Thursday, September 30, 2021

Analyzing The Analytics Analytically

Inspired by Noisms recent post about how his blog is doing these days, I decided to take a closer look at my own and how its going. 

The answer is...a little odd.

Take a look:

As with others who've been looking at this sort of thing recently, my statistics only go back to January of 2011. They go up and up from their, reaching a high point around third quarter of 2015 before dropping down again for a while. 

Viewership raises again in late 2016, peaking pretty high at year's end. It's second highest height comes around January of 2018 and then...damn. What a drop. This is followed by a continual lull for nearly two years. 

Things start to pick up again in 2020 and then...whoah. Look at that massive spike! That was only a month or so ago.

So...what the heck is going on with this blog?

It's rather simple actually. As Jeff Rients told me in the early days of Barking Alien, the more one posts, the more people will come to read them. 

I go through periods of little to no blog activity and can't expect the world to check back constantly to hang on my every non-forthcoming word. At the same time, evidence shows that when I do speak, a lot of people are willing to give a listen. More accurately, when I write they are willing to read it. 

Additional credit mist be given to social media sites like Facebook and especially Twitter. Traffic to my blog has increased significantly since I started linking my posts there.

What does this mean for the future of Barking Alien? 

Who knows? I'm just going to keep doing what I do until I tire of doing it and with my 45th RPG Hobby Anniversary coming next year, that isn't going to be any time soon.

Barking Alien

Friday, September 24, 2021

VISIONS Statement

Star Wars: Visions is here and it is The Way! 

As a long time fan of Star Wars and Japanese Anime - and as someone who has added elements of the latter into RPG campaigns of the former since the late 80s - I was incredibly excited for this project. Now that it's out and I've seen it, I'd like to discuss my opinions about the series and what game related possibilities the episodes suggest. 

I am going to address each installment separately and as a result my reviews* (such as they are) will be fairly brief. At the end of the post I will throw in some RPG related thoughts. Please be aware that with nine episodes, even brief overviews will result in this post being a bit on the long side. As there is a lot to unpack from some of these pieces, I will not get to all I want to discuss in this one blog entry. You are likely reading the first of several posts. How many and in what form it's difficult to say.

Always in motion is the future.


See Star Wars: Visions before reading this.
Trust me. Trust in The Force.

The Duel (by Kamikaze Dougal) 10/10

I don't know where to begin. This. Thing. Was. FLAWLESS! Every aspect of it from the art style and palette (black and white with only highlights of color) to the storytelling and pace were absolutely astounding! The voices, the sound effects, the music - all perfect!

A clear homage to the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa that inspired George Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place, this work brings it all full circle in a stunning display of culture and cinema.

My only complaint is that it was an odd choice to open with this one as it is literally the best of the best. It is so good in so many ways that every other entry pales in comparison. Even when the other episodes are excellent, they still can't hold a candle to 'The Duel'. 

Tatooine Rhapsody (by Studio Colorido) 6.5/10

Fun and adorably animated with a bit of pathos mixed in, this one was enjoyable if not particularly deep or groundbreaking. It reminded me of an old campaign of Star Wars I ran back in High School called 'Near Miss', about a misfit rock band of Humans and aliens who moonlight as Rebels against the Empire. 

The Twins (by Trigger) 5/10

While visually distinct and impressive, The Twins was by far my least favorite of the assortment. 

What we see happening is far too over-the-top to be taking place in the Star Wars universe, though it is reminiscent of some older, 'Silver Age' Anime. It also pulls on elements from the Sequel Trilogy and that was a definite turn off for me. All in all this episode is very pretty nonsense and I expected more from studio Trigger.

The Village Bride (by Kinema Citrus) 8/10

This was a very interesting entry with great potential that was regrettably limited by its length. I felt there was a lot more to this story than we got to experience and unfortunately that holds it back from being scored higher. 

Don't get me wrong, I really liked it; I just feel the power of the planet and its connection to the people who lived there, the female Jedi's former master who hailed from this world, and whatever was up with her mask and suit was information I really wanted to know that the episode merely hints at and then moves on from. It was all cool but not completely satisfying. 

Example: The people and world were linked and the Force visibly present but it never really applies to the fight against the enemy. To defeat the invaders an outsider is needed and that outsider, the very cool female Jedi, doesn't seem to tap into the planet's power, so why mention it?

The Ninth Jedi (by Production IG) 9/10

Now this...this is how you make a Star Wars story. 

The premise of The Ninth Jedi is what a Star Wars universe 'sequel' should be. Set far in the future of that galaxy far, far way, the Republic and Empire are mere memories and the Lightsaber is a thing of legend. Sith have returned and they are many, the Rule of Two (which I never liked) long forgotten. Will the Jedi be reborn as well to save the galaxy?

I loved the art and design sense in this one, the simple but epic story that, like The Village Bride, hints at something largely but its my personal opinion that The Ninth Jedi pulls this off more completely than its predecessor. 

T0-B1 (by Science SARU) 7.5/10

A beautiful, sweet, magically heartfelt homage to both the Droid characters of Star Wars and Tetsuwan Atom/Astro Boy, this tale of a robot who wants to be a Jedi Knight is totally delightful. T0-B1 - which eludes to Tobi, To Be One (a Jedi), and also a little Obi-Wan - leans more heavily into the realm of fairy tale than space opera but it definitely achieves what it sets out to do.

The Elder (by Trigger) 6/10

Given the incredible talent of the Trigger group, it is surprising to me that their entries were my least favorite of the bunch.

While 'The Twins' was way too over-the-top, 'The Elder' is underwhelming; slowly and dare I say awkwardly paced, and even a bit lazy. For example, in the rain sequence there is no water on the ground and the rain doesn't interact with the environment or characters in any way. We do not see any attempt to animate the combatants becoming wet. There is no halo or aura of falling droplets on them, something I have seen in Japanese Anime many times in the past.

The story was OK but very 'Plain Jane'. Compared to all the other episodes, this one is the most solidly situated in the standard canon Star Wars universe and also the least intriguing as a result. 

Lop and Ochō (by Geno Studio) 9/10

Lop and Ochō is a quintessentially Anime Anime.

It features a cute girl protagonist, a good guy who is crime boss and gang culture themed, martial arts combat, and wildly stylized technology. It's plot is straight forward and relatable in an abstract way; two people who believe they know what's best for their people and their home are in direct opposition to each other, leading to conflict. An outsider who's been accepted in as one of the family must figure out which side is right and stand up for it.

Quality-wise, I think I would have to score this episode at more like a 7.5 or an 8. It isn't a very complex tale, quite cliche' in fact, its characters aren't particularly layered, but I absolutely loved it. It is just so Anime with a capital 'A' that I scored it higher than perhaps it really deserves.

Just as I like the Rebels cgi animated series more than Clone Wars but completely acknowledge Clone Wars is the vastly superior product, I similarly confess to liking Lop and Ochō because it appeals to my personal tastes. 

I also adore Lop's design. Her species is definitely making an appearance in my next Star Wars campaign.

Akakiri (by Science SARU) 7.5/10

The final episode has a rather unique art style and one that isn't typical of modern mainstream Anime. It reminded me more of the French animation of Tales of Alethrion. The storytelling and indeed the story being told are not unlike European animation shorts either. The somber, arguably tragic ending, is another example of how different this one is from the rest of the selection. 

Although I liked Akakiri, I feel like I need to watch it again to truly understand it. At a number of points the narrative confused me and it has a rather sad ending, though one that need not be final. There is not much else I can say on this one without a re-watch.

Now as for how gameable it is...Incredibly gameable!

 As I noted about under The Ninth Jedi, that short is clearly the start of a long running series of adventures to re-establish a Jedi Order in the distant future of Star Wars, perhaps altering what that even means. It has 'campaign premise' written all over it! 

Many of the others that I could see adding something to a Star Wars RPG game would do just that; inject a sense of newness to the universe with things both never-before-seen and yet familiar:

  • A Jedi Padawan escapes Order 66 and finds a new destiny as in Tatooine Rhapsody
  • A Sith hunting other Sith like the lead character in the Duel.
  • A small alien piloting a Probe Droid as seen in The Duel.
  • Connecting with the Living Force of a planet as implied in The Village Bride. 
  • Lop's species, a possible variant of the Lepi?
  • The Oil Tea drinking Ferry/Shuttle Pilot Droid of The Ninth Jedi.

What Star Wars: Visions shows us is that you can do so many things in and with the Star Wars universe, making me wonder why the inhabitants of The Mouse House (and I am even including my beloved Dave Filoni in this) keep going back to the same 5-10 characters. Star Wars: Visions does what an untold number of Star Wars RPG Gamemasters and players have been doing for 44 years - making up a planet, creating some characters, and telling a tale.

May The Force Be With You Watashi no Tomodachi**!

Barking Alien

*I don't really do reviews (clearly), just give my initial thoughts and feelings on things. 

**Watashi no Tomodachi means 'My Friend'

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

He Lived Happily Ever After

I've been trying to complete this post for about a week now. For some reason I couldn't quite put my finger on, I haven't able to say what I want to say in the way I wanted to say it. 

A number of recent blog posts and social media discussions drummed up some negative memories about my gaming experiences during a specific, early period of my 'life and times' in the hobby. At the same time, I didn't want to make a negative post; I didn't want to dwell on cynical opinions and depressing feelings but I did want to convey a story and a true one at that.

Once Upon A Time, in the Dark Days of Old School Gaming...

Between 1978 and 1982 I would run and play a lot of RPGs. A lot. I was my favorite pastime and although I preferred to GM, I was often participate in games run by both friends and acquaintances (friends of friends usually). The game of choices was almost always D&D prior to '82, with Basic eventually giving way to Advanced 1st Edition. Other games were given a go but it we rarely played them more than a couple short campaigns. After 1982 things would change dramatically with the purchasing of FGU's Villains and Vigilantes and FASA's Star Trek (as revealed in my Secret Origin).

In the years between 1980 and 82, a reoccurring theme of playing D&D under another Dungeon Master was that the games would end up thoroughly disappointing if not outright discouraging. I played a number of games with friend's friends or siblings who were my senior in age. It seemed the older gamers got the more asinine and unpleasant they became. In retrospect, that is absolutely the case as they become teenagers. What did I expect? 

Nonetheless, it wasn't long before I equated Dungeons and Dragons players and DMs with being jerks. Did D&D make them into boneheads or were boneheads attracted to D&D?

Yet with this in mind, sometime in the Summer of 1982 I participated as a player in a short campaign of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition run by an older fellow in another camp group. Instead of my usual Summer gaming gang, this was one of those games with a bunch of guys one or two years my elder. The Dungeon Master ran us through one of the TSR modules. 

I can't remember the specifics of the campaign. I don't recall my character, any of the other PCs, the module, or much of anything else. I do remember it ended on a 'technical TPK', with all the PCs being killed in the last session, just not in the same battle; not all at once. It was one of the last D&D campaigns I would play in for a very long time after (though I continued to run ones myself - heavily modified). 

It had been yet another fairly crappy campaign and one consistent with my aforementioned D&D experiences. The group was made up of what we today would call Munchkins, Power Gamers, Rules Lawyers, and there had been very little in the way of Role-Playing. I was teased and treated like a Newbie even though by 1982 I'd been gaming for about 5 years and had probably played and run more non-D&D games than most of the older gamers. 

To me, this is Old School. This is what I think of when someone uses the term. It isn't fair, I'll grant you that and I have come to realize this is not what it means to most everyone else. I even see some of the positives and the reasons why some have great reverence for the 'era' of Old School D&D but it doesn't change the fact that to me it is synonymous with 'unfun', 'boorish', and even 'a little toxic'. 

Between 1982 and the early 90s I cemented by own style and approach to gaming (though I hope I to be self aware enough to continue to improve and evolve). In those first few years it was largely motivated by not wanting to be anything like the GMs and players who'd made those games so unpleasant and uninteresting for me. Some of those ideals have become mantras I still adhere to today:

Clever Player ideas trump the numbers or at least modify them. 
Character Backgrounds/Backstories are more material for the GM. Use them. 
Don't be afraid to say Yes. Yes, And, Yes, But, and No, But. 
Don't Railroad - Improv. Stay open-minded and flexible within the genre/setting established.
Have a Narrative/Story in mind for the adventure.
Let that Narrative change based on PC actions. 
Reward engagement, immersion, and creativity.

These are just some of the tenets I go by and each has its own conditions and exceptions but generally they serve as my guide to running what I define as good games. My only acknowledgement that they work is that people from across several states have, in the pre-pandemic era, adjusted their schedules and made travel plans to be in my games. Players from games I ran 30+ years ago remember their characters and the events of the campaigns I ran. 

What more could a GM ask for?

Barking Alien

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Why Join The Party?

Why do 'Adventurers' stick together?

Just the other night, the members of one of my gaming groups (for whom I am currently running Champions 4th Edition in my friend William's 'Age of Champions' universe) got into a discussion about Player Character groups or 'parties', why and how they form, and what are their reasons for remaining as a unit. 

It struck us as noteworthy that a lot of games (especially ones we play) have a built in conceit for this:

  • Blades in the Dark PCs are a Crew, out to perform a heist or other criminal enterprise.
  • Call of Cthulhu PCs may be from different walks of life but all are Investigators
  • Star Trek PCs are all Starfleet Officers and the Crew of a Starfleet vessel on a mission.
  • Star Wars PCs are often a Rebel cell, in the Grand Army of the Republic, or members of the Jedi Order
  • Superheroes are all, well, Superheroes. Often they're part of a team or acting as one to fight evil. 

The list goes on and on. Of course someone out there is saying, "You don't have to be Starfleet Officers in a Star Trek game. You can be a bunch of Smugglers and Mercenaries just like in other Space Opera settings." Yes, you can. You can do whatever makes you happy. I am simply addressing the default assumptions of the games noted above and the majority of people who play them. 

My point is, you don't need to find a reason for your Superheroes to unite and battle crime and villainy. They are Superheroes. That's what Superheroes do. If you sat down to play Superheroes your reason for being part of the team is pretty much baked into the crust. Sure, each character might have their own inciting moment in their backstory, their own personal motive that drives them but since we've decided to play Supers, yeah, we've going to play Superheroes doing Superhero stuff. 

As always, the odd one out is the most popular one...Dungeons and Dragons. 

DM: "Alright, so with the map provided by the Inn Keeper, you set off to defeat the dragon Blorfog and obtain the Lost Treasure of Iron Smoke Mountain!"

Player 1: "I don't see why my character would go on this quest."

DM: "I'm sorry...what?"

Player 1: "Sure, I could use the treasure but I'm a Thief who is easily killed. My stats and such aren't great. It would make more sense to stay around the city and just pick pocket locals."

Player 2: "Yeah, and my character is a Ranger. I could see him leading the group to the mountain but then I'll probably just get paid for that and head back. My sworn enemy is Werewolves. I'm not really equipped or motivated to go against a dragon in tunnels under the ground."

DM: "Why would you make Adventurers who don't want to adventure together?"

Players (Together): "I'm just playing my character."

D&D, as well as all the D&D Clones and Cousins, aren't alone in this aspect. Traveller and other open universe, sandbox Space Adventure RPGs also see this sort of thing from time to time. Just as the default assumption of many modern games and IP settings is that the PCs are like-minded people who've formed a team from the start, older Sandbox games tend to default to a bunch of disconnected individuals who need to come up with a reason to join forces.

D&D Party Commission By ABD-Illustrates
Commissioned by  sinaasaappelsap

Thinking about this sent me down a rabbit hole of analyzing why these games are built this way, are they even built this way in reality, and why certain players feel it necessary to assert their defiant independence in what is clearly a group activity. 

When RPGs first emerged out of Wargaming, I don't believe a lot of thought was given to motivation, story, or any such concerns. It was, after all, just a game and while fun it hadn't yet evolved to be more than the sum of its parts. Your reason for going on a given adventure was that there was one and you wanted to play an RPG, ipso facto you joined a party of other players that wanted to do the same thing. 

Let's assume for just a moment that this is a truism. The idea here is that the creators of D&D, Traveller, and similar games of the era didn't expect the players to need motivations for their characters to go on dangerous journeys with others because that is simply what playing such games is about. A player plays an Adventurer and that is just what Adventurers do. 

Maybe that didn't come through clearly. Maybe that wasn't the point after all...

Eventually, quite organically I would imagine, someone added a bit more backstory to their character than was the norm at the time, taking the PC beyond a set of numbers representing game mechanics and into the realm of a protagonist in an emerging narrative that was developing at that very moment. 

So when exactly did the first player say to their Gamemaster that they needed a reason to go on the adventure presented outside of the fact that the adventure existed? Moreover, why did they themselves not try to provide a reason? 

Honestly, I don't know. I couldn't say. The ideas presented here are foreign to my thinking.

This is where I need all of you Old School Grognards to fill me in. This is one of those elements that fascinates and baffles me because my very first character had a motivation in my very first story driven adventure back in 1977. A reason to adventure was both provided by the players AND given by the Gamemaster since moment I entered the hobby. 

Follow that up with the fact that I enjoy and most often play/run games with the built in purpose I mentioned at the start and you can see why I have trouble comprehending this concept. 

To finish up I'll say this - As a player, find a way to motivate yourself. Give yourself a reason to adventure. Understand that you are joining other players and participating in a group event. Don't make the GM or other players have to cater to you and you alone. That's a violation of Rule Zero: Don't be a D**k.

GMs, keep in mind who your players are and who they are playing. Include elements of the PCs backstories and goals in your scenario and plot to give them something to latch on to. Making it more personal will make it more interesting and engaging. 

Work together and achieve more than you could in a vacuum.

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 12, 2021

A Day In The Life

Star Trek Day came and went with a few good announcements (an Eaglemoss USS Cerritos model! Woohoo!) and some rather 'Meh' ones. All I can say is thank goodness we have Lower Decks.

On a side note, Friday was The Orville Day, the fourth anniversary of the first airing of The Orville. Season 3 can not come soon enough.

Unfortunately, yesterday was a far more serious and somber day. It marked the 20 year anniversary of a day of great sorrow for what was lost and great hope for the future of Humankind. 

As for what's on my mind right now...

Something I've been wanting to talk about for quite a while is an approach I like take with many of my campaigns which I will refer to as 'A Day In The Life'. 

Do the Player Characters in your Tabletop RPG campaign sleep? By that I mean in the evening, when they're tired. Not to regain lost Hit Points but to rest because, well, people rest. 

Do your PCs and NPCs eat? Do they enjoy it? Do they have hobbies and do they take part in them? How about getting to know the locals, do they do that? Do the locals talk to them? I'm not just talking about contacts and patrons but the guy who runs the local newsstand, the owner of the party's favorite tavern, or the multi-eyed widower down at the starship scrapyard. 

The reason I ask these questions is that these and other (subjectively) mundane activities have regularly been a part of some of my most successful campaigns. I would say elements such as these define a certain style of play that I [generally] strive for. 

Not every campaign needs this of course. I am currently running a Star Trek Adventures campaign wherein I was recently commended for the brevity of my story and encounter sequences. The goal was to make it feel more like an episode of the original Star Trek series. In The Original Series we never saw people go to the bathroom or perform many other trivial tasks that real life requires us to do on a day-to-day basis. We know (or can logically assume) that they did these things but it was only when it was important to staging the episode that we would see them eat, sleep, or the like. 

I have run Star Trek campaigns in the past where things were much less 'TV Show' style and much more 'A Day in The Life'. I often sight this as a key difference between the feel of Star Trek Adventures (This is a TV series) and previous incarnations such as Last Unicorn Games and FASA (you live in this universe). 

Anyway, one reason - perhaps the main reason - to include this approach is to add a dimension to your game that would otherwise require a lot more work. As discussed a long while back in response to something Charles Atkins talked about, giving a world/setting a dynamic feel need not require massive amounts of work and preparation.

You can imply a living, breathing milieu without having to track the movements and habits of every living thing in existence. You do need to know the movements and habits of the PCs and the NPCs they might encounter. You don't need to know exactly how the weather patterns of each season on this planet work year round so much as what the weather is now; right now as the PCs are experiencing it. Add in the element of the PCs and NPCs dealing with the weather in an everyday manner and the climate and conditions become more memorable without you the GM hardly even trying. 

Unfortunately, this is clearly not something a lot of people think about. I did a search on Google Images, Pinterest, and DeviantArt in an attempt to find an image to represent this post and it was nearly impossible to find anything good to showcase mundane activity in a fantastic setting. You do get the classic tavern or spaceport bar scenes but we've all seen that too many times. Any images of Science Fiction characters shopping in a store? How about Fantasy characters cooking a meal? These are scenes we know exist in nearly every work of genre fiction and TRPG campaign but they aren't deemed meaningful enough to depict I suppose. 

Make them meaningful in your games. Give thought to them. 

See how it brings your universe to life.

Barking Alien

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Day of the Dove

Today is Star Trek Day 2021 and the 55th Anniversary of Star Trek! 

I had this big post planned for today but I am totally wiped out and need to get some rest, so instead I will leave it at that and see you all later in the week. 

Live Long and Prosper - Peace and Long Life.

Here's to another 55 years and beyond...

Barking Alien

Monday, September 6, 2021

High Concept Anxiety

A recent post on Monsters and Manuals reminded me how much I miss running High Concept RPG games. My friend David Cotton (who alas is no longer with us) used to say I ran two kinds of campaigns, Blockbusters and Art Films. Today, I want to talk about Art Films. 

Before I do though, I guess I should address what High Concept means. A Google word search defines it (via the Oxford Dictionary) as '(especially in a movie or television plot) emphasis on a striking and easily communicable idea'. Hmm. Not sure about that last part. Wikipedia says, 'High concept is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise'. Interesting. What I find odd about both of these descriptions, though I will concede that they are correct, is they say a High Concept story is easy to communicate or describe. For some reason that feels counter-intuitive. In my head the opposite is the case.

Standard Dungeons and Dragons is pretty easy to explain - warriors, wizards, and other Fantasy types go exploring dungeons and ancient ruins, kill the monsters that live there, and steal their treasure. Your run-of-the-mill Dungeon Crawl isn't very High Concept. 

Monster Hunter, the video and computer game franchise from Japan, takes that in a whole new direction. In a largely unexplored world, skilled people called Hunters slay monsters in order to produce things needed by the Medieval to Renaissance level societies of the world. These things include food, armor, weapons, and information on the environment and the Monsters themselves. Monster Hunting is a key economic and scientific touchstone of that world. 

That latter description is much longer and doesn't even scratch the surface of some of the Monster Hunter World's background and world-building. So how is High Concept easy to explain? Huh. Maybe it's a bit different with gaming? A standard game isn't Low Concept but it is relatively easy to convey - We're playing Superheroes. It's a Wild West game. We're playing Call of Cthulhu. There will be varying particulars but the basic premise of the campaign is described by a simple genre or IP title. You can give as little as a pitch line and your game idea can be understood. 

What I consider to be High Concept games can be a little less clear as to what the players will do in the game. It's possible the genre or setting will be atypical, a road less traveled as it were. Maybe the campaign's structure will be peculiar, with episodes told out of linear order or as if being narrated by a mystery storyteller. 

None of this implies things such as pre-plotted campaigns, pre-determined outcomes of events, or any such strange assumptions. A High Concept game is, in my humble opinion, one with an unusual concept, an innovative or at least non-traditional approach, and hopefully a memorable outcome. 

Next up, I will try to deliver one such campaign...

Barking Alien

Alternative Mainstream

Noisms is a brilliant and always interesting blogger with thought-provoking musings on the gaming hobby. I read his posts regularly, even though he primarily discusses games I don't run or play. I continue to visit his blog however because his ideas are well considered and his posts well executed. 

In spite of all of that,  there are times when our opinions and thoughts on a given subject don't jive. There is a disconnect; a difference of perception so wide it makes me feel the need to address the subject on his blog here on my blog. 

He recently posted an entry entitled, 'On High Concept Campaigns and Plot Immunity'.

Please go read it before continuing. My main issue isn't with the post itself so much as its initial paragraph and how it applies to RPG gaming in general.

He writes:

"Is there a Lagrange point between old school play, which emphasizes emergent narrative, sandboxes, and letting the dice lie where they fall, and the mainstream of the RPG hobby, which is all about pre-plotted story, pre-determined outcomes, character development, and fudging?"

Clearly his experiences in the gaming hobby have been very different from mine. His attitude towards what makes for a fun game likely differs as well. Given all of that I feel there a large gap between what he represents as Old School Play and what is Mainstream Modern Play. 

First, aren't Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder (or as I call it 'The Other Dungeons and Dragons') the most popular RPGs on the market in most of the Western world (Call of Cthulhu holds that position in Japan as I've noted in the past). Isn't that Mainstream? When most of the people doing a thing are doing the same thing it becomes the Mainstream, no? Are the people playing Pathfinder pre-determining the outcomes of their games? Are D&D 5E players Fudging a lot? Maybe. I don't play those games so I don't know. One reason I don't play them...too Mainstream. 

What games is he referring to that he believes are Mainstream? Monster Hearts? Blades in the Dark? Popular sure but I never thought of them as Mainstream. Maybe Blades might be considered that way now as it's become more widespread. Are sessions of these games Pre-Plotted? Do they have Pre-Determined Outcomes? I've played Blades in the Dark, MASKS, and Lancer in the last year or so and didn't find this to be the case with any of these. 

As for Old School Play...I guess I was never really old school, even as far back as 1977. My games, as both a player and a GM have always included Emergent Narrative and Character Development. We've had PC Death and Fudging (of a sort). The only times I've ever played in games where you had to do it the Gamemaster's way or else, where you were railroaded into a particular plot was Dungeons and Dragons. To me, that's what Old School means. 

Finally, this whole Plot Immunity/PCs Never Die thing...where do people get this? Oh I am sure it happens; I'm sure a lot of people play a completely non-lethal game but how common is it really. Also, what kind of game are we talking about? Is it a game where people aren't supposed to die or aren't able to like Toon or Teenagers from Outer Space? I've said before that very few people die in my games but that's partially because I run Star Trek, Star Wars, and Superheroes. It is built into these genres and often the games that emulate them that main characters dying is rare but yeah, they can die. 

Just because PCs aren't meaningless Chess pawns, as expendable as used tissue paper and nearly as interesting, doesn't mean they have Plot Immunity. I've had and seen more characters demoted in rank, imprisoned for life, lose an NPC friend, family member, or significant other, or have their starship destroyed (basically their home AND a member of the party) more often then I've witnessed PC deaths in my 44 years in the hobby and guess what? I remember them all.

I recall them because they had more emotional weight then Nameless Fighter #5 killed by a rat or kobold or whatever. Doesn't matter. Another random, pointless death. Next. 

When people say Old School Games they get this glint in their eyes that I can only imagine is largely nostalgia driven. I certainly don't remember most of the games I played in my earliest years being that great, which is why I largely stopped being a player and almost always GMed.

Nowadays my games have:

  • A Theme and/or an Over-Arching Plot going on in the setting. 
  • An Emergent Narrative that can change said Over-Arching Plot or be affected by it.
  • Character Development
  • Sandbox elements
  • As well as clues about Campaign-oriented and PC-oriented subplots (my Storybox)  
  • Rare but possible PC Death.
  • Rare but possible Fudging for dramatic/cinematic effect. 

...and more. 

Hey, it's your game. You do you. I'm just saying, there's more than one way to cook a dragon. Or something like that. 

Barking Alien

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Paranormal Activity

Of the many pet projects I'm currently working on, the one that is furthest along is my [ongoing] update of the system I use for running Ghostbusters games.

Ghostbusters 'No Ghosts' Logo Variant
By Justin Gammon

For some years now I've been using a rules set I put together combining the original West End Games Ghostbusters RPG and Memento Mori's InSpectres. Honestly, the system I use is primarily InSpectres but since that game owes a lot to the Ghostbusters game I feel the latter is worth mentioning. It's DNA is clearly visible in the final product. 

I've decided to add something new to the mix with the Stress Dice/Panic Chart mechanic from Free League Publishing's ALIEN RPG. To this end, I had Nice Dice Customs (who I highly recommend!) produce a dozen 'Ghost Dice' with the No Ghost emblem in place of the 1.

The idea is that you would roll one or more of these Ghost Dice as you would the Stress Dice from ALIEN, along with your appropriate Action Dice for the Tasks Attribute and Skill combination. 

A 6 on any of the dice, Action Dice or Stress/Ghost Dice, indicates a Success. Ghost Dice would be added to the mix in stressful, frightening, or obviously dangerous situations. The more stressful, the more Ghost Dice you would add to the roll. A player may also request the addition of one Ghost Die to their roll as a gamble to increase ones chance of Success. 

If the No Ghost symbol comes up, that is considered Panic. The player than makes a Panic Roll. Take a count of the number of Ghost Dice/Stress you rolled, add the number of dice that came up Ghosts and add the total to a single standard/Action Die roll. That final Panic number is checked against the chart below (still a work in progress). 


A particularly perturbing Poltergeist presents a problem for veteran Ghostbusters Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore.

The duo tries to surround their formidable fortean foe in the atrium of an abandoned building. Ray is on the North East side of the area while Winston is on the South West. Ray fires off a stream from his Proton Pack hoping to ensure the ghost while Winston tosses a trap underneath it. 

Ray rolls his Action Dice; adding his Technology Attribute (say 3 Dice) and his Neutrino Wand Talent (Adding +1 Dice) for a total of 4 Dice. In addition, the GM (Ghostmaster like in the ol' West End version?) declares that this is a 2 Ghost Die situation (more on how I see this working in a future post).

Ray is therefore rolling four Action Dice and two Ghost Dice for a total of six (6) Dice. His results are: 6, 6, 4, 3, and two Ghost symbols. Uh-oh.

Now according to the original system by Free League, I believe that rolling Panic negates the action the PC is attempting to take. I could be wrong here. My house rule is that you do accomplish what you were attempting to do if indeed the roll includes Successes. The effect of the Panic Roll also happens.

Based on the situation, as well as GM and player input, the Panic Effect may occur during or immediately after the Success result. If the Success and Panic are incompatible for any reason, the Panic supersedes and the Action fails regardless of Successes rolled. 

Optionally, if you roll more Successes than you need you may spend one to prevent your Action from being negated. I kind of like that. What do you all think? 

Where was I? Oh yes, the Panic Roll. With 2 Ghost Dice rolled and 2 Ghost symbols popping up, Ray rolls 1D6 and adds+4 (2+2). He gets a 6; which along with the +4 is a 10. The GM then consults the Panic Chart. 

Apparently the piercing green eyes and transparent rib-cage thing is too much for Ray once he takes a good look at it and he freezes in place (It's Right Here. It's Looking at Me.).

Winston wasn't really looking at the ghost so much as waiting for Ray's que to drop the Muon Trap he was prepping. He suddenly realizes Ray isn't moving and starts to get nervous himself (tacking on +1 to his Stress Dice as noted). 

Obviously still a work in progress and this is one of many notes I need to go through but what do you all think so far? I'm really liking it. 

Barking Alien

What You Leave Behind

 I have seen a lot of gamers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms posting a query that goes something like, "What were the first three Tabletop RPGs that you played?" or "What were the first two RPGs you encountered after D&D?, the later being presumptuous if not entirely unexpected.

To me a far more interesting question would be, "Of the first five or six RPGs you played after getting into the hobby, how many do you still play?"

For me the answer

Can you guess which one it is?
Answer below. 

There is exactly one TRPG of the first five or six games I've played that I still bring to the table. Perhaps once in a blue moon one of others might get some attention for a special occasion, often only for the sake of nostalgia or novelty. None have been played in a long while and it's unlikely they will see the light of day anytime soon. 

With the exception of Dungeons and Dragons, I only played a short set of adventures or perhaps a one-shot of each of these. Traveller, which is incidentally the only one I still play, was a game I really did not like at first. None of the other had any real staying power with me at the time, which would've been between 1977 and 1982.

Alright that's not entirely true. I played D&D quite often as that was the most popular game in town and around 1979-1980 my friends and I 'graduated' to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st Edition). We often played a mixed D&D/AD&D hybrid until we fully got the hang of AD&D in its entirety. 

The big changes came in 1982 when I purchased Villains and Vigilantes 2nd Edition and Star Trek by FASA. Never a huge fan of Medieval Fantasy or Swords & Sorcery stuff, I played D&D and anything like it (Rolemaster, Runequest, Chivalry & Sorcery, etc.) less and less now that I had access to Superheroes and Star Trek. 

Trying out new games became a thing for me and my buddies, a hobby within a hobby, and before long I practically never picked up a D&D book unless it was specially requested I run something. 

As for the others...I ran one or two short Gamma World campaigns and turned a friend's Metamorphosis Alpha campaign into a Star Frontiers Super-Spy game for a stint around 1983. I ran a really amazing Boot Hill homebrew variant around 1979-1980 that I can't imagine I will ever surpass or even come close to. Finally, also around '83, I ran a short Gangbuster campaign that was fun and leaned heavily into film noir detective movies and novels more than the real history and crimes of the Depression Era. 

Now it's 2021 and not only haven't I played any of these save Traveller is well over 30+ years, I haven't played V&V or FASA Star Trek in a very long time either, unless you count a one-shot here and there over the past two and a half decades. 

How is it that some people play one game and have been playing it for so long? How do you survive without adaption and evolution? What if anything have you changed or learned about the game you've been playing for 30-40 years or more?

What are you first five? Which ones do you still play?

Barking Alien