Sunday, February 20, 2022


As usual this took a lot longer to post than it should have; not because of the researching of notes, the searching through memories, the writing...nope, none of that. It was the art or lack there of.

I was searching for art to represent the characters and apparently, at the average age of about 14 we were the most creative individuals that have ever lived. No, seriously. That must be the case as I couldn't find a good image that represented ANY of the characters. Not even illustrations I could modify without it taking me far more time than I wish to spend. It's quite amazing to me actually since in my mind these are fairly typical D&D characters in appearance with a few exceptions. Then again, D&D isn't my jam so what do I know. 

My apologies that my first Meet The Party post didn't actually feature the party. I mean, what is this The Book of Boba Fett? Ouch. Too soon? Anyway, I felt it necessary to give you guys out there some context for the campaign for which this group was assembled. Now with that out of the way, on with The Winghorn Guard: Highpoint.

This description lists the original group as best as I can remember it. I am including those PCs killed in the first Adventure arc (Expedition to the Barrier Peaks) and those who left the group over personality/philosophical differences (some players went on to play different games - some returned once in a while for guest star roles).

All the players were Male, Jewish (it was a YM-YWHA Summer Camp), and between the ages of 12-15. 

The Party:

Arigon, The Ranger of Rae Astra (played by Martin L.)
Human* Ranger, Neutral Good, Starting Level 6. Ending Level 20

Arigon is discussed in great detail in the first entry to last years 31 Days / 31 Characters Challenge. For this reason I won't go into great detail here except to say that Arigon's player, Martin, was the driving force and sometime leader of the player group. In game, the party's leader was Telerie but without Martin I don't think the group and campaign would've been quite as amazing as it was. 

Martin was extremely likeable and one of the funniest people I'd ever met. His sense of story and adventure was second to none. While there were moments were some of the other got a little jealous of his 'screen time' - and rightly so - it spurred them on to be more proactive like he was.

Of all the guys being mentioned here, I think Martin was my closest friend during the majority of our time together. We finally drifted apart when we reached 16 or 17. People change. I hope he did well for himself, that he is happy, and that once in a blue moon he recalls his time playing RPGs fondly if he doesn't still do it now. 

BloodStar. The Barbarian, Chief of the Northern Star Tribe (played David S.K.)
Human Barbarian, Chaotic Good, Starting Level 5. Ending Level 16

David - or 'Lefty' as I sometimes called him (he and I were the only left handed people in our group of friends) - had a really creative idea for a Barbarian character. Inspired by both Marvel's Ulysses Bloodstone and R. E. Howard's Conan, BloodStar is a member of a tribe of Northern nomads whose ruling bloodline is born with a tiny, red crystal in the center of a star shaped birthmark on their foreheads.

Unlike traditional Barbarians who abhor magic, the BloodStar Tribe is imbued with arcane powers that manifest after reaching various milestones in their lives. The first is a coming of age ritual wherein they prove themselves worthy of being a member of the clan. Most of the abilities given to a Barbarian such as Berserker Rage and the like are attributed to this magic. The Chief's bloodline have additional abilities including great Strength, Constitution, and Fortitude (also known as amazing rolls for STR, CON, and HP). 

What I loved about BloodStar and Dave's portrayal of him was how he didn't play it smart or safe. Oh no. BloodStar was almost always guaranteed to 'Leeroy Jenkins' past carefully laid plans and dive into danger head first. At the same time he could be as heroic as the Paladin and clever as Arigon but simply not as polished. It made for a very entertaining group dynamic, with Rio Sunbird often talking BloodStar down to a calmer and more reasonable state of mind.

Out of nowhere, David contacted me about a year ago as he was going to run D&D with his kids and he needed some recommendations on how to pull off a particular scenario. As I am not especially familiar with 5E D&D, I called on the assistance of my buddy and current player Leo who is indeed a D&D fan (I like him anyway-heheh). Leo's advice was helpful and David and his offspring had a great time. We've stayed in touch. 

Cal aka 'Cannibal' (played by Richard K.)
Hybrid Homunculus Thief, Chaotic Good, Starting Level 4. Ending Level 17

Within a strange room in the Barrier Peaks (a laboratory), the party located a series of Human sized tubes of alchemic fluid, many of which were smashed and leaking ooze all over the floor. One that was intact contained a vaguely wolf/dog looking Humanoid, not unlike an Aerth Kobold, with a plaque that was translated as 'Cannibal'. The creature was barely 4 and a half feet tall, covered in dingy grey fur, with bloodshot eyes and a snout of sharp teeth. 

This creature and one other appeared to be alive and the decision was made to release them. Cannibal and his 'brother' Puma joined the group in an effort to discover who and what they were. His name is revealed to be a reference to his preference for eating Kobolds and Goblins. Once the PC became aware that his name was looked upon poorly by his Human friends, he took the name 'Cal'. 

Played by real life brothers Richard (Cal) and Matt K. (Puma), these were definitely the strangest PCs in a group of atypical PCs. Cannibal was described as a Wizard created hybrid being, made of up a Kobold, a Blink Dog, and possibly a Halfling (or Wilder as they are known on Aerth). He started at a lower level than everyone else (as did Puma) but had the ability to 'Blink' - teleporting a short, line of sight distances. Later he would gain the ability to bite through virtually any material and teleport much further. 

Rich played Cal as alternatively adorable, creepy, and mad comedy relief. His appetite and attitude in battle was like a cross between Cookie Monster and the Tasmanian Devil. Loyal, energetic, and not especially bright, the character was played for laughs but was also quite endearing. One often felt sorry for this wild but well meaning freak of nature. 

I still interact with Rich periodically on Facebook, though I haven't seen him in a good 15-16 years. He used to come in to my ol' job at an Anime/Manga/Japanese Pop Culture store.

Forbeck The Freelancer (played by Neil C.)
Human Fighter, Neutral, Starting and Ending Level 5

I remember very little about Forbeck, the most normal character in this party of unique and largely-than-life PCs. I recall he was a mercenary, literally a Lance-for-hire, with a rather cool Magical Item called The Freeman's Lance. It was a lance that could change form to work as a short spear, a pike, a footman's lance, or a horseman's lance. He was as effective with it in close quarters hand-to-hand as he was on horseback thanks to it's ability to alter it's stats, shape, and size.

Personality wise I don't really remember much about Forbeck. A generic D&D Fighter is ever there was one, he only shined in his final moments when he did a sacrifice move to protect the Cleric, Rio Sunbird, from a powerful Metal Man/Golem (one of the Androids in the Barrier Peaks). 

'Puma' (played by Matt K.)
Hybrid Homunculus Assassin, Neutral Evil/Neutral Good, Starting Level 4. End Level 15

Like Cal/Cannibal played by Matt's brother Richard, Puma was an magically engineered creature found in a tube with the name 'Puma' written on a nearby metal panel. He appears as a four armed, generally Humanoid Displacer Beast - a cat person with jet black fur, green eyes surrounded by white markings, and standing roughly six feet tall. At higher levels he 'unlocked' the prehensile tentacles that sprout from a Displacer Beast's shoulders.

Puma had the ability (three times per day) to 'Displace' himself, gaining an Armor Class bonus or a Surprise Attack bonus because he was not where he appeared to be. Later we would gain an extra attack thanks to his extra arms, and of course the abilities of his Assassin Class.

Puma, thanks to Matt, served the purpose of a different point of view from the standard Superhero mentality. He was cold, calculating, underhanded, and yet always on the side of good. Well, he actually starts the game Neutral Evil and turns to the side of good during the first adventure. If Telerie is Captain America and Cal is Wolverine, Puma was definitely our Batman. 

Rio Sunbird, Cleric of Apollo (played by Ben O.)
Human Cleric, Psionic, Chaotic Good*, Starting Level 6. Ending Level 16. 

If you are lucky, you will meet someone in your life like my friend Ben. There was always something ethereal about him. He was wiser than his years, more centered, and that definitely surfaced in the character of Rio Sunbird. 

Originally he was a youth named Ryan, a member of the Gaelt people, Aerth's equivalent of the Celts. Due to quarrels and conflicts in the ancient history of Aerth, the Gaelts were often fighting skirmishes against the Odysseans, settlers originating from Gretha-Nova (a kind of Greco-Roman Imperium). During one battle, the Gaelts had set fire to a temple dedicated to the god Apollo. Ryan had a change of heart and ran back into the temple to save several clerics of the opposing side.

Late that evening, Ryan was visited by Apollo himself in the form of a bird as bright as the Sun. He was gifted the Staff of Apollo and told he would gain greater clarity and insight if he followed the Gretha-Novan Sun God. Ryan was unsure of what to do until he had a vision of the future - his clan had seen the bright bird and were coming to imprison him as a spy. Taking the name 'Rio Sunbird', Ryan left his home and traveled the world shining the light of hope on the downtrodden. 

In addition to being the team's Cleric, Rio was also a Psionic, utilizing the rules provided in the 1st Edition AD&D. The campaign Ben created Rio for had featured Psionics, yet the games of the other players did not. I declared the ability exceptionally rare and largely unknown to the majority of Aerth's populace. This made Rio a rather unusual individual indeed and gave the party's healer a secret weapon.

He eventually develops the powerful Psionic ability to manifest a fiery, golden, phoenix-like image that can convey a single thought to the mind of anyone and everyone who can see or sense it.  This can be a warning such as 'Run', a feeling such as 'Hope', or so much sorrow and pain it can knock weak-willed enemies unconscious.

The most important thing about Sunbird was the presence of Ben's voice and attitude. He was always calm, even when excited. He spoke and acted from a place of reason, spiritual centeredness, and empathy. Ben balanced all the wild antics and savage battles with quiet compassion, making sure we never lost sight of our objective - it wasn't about glory, gold, or killing but truth, justice, and peace. 

SlainShadow, Hunter of the Doomed (played by Elliot L.)
Half-Orc Cleric/Assassin, Chaotic Evil, Starting Level 3/4. Ending Level Unknown

SlainShadow was an attempt by my friend Elliot (who was the oldest of the players) to emulate the type of characters he favored in fiction; characters such as Boba Fett from Star Wars and Slade Wilson/Deathstroke from DC Comics.

He had a cool backstory, a great look, and totally didn't fit in with the rest of the party. His presence in the first adventure was great for dramatic tension and over-the-top action but we all knew that it wasn't going to be a good fit long term. 

Following the first adventure arc, SlainShadow departs for parts unknown. He would later reappear from time to time as an ally or an antagonist depending on the situation. I know Elliot also used him in a campaign run by another GM, one with a more traditional Murderhobo flavor to it, which I heard he fit into much better.

Telerie. The Paladin of Goldburn (played by David P.)
Human Paladin, Lawful Good, Starting Level 5. Ending Level 17

The Winghorn Guard was an ensemble cast but like the MCU Avengers, some of the characters ended up more equal than others. BloodStar could sit in as our Thor and Rio Sunbird as our Black Widow or Hawkeye, with Telerie (pronounced Tella-RYE) as the Captain America to Arigon's Iron Man. Not the perfect analogy by any means but you get the gist.

It was Telerie's player David that is really to for the concept of Aerth and the Winghorn Guard. It was he who first asked he get to the play the PC he was running in his school campaign and a most interesting campaign it was.

David attended a Yeshiva school, the Jewish equivalent of going to Catholic school. Hmm, oddly stated I'll admit but again, you get what I'm saying. His GM based their school year campaign on Jewish Mythology, with magic, creatures, history, and locations having numerous biblical elements and references. At the same time it was 100%, 'Grade A' Dungeons and Dragons. Telerie worshipped a single god and his monotheistic ways were viewed as strange by the rest of the team. Nonetheless, his allies excepted him and his unusual worldview. 

He began our game with Goldburn, a +5 Holy Avenger that was alight with golden fire in the presence of Chaotic Evil opponents. As the campaign went on the sword would reveal numerous other hidden powers and the deep secrets behind its construction. As for armor he wore peasant clothes over chainmail with a found chest plate and helmet. During our first adventure, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, Telerie gains a most curious and powerful suit of armor that had a protective energy shield (it could take 50 points of damage before shutting down and then regenerated at 1 point per round I think) and could fire bright bolts of light out of one its gauntlets (2D8 damage)

Since he began with these two awesome items, Telerie pretty much gave away any other treasure or magic gear that came his way. While this fulfilled his Paladin edicts to donate most of their treasure to their temple/religion, Telerie took it even further. He gave gold to the poor, healing potions to the sick, and generally just did away with material possessions beyond what he felt he needed. The other players and PCs eventually felt he needed to keep some items just to 'keep up' with the level of danger they faced, which led to a humorous dynamic of him saying, "Fine, fine. I'll take the *Defensive Magic Item* if no one else wants it. 

By the end of the campaign Telerie was virtually invulnerable to harm. In addition to his Sci-Fi Powered Armor he had a helmet that protected him from Psionics and Mental Magic, a Cloak of Protection, a Ring of Fire Resistance (Right Hand), a Ring of Cold Resistance (Left Hand), and some kind of Shield Brooch. 

Funny enough, I remember that it was David who started me GMing for the first time years before and was, as I mentioned, the catalyst for this campaign. He was also the first of us to stop being so into RPGs. He was a good looking guy, athletic, and as time went on spent more of his hours playing sports and talking to woman. I didn't fault him for this but it was disappointing to me at the time (We did get into a tiff once over a girl I had a major crush on - I got over it and apologized). Dave was a core component of the group and leading by example, he gave the party a much needed moral compass. Also, Dave's integrity and truly good nature meant he never abandoned the game and was there at the grand finale. 

Wherever you are David P., I hope you are well, happy, and still fighting the good fight. 

Worster the Wild (played by Ivan T.)
Human Fighter/Thief, Chaotic Neutral, Starting and Ending Level 6 

Oh Ivan T, you madman! Worster the Wild died pretty early in the first adventure arc, probably trying to steal from a Metal Man or from antagonizing a slobbering monster. Both the player and the character were in it for the crazy antics they could try to pull off and while that made things interesting, it isn't always a great way to survive. 

I remember very little about the PC itself except that he effected the look of a wildman - dirty and disheveled leather armor, long, unkempt beard, and the like. 

The campaign lasted nearly four years and during that length of time a number of new PCs came in, left, died, and a few stayed to form the 'next generation' of The Winghorn Guard. Some of the players mentioned above had alternate characters towards the end, including Martin's Elven Fighter/Magic-User Nitram of Namredel and my own Dwarven Fighter/Cleric Redsand Thickstone. 

Party Dynamics:

David P. was the team leader but wasn't especially aggressive or assertive. He played his character as a man with a job to do. Martin ended up being the 'field commander' more often then not, coming up with plans and giving commands on the fly in the middle of the action. 

David S.K. was the team's 'devil's advocate', disagreeing with David P.'s 'boy scout' Paladin and needing Arigon to be the deciding vote. David's BloodStar sometimes gave in to that Barbarian berserker rage. Luckily, Ben's Rio Sunbird would always be there to bring everything back down to Earth. 

Ben was so...I wanna say innocent but that isn't the right word. He reminds me of Will Byers in Stranger Things. He was the calm needed to reduce or break any storm that formed between the other players. 

Rich and Matt had the dynamic of being brothers and so they occasionally got on each others nerves. Matt, being the younger brother, could easily get on everyone's nerves when he wanted to but never as his character. The two switched their real world roles as PCs, with Rich playing the completely random and unpredictable little scamp and Matt being the world-wise, rational, and responsible older sibling. 

Party's Over:

Well that's it. This took a really long time to finish this and I am not certain I am completely pleased with the results. Did it accomplish what I wanted it to? I am not sure. Do you feel you have a good grasp of this group, the characters, and the way they interacted? Please let me know in the comments. 

I have some other things I want to get into now...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


This has turned out to be a more involved endeavor than I had intended.

I can almost guarantee this wouldn't have been the case if it weren't this particular group and campaign. The series, its players, and their Player Characters mean so much to who I am as a gamer that I'm going to need to split this first Meet The Party into two posts to cover it all.

My first truly long form RPG campaign, The Winghorn Guard: Highpoint was played for several hours a day, Mon-Fri, from June to August, over the course of roughly four years. The campaign stands as the first draft for all my games to follow. It was with this game that I first developed my style and approach to RPGs. It was after this that I became a GM 'in demand'. Word spread beyond the group and our Summer Camp to the various schools and hobby shops where our extended circles bled into the larger gaming community of 1980s Brooklyn.

For a while it was legend and so were we.

I've told the tale of The Winghorn Guard in whole or in part a number of times over the course of this blog but I've never really given the very first PC group its due. As a part of my personal game history, this party and the players involved sit comfortably as icons in an RPG 'Hall of Fame'. What started with these PCs has survived and expanded over the past four decades and is pretty much the only way I'd run 'D&D' today.

From this one game and group there has sprouted five long term campaigns, three shorter ones, and a host of one-shots. Easily more than forty individual players have experienced the world of Aerth, the setting of The Winghorn Guard's adventures over the past 40 years. It's been run using AD&D 1E, D&D 3E and 3.5, Ars Magica, the Japanese 'Standard Roleplaying System' rules, as well as homebrews. 

Onward to Part I...

Emblem of Highpoint Division 

Session Zero: (Party Origins)

It all began in Brooklyn, New York, one June morning in 1982 (or 83')...after running D&D a few time and playing AD&D once or twice (both pretty miserable experiences), my friend David P. came over and asked me to run an AD&D campaign that Summer. He told me about this great campaign he was in at school and how he really wanted to continue playing that character. This was echoed by a bunch of other guys - some friends, some friends-to-be - who had all been playing characters and games they loved back at their respective schools.

All the players wanted me to run a new campaign but they wanted to use their established characters from their own, separate campaigns. My solution was to say to each of them, "OK but the PC you have in my campaign isn't the exact same individual from your campaign. What happens to them here has no effect on them in your school campaign and vice versa from this point forward." Since everyone was generally familiar with comic books, I compared it to there being a Superman on Earth-1, Earth-2, etc. Both the Clark Kents of Earth-1 and 2 are Superman...each a Superman...but they aren't the same Superman. Everyone agreed and so I got to work on the campaign.

After hearing about each games' history and particulars, I set about creating a world that would combine all this into a setting. Taking further inspiration from Superhero comics, I created the world of Aerth, a magical, alternate Earth wherein the mythical era of nearly every real world culture existed simultaneously. 

The Major Nations and Alliances of Aerth

With Marvel's Watcher and DC's Legion of Superheroes as templates, I developed Neuron The Neutral Man, a living embodiment of True Neutrality, who summoned the initial group of PCs together to defeat a menace that threatened the entirely of the planet and beyond!

Probably the key design element that makes The Winghorn Guard campaign stand out from other D&D and related Fantasy RPGs I've run and played is the Gamemastering guidelines and philosophy I set up for myself going in weren't those typically applied to D&D. Though never explicitly addressed to the players, my approach to the game wasn't a Dungeons and Dragons one. Instead, it was as if I was running D&D using the GMing tips and suggestions from a Superhero RPG.

The PCs' backstories and the campaign worlds they came from (as you will see) formed the basis of my idea to build this game as a Medieval Fantasy that played by Superhero rules (so to speak). The classic cliches and tropes of Dungeons and Dragons were switched out for Superhero Comic Book ones; the adventures, villains, and plots sharing more in common with The Avengers and Legion of Superheroes than they did The Lord of the Rings.

There were some deaths and some issues between the characters (though not the players) and following the party's victorious defeat of Lord Darkstar some of the PCs parted while five remained together. They decided to travel as a group to the city of Gallatain in Albritonia in an attempt to join The Winghorn Guard. At the Choosing, the Great Winged Unicorn picked each of the heroes and they were assigned together to the division of Highpoint. 

What is The Winghorn Guard?:

Originally called The Order of the PEGASUS until I renamed it, The Winghorn Guard is an assembly of heroes from all over the world of Aerth, each chosen by the mysterious alicorn known only as The Great Winged Unicorn, to fight the forces of evil, protect the innocent, and uphold the noble virtues of good.

All members are of Good Alignment, though they may be Chaotic, Lawful, or Neutral. They are separated into nine divisions (originally only 6 - the middle three developing later) and go on adventures such as saving survivors of a shipwreck, battling monsters threatening a kingdom, investigating mysterious activities on behalf of frightened villagers, and other deeds you'd expect characters based on a merger of Superheroes and the Knights of the Round Table to do. 

OK, now on to...The Party

Barking Alien

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Let's Get This Party Started

Hi everybody! Welcome to the Party! The Adventuring Party that is.

(Heh. See what I did there?)

This is a 'teaser' for the first entry in my new irregular series, 'Meet The Party', showcasing various gaming groups I've had over the years and their PCs. It is going to be very similar to the Characters section of my Campaigns I Have Known/Played posts but expanded, with perhaps a bit more about the players and the inter-player/inter-character dynamics. 

This is kind of an experiment. I'm not sure how well it will go over compared to the Campaigns I Have... series and how many of these I can generate before the two series start to overlap. I definitely want these two works to cover separate ground. Hopefully I will be able to keep them distinct. 

On a personal note, I don't like the word 'Party' for a group of PCs and never have. I don't know why exactly but it just never clicked with me. If you go back to my posts over the years you'll see I use it considerably less often then group, team, or even crew.

It largely boils down to what I heard growing up; the only 'party' I was familiar with in a context related to 'adventures' would've been a Search Party or Landing Party. Lord of The Rings calls it a Fellowship. In Superhero comics they say Team. Star Trek sends down Landing Parties or Away Teams but these consist of Crewmembers. Rebels in Star Wars. Musicians form a Band, as do Merry Men. 

Yeah, Party just sounds weird to me. 

Anyway...Our first Party consists of one of my very first Parties, The Winghorn Guard from my original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (-ish) campaign from 1982-83. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien

Happy 90th Birthday to the great John Williams, composer of all the best movie soundtracks of my youth. 

Rest in Peace to visual effects legend Douglas Trumbull - a pioneer in the field of film special effects who worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Games That Made Me

February is always an emotionally difficult month for me. It is filled with birthdays (including my own), anniversaries, and other dates of joyful, sad, and bittersweet significance. 

I am making a concentrated effort to put all that aside this year as 2022 is a year of celebration. The focus is on a positive, informative, and entertaining discussion about the hobby I love. 

To that end, I had this idea of looking back on my 45 years with Tabletop Role Playing Games and talking about the games that, for better or worse, define what I do and why. 

Here goes:

Basic Dungeons & Dragons, Holmes Version - TSR (1977)

This is the very first game I played, the one that started me off in this hobby on August 25th, 1977. As much as my sensibilities and tastes have moved away from D&D (and it's relatives), I will forever be grateful to this game for introducing me to the wonderful pastime of TRPGs. 

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition - TSR ((1977-1978-1979)

I have such a love/hate relationship with this game.

I loved it from the late 1970s until the early 1980s; mostly because it was the only game in town so to speak. It was definitely the go-to game for my friends and I from the ages of 9-12 but I always found it a tad counterintuitive. It's fluff didn't seem to match it's crunch and the writing seemed to focus on what you couldn't do rather than what you could.

With each new game I played after AD&D I found myself liking the Fantasy RPG less and less. Eventually I would run and play games that were not only more in my wheelhouse - Science Fiction and Superheroes - but also just made more mechanical 'sense'. More and more I was encountering games that described themselves in terms of what you did to make a character, run a game, create a universe, and less about limits, can'ts, don'ts, and shouldn'ts.

I will always remember my times with Advanced D&D 1st Edition [mostly] fondly but it also my benchmark of what I don't want in a Role Playing Game.

Villains & Vigilantes, 2nd Edition - Fantasy Games Unlimited (1982)

My friend Martin Lederman and I split the cost of the V&V 2nd Edition boxed set, making it (technically) the first RPG I ever bought with my own money. I convinced Martin to go in on it by reading the back cover of the box in my best Ted Knight-Super-Friends-Announcer voice, assuring him that he'd get the chance to play a 'Champion of Truth and Idol of Millions', just like the package said. 

I was a huge Superhero fan by the age of 13, with a considerable comic book collection. I understood Superheroes. Fantasy, especially D&D-style Medieval-ish Fantasy, was always a vague and unclear thing in my mind. I felt more at home running my first session of Villains & Vigilantes than my hundredth session of Dungeons and Dragons.

V&V was one of the first nails to be driven into AD&D's coffin. Not because it was a 'better game' per se but because it did something Dungeons and Dragons didn't made sense to me. Armor didn't make you harder to hit, it made you harder to hurt. Certain attacks worked more effectively or less effectively against certain defenses. Things worked the way they worked in Superhero Comic Books because this was a Superhero Comic Book RPG. Sure, from our viewpoint in the year 2022 it doesn't do these things as well as later games have but it showed me that things don't have to feel like they function arbitrarily. Genre based games could be made so that they operated like their genre operated. The world of RPGs was suddenly wide open.  

Star Trek, The Role Playing Game, 1st Edition - FASA (1982)

The first RPG I purchased wholly on my own, with my own funds, Star Trek, The Role Playing Game was also the first game I got from my inaugural visit to The Compleat Strategist in New York City, my FLGS for the past 40 years. 

If V&V was the first nail, Star Trek was the second, third, and possibly fourth. Why play wizards fighting orcs when I could be the Captain of a Federation Starship? Why travel through a faux-European forest for the next dozen sessions when I could be on a desert world this week, an abandoned space station next week, and make contact with an ocean planet's aquatic civilization the next? What is swinging a glaive (what even is a glaive?) compared to beaming down, scanning with my tricorder, or firing phasers?

This game also confirmed something I was already leaning towards in other games; Killing things and making money is not the purpose or focus. [Honestly, we were approaching D&D that way from the very beginning].

FASA Star Trek allowed me to Role Play in the universe of my favorite television program, playing out my dreams of Space Adventure Sci-Fi, my favorite subject. It also did something even bigger and more meaningful to me - it introduced me to the idea of the Licensed, IP-Based game, something I would become very popular for among my friends. 

I think this is the RPG with which I began to develop my personal GMing style, though I wouldn't realize it or even put any thought to it for some time to come.

Paranoia, 1st Edition - West End Games and Toon, 1st Edition - Steve Jackson Games (1984)

These two games, both of which came out in 1984, were hugely influential on me for being commercially viable Humor RPGs. The idea of a Comedic tabletop campaign wasn't something I hadn't thought of before but I generally assumed only my friends and I would be interested in such a thing. 

Another thing that made these games great was how they were written, particularly Paranoia. The rulebooks have a certain irreverent, sometimes sarcastic approach that says, 'These are guidelines. Change things up if you need to.' Along with the next game I'm going to mention, Paranoia and Toon made it not only OK to tweak the rules as written but it was almost encouraged.

Other games during this period with a similar effect on me that deserve honorable mentions are Ghostbusters, 1st Edition - West End Games (1986) and Teenagers from Outer Space, 1st Edition - R. Talsorian Games (1987).

Star Wars, The Role Playing Game, 1st Edition - West End Games (1987)

What can I say about this game that truly conveys what it means to me.

I love Star Wars D6. In the past I have identified it as my all time favorite game system mechanically and while I still feel it is among the best of the best, I think others that followed its lead but refined things may edge it out slightly these days. Games like ALIEN by Free League for example and my own Ghostbusters kitbash of classic GB, InSpectres, and Alien. 

Still, Star Wars holds a special place in my heart and takes up a permanent residence rent free in my mind when it comes to gaming. Already popular in my gaming circles for running Star Trek, DC Comics, Ghostbusters, and games based on various Anime series, Star Wars tripled my demand as everyone wanted to be in one of Adam's Star Wars games.

It hit at just the right time to, as my real life was going through a particularly tumultuous time. I needed something to be good at, something I didn't feel like a failure at honestly. Gaming has always been that for me. Even when I feel awful I know that at least I'm a great GM. It might sound silly and to some extent it is but it works to keep the anxiety in check. 

WEG Star Wars is also the first time I really got to understand how RPGs were made and who the people were behind them. West End Games - for those who may not know - is named for West End Ave., located on New York City's Upper West Side. The offices of WEG were around the corner from good friends of my Mom's and I was good friends with a few of the employees including the late Martin Wixted. I also knew Peter Corless (through his brother John) and Bill Smith, whom I met at a number of conventions. 

I submitted an entry into the contest that would later form the equipment catalog/supplement Galladinium's Fantastic Technology, winning 20th place with the V5-T Transport Droid. I would later be contacted as a kind of sounding board/consultant for another Droid sourcebook. It's ironic since when the game was first announced I submitted an application to write for West End Games and was turned down for being too young and inexperienced. Rightly so but a few years later and there's my name on the credits page of a product. Do or do not. There is no try, eh?

Champions, 4th Edition (and early ones) - Hero Games and others (1989 and earlier)

Ah Champions, you magnificent bastard of a game. When I first encountered it, probably around 83-84, I had no interest. Villains & Vigilantes worked just fine for my Superhero needs and was complicated enough. This game was on a whole new level of being in league with my arch-nemesis - Math. 

It wasn't until 1986 or so when I started participating in my friend William Corpening's epic Age of Heroes/Age of Chaos campaign that I truly appreciated what this game was all about and what it could do. At a time when I was going for simpler and less crunchy game mechanics, Champions taught me to not fear or despise the mathematics involved in what can be a fantastic gaming experience. 

In addition, it solidified my preference for games wherein you build your characters by either point buy or pick options. None of that messy and often disappointing random rolling for me. I want to choose my skills and abilities as well as my weaknesses and limitations. I want to build the character I want to play. In all honesty, Champions reignited my desire to be a player at all, as I'd been primarily a GM with only the occasional, often disappointing foray into being on the other side of the table. 

I also learned a great deal about running games, creating NPCs, designing scenarios - really NOT designing them - and such from my buddy Will who to this day is the greatest GM I have ever had the pleasure of playing under. Thank you for you wit and wisdom Will. 

MegaTraveller - Game Designers' Workshop (1987)

Another game that deserves mention for similar though also quite different reasons is Traveller by way of its sequel MegaTraveller. Traveller was another game I initially disliked and mentally wrote off until being reintroduced to it through MegaTraveller many years later. With the help of my good friend Jason 'Big J' McAlpin, I learned to understand and appreciate the Traveller universe, how it can and does include the things I felt were missing from the game, and how easy it is to add any and all the elements of Science Fiction that I love (within reason) but aren't there by default. 

Traveller is also a case in which the opposite of Champions' Character Creation, consisting of numerous random dice rolls, can still be really fun. What it does that other games with Random Generation don't do is provide a sort of built in backstory for your character, letting you know that they received such things as Promotions, Special Assignments, and field Commissions during their pre-campaign lifetime. 

Both Champions and Traveller are, for me, exercises in changing ones perspective and being open to forming new opinions with new experiences and more information. 


I'm trying to think of a tenth entry but really things get murky after the games I've already mentioned. The gamer I am today is an amalgamation of 45 years of experiences running and playing a hundred (or more) games. With each game, campaign, and even session I try to hone my approach and technique a little more. 

Some games were not what I wanted and needed modification so I improved my kitbashing and tweaking skills. Some games were so bizarre in concept that I needed to learn how to pitch them to an audience that might not easily grok them. From Japanese TRPGs I learned how a different culture adapted a hobby that originated here in the US to their sensibilities. I learned some really creative ways of adjudicating challenges from games that didn't use dice, even if that isn't my thing personally. 

I like to think I'm always learning, always growing, and perpetually trying to improve. 

Whether I am successful at it is for my fellow gamers to decide. 

Barking Alien

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

31 Thoughts

I was pre-occupied by so many things last month (all good mind you) that I barely had time to put up the fourteen characters I managed to get done for the 31 Days / 31 Characters Character Design Challenge.

I hardly had the chance to relax, absorb, and think about things in the way I normally like to. To that end, here are 31 things my brain has finally processed...

(In no particular order)

1) Happy Birthday MLK. Don't forget - February is Black History Month and Black Lives Matter.

2) There is a new Fraggle Rock series on Apple TV+! NEW EPISODES of FRAGGLE ROCK exist. Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock - Dance your cares away! I am loving it, although Mokey's redesign is weirding me out for some reason. Lili Cooper, the Human actress who plays the new 'Doc' is big time crush material. So adorable.

3) Remembering Bahamian-American actor, director, and diplomat Sidney Poitier, one of my all time favorites, who graced the silver screen in 1959's Porgy and Bess, 1961's A Raisin in the Sun, and 1970's They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!. He directed the Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder comedy Stir Crazy in 1980 as well as a number of other successful comedies. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor, a Presidential Medal of Honor from Barack Obama, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. 

4) Rest in Peace to comedian, actor, TV host, and personality Bob Saget. So talented and so young. Deep condolences to family, friends, and fans. 

5) More sad news with the loss of one of my favorite musical talents - Meat Loaf, Michael/Marvin Lee Aday. He wasn't a perfect Human being and I disagreed with some of his personal policies in the later years but he made great music. Godspeed to the Bat Out of Hell. 

6) Some Tabletop RPGs are coming this year that have me really excited. Not the least of which is The Dark Crystal Adventure Game by River Horse. So many many ideas. 

7) I backed Heckin' Good Doggos on Kickstarter, an RPG about Dogs doing Dog Stuff. Because Dogs.

8) Another passing meaningful to me is that of Jean-Claude Mézières, artist and one of the two creators of the French Science-Fiction series Valerian and Laureline. 

9) Members of one of my old gaming groups and very dear friends for over 30 years, Aris, Keith, Vlad, and their good buddy George have a video podcast on YouTube called The Podcast Cosmic. It is essentially a bunch of old guys talking fandom but its entertaining and passionate and I love these dudes. Check it out. 

10) I loved the first two episodes of The Book of Boba Fett, liked the third, was disappointed by the fourth and as for the fifth, well, the Season 3 Premiere of The Mandalorian was truly fantastic. I do think they should have finished Boba Fett's story first though (wink). As for the sixth episode, damn, I don't even know where to begin. Incredible. It all makes me feel like...

11) I really want to run Star Wars D6 again. Really, really. A long term campaign with some of the elements we see in the Disney+ series. Not merely adventures but living in the Star Wars.

12) I am liking Star Trek: Prodigy quite a bit. It is definitely a children's show; not aimed at me but a much, much younger audience. That said, it is well done and stays true to the tenets of Star Trek while showing it in a dynamic new way. Take a look. 

13) I am still kind of obsessed with Ghostbusters and my Ghostbusters RPG ideas. I really want to run a campaign with my old Art and Design / 'The Home Office' gang. We shall see...

14) I need to run some genres/settings/games I haven't run in a while or maybe never before at all. That last bit would be hard to do. Maybe just a few one-shots scattered throughout the year.

15) One of these days I want to run a campaign of Pirates! - Romanticized realism with a supernatural twist. Like a Pirates version of my old 'Odd West' The Legend of Boot Hill game. Weirdly, I'd love to run it with my Sunday group but my buddy Keith - a massive fan of Naval Adventures in the Age of Sail - absolutely despises Pirates. 

16) I am interested in running a one-shot or short campaign of Medieval Fantasy yet I like the subject no more now than I have in the recent past, which is to say very little. I will be very curious to see The Goblin Slayer and Konosuba TRPG English Translation go over with my friends, since I'll likely adapt one of these for whatever I end up running. 

17) Based solely on The Legend of Vox Machina Netflix Animated Series, I am not sure I understand the incredible popularity of Critical Role. After the first three episodes I see it as a decent story with some good characters but nothing particularly interesting or unique. Perhaps because I am not a fan of Dungeons & Dragons and the type of characters and stories typical of that game, Vox Machina just doesn't land with me. I can only assume that for people who do like this sort of thing, this series is the bees knees. What say you D&D fans?

18) Likewise, Peacemaker isn't connecting with me the way it is with many in superhero geekdom. The show is very well done and John Cena is absolutely excellent in the lead role but I am not feeling it. I am not hating it either and will probably continue on to watch all of this first season. A fan of the original Charlton Comics version of the character and (to a lesser extent) the later DC Comics incarnation as well, perhaps my affection for those is clouding my assessment. 

19) The closer we get to the release of the Marvel Multiverse Role Playing Game Playtest Edition the more excited I get. I am starting to put some ideas together for a possible Marvel 'What If?' campaign. Generally more of a DC fan traditionally, this is pretty wild to me.

20) Especially since I didn't love all of the recent Marvel films. Eternals needed A LOT of work, Shangi-Chi was fun but not special, and Black Widow was fine but a bit disappointing. I wasn't particularly impressed by the Disney+ Hawkeye series either. Left me flat actually. 

21) Spider-man: No Way Home on the other hand was phenomenal! I absolutely loved it.

22) I loved Wandavision, liked Falcon and The Winter Soldier a lot, and thought Loki was a great deal of fun. What If? was really good as well, with some episodes being 'pretty cool' and others being 'Holy Crap That Rocked!'. 

23) Of the upcoming MCU works, I am most interested in the Disney+ series Moon Knight and Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness. There's that word 'multiverse' again. Ooh, speaking of multiverses...

24) Spider-man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One) is coming in October of this year and I could not be more excited. Well maybe. I mean, if they announced a new Dark Crystal series continuing the story from Age of Resistance I'd...nevermind...The first Spider-Verse movie was spectacular and it featured Miles Morales, my favorite incarnation of Spidey. This one promises to introduce Spider-man 2099 in addition to the return of Miles and Gwen. Who knows what other Spider-folk are out there?

25) Can we get a live action Miles Morales? Please?

26) As promised in December, I will soon be posting up some new entries into old favorites features such as Campaigns I Have Known, Campaigns I Have Played,  and Thorough Thursdays. I also want to finish some entries I started but never got around to completing. 

27) This is true of some monthly themes as well. For example, I have a lot more to say about Japanese Tabletop RPGs.

28) Additionally, I have some new features I'd like to start up, one or two of which will be beginning very soon. One-Shots I Have Known/Have Played, Things to Do, and Meet The Party

29) I got the idea for Meet The Party while doing research for the characters in the 31 Days /  Characters Challenge Digging through my old campaign notebooks, talking to my friends, I realized there were so many old characters connected to so many campaign that there was no way I was going to be able to address even a fraction of them. Meet The Party allows me to do just that by describing the PCs and major NPCs from some of our past games. Think of it as the Characters section of one of the Campaigns I Have Known/Played entries all by itself, allowing me to expand on the character descriptions and information. 

Whatta ya think?

30) JB over at B/X BLACKRAZOR keeps promising/threatening to do a series of posts on World Building, leading me to consider threatening/promising to do the same. Thing is, like Campaign and Adventure design, I am not certain I can easily translate my approach into a system others will understand and be able to use. So much of it works by gut and hunch, with the process constantly going through adjustments and alterations. Is it worth the headache?

31) I could go over how I go about World Building in worlds that already exist. I mean, I do run a lot of IP based games. Maybe how to World Build in the Star Trek or Star Wars universes (for example) would be helpful to other GMs playing in those settings. Hmm. 

All that thinking knocked Barkley out.

Well that's it for now. I need some rest.


Barking Alien