Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A New Hope

Earlier this month I had the honor and privilege of running West End Games' Star Wars, The Roleplaying Game - one of my all time favorite RPGs - for three of my very long time and very dear friends. The game was run over Discord and went for three hours.

It's a challenge for me to put into words how good it felt to game with these fellows once again after nearly 20 years. Aside from getting to play with three people who are very special to me, playing with these guys has truly rejuvenated me. It was a breath of fresh air to game with three players who want to play the kind of game I want to run. 

I first met and became friends with Keith ConroyAristides Iliopoulos (sometimes referred to by his nicknames Aris or Artie), and Jason Narvaez while working at The Forbidden Planet between 89 and 91. I was introduced to these fine fellows by our mutual friend Vlad Rients (you can watch Vlad, Keith, Aris, and their pal George chew the pop culture fat on the YouTube channel The Podcast Cosmic). These fellows were also in my Tales from The Rim campaign group.

There is a lot more to our friendships than this though; Aris and I worked together at the Forbidden Planet. Keith helped me choose the Groomsmen's suits for my wedding. Jason was my Best Man. These guys, like a very select few others in my heyday of playing TRPGs have long since gone from 'people I gamed with' to family. I couldn't be happier getting to play with them again. 

The campaign, entitled 'STAR WARS: Gray Territories', is set in the same timeframe as the Disney+ series 'The Mandalorian'. approximately five years after the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of The Emperor at the Battle of Endor. I will discuss the details of the campaign in a later post and probably do a breakdown of the 'Episodes'.

Here and now, I simply want to say how and why this campaign - which has only had one session as of this writing - has already rejuvenated my love of RPGs and helped to shrug off the feeling of 'Gaming Ennui' I've been experiencing lately. 

These guys approach gaming differently from my other groups. That different approach can best be summed up as 'exactly the way I do'. Much like my A&D High School Group, these fellows and I aren't just on the same page; we wrote that page together as a team. We want the same things out of the game. We move and think at the same speed. We get it and each other in a way that could only come about if you'd been there, if you know what I mean. 

It is really freeing to be able to run a game as well as I can because the group is good enough, quick thinking enough, and immersed enough to handle that. Likewise, I need to be at the top of as it keep pace with this crew. Exhilarating. Nothing like it.

I will end here for now. I apologize for the long delay but I just haven't felt motivated to post lately. Tired from an increased work schedule (a good thing) and a lack of enthusiasm as mentioned above and in my previous post. Feeling a bit better now and looking forward to the rest of the year. 

Talk to you soon and May The Force Be With You!

Barking Alien

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Low Power Mode

February was, as anticipated, pretty brutal. 

Some high highs, some low lows, and very little time to sit down and write for the blog. It was to be expected but I am nonetheless surprised at just how busy I was last month and how scant postings have been.

I also missed some key acknowledgements, including but not limited to the passing of Ghostbusters Director Ivan Reitman and Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H's Major Margaret 'Hot Lips' Houlihan and Dr. Elizabeth Dehner in Star Trek's 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'. 

Now it's March 6th and you're getting my first post since the 1st of the month and it's, well, it's this; a rather lackluster effort if I do say so myself. 

I'm feeling down. Bummed. Lacking in energy or enthusiasm. 'Burn Out' is not the right term as I am not feeling a lack of interest in RPGs, quite the contrary. Rather I'm tired - weary tired - of some of the gaming I am participating in. It's really one particular group and game but it has set off in me an overall dissatisfaction with my gaming. Again. 

Not how I wanted to celebrate my 45th year Anniversary, let me tell you. 

There is a possible light at the end of the tunnel but it seems more a possibility than a guarantee. One of my old groups from way back when wants to get together for a game of one of our favorite subjects. Sounds perfect right? Well after over two weeks of discussions only two of the potentially four or five players have supplied a character idea. We're supposed to be playing next weekend. 


Online gaming is beginning to really irk me. A lack of investment among players irks me. The completely unnecessary overthinking of cowards in an adventure game really irks me. 

I sit here melancholy and extremely irked. 

We shall see where it goes from here...

Barking Alien

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Age of Resistance

The game company River Horse has published The Dark Crystal Adventure Game, a Tabletop Role Playing Game set on the World of Thra, the setting of the 1982 Fantasy film and 2019 Netflix series Age of Resistance. 

It just so happens that I've been working on a Dark Crystal RPG of my own for, oh I don't know, OVER 35 YEARS! Sorry, whew, deep breaths. In addition, I was almost part of the team that worked on a Dark Crystal RPG to be put out by Archaia Entertainment before that project fell through.

With a great many unrealized ideas for campaigns and adventures among the Gelflings, Podlings, urRu, and Skeksis, I was extremely excited for River Horse's game. Now that I have it...I have thoughts.

The Dark Crystal Adventure Game
Dust Jacket Front Cover

The Good

First and foremost, this book is very pretty. Aside from the beautiful art by such well-known and Dark Crystal-affiliated artists as Brian Froud and Iris Compiet, it is full of wonderful spot illustrations, maps (Holy Aughra! The maps! More about that below), and just a general design sensibility that is absolutely amazing. Well put together, well presented (for the most part), and definitely in the vein of The Dark Crystal's aesthetic (again, for the most part). 

The adventures are especially well crafted and that is coming from someone who generally dislikes pre-made adventures. I typically find the adventures made for most RPGs to be bland and impersonal, rarely all that engaging and never quite fitting the game I am running. I end up having to modify them so heavily the end result is less me using the supplied scenario as the supplied scenario adding some ideas to an original adventure of my own design. Here, the ideas and subject matter of the story plots are so good, I can see myself running them with only a few tweaks. Maybe a dozen or less. Hey, I still gotta be me. 

There is some material from the comics added in as well as new material that, well, I mostly really like. Some of the comic material doesn't feel quite right to me but a lot of the new species, creatures, and other bits feel perfectly at home on the world of Thra.

The Bad

OK, there is some elements of the game I found rather disappointing. Mainly, the rules; the system provided is fine, rules-lite, and definitely workable. It is also rather uninspired, uses all the types of dice that exist because they exist, and doesn't feel especially Dark Crystal-esque. There are not stats but there are Skills, which are basically like Stats, except they're not. They represent categories of ability, each coming with three Specializations. You choose two Skills that you have and one Specialization from each Skill. If you have the appropriate Skill for what you want to do you add +1 to your die roll to hit a target number. If you also have the right Specialization you get an additional +1 for a total of +2. That's it.

Meanwhile, the official Character Sheet in the corebook doesn't list the Skills at all. It has little symbols representing them next to black boxes listing the Specializations. I get the idea they were going for since symbols and sigils are big in The Dark Crystal but these aren't established emblems from the lore and aren't pointed out ahead of time so it just looks like the Skills are missing. Again, their not but it doesn't make for an immediate user-friendly experience. 

Also, as mentioned above, the game uses all the dice from D4 to D12 (I believe it leaves out the D20 but I forget) even though most everything you do requires a D6 roll. So, why not make it all D6? Given Thra's relationship to the number three (Three Suns, Three Moons, the Third Eye of Aughra), I would've thought increments of 3 and therefore a 6-Sided Die would have been more thematic, not to mention simpler. 

The Darkening

Aside from the peculiar Skill/Attribute depiction, odd character sheet, and the rather lackluster rules over all, the game is missing something I am not sure I can put my finger on. It is missing a 'Dark Crystal-ness'.

At the same time, the Adventures help offset this a lot. These scenarios are very good and definitely have the right feel. The game as a whole...I am not sure. It feels like not enough was done to make this a complete RPG, though it is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly why I have this impression. 

In the End, the Beginning

As I've said, I've been working on a homebrew Dark Crystal RPG for many years now. I will very likely continue my work on that game and if I do get to run a campaign on the World of Thra that's the system I would use. I will definitely pour through this book for inspiration and adventure ideas.

As for actually using The Dark Crystal Adventure Game as it is, I can't see myself doing that. There just isn't enough here in terms of setting specific mechanics to run a Dark Crystal TRPG campaign in my personal opinion. 

That is all for now. See you next Conjunction. 

Barking Alien