, 'Was it something like Baba Fetts?", to which Joe replied, "That sounds like a Star Wars universe breakfast cereal. Kids, did you eat your Baba Fetts today?" Complete with Blue Milk no doubt.

We eventually settled on believing it might has been Fleeto Woff. When we saw The Empire Strikes Back and other material confirming Boba Fett's correct name, Fleeto Woff became an original character used often in our Star Wars RPG campaigns whenever a similarly badass Bounty Hunter was needed. 

Shuuth, the Ubese Bounter Hunter, was played by my dear departed friend Peter Hernandez III. He wanted something Humanoid but not too Humanoid and originally considered playing a Twi'lek. Then he saw concept art of Boushh and said, "Wait...who are these guys when they're not Princess Leia in disguise?"

Looong before The Mandalorian I had Jawas with gray cloaks and red eyes, living on a planet other than Tatooine. When I saw the second episode of that series I literally shouted and laughed out loud. Plus, the planet I had them on, my original world of Gardine, is a gray, ash-covered, volcanic planet virtually identical to the planet Nevarro which also appears in The Mandalorian.

I apologize to whomever played Mees. I remember him very clearly and his unusual 'play mechanics' which I will discuss below. It's very frustrating that I can't remember who the player was. I actually called out to the old players and none of them could recall who played him either. So strange. 

Mees was played in a non-traditional way, especially when you consider this was back in 1990. The basic Template of Jawa Mechanic was given less than the standard 18 Dice to Attributes and 7 Dice to Skills. I forget exactly but it may have been something like 15 and 5 or even less. What Mees' Player did was then create a set of Droid Templates. Initially I believe he had 5: An R2 Unit Astromech (R2-D0D), a Protocol Droid (JD-3PO), a Medical Droid (30-1B), a GHK Power Droid (GONK-90), and one other. He would than allocate a number of Dice to these that made each one less effective than a normal PC but SUPER effective at a narrow set of abilities. 

This was his 'Droid Pool' and he could field Mees himself plus two Droids, or three Droids at a time, with the Player playing the role of the Droids in either case. The other droids were assumed to be back at the ship powering up or undergoing repairs or whathaveyou. During the course of the campaign, Mees would pick up other droids, usually ones we had damaged or found wrecked, and added them to the Pool but he would still only play no more than three at a time. I wasn't ultra strict on this, as I would often play JD-3PO as an NPC, while the Player played Mees and two other droids. 

A lot of work went into this game in a relatively short amount of time. In a period where the only source of expanded information on many aspects of Star Wars could only be found in the RPG by West End Games, my friends and I developed a huge volume of fan stories, theories, art, and researched reference material to give the game its unique feel as fresh but wholly set within the concepts of Star Wars. 

In addition, as you may or may not be able to tell, there was often a tongue-in-cheek, humorous element to The Smiling Bantha Gang campaign, though I would definitely not label it a comedy. That is to say, while some of the character concepts were a bit over the top and some of the dialogue and situations very funny, the entirety of the plot and the approach to the game was quite serious. If anything it could be likened to the later half of The Orville Season 2, wherein there is humorous banter but the show is no longer a comedic take on Star Trek but instead a Science Fiction Dramedy. This was the Star Wars equivalent of that. 

Oh yeah, I almost forget...

The ship is calling The Smiling Bantha, and that in turn is where the gang got it's name, but where did the ship get that name? Well, as it turns out, the Smiling Bantha is an old Sand People/Tusken Raider legend about a Bantha that roams the Dune Sea finding lost travelers and laughing at their misfortune. Supposedly, if you tell the Bantha why you're there and he deems you brave and determined, not foolhardy, he will lead you out of the seemingly endless desert to safety. 

Jo Jetto claimed to have seem this Bantha as a young man and it lead him to the wreck of a ship that he repaired, used it to get back to Mos Eisley, and, you guessed it, he named The Smiling Bantha. The actual (?) Smiling Bantha appeared twice during the campaign. Once to Shuuth who thought he was seeing things, and once to Ximet in a dream. 

Well that is that for now. Man this was fun. I would like to thank David Concepcion, Nelson Marty, Mike Moss, and the late, great Pete Hernandez III for making this game so memorable and producing so much artwork and ideas for it.

I want to thank all of you out there you took the time to take this stroll down memory lane with me and please, let me know if you liked this and want to see more Campaigns I Have Known again in the future. If there is a particular campaign you'd like me to reminisce about - Hey Adam, do you have a particularly memorable Mekton game you can tell us about? Was there a TOS Era Star Trek Campaign You Have Known that you'd like to share? - please let me know that too. 

Until next time, May The Force Be With You and with your dice as well!

Barking Alien

A Star Wars Story - Part II

As noted in my previous post, I've recently been reminiscing about one of my earliest Star Wars D6 campaigns, The Smiling Bantha Gang, and I wanted to share my fond memories of it with all of you. 

You've met the team: Rodian Smuggler and cryophobe Griggle, aka Grig, Chevin Mercenary and hydrophobe Ja'bral Tar - The Jungle Ja'bun'kel, Mees, a name the Jawa Mechanic calls himself, Shuuth, the Ubese Bounty Hunter who just doesn't fit in, and Ximet 'Force' Phours, the Starfighter Pilot who is definitely NOT a Jedi...unless he is. 

After numerous capers that became legend in the Outer Rim Territories, the gang of spacer youths was forced to disband and flee for their lives when their leader, Jo Jetto, his trusty sidekick DC-77, and their mobile home-base The Smiling Bantha, were captured by the Imperial Navy of the Galactic Empire. 

Ten years haved past [between the prologue and the start of the campaign] and each member has moved on to other things, none as exciting or lucrative as their old Smiling Bantha escapades. That's when they are individually contacted and given a request they can't refuse...travel to their old hideout on Tatooine to hear the last will and testament of their old boss, Ortolan gangster Jo Jetto. 

Speaking of ol' Jo, did I forget to mention he's alive? For now.

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

The Smiling Bantha
A Modified Corellian Action VI
Bulk Transport Freighter

Synopsis: The campaign begins with an 'Opening Crawl' that gives the gang's backstory, mentions that Jetto is alive but dying. The group, having received his dying request, meets back at their old hideout on the outskirts of Mos Eisley Spaceport on Tatooine. 

When the team has assembled at the hideout some days later, they are lead in by their old friend DC-77, an Accounting and Logistics Protocol Droid who has definitely seen better days. Accompanied by their own droids, Protocol Droid JD-3PO and Astromech R2-D0D, the guys gather around Jo Jetto, quite literally on his death bed, assisted by Medical Droid 30-1B.

Jetto proceeds to gush about how much he missed 'his boys' and how nice it is to see the 'family' together one last time. Each member reacts differently. Grig and Ximet 'raise an eyebrow' and look at each other in way that implies they suspect Jetto's up to something. Ja'bral nods and tears up a little, having missed Jetto and the group. Shuuth vibrates with anger and barely holds himself back. Mees seems confused.

Eventually Shuuth, who can't contain his emotions any longer - feeling betrayed by his former mentor and father figure - shouts at Jetto in Ubese. Protocol Droid JD translates (which ends up hilarious as JD speaks Basic/English with a Southern American accent and a stutter. His voice and mannerisms were based on famous Country Western Singer Mel Tillis). Shuuth asks how Jetto is alive, let alone free, where he's been, and how come he never tried contacting the gang before now?

Jo Jetto replies that he was held captive at a Penal Colony by the Empire for 7 years before he was able to escape during a prison riot/breakout. He had to go into hiding, barely able to survive because of injuries and illness he developed at the Penal Colony. When he realized his time was growing short, he located and purchased back DC-77 who had been sold off at Imperial Auction after they had wiped his memory. Luckily, Jetto still had a few friends and tricks up his sleeve. He managed to install a partial back-up and access a part of DC-77's memory bank that had a hidden data chip. 

Using all the resources he had left, he made his way to Tatooine, moved back into his old hideout which had been left abandoned and set out trying to find the team. Now that they were all together he could give them one final gift as a thank you for all the good times they had together. 

The cargo aboard the Smiling Bantha, a collection of rare artifacts stolen from an Imperial Archaeological Site was never confiscated by the Empire. The news came as a complete shock to the group. No indeed, DC-77 had jettisoned the cargo prior to the Imperials capturing Jetto. It was picked up by an associate of Jetto's, Dunda Keel, who hid it on the remote planet of Dandosha. Sadly, Jetto was recently informed that Keel was found dead and another party may be after the treasure as well. 

The series of adventures that followed dealt with the team trying to find the planet Dandosha and fighting off a variety of rival groups attempting to get to the treasure first. Included among the opposition was a contingent from the Galactic Empire lead by an Inquisitor named Skoul (pronouced 'Scowl)', the Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Fleeto Woff, and Space Gangster/Crime Boss Gildergath The Great

Highlights: Several of the early sessions featured The Smiling Banthas discovering that some of their old gear, droids, and vehicles are currently in the possession of other parties and the team went to get back what was theirs. Especially notable was an initially stealthy turned raucous raid on Jabba the Hutt's palace to retrieve Ximet's Uncle's X-Wing, at the time being piloted by one of Jabba's close associates. (When we meet Ximet in the 'present' he is flying a patched together Z-95 Headhunter). 

Cool Breeze
Modified GX1 Lantillian Short Hauler
Light Freighter

Another great moment I remember was when the team's current ship, Grig's Cool Breeze, was damaged and they had to make an emergency landing as soon as possible. They limped to the nearby Hoth system where they discovered evidence that a huge battle had recently taken place on the thought to be uninhabited planet. What a score! They managed to salvage guns from an AT-AT's head for the Cool Breeze, spare droid parts, fuel, and even a semi-intact Incom T-47 Airspeeder, armed and modified for operation in the cold, ice, and snow of Hoth. 

Of course, Grig freaked out, initially refusing to even land on the frigid world and later refusing to open the cargo bay doors to bring all the goodies into the ship. After the team argued with him, coaxed him, and made all kinds of promises and compromises, he eventually conceded to open the doors...but first...Grig's Player describes how Grig puts on long, thermal undergarments, then puts on his flight suit, then a loose shirt and pants over that, then wraps up his feet, puts them in socks, then puts on boots, then puts on a Han Solo Hoth Outfit style jacket with a fur rimmed hood...LOL It was hysterical. 

Another awesome moment came when part of the team had been captured and brought on Inquisitor Skoul's Victory Class Star Destroyer. The rest of the group shows up, attacks and boards the Star Destroyer, and eventually sets the vessel's power plant to explode using a combination of computer splicing and demolitions. As the gang attempts to escape, the timing is a bit off and explosions begin before everyone is ready to leave. Ja'bral Tar, the teams biggest and slowest team member, is never going to get to the Hangar Deck in time. Instead, he battles through a bunch of Stormtroopers and jumps...OK falls on purpose...into an Escape Pod. He ejects, zooming through space until he crash lands in the middle of the bright red ocean of a planet. 

Deathly afraid of being in water and drowning, Ja'bral nonetheless holds it together, maintaining his reputation as the group's resident badass. That is...until he noticed a hair-thin fracture in the clear window-plate of the pod. A tiny drop of red liquid, smaller than that from a eye-dropper, plinked into the interior of the escape pod. Ja'bral absolutely freaked out. He started screaming about how he was going to die, all the things he never got to do, etc. Grig was like, 'I feel your pain my friend. I know that fear!'. Meanwhile Ximet and Shuuth were both saying, 'you've faced down squads of Stormtroopers by yourself. You charged an AT-ST and an armed Landspeeder! You can not be scared of a drop of water.' Well...he was. REALLY, really scared. "You don't understand! I'm drowning!", the PC shouted. 

I remember the pod bobbed and flipped in the water because of Tar's panic. Eventually it tumbled airlock side up and Tar tried to get out of the vehicle, just in time to be attacked by a bizarre, gigantic, red ocean eel monster. As Ja'bral fought off the beast, the rest of the gang swooped over with the Cool Breeze to save him! It was awesome. 

Eventually, the team met with Skoul and The Great Gildergath in a final battle on the wind swept world of Dandosha. Mandalorian Bounty Hunter Fleeto Woff was also there, but in a twist brought on by an earlier encounter with the Smiling Banthas, Woff fought with the gang, not against them. Ximet manifested true Force abilities for the first time (more or less - he couldn't fully control them), giving the team a solid advantage until Skoul realized what was happening and the two began an epic duel.

Gildergath The Great, Inquisitor Skoul, and Fleeto Woff

In the end, the Smiling Bantha Gang defeated Gildergath and his henchmen, The Great One running from the battle badly wounded. Skoul was apparently killed when part of an ancient Jedi Temple collapsed on top of him. Mees lost his Probe Droid and R2-D0D was badly damaged, but Mees himself was unarmed. Shuuth was also seriously injured, as was Ja'bral Tar but not as badly. Fleeto Woff was hurt but ignored it in order to help the anti-heroes finish their mission. 

The treasure turned out to be ancient Jedi artifacts, including something akin to a holocron that revealed a legend/prophecy which said a group would emerge when the time was right who, though they may not have been heroes in the past, would take the artifacts and become heroes for the future. 

The final scenes of the final session see the gang heading off together to find the Rebel Alliance, join them, and give the artifacts to someone named...Skywalker...

Stay tuned,

The Force Will Continue to Be With You...Always...

Barking Alien

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Star Wars Story - Part I

Feeling both melancholy and nostalgic of late, I was thinking back on ol' campaigns and cheered myself up with the memory of one of my best games of old.

Since new game stories may be few and far between under current conditions, I thought maybe I could entertain you all with my recollection of the time a group of second rate ne'er do wells made some bad people very angry, made good on a promise, and got a Bantha to smile.

Barking Alien''s
Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...


Title: The Smiling Bantha Gang

The name was inspired by a throw away line from a previous campaign run by my friend Pete. In that campaign, the gang known as 'The Laughing Gundarks' were supposedly wiped out years before the campaign started by their rivals 'The Smiling Banthas'.

The name of the rival group came from yours truly, so I decided to make it the name of this new campaign group, indicating a continuity connection between the two games. 

System: Star Wars, The Role Playing Game, 1st Edition - Some house rules. 

The house rules expanded the skills and were similar to what was eventually introduced in Second Edition. 

Circa: I want to say 1990. Not certain actually but around that time and post our Scum of the Galaxy campaign. Each of the two dozen or so sessions were about 6-8 hours long. 

Gamemaster: ME! Age 21.

Player Base: There were five regular players, all male, ranging from 21 to 24 years of age. Various ethnicities at always. 

There were one or two players who were only in the early sessions. Same age group. Their PCs were killed in the first major battle. While I intended on having them rejoin with new characters, they had joined in on another friends D&D game and so they didn't return for this campaign. 

Characters: The characters were all former members of a gang of Smugglers, Mercenaries, and other Scum and Villainy who nevertheless were never really 'bad guys'. Most of their exploits were small, petty, and of the trouble-maker and/or treasure hunter variety. They tended to fight against the Galactic Empire or other, much worse crooks and pirates. 

Their biggest job was their last, in which they hijacked an Imperial Bulk Freighter to steal what they thought was cargo hold full of ancient, priceless artifacts. They intended to give it back to the original owners if possible, garnering a hefty reward to make it worth their while. 

Unfortunately, the Empire quickly caught up with them and the group scattered to the four corners of the Galaxy! Only their leader, the Ortolan 'gangster' Jo Jetto, and his droid sidekick DC-77, were captured. 

Come meet the gang...

Griggle 'Grig', Rodian Smuggler (Played By Mike M.)

Griggle, Grig to his friends, was a Rodian Smuggler from a long line of Rodian Smugglers. He originally co-piloted the gang's namesake freighter, 'The Smiling Bantha', but later got his own ship, a GX1 Lantillian Short Hauler he named 'Cool Breeze'.

Being a repto-amphibious species, Grig found planets with cold temperatures extremely unpleasant, to the point where he developed a phobia of snow and ice. He would go to considerable, sometimes almost ridiculous lengths to protect himself from 'freezing to death' - i.e. being in conditions under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Grig's best friend on the team was Ja'bral Tar, the Chevin. The two stayed in touch more than any of the other gang members when the group was forced to break up. 

When the Empire captured The Smiling Banthas' leader Jo Jetto, Grig and Ja'bral escaped together aboard the Cool Breeze, eventually making their way to the planet Gardine. 

Ja'bral Tar, Chevin Mercenary (Played by David C.)

The oldest member of the group besides the gangest Jo Jetto himself, Ja'bral Tar was a Chevin Mercenary and former soldier who once worked for the Corporate Sector Authority on the planet Jundu.

Ja'bral originally hailed from a massive valley on his home world that was surrounded by dense jungle. His tribe was known as the Jah'bun'kal. This gave him a massive advantage when fighting on Jundu and other jungle or forest worlds. Because of this, his friends teasing called him Ja'bral Tar, the Jungle Jah'bun'kel (pronouncing it like 'Gibraltar' and 'Jabunkle').

Tar's preferred weapon was a 'Double Decker' Blaster; essentially two Blaster Carbines mounted on top of each other vertically but wired to a single power pack. Each 'shot' was essentially two bolts fired together. It suffered from potentially overheating or draining the power pack more quickly and could only be used by someone of considerable strength and weight. 

Tar slept standing up and could not swim due to limitations of his anatomy. Possibly due to too much time spent with Grig, who himself had a fear of the cold, Tar developed a fear of large bodies of water. 

When the Empire captured The Smiling Banthas' leader Jo Jetto, Ja'bral escaped with his close pal Grig aboard Griggle's ship, the Cool Breeze, eventually making their way to the planet Gardine. 

Mees, Jawa Droid Mechanic (Played by ? - I forget)

No one was quite sure where the team picked up Mees (pronounce it as if it were the plural form of 'Me'), a Jawa from Gardine who dressed in gray robes and had red eyes unlike the stereotypical examples of his species from Tatooine*.

What they did know was that no one in the Outer Rim Territories had a knack with droids quite like this feisty and dedicated little guy. Constantly tinkering with some piece of hardware or another, Mees usually had at least two but often three droids working at any given time and another two 'in the shop'.

Among his 'Droid Pool' were a GHK Power Droid (better known as a 'Gonk' Droid), a badly damaged and incomplete Probe Droid, and a Treadwell Maintenance Droid. His pride and joys were a Protocol Droid named JD-3PO, and R2-D0D, which he lent out to his best friend Ximet for use with Ximet's X-Wing fighter. 

Of course they were best friends. They were all his best friends. Everyone loved Mees! Well...they put up with him but he could be irritating, stubborn, he stole things, he smelled bad, and he often wandered off on his own to grab a part he coveted. Yeeeah. Jetto's droid assistant, DC-77, was particularly unfriendly towards the small but earnest Jawa. 

Shuuth, Ubese Bounty Hunter (Played By Pete H.)

Originally taking on a Bounty to capture Jo Jetto, Shuuth swore allegiance to the gang when they saved his life following a botched demolitions job. Jetto would, with warmth and humor, turn himself over to the Bounty Hunter on numerous occasions in a twist on 'Good night Wesley, I'll most likely kill you in the morning'. Eventually the two formed a very close bond. 

Even after joining the team and spending a few years with them, few members of The Smiling Bantha Gang besides Jetto could be said to know Shuuth well. He was very secretive and often seemed melancholy, almost homesick.

When Jetto was captured and the group scattered, Shuuth felt he had personally failed his mentor/father figure and was at first reluctant to run. Forced to by Jo himself, Shuuth made haste to his homeworld of Uba IV. Unfortunately he found he didn't quite fit in among his own people any longer and for a time wondered the Outer Rim searching for a purpose. 

Ximet Phours, Human Mercenary Pilot - Force Sensitive (Played By Nelson)

Ximet Phours, who went by the brazen nickname Ximet 'Force', was a brash, young Starfighter Pilot who flew a custom T-65 X-Wing he inherited from his late Uncle.

Ximet earned his nickname from other pilots who thought him so good at such a young age that he must 'Have The Force or something'. In addition, there were some who claimed that while fighting planetside he wielded a Purple Lightsaber**. With the Jedi long gone and purple an unfamiliar color for Lightsabers, most rational folks assumed those starting such rumors were spinning tall tales or getting into the Spice a bit too heavily. 

The truth was that Ximet did indeed own a Purple Lightsaber, which once belonged to his Uncle, a very young Jedi Knight at the time of Order 66. Ximet found the saber and a note revealing the truth about his Uncle in a hidden compartment in the X-Wing's cockpit. His Uncle had escaped the Purge of the Jedi but was eventually tracked down and killed by one of Lord Vader's Inquisitors. 

Ximet himself had a deep connection to The Force but with no knowledge or training he could not make use of it in any way. He would occasionally have hunches showing remarkable foresight and exhibited almost unnaturally fast reflexes when piloting.

When the Empire attacked the Smiling Banthas and captured Jetto, TIE Fighters had damaged Ximet's X-Wing, forcing him to eject. The Empire impounded his fighter as well as R2 unit, R2-D0D. 

The back story of the group being around for a while before the Imperials caught Jo Jetto and forced the gang to split up and disband was established in the 'Opening Crawl'. The actual campaign began a decade later. The gang were therefore mostly in their late teens and early twenties but were in their late twenties and early thirties when the campaign starts. 

Stay tuned for Part II...

Barking Alien

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Whatever Became of Barking Alien?

It's been a while since you've heard from Barking Alien and that's largely because I, it's proprietor, creator, and content generator, haven't been able to drum up the enthusiasm to say anything. 

In my personal life, I am dating an amazing girl, business has been picking up with three new clients added this year, and a lot of gaming has been going on. 


My girl and I can't travel to see each other, everyone is working from home so my business is pretty much non-existent, and gaming is now a no-no unless we play online. That last bit is fine but it has delayed the in-person grand finale for our ALIEN FRONTIER campaign. 

Even before this whole situation, I just haven't been able to manifest the energy and interest needed to post here on the blog.

I started this blog in order to discuss, analyze, postulate, and otherwise put out into the universe my personal ideas and views about Role Playing Games. I would like to think that for the most part I have succeeded in achieving this goal. I have indeed talked about my concept of RPG gaming and had some fantastic interactions with all of you about how my ideas differ, work with, and/or can be adapted to those usually encountered during such discussions. 

Unfortunately, I also feel that one of the reasons I started this blog and these discourses - that being to improve my own games and regain some of the awesomeness I lost following my brief 2 year hiatus from gaming - hasn't fully worked. 

With the exception of a few sessions here and there and our ALIEN FRONTIER campaign (which just rocks), I still feel like my games are less WOW than they could be, then they should be. 

It isn't all me I know; I am playing with different people who've had different experiences. I am playing in different environments and the big games are monthly instead of weekly (though I do still run and play weekly and bi-weekly games).

At the same time, I feel, as I always will, that the buck stops with me. My issues originate and end with me. I had hoped that discussing my feelings and thoughts here on Barking Alien would help me alleviate my shortcomings and get back the magic I had pre-2000s. 

So far, that hasn't been the case.

I've seen some improvements here and there but honestly, it doesn't feel like I've made a lot of progress.

Furthermore, I don't get the impression the blog has had a major impact on those you've visited over the past year or so. Between 2011 and 2017 I think Barking Alien was at the height of not only its viewership but also its effectiveness, spreading the Gospel of Games Besides D&D to a largely D&D and Pathfinder inspired gaming blog-o-sphere. 

Nowadays it turns out there are a lot of blogs and other internet resources for non-D&D gaming. Barking Alien is no longer the lone or at least rare refuge for the Sci-Fi or Superhero gamer. It is barely a novelty. It's just yet another rarely updated blog. 

So what does this mean going forward? 

I remember reading posts by bloggers which announced them shutting down their sites, making a big deal about how their blog would no longer be active. Some removed them from the internet completely. I also found that foolish in the extreme. 

Why make such a fuss about no longer doing something? If you don't want to blog anymore, just say so long and go away. At the same time, it's the damn internet. If you never touch the blog again, at least it's there for people to enjoy and maybe get something out of, no skin off your nose. 

Is there the end of Barking Alien? No. Definitely not. 

That said, I am not going to promise a renewed effort to post, nor a heads up to watch for 'great new content in the future'. All I can say is I am not done. I will still post from time to time and maybe, just maybe, the thrill and enjoyment I had at doing so will come back to me. Maybe I will have an epiphany, some mad insight that I need to share. For the time being though, know that things will be quiet here, just as they've been for a while now. 

Switching to Auxiliary Power. 

All non-essential system on stand by. 

Barking Alien